Ginny on the Road

16 April 2014
Florence, Italy

I lined up outside Galleria dell’Academia this morning at 7:45am to get in to see Michelangelo’s David. There were already a good 20-30 people in front of me when I arrived and to pass the time I got talking to a Filipino woman in line behind me after she ignored a phone call for more than a minute (apparently from work).

It didn’t take us long to get in after the usual security checks (although lots of people with reserved tickets arrived close opening time and went in befrer us!). After browsing some of the side galleries for a while, we came into the main gallery that housed some of Michelangelo’s unfinished works and of course David. Even the works that were still half in marble looked as if they were trying to break free.

David itself was truly larger than life. Of course I learnt in school that he was over 2m in height, carved out of a single piece of marble etc. But the many pictures and replicas I had seen since then do not do it justice. Every fibre of his body was teeming with life. We did a few fill cicles of the statue and you could clearly see the veins on his neck, hands, feet, forearms; the muscles across his torso, legs, back. There was gracefully drapped slingshot over his right shoulder and you could even see the pebbles in his hand.

Given that David used to be a public work in the Piazza Signoria, he would have been an imposing and beautiful sight to behold. We weren’t allowed to take pictures but we did manage sneak in a few whilst looking bemused at the huffed up security guards who ran around in circles telling people “no photo!”. My friend did get caught once. But it was definitely worth that shot.

The rest of the gallery was impressive too of course. Although David is the centrepiece, there were room after room of works that still burst off the canvas even after hundreds of years. I had been wondering about the technique of the pre-rensissance 2D artists and there was a short film on this exact topic. First a sketch is made of the desired work, which is then laid on wood and small pin pricks are made through the sketch, leaving small dots on the wood that make an outline of the picture. Now this is traced to form the full picture followed by a lot of work on shading, applying gold leaf, plotting the halos for important figures, painting and finishing. The short film only did a small A3 size sample, so I can only imagine how long the epic works took!

After the gallery, I went to the Pitti Palace to check out the five museums within and the Boboli Gardens attached to the gardens while my friend went to do his own thing. As I learnt on the walking tour on my first day here in Florence, the Pitti Palace was built by the Pitti family to outdo the Medici family, but instead they bankrupted themselves and had to sell the Palazzo to the Medicis. The oldest part of the palazzo can be dated back to 1458, and has since then not only seen more 200 years of the Medici dynasty, but also served as the palace of Napoleon and the new government of a united Italy in the 19th century.

After entering the archway into the grand courtyard, I started with the Galleria Palatina which included a glimpse into the reception rooms, grand hallways, salons and private quarters of the historical figures who lived in this residence. We weren’t allowed photos once again here (which is bizzare!) so of course that means that I only have a couple, but reflect only a small degree of the opulence and extravagance in which these people lived. Every surface was painted, carved or gilded, every piece of further made from the finest materials and inlaid with gems, ivory or covered in silks. Once you entered into the private quarters, the painted walls receded to just painted ceilings but only because these walls were instead covered with embroidered lampas silk.

The Galleria d’arte Moderna contained within the complex was not MONA material, but instead it was a departure from the renaissance era art that decorated the building and its focus on religious figures, stories and allergories. This gallery was a chronological progression into the 19th century, containing some stunning portraits and landscapes, both of which we had seen very little of in the Churches of Florence.

The Galleria del Costume showcased a diverse collection of Italian couture, and most were from the 20th century starting from the 20s and 30s given that they were from modern female collectors, designers and socialites. There were dresses, hats, jewelry, gowns and suits, some simple.and elegant, others far more flamboyant and ridiculous. My favorite section of this Gallery was the section which housed the precious restored fragments of the burial outfits of the Medici family members buried in the 16th century: Cosimo I, his wife Eleonora di Toledo and one of their sons. The bodies had been exhumed a few times over the centuries so the decision was made to conserve these rare pieces. On the more complete ones such as the son’s doublet, you can definitely tell that it used to be a rich red. An exhibition like this was more valuable than many of the other pieces combined as it brought to life the people who made this amazing palace thrive.

The weather was pretty stunning, so I decided to take a quick break from the indoors and head out to the Boboli gardens which had been beckoning from every window since the beginning of my visit. The gardens are 45,000m² with work beginning in the mid 16th century for Elenora di Toledo, the wife of Cosimo, both of whom I had learnt about in the clothing gallery.

