Saturday, 23 June 2018

The Final Countdown. Days 64 & 65: Epping, London

I’m going to break with convention for these days and just write an overview. From 1-4 June we stayed with Paul and Alice, and their four cats and 20+ koi fish. We were made to feel very welcome and we are so thankful and grateful to them for their hospitality!

The Saturday and Sunday mostly consisted of going to the shops and buying [kegs of] beer, going to the pub, eating delicious food cooked by Alice, trains, sitting and chatting in their German inspired beer garden and listening to music. All the while getting and giving lots of attention to the cats! It was exactly what Dan and I needed at our half way point and it couldn’t have been done in better company.

Til next time,

The Final Countdown. Day 63: Nice, France - Belgium (briefly) - London, UK

Today was our last day on Europe mainland. It was bittersweet! We got to have a short sleep in which was nice, not a totally early start like usual. We were actually ready earlier than we needed to be so we made our way to the bus stop for the airport. Turns out that was quite good because the bus took longer than we had bargained for!

First off was breakfast, though, and this was probably one of the most nutritious meals of our lives. We had to finish off what we had bought, so breakfast consisted of limoncello mixed with purple Fanta, and some chocolate wafers.

We splashed out for the express service to the airport and I managed to squeeze myself and all my luggage into a seat. Dan stood on the vestibule. The bus reached terminal two quite quickly, where almost everyone piled off. I had researched ahead of time which terminal we needed so I knew we had to stay on. Most other people hadn't done this, so they piled off and then most of them piled back on again - as well as new passengers.

Finally we set off for terminal one, and disembarked. Security was easy enough and after a lap around the terminal, settled on some seriously overpriced but not the worst in the place sandwiches. When it was time to go to through we found another lounge, with far less people. Oh well!

When it came time to board, we all formed an orderly queue as is appropriate. The first lot of people ahead of us jumped on the bus to be transported to the plane - and then we waited. And waited. And waited. The bus seemed to have gotten lost. It took probably close to half an hour to return to collect the rest of us - by now our flight time and been and gone. The flight attendants had been looking out the windows all wondering where it had gone too!

The flight was generally uneventful - managed to get a row to ourselves - fist pump! We arrived in Brussels airport a little bit late but we still managed to get ourselves a Belgium beer as hoped! We bought ourselves a couple Hoegaartens (the tasty pink one for me) and when we looked at the flight board next - our flight had been delayed by an hour. Bugger. We contemplated getting another beer but I’m quite glad we chose not to, in the end!

This flight too was relatively uneventful, a bit of turbulence on the way down but nothing too untoward. And so we farewelled Europe and welcomed England. We flew into the delightful Heathrow, and when we landed we did our best to race through to security to try to be ahead of the crowd. In the end I think we only lined up for about 20-25 minutes, the queue wasn’t too bad. Our security officer wanted a chat and thought he was a bit of a comedian, which was good but also frustrating as we wanted to be out.

For our first few days in London we were to stay at Epping with Paul and Alice. After some consideration we decided to still take the tube because it wasn’t a lot slower than one of the Heathrow lines, but a fraction of the cost. As we set off from Heathrow, Dan and I had a realisation that we would have to change to the Central line at Holborn. Any other time we have done this, it’s been crowded and horrible. So we took a punt...and frankly it didn’t quite work out as we expected!

We left Heathrow about 6.30ishpm. When we got to Acton, we changed to the district and went backwards two stops to the beginning of the Central line. This didn’t take us all that long, really. And we jumped on the Central and got easy seats. Then we set off.

God it took forever. At one stop we just sat there for 10 minutes. When we hit Holborn, the train was mostly empty and no one really got in. We looked at each other, like, bugger. That farting around did not pay off.

A man had gotten on earlier and looked at us and our mountains of luggage, bemused. He had to talk to us. He reminded us that this train was not going to Epping. Yep, we had to make yet another change.

We piled all our crap off the train and waited for information about the next one to Epping. The time kept shifting, until finally someone said over the loudspeaker that the drivers will announce their destination as the screens weren’t able to display the latest information. Also there was a train on the track and they couldn’t find the driver. Dan and I were just desperate to not be moving anymore but finally our train to Epping arrived. We breathed a sigh of relief!

At Epping Paul was there to meet us. We walked the short distance to his and Alice’s house and collapsed! We met the four cats, and settled in for a beer and a chat before it was time to crash for the night. It had been along long day and we were thankful to be still - and the next few days were only for relaxation!

