Ah Italy. Just the very thought of the country makes most folks sigh. And if you want to take a break from work it is one of the best destinations by far. And these here are all my insights you need to make the best out of it.
First of all, let’s not forget…
The ancient history!
The beautiful ruins, the medieval castles.
Gelato, the pizza, the spaghetti, the Funghi.
Late night ambles around the central piazza, three generations of family in tow.
The coast, the mountains, the people, the romance, the style, the sheer Italian-ness of it.
Take a break from work in style.
Peter and I had planned to take a break from work but we really wanted to feel it so we both took one month and we started preparing it at the beginning of the year. We envisaged taking all of August off, doing up our camper van (a converted Mercedes mini van) and pootling along from one gorgeous Italian town to another, along the back roads, with a bit of rural camping and wild swimming thrown into the mix.
Furthermore, we were particularly excited about the freedom that having a home on our backs would bring us. The ability to so stop where we please, pull up when we were tired and camp for the night, or move from one city to another at lightning speed – well, around 70k per hour but you know what I mean!
In particular, we were looking forward to rewinding and take a break from work in stunning surroundings. Taking the time to slow down, have a bit of a digital detox, unplug, take things at a plod. Despite much of the action in my business taking place on my laptop, it can feel like I have whirred round the globe in a single day, with clients all over the world, needing and deserving attention and a multiplicity of tasks to manage from website management to people management, from invoices to admin and from Facebook posts to snail mail.
And this is the way to do it.
Peter has also just completed his Diploma in Fine Art at The Art Academy (oh the dangers of marrying a career coach), having trained originally as an engineer. His final show sculpture was over five meters long and took over our entire living room for most of the summer! Although he has worked incredibly hard and needed to take a break from work, he set once more to work on pimping the van, accompanied by Brian the cat.
Peter set off a few days earlier than me and driving the van over to France. We had arranged to meet in Geneva. I would fly over.
But why, I hear you ask?
Basically, I am a talker. And Peter is a mono-tasking driver. If he drives, he just can’t talk as well. So I get lonely in the car. And difficult. And then we fight.
This is the only place and time in our relationship where we might end up having a little shout at each other. This leaves us both shocked and sore. So now we prefer to go on long train journeys together or to do long drives alone.
And off he goes!
A break from the routine is always welcomed.
We began our trip on the road adventures in the Aosta valley, crossing through the Mont Blanc tunnel into Courmayeur. This area is known for great skiing but out of season in high summer it is an alpine paradise of the Sound of Music variety, with wildflowers and happy goats and rushing Alpine rivers to freeze your bits in.
Then it was on to Emilia Romagna, where the finest Parma Ham, Balsamic Vinegar and Spaghetti al Ragu were sampled.
Then into Le Marche where we felt like the king and queen of the hill and experienced the extraordinary mosaics of Ravenna from 5AD– this is what people produced before we got addicted to Netflix!
We spent a few days resting up in a romantic auberge at the top of a little mountain – a place called Mount Maggiore. From here we took excursions to numerous wild swimming holes – it was our intention to swim in the wild 10 times during our trip.
There is little that makes me happier than lounging like a lizard on a warm rock with a good book.
This is how you take a break from work…
Through the eyes of a curious career coach.
As a career coach, I am constantly on the nose for people’s experience of work. In Italy this was no different. I noticed the leisurely pace with which people in local independent shops lovingly wrapped their cheese. The conversations they took time to have, connecting with each customer. We marveled at the estate agent who took us thirty minutes up a hill to visit a wonderful rickety old property, only to discover he had left the keys in his office. The pride with which the chef at the local osteria announced what was on the menu.
Erica returning from the bathroom hungry enough to gnaw an arm off: “Has he brought the menus in yet?”
Peter: “He is the menu.”
Work is seen as a means to an end.
A way to facilitate the true joys of life – family, friends, connection, enjoying nature, never to be prioritized over these fundamentals.
And yet it is easy to romanticize this point of view. The economic situation in Italy continues to be tough. Many people live off a post tax income of around 1000 Euros per month.
