When I decided to extend a business trip to spend a few days exploring the Côte d’Azur, I really had no idea where my travels would take me. Life had been so busy I hadn’t really thought much about where I wanted to go. I took to Facebook for recommendations from family and friends on places to visit. In the midst of Nice, Cannes and more obvious suggestions, I also learned about some smaller towns including Villefrance, Eze, and Saint Paul de Vance. One place mentioned several times was Sanremo, Italy.
I really hadn’t planned on visiting Italy as I had just vacationed there a couple of years ago, and prior to my visit to Monaco, had never spent any time in the French Riviera. I really thought I would want to explore someplace new. That said, I couldn’t ignore the recommendations, so Sanremo it was and it did not disappoint!
Stepping out of the train station the vibe between Italy and Monaco was so different. Italy is messy, crazy, chaotic, but in a good, authentic, passionate way. Monaco is refined, clean, and ridiculously wealthy. It was very easy to be there, but it felt like I was crashing the set of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. There was something about Italy that was refreshing and felt so much more real.
I started off my day exploring the Saturday market. It was a mishmash of everything from knock-off designer purses to clothes to home goods to underwear all in one hot, noisy sea of humanity. Tourists mixed with locals just trying to get their weekly shopping done. It was fun to explore because it was about as different a shopping experience from my weekly Target visits as you could get.
The highlight of the market for me was definitely the food stalls. The aisles were filled with colorful, fresh produce that made your mouth water just by looking at it. There were vegetables I had not seen before, more olive oil than you could imagine and herbs that smelled amazing. Surrounding the aisles were fish stalls, butchers, bakers, and I’m sure if I looked hard enough, I probably could have found the candlestick makers too.
I so desperately wanted to fill a basket with all the delicious food I was finding and spend the rest of the afternoon creating an amazing meal to share with family and friends. Alas, my return train journey and hotel room in Monaco didn’t exactly enable that scenario to play out. Instead, I took a final, longing gaze across the stalls and wandered off dreaming of all the wonderful “Under the Tuscan Sun” type of scenarios that were playing out in my head.
After a quick lunch, I started meandering through the streets loosely in search of La Pagna, the historic old town of Sanremo. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for. The one Sanremo travel site I found described the circular streets that wind their way to the top of the hill as if you were climbing up the rows of a pine cone. Soon enough I started encountering cobblestone streets that narrowed as I walked and twisted and turedn their way up the hill. There was no sign, but when I logged into Google Maps I realized I was in the heart of La Pagna.
When I stopped and looked around, I saw this incredible street that was full of classic Italian character. I felt as if I had been transported back in time 300 years. It was one of those moments where you realize how far outside your daily life you really are and those are the moments I live for in travel. Those are the times when I feel my world expanding and I know my experience is making me richer, more fulfilled and a better citizen of the world. Those are the reasons why I travel.
I reached the top of the hill and was rewarded with the most incredible views across the city and over the Mediterranean Sea. What I saw stretched out in front of me was worth every step of that steep incline and would make the pain my aching calves would be feeling the next day well worth it.
As I walked back to the train station, I thought a lot about the day and was really pleased that my unplanned and unstructured day uncovered some great moments that will turn into lifelong memories. When I shared my day with someone back home, she described my experience as wandering with myself. I realized it was a perfect expression to describe it. I had no agenda and just took the day as it came. Sure I had to deal with missed busses and delayed trains, but the day was my own to do with as I chose. It was so unlike the consummate planner that I am, yet it was so refreshing to just go with the flow for a change.
It helped me realize that taking a day to wander with myself is something I need to incorporate into my regular routine. My time is so overscheduled that a day every now and then to just see where the streets take me might just be what I need to recharge my batteries and look at the world from a slightly better perspective. So next time I find myself with a free afternoon, I think I’m going to visit a part of my town I haven’t explored before and just wander for a bit. Who knows what I might find!