Til next time,

The Final Countdown. Day 62: Monaco

New country day! Our decision to put off Monaco until today because the weather was supposed to be perfect. The title of this post is a little misleading from the convention I've normally been using - by rights it should say Nice, France - Monte Carlo, Monaco, but seeing as we spent absolutely no time other than getting to the train in Nice, I wanted to highlight that this day was exclusively about Monaco. We slept in slightly (as we needed it), then breakfasted and went straight to the station. Trains to Monaco/ Monte Carlo weren’t as frequent as we expected, and we had to wait until 12.30 for the next train. Lots of people joined us on the platform.

A train arrived very early but we couldn’t see it’s destination. Dan told me to get on as he suspected it would be for Monte Carlo but wanted to check. I found us a seat but I didn’t realise it was backwards, so when Dan found me he directed us to the last forward facing sets of seats in the carriage.

About half an hour later, we were in Monaco! We realised that the border of France was about a block away on the other side of the train station. The first thing I noticed about Monaco was that the train station escalators didn’t work. I thought, surely they’re rich enough to fix the escalators? But then again, the people who live here likely do not catch the train in, but their Uber Helicopter instead! The station was at one of the highest points in Monaco, so when we finally reached the exit, we found a balcony with a rather lovely view down across the city and to the marina.

We decided to get ourselves the €5.50 all day bus pass, which is surprisingly cheap considering, but after watching 2 people in front of us fail with the machine, and then when we failed ourselves, we figured we’d just walk for now. The next bus in the direction we wanted to travel wasn’t for 45 minutes and it would only take about 10 minutes to get to our destination!

Our destination was lunch, of course. I had researched a place (of course) that was supposed to be quite cheap and also sold traditional Monaco food and pastries. On our walk down the hill, our first Ferrari passed us - a red one. We continued on and found ourselves in a bit of a crappy square with expensive restaurants and a SPAR, but finally we found the market that the restaurant was supposed to be housed in. Closed. For the 3 days after the Grand Prix, I presume to give the owners a bit of a rest! Because we were thwarted here, we weren’t sure what to do.

We backtracked to the SPAR, noticing that the tables and chairs outside were not for the surrounding restaurants, but for the SPAR itself. What a great idea! We went inside and got ourselves a couple of very reasonably priced salads and a half bottle of wine. I went up to pay while Dan packed the bag. The gentleman behind the counter didn’t seem to speak much if any English, and so he spoke to us in French. Upon handing over some cups to go with our wine, which was a nice touch, Dan blurted out “Bonjour!” I laughed, and I continue to laugh, but I understand where this came from. After visiting so many countries in such a short amount of time, I always had to flick through the teledex in my head…Bonjour! Merci! Danke! Gracie! Bonjourno! It get’s really confusing!

When we were outside, we noticed that some microwaves and kettles had also been set up which mean we could have gotten ourselves a hot meal too. However we probably needed the salad more… Definitely the most affordable meal in Monaco! We were enjoying ourselves and the situation so much, that we bought another half bottle of wine while we contemplated our next move.

One thing I was very keen to do was to take the Boat Bus across the Marina. This trip could be included in the day bus pass, so our next step was to try to get ourselves one of these tickets. We also wanted to visit the Exotic Gardens, as well as explore Monte Carlo and Monacoville, the old town. When we got down to the water front, we just missed one of the boats, so we walked around quite a considerable way until we found another bus stop. This time, the machine was working and we were able to get 2 day passes, and we didn’t have a long wait until the next bus.

We hopped on, booped our tickets and off we trundled right up and up the hill to the Exotic Gardens. When we got there, we found out that entry tickets were €7.50 each - it was essentially a cactus garden and while I love cactus, neither of us thought the entry fee was worth it. However, what we did discover was that the ticket office had the most incredible view out over Monaco - definitely worth the bus fare just for that view! We took a lot of photos (trying to look as rich as possible), before catching the next bus all the way back down again. While we were standing here, we were probably only about a block to the French border.

This time we got off the other side of the Marina and waited for the Boat Bus to come collect us. Surrounding us were hundreds of incredible boats and yachts of varying sizes. I joked that we were yacht shopping - some were seriously obscenely huge, while others were just tacky - there was one with a giant lion painted on the side which just goes to show that money can’t buy taste!

The Bus Boat finally arrived, and Dan and I were the only passengers. I spent some time lounging on the front of it like I was rich and owned a boat in the harbour, which made us giggle. We took a lot of photos on the passage which only took about 5 minutes, and when we alighted one of the gentleman running the boat pointed out some great spots for us to take some lovely photos - he’d obviously noticed that we enjoy photography!

