I had my ups and downs with Italy. Before I arrived I wanted to love it with every ounce of my being, but I may have set my expectations way too high this time around. Obviously the priorities and reasons were different this time around. After visiting last time in 2009, I was so drunk on the Chianti that I gave up drinking red wine for a year. This time, the new me wanted to spend quality time outside, with camera in tow and absorbing the afternoon rays of each sunset and the gawking at the enchanting landscapes that Italy is known for.
I started my trip from the North, coming in overland from France and then into Cinque Terre where I spent a few nights. I had some pretty good memories from my previous visit; cooking my own meals and devouring it by the ocean breakwall each afternoon and having front row seats enjoying the sunsets and evening thunderstorms over the Mediterranean. Despite the hoards of tourists who visit here, there are still some pockets of civilisation there, where you can get a sense of the local vibe. I also got to meet two talented writers: Torre from Fearful Adventurer and Masha from Unlikely Pilgrim who had started a year long journey to complete a series of pilgrimages around the world. I’ve been following her efforts the past couple of months and the tales of her quest has been nothing short of inspiring.
Afterwards, I spent what I considered six unnecessary days in Florence. It was way too much time there, with a constant barrage of tourists occupying every square inch of the cobbled road in the city. I spent most of my time there exploring the very walkable city in the late afternoons, taking a thousand photos of the sunsets and the gagging at the cloud porn that held my attention hostage most afternoons.
When I wasn’t making photos, I was eating – I was in Florence after all. My friend Romina runs the Tasso Hostel but also moonlights as food guide, offering group and bespoke tours. On my second last day there, she took me around on a tour of the San Lorenzo Market and the surrounding stores. She seemed to know every single store owner there and after countless pastries, coffees, sandwiches, hams, jams, truffled goods, vinegars and cheeses, I can tell without any hesitation that it’s the most intense food binge that I’ve been involved in for the past two years. The store owners wouldn’t stop force feeding me food and wine.
My friend Joanne was living on the Amalfi Coast and two of my other friends Kath and Liz were visiting from Australia, which played a role in choosing The Amalfi as the next location. Joanne convinced me to stay in the town of Atrani which I had never heard of before, and in the end it was the best decision I could have made. With its close proximity to pretty much everything and at half the price, my time in this local village was what restored my faith in it being possible to have a good time during the busier periods in Italy. The pace of life in Atrani was perfectly slow and I spent most of the time on the beach, eating seafood and daydreaming.
On one evening, I caught up Kath and Liz where they were staying in Positano. They were renting a renovated 400 year old apartment with sweeping views overlooking the town and beach. For some reason, the final bus scheduled for the evening never came and I was forced to spend a night on their couch, but compared to some of the hostel beds I’ve slept on, it felt like sleeping on a cloud.
For the final leg of the trip, I decided to spend it in the countryside. By now, Torre had decided to join Masha for part of the Via Francigena pilgrimage through northern Italy and Tuscany. I was drawn to her stories of the little towns that they passed through and their adventures in foraging for berries so I decided that the Tuscan countryside was where I needed to spend my last few days in Italy.
With a small backpack and a scooter with a broken speed gauge, I rode over over 300km/h throughout Tuscany and the region bordering Umbria over three days. Staying in Greve and Montepulciano, I made my first half decent photo of a supermoon, witnessed fiery sunsets and also had a close call with the local wildlife as well as the traffic on the autostrada. I didn’t meet many people on the road those few days on the scooter but I was still loving the shit out of it: just me, my Spotify playlist and letting the the endless Tuscan landscape guide me along the way.
It was the ending in Italy that I was searching for. After I left Italy I was telling most people that it was the worst time of the year to travel there and there were a few people out there who said “I told you so”. However, after further reflection, would I go back at that time? Probably. What I discovered was that there were still plenty of places that anybody can go to that weren’t so busy and with a bit of planning a bit of luck you don’t have to battle with the crowds.
I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I did taking them.
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