I wandered for at least an hour around the lush grounds with intricate sculptured details at every turn. Climbing upwards, I reached the Porcelain museum set amongst a blooming rose garden. The surroundings were lovely but porcelain really isn’t my thing, so I didn’t stay very long and instead made my way to one of the central lawns around a fountain with views over the palazzo and the city. The last few days has been quite hectic, so sitting on those lawns for such a great chance to breathe and recharge for the last museum in the complex.

The Museo degli Argenti was set in the most sumptuously decorated rooms that I had seen in the complex. The largest room that we were allowed into was so elaborate that I had to sit down to take it all in. The figures were all drawn in a way that made it look like they were leaping off the walls, especially in the corners when they were very close to actual sculptures.

Given that I had paid €23 for my two entry tickets into complex (the gardens and palace were separate, go figure), I wanted to see every single thing. So I went back into the Boboli and climbed the ascent to the entry into the Bardini gardens, the playground if another wealthy Florentine family. These were definitely less grand, but there was a terrace with an expansive view over Florence and an archway covered in flowers. On a lawn next to the terrace, I set down my things and had a wonderful nap in the sun.

The rest of the day passed quickly as I wandered the streets further away from the hordes of tourists in an area filled with graffiti, €1 shops and small delis. I was meeting my friend for yet another appertivo, but I was tempted by the many sandwiches on offer near these ancient archways. In the area, I also found many craftsmen at work their worksops, fixing furniture or shaping wood. In an city as old as this, I guess there is a lot of work for people specialising in restoration or generally making beautiful things.

So after another bellybusting apertivo, there ends our Florentine adventure. Tomorrow morning I take a 5:50am train to Rome tto see what that city brings. I think my hostel is in an residential area so that should be interesting to compare to the craziness of the city centre!

15 April 2014
Florence, Italy

There is so much to see in Florence, but one not to be missed is the dome climb for the Cathedral which is 463 well-worn stone steps to the top. We got there at about 9:30am and there was already a huge line outside, but we ended up chatting to an Australian couple for the 1.5 hours for which we were in line and that made time fly.

The design for the Cathedral’s dome (or Duomo) was selected through a competition because at the time the size of the conceptualised dome was too large to successfully complete using traditional techniques. The competition was won by Filippo Brunelleschi and he used a 2 dome system - which made them self supporting. Don’t ask me about the engineering behind it! When it was completed, it was the largest in the world, but now it’s the fourth largest. However, it remains the largest brick dome in the world.

When we finally entered the Cathedral, we were quickly ushered to the start of the climb, a set of very narrow staircase which wound its way up the side of the Cathedral. Given that it wasn’t conceived to be a tourism attraction, the narrow pathway had to be used for two-way traffic - so at times it was quite the squeeze. My legs burned from the last few days of hard walking around Cinque Terre, but the lure of the beautiful paintings on the dome spurred us onwards.

The interior of the dome is adored by Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes of the Last Judgement, a very graphic depiction of the beauty of heaven, and the torment that awaits in hell for the sinners. Given its very rich and raw scenes, the frescoes are said to have inspired Dante’s Divine Comedy… not difficult to believe now that I have seen them up close. The frescoes cover the entire dome with the exception of some beautiful stained glass windows that further attest to the craftsmanship of the times. The whole ‘painting’ on the dome is huge, 3600m2 and was actually completed by several artists given that Vasari died before its completion - quite a common thing back in the day it seems…

The view from the top of the Cathedral is literally breathtaking, as we had chosen a fairly windy day to get up there. From that vantage point, you could see all of Florence’s sites from above but also close enough for a good photo, like the panoramic view from the Piazzale Michelangelo (with my point and shoot anyway). All those milling tourists looked so small from up there so it was easy to imagine that we were looking down on 16th or 17th century Florence the way that those in the priesthood, the dome’s builders or a member of the Medici family would have seen Florence back in the day.

After the dome, we wanted to make the most of our one day ticket to the Cathedral Complex, so we ignored the cries of our burning legs and also climbed the Bell Tower - which is also named Giotto’s Campanile. Compared with the Cathedral which took 200 years to construct, the bell tower of 7 bells, 4 levels and 414 steps only 20 years. It isn’t really possible to describe how beautiful it is to see the different faces of the Cathedral as you ascend the different levels of the bell tower. On the way down, you also get to see a tools room where some faithful replications of the tools used to build the complex are on display.

