Our journey to finding Puglia, our natural home
After our brief encounter with Italy on our whistle stop tour of Europe we were left with a strong desire to revisit and spend more time exploring this wonderful country and its interesting people. The opportunity did not arise for a few years, other things got in the way like buying a house, doing it up, having a baby, starting a business – normal everyday stuff.
Our daughter was 8 months old when the opportunity to go back to Italy came up. Ray and myself had always travelled a lot and never missed a year without having a holiday abroad. Normally we would do something adventurous and not particularly child friendly so having to consider a baby was new territory for us. We didn’t want to risk flying in case our daughter screamed the whole way, too many times we had been subjected to that ourselves.
So we decided that we would drive somewhere instead, our daughter loved the car and normally went to sleep as soon as the engine started and with a bit of luck we might have an easy drive. Good plan! We had no desire to go to France, Belgium (even though we remembered the cute little seaside towns) Germany, Holland, Switzerland and we definitely didn’t want to stay in England so we decided on Italy and set about planning where to go. It was just over 900 miles to get as far as Italy, quite a trek and we had no idea how our daughter would travel, so we decided on a place called Pietrasanta, in Liguria in the north.
The plan worked beautifully, Mikyla slept most of the way and when she wasn’t asleep she was happy looking around her. As soon as we reached Italy, with it's scruffy towns and crazy drivers. it immediately felt right and comfortable just like it had on our first visit.
Pietrasanta is a pretty seaside town where the Italians go on holiday. We had rented a private villa which we found quite easily and arrived to a warm welcome from the owners, an Italian family who we later discovered lived in the garage area at the back of the villa! We now know that this is quite normal in Italy, Italian houses are usually built so that they can accommodate two families - in anticipation for when the children grow up and have their own families. It worked beautifully; we had the main house with our own private access and only saw the owners if we needed them or one time when Ray helped lift a barrel of wine (and we both helped drink some)
Pietrasanta was everything we remembered about Italy and more. Friendly locals, fun atmosphere, amazing food and great shopping and we also discovered it was the most child friendly place in the world. Our daughter,being blond and cute was an instant success especially in the restaurants where she was usually kidnapped by one of the waiters and spent the evening being cuddled and fussed over by the locals, leaving Ray and myself to enjoy our meal undisturbed.
Our love of Italy grew stronger during this fabulous holiday when we got our first glimpse of the ‘quirkiness’ of the Italian people (we have since discovered it exists throughout all of Italy). There was the evening we were taking a stroll through the town when, after noticing some locals carry their armchairs down the street, we decided to follow them, only to find ourselves outside a television rental shop where there was a crowd of thirty or more sitting in the street watching Italy play in the world cup, cheering and clapping, in the comfort of their armchairs. The cars just reversed and took a different route, they had no choice. Nothing was going to disturb the football game!!! Or then there was the very wet Sunday when we abandoned the beach and went up the mountains to explore the old towns. Later we were sitting in a little restaurant surrounded by noisy Italians, waiting for lunch to arrive (we had no idea what was coming as there was no menu) and Mikyla, who was starting to get tired and grisly dropped her soother on the floor. Ray, without thinking picked it up, dipped it in his glass of wine to clean it and popped it back into Mikyla’s mouth (I should say at this stage that we didn’t generally give our 8 baby alcohol!). The table next to us erupted, shouting and gesticulating in our direction – oh no we had offended them – and then one of the women reached across and took Ray’s glass of wine ………. only to replace it with her own seconds later and then pointed to the baby, nodded and smiled. Apparently the wine we were drinking wasn’t good enough to give to babies – note to self ‘make sure we get the right vintage next time.
I think we truly fell in love with Italy on this trip and began what became for us an annual pilgrimage to this wonderful country.