Europe Trip Day 33-44
What a difference four hours can make. After leaving our remote cottage in Rodello we arrived in sunny seaside Portovenere on the Mediterranean Sea. The change in ambiance was amazing. On our first night we devoured a delicious seafood platter at a local restaurant on the harbour. It was heaven after the lack of restaurants in the countryside.
On Sunday we took a boat trip to the Cinque Terre, a rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera with extraordinary scenic landscapes providing a traditional way of life that has existed for a thousand years. The five tiny, picturesque villages Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso are carved into the rocky coastline of Italy’s Liguria region. It is bizarre and intriguing to contemplate how these buildings were built centuries ago. The colour of the ocean water is astonishing, brilliant blue/green.
One of the reasons tourists flock to Cinque Terre is to hike the rugged trails between the five villages. Unfortunately some paths were devastated by the 2011 floods and are currently closed for restoration. Visitors also like to swim in the sea and bask in the sun on the rocky beaches. Hundreds of bodies of all shapes and sizes seek out deck chairs and colourful umbrellas for hire in Monterosso.
On our last day in Potovenere we explored more of the town walking to the headland on the edge of the entrance to the bay to see the Gothic Church of St. Peter and the Doria Castle. Most tourists don’t bother walking up this far but we wanted to see everything. On the way we discovered Byron’s grotto where the waves of the Mediterranean spectacularly crash against the rocks. We continued walking through narrow alleyways and up flights of rocky steps to reach the summit and wondered how people live their lives on such steep slopes. The views over the sea and the town from the top are remarkable.
After a magical three nights in Portovenere we headed southeast toward Tuscany with a brief stop in Pisa to see the leaning tower and take some snaps with thousands of other tourists. Our next home was in an area known as Crete Senesi in the Tuscan region where the distinctive grey colouration of the soil gives the landscape a lunar appearance. This landscape contradicted my perception of lush green rolling hills gained from the movie ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’. There are some green hills but many more what looks like fields of clay.
During our stay at Casetta we enjoyed scenic drives to discover several walled medieval hill towns including Siena, San Gimignano, Castellina in Chianti, Montepulciano and Asciano.
A day trip to the beautiful town of Fiorenze (Florence) was a highlight of our stay in Tuscany. Florence’s museums, palaces, and churches house some of the greatest artistic treasures in the world. Seeing Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia was a surreal experience for me. The light shines upon the seven-foot tall David and commands attention drawing your eyes to the smooth lines of the marble sculpture created in 1504. We soaked in the grandeur of the Duomo, marveled at the architecture and sheer size of the countless ancient buildings and strolled across the Ponte Vecchio in the late afternoon sunshine. It was a long and exhausting day after walking many kilometres but so rewarding. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to experience the majesty of Firenze (Florence) that is now embedded in my memory.
Our last port of call before flying home was three nights in Rome. The drive from Casetta took three hours and as we got closer to Rome the intensity of the traffic became hectic. Drivers have to be forceful to get where they need to go and people park cars anywhere they can squeeze them in. Graffiti is plentiful around Melbourne where I live in Australia but I have never seen such vast amounts of graffiti as there is in Rome. Beggars plead for money from motorists when they stop at traffic lights leading me to believe things are desperate in Rome.
The last two days of our 44 day journey were challenging. Huge crowds of people flock to Rome every day and we added two more people. The major historic sites are several kilometres apart spread across the city so lots of walking is required. Crossing the street is like a life threatening dash between cars, taxis, buses and motorbikes. There is no place for the timid in Rome.
The Trevi fountain was a priority on my must see list and I was disappointed to discover it closed for renovation. We saw the Vatican from the outside because the queues to look inside had a four-hour wait time. The magnificence of the coliseum commands attention and dominates the area. With so many historic buildings and statues in Rome, some dating back to 4000BC, it is difficult to take them all in. Illusionists, musicians and singers entertain the crowds in the plazas creating a vivacious atmosphere of fun.
There is no shortage of places to eat in Rome. We ate at Sofia Restaurant on via Capo le Case, a lovely Italian restaurant that served delicious food and was a first-rate experience. The second day we had an equally delicious lunch at Il Papalino on Borgo Pio, recommended by my blogger friend Julie Cook. We walked for kilometres between the sites and each night arrived back at the hotel exhausted. It was two days of ups and downs, a perfect example of travel experiences. You learn to make the best of everything that comes your way. That’s life in Roma.
Tomorrow morning we board the long flight home to Australia. So much has happened in the last seven weeks my head is spinning. I’m tired and ready to go home now. When I return home I intend to write a reflection of my feelings about the whole journey.