“Fuck this, I can’t sleep in here, I’m sleeping in the car” – Emily was in that early greyish morning state of fragility having not been able to sleep properly in our crappy little tent. The breaking of emotion was clear in her whimper of a voice as she grabbed our one sleeping bag that been covering us “duvet style” and made off. I half-heartedly groaned that she should come back to the tent, but I was actually glad she was gone…”sweet” I thought “more room for me” as I put my coat and a few other makeshift blankets over my body and dried the condensation off my face. Condensation that lay lurking all round the inside layer, well the only layer, of the £10 supposedly two man shitpile excuse for a tent from Argos (linked here so you never buy one!) – condensation that had been ready and waiting all night to give me a wet willy just as I nodded off, rolled over and exposed my face to the tent wall. The fucker. But now, now I had the tent all to myself, so I could stay safe, dry and sort of warm in the middle away from the sides…fuck you Mr Tent, I’ve won the war!
We unceremoniously chucked the little shit in the bin when we had got up from our respective hovels after a couple of hours much needed sleep. The decision was easy made – for the good of our love and so we didn’t stab each other with the tent pegs – that we would treat ourselves to a cosy hotel room for that night before driving to Rome the next day.
It was 5 June 2013 and we had arrived by chance in Lerici, which is in the coastal province of La Spezia, two days previous. We had been hunting out anywhere relaxed and by the sea in order to piece ourselves together after a four day wedding with my Irish mates in Malcesine, Lake Garda (more of which in the next post!).
The drive from Lake Garda was a bit of a mixed bag. The scenery leaving the Lake was beautiful and determined to avoid the crazy as fook motorways and see more of the country we headed down the smaller roads via Parma towards the coast. It all seemed a bit like the English Midlands around Parma – a bit boring, flat and full of roadside towns that all had a Gelato cafe (alright maybe not like the Midlands then…) but nowhere to get a decent hot bite to eat between them. However, forsaking time for a peaceful drive soon was looking jaw-droppingly up….into the mountains! Taking a slow, gently climbing, winding road up into the towering terrain and rolling through little towns like Mignego, Pontremoli and Terrarosa – it was definitely the scenic route to the coast and the drive was one the best parts of the 11 day trip. Reaching the peak of the mountains, a panoramic view of the Tuscany landscape cascaded before us making the faff of renting a car worthwhile. I even saw a huge eagle take off and glide down into a valley – so I was a pretty happy man indeed! Then we descended, our fall from sublime grace as we got closer to the coast, getting stuck in more and more traffic, squeezing through narrow streets in small towns and almost smashing off our wing mirror – we were starting to forget our high altitude serenity and succumb to the stress of Italian driving. But thankfully we found Lerici, found the beach, found a parking spot and went for a stroll to de-stress and figure out where to stay.
We checked tripadvisor on my iPhone when we arrived and found recommendations for Camping Maralunga. Nestled on a clifftop overlooking a beautiful little bay, the small campsite is designed as a series of terraces, given that it apparently used to be an olive grove, and this affords most of the lucky campers a magnificent and relaxing view looking down into the inviting turquoise water below. It even had access to a private diving/fishing platform built into the rocks and waking myself up in the mornings bombing from the diving board into the sea was a definite plus. The campsite also had decent WC and shower facilities and had a fairly well stocked shop for essentials. It was definitely worth the slightly upmarket price of 36 euros per night “all-in” for two of us in a small tent with a car. I would love to have put up some of the great shots I took of the campsite, but I broke my iPhone in a drunken escapade recently (and hadn’t synched the contents onto my computer in a long time), so you’ll have to make do with the photos on tripadvisor by following the link above!
We spent our days in Lerici very lazily – swimming in the bay by the campsite or heading to the beach, where we usually conked out straight away after the hellish nights in our shit tent with our one sleeping bag, “sure it’ll be warm and dry in Italy” I said, “we’ll be grand with that wee tent and a sleeping bag as a duvet, no point wasting money” I said – well it definitely wasn’t warm or dry in that tent at 3am. I had even slept so soundly on the beach that I got third degree sunburn on my torso where I’d haphazardly applied my suncream, a weirdly coloured patch remains to this day. Lesson learnt – don’t be a cheapskate when it comes to camping!
