We arrived in Saint Remy Provence yesterday afternoon. The place we are staying is industrial, it is a complex with beautiful gardens, an outdoor pool and a ping pong table. It is very quiet with only the sounds of the birds singing. Today we walked through a local market and a car-show. They had all sorts of things ranging from donkeys to Nutella crepes ( which were fantastic). And there was lots of old and rusty cars. After we went to some Roman ruins. We saw some Roman baths, forum, and where romans lived their lives. We tried imaging what it would be like living there, which was hard. After we came back and had a quick swim in the pool, soaked up the sun, had a bath and cleared the fridge. It was a lovely day.
After three days in Cinque Terre staying in the seaside village of Monterosso, we are currently on a train bound for Nice. Monterosso and the other famous villages were scenic and interesting but also very crowded, even in October. My favourite time was spent hiking from Monterosso to the nearby town of Levanto. It was hot, uphill hiking, with a stop to view an ancient sanctuary at Punto Mesco. Luckily, Levanto (not one of the five villages) had a beach to make the kids happy after their hours of hiking.
I am sad to be leaving Italia, particularly as I have now mastered making espresso in a Mokapot. A.J. has become a self-taught expert in this and did considerable research about the best technique. He even bought himself a pack of espresso decaf. We are eating most meals in our AirBnB apartments—so far lots of pasta, beans and salad served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar), and out for an occasional dinner in a a restaurant. In Monterossi, we had pizza on an outdoor patio by the beach. The area is home to pesto, so we also bought a jar to try. Briar is a pesto maniac.
Some things that will remind me of Italia:
- Mokapots. Every apartment we stayed in had one. Otherwise, there has been a real range of kitchen tools. One place had a panini press and a mezzaluna but no spatula or turner.
- Seeing people enjoy Aperol spritzes on patios. The spritzes are served in bulb-like glasses with a lemon slice and a straw. Aperol seems similar to Campari in flavour.
- Laundry hanging on balconies, everywhere, everyday. Sheets might be dangling right over people eating dinner in a ristorante. I respect that! All our apartments have had one small washing machine, usually a Candy model.
- Ochre buildings with green shutters.
- Apricots growing on vines over fences. Lemon trees.
A few things I will miss:
- Bottles of Italian milk. Even partially skimmed (scremato) it is inexpensive (to me) and delicious. This trip has actually made me realize how expensive food is on Vancouver Island as we have been shopping in some busy tourist areas and I have not been shocked by prices.
- Peaches from Sicily. All fruit has been delicious.
- Focaccia. I am not even the biggest fan (Briar again!) but it was particularly good in Monterosso. We shared some on the train.
- Gelato, a thousand times gelato. A.J. obsessed over it. His favourite was stracciatella, a traditional flavour with chocolate chip pieces. The names are beautiful. Last night I tried fior di latte (flower of milk).
- I will also miss seeing so many ancient buildings and places. Even the “barn” we stayed in in Tuscany was a thousand years old. The kids know well by now that I love ruins and exploring them. On my last night in Italy, I took a walk by myself along a stream lined by old lime mortar walls that lead to la Valle dei Limoni, the valley of lemons.
Today is my last day in Italy. I am in a small water side town called Monterosso. Monterosso is part of a string of five towns called Cinque Terre. Tomorrow we will get on to a train and leave Italy for France. I am a little sad because Italy was really fun and gelato was amazing but France will be very fun too. The wifi is very bad so when this finally posts I will be in France.
We are more than halfway through our trip so far — four-sevenths to be precise. Much of our focus, of course, has been exploring the cities and towns, streets and trails of Italy… and now France.
But the promise of leaping into the water in September and October — something we can’t do outside of a rec centre in Victoria — held great appeal too. At first I’d worried about my trip planning: the first three weeks of our itinerary were mostly land-bound, in Rome, Florence, Bologna, Venice (briefly — and you do NOT want to swim anywhere other than the Lido) and then Chianti. We would only begin the the truly Mediterranean part of our journey in October. Would the sea be too cold by then?
I didn’t need to worry. We’ve managed to find water and immerse ourselves on a regular basis. And the weather has been so gorgeous that we’ve swum in the sea several times. Here are 7 highlights from our aqueous adventures.
- Ostia Beach: Day 2 of our trip, we escaped the heat and crowds of Rome to visit the Roman runs at Ostia Antica and still had time to take the train another 2 stops to the beach town of Ostia. The beach wasn’t the prettiest or the water the cleanest, but the locals knew this was the quickest escape from the city and the warm waters of the Mediterranean felt so good after several days of travel and two days of walking around Roman stones.
- Outdoor pool in Florence: The kids had only so much patience for the museums and galleries of Italy’s hottest city, so Jenny found an outdoor pool in an expansive public park 30 minutes walk along the river from our apartment in Florence. It will be the priciest swim of our trip (I hope!) after admission and buying the mandatory bathing caps. But the 33m pool was clean and refreshing and we all felt renewed and ready to hit the road to Bologna the next morning.
