Europe roadtrip: Italy, Switzerland, France - pt 1
I'm finally getting round to blogging about our trip in May. I think I put it off for so long because I couldn't do it justice, but I'm going to have to give it my best shot.
The trip was built around a week in an incredible villa in Tuscany for my mother-in-law's birthday - that week deserves its own post so I will just concentrate on the before and after.
As I needed to work a few more days than my husband, he spent that time with our friend driving Van Marci-Vanderson down from Brighton to Bologna, where I flew to, met him and friend flew home.
We spent the afternoon in Bologna - I had heard it was a great foodie city and it didn't disappoint: we wandered through markets piled high with produce and got excited about all the great food we would eat during the next three weeks. Pics below.
The city seemed full of students, the way European cities do. I don't know I can explain it more than that, but there's a highbrow but youthful vibe I get in some university towns in Europe that doesn't translate here. Maybe it's because there's not a million new buildings or garish chain shops in the centre of European cities and the old architecture juxtaposed with young energy makes it more noticeably ‘academic’ than in the UK. I really don't know.
That night we camped in a free, secluded forest car park with toilet facilities, thanks to a nifty little app called Park4night which shows you all the campsites, overnight parking spots, picnic areas etc etc across Europe. It was invaluable during the trip and is fantastic for user-generated info and reviewed sites where you can - you've guessed it - park for (the) night.
We drove to our villa in Chiusure, Tuscany via Radda in Chianti. Radda's a cute town overwhelmed with tourists and even at midday we couldn't find anywhere to eat that wasn't completely full. Fortunately I spotted a sign advertising an agriturismo just outside of town. Best decision ever. We had a delicious lunch overlooking rolling Tuscan hills.
Then came a blissful week in our amazing villa.
The first stop after our week with the family was Venice. Now, we had very stupidly double-booked ourselves on the Saturday, and we were meant to be at a festival in London. Our solution was to book early flights to London on the Saturday morning, go to the festival and then fly back to Venice on the Sunday, leaving Van safely tucked in the underground Venice airport car park. That's the green line on the map above.
I was surprised by Venice. I had heard mixed reviews and expected to dislike it. I was told it was stinky, too busy, nothing special. Well, I was blown away. Perhaps my expectations being low helped, but I thought it was stunning. For me, the canals weren't the best part - I loved the old buildings and their blush and ochre palette. It's an instagrammer's dream.
We were there in May, so perhaps before the crowds arrive and when it's not so hot that the canals start to whiff. And as much as the old buildings have buckets of charm, there are tourist traps on every corner, the city is choking on AirBnBs that are driving out locals and it's slowly sinking into the lagoon. So not all good news.
I'm not going to post any 'Venice must-dos' because there are hundreds of words on the internet that will be able to go into more detail than I can remember, so I would just say do what I did when I was exploring on my own - make sure you have 3G data and wander about until you get lost. You can find your way back on google maps easy enough.
We had meant to spend a day plus the following morning in Venice but unfortunately both got sick and had to extend it. I had the easy illness - I threw up once, then slept for 30 hours and woke up fine. My poor husband was properly ill though, and we had to visit the tourist doctor in San Marco's square. Surprisingly, neither doctor nor nurse spoke English, but we managed with my rusty Italian.
Because our stay in Venice was extended due to our illnesses, we no longer had enough time to go into the part of the Dolomites that we had wanted to. Since working in the adventure travel industry I had been gagging to do some of the Alta Via, or at least visit the area around it to do some day hikes. I wanted to test my mettle on a Via Ferrata. But it wasn't meant to be on this trip.
Instead we visited a closer part of the Dolomites, but as this is already a blog post of epic proportions, I'll save the rest for another post or two.