I have some very exciting news! I have been shortlisted for the Post Office Travel Blogger Awards 2018 in the Travel & Food category. I am overjoyed, as this is the first ever recognition I have ever received for my blog!
I am also very excited because I do know that some of my local post office employees are following my blog as well, and I am sure that they will be thrilled for me, especially Kevin, with whom I spent a lot of time chatting about my travels, whilst weighting and getting stamps for my parcels. 😊
Part of the requirments for the award is to write a post about what my trip of a lifetime would be and what I would spend £5K on if I was to win. Please do vote for me here, starting the 4th of July!
So here it goes….
The first rays of the sun that broke through the darkness of night found me in front of my computer, searching for flights. I’ve started with South East Asia and then gradually moved towards my other love, South America.
“It’s already the 1st of July and I still haven’t booked my Christmas flights”, I thought to myself, as I was tossing and turning in bed, unable to sleep because of the heat. So I powered up my lappy and start searching. Hours later, I was still in the same spot, unable to decide where I want to go this year. this is why I’m having a hard time deciding which destination to write about, where would my perfect trip be if I’d be to win at the Post Office Travel Blogger Awards. I have so many experiences on my bucket list… I’d love to walk alongside penguins in Antarctica, to sail the seas of Alaska and spot whales, to hike in Banff National Park, to eat my way through Vietnam, to explore the old Silk Road, to board the Transsiberian again, to go on a safari in Kruger National Park, to see the Northern Lights in Svalbard, to see all the new seven wonders of the world, to explore the wineries of Mendoza, to dance samba on a beach in Rio, to learn about the traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, to see the baby turtles hatching and making their way into the ocean in El Salvador, and the list could go on forever.
If I’d win I would love to slow travel! But where?
I have unwittingly adopted the concept of slow travel a few years ago, when I was traveling around Chile. I didn’t know back then what slow travel meant, but because of the weather, I was forced to spend more time than I planned in a couple of places and then cut my trip short. What I didn’t know at the time was how amazing and liberating I would feel without a strict schedule and without a plan.
Slow traveling has made me be more aware of my surroundings, it helped me understand better the places I visit and it also opened opportunities for me to meet with locals and learn about their culture, traditions and lifestyle. One of my most cherished memories from this trip to Chile was taking part in the making of the curanto, a thousand years old method of cooking under the ground, on hot stones. The year before I travelled to Chile I read Maya’s Notebook, a book by Isabel Allende, in which half of the action takes place in Chiloe Island. I was so fascinated by it that I decided to add Chiloe Island to my Chile itinerary, even if that meant not reaching Patagonia. Fast forwarding, just as I was crossing the sea between the mainland and the island, on the ferry, I came across an article about the woman who hosted Isabel Allende for her research, and on whom she based her main character on. And for me, it was no brainer, I had no find this woman (on an island that measures 8,394 km²).
Three days later, I was learning how to make curanto with Maria and her family, who welcomed me with open arms. We spent a wonderful afternoon together, me trying to speak in Spanish (but coming out more Italian than Spanish), and them not speaking English at all. It was such a unique experience, such a wonderful way of immersing myself in the local culture and understanding the traditions. We ate the curanto, drank local wine and laughed, like old friends not like people who just met.
Remembering Chile, I decided that if I was to win the £5,000 prize, I would like to go slow traveling through Italy.
Why Italy, you may ask? Italy has always had a very special place in my heart. Rome was the first city I visited outside my own country. In school, I was always fascinated by the history lessons and always imagine how the Roman Empire would have looked like. Italy is where I’ve learned about kindness and about how to be humble. Every time I think about Italy I get a warm feeling inside me and a smile appears on my face. This is why I would love to take my time and slow travel through Italy, searching for the soul of the country, though its people.
I want to cross the country by Vespa
One thing that you notice as soon as you enter Italy is the number of mopeds on the streets, probably the highest in Europe. And there is something special about riding one yourself. I don’t have much experience, as the most times I’ve been on one I was the passenger. However, last year I’ve learned how to ride a motorino, and after an epic fail of falling in the first 30 seconds after I got on, I managed to get quite good at it and do a 120 km journey all by myself. I am still very proud of that!
I would love to explore Italy at a slow pace, on a motorino. I imagine driving on windy roads through the rolling hills filled with vineyards of Tuscany, on the coast with the wind in my hair, from village to village and from north to south, all at a maximum of 50km/h. And if the motorino was a Vespa, even better.
I want to indulge with the flavours of each region
Isn’t Italian food one of the best in the world? It’s so simple but so flavoursome in the same time. Someone once told me that all Italians are cooks, and I have no reason to doubt that. Somehow, simple things like an authentic caprese salad, which is just mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and olive oil, can taste better than a sophisticated Michelin star dinner.
I want to go on a quest to discover the flavours of every region of Italy! I want to learn about the secrets in the tagliatelle al ragu in Bolognia, about what makes a great pesto in Liguria, about the fior di latte in Campania, about which is the perfect pizza dough in Napoli, about the perfect recipe of cannoli in Sicily.
