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Michael’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 01 Jul 2006

Location: Cinque Terre, Italy

MapEntry 43 - Cinque Terre, Italy (24th - 26th June)

Being that Clint and I arrived as late as we did, and with very few options for hostel, or for that matter, any cheap accommodation, we were stoked to stuble across somebody who knew somebody that had an apartment available. It was hard to figure out exactly what was happening, given she couldn´t speak English, plenty of hand gestures though, but luckily the woman with the keys to the apartment could, and we settled in. It was fully self-contained, and everything had to be brought with you, including the toilet paper. Of course, we didn´t have that much foresight, so we were holding on for the night!

As it turned out, we were staying in a SMALL town, called San Bernardinio, situated above the 3rd and 4th towns of of Cinque Terre - 5 lands, or villages in Italian. Being in the middle of a national park, there are no petrol stations all the way back to La Spezia, and we were quickly running low on juice, so decided to do as little driving as possible, and when we did, we´d use the angel gear (neutral) as much as possible going down hill.

We headed to Corniglia, the third and one of the two smaller towns, for dinner at around 9pm. I was not aware of just how small these towns were, and we quickly found ourselves running around looking for a feed, with the pizza shop shutting as we arrived. With no other ´fast food´ type of options left, we were relegated to sitting down to a propper meal, reading menus written only in Italian. In the end though, we had one of the greatest, and more expensive, meals we have had in a long time. CLint got a plate of fried calamari, and couldn´t figure out why they were so salty, but loved them none the less. I ended up with a plate containing 4 of the biggest barbecued praws you have ever seen in your life. With a bottle of water, bread and a couple cokes thrown in, not to mention a tip, it rounded out to 50 euro for the two of us. Given we didn´t get a salad or any desert, it was quite expensive, but tasted great. After dinner, it was obvious that there was nothing to do at night in the town, so we drove as economically as we could, back up the hill to our apartment.

Pretty soon, it became apparent why the apartment we were in was the last one to be occupied for the evening. At 11pm, when we got back to the apartment, and showered up etc. the loudest ringing was happening right outside the apartment window. It seems the church bell, that was at the same height as the apartment, and directly next door, rings a single ring every half hour, and once for each hour of the day, so at 11pm it rang 11 times. This continued throughout the whole night!

The following morning, with the temperature rising quickly, and the bell still tolling, we had a breakfast, booked the apartment for another night, bought a couple of daily Cinque Terre tickets (gives you access to bus, train and hiking path along the water all day for 5.40 euro) and headed for the bus stop to go to Vernazza, the 4th village. The 10.05am bus never arrived, and by 10.20am, we decided to walk the road down the hill to the village - how far could it be? Well, it was getting warm, Clint was already whinging, and after about half an hour of walking, an Italian couple gave us a lift the rest of the way down (to the car park at least), about a further kilometer. Unfortunately, the car park itself is about a kilometer from the water where the heart of the town is! So we continued the walk.

As soon as we got into the village, we headed straight for the marina, and joined in with the locals, and other tourists, jumping off of the concrete retaining wall into the marinas waters. There are heaps of small boats docked in the marina, and the occasional bit of traffic, so one needed to be careful. Immediately when we jumped in, we knew why the calamari from the previous night tasted so salty - the water in the Meditteranean Sea is incredibley salty. After some time jumping into the water, and climbing back out, we finally decided to dry off and look around the rest of the town. That didn´t take long! Despite being bigger than Corniglia, there still isn´t much to do in these town, outside of swim and eat at pricey restraunts, almost all serving sea-food dishes. But the towns are all beautiful to look at, with typical Italian concrete buildings, built along side one another, towering into the sky, somehow stuck into the cliffs. Some are painted brighter than others, and some much more recently than others too, but generally they are all painted in different colors, never two alike, side by side.

The other thing to do in 5 Terre is to walk the length of the towns, from one end to the other on the hiking paths. Given how close the Festival of San Fermin is, and the risk of injuring ourselves on the paths, we opted for the train ride between town, rather than walk the paths. The soaring temperatures into the 30´s also played a part, but only a small one! One thing to say for sure about 5 Terre, is that the train service is by no means relaible. The train that we were taking to the 5th town, Monterosso, was 15 minutes late. Eventually it showed up though.

Monterosso was bigger again, and again we found ourselves headed for the water. This time the water was accessed by a beach, or what Europeans call a beach at least, more like crushed fine gravel. The beach front was actually quite long, and many sections were closed off as private beaches with sun lounges, either for the use of restauraunts or hotels.We walked all the way to the western end of the beach, and never manged to find enough space to lay a towel out, so simply rolled it up in a ball, and headed for the water. After half an hour or so in the water, we again dried off and wandered along the shore front of the town, grabbing a pizza slice for lunch. Unfortunately, being in the mid afternoon, many of the shops were closed for a siesta and we headed again for the train station, to check out the 1st village, Riomaggiore. This time the tarin was on time, but stopped for almost half an hour at the 3rd village, before continuing on to the first... no explanation given, but it wasn´t part of the time table.

When we arrived in the 1st village, around 4pm, we again headed for the water (as I said, not a lot to do in these towns) which was this time accessed by a rocky outcrop. Probably the most dangerous of the three, simply due to the swell coming in against the rocks. Having said that, there was a ´beach´ further around, but there was a fair sized crowd camped out on the rocks - Italians wil set up a towel and lie on it in the sun ANYWHERE, even on big ass rocks in the most uncomfortable looking positions - kinda reminds me of Riley (my dog).

