Soothing the blues

I wasn’t very cheery over the weekend. I yelled at someone on Friday and it completely messed with me. I never yell at people, but I was so furious that I let fly.

I was so upset by it that I was still shaking slightly for hours afterwards.

The distress clung to me over the next few days. Even Pump class on Sunday morning didn’t restore my spirits.

So I’ve decided a little escapism is in order.

I’m taking myself – and you – back three years to Italy, where I had the perfect dual holiday: one week with the kids, one week with DD.

It was such a wonderful trip … and was possibly what tipped me into my current penury, but you only live once.

Anyways, in case you don’t recall the finer details, my ex asked if he could take the kids to Italy and my busy brain went into immediate overdrive.

Ooooooh, it thought, if my ex is paying the kids’ airfares, then it wouldn’t be too expensive for me to go as well. I asked if he could book the kids on a flight a week earlier and then collect them from me at Rome train station.

He agreed and my delusion that him paying the kids’ airfares would make it a cheap holiday commenced.

But geez it was gorgeous … and challenging. I’d never taken the kids on an overseas holiday on my own before, but we managed pretty well and crammed a lot in. We spent a few days in Rome, caught a train to Naples, took a side trip to Pompeii and hopped on a ferry to Capri.

I give every bit two thumbs up. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

We kicked off the trip with a brief Roman adventure, including eating gelato and taking selfies at the Trevi Fountain:

 

It was great fun, but I think Capri was the highlight for the youngest. She loved visiting the Blue Grotto and hiring a little wooden sailing boat – skippered by a nice bloke called Giovanni – to cruise around the island.

The coastline of Capri was stunning, as was dropping anchor at one point to swim in the aquamarine waters.

For the rest of the ride, the youngest stretched out on cushions on the boat’s prow and basked in the sun, while the two redheads huddled under the canopy.

I recommend staying in Anacapri, which is the little village up the top of the island of Capri, over the town of Capri itself. We found Capri a little too crowded and touristy.

Anacapri is much quieter, and so charming with its narrow winding streets, boutiques and open-air restaurants.

 

After a few idyllic days on Capri, we caught a ferry to Naples. The city was pretty rough and tumble, but I preferred it to Rome – it had a more authentic, joyous atmosphere and was less touristy. We stayed at Il Convento – a convent that’s been turned into a hotel – in the Spanish Quarter, right near the bustling Via Toledo. Via Toledo is crammed with boutiques and buskers and market stalls and thousands of boisterous, strolling locals, while the street we stayed in was filled with little shops selling fresh fruit, seafood, deli items and meat.

Naples is also close to Pompeii, which had been on my bucket list since I was a kid and didn’t disappoint.

Pompeii was immaculately preserved by volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted 2000 years ago. It’s almost overwhelming in its size, preservation and magnificence. There are endless ancient streets filled with shops and mansions and amphitheatres and markets.

It messes with my mind to imagine how beautiful the city must have been before Vesuvius blew.

I was transfixed by the frescoes and mosaic floors and courtyard gardens. There are even bits of original marble pathway and terracotta plumbing, which doesn’t look much different to the stuff we use today.

Oh, and the food shops blitzed me with their marble-topped snack bars: pottery urns beneath holes in the countertop that were filled with Italian delicacies.

Back in Naples, the youngest and I headed to the local museum to look at the treasures taken from Pompeii. I was a little sad about the mosaics that had been transported there … A bit like the way I feel about cut flowers.

But it was still fascinating to see them.

I almost left the youngest on a chair outside one part of the museum though – the erotic wing. After initially hesitating – then deciding I was being a prude – I took her in. Then I saw all the frescoes offering brothel patrons ideas on sexual positions they could choose and hustled her straight back out again!

In a blog post, I wrote about walking back to the hotel afterwards: “the youngest held my hand and my heart contracted a little, wondering if this was the last time … that she’d be too grown up for such things soon.”

Three years later she definitely doesn’t hold my hand any more. Tip from me: cherish the hand holding while you can.

 

At one point during our Naples adventure, we found ourselves in a laneway restaurant tucking into fried calamari and prawns and seafood spaghetti while beggars, hawkers and a man playing a piano accordion wandered past. The youngest was transfixed.

