I've traveled to Europe a few times on my own over the years. Mostly in France (I lived in Paris for a bit) and a little into Switzerland. I traveled 5000 miles with a moped throughout France--a real adventure. I once took time off from my busy studio schedule in New York and spent 6 weeks alone in Paris to catch up with art, friends and myself. Years later, Lisa and I honeymooned in Paris.
But this time around, we are going with an 11 year old--our boy, Lucas. Early on I realized that we should set some goals for the trip--not an itinerary mind you, but actual goals. My main goal was to see the birthplace of my Dad--Molfetta in Puglia. I had no idea what else was in or near Molfetta, just that I wanted to pay homage to a great father and perhaps dip my toes in the same water that he did when he was a little boy and perhaps find out where his family used to live. Dad and I always talked about going back to the town he remembered with "the white houses, smell of the sea and all the fishing boats in the harbor." Dad passed before we had that chance.
My other goals were simple. I had seen the Mona Lisa in Paris, WInged Victory and all the impressionists, and Lisa and I loved the Picasso museum in Paris.. In Italy, although I didn't want to slow us down with long days in huge museums (Lucas couldn't take too much of that), I still wanted to see the Sistine Chapel and perhaps Michelangelo's David. I wanted to drive in the Tuscan countryside and perhaps even the amazing white knuckle curves of the Amalfi Coast Road. Having done my fair share of powerboating, a boat rental was on my list, too. Going into this I knew very little about Italy. While researching, I learned about SO much, it was difficult to scale down my interests: Caverns, hilltowns galore, crystal clear seas to swim in, pinnacles in the mountains, sea grottoes, and the food... so much variety.
Lisa's goals were straightforward: See how they make great Italian food... cheese, pasta and pastries... stay in an agriturismo, see the Vatican, visit Venice and maybe take a hot air balloon ride. She loved the idea of staying in unusual, rustic places with tile floors and wood beams. She wanted to cook while we were there. She wanted to just sit somewhere with a grand view and have a picnic. She wanted to "feel Italy".
Lucas had goals too. See the Leaning Tower of Pisa, visit Pompeii, see Mount Vesuvius and eat real Italian pizza, have pasta fagioli in Italy, eat lots of gelato, check out Italian pottery (he has taken several wheel throwing lessons and is pretty good at it), and see what Italian dogs were like.
After understanding our mixed bag of goals, I then had to come up with a plan that did all (or rather, most) of this. After all, Pisa is at one end of the country and Molfetta is at the other--in an area a little difficult to get to easily. We realized that Venice would have to go but Tuscany and Rome were must-sees. (Although early on we even thought of dropping Rome completely because of safety concerns, we realized, both having dealt with Manhattan for so many years, this fear was foolish--we were both tough city-folk at the core).
We even thought about flying into Milan, then driving to Venice, visiting Pisa and Tuscany and--somehow--get to Molfetta and then back to Rome and fly home from there. Wow! Those airlines really sock it to you with the price when you want to fly into one city and fly back from another! That plan died real fast. And lots of driving between Pisa and Venice didn't make sense.
Our Plan Evolved
So, here we are with a pretty good plan to achieve most of our goals--with some new ones added on as we learned more about Italia. Fly into Rome then take a train to Chuisi in southern Tuscany. Rent a car and tool around that area a couple of days, then move on to an agriturismo near San Gimignano--within day trips into Siena, Pisa or Florence. After several more days we drop off our rental car in Florence and take a train down to Naples. Pick up another car and drive on to our 3 day stay on the Amalfi Coast, visiting Pompeii from there. Now comes the surprise part of the trip:
Surprise Leg of the Voyage
While trying to find a way to get from the Amalfi area to Molfetta I discovered Basilicata. Never heard of it before. I discovered a rugged, natural mountainous area full of mystery, ghost towns, bandit history, and amazingly dramatic Machu Picchu-like towns clinging to rugged cliffs--Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa. After a night in Castelmezzano and a stop at Pietrapartosa we will drive on to another discovery--Matera, a city where people have been living in caves for 40,000 years, with homes dug into the mountain that were occupied until the 1950s. Nowadays, there are posh hotels in these cave homes... we are staying in one. Nearby there are neolithic cave dwellings and thousand year old cave churches and deep gorges within view of the town.
After leaving Matera and Basilicata behind, it's onto Puglia--my newly discovered favorite place--and a couple of day stay in a Trullo--cone shaped houses reminiscent of the ones in Oz. Many are half a millennium old and are now being restored into villas and guest houses. In this area (more Greek than Italian) are many whitewashed hilltowns, huge sinkholes, the best bread in Italy (Altamura), seashore, beaches and grottoes, strange dialects and two thousand year old olive trees producing the bulk of Italy's olive oil. And then there's Pugliese wines (who knew?) and frutti di mare--fresher than one can believe.
After the trullo stay, it's onto a Molfetta where I'll discover my roots. After that, a train from Bari will carry us back to Rome for a four day stay before heading home.
Whew! This has really been months of planning, research, Googling, decisions, learning MS Project, emails and many bouts with Booking.com (a pretty painless way of finding and booking places to stay--lots of reviews). There you have it... our goals are met. At least most of them. Many compromises were made along the way and I'm sure there will be more as we drive along in la Bel Paese...