This time we briefly explored some of the back streets of Monacoville, popping out at the palace. There wasn’t a great deal to see, so we made our way down to the waterfront again towards the Grand Prix circuit. The city/country was in a bit of disarray as the Grand Prix had only finished mere days ago and roads were still blocked off and all of the scaffolding still up. We skirted the outside of the track, making our way towards the Brasserie De Monaco for happy hour.

Happy hour is from 6-8pm, and beers become half price. And by half price, I mean that it makes them the normal amount you’d pay for a beer - €3.50, instead of €7 or more. We tried all of the beers they brewed themselves, and they were actually very tasty! We had intended to return to Monacoville for dinner but ended up staying at the Brasserie - it was going to be cheaper, and saved us having to walk a lot more. Dan and I both ordered the steak - not the most amazing steak but also certainly not the worst. The beer was good, at least!

From here, we walked over to the casino area. We had purposely dressed well enough that we would be able to go inside, however we were worried that our backpacks may prevent us from entering. I noticed a crowd near the entrance of the main casino, and realised they were people watching. Dan and I joined them, and we stood and watched people coming and going from the casino. It was about half half rich people who looked like they belong, and tourists who wanted to peek inside. A few people got turned away because they were not dressed appropriately. We saw a lot of fancy cars, quite a few Maserati’s and other brands.

My favourite patron arrived in a rusted out old Fiat 500. He and his 9 foot leggy blonde unfurled themselves from the front seats while valet staff were falling over themselves to take their keys and park. The gentleman was amazing - he had long, greasy, curly black hair, and was wearing a bright purple and pink sparkly sequinned jacket. As he walked up, he shook everyone’s hand while the leggy blonde looked bored and didn’t stop talking on her phone. I took a photo of his numberplate so I want to look up who he is - maybe some kind of playboy Monaco royalty?

After a while, we were done with people watching and wanted to get back to the train station. On the walk, we passed another Ferrari on the side of the road, engines running, no one inside. Dan called it when he spotted a greasy looking old man with a young woman standing looking at the view over the yachts. Sure enough, once they were done admiring the view, they made their way back to the car and took.

We were cutting it fairly fine to get the train back to Nice, and once we hit a bus stop we discovered we had just missed the last bus back to the train station. Then we noticed that they have a night bus service and that would get us back to the station happily enough. We had a short wait, maybe about 20 minutes.

Once on the bus we settled in for the journey back to the train station. It wasn’t a direct route as it was a night bus (oh how we all love night buses!) so we literally went from one side of the country to the other. We even popped briefly into France to pick up some people, before back into Monaco again. 

We got to the station with plenty of time and a little while to wait for our train. While we waited I noticed a structure in the corner - it was a series of bikes that you could hook your phone too and by pedalling you charged it! I had a go but failed pretty miserably, but Dan gave my phone a few extra percent. By now it was time to catch the train back to Nice and call it a night. We would be leaving the Europe mainland on the morrow.

In all I really liked Monaco. I’m glad we gave ourselves almost a full day here - there was enough to see and do to fill it. Oh, and the fancy car tally?

Here we go:

  • 5 Maseratis
  • 8(9) Ferrari one left the motor running (Dan saw one that I didn’t, hence the brackets). Their colours were:
    1 red
    1 dark red
    1 silver
    The rest black. 
  • 1 tesla
  • Countless Twizzy’s 
  • Countless Smart Cars
  • Countless Bentleys
  • Countless Porches
  • Countless Mercs and Beamers

And one Kia.

For hours I had only seen the one Ferrari and felt quite disappointed but come night time they came out in force! Didn't see any Lambos but the Ferrari’s were nice!

Til next time

The Final Countdown. Day 61: Cinque Terre, Italy - Nice, France

Today was a travel day - these are always pretty rough. Our train to Nice was quite early and we still had to buy tickets, which we had a bit of trouble doing. We learnt later that this was because - while the machine had the option of going through to Nice, we actually had to go to the border and get the next tickets there. It would have been helpful to have that explained there.

So we split the trip up, and bought Manarola - Genoa, Genoa - Vermiglia (French border), and then Vermiglia - Nice.

The first train was pretty uneventful.At the station we bought a sandwich and drink combo and ended up having to race a bit to the train. The second train was simply AWFUL. Someone smelt really bad. The train kept juddering (Dan said something about the brakes coming on and off) and because the seats have these strange plastic sideways headrests, I kept smashing my head against it. I also started to feel motion sick, and my hay fever wasn’t happy. It was super noisy. In all, just awful.

