In all the excitement of getting to Cinque Terre last Saturday, I completely forgot that we had visited Pisa on the way. Yep, the tower is still leaning, but gosh it’s beautiful. I think I’m a sucker for marble buildings. They seem so rich and opulent and other-worldly.
The tower has undergone major stabilisation & reconstruction and apparently now for the first time in its history, it has stopped moving and engineers reckon it should be stable for 2000 years. It looks very clean and sparkling, and there are lovely areas of lawn around it and the nearby buildings.
We wandered around the old part of Pisa for a while and then headed on to Cinque Terre. I regret not indulging in a porchetta sandwich ‘cos we didn’t see any after we left Tuscany. That will be at the top of my ‘must’do’ list next time we’re in Italy.
On Tuesday morning we got packed up and drove back up the scary, winding, narrow road out of Corniglia. We were lucky that when we did meet oncoming traffic, it was at places where we were able to pass each other without any major reversing and negotiating. We zapped along the autostrada and crossed the border back into France, then drove back to the campground we had stayed at on the second night of our trip, Camping de la Chapelette at Saint-Martin de Crau. Not that it’s a particulary flash place (no toilet seats … ugh!), but we knew it and knew where it was so putting in a long day’s drive to get there was okay.
Now we’re in the Oriental (Eastern) Pyrenees, heading to Andorra. We spent last night in a very nice municipal campground in Fontpedrouse, about 100kms south east of Andorra. As we were driving here yesterday, I spotted a signpost for the Camino de Santiago – there must be a route which goes through here. It brought back memories of us crossing the Western Pyrenees when we did our first Camino 7 years ago.
Lovely sunny day on Sunday, so we figured we’d better seize it and go for a walk. Cinque Terre is a very popular place for walkers, with walking tracks between each village plus a few more challenging, higher tracks which visit other nearby villages away from the coast. Our guidebook noted that some of the paths might be closed. Oh yes indeed, we were warned.
We thought we’d do the walk from Corniglia to Vernazza, which was written up as a 1.5 hour walk and one of the nicest in Cinque Terre. There’s an information booth at the start of the path, but the woman there told us that the walk was closed, we couldn’t purchase the necessary pass for it, but that we could do it at our own risk. Um, right. And then the young man at the information place in the village told us that all the walks except the long trail to Manarola were closed and that if we did any of the closed walks, we would be fined 500 euros. O-kay. And then when we were catching the train back from Vernazza to Corniglia, there was a notice at the station advising that all walks are closed. Hmm. So who really knows what’s going on? Nobody, I suspect.
We did do the walk from Corniglia to Vernazza, along with lots of other people walking in both directions. Took us 2 hours including a few stops along the way. It was lovely. Mostly on well-maintained paths through olive groves and other vegetation, with a cafe/bar about 2/3 of the way along, then a steep drop down into Vernazza. We ate lunch at the beach, which was closed due to rough seas. There were no boats out on the water on Sunday or Monday, but on Tuesday the sea was calm again. We caught the train back to Corniglia, and then there are a couple of options for getting back up to the village. There’s a shuttle bus which looks like it seats about 12 people, there’s a set of 385 steps up, or you can just walk up the same road as the minibus drives, but we only worked that out after we’d done the 385 steps. I watched one woman drag her wheelie suitcase down the steps, bumping it on every single step, and wondered if it still had all its wheels by the end.
After a gelati each – chocolate for Greg, basil with olive oil drizzled over it for me – and while we were in a walking mood, we also went down and up several hundred more steps to get to the ‘harbour’. There are houses almost all the way down to the water, and the one right down the bottom even had its own letterbox – it would be quite the trek down and back for the postie to deliver letters there!
On Monday it rained on and off all day. We thought about doing one of the longer, higher walks, but decided against it because of slippery paths. So then we thought we’d have a go at the short walk which goes from Corniglia railway station around he coast to Manarola. Our guidebook advised that it had closed due to a landslide in 2012, but that was 5 years ago and it should be open again by now, right? Well, no. But we didn’t actually find out until we’d walked about 500metres along the track and came to what looked like an enormous sinkhole. There were 2 young, fit German guys who had climbed the stone wall and even they couldn’t find any way around, so we conceded defeat, walked back to the station and took the train to the first or last village, Riomaggiore. There’s a nice walk , Via Dell’Amore, from there to the next village, Manarola, but I’m sure you can guess what I’m going to write next. Yep, it was closed too. So we had a walk around Riomaggiore – much larger and even steeper than Corniglia, then caught the train back ‘home’.
And then I spent the rest of the afternoon caught in front-loading washing machine hell. We feel like we’re pretty used to using different washing machines when we stay in different places, but this thing just wouldn’t play nice. It wouldn’t open at the end of a cycle, or rather, it would only open at the end of every 5th cycle, so I spent a couple of frustrating hours turning knobs and hoping that this time I’d be able to get our clothes out and start drying them.