Luckily for us, the third part of the complex was the baptistery, which we didn’t have to climb yay! No one is sure about its origins, but it is believed to have been built over the ruins of a Roman temple and used until the end of the 19th century for the baptism of all Catholics in Florence. While the frescoes in the baptistery itself are beautiful, especially the ceiling’s gold leaf, but it is most famous for its three doors. In particular, its east doors are known as the Gates of Paradise given Michelangelo’s praise that “they are so beautiful that they would be perfect for the gates of paradise”.

These golden doors depict more than 50 scenes from the old testament in 10 panels along with 24 small bronze busts of famous Florentines, including himself. This took 27 years to complete!!! No wonder that what is on the hinges in the baptistery are copies of the original doors, and the original are in a huge vaulted display case in the Museum of the Opera del Duomo - which we were visited as our final activity for the morning.

After feasting on a traditional Florentine ‘lampredotto’ (sandwich made from the fourth stomach of a cow, cooked in broth and served on crusty bread with a variety of sauces), we tried our luck at getting into both the Academia d’Galleria and the Uffizi Gallery, but both had three hour waits!!! Abandoning that future endeavour, we decided to visit the Santa Maria Novella church instead.

When compared with the grandiose Cathedral, the S.M.N. looks quite unpretentious with its white and green marble facade, but it is quite beautiful on the inside given that it was the first basilica erected in Florence. Adored with both Gothic and early Renaissance art, the church also contains some Roman/Greek-inspired columns, more beautiful stained glass, a HUGE suspended cross near the pulpit and smaller chapels on either side of the pulpit. The artwork reflects the different eras in which the church was operating in and how much artistic techniques had developed. There are a few crypts within the church itself, but there is an entire tomb complex at the back of the church which date back to the 15th century, a section which has been damaged by numerous floods.

We wanted to see the same view of the Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo, but this time after dark, and it was worth the icy Florentine winds that swept us all the way up that hill. There was no shortage of people up there, so we patiently waited our turn to snap the postcards shots. All the significant buildings were lit up like Christmas trees, which gave the city of stone and marble, of grand palazzos and waterfront eateries, a sense of romanticism which is absent during the day. As beautiful as Florence is from above, much of the city centre lacks the greenery that we (Australians, or otherwise) value so much. But at night under the twinkling lights, it is easy to forget that small fact and bask in the fact this city was close (if not so) to being the heart of Europe’s economic and cultural scene more than 500 years ago!

14 April 2014
Florence, Italy

My first day in Florence was quite overwhelming. The city isn’t huge, eveything is quite close together and easy to navigate but even now it feels like there is almost too much to see in terms of museums, galleries and sites.

After arriving from Pisa, I made the decision not to check into my hostel straight away, but leave my big bag at the train station and do the two free walking tours of the city to orient myself. Our walking tour guide was completely not what I expected. Unlike the many that I met in South America who were college students, this one was at least in his 50s and dressed in a heavy blazer in the warm Florentine sun. But as the tour sent on, he did know his stuff which is far more important than a bubbly personality and a loud voice.

After a brief history of Florence’s founding by the Romans and its various rises and falls outside the Santa Maria Novella church, our first walking tour took us via the ancient stone streets to some of the most significant in the city like the Piazza delle Repubblica with the post marking where Romans first plotted the city and a stunning archway; the Piazza Duomo with the 4th largest Cathedral in the world such took more than 150 years to complete due to architectural issues over how to pave the dome and by far the most beautiful I have ever seen, a large bell tower, and the batistry all covered in scaffolding; the Piazza della Signoria, the centre of Government in Florence and effectively an open air museum with the number of statues all about; and concluding at the Santa Croce church where many of the city’s most known sons are interred, e.g Machiavelli.

Without a doubt the city has given the world some of the most amazing artists, thinkers, craftsmen, architects and statesmen. And as my second tour also taught me, Florence also gave the world one of Europe’s first families - the Medicis. They dominated Florence and much of Europe from the 14th to the 18th century, first amassing wealth through Florence’s textile industry, then by establishing the Medici bank - by far the largest in Europe at the time.

During their dynasty, the Medicis revolutionized banking, funded builds all around Europe and expeditions around the world, patronized the arts (including Michelangelo), and produced four popes and two Queens of France - allowing them to use the Royal French lily flower in their family crest (although as I learnt, the crest of the city is also a lily).