Finally got to get off the damn train at the French border, where we had to buy a ticket from a man. This train thankfully was quite uneventful, and we could see Monaco out the window. Dan and I were totally hangry by now, and couldn’t agree on the plan for what to do next.

Originally for Monaco, I had researched lunch places as I thought we would get in to Nice earlier and then head straight to Monaco. But we had caught a later train in the end, and the weather wasn’t looking very good, and I just didn’t want to rush straight to Monaco any more (but I didn’t want to have lunch in Nice, and then go to Monaco). In the end, we decided to stay in Nice today, and go to Monaco the next day. We found a place which did burgers - they were delicious! The man behind the counter was hilarious too, I got to choose sauces for my burger and my chips and I had some trouble, so he suggested putting the two together which was the BEST suggestion. He also pretended to sneeze in our chips.

After eating we went down to the waterfront where I sat under an umbrella while it spat rain around us. I felt a bit silly but others were doing it. The weather was warm but I didn’t feel like having rain splotches on my face. We were totally tired and it was super muggy - I could have gone to sleep here. We had to move though, and we could see a fountain up on the hill to our right. We wandered up here (which was a bit tough on our legs after all the hiking!) and checked out the fountain, standing in its spray. People were above the fountain, so we found the path up there and took lots of photos overlooking Nice. There was a busker up here on a piano accordion but he wasn’t actually playing. Occasionally we could hear him try to pick out the tunes and generally play the wrong notes, so he’d go back to just pretending and the backing track.

On our walk down, we detoured through the cemetery, and found a tram stop that would take us back to the accommodation. On the way we went to the supermarket - bought a massive wheel of cheese for €2 (yes, back to proper prices for cheese!), some ham and a baguette as well as wine and chocolate crackers for a dinner picnic back at our accommodation. Oh! I’ve been forgetting to mention the limoncello. At every opportunity  we have packed a shotty full of limoncello, but seriously this 500ml bottle isn’t getting any less. We drank a little bit of it tonight as we won’t be able to fly with it in two days time, but why is there still so much left?

A new country on the morrow, so it’s sleepy time!
Til next time,

The Final Countdown. Day 60: Cinque Terre

It was a little bit tougher to get started today  as we were a bit sore and stiff after yesterday’s hiking. Our accomodation had provided some tidbits for breakfast - croissants the day before (Which we had as snacks en route), and today we had toast with jam and a tasty mocha.

As mentioned, the plan for today was to get the hiking and train 1 day pass. We had considered just the hike pass (€7.50), + €4 for the train to Corniglia, + €4 for the train back to Manarola at the end, which would come to €15.50 in total. The hiking and unlimited train pass was €16, so this would give us “keys to the city” and let us take more train journeys if we felt like it. Turns out at the end of the day, we only did the 2 train journeys, but we only lost 50c and it was the benefit of not having to stress.

We caught the train to Corniglia and walked those stairs up to the town. It was either 371 or 381 steps - I lost count at one point. I was puffed and we hadn’t even started the hike yet!

Once we found the beginning of the track, we got stuck behind 4 American girls who were struggling to find cash to pay for their hiking pass. We finally squeezed past them and started. It was hot. Hot. Hot. Hot. Not like yesterday, which was warm and muggy, with no sunshine. Today was full, blaring, sun burny kind of sun. Both days had their advantages and disadvantages with the weather, but today definitely felt hotter.

We also had the wrong impression of the coastal paths - we thought they would be flatter and easier than the hill paths - they were, but not as much as we expected! There was still a lot of hill climbing, but less scrambling over rocks and definitely more proper paths. It took us 1 hour to get from Corniglia to Vernazza, and coming into the town was glorious. The view was sensational and we had to stop for a few photos, and got ourselves in everyone’s way.

The town had a lovely bay, and as it was before lunch time and we weren’t ready to eat a full meal, we got ourselves and ice-cream and sat watching the people on the boats and swimming. Dan had the gelato in brioche bread, which was tasty! But would have been a bit much for me.I can’t remember my flavours but they were delicious.

As we had descended into the town, we could see a tower and decided we would climb it. I was feeling pretty damn week by this point, and didn’t realise we would end up climbing up a considerable way before even getting to the tower. You had to pay an additional €1.50 to get into the tower, and by this point I wasn’t intending on going back down for nothing so we did it. The view was actually lovely, and there was the roof of the castle, and then an additional tower. At the top of this additional tower, Dan and I couldn’t get down - the staircase was so skinny and too many people were trying to come up, it took us 3 goes to finally make it down.

