We were itching to get to Italy – for the food, mostly – but also to soak up the country’s rich history and culture.
As if put there to get us into the mood, there was a large group of nuns and monks on the boat and we were already witnessing Italians’ famous love for family and babies. Men and women talked to us and cooed at our little one in their language, undeterred by our blank faces and total lack of understanding.
We arrived in port at around 7am and set off towards our first destination, driving over immense viaducts and through countless tunnels.
Serramonacesca, Abruzzo region, Italy
It was our sixth wedding anniversary on the day we arrived in Italy, and I had this romantic notion that sleeping in a bell tent in the countryside would be the perfect way to spend it.
Full of positivity and with prosecco at the ready, we arrived at Kokopelli Camping, a small campsite run by a British couple who moved to Italy to embrace their love of the outdoors. They were incredibly generous with their time and have brought some brilliant ideas to their campsite, to help visitors help them live a self-sufficient, minimal impact lifestyle. They keep chickens so there are often fresh eggs for breakfast and grow tomatoes and herbs which you can help yourself to – perfect for cooking that traditional Italian pasta sauce.
It was so quiet here people talked in hushed tones – refreshing after the ‘f**k you all I’m on holiday’ attitude we’d found at the last campsite. The only sounds were those of nature, the church bells and a couple of wild dogs howling in the nearby town.
Unfortunately at night it felt a little like we were enduring a ‘bushtucker trial’ in the celebrity jungle. Our wedding anniversary night was always going to be more crowded than usual with our baby there – but we hadn’t counted on lizards and cockroaches and quite so many crawling and buzzing insects joining the party.
Sleep wasn’t easy, because we became suspicious of every rustle and patch of black. I questioned whether we’d make it to our seventh wedding anniversary when my husband woke up to a lizard on his arm.
Also our baby suddenly seemed inclined to cry frequently, spit out his dummy and refuse to sleep. It was hot and humid and while we had fine weather, it had rained for days before our arrival and the mosquitos were out in force, making up for lost time.
We’d been told we could get everything we wanted in the local town – and we really wanted to shop there to experience real Italian life and support the local economy. Optimistically we set off, but emerged some time later with only a citronella candle, mosquito repellent, a couple of nectarines, two courgettes and a bunch of grapes. We gave in and used Google maps to locate the nearest supermarket.
I decided we weren’t really cut out for this. After our two planned nights there we made an early getaway.
As we drove away from the campsite, we took a wrong turn and witnessed a touching scene of typical Italian family life: four generations of family turned out to see a tiny girl get on a yellow bus to take her first journey to school.
This was an example of how the unexpected and time taken going between destinations, getting from A to B, often felt the most real, impressive and memorable.
The drive across country to Rome took us through breathtaking scenery that is just part of the everyday fabric of the country in Italy, not anywhere particularly noteworthy. The mountains were vast and towns clung to hillsides.
In Rome we were at a campsite again but here we’d booked a mobile home, a bit like a small, basic static caravan, and we were thankful of having four walls instead of canvas. We stayed at Camping Village Fabulous, a lovely site with two swimming pools, a supermarket, restaurant and bar. It’s near a bus stop and is about a 20 minute bus ride to Rome’s Metro.
We spent two days in the centre of Rome, seeing the main sights like the Colloseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Vatican City. Expect crowds and queues everywhere, but you can book tickets in advance which I would advise doing. You can skip the line at the Vatican though if you have a baby!
Although the first day we went into Rome we took the buggy, we found it a bit of a pain when inside places and very difficult on busy public transport. The second day we used the baby carrier instead, which was much easier.
Sam was quite happy being carted around places, but we stopped every so often for a break, to feed him, or just to play. Whenever we did we always found bar and café staff taking time to interact with our baby, eliciting his gummy grin.
This happened all over, from people you might least expect: the shaven headed man on the subway, the teenage girl previously engrossed in her phone, even people in cars pulled faces as we sat in traffic alongside them on the bus. We were really touched that they took time out to help us keep him happy.
Our stay in Rome was the last part of the trip we’d booked from home, and for the rest of our holiday we’d decided to book accommodation using AirBnB.
It was our first time and we couldn’t have got off to a better start: our self-contained apartment in Florence was one of several in a small block that housed four generations of the same family. They left us a bottle of red wine from their vineyard, which was very good. The house was surrounded by fields but only a couple of kilometres from the centre of Florence.
The next day we wandered through the characterful streets of Florence; full of beauty and history but far less frenetic than Rome had been. We took a look at the Cattedrale de Santa Maria del Fiore and the Ponte Vecchio before walking through the peaceful Boboli gardens and stopping for an ice cream at Florence’s best gelateria: La Carraia.
Next we headed to northern Italy before making our way home through France.