The Dream Comes True....... Finally!

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July 29th 2009
Published: September 8th 2009
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Two things we first noticed about Italy, a) the terrain is extremely hilly (Jonesy’s nightmare) and b) the tolls they charge for using the motorways are extortionate. After emptying our pockets of what Euros we had left, we arrived in Lerici only to be turned away from the first campsite that we came across. Thankfully they did, as we then went to a beautiful campsite on the top of a mountain overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. We also had access to a private swimming location..... where the sea lapped up against a rocky outcrop. Not only that but also a small sandy beach with crystal clear waters was a small walk away. We spent 3 nights here in total soaking up the small town atmosphere within the Italian Riviera, swimming, sunbaking, and relaxing after the past couple of tumultuous weeks.

Come Friday 24th July it was time to check out, park Jonesy somewhere quiet, don the geeky roman walking sandals and tackle the 12km trek between 5 small coastal Italian towns that are the Cinque Terre! We caught a ferry from Lerici to the starting village, Riomaggiore. The boat ride there only confirmed my suspicion that I may still suffer from sea sickness even in my mid twenties, a hangover from when I was a kid sailing out to the Great Barrier Reef with my family. But it may have just been a really rocky day, as Suz too admitted to feeling a little green from the trip. Let’s hope so, as I still have numerous ferries to catch in the Greek Islands, not to mention living on a sail boat for 8 days down the Adriatic Coastline of Croatia.

Riomaggiore was a great place for first impressions! The Cinque Terre was already amazing, and we hadn’t even stepped foot off the boat yet. Viewing the photos below will better explain what I mean, but I guess nothing will ever compare to being there and viewing it with your own eyes. Pastel coloured buildings all aligned, numerous stories high, all perched on a seaside cliff.... stunning! And the thought of knowing that we were going to spend the night in the 4th town along, Vernazza, was icing on the cake. Being late morning, hunger struck us after we regained our land legs, so we immediately tucked into a slice of pizza..... both cheap and extremely tasty. Duh! We were in Italy after all! That gave us good fuel for the hilly hike ahead. Well in fact the first 2 legs (i.e. between villages 1-2 and 2-3) were a breeze, and basically flat. Town 2 was Manarola, possibly the most photographed of the 5 villages, and the one you would see on tourist boards. And from our photos below you will understand why.... simply amazing scenery. We stopped here only long enough to take in the views and also to play around a bit scoring (out of a perfect 10), a few old blokes rock jumping into the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean. Then it was on with the trek to town 3, Corniglia.

Might I also add that it was absolutely stifling heat this day. I could only guess that the temperatures were soaring into the mid to high thirties, but it was the scalding burn that the sun’s rays were inflicting that took it out of us the most. And not just us, almost everyone we passed looked more like they were sunbathing on the beach, wearing nothing but boardies and bikinis, than attempting the hike. People’s faces (including ours) were as red as the Ace of Hearts, and most looked as though they had had been through a washing machine with the amount of sweat that was sucked from their pores. But what could you do, except suck it up and get on with it...... we weren’t there to f*#k spiders after all! (apologies about the referred use of profanities, but that is the saying after all, and it has dramatic affects on the story don’t you think?).

So, where was I, oh yes town 3, Corniglia. We arrived there after ascending what we thought was quite a difficult and steep hill, quite unexpected after the flat terrain that we had completed so far. However, after perching our butts on a lookout in town, we referred to the Cinque Terre map in hand. To our disgust, we then happened to notice an altitude map (in elevation) of the Cinque Terre walk. Why the disgust? Well the “steep” climb that we had just attacked was absolutely nothing compared to what the map said lay ahead of us between villages 3 and 4, and then between 4 and 5. The mountains referred to on the map were literally 10 times higher and a lot steeper! Only one word came to mind...... “Bugger!” So after a Kodak moment next to a couple of fire engine red Vespas (typically Italian), we trekked on, reaching heights unimagined. Especially after our friends told us that “it was an easy climb with a few ups and downs, but nothing serious!”. WHAT THE scotty and em? Did you guys have donkeys with you? But we finally reached our overnight destination, village 4, Vernazza. Probably, in our opinion, the most picturesque of the 5 villages, and easily our favourite.

