15th of September 2014, 4am, an alarm clock breaks the silence in room 251, The Carlton hotel, Dublin, Ireland.
It was to be the beginning of an amazing ten days holiday to Italy.
Our flight was at a slightly ridiculous hour, but it was to be worth it.
In the departure lounge we met, coincidently, a lovely couple, Dave, who my partner Pete is good friends with and his beautiful Italian girlfriend Stefania, they too were travelling to Venice and although tired were noticeably as excited as myself and Pete.
After a very unusual flight (mainly due to the young Italian man seated beside me, don’t ask) we landed in Venice on schedule. On the other side we agreed to meet up with Dave and Stefania once we were settled, they, staying for the week and us for three days before we toured further into Italy.
After an incredible whirlwind of people carriers, taxi boats and walking (whilst lugging suitcases around) we met our host Carlo. The description he gave about himself was ‘I shall be the skinny guy, with glasses and crazy hair, standing on the first step of the bridge after St Marks square’. Needless to say he was very easy to find.
Carlo proved to be an incredible gentleman, friendly, welcoming and a world of knowledge and advice. He brought us to our apartment which although small catered for everything we needed, was spotlessly clean and located in an area that was perfect for exploration.
Where do I start about Venice?
The beautiful maze of streets that are linked by bridges throughout, ornate to steel and often covered in locks that lovers had left behind in the belief that their passion would be forever sealed in this city of love.
St Marks square, the sun setting over the intricate architecture and casting its golden light over the dreamers and dancers that swayed to their own tune.
The gondolas that ferried all types of people around for the half hour tour.
People that included an abundance of excited Chinese ladies that oh’d and ah’d at every opportunity, photographing anything that stayed in their sight long enough to be immortalised in their holiday albums.
Let us not forget the true romantics, the adoration on the faces of couples that had dreamed the novels of paper coming to life in their reality. The couples that were to make commitments to each other for life, the proposals that were perfectly planned and played out by men whose hearts had been captured by the beauties in their presence. It was here that Pete took what I felt was the perfect photograph, the one that captured all of Venice in one scene.
If you look close enough you can see the ring box still clamped tightly in his hand, on her finger lies a sparkling new diamond that will light their future together, and the kiss, that single kiss has dimmed and fogged all those around them and they are now completely lost to each other. True love in the city of romance.
Speaking of true love, we never actually got to meet up with Dave and Stefania.
Dave (as we were to find out later) was himself in the process of asking his true love to become his future , and I am thrilled to report she said ‘YES’!!! Even though I only met them briefly it was very easy to see the utter devotion they have for each other. Venice touched their lives also.
I found Venice to be incredibly beautiful, you will trip over fellow travellers, but for me it brings the character of the place to life.
If you have time leave the busy streets and just get lost, we did and we found peaceful reflective waters where we too could get lost in each other.
Upon leaving we both agreed that we would need plenty more then the three days to explore everything that is to be seen in Venice.
Picking up our rental car after a busy but very fulfilling three days we took the road to Tuscany.
The road trip, it was INSANE! I was very proud of Pete and his level headedness on what can only be described as a white knuckle journey, I myself would have lost my life if I had attempted to take the wheel at any stage. Italian roads are very intimidating, fast and consistent. Well done Pete!!!!
After the busy motorway we eventually found our way to the what, I can only describe as a place straight out of a romance novel. Casa al Bosco, located just outside the picturesque village Donnini.
A two point five km journey down a dirt road riddled with foot deep pot holes left us in fear of our rental car, but the surrounding rolling hills of vineyards and olive groves had us quickly thinking of only our destination.
In the distance we spotted a stone farmhouse on a flagged courtyard, all completely encircled by vineyards and forest.
Ahead lay our slice of heaven, we were greeted by Nayla, whom was married to Riccardo, one of the twin brothers that owned and regenerated this peaceful sanctuary. Andrea being the other brother and who we were to have the privilege to meet at a later stage.
Our wonderfully restored little stone cottage sat on the edge of their vineyard, I can honestly say that the home-made organic wine that was produced on the farm was like nothing I’d ever tasted before, and actually left us hangover free!!
Ginger the dog became our constant companion, on our walks or the days we created our own versions of Italian food and dined al fresco.
We became relaxed with our days. Tuscany allowed us to unwind, we ate, drank, I wrote, we took photographs…..magical, mythical and memorable days.
I think as with many places it’s the people who you encounter that can make or break a place. If you are in the most beautiful place in the world and meet people who lack friendliness it can turn a paradise into a darkened, lifeless abyss.
The worst places can shine and live in the presence of people that radiate openness, homeliness and welcome you as their own. We were lucky, we had both beauty and personality in the one place.
We left Tuscany with heavy hearts, we truly fell in love with this oasis of beauty and serenity, we both agreed that this would become our place, our heaven.
Once again Pete took the wheel of our little Opel Corsa and took on the perilous road journey to Rome.
After dropping off our car we caught a taxi and headed for our address. I still laugh at our taxi ride, the oldest Mercedes in the world with mileage of over five hundred thousand miles. In soaring thirty-two degree heat we became one with the leather seats and non-existent air conditioning. The driver himself was silent and read the map as he zipped at high-speed in and out of on coming traffic, a very hairy car journey indeed but left us with a story to tell.
Arriving at our address we were greeted by a smiling full of life gentleman, Roberto.
To say he was a fountain of knowledge would be an under statement. Advice on everything from the best eateries to how to access the sites of majestic Rome left us slightly overcome with information overload, but extremely grateful for his attention to us as his guests.
Rome, a city steeped in history, a place that protects and promotes its heritage and belonging in the creation of its people and lands. I cannot put into words the sites that we were privileged to see. Personally my highlight was to enter the Sistine Chapel and view the Creation Of Adam by Michelangelo.
The Vatican Museum holds untold works of art. Beauty is everywhere and the gasps of all that enter I am sure can be heard echoing throughout the walls of this great city.
St Peters proved to be as astounding, if not more so. I was left completely overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of this colossal Church! The entire place is adorned with beautiful statues, admittedly some I found to be sitting slightly on the darker side.
The most incredible thing to do here is to climb to the top of St Peters, I will advice that this is not for those that are fearful of enclosed spaces, but the pay off is worth it. The land lies in front of you, behind you, under you….you, for the time that you are in this spot, truly sit in the heart of all that is Rome.
Last but certainly not least we came to find ourselves in the Colosseum, the place where the mighty gladiators fought, where blood was shed and history made. The Emperors of Rome placed themselves on their thrones, in their ornate viewing boxes they watched the Gladiators fight fearlessly. A place that will guarantee your torn senses, those of awe and utter astonishment to be stood in this great historic ruin, and those of how you could never view this bloodthirsty sport yourself.
Our trip to Italy has left us both with a want and love for all that is Italian.
I can guarantee we will be having many more adventures to this beautiful breathtaking country. If its history, romance or just pure relaxation you crave, then you can have all here. This is a country with a heart, and the people its beat. If you ever have the opportunity to visit, then please do…….you will not regret it.
Much love Italy,
Sue and Pete
To view Petes photo’s take a look at his photography site, enjoy!!