- Outdoor pool in Montegonzi. When we booked the farm “barn” AirBnB (recommended by friends who had stayed there 2 summers ago), I inquired if the outdoor pool would still be in open in late September. The owner said “probably” but warned that in the hills of Tuscany it would be getting colder and possibly rainy. The unheated pool definitely got our blood flowing, as we slowly immersed ourselves inch by inch, but the views across the valley were spectacular and we had the pool and the farm to ourselves. Paradise.
- Spiaggia Barbarossa, Elba: If we have any regret, it’s probably not booking more than four nights on the Island of Elba. What a gem! Especially this time of the year, when the summer crowds have thinned to sprinklings of German families and Italian weekenders. Our “local” swimming spot, 10 minutes walk from our AirBnB in Porto Azzurro, was a picturesque smile of rocky beach with clear water and several types of fish to amuse the kids as they dove in the shallows.
- Spiaggia Livorno. We reluctantly said goodbye to Elba, traded in the rental car and took the train to Monterosso al Mare — the biggest (at less than 1,500 inhabitants) of the 5 cliffside towns that make up the Cinque Terre. Tourists must double or triple or quadruple that population. Even in October, the afternoon trains felt like rush hour in Tokyo and the narrow streets were thick with American accents. We hiked one day in the opposite direction, over the point to the larger town of Livorno. There we found a large rocky beach with crashing surf (and a small surfing scene) that offered a reward to the kids (and myself) for 2.5 hours of up and down hiking. Body-surfing in the waves helped clean out the sinuses and send us back to Monterosso (by train this time) happy and tired.
- Spiaggia Monterosso: The next day, we used the Cinque Terre pass to train-hop between the other four towns. We skipped opportunities to swim in the slightly sketchy waters of two other harbours to save time for a dip off the wide beach in front of the new town of Monterosso. We missed the afternoon sun, but we still enjoyed a dip in the Mediterranean in front of one of the most memorable backdrops of coloured house fronts and rocky cliffs.
- Nice waterfront: We arrived in France yesterday afternoon, but by the time we got settled into our AirBnb (still being cleaned when we arrived), it was too late for a swim…despite Briar’s protestations. We made sure we got one the next morning, though, and lucked into another perfect 22*C day. The whole Nice beachfront stretches for 2 or 3 miles, bisected into private and public swatches, and is made up of large stones and a steep drop into the surf. We saw a bull dozer drive the length of the beach this morning to reshape the angle of this drop into the water. The sea, however, was amazing to float and swim in, with one of the most visually splendid urban backdrops of any beach. I think only Tel Aviv’s seaside can compare… and that’s only due to its wide sandy beach. I could have floated in the Mediterranean for hours, where the colours turn from deep blue to bright azure before crashing against the white stones, but we had the rest of Nice (or at least its winding Old Town streets) to see. Still, the promise of more time in the Mediterranean awaits in 3 out of our 4 last stops….
Cinque Terre also known as 5 Terre, are 5 little towns on the cliff side along the water. Today we hiked up and up and up. When we finally thought that there was no ending to the stairs we saw the most spectacular view ever. Which made us forget how tired and hungry and thirsty we were. It was overlooking the town of Monterosso, with its brightly coloured houses and shimmering oceans. The lush green mountains standing tall behind it. It’s like in a fairytale! The people on the beach looked like tiny tiny specks, that’s how high we were.We walked for another hour before stopping to satisfy our hunger. Which probably took a lot of weight off of mummy’s back. Then we had to hit the road again. We walked and walked and walked until we reached Levonto!!! A slightly bigger town than Monterosso. When we got there AJ and I ran down the hill, we could not wait another minute before jumping in the refreshing water. Once we cooled off in the Ocean, we walked to the train station to catch a train back to our welcoming Airbnb. Our Airbnb has an oceany theme which I really like. Though it is a lot smaller than our previous one. We are making the most of our last days in Italy. Then we will be heading off to France!
The island of Elba in the Mediterranean Sea is where we have been spending our nights and days. Our days have been packed with walking, swimming, eating and exploring. You can barely swim in the ocean in the summer in Victoria and definitely not October. But here you can swim to the end of October. The water is bright blue and clear, with lots of fish too. And we saw flamingos on the way to Elba. They were very pretty. And we have seen so many breathtaking views. We’ve seen the mountains from the towns and we’ve seen the towns from the mountains. We’ve seen the sunset every night and morning from our balcony. Arranging its self in different calming colours. We’ve soaked in the sun well playing paddle ball or just watching the waves roll in. We tried new foods such as mandorla gelato, aperol spritz (daddy not me), tuna pizza and much much more. Some we loved some not so much, but it’s a good experience. Live life on the edge! And to top it all of we had a wonderful place to come back to. To watch Italian movies, work or rest for the next busy day. If you ever need a get a way vacation come to Elba!!! (more…)