So for the second tour just about the Medicis, we walked around the many significant places around the city in which the Medicis worked, lived, helped fund to build and restored, and prayed. It felt like they owned the whole city during their peak. The tour finished up at Pitti Palace, their last place of residence and from which the last Medici bequethed all the Medici buildings to the city. I definitely need to go back to all those places and actually go inside. So much more I still want to know about them!

During my tour I met an American student from Texas and we just ended up hanging out for the day. After the two jam packed tours, we ended up chilling for a while high up in the Piazzale Michelangelo, a fantastic view point of the city on the other side of the river which gives you an amazing panorama with the Duomo, the many many stone marvels, the bridges, the river and the rest of the city sprawling into the hills. After such a hectic day it was wonderful to just sit there on the stone steps watching the sunset, listening to a busker, all the while looking at such an unbelievable view.

After our butts went numb, we went further up to check out the San Miniato al Monte, a Roman church which has some fading but still incredible art all over, and incredibly ornate pulpit and when we arrived, the monks from the adjoining monastery and conducting some kind of evening mass in Gregorian style tones which were surreal.

By this time we were starving, so we went searching for a cheap apertivo place after the recommended restaurant was a little out of our desired budgets. Lo and behold an apertivo bar appeared, which at €7 for one drink and all you can eat pasta, salad, bread, meats and other foods was just what two weary travellers needed.

As I walked back to my gorgeous hostel set on one of the rare tree lined streets, I couldn’t help but stop multiple times to admire the full moon and the sparkling river with its reflections of the many city lights and bridges. 8 think tomorrow is going to be equally jam packed as we try to hit up three of the city’s main sites so I need as much sleep as I can - which is currently proving impossible as the loudest dorm snorer I have ever heard is right next to me…

View of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo close to sunset. What else needs to be said?

View of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo close to sunset. What else needs to be said?

14 April 2014
Pisa, Italy

I am going to split up my post today into two coz I wanted to do photographic justice to Pisa and especially Florence.

I left Cinque Terre super early this morning so I could get to Pisa as early as possible to avoid the hordes. I got to Pisa just after 8:15am and power walked to the location of the leaning tower to see what the fuss is all about.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa (Torre Pendente di Pisa) is a lot smaller than I expected! At 55.86m in height and an estimated 14,500 tons in weight, the tower has been re-supported a number of times since its initial completion in 1372. A long time ago and it is still gleaning white. I heard from someone I met in Cinque Terre that the last lot of works which were just completed in the last few years and only straightened up the tower by 0.5 degrees.

I was not tempted at all to do any photos of me pushing the tower back up or picking it up - but there were plenty of people trying it (OK I admit it, A LOT of Chinese tourists!). I think I’ve had enough perspective photos to last me a lifetime at the Uyuni Salt Flats.

In fact, I found the Duomo di Pisa and the Battistero within the Piazza dei Miracoli far more beautiful in terms of architecture than the tower itself. I was too early unfortunately to actually go into these buildings but their marbled glory was able to be appreciated from the outside. A real shame since you are meant to be able to get a fantastic photo of the entire Piazza and the wider Pisa by getting to the top of the Battistero.

I have gotten into the habit of timing a lot of my walks and on a whim I timed the walk it took from the station and back after viewing Pisa. 55 minutes and worth every Euro I spent on leaving my big backpack at Pisa Centrale station! After the hiccup with the train strike yesterday, my connection came quite quickly and before I knew it, I was on my way to Florence and its many treasures.

13 April 2014
Cinque Terre and Levanto

Today’s train strike was a blessing in disguise. I spent the entire morning at my hostel’s Wi-Fi spot doing some trip related admin with some very noisy children around. And then on a whim I decided to take the boat to the last Cinque Terre town of Monterroso to hike to the next town of Levanto.

As expected, the boat ride between all five villages provided a different perspective off the villages that were not possible from above or on the ground. Today was a lot cooler and cloudy compared to yesterday which enshrouded the tops of the villages in a fine mist from afar. The photos definitely don’t do the eerie atmosphere ahh justice, but it was.ask incredibly picturesque.

The boat’s passengers were an accurate representation the key tourist demographics of Cinque Terre: Italians, Americans and mainland Chinese. It was rather surprising for me to hear so many people speaking Mandarin when I first arrived. But now I just take it as a welcome break from all the Italian that I am not understanding even I am making an effort to ask for directions and order food etc.

