What is the best thing about having a toddler in addition to her genuine laugh, serious temper tantrums and getting to hold someone’s hand anytime you want? The fact that in the afternoon, she takes a nice long nap in the car while we check out the countryside after having spent the morning and early afternoon in Pavia. When we got back to the car, my husband asked me if I wanted to drive to see the old bridge spanning the confluence between the Ticino and Po Rivers. (Of course out daughter insisted Po was a Teletubby and I insisted in return that he was a Kung Fu fighing Panda, because it wasn’t worth arguing that it was the name of a river she would fall asleep before even seeing!)
I always expected the countryside in Italy to be greener and have more trees. (Note: I love green so much, I got married in green!) I expected an emerald landscape and although Italy’s colours vary from region to region, outside Milan, the deep green fields I saw regularly on train rides throughout the UK have been replaced with paler shades and much hotter summers. But to make up for it, there is an expanse of land in all directions, in some areas mountainous and rugged, while in others, a plain leads the eye directly towards sea. I remember visiting so many castles and manor houses throughout England, but in Italy most are closed to the public or open only by appointment. It’s a pity, because if they were open to the ticket-buying public, tourists would quickly resolve our crisi economica! But Milan’s Castello Sforzesco is a tough one to beat anyway, so when we’re travelling, I let myself be enchanted by older farmhouses and cultivated fields.
We often visit other towns to see historic churches with frescos or famous paintings my husband is interested in seeing. They’re always pleasant places to visit, but driving along 2 lane roads, past fields and houses, through the smallest towns just to reach the fields on the other side, to see a Trattoria where we should have eaten instead of sticking to a little city centre restaurant makes me realise that after 10 years I’ve still only scratched the surface, that I still haven’t gotten to the heart of this country.
There’s always something more that surprises me when we pull over to take a few photos. This painted barn with its images joining nature and technology… the simplicity of staying grounded in the earth and world travel. I’ve travelled very far to come home, more than returning to my ancestors’ roots, I find myself coming home to the meeting point between the life I thought I should be leading and the life I am living now. For me, Robert Frost’s words ring very true:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.