Afterwards we had gelato in a gorgeous building called Galleria Umberto. As we licked our divine ice creams, a group of old blokes started busking, strumming guitars and singing Italian songs in the most amazing tenor voices. I almost had to pinch myself, it was like something out of a dream.

After dark, the Spanish Quarter got a bit crazy – noisy, chaotic and full of life, scooters shooting in all directions, horns blaring, locals shouting, delicious smells wafting from the endless restaurants …

It was a little scary, but also exhilarating.

I loved it.

And then we headed back to Rome, where I swapped the kids for DD.

It was bucketing down with rain when my spunky boyfriend arrived, but we only had one night together in Rome, so we braved the wet and headed to a bar overlooking the Colosseum. I’d imagine its usually packed to the rafters with tourists, but we had the place to ourselves as we sipped wine and gazed at the magnificence of the ancient, soggy amphitheatre.

The next morning, we went on a lightning Roman tour: first stop the Colosseum in daylight, followed by a quick zip through the Forum, then up to the Trevi Fountain, past the Spanish Steps, a taxi ride to the Vatican, a twirl around St Paul’s Basilica, another taxi to the Pantheon, then a cab to the train station for our journey to our next stop, Florence.

 

We based ourselves in Tuscany at a gorgeous little hotel in the countryside called Villa Campestri. The next few days were spent exploring little towns including Sienna and Lucca, which we adored. Riding bicycles along the top of the walls of Lucca was one of the highlights of our trip.

The town was once the hub of silk production in Italy and is filled with churches and rich merchants’ towers. The merchants built the towers with single rooms on each floor: bottom commercial, second living, third bedroom, etc and kitchen at the top with a roof garden. There’s still one tall one with trees on top of it in the centre of town. Fascinating.

 

We also tackled a day in Florence, which was stunningly beautiful, but a bit hectic with all its tourist groups. Although it provided the setting for my best wine photo EVER …

 

We weren’t expecting much from the next part of our trip – a long freeway trek from Villa Campestri to Brunate, a hilltop town overlooking Lake Como.

But it turned out to be one of our favourite experiences of the holiday.

First we stopped for cappuccinos in the UNESCO listed town square of Modena. DD was keen to check it out because he’d been there a few times on business and never seen the historic centre.

We were charmed by Modena. It once had canals like Venice, with porticoed buildings along the edges. The canals are long gone, but the gorgeous porticos remain, filled with stylish boutiques and bustling cafés.

Then we powered on to Como, where we hopped on a car ferry across the lake to Bellagio so DD could do some washing at a local laundromat. As we arrived, the sun was setting over the lake, which was belissimo!

As good fortune would have it, the laundromat was in a narrow, cobblestoned street opposite a fabulous wine bar. So we settled down at an outdoor table to nibble on charcuterie and sip our first ever rose Prosecco, which was sooooooo delicious.

When the laundry was done, we meandered back to our hire car via the local gelateria for some superb coffee gelato, then set off on the lakeside road to our hotel in Brunate, as the lights of Lake Como twinkled and fireworks sparked in the distance.

Brunate is perched waaaaaaaaay up high above Como and the art nouveau hotel we were staying at, the Bellavista, looked out over the whole lake.

The place was jumping when we arrived, a jazz band was playing in the courtyard and the restaurant was filled with happy patrons.

Our room was gorgeous, with French doors onto the amazing view. We lay in bed listening to the band as the delicious aromas of the restaurant drifted up to our room.

Later we drank limoncello on the garden terrace, while the band played on and Como twinkled far below.

 

The next day, we headed off on the most remarkable train ride through the Swiss Alps. But I think I’ve blathered enough for one blog post.

Slipping back into those memories has made me smile – which I needed – and reminded me that my life is pretty wonderful most of the time.

Geez that was an awesome trip.

Coincidentally, the kids are off with their dad on another overseas adventure next week to New York. This time I haven’t invited myself along.

Too tricky, too broke.

I’d love to explore New York with DD sometime and show him all my old haunts. We’ll get there one day.

Song of the day: Madonna “Holiday”

 

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