Alighting at Monterosso, I made a beeline for its defining monument of the giant holding up the city just to get a snap before heading up into the mountains again. This track was probably the least well maintained of all the ones I have hiked in this region. The path was covered with debris from landslides or other disasters; parts of the path weren’t paths but looked like naturally eroded jagged streams of rock; and some of the highest parts of the walk were just enough for one person without any railings.

I had twisted my ankle a few times in the last few days, and today was no different which made the descents extra painful and precarious. More than once I wondered why I didnt stay in Monterroso sipping a coffee and eating achovies by the water. Eventually the sun peeked out as I neared Levanto and that made the walk a little lighter.

The walk to the top of Levanto took about 1hr 40mins and the descent into town via the asphalt road took a further 30 minutes. I couldn’t find a pedestrian path down the hill so I just sucked it up and took the scenic automobile route. At one point a really tiny cross between a ute and a truck passed me by, but it looked like an ancient farmer’s model of those weird 2 person cars you see around these days.

A few people told me that when I got to Europe everything will seem really old. And Levanto is one such example. Its proximity to Cinque Terre probably means that it benefits from tourism, but from what I saw of the town, it also has some lovely stone buildings (some vine covered), a long watefront, public parks and charming bars & cafes. I am sitting in one such bar now having an apertivo, whereby you order a drink and it comes with snacks. Sometimes it is all you can eat, but this place sadly isn’t. My perseco came worth potato chips, olives and three little sandwiches which should tie me over for a bit before the next cafe catches my eye or the train starts running again - hopefully in 1.5hrs at 9pm!

12 April 2014

Another sunny day here in Cinque Terre. I decided to get to the furthermost village from where I am staying here in Riomaggiore - to Monterosso - and slowly make my way back. Monterosso is the most touristy of the five villages with bigger hostels, loads of restaurants and souvenir shops, a big wide beach with umbrellas for rent etc. But it also had a beautiful old cemetery with a view close to the shoreline and a fantastic hike up to the Monastery “Santuario di Soviore” which is on the way to Vernazza.

The hike was a steep one and made its way at a slow pace around the mountain until you finally break out of the trees right before the Monastery. As I approached, the church bell tolled for midday and rang throughout the hills and a few moments later I could see all of Monterosso and its surroundings for the first time since leaving its paved roads. It was easy to forget with all that walking that you are actually anywhere near the ocean, but sure enough it is there in all of its sapphire-like glory.

Like yesterday, the Monastery itself wasn’t anything to write home about, but it had a little cafe and quite large living quarters attached to it. I didn’t stay too long up there as I wanted to catch a particular train towards Corniglia (the middle of the villages) so soon I was passing sweaty and puffy people on their way up asking how much longer it was. Funnily I have developed a habit of timing every hike that I do, so I was able to actually give them a precise ETA.

After grabbing a quiche and my first gelato of Italy (pistachio and peach flavours), I headed over to Corniglia which is the quietest of the five towns but the most well known for its amazing wines. I didn’t actually have any coz it still felt too early in the day, but I did walk up its famous 400 steps to get into town (as the train station is located at the bottom of the hill that the town is situated on!). There did seem to be a lot of good food and wine around, loads of cute cafes and squares hidden away in its alleys.

Next I took a recommended high road from Corniglia to Vernazza to see some of the famous ocean views from the precarious cliff top walk (well fenced off but narrow at times). Since Corniglia is already so high up in the hills, this was the least difficult walk I had done so far in Cinque Terre, so I was able to enjoy the sunshine and the views at my leisure. At about the half way point, the entire town of Corniglia became visible as it is draped over its jagged foundations, surrounded by sea to the right and vineyards and wild terrain to its left.

But as I read online, but first view of Vernazza is pretty breathtaking. I actually asked an American couple of whom I took a photo to also take mine. Definitely one of the highlights and easy to photograph with my crappy camera! The town juts out in an triangular shape into the water from the mainland and from above you can barely see any gaps between the houses. Like my guide book describes it, the houses in the Cinque Terre are like “a gangly clump of oysters growing on each other”. I can think of no other way to put it. The very same guidebook tells me that the Cinque Terre were founded in the Dark Ages by farmers hiding out from Turkish pirates and they were actually very poor until the dawn of the train age which brought the hordes of tourists into town.

