Pre-Post-Pandemic Travel - Part I - Italy
Updated: Oct 11, 2021
Trigger warning: the following post contains images and descriptions of people travelling internationally. This post is not intended to be an extended gloat, but more a soothing and reassuring pacifier for you, dear reader, and hopefully a sign that freedom and good times lay ahead—wherever your dateline.
Yeah...in hindsight 2020 was a bit of a shit time to start a travel blog.
It's probably fair to say that just about everyone, except maybe Kim Kardashian, has had a mongrel time of this last year and a half. Oh wait, didn't she get divorced?
Anyway, instead of loading up some photos of our "nearest and dearest" on Insta just to rub it in to the whole world, we decided we wanted to offer some (hopefully) relevant and helpful insight into travel and life where we are. We (I) didn't really think too much about the point of a blog before starting it early last year, other than a way to keep in touch with family and friends back home and elsewhere. We want to change that.
Last month before departing the prospect of travel seemed like a bit of a minefield, but once we got going (thanks to Aoife's excellent research and planning) and with the right documents in hand, it was actually quite easy. Sure there are pitfalls and obviously a lot of changes have taken place compared to the 'before times' (e.g. those guidebooks from 2019 will be somewhat out of date now). However if we can throw up our experiences onto the open web then hopefully they can be a more up-to-date and realistic resource to add to what's out there.
Orright, enough disclaimer. Let's get on with it!
OK, rose coloured glasses off for a moment—budget airlines are still shit. I'll spare you the whinge but we had to depart from Shannon airport instead of Cork due to the above fog. It turned into a 10 hour trip to go from Cork to Naples. It's mainly just a ballache to have to wear masks for that whole time, but this can be averted temporarily by buying alcohol on your flight, so keep that credit card handy!
Naples was a single transit day of delicious food and wanderings, and we're certainly coming back for more.
Veni, Vidi, Vici
They can keep limoncello though.
Lo and behold, the hotel in Naples had the #1 mattress of the trip—or perhaps after 20 months of a tiny double bed in Ireland it was the most welcomed by us.
Our next flight was Naples to Alghero, which is a city at the north-western part of the island. From there we picked up our little humdinger hire car, which turned out to be a halfway decent Toyota Hybrid Yaris thing that had really good satnav. This aspect turned out to be a complete lifesaver. Driving in Italy is intense, to put it mildly. Once you're on the road its easy to see why it's the motor accident capital of Europe. After dark street lights only really exist on the biggest Stradaprovinciale highways and in towns, so the remaining night driving is done on pitch black winding coastal roads. Oh, and did I mention the internet is non-existent? So forget trying to do it from your phone alone. Day or night you really need to download offline maps in Google Maps (or similar) and have a satnav system that is going to keep you on track no matter the internet coverage. I actually can't comprehend how we would've done it otherwise. Asking shepherds for directions? Sounds Christmas-ey.
Thanks also to everyone for the prayers on the driving front, they obviously worked—no accidents baby!
Humdinger / Son-Of-Miyagi safely delivered us to our abode for the next week, about 40mins south along the western coast to the quaint little town of Bosa.
I'm not one for must-sees, but if you're coming to Sardinia you really ought to spend a night here. It's got everything you'll probably want in spades. It's not too big, it has a suuuuper charming old town, some fantastic restaurants/trattorias, and a couple of very adequate little beaches.
OK, a couple of things about the digs:
This drainer cupboard situation—yes please!
OK, forgetting the big vulvic eye of Sauron for a minute, the bath was pretty lux also.
Boring stuff for a bit
To enter Italy we needed our proof of vaccination (EU Covid Certificate in our case) and a PLF (Passenger Locator Form). This is a kind of a contact tracing official record from port to port and it is administered through a special EU website. Once we were in the Shengen zone we didn't actually need to show this again, although there is some conflicting info on the various country websites saying otherwise at the time of writing. Much like in Ireland, we had to show our EU Covid Certs for the QR code to be scanned at several restaurants and transports that we used (this is something Italy has strict mandates on and refer to as a Green Pass—we just showed our EU vaccination QR docs). We always erred on the safe side, did the forms anyway, and printed copies of everything to show at departure gates etc. if need be. It seems like this will be the MO on the continent for the foreseeable though the number one thing is our EU vaccination cert that we're very grateful to have.
Aoife promises to write more on the logistics soon, but generally the planning dance went something like: looking at the flights before buying, checking the airlines guidelines, then the corresponding countries entry and exit regulations (credit where it's due, Ryan Air do actually list all of the countries and their respective government guidance websites on a single index page website). Perhaps in some cases there was a bit of reading local news that was required before pulling the trigger on the flights. In the case of Georgia it was monitoring their "traffic" status set by the Irish gov (red—do not travel, yellow—avoid travel, green—travel permitted), as it is outside of the EU and has recently had a spike with the Delta wave. Thankfully it was changed from "Do Not Travel" on the Irish end just prior to us leaving, and indeed we didn't need to quarantine on our return—thankfully.
The main other concern we faced was if PCR tests were required, if there was an available testing location, how much that was going to cost, its proximity to where we were going to be etc. When in doubt taking screenshots or printing those government websites offered us something to fall back on, at least. Thankfully we didn't have to pull them out.
Anyway, back to the fun...
We met this lovely Polish couple, Alexandria and Sebastian, at a local beachside cafe in Bosa. They were at the next table Zooming parents because Sebastian had just (successfully) proposed to Alexandria and they were celebrating. We noticed this and sent them a round of drinks. Soon after they struck up a conversation with us, and invited us to join them the next day on a yacht trip around the bay of Porto Conte and to Neptune's Grotto. Without wanting to cramp their romantic moment we declined, but they eventually twisted our arms, and we were glad they did.
