Travel Flashback: The Vines Visit Europe for the First Time

While we remain on a travel moratorium, now is a good time to relive past trips, that predate Traveling Vines. I planned to someday recap several of these past trips here, but it always seemed that life moved too fast. Before I had the chance to pause and reflect on a prior adventure, we were on to the next one. Perhaps being grounded and experiencing a forced break in exploring the world is just the opportunity we needed to reminisce about beloved destinations. Due to the current virus situation, many of these places are not available to us. But in the hopes that we can someday roam more freely in the world, I will include tips so these articles function as a travel guide.

Let’s begin with our first-ever trans-Atlantic trip in a series of two posts. Our dear friends were expats living in Italy and we decided to visit them. We found an excellent price on flights during the Christmas holiday week if we departed from the United States on Christmas Eve returned on the morning of New Year’s Day. I recall feeling some initial distress at the idea of flying on Christmas, but it turned out to be wonderful. Spending Christmas Day in the air has become one of my favorite ways to mark the holiday. I wrote previously about our layover in Paris.

After spending the day wandering around Paris, we flew on to Bologna, where our friends greeted us in the terminal. We drove to their apartment in Modena. They’d prepared some antipasti, panettone and brewed some espresso for us. We stayed up way too late enjoying their company and decompressing from the excitement of the past 24 hours. 

We spent part of the week exploring the area around their apartment, including central Modena and nearby Maranello. This first post will talk about our time in these two places. We also spent a couple of nights in Rome. We made a day trip to Florence, which was a last minute substitute for Venice. Sadly, Venice was experiencing its worst flooding in years in December of 2009 during our visit. The winter of 2019 was just as bad and watching the news this past December gave us nostalgia for our trip to Italy. 

The best part of having expat friends is that they show you around like locals. We almost certainly would never have discovered places like Modena and Maranello without our friends. They had a car and were comfortable driving to smaller towns in the countryside. Most of rustic Italy looked just like I’d imagined it would–with cypress lined drives and rolling hills. 

Modena is a sophisticated town with a well-off population. It is in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy–known as the breadbasket of Italy. One thing to know about Italians is that they do not tolerate inferior food and drink. So everything we ate in Italy was fantastic. Here, I tried the best gelato of my life. I proceeded to try gelato in every other city we visited, but nothing compared to Gelateria K2. Mr. Vine and I split a delicious Florentine steak that we could hear being chopped off a side of beef in the kitchen. We learned the joy of aperitivo–Italian happy hour. We also enjoyed Italian style hot chocolate, which is somewhere between warm chocolate pudding and what we think of as hot cocoa. We wandered cobblestone streets and Mr. Vine delighted in taking photos of all of the old buildings, churches and fountains. I bought three pairs of shoes at a shop in Modena, all of which I still have and love today. One of my best souvenir purchases!

Italy wears its history out in the open. The mentality there is something like “if it was good enough for all of the generations that came before me, it’s good enough for me.” We appreciated the rich history and beautiful architecture. 

We spent a day driving around Maranello and visiting the Ferrari Museum. Mr. Vine even took a Ferrari on a short drive! The experience was memorable. Mr. Vine has spent much of his career working in automotive manufacturing. Touring this monument to some of the most amazing cars the world has ever seen delighted him. As a lover of cars and fine things, I enjoyed the museum as well. We learned that one Ferrari accessory is a luggage set, in leather to match the car’s upholstery and custom designed to perfectly fit in the trunk. 

This was such a beautiful trip and we laughed so much. I did suffer from jet lag partway through and became overly emotional. I had a meltdown when we couldn’t go to Venice as planned. But the memories that remain are rosy. This was the trip that we learned how to travel on long haul flights. And that international airlines are better than our United States domestic options. I look forward to sharing about our time in Rome and Venice next!

Have you visited Italy? What parts of the country did you visit? Is Italy on your travel wish list? What do you hope to experience there?

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