And the wine… oh, the wine! I’d love to go from winery to winery and find out what makes Chianti special or what exactly is Vin Santo! I’d also love to go to Treviso, deep into Italy’s sparkling wine region. Did you know that in the Veneto region people are making their own prosecco, at home? It would be such an amazing opportunity to learn from a local family the process of transforming grapes into prosecco.
Did anyone say olive oil? In Italy, picking of the olives is always a family tradition. With gloves on, protecting their hands, fathers and sons set up a net around the trees, climbing up to brush the branches, while mothers and daughters pick up the olives from the lower parts. Depending on how many trees a family has, the picking of the olives can take from one day to 1-2 weeks. Once all the olives are picked and put into trays, they are taken to the press, and transformed into oil. The smell of freshly pressed olive oil is divine, and the taste is even better. This is why the new olive oil is eaten on toast, with a bit of salt sprinkled on top.
I want to hike in the Dolomites
I think I have first seen a photo with the Dolomites maybe about 15 years ago, when I had no idea that I will become the globetrotter I am today. I remember being fascinated by how perfectly shaped their summits were, like giants towering the landscape, covered in snow. Below them, the grass was the perfect shade of green, contrasting with the grey and white raising behind. In the middle of this sea of green I could spot little houses and paths connecting them.
“I want to hike here one day”, I thought. I never did reach this part of Italy though, which I wanted for so long to explore. I want to see those giants with my own eyes, and walk towards them, fearless.
I want to fall in love on the Amalfi Coast
Do you remember that scene from “Under the Tuscan Sun”, in which Frances is swept off her feet by Marcello, a tall, handsome Italian man, on the beach in Positano? Can you imagine of a more romantic setting? The golden light of the sun descending into the sea, painting the sky with infinite shades oranges, reds and yellows, the sound of the lonely waves crashing gently into the shore, the soft warm sand, and the strong arms of your lover around you.
I want to be kissed in Positano, just like Marcello kisses Frances!
Isn’t Italy the country of love? Julietta’s Verona, the canals of Venice, the lights of Rome seen from the top of the Spanish steps, the Tuscan vineyards at sunset, the fragrances of Capri in spring, the empty beaches of Puglia, and most of all, the coast of Amalfi. I could imagine myself wearing one of those long maxi flowery dresses, riding on the back of a motorino, holding my man with one hand and my hat with the other, just like in an Italian romantic movie (replace hat with helmet, for safety reasons, but you get the point 😊).
I want to get lost and find a treasure
During my travels around the world I came across many situations to which I opened my mind and because of this they led to wonderful encounters with the locals. You see, when I travel, I am also curious. Seeing is not enough, and this is probably the reason why I left so many pieces of my heart in so many places of this world. I have always believed that people are the ones who bring a place to life. I usually follow my intuition and say yes. And how else would have I seen Saigon from the back of a motorbike? Or how would I have had a 2 am private tour of Havana followed by a family lunch the next day after meeting a random stranger whilst buying water in a shop? How else would I have known about what makes a good Belgian beer, or how else would I have attended to an authentic Indian wedding?
When my second trip to Italy failed because of an emergency, all I wanted before boarding the plane was to see the Colosseum. And I mentioned this to the hotel’s receptionist, the night before my flight. All he said was to be in the lobby at 6am. Did I see the Colosseum? Yes, from the back of his motorbike, in the early hours of the morning when nobody else was on the road. He drove around it twice and then dropped me off at the bus station, to catch my bus to the airport.
That was when I realised that traveling is all about the people you meet, not about the places you see. Visiting a place means nothing if you don’t learn something out of it. This experience taught me about kindness, about how people are generally good, and how opening my mind and saying yes will lead to amazing experiences. Such as the curanto in Chile.
I would love to get lost in Italy and say yes to every opportunity that I am offered! Like getting to cook with Italian grandmothers and learn their secret recipes. Or go and explore the villages on top of the hills, the ones that I see from the highway and wonder who lives in such a remote place. Or find my way into a vineyard and end up helping with picking the grapes and making the wine. The Italian experiences, these are my treasures!
I want to understand la dolce far niente, in Sicily
La dolce far niente literally means the sweetness of doing nothing and it grows as your travel from North to South. La dolce far niente is a concept that means to live the moment without stress or pressure.
Italians seem to have found a way to relax and leave behind the daily worries and struggles. They have mastered the art of doing nothing and be happy. A good example of la dolce far niente be sipping from a cup of coffee, at a terrace, while you are people watching.
I am guilty of being unable to relax. There are things going on in my mind all the time, there are things I juggle with constantly. Having a full-time job and keeping up with my blog in the same time is not easy. I am too focused on stressful things and unable to find time for myself. I’d love to go to Sicily and find my dolce far niente. I’d love to be in the main square in Catania, at a coffee shop, looking towards Etna and watching people passing by, letting go of all my other thoughts.
In conclusion, if I was to win, I would like to spend the £5K to rent a Vespa in Italy and slow travel through the country for at least a month. I’d start from Milano and go all the way down to Sicily using only side roads and stopping in different villages on the way, avoiding the main cities. I would support the local communities by staying at agritourism farms and eating at local restaurants. And I will try as much as possible to create experiences and memories with the locals. I still have pieces of my heart to leave behind.