There’s no place like home. But, sometimes you can imagine yourself living elsewhere. For me, that place is Italy. My husband and I visited Florence and Tuscany a few years ago and I fell in love with the place, the delicious food, the beautiful architecture, the musical language, the chic style, and of course, the climate. We spent our days wandering cobbled streets, basking in the warm sunshine, cooling down with gelato, sipping on Chianti and gorging on pizza and pasta. We made a promise to return so instead of buying presents for each other last Christmas we booked flights to Venice. It would also be Sonny’s first foreign trip. I was quite nervous of how he’d deal with the flight and just being in new surroundings. The flight to Venice, which I imagined I’d be pacing the aisle the entire way, was almost without incident. We ended up chatting to an American bar owner called Ben and the two and a half hours flew in, so to speak. Sonny got a little grouchy when he got tired, and it isn’t easy to get comfortable on a budget airline, but eventually, he fell asleep cradled in my arms.
As with all trips away, organisation is key and something which doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m the kind of person who loves having a diary but rarely uses it. Although we were away for just under a week, we ended up with two large suitcases, a rucksack, and a small sports bag. I wrote a list which looked like I was moving abroad. As well as all the obligatory cute outfits for Sonny (and sun hats he never wore), there was a zillion nappies, formula, wet wipes, a sleeping bag, bodysuits, soothers, teething gel, teethers, Calpol, snacks. The list goes on. Then there was my case full of new purchases from ASOS, Topshop and Boden. I love having new clothes for holiday, it’s part of the enjoyment. For a week or so, you can be someone who eats out every day, has a Mimosa for breakfast, Chianti every night and two changes of clothes every day. Or is that just me?! Something I wasn’t expecting was to sail through security. We were ushered to fast track both in Belfast and Venice. Me and my husband shared a smug moment, there are perks to having a baby after all. Heh.
We stayed in a simple, bright and clean apartment in Padua. The location was key as we wanted to take day trips to Venice and Verona. I’ve always dreamed of taking a gondola trip and visiting Juliet’s balcony. After a day acclimatising in Padua and paying for an expensive lunch because we were tired and went into the first restaurant we saw, we went on a day trip to Venice. It’s another world. You step off the train and a few steps away and you’re on Grand Canal – a bustling waterway with working boats, vaporettos and the more garish of the gondolas. We walked a little, stopping for a gelato on the way of course (which Sonny devoured), taking in the sights, joking at how much a tall, broad man wearing a Breton top looked a lot like a Bond villain. I spotted an empty, slightly less cheesy gondola and approached to get a price for the three of us. “Ciao!”, I said cheerily to the gondolier, who turned out to be said Bond villain. Some 80 euros later and we were being rowed under the most beautiful bridges feeling (at least me) amazing. Although I couldn’t help myself capturing the moment on my phone, I felt completely in the moment. I loved it. I clutched Sonny tight, while he clutched his new bunny (as I left his beloved Jelly Cat bunny in our car in Belfast). After our trip, we had a glass of vino frizzante by the canal and realised we were one down. The bunny was gone. We retraced our steps but bunny was nowhere to be seen. I still wonder what became of the little toy. I hope it found a good home and didn’t end up in the canal…
Our journey home was memorable for all the wrong reasons. My dear hubby forgot to validate our tickets but we boarded our train, hoping we wouldn’t get caught. We were approached by a sullen, po-faced jobsworth, who delighted in pointing out that we hadn’t validated our ticket and were therefore subject to a 60 euro fine. My husband, stubborn at the best of times, refused to pay, citing that we were foreigners with a screaming baby. Sonny, as if picking up on the tension, proceeded to have a meltdown. The ticket man stood beside us, refusing to budge until we paid the penalty, while hubby stood his ground. Eventually, he got back up in the form of a formidable, extremely brusque manager (who was annoyingly attractive). I slipped on my sunglasses to hide my rabbit in the headlights eyes and politely explained the situation. We got no sympathy. Our options were to pay, give up our passports or get arrested. I didn’t fancy any of the options but I knew I just wanted to get off that train. We were left with no choice but pay the fine. While hubby was raging, I was determined not to let this spoil our trip. It didn’t. But, at least we’ll have something to talk (and laugh) about for years to come.
