Roadtrip by Julia Dettmer | 5th March, 2021 | Travel
Road trips have been all the rage since the pandemic started. One of Europe’s most romantic destinations is Italy. Our author takes us there – carefree and at her own relaxed pace.
It’s four in the morning, just before dawn, as my partner and I drowsily crawl out of bed. The rattle of the coffee machine helps us wake up. We have big plans and our bags are all packed. For the first time in a while, our summer vacation won’t involve flying but rather solid ground from beginning to end. We’re about to set off on a road trip around Italy.
I tap our first destination into the GPS: Venice. And naturally, because of my excitement, I make a mistake. But once I get it right the device does its calculations and spits out a route via Salzburg, Austria. The projected travel time is roughly five hours. “Just a fivehour drive and we’ll be somewhere with an entirely different approach to life,” I happily proclaim, as I and my nine-month baby bump settle into the passenger seat. This is going to be our babymoon – our last chance at some dolce vita for just the two of us. That’s also why this trip will be quite different from a conventional beach vacation. Two years ago, my partner and I established our road-trip compatibility traveling around the American South. That trip had a different feel to it, though, because the only way to do it was to first travel by plane. This time, of course, our vacation commenced at the door of our car in Munich.
To my mind, air travel has two advantages: When you board, you know your destination and what time you will arrive. But this type of travel leaves no room for spontaneity. And then there are restrictions on almost everything: how much luggage you can take, what airline food you will be offered and how much space there is to move. In terms of space, the only restriction I have in the car is my pregnant belly. Our very manageable luggage easily fits into the trunk.
While the day is still dawning, we leave Germany behind, and before we know it we are crossing Austria accompanied by the rising sun. Soon we arrive in Italy, “the land where the lemon trees bloom,” and it’s still the morning of our first day of vacation. Just seeing Italian place names gives me a real vacation vibe. “Venezia” and “Verona” sound so much better to my ears than Regensburg and Rosenheim.
With each passing kilometer I ease back further into the passenger seat. Mediterranean vegetation whizzes past outside the car window, an alternating scene of cypress trees, pine trees and fields of poppies and sunflowers. Above it all, the sky shines iridescent blue. My thoughts increasingly resemble the small fluffy clouds I see floating above us. They come and go without getting stuck or stressing me out in the least. Another advantage of car travel: You can converse without any interruptions. My partner and I haven’t chatted – or sat quietly with each other – quite as much in a long time.
Then we begin our tour of various Italian cities. We are able to explore the tourist hotspots of Venice, Florence and Siena leisurely, without any crowds. So there is plenty of time for the real highlights of any road trip: the unplanned forays into the countryside and the stops in sleepy towns and villages where we experience Italy’s true charm. San Gimignano, Montepulciano and Montalcino are wonderful places to try traditional pasta dishes and sample Brunello wine (the latter only for my partner, naturally). I have yet to find anything back home in Germany that comes close to the taste of fresh Italian buffalo mozzarella. For one of our forays we just head to the sea, which is never far away no matter where you are in Italy.
As our road trip progresses, we become a really good team: My partner confidently steers us through the countryside, along the serpentine roads and through the hilly landscape, while I provide the drinks and a suitable soundtrack. Never knowing where we’ll sleep at night, we zoom along empty country roads, listening to Italian pop-music with the windows down and our sunglasses on. Never before have I been on a trip more relaxing or unique. No annoying check-in proceedings, no boarding times to stick to, no real schedule at all! Instead, lots of rest and relaxation, whenever we like.
It’s also a very enjoyable feeling to be the sole passenger when traveling by car. On planes, strangers’ elbows continually brush against your own and everyone tries their best to retreat into anonymity within the limited space allowed. Our car is so peaceful and I feel so at ease that I even manage the occasional restorative nap.
On the road, we were far from the only ones in search of bliss and a different kind of vacation. When the coronavirus thwarted most people’s travel plans last spring, many made the unexpected switch to the car, and the camping industry chalked up record sales. According to Airstream’s managing director Armin Heun, demand in Germany increased by a whopping 20 percent, so that their sleek silver camper vans were sold out for several weeks already in the spring.
The best thing about road trips are the unplanned forays into sleepy towns.
Roadsurfer, Europe’s biggest camper van rental company, is also experiencing a new boom. Co-founder Susanne Dickhardt reports that after an initial slump in sales, the easing of restrictions in early summer generated the busiest days for bookings since the company was founded in 2016. After visiting Siena, we had initially wanted to relax in a country hotel for a week, but after just one night we felt a bit bored. “Why don’t we drive to Rome?” I asked my partner. There was a short pause, a twinkle in his eye and then a quick call to reception asking for an early check-out. “Sure, off you go. You’ll never see Rome this empty again,” said the nice gentleman on reception and waved us on our way.
Well-experienced by now, we excitedly packed our things and left. Visits to Rome are normally as exhausting as they are impressive. Until this trip, I had only known the Eternal City from photographs, stories and the classic Audrey Hepburn movie Roman Holiday. As it turned out, I couldn’t have picked a better time to get to know the city first-hand. My partner casually drove straight toward the Colosseum and initially, we just circled the landmark a few times.
Sadly, our road trip was now coming to an end and would not last for eternity. I usually like to get the return leg of a trip out of the way as quickly as possible, but now I was actually looking forward to the two days it would take us to drive back to Munich. Having said that, it was no longer quite as comfortable in the car, which we had stacked to the roof with crates of wine (Brunello, of course) and olive oil. At some point you learn that the clothing you buy on vacation only looks good on vacation but not when you’re home. On the other hand, when you open a bottle of Italian wine you’ve brought home from a trip, one sip can bring back that vacation feeling instantaneously. “I’m already missing being on the move all the time. Where are we going next?” I ask my partner, my gaze losing itself in the Bavarian fields whizzing past. We’ll be home very soon. “How about honeymooning in Great Britain? We could travel around the whole island: England, Scotland and Wales,” he suggests without missing a beat. What a glorious idea! First our wedding, then another road trip – that’s next summer taken care of.