Staying home hasn’t proved to be a major strain on me, but looking out over the year ahead and seeing travel dreams discarded and put on hold is discouraging and sad to me. I like seeing the world the way a lot of people like tacos or buying new shoes.
Our plans lost and the uncertainty of when we can make more really had me down this week. I know there are more important things in life, but this is one loss that is personal to me.
I’ve coped by flipping through old pictures and thinking back on trips and experiences I’ve loved. There may not be much to share in the way of travel recommendations because some of these trips are from the way back, when accommodations had to be cheap and I likely missed out on much of what destinations had to offer. But these experiences live on in my travel journals and heart.
I love to research and plan a trip that is just right for our family – equal parts adventure and comfort – but honestly, I’m not always that picky. I can find the beauty in any travel situation and I’m good at making do.
So, first stop – the Lombardy region of Italy and a little town named Verolanuova that became our destination by necessity.
In 2009, just before the birth of our first baby, we had an opportunity to head to Italy for a week. Brandon needed to visit a pasta production plant in the Lombardy region of Italy for work, so I would accompany him there. Then we would head down to Rome to walk through some history.
We purchased my plane ticket with excitement – a little adventure before our big adventure.
Before touchdown in Milan, our flight attendant invited us to raise our window shades and glimpse a view of the Alps below – first the Swiss Alps, then their Italian cousins. Little did I know then that I would have a chance to visit those stunning peaks beneath us years later, with the baby I had in tow and her little sister.
On this trip, we didn’t plan time in Milan. Instead, we completed the airport necessities and rolled our bags outside to ground transportation to meet our driver. Luigi would transport us (fast, uncomfortably fast) to the East on the A4 autostrada, with the villages at the base of the Italian Alps speeding by our window.
I ended up in the center seat in the back of the car, which is the story of my life because I’m A) the baby of my family, and B) petite. I wouldn’t suggest this for other pregnant women flying down the road in Italy.
Past the beautiful town of Bergamo with its yellow, orange, and red villas nestled up into the mountainside and ivory farmhouses with tile roofs dotting the landscape, we neared Brescia where we turned South toward the small town of Verolanuova.
After checking into our hotel and using a comically oversized key to access our room, I tagged along with Brandon’s work team to the office to tour the plant and meet everyone over lunch at the canteen. One of our hosts was gracious enough to honor my weird request to drop me at the far side of town to explore and walk back. She protested that there was nothing to see, but I had a feeling that their nothing would be just the something I hoped for.
Newly responsible for my care, a friendly lady named Giovanna gestured at landmarks as we drove through the small town, and wisely pointed out a gelateria I’d visit later. It was just after lunch and most businesses were closed until mid-afternoon, giving me deserted streets and the freedom to take photos like a tourist without shame.
On foot, I determined the ordinary little town was magic to me. Quiet streets lined with rustic, stucco buildings, some crumbling in a charming sort of way, but short of disrepair. The attention given to flower boxes, pots along balconies, and shrubbery showed great care for even those properties that were so old. I wandered past lovely churches, a stunning park, and stately palaces still used for government and education.
I sat for awhile in the square before noting a storm blowing in and realizing I’d better get about my walk or call for a ride. My pregnant state and a pair of uncomfortable shoes won the debate, and I ducked into L’Abruzza Gelateria to order a cup of crema and request a ride. A nice man named Maurizio retrieved me just a short while later before the storm came through.
Brandon and I ate dinner in the hotel restaurant that night, first studying the menu outside with our Italian phrase book until we felt comfortable ordering. We turned in early to get ready for another day.
After a breakfast obviously involving croissants and Nutella, and seeing Brandon off to his work day, I headed outside to read and write on the terrace under the Italian sun. My original plan was to take the train to nearby Bergamo or Verona but pregnancy and jet lag got the best of me and I was simply too worn.
I have traveled solo many times and had envisioned a big adventure day, but it wasn’t to be had. Back in the room though, the phone rang and Brandon proposed an opportunity for a little field trip. After a quick lunch in the restaurant, I gathered my essentials to join one of the plant employees and others visiting from a U.S. grocery chain on a trip to nearby Cremona.
The purpose of their visit was to see the supermarket giant Italmark and learn about its retail format, particularly the inclusion of market goods like artisanal bread, gourmet cheeses and meats, and gorgeous produce. My goal was to see beautiful countryside on the drive and buy some snacks.
I stood under the hotel portico, eyeing a local dog lounging in a flower bed, until my new friends arrived.
We drove South, our eyes fixed on the beautiful countryside of Italy’s Lombardy region, until the beautiful ivory and terra cotta buildings of Cremona came into view. Our host shared that Cremona is known for its violin-making heritage and pointed out stunning sights as we crept past toward our destination. We wouldn’t see much of Cremona this time around but it was worth the trip for a peek.
Dinner our final night in Verolanuova remains one of the best dining experiences of my life. Brandon’s friend Giacomo collected us and navigated his tiny car along country roads North and then East from our hotel. Just before the tiny town of Leno, we turned off into an old farmstead turned restaurant and event space, called i Sabidi Osteria. It appears ownership of the restaurant has changed hands since then, and is now known as Edamame, l’Osteria Nuova by Sabidi.
The grounds were elegantly manicured, perfect for a party with wide lawns edged by bushes, vines, and flowers. After a long drive in, we parked and crossed the checkerboard of grey and white stones toward the I Sabidi door, tucked away in a long, pale yellow building.
Inside, we found simple and rustic décor – pale sage plaid table coverings, brick, and stone – and warm, familial service. Giacomo ordered for our table and we listened attentively, enchanted by the language and thrilled when we identified a word we recognized. I declined wine service, given the baby I was growing, and was offered white, because it was lighter. I smiled at the cultural difference and stuck with my water.
It wasn’t long before course after course of family-style Italian specialties arrived in leisurely succession. Cheeses, charcuterie, pasta, risotto, polenta, breads, beef, and dessert – enough of each for everyone to try, but not so much to ruin the next course. And there was always a next course.
I dream of returning to this dinner, to this place.
It was a perfect farewell to our time in this lovely region of Italy.