We weren’t going to have lunch here but realised that many places close at 2/3pm after lunch, which means we might struggle when we get to Monterrosso. Found a place called Lunch Box and had a delicious focaccia and a super energy smooth drink.

Time to drag ourselves on…last leg! It was very, very hot still. There were many beautiful views along this track too. There were many people on these paths that made me think “You probably just thought this was a gentle Sunday Stroll!” Some people were completely improperly dressed for it (shoes being the main thing!). We made the journey to Monterosso in about 1 hour, 20 minutes.

There was another lemonade stand here on the way down, but we didn’t get any because the spruiker was there. There was also a busker - it seems that Monterosso might be quite big! Lots and lots and lots of people were starting off now, more than we had seen previously, and some of these paths became very very narrow and almost impossible to squeeze past people.

We finally made it into the town and were desperate for water. Unlike the other towns, Monterosso didn’t seem to have a free water tap so we had to buy water. We drank the freezing water so quickly it gave us a headache.

We walked briefly through the town but more desperately needed a sit down. We found a cocktail bar and ordered an expensive drink each with an appetiser. The waitress brought out peanuts and olives which I thought were the appetiser, but a meat and cheese and fruit platter followed, so I didn’t feel so bad about the cost then! The cocktail was also delicious, full of fruit.

We sat here until our feet stopped hurting. We went to walk around the town a bit but decided we were too stuffed and just wanted a swim, so after a brief look around we were back on the train to Manarola. We had also considered catching a train to the end stop, just to get more trips out of our ticket, but as we had no energy to look around Monterosso, we would have no energy to look around there and all we really wanted to do was swim, so we forfeited the 50c additional we had paid for the train pass and headed back.

Into our bathers again and back down to the water with a beer. We had a good swim - the water was colder and choppier today, but that was probably because our body temperature was warmer too. We watched in amusement as a group of perfectly manicured boys and girls tried to get into the water, basically failing. One was a bit more adventurous than the others, although he apparently couldn’t really swim. I helped direct him to the rock we were standing on.

We got cold quite quickly, and decided to say farewell to the water. Climbing out, we grabbed our beer and sat on the edge. A couple were debating whether to get in, and I convinced him that it was great and he should go for it! He jumped in near us, and while he was swimming we chatted with his fiancé. He swam over to the big rock and jumped off it while she filmed, and we looked after their stuff. We sat and chatted with them for ages giving tips about Europe while they gave tips about America, and it was really lovely to meet them.

It had started raining by now though, and so we headed back to the accommodation. We considered going out, but really just wanted to stay put. We just drank our beer and ate our olives as we were still full from the day!

All in all, Cinque Terre was one of my favourite places and definitely a highlight of this trip. I had hoped it would be so, but often when I get my hopes up I end up being disappointed. This did not disappoint one bit! I am really really proud of us for doing all the hikes - we talked to people far fitter than us who gave up after one leg, yet we did all 4 (even if one was supposed to be closed…). I’d happily come back and have a splash and wander around Cinque Terre again one day - maybe when the coastal paths are open again!

Til next time,

The Final Countdown. Day 59: Cinque Terre

We had to be out at 10 (or 10.30, or 11, it wasn’t consistent) so that the room could be cleaned, but this wasn’t a problem. We had both slept rather fantastically and were ready to face the day! Today we were going to hike some of the walking paths between the towns.

The day before, the accommodation owner explained the walking paths. We knew that some were shut, but she drew it out on the map for us. The two coastal paths leading out of Manarola were shut - the one to Corniglia, and the one to Riomaggiore. However, the hill paths were open between these. She also explained about the Cinque Terre Card, which gives you access to either the walking tracks, or the walking tracks and trains. She thankfully explained that the tracks out of Manarola do NOT need to be paid for, while the ones between Corniglia and Monterosso DO.

This we didn’t know, and made us change our plans, as we were originally going to get a 2 day pass as we thought we had to pay for all paths. So day 1: We decided to do all the tracks near Manarola which were free, and then on the second day only buy a 1 day pass for the trains and walking paths. This meant that we would walk from Manarola to Corniglia via the hill path and the town Volastra at the top of the hill. Then, from Corniglia we would catch the train to Riomaggiore, and walk back to Manarola. Sounds easy, eh?

We set off at about 10.10am and arrived at Volastra at about 11am, which was 10 minutes faster than we expected! My sliced toe from the day before gave me a bit of an issue at first as the shoe was rubbing on it but as there was nothing I could do, I just kept going and eventually forgot about it. Downhill was more obviously painful than up hill, but I tried not to whinge too much.

