After a long season of not traveling for various reasons, my husband and I made up for lost time this past fall. And to our great surprise, we traveled not once, but twice to Italy.
Riomaggiore- Cinque Terre
Our first trip was in late October to Tuscany, where my husband taught for a week in one of our organization's training schools. I got to tag along and enjoy the beauty of the land, the culture, and the wonderful people involved in the community there.
What a delight to show up at the small hotel where the school rents space and find it was one short block from the ocean. After an eight-hour drive from our home in the south of France, stepping out into the sea breezes was extremely restorative.
We arrived in time for a gorgeous sunset
While my husband taught, I walked and walked, breathing in the fresh salty air and wondering who originally built those lovely villas.
Most mornings, I worked on my second historical novel in The Huguenot Resistance Series. Despite the café culture in Italy being more of a drink-it-quickly-and-go, the proprietors kindly allowed me to stay for hours with my computer. I made sure to order something every so often, which was no hardship.
A few days into the week, I discovered the local library. Recently built by a successful local family who wanted to give back to their original neighborhood, it was bright and inviting. Best of all, it was full of university students who were interesting to observe. And so quiet, with plenty of space.
Florence was less than two hours away, enticing me away from writing for one day. I'd visited this city years ago in the repressive heat of summer. This time, mostly gray skies and even some rain were welcome. Museum lines remained ridiculously long, so I simply strolled and ate. Beside the art and centuries of culture, one of the best parts of Italy is the food. I've never been a huge pasta lover, but then I'd never eaten it freshly made in the country of its origin. Deliciozo!
As always, the oldest sections of European cities contain the most charm. Wandering up small cobbled roads, turning a corner, and finding a feast for the eyes never grows old.
Yet the simple pleasure of sitting in a café with a view and watching the passersby made for the best part of the day. Just prior, I'd stumbled upon an English book store which felt like heaven. Real books! In English! And not too expensive. With my cup of Earl Grey tea (with oat milk!), I browsed my purchases of a book with quotes about books and another on watercolor/collage nature scenes—both covering specific passions of mine—and rested before the drive home. It all added up to an incredible gift from the Giver of All Good Gifts.
Back at the coast, the wind blew ferociously all night. In the morning, we were graced with one of the fiercest storms I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I could barely move forward, walking into the wind to the beach. Foam spray filled the air from wildly crashing waves and lacing our lips with salt. I loved it!
Here's a glimpse of the grandeur:
The Glory of God in creation
After my husband finished teaching on Friday, we drove up the coast to Cinque Terre, a destination I've dreamt of visiting for years.
Cinque Terre more than lived up to my expectations. Five colorful towns, clinging to steep mountains, terraced with vineyards, and the sea beyond . . . what's not to love?
We spent our weekend in Corniglia, the most isolated village, known for its abundance of vineyards, in a little apartment high over the still raging ocean and slept to the sound of waves crashing below. Another amazing gift from the Creator of it all.
I love these narrow streets, lined with tiny restaurants and shops. We schlepped our stuff up to our little apartment near the end, wondering how people lived there through the years. Someone(s) at some point had to move the huge armoire and other heavy furniture we found in our place up this narrow and steep passageway. Whew!
Out our door and to the right, we found yet another beautiful sight. A feast for all the senses.
While my husband stayed back to rest after teaching all week, I ventured south to Riomaggiore. The journey started with descending hundreds of stairs down the steep mountain to the train station below.
These trains plow right on through massive mountains to connect the five villages of the Cinque Terre. The Italian tunnel system is quite amazing. Driving from our home in the south of France to the west coast of Italy, we'd traveled through many such tunnels, passing through immense mountains, then emerging onto a HIGHway bridging over the valleys opening to the sea. Breathtaking in beauty and a little scary as you feel suspended in the air. The Cinque Terre trains hug the spectacular coastline, a more down-to-earth experience.
I'm pretty sure this little girl was done with these stairs. They went on and on and on. I can well remember the days of traveling with children and coaxing them along.
This picturesque village appears often in images of Cinque Terre for good reason.
Cinque Terre- Riomaggiore
I wandered through the charming streets, making my way down to the port. I emerged into a scene that I'd seen (!) in many photos.
Gratitude overflowing, I had pasta and Prosecco overlooking the still churning sea. Blessings abounding to body and soul.
After lunch, I walked down into the port and enjoyed the view and proximity to the sea. The Via del Amore, the Path of Lovers, was closed due to repairs, but can be seen hugging the mountainside.
Hungry birds scavenged for food. The first photo in this post was a very lucky capture of a beautiful seagull performing for treats.
Back on the train, back up ALL those stairs, back through the winding streets, I rejoined my rested husband in Corniglia. An incredibly refreshing weekend away.
All roads lead to Rome. I'd never had this city high on my list of places to visit. When friends offered to gift us with joining them there for a few days before Christmas, we accepted mainly to spend time with their family.
To our delight, we loved discovering Rome. The epic scale of history and influence of this place cannot be underestimated. Layers upon layers of different eras of civilization continue to be unearthed, revealing astonishing buildings and monuments. Apparently, there are archaeological remains beneath all of Rome.
Come with me on a quick tour of this astonishing place.
We arrived at night to this incredible sight. The Colosseum is enormous. Here in the south of France, we have smaller arenas in Nîmes and Arles built by the Romans during their far-reaching empire. But nothing compares to this vast original.
The Roman emperors would occasionally give the people a day off to come watch spectacles in the Colosseum. These gruesome battles included fights-to-the-death of tens of thousands of gladiators and so so so many animals. It's hard to fathom this as entertainment today.
As I mentioned, the breadth and depth of this city is massive. Here's a quick overview of the many incredible sites:
A highlight was visiting the chapel in the jail where the Apostle Paul was incarcerated. While there, he wrote the four "prison" epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Earlier, he'd sent a long letter to the Romans, saying he deeply desired to visit them in person. After a riot in Jerusalem, a shipwreck on Malta, Paul arrived in Rome, a prisoner. Be careful what you wish for!
Yet Paul's ministry expanded during his imprisonment, as he reached out to the locals who visited and to his praetorian guards, as well as writing Holy Spirit inspired words Christians read daily. The ways of God aren't always what we expect, but far far better.
We had a spontaneous moment of contemplating the crucifixion of Christ in the chapel. The children asked questions, and the reality of Jesus' excruciating death, on our behalf, was evident. Answering the question of why the Roman authorities killed Jesus, we realized afresh that it didn't work. Christianity was not suppressed, far from it. "We're still here!" we said to one another. A sacred and unforgettable moment.
I cannot close out this blog without further discussion of the food. We ate a LOT of pasta and pizza and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even without cheese due to my dairy allergy, this pizza was delizioso!
To prepare for our trip, I'd watched the classic Audrey Hepburn/Gregory Peck film Roman Holiday. I hadn't seen it in years and loved it more than ever. Oh, to ride a Vespa around Rome. Not quite the same, but this came close:
All this travel was unexpected and far beyond what we could have imagined. I can only attribute it to the lavish outpouring of love and blessing from our heavenly Father.
La vie est belle!