Mooching around Modena

We went to Modena for a few nights: Rome-Bologna on the Italo train, then a local train Bologna-Modena. It was lovely! Amazing being able to leave Lazio as well. Modena was very clean and tidy, and the historical centre is a glowing assembly of buildings painted terracotta, siena, orange, yellow: just beautiful. We’d been to Bologna before, but Modena is much smaller. Famous for aceto balsamico di Modena (balsamic vinegar), it also has a Ferrari museum and Casa Museo Luciano Pavarotti. We stayed outside with masks on, and just enjoyed exploring the food and wine.

We had encountered pesto di Modena before: basically, it is pork lard beaten with pancetta, garlic and rosemary. Best enjoyed on toasted tigelle (little bread ovals) with some chilled Lambrusco. We also had gnocco fritto – not fried gnocchi, but pillows of fried or baked dough (again, with lard) served with mortadella, salami and other cold cuts. Or with jam for breakfast. The tigelle are also nice with Nutella for dessert.

A wedding! Finally festivities like this allowed again.

We also sighed over tortellini at the market, bought balsamic vinegar and and had some wonderful meals, like at Francheschetta 58 (more affordable than Osteria Francescana, though that looks wonderful). Definitely a region to explore more: maybe Parma or Ferrara next time, after the summer?

Seaside weekend at Sperlonga

A birthday weekend for a friend: we took Friday off, and drove to Sperlonga. It’s a cliff-top whitewashed town halfway between Rome and Naples, and though mid-September, perfect for a beach weekend. We had rented a villa, so we could cook ourselves, and it was clean and very functional, only five minutes walk to the beach. Off course in August it would have been packed, but this was after schools had opened so not very busy. Crystal clear water, perfect to be by the sea.

The old town of Sperlonga is lovely: steep white pedestrian streets that twist and turn, cobblestones, arches, pink bougainvillea, unexpected piazzas and nooks with glimpses of the sea below. We were in the modern part down at sea level, not as pretty but much easier on the knees.

Padre Pio himself. We ambled in for coffee and sfogliatelle one morning, as the pastries are different there from Rome. Here you also get Neapolitan pizza, with the thick crust, which was fab. We bought mozzarella on our way home to Rome, and olives from Gaeta.

I did like this sign in Sperlonga. “Se non vuoi essere complice del COVID-19, continua a rispettare le norme di sicurezza.” (If you don’t want to be complicit with COVID-19, continue to comply with safety regulations.) Messaging is consistent and clear, and people did generally wear masks in public: sometimes under the nose, under the chin or on the elbow, but always ready to pop it on, as you need the mask to enter shops and restaurants.

This lady is shopping from a beachside seller (holding the mirror), who wheels the clothing racks along the waterfront. Lots of space and fresh air, it was a really nice weekend break.

Four days in Arezzo

Working from home for six months has been interesting. It feels very safe, and I really appreciate that. It can be quite intense though, with back to back work calls and presentations and my ongoing failure to take proper breaks. Travelling to the UK or Norway was not an option, so a long weekend offline sounded magical. Where to go? I quite fancied Procida (a small island off Naples) but not the multiple public transport steps needed to get there. “Arezzo!” said my husband. Arezzo is in Tuscany, south-east of Florence. We took the train from Rome, then had a half hour walk to a nice quiet agriturismo on the outskirts of town. Our apartment had its own kitchen, so it was easy to maintain physical distancing. It was great.

I was really nervous about the train, but we took the InterCity Rome-Arezzo (a little over 2.5 hours) and went first class to avoid people. We used the “Insieme” offer to get 30% off for groups of 2-5 people. Every other seat was blocked, like the one below, and it was practically empty both ways. Masks are mandatory on the train, which was clean, comfortable and very quiet, and they checked our temperature at Termini in Rome in departure and on return.

We were staying on the outskirts of Arezzo with an easy walk in to see Piazza Grande (so empty!) and the frescoes at Basilica di San Francesco. We had booked tickets in advance online, as access numbers are limited. I did like the COVID-19 sign there.

We had pici with ragu bianco for lunch one day, sitting outside in the shade with a glass of wine, and it was incredibly nice being a tourist in Italy again. There were very few tourists around, but quite busy in the centre as people were out with kids getting clothes and things for school. Most schools in Italy opened 14 September.

Even the rubbish bins in Arezzo were tidy, at least compared to those in Rome. We went to the local PAM supermarket (wearing masks, of course) and bought pecorino-stuffed ravioli, wine, cheese, and food so we could cook do most of our own cooking. Then we just read books by the pool, looking at vineyards and cypresses. It was all very secluded and relaxing.

Balancing caution with mental resilience is something we are all learning, it is not easy. This trip definitely inspired more travel planning, and helped decrease my anxiety about travelling in Italy. I hope you’re able to do some small safe trips in your countries as well.