The path left Manarola and took us between vineyards and up roughly hewn rock stairs. We had some French girls that passed us, then we would pass them, but thankfully we eventually lost them. The scenery was indeed stunning, even though the day was grey and humid. It was very dramatic! On the way, we found a little unmanned lemonade stand, which was delightful. 2 big barrels of freshly squeezed lemon juice, with some cups and a little honesty jar, as well as a guestbook to sign. Dan put in a euro and I wrote a little thank you note, and we quenched our thirst and got a sugar boost from a cup of fresh lemonade.

The last stage to Volastra was just up and up and up stairs. I was dripping with sweat, and we passed a few people who looked like professional hikers with their stocks. At the top we had a small rest and filled up our water bottles, but there wasn’t a lot to do here so we continued straight on to Corniglia.

The scenery continued to be very beautiful and the day continued to be very muggy and sweaty. At one point we were walking along a ledge between vines, and had to walk precariously around a hiking/walking tour. I couldn’t think of anything worse, to be honest… After what felt like an age of climbing, we started the descent (and I think I would have preferred to keep climbing!). This was a bit tough on my knees, but we still kept up a cracking pace. We kept passing and being passed by the same couple - she was extremely lithe and fit looking, him less so, and we only passed them when they stopped to take photos of her running on the path (and then they would overtake us again).

We passed many people going up who made us think…I don’t think you’re ever going to make it! I think we chose the right direction - the scramble down seemed far rougher than the way up from Manarola, which seemed to be more “stairs”.

At about 12.30pm, 1.5 hours after Volastra we made it into Cornligia. We were very pleased with this time as we thought it would take 2 hours, according to our accommodation host. We even stopped to take photos on the way! Once in Corniglia, we made a beeline for a restaurant called Pan e Vin which I had researched and we managed to nab the last table outside. Turns out the place was tiny, so we were quite lucky to get a table.

I already knew what I wanted; the trio of bruschetta, and Dan ordered the same - we also got wine to rehydrate, of course. Ordering was confusing as things got lost in translation, but we got there in the end. It was completely lovely sitting outside here - it wasn’t sunshiney but it was still warm, and we seemed to be on a main thoroughfare so it was fun to people watch. Soon our bruschetta and wine arrived, and my god it was life changing. One was more traditional - diced tomato, mozzarella and basil, the next was tomato slices and eggplant, and the third was cream cheese with sun-dried tomato - all 3 were topped with a basil pesto as well. I could have keep eating them all day. The bread was also perfect - not too hard so the knife glided through.

We were enjoying ourselves so much we ordered another wine. The electricity had gone out so this added a new layer of complexity, but we were able to pay and continue on our way. We still had Cornliglia to explore - and another hike to do! We had a little wander around the town - it wasn’t too dissimilar to Manarola however it was perched up on a cliff face and therefore had no (maybe there was a path?) access to the water below.

Next stop: the train station. This was rather hilarious as the train station is at the bottom of the hill, and Corniglia at the top. The stairs literally took forever (the next day I would actually count how many steps there were…) - there were so many that at intervals they had placed bench seats so people could take a rest. Eventually we made it to the bottom and caught the next train that went to Riomaggiore via Manarola. This journey took a handful of minutes. It had taken us 2.5 hours to walk it. The train journey was roughly a minute for every hour walked!

Once we reached Riomaggiore, we explored it a little. It seemed bigger than Manarola, but we didn’t find too much that interested us so we made our way straight to the start of the path, which was a bit complicated to find. Here we found a big lock on a tall gate, apparently closed as of late 2017.

What? Our accommodation had said this path was open, so that’s thrown a spanner in the works. While we stood there pondering what to do, we noticed some people on the path. After waiting a little while, a guy appeared at the gate and looked at it a bit surprised. Not far behind him, another man appeared, and they consulted each other and then scaled the bricks on the side, and climbed out.

The two weren’t travelling together, but once they were up on our level, I asked them if it was blocked on the other end. They told us that there was a sign, but nothing to stop you from starting the path and that the walk wasn’t any problem at all. We decided to risk it - we had come all this way, after all! The guys had mentioned there were a few other people on the path who we would probably pass. I didn’t think I’d have the upper body strength to be able to climb down and over, but one of the guys and Dan had spotted a tunnel, so Dan went to investigate. It seemed ok, so I followed him down (there was a lot of rubbish thrown down here!) and soon we were on the path .

This path was far more overgrown than the other we had been on, but aside from that it was almost the same as what we had done that morning. It began with a VERY steep set of stairs that seemed to go on forever. Either I was a little more worn now, or this route was more difficult, but I struggled to keep going and not stop every few steps. I have to play little games with myself when it’s like this - so I told myself I could stop every 100 steps. This proved quite good as it kept us moving forward as Dan was matching my pace. When did I get so unfit?