Probably our favourite stop was in the national park of Mount Sibillini. A mountain range filled with gorgeous, undulating hills and warm, clear blue lakes, the park is a walkers or cyclists paradise. The night we arrived, it was pitch black as we wound our way up the twisty roads and when we stopped, the stars were just extraordinary. We even saw the milky way. But it wasn’t until the morning that we realized how dazzling our roadside camping spot was. It felt like that bit in Withnail and I when Withnail walks out of Crow Crag and discovers he is somewhere rather special, having arrived at midnight in the driving rain, from London, in a beat up jag.
Now just in case, I am getting on your nerves with this description of a month off from career change land, let me give some reality bites.
In the agrarian areas, cats are seen as vermin. I watched a previous kitten get run over but a car that didn’t stop and was hysterical the whole day.
The second week we were there we found out our fertility treatment hadn’t worked. This was a real downer.
Once, some dodgy beer made Peter so ill that he did that special panting and groaning thing that only really sick men do and…
Sometimes it was so hot in the van that you felt like a baked sardine.
One of our mini-projects for our time out was to have a little snoop. We had always known that Italy was somewhere we truly loved and felt at home. Hence, could we take this a stage further and find an area we would like to call home?
This question led to the game “Hmm could we live here…?” which involves drinking a refreshing fruity drink on the central piazza of everywhere we visited and ruminating on the positives and negatives after a comprehensive stroll round the Historical Town Centre (Centro Storico).
What we never expected…
I love a bit of house porn. Snooping on houses, property programmes, A Place In The Sun. I dabble as a property investor on the side of my online career coaching business.
So every estate agency window got to witness the reflection of my fine Roman nose.
One afternoon, in a little town in Northern Tuscany, called Pontremoli, which we had been prompted to visit by one of Peter’s cycling tours from 20 years earlier, we decided to do a few viewings.
No harm in it… see what’s out there etc, etc.
We were like Goldilocks and the 3 Bears. One was waaaay too big – beautiful, just like you imagine your dream home to be, a detached farmhouse on a hill, with wonderful features, but it needed so much work.
And one was too small, we felt boxed in as soon as we entered the front door.
But then one…. One was…. Oh dearie me….One was just right.
We had not banked on this. The plan was to snoop. To see what was out there.
Not to fall hopelessly in love. Not to have that ‘at home’ feeling.
Not to oo and ahhh over the possibilities for Peter’s furniture workshop, or to fantasise about skyping with clients from the sun drenched terrace overlooking the river.
To take a break from work and this to happen. Wow what a joy! What a life…
We fled to ruminate over a cappuccino.
And we thought we meant to a new and beautiful part of the UK. Like Shropshire. Or Yorkshire. Somewhere with lots of green space.
But if we were going to move … and as both our work could theoretically take place anywhere that could house a kiln and an iPhone charger… well, it was possible, that our new home could be here. In Pontremoli.
And why not?
Why not take a break from work and find out that you really can do more than that. But it is hard…
Even for me, a person who LOVES change. A person whose work has her walking alongside others during times of great transformation in their lives, even for me, this was an unexpected stretch.
It quite simply wasn’t in our timeline for this years’ Life Plan, to begin to build a life abroad.
I’d never lived overseas, neither had Peter.
And yet, there was something about Italy that just felt like home. The slight anarchy, the live and let live, the convivial yelling up to your neighbor’s window from the ground floor, the late night family promenades, there was just a sense that we might find a place here.
And that this unique world of work we now inhabit made it possible to work from anywhere.
And this house, it just yelled ‘make me home’.
So, reader, we did.
Three days after we returned to the UK, Peter has just gone back to Italy. To look at this house once more. And to sign the papers.
Subject to the other side agreeing, we are shortly about to begin a whole mad new chapter in our lives.
Life In Italy.
So, the thing is, so many of us dream of something wonderful. Therefore even when we might possibly have the means or the energy or the inspiration, we don’t always seize the day. While this is my own example, something else may be true for you. Maybe you long to be your own boss. Or you long to learn to sing. Maybe you long to live in the countryside.
Whatever it is, you might never be ready. And yet life has a way of giving us the nudge. I’ve learned to trust this. Does this mean I never get scared? Course not. Does it mean I always believe in what I choose to do? No way. Yet for me, as Helen Keller stated:
‘Life is either a great adventure or nothing at all.’
In conclusion, next time when you want to take a break from work, think about it, how would your life be to live in that place? Do you have it in you to make the change? What’s your equivalent of a new life in Italy? Let me know your thoughts.