There was a really cute bar high on the hills of Vernazza but I decided to head into the harbour to reward myself with a refreshing drink. I chose the most well known of the region, the dessert wine sciaccetra, for 5 Euros and as an added bonus it came with three little biscottis which really added to the sweetness of it all. Definitely something I want to drink again. At the little hole in the wall bar I met two American women who are working in Italy and we talked travel as we sipped on our respective glasses of local wines.

After already being on my feet for almost 8 hours, I decided to train back to Riomaggiore to use some Wi-Fi to blog and organise myself for Florence before heading back out for a big night in Monterosso or Vernazza. But a single grey cloud appeared in this expansive blue sky when I got back into town. #Cue Family Guy Evil Monkey Music#

I had been planning to head nice and early into Florence tomorrow morning with a stop off to check out the leaning tower of Pisa. BUT my plans are pretty much on hold as there is a train strike from 9pm tonight until 9pm tomorrow so I am stuck in Cinque Terre for an extra day. That really pissed me off for all of like a minute because there could be so many other worse places to be stuck in, e.g. an airport, a crappy place with nothing to do or somewhere you are sick of. But there are still some beautiful hikes I have yet to explore so I am content.

To perk myself up further, I had a cone of mixed fried seafood as a snack before dinner (these cones are everywhere around here) and then picked up a packet of squid ink pasta and a tub of pesto for dinner. Definitely have to eat as much pesto as possible in this region but hello, something combining pasta and seafood? I am definitely doing it the right way.

Anyhow, I am just going to hike in the opposite direction tomorrow and maybe head in the other direction and see if I can get to La Spezia (which is apparently 4 hours one way) or Protovenere to se the Isola Palmaria or the Isola del Tino islands. I have also met a nice American girl who is staying in the bunk above me and we might hang out on the Amalfi coast together in a couple of weeks - so plenty to still be chirpy about. Still can’t believe it - I am in Italy!

11 April 2014
Cinque Terre, Italy

I arrived in Riomaggiore early afternoon from Genoa via a 2 hour train. First train in Europe and it was cheap, reliable, clean and comfortable. Given that I had time, I went with the slower regional train rather than the slightly faster RV train, but it got me here and I am happy.

By all accounts, all five villages in the Cinque Terre share similar characteristics being along the same stretch of coastline and traditionally fishing villages before tourism came along. But they are also distinct. Riomaggiore is a upward climbing maze of pastel-coloured houses that break off into narrow streets in all directions. My hostel is in such an alley off a square off the main street Via Columbus. I was a little disappointed with it because even though I knew that this company managed a number of rooms around town, the pictures had been light filled and up on the hill. My room had no window and almost runs underground!

I explored a bit off Riomaggiore on foot before deciding to hike over to the next village of Manorola. The most famous starch of the “blue” coastline route to the next town “Via dell’amore” was closed, as were the entire blue route due to landslide damage. But the hilly red routes which climb high into the vine covered hills remained open, so I took one such route over to Manarola. It had been cloudy when I arrived, but as I started to climb the sun came out to spur me along to the best viewpoint. When I did scale the rocky steps to the picnic area, Riomaggiore was laid out before me like a postcard and I could see the La Madonna di Montenero (a monastery) that is perched high above the village. The other four villages were also visible to my right at this point, Manarola right below and Monterosso a little unclear being the furtherest away.

The wild overgrown path ended at around the middle of the village of Manarola, which tumbles down the hillside into a beautiful harbor area. As I made my way down, I walked past a really pretty little church as well as many stores selling locally-made products and produce. Manarola, like much of the Liguria province is known for its pesto and foccacias. So I grabbed a pesto and mozzarella ear the port (also to use their wifi) after a brief walk along a sunny but short stretch of the “blue” route which was open. The walk offered a really pretty photo point of the entire port area and the upward slope of the town.

The water was really clear here as it dashed against the rocks and moored boats. Quite a few people were taking a dip in the water when I arrived but it looked way too cold for my liking. Locals and tourists alike sat on benches along the walking path to enjoy the afternoon sunshine.

Feeling a little more adventurous and nourished after my big foccacia, I took a train from Manarola back to Riomaggiore and began the equally steep hike up to the Monastery which I had seen earlier. The path was very rocky but also covered with moss given that it Is partially shaded close to a little stream which is probably the village’s water source. Houses sporadically lined the path - a part of the terraced landscape leading up to the highest points. There were a few shrines laid into the stonework of the terrace, most likely the ashes of lifelong residents.