Sweat was literally dripping from me. My shirt and bag were soaked. It was a good workout! The weeds and thorns were sharper here and not hacked back to the edge of the path, so there was a lot of picking our way through and stepping over difficult sections. The view though was spectacular. After what felt like an age, we started to descend. The downhill was just as intrepid - many sections had ropes to help you down over the rocks. We passed one or two people on the journey, but not many (but at least there were other people on the path!). The downhill continued on and my knees were screaming, but we had to keep going. We could hear music and girls laughing and screaming - later on we would find out there was a group jumping from the rock in Manarola - so we were getting close.

We got close to the town, and there was just a set of stairs to the end. A relatively fit looking could were heading off the journey and asked us how the journey was. We explained that they will have to climb out the other end because it is blocked off, and that they could either scale the fence or climb through the tunnel. He turned to his girlfriend and said, “I’ve taken 50 steps. I’m committed now.” They thanked us and continued up.

Just behind them was a barrier that had been put across the path, but so many people had been past and pushed it out of the way. Next to it was a sign saying the path was closed - so it turns out that there was a barrier, just people were ignoring it. Fair enough! Almost at the bottom, a family which consisted of a lady wearing scuffs, her husband and 2 small children asked us if the walk was appropriate for them. No, definitely not. Not in her shoes and not with the children! We also explained it was closed at the other end, and so they decided to catch the train. I was relieved for them, as they would never have made it. 

Rejoice! We were back in Manarola and this meant it was time for a swim! We came down through the town a different way and saw a little bit more of it, mostly the residential area. When we returned to our accommodation, we changed into our swim gear, grabbed the beers we had bought yesterday and which were nice and freezing cold now, and went down to the water.

We put our things on the ledge again and today just jumped straight off the ledge into the water - must easier way of getting in, that’s for sure! The water was amazing, and today we swam around to the waterfall - fresh water rushes into the ocean underneath Manarola and I wanted to put my hands in the bubbles. Dan tasted the water and it was indeed fresh! It was fucking freezing over here though, so we swam back. The rocks on this side were covered in barnacles and what looked like giant red snail shells about the size of my hand. I saw a few little crabbies in the rocks, too!

When it was time to get out, we sat on the side and drank the beer, watching people scramble up the big rock in the middle and listening to them scream as they jumped off the other side. It was finally time for food, so we went back to the accommodation, showered and changed, grabbed our cold bubbly wine and went to get pizza. Guess what? They had stopped cooking again! It was only 6pm today, so I was rather miffed. Turns out they would still make some of the huge pizzas, so we just decided to go with one big over priced pizza and be done with. While that was being made, I ran back to the supermarket and bought more of those delicious olives.

Armed with our liquor and big pizza, we headed back up to the hill again. As soon as we sat down - chubby rain! Noooooo. We weren’t sure what to do, but I suggested we just keep going up - above the restaurant was an undercover section with some picnic bench seating. If it was for the restaurant, they could come tell us to leave but until then we’d just sit there. There was a sign above which I stared at for a while, but it was in Italian and was no help whatsoever. We just sat down at a bench, and soon other people joined us at other benches so we decided we were ok.

The cover was twigs, so didn’t hold out all the rain, but did about 90%. We sat here and popped the bubbly into our sippy cups, nomming on the pizza and overlooking Manarola until it was dark. A lovely end to the day, and now it was time to crash for the night.

Til next time,

The Final Countdown. Day 58 - Florence - Cinque Terre

We checked out at 9.50am, 10 minutes before reception opened. They were bloody lucky, as I was going to rip them a new one. After another sleepless night, thanks to more mosquitoes (despite us keeping all windows firmly shut) and sweltering heat, thanks to no air conditioning remote control, and my itchy and scratchy face from hay fever, I was pretty livid. I bet the counter staff knew, which is why their opening hours are so stupid! Bad review ahoy.

Shouldering our luggage we wandered to the station to catch the train to Manarola. This would involve a train to La Spezia first, and then a local train from there to Manarola, our chosen Cinque Terre town. At the station, I wandered away because I needed to cool my head down and bought a coffee and a croissant for us each - it was a bizarre system that had me walking all over the shop to pay at one counter and order at another. It didn’t do wonders to my mood.

But once on the train, everything was alright. My hay fever seemed to be a little bit better as we made our way towards the coast. The change was alright too, and we were literally only on the second train for about 10 minutes.