By the time we reached La Spezia, I was missing all the beautiful picture postcard rolling green vine-covered Tuscan hills dotted with stone buildings. But just around the corner we found something else for me to gaze at – the pastel colours of the villages and the ever-changing seascapes of Cinque Terre.
We’re staying at Corniglia (‘Cornelia’), the middle of the 5 Cinque Terre villages. It was named after the wife of the Roman farmer who settled here. Corniglia is the only village without its own beach, although it does have a fair weather dock and it is possible to hire boats and kayaks. The day we arrived, the sea looked like glass and there were lots of yachts, a few ferries and probably many other smaller vessels out on the water. Yesterday it was rough and the Corniglia dock was mostly under water. Corniglia is the smallest of the villages, with a permanent population of around 250. There’s plenty of accommodation though, and I guess the population expands by several or many multiples of that during tourist season.
We’re staying in an Airbnb apartment on the first floor of a building at the sea end of the main street … which is actually a lane that’s only the width of 2 people. Lots of shops, restaurants and eye-catching stuff along here, and dodging people trying to take their millionth selfie or stopping mid-path to look at something on one of the shops can turn a brisk walk into a frustrating dawdle. We have lovely views from our balcony over the sea, the sunsets and of Monterosso, the first or fifth village of the cinque 5. Vernazza, the village in between, is hidden behind several rocky outcrops.
The drive into Corniglia is … interesting. Very narrow, very winding road down into the village. Greg watched a Youtube video by someone who had done it a few years ago, so he knew what to expect. Basically, it’s a road that is designed for traffic travelling in both directions, but it’s only 1.5 cars wide. So if 2 vehicles happen to meet, there’s quite a bit of reversing to let each other pass.I measure my fear whilst driving by how white my knuckles get, and they were okay during that drive … the whitest they have ever gotten was during some of the drives we did in South Africa!
Parking is very limited. I think most visitors arrive by train or bus, not private car. There are several 1-hour parks near the main street, which is good for unloading luggage, then there is paid and some free parking along the road into and out of the village and also down to the railway station. There are a couple of meters for the paid parking (2 euros for an hour, 10 euros for the day), but both of them are broken! They only accept coins, no notes or credit cards, so have probably been overloaded and not cleared. One meter has an old-looking sign stating that it is broken and it did have another sign on it, advising that there’s another meter 150 metres further up the hill, but as it is now also broken, the second sign has been removed. We originally parked in a paid parking spot and Greg followed others’ examples of leaving a note in the car stating the meter was broken. He went and moved the car early yesterday morning to a free park and it will stay there until we leave tomorrow.
It’s lovely here and I feel like we’re in some kind of weird alternate universe where time has either sped up or slowed down, but I’m not sure which. Have we been here for ages, or did we just arrive? And what day is it today anyway? As for the date … who knows? My computer tells me it’s Monday, September 18th. Okay then.
We had a lovely time with our Adelaide friends. Shared meals every night, an afternoon of sitting in the sun around their pool, a lot of gazing out windows at the picture postcard views and lots and lots of talking and drinking wine. Everyone at the Fattoria packed up on Friday morning to go and have other adventures ( Liz and Sean to Barcelona, Brighid to Milan, Trish to Rome, Annie and Steve to Nice and the rest to other places). We had our Airbnb booked until Saturday morning, so we drove into Florence on Friday.
If you have been there, you know what it’s like, and if you haven’t, I really can’t string words together to adequately describe it, but it’s old and beautiful and special and worthy of a trip just to there to spend weeks and weeks soaking up the culture and art, but we only had an afternoon.
So we did what we do best … we walked as much as we could. Parked along the river not far from the Ponte Vecchio, walked across the bridge and went to gaze at the replica David standing outside the Palazzo Vecchio and to sneak a peek at the Fountain of Neptune which is being renovated and currently behind boards and shadecloth. Wandered along lanes and streets to the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore Florence Cathedral. We queued to go inside and Greg got stopped at the entrance because his shorts were too short (!!), but then the guard just motioned for him to lower them a bit and let him in. Then to the Basilica San Lorenzo, a few other piazzas (or is that piazzi?), back over another bridge, crossing the road whilst dodging a motorcyclist who was far too busy looking over his shoulder to look where he was going and see us, down a few more lanes and streets, back to the car and back to Greve.
We drove the 150-ish kms from Marina di Massa to Greve in Chianti yesterday and reached our Airbnb on the outskirts of Greve just before 2pm. We stopped in at a couple of supermarkets in Massa and got fuel for the second time since leaving Barcelona.