After a big day of swimming there, we climbed out and asked a young American bloke who had a snorkel if there was anything to see in the water. He rattled off some stuff, but after diving in Egypt, it didn´t really seem that impressive. We ended up wandering back into town with him and his group to look at the hostel that they were staying in and bitching about - cost them €35 a night each, which is what we were paying for an apartment. Anyway, the hostel was actually a house, up some cliff face, which had a bedroom with a double bed to sleep two people and a single bed, a fold out double couch to sleep two people in the living room with a single bed as well, and another bedroom with two bunk beds. There were 2 guys and 5 girls, and another two Aussie blokes from St. Albans (or something similar) were also thrown in the house just to make things interesting... a logistical nightmare, in a place smaller than ours, and each were paying €35!

We ended up sticking around and chatting to those guys (all 9 of em) whilst cooking and eating dinner, and at some stage Clint pocketed a roll of toilet paper! Around 8pm we headed back to the train station to head to Vernazza. We still needed to get back to the apartment, and didn´t fancy the same walk as the morning, but up hill, and figured Vernazza being bigger, will have more opportunity for hitch-hiking than Corniglia.

The idea had great potential, but never really worked. Car, after car, after car drove past us, including a Ferrari that Clint and I were going to wrestle to the death to see who got the lift, as they aren´t designed to carry 3 people. I don´t know if it was Clint walking up the hill topless or what, but range rovers, vans, 4x4´s and all sorts of cars with room to spare just kept passing us. Clint even said he was ready to give the driver a hand-job just to get a lift...he claims he was joking, but there was a touch of sincerity in his voice... he´s not coping with the heat!

Finally a little Dihatsu Charade picked us up, and drove us up the last 500 meters or so, barely making it up the hill. With us in the car, the tail was practically scraping along the road! When he stopped to let us out, I just about flew out the window, as the seat had never locked back into place as Clints legs were too big for the seat to fully sit back! We made it finally, and 10pm and showered up and Clint basically passed out due to heat exhaustion after a couple hands of cards. I sat up and finished a bit more of the diary, listening to the ear deafening tones of the church bell before crashing around midnight.

The following morning, we again had a breakfast at the bar downstairs and headed off early towards Nice, France. The further we went around Italy towards France, the hotter it got, and the more we had to pay in tolls. From 5 Terre to the French border, we payed probably 35€ worth of tolls, and then another €20 to get to Nice.

It was a pretty non-eventful drive, besides a side-track through Milan, which was a mistake and pretty damn boring looking city. We were however more interested in finding the entrance back onto the freway. Also, the radio is chock full of stations that speak Italian in Italy, really chock full, so much so that I couldn´t find a free station to use the radio tuner on my IRiver, so we were left without any radio most of the way - it was better than listening to the Itallian gibberish. The other interesting thing was me having my first drive of the trip, at which point Clint immediately went to sleep - the great navigator he is! Having said that, I quickly understood how grueling driving can be in Europe. Not the wrong side of the road, wrong side of the car problem (although I did hit the windscreen wipers a few times looking for the indicator) but the constant right lane - left lane driving. You sit in the right lane, pull out to the left lane to overtake, and get back in the right... over and over and over again. That´s not so bad, but when you are always checking behind you for someone to come up your ass doing 160+ km/hr in a 130km/hr zone, it is very tiring. I only drove for an hour or so, till we got to the city of Nice, where we needed a navigator, so I jumped back into the navigators chair, and Clint had to resume driving. Eventually we found a parking spot and sorted out our accommodation for our stay in Nice.

Next Issue - Entry 44 - Nice (26th-29th June) More ´beaches´, a spanking at the hands of the Monte Carlo casino (I need more money, I can win it back I´m sure, anyone wanna back me?), the reason I HATE soccer with a passion, topless bathing and expensive parking.

Other notes:
I think I have finally hit the wall. I don´t know weather it is the heat, suddenly having to think for myself (and Clint on a number of occasions) again since the vegetative state of Contiki, or whatever else, but I am getting sick of travelling. I am not that worn down, and have really been off the drink most of the time for a while now (none in Cinque Terre, very little in Nice, non first night in Barcelona) so that isn´t the reason, but I just need to stop. But don´t get all excited, I ain´t home sick, I do miss you guys, but I ain´t home sick, so I ain´t coming home. I just need a place where I am not living out of a locker for days on end. I just want to be able to sit on a couch and watch a DVD, and go to the fridge and get a drink without sifting through a hundred bags with little stickers with names and room numbers on them looking for my stuff in the fridge. I want a fridge full (or at part full) of food so that I don´t have to trudge the streets looking for a supermarket whenever I want to make a sandwhich! Having said that, man I´m glad I´m here, and am still having an awesome time, but for future refernce, my travel expiry period is about 110 days! So yes, looking for a place to settle down (anywhere) and get a ´normal´ life back together again!

Clint´s input for the trip to date, and he would like you to remember these:
1. Drugs are bad !!!!
2. When you loose money gambling, don´t gamble more to try and win it back (Clint is great to gamble with, even if he never gambled back in Aus!)
3. Prostitues don´t snuggle.

Till next time...