Almost exactly three years to the day after we arrived, we left Rome. It was late in the afternoon when we began retracing our route to the North. Three years ago, we’d come from Germany to Bolzano to Montepulciano before arriving in the overwhelming city of Rome. This time we were heading to the west. After three years, we were making another move. Most likely our final move in Europe, and the final move to a new duty station. It was the end and the beginning of so many different things.
As we headed out, I began to realize that the further we drove from the city, the lighter the knot of stress I’d been carrying became. I could feel myself letting go, slowly. The further North we drove, the cleaner the roadsides became, the smoother the roads became, the more beautiful the day became.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed my time in Rome. I agree with everyone who told me how lucky I was to call the Eternal City home. It is a glorious place to visit, but I found it a very difficult place to live. I am glad that we had the opportunity, but I am relieved that our time there is finished.
Our destination on day one was Parma. I wasn’t expecting much, and I wasn’t expecting it to be easy to get to. I was wrong on both counts. Once we arrived in Parma, we found our hotel without a problem, and it was a wonderful place to stay. During our drive that afternoon, I told my family that I wasn’t sure I’d be too anxious to return to Italy, but I found myself enticed by Parma.
You see, Parma, located in the Emilia Romagna Region, was designated by UNESCO as a Creative UNESCO City for Gastronomy. A whole city devoted to food? What’s not to love about that? Many people will speak to you about the unparalleled food found in Italy. I found Italian food no better, and no worse than food in other countries. What I found was that, in Rome at least, you had to really know where to go. If you didn’t, it’s the city of a thousand restaurants with only one menu. Parma, it seemed, was different.
We didn’t visit the city, but even the hotel restaurant took its food seriously. We had dinner and breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Everything we tried was delicious – better than some stand alone restaurants I’ve eaten at.
Around lunch on the second day, we reached the Swiss border. The borders with Switzerland are usually the only ones in Europe where anyone actually works at the border. This guarded border was a concrete symbol of our departure from Italy. Soon we were breathing in the fresh Swiss mountain air, waiting in the line to cross the tunnel through the Alps to our final destination for the day – Basel.
I adore everything about Switzerland, except the prices. It is usually one of the most expensive places we travel through, making it the reason we don’t stay there often.
We arrived at Basel and settled into our hotel, which was fantastic, but everything from parking to breakfast was an additional fee. The city looked like a great place to explore, but everyone was tired from the trip, so we opted to meander along the river path, enjoying the sunset, the orderly Swiss pathways, and the cool evening air.
The penultimate day of our journey brought us to Bastogne. It was a shorter drive, so we arrived with plenty of time to get settled and explore the city. The hotel in Bastogne was a bit rustic in comparison to the places we had stayed, but it was clean and the staff was friendly.
After checking into our room, we took a walk around the city. The city center is absolutely charming.
One of the first things you notice, aside from the lovely Belgian buildings, is WWII is everywhere. From the Nuts Café to the 70th Anniversary Commemoration signs adorning the Town Hall to the tank in the town square. It was a visible difference from the ways that wars of the past are honored and remembered in other European countries.
After touring the city and grabbing a bite, we decided to follow the area map to the trails that skirt the town.
Our walk took us past the bus station and introduced us to the trail system in Belgium. We followed the trail about a mile out of town – right through the center of a donkey farm. It was precisely the ending we needed. A bucolic walk through the Belgian countryside to wash away the last remnants of stress accumulated during our three years in Rome.
In the morning, and during the weeks to come, we would all experience the stress of relocating, but in that moment, life was good.