We’ve driven 1300 kms so far and I think we’ve spent more on road tolls than fuel! For the first part of yesterday’s drive, we thought we’d avoid the toll roads, just to see what it was like … we quickly realised that it was very slow going, through towns and villages with lots of traffic and low speed limits. Our GPS estimated it would take us at least an extra hour, so we headed back to the autostrada.
Our Airbnb place is lovely. It’s a self-contained apartment on the ground floor of a 16th century stone farm building on a vineyard. Our host lives in a separate house on the property and his parents live above where we’re staying. Some of the walls are at least 60cm thick! There’s a very old wood oven in a corner of the living room, and enormous timber beams supporting the ceiling. The apartment is very modern, with a good kitchen and bathroom and a comfortable bed!There’s even a friendly little kitten, Pepe, who sneaks in to visit us whenever he can. He likes to sleep on the bed and lie on the huge serving platter which sits on the coffee table. I’ll make sure I give it a good wash before we leave. You can see photos of our accommodation here
We’re only about 500m as the crow flies from where our ADL friends are staying at Fattoria Viticcio, a farmhouse which has been converted into upmarket accommodation. However our host’s mother told me that we couldn’t walk there, we have to drive. There used to be a track through, but it’s now overgrown and not safe to walk on. So after we unloaded the car, we went to visit Liz, Sean and the crew. Got lost and ended up way too far up the hill, but eventually found the right place and it’s lovely too. Probably a similar age to the place we’re staying at, but a much more substantial organisation with many rooms on several levels, and it’s still a working winery as well.
Last night was the Birthday Dinner, which was held at Enoteca Fuoripiazza Ristorante in Greve. 20 of us sat at a long table outside and ate our way through many plates of delicious antipasti, then mains, then dessert. The restaurant’s specialty is bisecca alla fiorentina t-bone steak which is sold by the kilogram. 41 euros/kg. About half the guests chose that – Sean’s 2 brothers shared around 1.5kg and ate it all, Liz and 4 friends shared 1kg and several of the young male guests at the other end of the table may well have consumed 1kg each! It was served very rare. Greg and I had wild boar stew with spinach and it was delicious. It was a lovely evening, Sean made a beautiful speech and I felt honoured to be able to help Liz celebrate her special birthday in such a special way.
Today we’re doing absolutely nothing. It’s the first day in a week that we haven’t been on the road, taking down and setting up camp, and apart from joining our friends for dinner tonight, we have nothing planned. Liz’s sister Triscia is in her element, cooking delicious meals for lots of people. Like me, Triscia enjoys feeding people. She is planning to cook pasta with truffles tonight.
I think it’s some kind of personal record that I haven’t accessed the internet since we arrived in Barcelona last Wednesday, and it’s now Monday. I can’t think of the last time I went so long without at least checking my emails. Sometime last century, maybe? More than 10 years ago, anyway. The world hasn’t ended, and my online business is still up and running, and most things seem to be pretty much as they were 5 days ago.
So, we got into Barcelona late on Wednesday night, picked up our rental car and drove 30kms east to grab a night’s sleep at a hotel. Since then, we’ve been camping but it’s the end of the season and there haven’t been many campers around.
This list of places is just so we remember where we’ve been – Camping Vell Emporada, Garriguella, Costa Brava; Camping de la Chapelette, Saint-Martin de Crau, Provence; Camping de Rossignol, Antibes, Cote d’Azur; Parco Vacanze Ali Baba, Ceriale, Liguria; Parco Vacanze Camping Casone, Marina di Massa, Tuscany.
We’ve mostly driven along the coast, from Barcelona to Massa. We’ll head inland tomorrow to go towards Florence, and aim to reach Greve early tomorrow afternoon. We spent a few hours in Monaco yesterday, just to see what was there. Greg had picked out a parking station near the Casino after reading various comments on Trip Advisor about how inexpensive it was compared with paying for parking in Australia. We got a bit lost and ended up at the far west of Monaco, at a metered car park near what appears to be the only public beach in the principality. We put 1 euro in the meter and got back a ticket that said we had paid until Monday morning! Seemed too good to be true, and after copping a huge parking fine for mis-reading a parking meter in Norway, we were a bit suspicious, but it all seemed legit, so we walked to the main marina and the Casino and a few other places along the way.
It’s good to be back in our tent. I counted up and worked out that by the end of this trip, we’ll have spent nearly 6 months in it, since we got it in mid-2014. We forgot the front part of it, which gives us extra shelter and protects the main front ‘door’ of the tent from getting wet when it rains, but we found a decent-sized white tarp at Leroy Merlin, a hardware chain, and Greg has rigged it up a couple of times when it looks like it might rain. The night we spent at Antibes, it rained a lot but we stayed dry. However, I was talking to someone at the campground we stayed at last night and she told me that there had been bad flooding at the Tuscan port of Livorno, and Pisa, and 6 people died. You can read more here.