On the third day, we braved the train again to go to fair Verona. Sonny, it turns out, loves the train and spent much of his time waving at other passengers, especially the female ones. It’s a short walk from the train station to the historic part of the city. As well as being beautiful, it’s a shopping mecca, although you’d need credit cards with no limits to buy anything. We followed the throngs to Juliet’s House, the gothic-style setting said to have inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It felt very surreal to watch tourists take selfies on the balcony. My heart fluttered, the kind I get when I’m shopping. It was just 6 Euro to wander around Juliet’s house and get the perfect Insta pic. My poor hubby was left with instructions and I joined the queue of people all wanting the perfect shot. The girl in front of me was pulling silly poses for what seemed like an eternity while I patiently waited for my chance. Finally, the balcony was mine. I walked out and scoured the crowd for my husband, camera ready. All of the poses I had in mind went out the window and I ended up leaning on the balcony grinning, feeling a little silly. But, I checked another thing off my bucket list – and got evidence.
The next day, we made a perhaps ill-advised trip to Lido de Venezia, it was a train journey and a trip on a ferry. It took a while to get there, but I was optimistic that it would be worth it. Husband got a little grumpy as he hates boats, but I was absorbing the experience like a sponge. A kind Italian woman approached me with a ribbon to attach Sonny’s soother, as he kept throwing it away. I’d forgotten the Baby & More Pacigrip we take everywhere with us. In fact, I was quite struck with the kindness of the Italian people. They just love babies. Some stopped to offer us directions, others offered their seat to me. Aside, from the nasty train man, I was really touched by all the little acts of kindness shown to us. Eventually, we reached Lido and there wasn’t a beach in sight. Husband and I bickered, having made quite a long journey and facing the prospect of yet another bus or taxi. However, the beach was a short walk away, thankfully. The ocean breeze beckoned and we walked barefoot in the warm sand towards the sea. Sonny had his very first paddle. It was a little too nippy for him but it was so amazing for him to have his first experience at the beach. On the way back, we stopped off the most gorgeous little restaurant called Parco delle Rose. It was perfect because while we needed shade from the sun, we were still outside in a lush, verdant space. One of the older male waiters was particularly taken with Sonny and the two played peek-a-boo while husband and I indulged in incredible food and a tipple. Fed and watered, and a nappy change and we headed back to the ferry terminal. We were feeling a little sleepy from being in the sun and day drinking and figured we could probably get a disco nap in. As the ferry left the terminal, the sea was pretty rough. I wasn’t bothered and with Sonny haven drifted off already, I closed my eyes, the motion of the vessel lulling me to sleep. The next thing I knew, I took in a mouthful of salt water, I spluttered, gasping for breath as a huge wave came through a small window, that hadn’t been shut. Me and husband were drenched, as was Sonny who squealed. The next thing we knew, towels were being ushered our way and I quickly wrapped our screaming bundle in about three large white towels. He was soon chattering and smiling while I resembled a drowned rat, my lovely sun hat destroyed. We somehow managed to see the funny side. We alighted and got Sonny changed into dry clothes – for some reason I’d packed another outfit that day. We made our way to our apartment, picked off the seaweed (true story), showered, dressed and headed out for supper at Ham Holy Burger. They were heavenly.
Italy wasn’t without its hiccups but overall, it was an incredible trip. I got to do things I’d dreamed about and most of all, we shared the experience with our little son. It’s pretty magical sharing new experiences with a little human you have created. We certainly plan to see more of the world with our boy. I loved everything about Italy. It wasn’t perfect, more perfectly imperfect. Of all the places in the world I’ve visited, I feel compelled to return. Aside from the climate, it’s the beautiful buildings, the morning cappuccinos in the sun, the older women wearing silk scarves around their neck, young women with perfect red lipstick and DM boots. The rich food, the incredible wine. Italy owns a little piece of my heart. Grazie, Italy. Life is a rich tapestry, made up of the memories you make with the people you love. At the end, that is all that matters, not the clothes you wore, or how many likes you got on social media. Memories with people that matter. Italy… arrivederci.