Things got even better once we learnt that we would be staying in a large private unit (with a big bedroom, private bathroom, and a fridge to keep the beers cold). Quite the step up from Jonesy one could say. But better still, it had its own private terrace on the roof of the apartment block overlooking the entire village and the Mediterranean Sea. And all for only 40 Euros a night.... winner! So what do you do with your own private rooftop terrace in Italy? No you sickos.... you buy a massive take away pizza and beers and you sit up there, stuffing your faces, soaking up the views, and thinking how damn lucky you are to be there in the moment, experiencing something quite so magical, and wishing that the hour would go on forever! It didn’t, however it wasn’t a problem, as from there the day got even better. We lapped up a couple of quiet cocktails at one of the seafront bars, took in the sunset, then moved a couple of seats over, for one of the best dinning experiences we have had on the trip so far. A beautiful creamy pasta with clams for an entree. Followed by a couple of plates of prawns, swordfish and shrimps. Yes that’s right.... almost entirely seafood! Suz is definitely maturing here culinary repertoire over here in Europe. And to top it off a chocolate gelati in the warm night breeze next to the port. It truly was one of the most amazing and memorable days of the trip, and of our lives for that matter. If in Cinque Terre, stay at Rina Rooms in Vernazza and ask for the sea views, you won’t be disappointed.

The next day was up early to be greeted by another spicy day. After a few happy snaps of Vernazza from the hill above the village, we tackled the mountainous walk between villages 4 and 5, Monterosso. We were greeted with more of a resort style village. With pebble beaches full (and I mean full) of identical beach umbrellas. And for a “bargain” of 18 Euros, you too could sit on a chair and enjoy an umbrella! Pppffftttt! Yeah right, why not just slap a towel on the rocks and sunbake for free? The budget backpacker way was our option of course. So after a refreshing dip in the cool sea water, it was time to catch a train back to La Spezia, where we would then bus it back to Lerici. That’s right, there is a train that connect each of the 5 villages of the Cinque Terre if you are wanting to cheat your way through paradise!

We arrived back at Jonesy, free camped for the night on top of a hill, and finally got some use out of our solar shower! An interesting experience for us to say the least. Thankfully we decided to don the bathers, as we got busted a couple of times during our de-de-de-decore moments! But we scrubbed up alright, fought off the mozzies and got only a half decent sleep in the nightly oven that is Jonesy. Unfortunately when free camping we don’t have electricity hence don’t have a fan. However we do have a small fan that operates the gas heater which runs from the car battery. But this fan blows directly onto the floor of the van and really does nothing for cooling our bodies at night at all. So I put on my Bush Engineering cap and managed to make up, with a large flexible aluminium pipe some duct tape and 3 empty plastic bottles, an air conduit that carried air from the small fan and directly onto our bodies.... Not a bad solution, but still nothing on the electric rotating fan power that we are used to at campsites. And certainly not enough for a restful night’s sleep.

The next morning we drove the one hour to Pisa, yet more tolls and more hills. The campsite was basic, but hey, it had a pool! Although they made everyone buy and wear a bloody ridiculous swimming cap! Quite amusing, and you’ll see what I mean from the photos that they really did nothing for our looks! He he. That night we walked into Pisa (1km away) to take advantage of the less crowded evening opportunity to get some of those all too famous photos, where you pretend to hold up the leaning tower. And as a bonus there were no security guards there, so you could actually sit on the grass. Not like during the daytime where they will continually blow their damn whistles until you get the hell off the turf. So we got some decent photos and also headed back in the next day to grab some daylight ones too. There’s not a lot to do in Pisa besides taking the obligatory photo. So we packed up after 2 nights and drove to Milan in the evening of Tuesday the 28th July, where our “sleasy jet” flight was awaiting us the next day. We took advantage of the airport car park, and my ingenious air conduit contraption (he he), and spent the night sleeping right there, all packed up ready to board the next morning. From here it is off to Greece, where we take in Athens, and the Islands of Santorini, Ios, and Mykonos from some more liver beating.

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