Arriving in Manarola, we departed the station through a looooooooong tunnel. I timed it the next day actually - about 2 minutes walking time. We popped out into the town, and Dan led the way, following the instructions from our accommodation. Up some stairs (which turned out to be literally a hill over the railway track) and down the hill on the other side. Our accommodation was about half way down, above a ceramics shop. We walked in as the door was open, looking for a reception. At the end of the hall was a room that was open which looked amazing. I hoped it was ours!

Back outside, Dan messaged the accommodation and someone came to collect us a couple of minutes later. It was the sister in law of the owner - the owner had been having a swim and I couldn’t blame her! The day was warm and muggy. Check in as easy, and Dan and I were shown back to the lovely room. We collapsed for a little while, but the day outside was so warm and we wanted a swim, so we had to pull ourselves together.

Upon leaving the accommodation, we turned left to explore up the hill a bit and found a supermarket. It was expensive and didn’t have a lot of things, but we grabbed some bubbly wine for €2.50 (which was a surprising price in comparison to everything else in there!), a red wine, some beer - cheaper if it wasn’t refrigerated, and a little bag of olives. Depositing this at our accommodation, we walked the other way this time, down to the water. This took all of about 5 minutes, and we inspected each of the restaurants along the way.

To the right was the hill overlook Manarola - where all “the” pictures are taken from. The day was quite overcast and moody, so we took some photos but didn’t stick around long. There were about 3 different tiered paths here, and as we reached the top one, the sun came out, beautifully lighting up the town. It was very lovely (although it was obvious that every photo you ever see of it is highly saturated and edited! … I did the same with my photos… to be honest, it didn’t take much at all to boost the colours). There was a church and graveyard at the very top that said no photos, but we think that only related to the grave stones so we popped in and took some more pictures looking down on the town. This was a very good view!

It was swim time now. We returned to the accommodation - seriously only about 5 minutes walk away - changed into our bathers and went straight back to the water. There’s no sand here, only rock faces, but there’s a concrete path that leads into the water and some rocks that have been built up to make a path. Along the edge, we found a ledge to put our stuff on and then tried to get into the water.

The walkway wasn’t so easy. The rocks were covered in green algae and were quite slippery and the water was so clear it that depth perception was compromised - I didn’t want to launch forward and slice up my knees if the rocks weren’t actually very deep. It took me an age to get in but eventually I managed! Dan and I each had a camera so that might have made things a little more complicated.

Once in, it was lovely! Quite cool, but refreshing after the muggy day, and the water was very deep and clear. We paddled around this little Bay Area, and then paddled through a small gap in some rocks to see the wide ocean on the other side. Finally we were done, and decided to get out. Thankfully the walk way had a hand rail (although it meant climbing over the slippery rocks to get to it), so getting out wasn’t nearly as challenging as getting in. If we go swimming again, I’ll definitely be jumping in!

Once out, we dried ourselves off and went to settle down when I noticed something was wrong with my little toe on my left foot. Blood was pissing out - I must have sliced it on a barnacle! It didn’t hurt, but looked like a cherry tomato that had been in the oven and had burst. We cleaned it up and bandaged it - it wasn’t as bad looking once the blood had gone.

The plan for tea tonight was to have a picnic on the side overlooking Manarola. We returned to the accommodation, showered, grabbed our red wine (chianti) and olives and went to get some pizza. Unfortunately the place had stopped cooking pizza for the day (? It was like..8pm) so we grabbed a focaccia instead, and went to another nearby restaurant for a cone of calamari and a cone of hot chips. Laden with our food, we walked up the small hill and settled ourselves down on a viewing bench with a lovely view. I was surprised no one else was doing this - and that at this time of day there was next to no one there! I think most people come in for a day trip and then leave again.

We set up and Dan tried to open our red wine. Our accommodation provided a cork screw so this meant for once that we weren’t limited in our wine choice! However the cork was well stuck, so it took Dan quite a while to get it open, but he managed! Wine poured into our sippy cups, calamari and chips spread out between us and our olives - our picnic was set. We had our cameras next to us and as the light changed, we would jump up and take a few snaps. People passed us by, looking at our wine and feast enviously.

The calamari was actually delicious - it just fell apart and wasn’t stringy at all! And the olives. For a 90c bag of olives, they were completely tasty! Soon all the food was gone, and we continued taking photos as it got dark. I had brought my tripod, so I played for a little while with my shutter button to take super long exposures. Eventually it was time for us to call it a night, after a very happy first day in Cinque Terre - oh, and all sight of hayfever nicely gone!

Til next time,