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Published: April 24th 2007
Is it a dance, is it Karaoke, no it's the Leaning Tower of Pisa pose.
When entering a new country by road, we look for those indicators that initially express that country's individuality.
Most obvious was the congested traffic as we zipped from France and then ground to a crawl into Italy. 6 hours for the 200klms from Nice to Genova
The traffic also comprises a much higher proportion of motor cycles whose riders exercise an apparent carte blanche with the road rules. There are plenty of pseudo Valentino Rossi amongst them and with the minimum riding age appearing to be around 12, the male Italian motor cyclist has an average life expectancy of 13.
The Italians are also an extremely patriotic bunch. From seemingly every second window the national flag hangs proudly from a line, assuming of course the italian national flag is a pair of trousers, pegged to a shirt, pegged to a sheet, pegged to a .....
And why do Italians have white lines in parking lots? It gives them a reference point to park diagonally across those lines.
But then we limped into Genova, which was to be my 1st ever contact with an Italian city. Already considering myself a local, I made a couple of completely uninformed and pedantic observations.
Tower growing out of buildings
is a genuine working class Italian city which hasn't compromised itself to please tourists. It has plenty of character in its old quarter and one section is World Heritage listed. Wander literally 1 block from this area and you are in the bowels of streets where the good judges of the World Heritage Council will not be required. The worlds oldest profession is in full swing along with all the ambience associated with these districts.
Wander down to the old port and fishermen still tend to their nets, juxtoposed against big, buxom, strong buildings. Genova is not overly pretty but it looks strong, as if an 11.5 earthquake wouldnt ruffle its feathers. I liked it, a lot.
From Genova we cruised along the Ligurian coastline and settled into a 22 euro room by the beach. 22 euros I repeat. So whats the catch? A couple of catches actually. We christened our room the coffin in reference to its cosy dimensions. By the beach - the beach at Marina di Massa makes Kurnel look like Phi Phi Island.
So why stay there? Apart from the price, Marina di Massa is equidistant to Cinque Terre and the section of Tuscany containing Pisa,
Lucca and a few really atmospheric smaller towns.
Cinque Terre is another World Heritage site of 5 postcard villages perched along a daunting stretch of the Ligurian coastline. It is one hell of a place, although if its virgin Mediterranean seaside tranquility you are seeking, look elsewhere. The word is definitely out. Still, hard not to love it.
And on the 12th day God created the leaning Tower of Pisa. Actually Bonanno Pisano created this architectural and engineering super blooper turned tourism lotto winner. We strolled around for a few hours and couldn't wipe the smiles off our faces.
Firstly there was that reaction of when an icon springs into view. It's instantly giddying as you tilt your head attempting to adjust. After about 15 minutes, our interest in the tower was usurped by the touristic mayhem surrounding the Field of Miracles where the tower stands, or rather leans.
. 300 meters of tacky merchandising stalls. I still can't believe we didn't buy one of those leaning tower bedside lamps.
. all the transports were here - horse drawn carriages, 6 seat bicycle carts, and of course my favourite, the toot toot twain.
. hundreds of tourists trying to get
A fine red from chateau de che or one blessed by the pope.
that photo of themselves holding up the tower.
- Henry to Ethel (try to imagine the American accent) - hey Ethel, everyone's doing the same thing as me.
Sorry Henry, you were doing the same as everyone else.
. Pisa even has 1 of those double decker city tour buses. These are a great idea in a London, Paris, Barcelona, or any other city of reasonable dimmensions packed with sights. The driver of the Pisa bus version has one cushy job. Get the punters on board, drive 5 meters, yell out THERE IS THE LEANING TOWER, NOW GET OFF, THE TOUR IS OVER.
Pisa, I recommend it to everybody visiting Italy. Come for the tower, stay for the circus.
Leaving Marina di Massa in our wake, we scooted across Tuscany (but to quote Macarther, we shall return) to Umbria. Umbria lives in the shadow of its glamorous neighbour Tuscany who seems to absorb most of the tourist headlines, but Umbria was to prove a lot more than just a poor imitation second cousin.
