We’re back to our semi-nomadic ways and oh, how we’ve missed it! Ok, maybe not the schlepping of the bags part, but the waking up in a new town and hitting the streets part, and doing that again and again, with no fixed end point, yes. We’ve sorely missed the thrill of being surprised, off-kiltered and wondering what’s next?
We’ve been on the road for 2 months now. What’s different this time: we’re traveling heavy. Much more so than in pre-Covid days. (Yes, I know Covid isn’t over for most of the world, but we’re restricting our travel and travel planning to countries where over 85% of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated: France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, so it feels manageable.) The memory of being in lockdown for months on end with just our 2 carry on suitcases has lingered. Best to be prepared for a range of situations, given that we’ve just had a major demonstration of how much of a crap-shoot life can be. So we’re prepared, but we’re no longer as nimble as we like which has affected our travels, but in a good way. Mostly. Except for the sweating and cursing. We are also restricting ourselves to trains, buses and the occasional rental car. No jetting off cross country just because. We plod along, choosing our next place an easy train ride from our last.
The current dilemma in our (thankfully) largely dilemma-free lives: where to go and how long to stay in any given place? Too short is exhausting, but it’s tough to choose to park it somewhere at the expense of someplace else, especially if you’re like me and want to see all the places! You can’t treat being semi-nomadic like a vacation. You have to stay in one place long enough to cook some meals and keep up the exercise routine, not to mention long enough to have a favorite cafe, favorite vegetable vendor at the market, to notice which fresh pasta shop always has a line and which one doesn’t. And importantly, long enough to wake up one morning and say now what the hell are we going to do? It’s at that moment that I really have to clamp down on the the urge to move on down the road and resist the temptation of the next place. Because when you stay put long enough to see the must-sees (and they’re musts for a reason), you can get to the secondary, overlooked sights that don’t merit their own entries in the travel books. These are the places that often become the highlights of our travels.
We have a friend, X, who scoffs at our long travel plans. X has lived all over the world, but now has settled in his happy place, Montpellier. We tell him we’re going to stay a week in Lucca, (which I think is a short stay) and he says, you can do that town in one day. Sienna for 10 days? 2 days at most! I say, X, we have to live somewhere! X thinks we’re not spontaneous, something I know other friends will laugh at. He will arrive in a town, choose a hotel and stay until he’s done and move on. But he only travels for a week or two. That works fine for short trips, when you know you’re going home to your routines and your laundry.
So what did we do in Lucca for a week? We hung out, rode bikes, had lunch, drank coffee, lived life. Lucca is the opposite of Genoa. Genoa is thrilling, but not pleasant. Lucca is pleasant, but not thrilling. We soaked up the quiet and relaxed. And if we hadn’t spent 10 days in Sienna, we would never have found our new favorite spot, the hike along the Elsa river, the 4 km Sentierelsa trail. We first spotted it when we got a bit lost on our way back to Sienna from Volterra. The trail is in the town of Colle di Val d’Elsa, a perfectly fine, but not exceptional hill town. It was getting to be late in the day so we just took a peek, and came back a couple of days later. And then again. And again.
There are 3 river crossings, which were more exciting after it rained.
The water is turquoise due to its mineral content.
We met a German/Costa Rican couple on the trail and we shared our joint delight in finding such a place. They found it by searching aerial photos of the area, a travel tip I’m going to adopt. Should you go, forget about finding a traditional trailhead parking lot. Find it on the map, and park on a street in the surrounding neighborhood. Snoop around until you find the stairs, or ask a local.
Heading back to Paris soon, where we will change out the summer clothes for winter ones and move on again.