In the evenings, we took the ten minute scenic stroll from the campsite down a load of steep hillsteps, passing the castle, which was lit up at night, to one of the many cafes and pizzerias along the seafront in town. There were no bars as such, just a lot of cafes where you could eat and have a beer or two outside, but that is just what we wanted, having drunk, well me anyway, ourselves into oblivion at the wedding! On one of the evenings, we took a drive to a gorgeous and quaint little gem of a town called Portovenere. The old multi-coloured buildings there are wonderfully stacked close together, melding into one another in a beautifully crooked and organic fashion like the town itself is alive and its inhabitants in close quarters conversing, sharing centuries-old secrets and tales. The remains of an old castle in two parts looking out to sea adds further mystery, beauty and something untold to this, now unfortunately quite touristy, place.
We lost all of the photos of Portovenere because of my tomfoolery, save the following arty/wanky shot of Emily staring out to sea from the castle…
And on to Rome…
We left Lerici early morning on 6 June to the sound of the Italian Navy ships’ guns booming across the Gulf of Poets (the delightfully named sea around Lerici). Those were sounds we had got used to over three days of listening to the Navy war games playing a surprisingly welcome onslaught on our ear drums. Something different I suppose. We gathered our things into the car from the perfectly standard and comfortable 80 Euro per night hotel and we set forth, braving the motorways, for Rome in our trusty Ford Fiesta rental from Hertz.
The car was expensive at around £400 in total for a week with various add on’s including extra for Emily being under-25 (I had just passed my test and couldn’t be a named driver, but congrats to me all the same for passing!), that we picked the car up in Verona but were leaving it back to Rome Ciampino Airport and various other little bits and bobs thrown in to up the cost. I was expecting further faff at the airport when leaving back the car, having had some when we collected it at Verona given a lack of clarity around the price and terms and conditions (although this was probably due to my ignorance of Italian to be fair), but it went smoothly enough. That is, save for my main bank card not working when I tried to pay for the car, as it was frozen cause some lovely specimen of a human being in the Caribbean (random) had tried to take money from my account. Good job I use a few different bank cards otherwise the situation could have been a bit tricky with Hertz at the airport!
A cheap shuttle bus (about 5 euros each) took us straight to Rome Termini station and it was only a short walk then to our conveniently located hostel. The Hotel Des Artistes was really well priced at around £80 for a private double room for two nights, with air-con, free TV and large bay windows opening out to a view of the surrounding streets and rooftops. It also had clean and adequate shared bathroom facilities. WiFi, however, was an additional cost but we didn’t really need it, instead using one of the two free computers in the hostel’s common room. That is “free” in a monetary sense, as we had to wait for other patrons to do their business and I can imagine that the small number of computers could potentially be annoying if you were in a hurry. But we were in no real rush as we were only doing a quick bit of research on where to go and the staff were helpful anyway. They took time to explain to us, with the aid of a trusty “tourist” map, how to get around and see the various sights.
The early evening weather on the day of arrival was hot and sunny. As we breezed by the tramps basking in the heat outside the station, Emily arousing a few of their interests in a little white dress, we felt good and made our way on foot (“tourist” Rome is conveniently compact) towards the Colosseum. Stopping off on the way there for a beer, we quickly realised that Rome was a little on the pricey side to be boozing in bars and cafes. I think two pints and some snacks set us back nearly 20 Euros! The Colosseum was closed when we got there but it was a treat to just wander around the area with loads of ruins, palaces and fascinating architecture and, of course, meeting the Pope was a highlight…well…it was an old guy dressed sort of like the Pope pretending to read a Bible for a few bucks a photo (unfortunately as you probably guessed it, my photo went down with the good ship iPhone when I broke it).
