The pandemic has done something very strange to my perception of time. Shorn of appointments, deadlines, targets, travel plans and all the waypoints that once shaped the framework of daily life, I feel I’ve been drifting through a foggy ocean, only occasionally seeing land. It only just occurred to me that it’s just over a year since I published my first travel book in thirty years, my exploration of that seminal ancient Roman road the Appian Way.
For ages I’d ached to explore the length of the road, all three hundred and fifty miles running south from Rome. At the end of summer 2019 I finally set off piloting my a little Abarth 595 into Rome to start the journey, finishing it in a chilly but sunny city the following January, just as a mysterious virus began to work its way around Italy.
But my connections with that trip are tenuous. In a way it feels like only yesterday that I was pointing the car south through Nemi, Formia, Benevento, Santa Maria Capua Vetere, and Taranto, headed for the via Appia’s end in Brindisi. I’ve made no real journeys since which is doubtless why this memorable one sticks in the mind so vividly.
Yet, in another way, this small personal odyssey seems to belong a different, lost world. One where we could move freely, hire a car, venture out into the unknown and see where it took us. I’d love to be able to do that now. If I was living in Italy, I probably could. But not easily from the UK. And I wonder if that ease of movement will ever return.
If or when it does, another trip down the via Appia has to be on the cards. It was an eye-opening insight into a different Italy, one with few tourists yet more sights than I ever expected. History and beauty everywhere, from the mystical lake of Nemi in the Alban Hills where Caligula once sailed his pleasure boats to the arena of Santa Maria Capua Vetere, where an angry gladiator named Spartacus began a revolt that shook the Roman empire to its core.
You can read more about the book here and follow my route by clicking on the Google Earth link in the image below.
In many ways it’s the story of how the freedom to travel has made us what we are: a curious, restless species, picking up bits and pieces of other cultures as we go. I can’t wait to rediscover that freedom on the road in Italy before long.
Here are a few photos to whet your appetite. You’ll find the e-book in all the usual places, including Kindle, Apple Books, Kobo and on Google Play. And there’s a print version on Amazon too.