We chose Perrugia, the capital, as a base. Great choice. Perrugia is one helluva town. The walled old section is compact enough to be navigable
Vernazza - village no 4
on foot but the young student population gives the place a lively buzz. Pepe has gotten to know the place particularly well. One wrong turn and you spend 15 minutes circumnavigating the entire city just to go 1 block. 1 particular tunnel has become very familiar.
Just down the road from Perrugia is Assisi. St Francis has left an impressive legacy here. It's a magnificent stone city packed with atmospheric cathedrals. The big daddy here is St Francis' own namesake cathedral which receives millions of pilgrims each year.
Christianity, specifically Catholicism, is serious business here so jokes about St Francis being a sissy will not be tolerated in this neck of the woods. (I had to squeeze that in there somewhere).We went on a Sunday which is peak hour in Assisi and there was the merchandising feeding off the masses. It wasn't over the top merchandising but some of it did seem a little out of place given the reverent nature of the town. eg the t-shirts advertising Italian Sex Instructors.
On the culinary side of events, the food is fine but not a lot (in fact none) of variation from the pizza/pasta staples. A naughty Sangiovese or Montefalco Rosso,
however, are very easy to find. Love those dirty Italian reds.
Finally, may I just add, the italian language, a piece of torta.
Italy - bikes galore - traffic jams, pedestrains crossing every 50 metres, and people that wave their arms to talk. That's Italy. So far Gary's frechlish is doing fine, we seem to be eating what we think we have ordered and drinking some pretty fine wines.
We traffic jammed our way into Genova for a few nights. A town that's not mentioned in the guide books and probably for a very good reason, it's not a tourist town, but a good introduction into Italy, particularly on a Sunday. Having covered the harbour, the old city and a few dodgy streets with prostitutes scattered along every few metres we journeyed into Tuscan country. (Jay, Genova does good coffee, or maybe coffee just tastes better when they keep bringing out munchies.)
ANZAC day, and Italy goes out in symapthy with a holiday for its National day. So we and every other tourist in Italy headed for Pisa. The tower looks the same as it did some 20 years ago, however the souvenier vendors have certainly increased, so
we snapped our photos and left the hoardes of tourists in our wake. On to San Miniata, full of bike riders out getting their daily exercise, but very few foreign tourists. Then on to Postoia and plenty of quaint cafes with locals in for the day to check out the local market filled with clothes and shoes they have not been able to sell for the past 20 years. Even Lowes rejects were more fashionable. What happened to Italy being the fashion capital of the world? - not in this town. Finally to Lucca. (pretty nice Jay). being a holiday it was packed with people enjoying the bands and people hanging in the piazzas.
With public holidays out of the way, we spent a day on foot exploring the 5 towns that make up Cinque Terre. It didn't look that difficult, the first 3 (Riomaggiore, Monarol, Corniglia) were all quite accessable and a pleasant walk. The last 2 (Vernazza and Montorroso) were steep and hilly, making it an easy decision to take the train back to the car. It is really a beautiful coastline, perfect for a longer stay and an obvious honeymoon destination.
We are now in Perrugia (Umbria)
Riomaggiore - the start
I thought Tuscany was scenic, but Umbria certainly holds its own. The old city of Perrugia is charming, chic and full of people enjoying the piazzas, bars and cafes. A really good scene. The surrounding towns /villages have been fun day trips -choosing which ones to visit has been the only difficulty.
Assisi - home of Francis, with impressive church/s and a town full of pilgrims. However the chewing gum fence won me over. It's the first and only fence of its kind that I have come across.
Spello - full of wine and olive shops dotted along the cobbled streets. Still can't get Gary across the line on olives.
Spoleto - plenty of churches and castles and fine architecture, but most under renovation, The city council are very strict on all renovations even down to determining the colour of the paint for the facade.
Terni - a few Tavernas, the odd restorante, and of course a cafe or two where Gary and I can have our ritual evening drink/nibbles before venturing out for dinner.
Tomorrow to Florence and then to Rome!!
More images at: www.colvinyeates.zenfolio.com
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