Having had our fill of sightseeing for the evening we made our way back towards the hostel through the narrow, cobbled streets as dusk was setting in. The revellers were chomping down food and drinking wine in a very sophisticated (i.e. slow) fashion outside lots of little endearing restaurants – it would have been great to make a night of it although our funds and our livers had been thrown a good beating the week before at Lake Garda. We then stumbled across a cool little square with a fountain in the middle where hundreds of people were sitting around enjoying the evening with bottles of beer, guitars and chatter. We bought a few reasonably priced beers from a little kiosk and hunkered down for a couple of hours enjoying the laid back feel of the place (and took our profile pic you can see on this blog above). A few hundred people drinking in a public square into the night back in Ireland or England would not likely be as mellow! We rounded off the night outside a tasty little pizzeria beside our hostel (with a very very friendly but fucking crazy pizza maker guy doing what seemed to be Laurel and Hardy moves behind the counter any time we glanced his way). We had a few pizza slices, some more beer and cigarettes before turning in for an early one just before mid-night.
We were up early the next morning and it was boiling with hardly a cloud in the sky. Suncreamed up properly this time, we got on the Metro (which is like a child’s train set compared to the kaleidoscope madness of London’s various Tube lines, a head fuck the first time you encounter it) and easily made our way to Vatican City. I won’t bore you with facts like it is the smallest country in the world, instead here’s a few “we’re tourists” photos we took:
We didn’t go into the various museum type buildings or St Peter’s Basilica because (A) you had to give up your youth in the queue and I have already wasted too much of that at school on Catholic stuff and (B) apparently Emily was showing too much shoulder! But the place itself is very impressive, especially the Pope’s burly protectors in funny little jack-in-a-box clothes, like this guy who wasn’t really taking his duties that seriously….
Afterwards we made our way to the Spanish Steps where we did what the Romans (and most other Europeans) do – have a cigarette. We then stopped somewhere near for more pizza, essentially that’s all we ate for two weeks as it’s cheap as…er…chips compared to most other food in Italy. With our belly’s full, our hungry minds demanded nourishment, so the Colosseum and it’s wonderfully cruel backstory beckoned. It was, I think, if remember correctly, 12 euros each and about a 20 minute queue to get in around 5pm, which was better than I expected. I had been eagerly awaiting getting there ever since seeing Russell Crowe break necks and hearts in the arena and it didn’t disappoint. That’s not entirely true, to be honest, I did, showing my innate pretentiousness, get annoyed at the various barbarian hordes of tourists coming to destroy Rome once again, for me at any rate. But, leaving aside that any time I tried to read one of the information boards about a particular artefact or about the Colosseum’s dense history, someone’s giant camera or a sea of strangers’ heads would be thrust on front of my vision without warning, it was an amazing place. Walking in towards the centre from the outer exterior on the second floor the expanse of the construction opened itself out to me and I tried to zone out the tourists and imagine myself in with the throngs of plebs watching the delightful chaos on the arena floor below me. All things said, it lived up to my expectations and more, and the crowds are to be expected so it’s just a matter of ignoring them as best you can and enjoy the experience.
At dusk, we strolled around the old city stopping for a smoke on some steps overlooking an area where the chariot races used to be, although it looks just any grassy common now, and watched loads of kamikaze bats diving and swooping low towards the ground. Strolling up the river in the night time to Tiber Island was a beautiful walk and we crossed into the Island and on to the other side of the river. We had a beer there at a little street kiosk and were surprised at how quiet the area was for a capital city on a Friday night. We finished up the night the same way as the previous, at the square with the fountain drinking some cheap beer saying hello to the locals and supper with our favourite pizza-maker near the hostel.
The morning of our departure we had some tasty omelette breakfasts, a wander in the area near the station and were tempted to buy some fascist wine(!) to unwind with on the plane, but had no money left – fortunately enough!
We then boarded a shuttle bus about noon to the airport and back to reality and work and all that guff, but excited that the end was near and we would soon be doing this kind of rambling shit on a permanent basis…
[THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON OUR PREVIOUS SITE ON 2 NOVEMBER 2013]