Our trip began with a nighttime drive from Berlin to Bavaria. We arrived amidst a ferocious thunderstorm, lightning snaking across the sky, and heavy rainfall turned the autobahn into a pond. It was still raining the next day as we headed south towards the Alps and the Brenner Pass. Storms accompanied our journey through the Alps until, on the Northern Italian plain near Verona, the sun came out, the clouds cleared and the world seemed renewed.
Forty-eight hours earlier, we’d been discussing changing our plans because of the worsening coronavirus situation and rule changes on travel and quarantine. A planned trip to Southern Italy in late March had already been cancelled and, after half a year cooped up in Berlin, not even thunderstorms that would have given Hannibal pause for thought were going to stop us exploring Northern Italy.
We had almost three weeks, a car, and endless possibilities. This part of Italy is filled to bursting with wondrous cities and towns, beautiful countryside, and gorgeous coastlines. Its history, from Ancient Rome onwards, is everywhere on display. We had a vague idea of where we wanted to go, but the weather was predicted to be unpredictable and our plans changed, mostly on a whim.
We went to Pisa because I wanted to re-acquaint myself with its broken tower. Inexplicably, we chose not to go to Florence. We drove right past it on our way through Parco Vena del Gesso Romagnola to Brisighella, but the weather wasn’t great and we felt like countryside. Looking back on our route, what strikes me is that there were so many places we could have visited. This region – especially its famed food and wine – demands a return trip.
It’s also famed for its Shakespearean connections. Despite the fact that England’s best-known playwright never visited Italy, his writings reflected the region’s Renaissance-era fame during the 16th century. The wealth and political intrigue of the oft warring Italian city states were a perfect backdrop for Shakespeare’s quill. The first stop of our trip was the city of The Two Gentlemen, Verona, also known for its Romeo and Juliet connections.
As is the often overlooked Mantova, which was recommended by a colleague and was a true revelation. Romeo is banished here, and here he learns of Juliet’s death. I can think of worse places to be exiled. This town on the shores of a large lake would provide a relaxed base for exploring further. A few days on the Cinque Terre was all we needed to convince us to return to this beautiful area as well.
Autumn in Italy during a pandemic, there was no shortage of accommodation but the vagaries of supply and demand were surprising. We paid the same for a tiny room in a B&B in a hill village as for a two bedroom house in Pisa. The enormous apartment in Bologna was much cheaper than our small room in another B&B on Lake Garda – although I’d happily pay it again to sit on the balcony overlooking the lake and distant mountains.
Gazing over Lake Garda, a delicious glass of Lugana in hand, we were on the final leg of our trip. We debated whether to break our return to Berlin in Southern Germany, or stay an extra day or two in Italy and accept a long drive home. Italy won out, and we made a stop in fabulous Trento. This hadn’t been on our radar, but Aperol and people watching in Trento’s Piazza Duomo is a defining memory of this Italian mini-odyssey.