I had been a little concerned about it getting dark when I started my hike close to 7.30pm, but I got to the top in about half an hour in time to watch the beginning of sunset. The monastery was closed but I got to admire the exterior which is well preserved and painted pink, which I found unusual. However what made the hike totally worthwhile was the view of all five villages and the view of other sea side villages on the other side of Riomaggiore. The light was not the best for photographs but it perfect for watching the union of the architecture, terraces, sea and sky.

I made my descent quickly as it got darker and colder, and the moon rose above the monastery. Before retiring to my little basement apartment, I grabbed another local carb-heavy specialty, a farinata which is like a chickpea pizza that came with a big piece of Mezzina (foccacia-like). My roommates are an older American lady, and a group of 3 travellers from Madrid - but they are Canadian, American and Spanish.

Lying in bed now just after midnight, I just heard again the rumble of the train - given that the apartment is probably only separated by a few metres of stone from the tracks. Tomorrow I am hoping to explore the other three villages in the Cinque Terre and hopefully sample some of the local seafood and wine - all within budget of course :)

10 April 2014
Genoa, Italy

We learnt from our final cruiser program that we had travelled 11,964km from Rio to Savona, crossing the equator and the Tropic of Cancer. An incredible distance, but only a bleep in the total distance I will travel on this trip.

And life out of the ship is damn amazing. After disembarking in Savona, we went to my friends’ place nearby for them to shower and for me to use the internet for the first time in days to sort accommodation for my next few cities.

We didn’t look around much in Savona, but from what I did see from the port and along our drive to Genoa (yes in a Fiat!), the city is small but has some really beautiful old mansions on the river and throughout the centre. Guess they would all be apartments now. My friend’s place was on level 5 (top) of his building with some pretty skylights and an old fashioned metallic lift with grated doors. I don’t think I am really gonna get over those kinda lifts. It feels so very early 19th century!

Both of my tour guides for the day are young Italians who frequent Genoa. One because she studies there and the other because he lives nearby and studies at the Savona campus of the main Genovese university. So they know the city really well. For about 5 hours they took me around to all of Genoa’s major sites, including our first stop which was a public lookout point over the portside of the city. This lookout highlighted the complexity of the city’s narrow streets, its network of bridges which connected directly onto the middle or top floors of apartments, its plethora of beautiful old mansions and its expansive waterfront.

I was really charmed by the Piazza di Ferrari with its beautiful surrounding buildings and the dramatic fountain. The city map tells me that there are 42 plazas (palazzi), most of which are UNESCO World Heritage listed.

Aside from the Piazza de Ferrari, my other favorite plazas were:
- the Piazza della Vittoria which is a memorial to the fallen from WWII
- the Piazza San Lorenzo with the beautiful old church that gives it its name. My host told me that I had to have a photo with one of the stone lions outside the church coz that is the done thing; and
- the Piazza delle Erbe which is filed with bars and eateries frequented by university kids.

When we got hungry, I was introduced to a small cafe which sold fresh foccacias by the kilo (but you could just get a slice of course). We had the original one which is like a Felicia plain thin crust pizza and one that was loaded up with onions. Definitely a carb-tastic snack for a long day of walking which ended up at the port to see the Bigo, a weird touristic lift that looked like a huge white metallic octopus.

After my friends left, I checked into my hostel which had only been open a month and was a really cute 4 story house in the University distinct. It had a funky open space and I immediately met a few other travellers and we ended up all going out to dinner at Da Maria. Recommended by my friends, it is a restaurant up a dingey alley Melbourne style that has a different menu every day and only cost €10 for a pasta entree and main with wine per person. It was filled with locals when we got there and we were soon equally rowdy. My new companions were 2 kiwis, onr Australian and one American. What was pretty amazing was that the Aussie and Yankee were only 18. Really admirable and incredible to be traveling on their own at that age!

Although we did hit up Piazza dell Erbe to check out the student scene, the drinks were a little pricey so three of us went back to the hostel to chill. I have decided to try to stick to a budget of €50 per day whilst in Europe. Every Euro that isnt spent per day wi go into a recorded kitty as backup funds for the more expensive countries in Scandinavia!

So it is Day 1 in Europe and after a jammed packed day I am under budget. So at least another 149 days to go?