mental health and travel
It was the best holiday I’ve had since childhood holidays.
I love airplanes and airports, though I get vertigo quite badly. But I wasn’t nervous about the flying until we actually took off so I was able to enjoy the shopping and sights at Heathrow, with my mum, uncle and auntie. The flying itself was slightly better than I expected and the sense of joy, partly because of all the anxiety just falling away, was fantastic as we landed in Milan. We stayed at an airport hotel that night and the next day we drove in a hired minibus (there would be more joining us) south to San Gimignano, near Florence, a five hour trip.
It was warm and sunny at five p.m. when we saw the towers of San Gimignano on the top of a big hill from five miles away. In about 1300 a.d. a resident built himself a tall tower. His neighbour got jealous and built his own. Over the next few decades it continued, with more families trying to build a better, taller tower than their neighbours to show off their economic power and soon there were about 70 tall towers, of which 13 still stand today. The towers were of similar height, the tallest today is 54 metres, about the same height as the leaning tower of Pisa.
Our Villa – http://www.poderelatesa.com/ was a five minute walk away from the busy but not crowded tourist hotspot. It had four double bedrooms with en suites, and room for foldaway beds as well, once everyone arrived there were 12 of us. It had a lot of space, including an olive tree grove we could walk through, and being near the top of the hill we could see for miles from the swimming pool, including three vineyards/wineries that of course we visited for tours and tastings. There was a big fruiting pomegranate tree, two outside patio eating areas shaded by grapevines, two barbecues, two living areas, two kitchens and good wifi. It was quite big. The four of us were having a beer at 11pm by the pool on the first night and we heard dogs howling from the valley in the still night. Now I didn’t know that dogs howled, I thought that was just wolves and coyotes, so I asked my mum, uncle and auntie and they said it was coyotes. That night and for the rest of the two week holiday I was careful about locking doors and windows properly before bed and was surprised to see everyone else’s casual attitude towards that. It wasn’t until we got home that it became apparent that they were joking about the dogs actually being wild coyotes.
It was nice, really nice. For many years I had been very anxious about trips away, but the Italian holiday was the third holiday I had had in the last two years and I was no longer anxious about that sort of thing. That fact made it extra nice. My other uncle and auntie arrived on the third day. The first few days we just chilled, swam, and looked around the town. It wasn’t a large town, it took about 40 minutes to walk it’s entire length if you walked quickly, but there was plenty to do and see. Cheese shops, wine shops, meat shops, jewellery shops, souvenir shops, small designer shops (where my brother bought me a late birthday and Christmas present – some Armani sunglasses), clothes shops, churches, a museum, award winning gelato (ice cream) shops, an old monastery, restaurants with magnificent views, bakeries, chocolate shops and some of the towers were available for climbing.
The holiday started in earnest on the fourth day when my nieces arrived with my brother and his wife. My eldest niece was asleep in her car seat and you could see how excited she was – I woke her and before her eyes were even open she was smiling broadly. I’m close with them, when they lived nearby I did the parenting thing quite a bit. My other brother and his girlfriend would be meeting us in Florence a couple of days later.
The next morning I got up at about seven, the first except my uncle who was swimming. I walked around the villa grounds for 10 minutes and when I got back everyone was up, doing their own thing, making breakfast, making plans, hogging electricity outputs for battery charging, so of course I made a bee line for my nieces and fed them, then played “shop” where we sat on the ground and ordered imaginary items from the outside wall of the villa – “Mr. Wall’s Shop”. I’m very silly when playing games and they think I’m quite hilarious. They both laughed recently when I was balancing cushions on my head. I am the idiot uncle. I did a lot of babysitting with Grandma while everyone else went on trips to Siena, Florence and local stuff like wineries. As we were there for two weeks I still had time for three trips to Florence and two wineries, and I drove the minibus once which was very cool on the eighth day so that my uncle could have a break and drink as much as he wanted to. On the eighth day after the winery trip where people had bought quite a bit of nice wine we also cooked some huge steaks on the BBQ which took a while. My uncle, brothers and I couldn’t agree on the best way to do the Barbecuing (air circulation strategy mainly, but we talked for a good 15 minutes about it). My uncle and I didn’t actually care so we took a step back, and my brothers had a bet on whose steaks would be ready first as they each took charge of their own BBQ (there were two of them), becoming slightly territorial. An hour and a half after lighting the charcoal of which we had several types, all the steaks were ready at the exact same time. So we sat under the grapevines eating steaks, truffle cheese, salad, Italian bread and drinking nice wine watching the sunset over the towers of San Gimignano.
For the third week of our Italian holiday we stayed in Bellagio, on Lake Como and in Stresa, on Lake Maggiore. You can read about my stay in Stresa here – holiday-lake-maggiore-stresa-italy.html
I am planning on doing a post about Lake Como too.