A few fantastic swims, beers, antipasti, and naps followed for good measure. Asides from the white knuckled driving and parking in Alghero it was probably the most idyllic day ever.
Afterwards those guys continued north and we ambled back to Bosa. We rested the following day and then opted to go hiking the one following.
A word of advice, you will need a 4WD to attempt any dirt tracks on the island. Son-Of-Miyagi made it to the driveway of the national park outside of Oristano before we chickened out due to our lack of monster truck. Instead we sought out the island's only salt lake and one of the ancient watchtowers at a nearby cape. These watchtowers are a special feature of the island and are found dotted around the island in various states of repair.
The next day we honestly kind of burned out. We wanted to make up for the lack of hiking with a trip to the Orosei mountains and sailing around the beaches of the east coast. The morning started with a parking ticket from a zone that our Booking.com host had said was OK to park in, so that was a bit of a bummer, but honestly at this point I think we were just panicked and FOMOing about our own experience before we had even left. We were over the halfway mark in our stay, and that FOMO hit us hard and caused a fair bit of frustration for no good reason at the time.
Yes, the Orosei Mountains are spectacular, but the real value of the day was realising that we needed to step outside the mindset of pre-Covid travel. Rushing everywhere, getting stressed, and having everything be a high-stakes, high-adrenaline ego stroke (for what?). We weren't going to see all the wonderful beaches on the island, and that was OK. This was not a life or death situation(!) There was no point stressing about not getting to see all of the sights when there was a perfectly gorgeous beach 2km's from where we were staying. It was a holiday after all, and not a conquest. This default mindset was hard to switch off, but introducing a little gratitude practise went a long way towards curbing it. I suspect the beautiful day had something to do with coaxing that realisation out of us.
From here we were able to start to get our groove back, to stop complaining and barking at each other, and to look around.
We spent a few more days just relaxing in Bosa, which was an added relief from our own pent-up expectations. But seriously, Bosa is great.
OK one last must-do. The island is known for this specialty roast whole suckling pig cooked over myrtle leaves—Porceddu—which is simply unreal. You'll feel like some kind of feudal lord eating it. Of course the local wine is outstanding and makes the whole experience complete, but carnivores should really check that out. Besides, you wont have to eat for a week afterwards. The local restaurant we visited for this was fantastic and the owner was so friendly. He insisted on sharing his homebrew myrtle spirit with us a post-dinner aperitif (it had a herbal flavour) then after we paid the bill, we were surprised with another round of a different spirit that appeared at our table (more aniseed flavoured). While lovely, we were struggling to walk at this point from the suckling pig combined with two jugs of local wine. Deliziosa!
I will also unashamedly plug Locanda Di Corte who wins the Ferret Hat Restaurant of Sardinia as best meal we had on the island (hard competition mind you), which is also in Bosa. We shared two pastas plus a Sardinian lamb dish and just soaked up the magic of this charming spot hidden away in the alleys of the town. Will also give an honourable mention to another seafood truck we visited on our last night, Dal Lisca Street Fish, beside the Castello Malaspina in Bosa. We climbed tiny stairs up to this truck in the dark, not really knowing if we would make it to anywhere or whether Google was misleading us. Not only was the location sensational and the crowd of welcoming locals completely wonderful, we had one of the most mind-blowing meals of the trip there: raw tuna (tonno) served ceviche-style with fresh passionfruit that was an absolute flavour bomb.
Yeah, all that stuff about relaxing, you can forget that. Milan was 24hrs of high octane formula one pitstop on the way to Hungary. To set the scene, we landed and were greeted by a huge hailstorm and torrential flooding.
Tip: don't tempt fate by taking a photo outside of Milan Central Station or pay the price of the Gods—that's all I will say on that matter. If anyone really wants the hair-brained story to go with that, message us in the comments or Whatsapp or something. The TL;DR is that we made it out of Milan alive, and with all of our luggage (just), but it very nearly turned into the Odyssey.
The Milanese were obviously hit very hard at the start of the pandemic, and the whole Lombardy region had huge casualties. We were grateful to be there and to be participating in the city again. It did take some patience on our part; you can't really trust anything on Google. This is certainly true in Ireland on a good day, but we experienced a lot of shuttered cafes, restaurants, gelaterias etc. in Milan. Hopefully those businesses are resourced and able to rebuild—they seem like the real heart of the city.
Some high points of Milano that we will treasure:
The first feeling of Autumn walking through a local park on the evening we arrived complete with dog-spotting and watching a neighbourhood game of pick-up basketball.
The kind cafe-owner who let us shelter during said torrential rain even though she was shutting up for the day.
Our early morning walk to the Duomo di Milano complete with standing espressos at a local pastry shop and taking in the outside of the cathedral as people rushed to work.
The final post-chaos and pre-flight risotto around the corner from Milano Centrale Railway Station. Both a mind-blowing risotto and possibly most well-earned beer/wine of the trip.
The generous Ryanair team member who looked the other way when our check-in bag was three kilos over at Bergamo Airport. This saved us around €40 and we shan't forget her compassion.
Stay tuned for Part II...
A note on the blog:
Wordpress crapped the bed recently, and died a horrible painful death while we were away. Well, specifically the hosting server did, so we moved everything to Wix. I know I know, we only just moved everyone over to the self hosted thing not so long ago and it's an enormous headache to set up new accounts etc. Please bear with us, I think we'll be able to make this work from here on.
As a result of the move we lost the list of subscribers and all of the comments :'( so please if you have received this to the wrong email address or you actually want to unsubscribe just let us know or hit that unsub button (we won't be offended!)
Ciao for now!
Simon & Aoife