About this time, Yule took in hand the first of his studies of mediaeval travellers. His translation of the Travels of Friar Jordanus was probably commenced earlier; it was completed during the leisurely journey by carriage between Chambéry and Turin, and the Dedication to Sir Bartle Frere written during a brief halt at Genoa, from which place it is dated. Travelling slowly and pleasantly by vetturino along the Riviera di Levante, the family came to Spezzia, then little more than a quiet village. A chance encounter with agreeable residents disposed Yule favourably towards the place, and a few days later he opened negotiations for land to build a house! Most fortunately for himself and all concerned these fell through, and the family continued their journey to Tuscany, and settled for the winter in a long rambling house, with pleasant garden, at Pisa, where Yule was able to continue with advantage his researches into mediaeval travel in the East. He paid frequent visits to Florence, where he had many pleasant acquaintances, not least among them Charles Lever (“Harry Lorrequer”), with whom acquaintance ripened into warm and enduring friendship. At Florence he also made the acquaintance of the celebrated Marchese Gino Capponi, and of many other Italian men of letters. To this winter of 1863-64 belongs also the commencement of a lasting friendship with the illustrious Italian historian, Villari, at that time holding an appointment at Pisa. Another agreeable acquaintance, though less intimate, was formed with John Ball, the well-known President of the Alpine Club, then resident at Pisa, and with many others, among whom the name of a very cultivated German scholar, H. Meyer, specially recurs to memory.
In the spring of 1864, Yule took a spacious and delightful old villa, situated in the highest part of the Bagni di Lucca, and commanding lovely views over the surrounding chestnut-clad hills and winding river.
Here he wrote much of what ultimately took form in Cathay, and the Way Thither. It was this summer, too, that Yule commenced his investigations among the Venetian archives, and also visited the province of Friuli in pursuit of materials for the history of one of his old travellers, the Beato Odorico. At Verona—then still Austrian—he had the amusing experience of being arrested for sketching too near the fortifications. However, his captors had all the usual Austrian bonhomie and courtesy, and Yule experienced no real inconvenience. He was much more disturbed when, a day or two later, the old mother of one of his Venetian acquaintances insisted on embracing him on account of his supposed likeness to Garibaldi!