Italy seemed to be a series of "coincidences" that shaped our time there. When we arrived at the campsite out of Rome, that we picked from the internet, we were told by the night guard/ maintenance/ shuttle bus driver, Eugenio, from Maldavia, that if we would like the free shuttle bus to the station for Rome, there was another couple leaving at 8.30 in the morning and we could join them. When we arrived at the bus in the morning, we met Catherine and Chris from England, who were travelling in their motorhome indefinitely until they had been to every country in Europe. As we got on really well with them, we decided to all stick together and do the "Rome in a day experience". This led to a hectic but enjoyable day seeing all the sights one should see in Rome, partly from the top of a double decker bus, and partly on foot- well mainly on foot, and a quite a pace!!!!!. It was a good introduction to Rome, as Catherine was able to speak some Italian, and knew the place reasonably well, so we were able to get an idea the city, which we would not have had if we had not met them, plus we made 2 new friends.
The most bizarre, random thing that happened in Italy?...Well,… A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum…..Sam was following behind us at Vatican City and heard someone say "Excuse me, young man", and turned around to see Denes and Sarah from home next to him. We didn't even know they were in Europe!
The next day, we went back into Rome and wandered at a more leisurely pace around, including doing a tour of the Colosseum and Forum. When we got t the Colosseum, an Indian woman accosted us and tried to persuade us to do a tour with her company as the line to get in was an hours wait, entrance cost 22 euro each and she could do it for 28 euro each with no queuing. We said we didn't have enough money so she immediately brought it down to 25 euro each, but we were a bit wary after getting conned the day before with the hop on hop off bus tours so walked away a few metres and were approached by an American girl for her guide tour group for 20 euro each and she said the entrance was 12 euro each. The touting in Rome is unbelievable and really frustrating. We actually took the tour which was led by a South African/ Italian man who shut his eyes when he spoke and got annoyed if you asked questions - not so good for Sam who always asks lots of questions!!! It actually was very good having the information, and after the tour we had ½ hour to wander around before meeting a new tour guide - a really excited British woman who loved answering questions and was really enthusiastic as she took us on a tour of the Forum. We had a coffee in the sun in a Plaza - $15!!!, wandered back to Vatican City because we were told the Pope was going to make an appearance at 5.00( by a local man the day before) - didn't happen, never mind, and then caught the train home.
After a rest day, we headed for a couple of days in Tuscany. Basically, we gave Sean (our Irish GPS man) obscure towns in Tuscany and headed for them. This way we found ourselves on dirt roads, up mountains, across really high bridges, had lunch by a stormy lake, coffees in small cafes that only locals used, slept in a supermarket car park at the advice of the British man whose front yard we ended up trying to turn around in when we followed a narrow road that ended as a drive!, and even came across a an old natural hot springs that obviously used to be a resort but was now a ruin. We only discovered it because they were some gypsies camped nearby and we stopped to see what they were looking at. When we continued on, we found the new resort up the hill - for rich people only!!
We had looked up campgrounds that were still open in the Cinque Terra area to do the 5 village walk, and set Sean for La Spezia - not realising that the campground was in the district and not the town. When we arrived in the centre of town in peak hour traffic through roads not wide enough for the van and other traffic, in the dark, we had a few bad moments before we pulled over into a service station to rethink and breathe. Sam went over to the pumps to ask for help and some random guy there with very little English knew of a campsite in Levanto at the end of the walk which he rang to make sure was open and then typed into Sean for us - another random "coincidental meeting".
The highlights of the Cinque Terra:
- Staying in Levanto- no tourists, wandering around meeting people, tasting the local specialty Gattafin - which we had to search for around shops, even being taken to one by a young mum who was outside a shop and who spoke no English but found out from another girl where we were headed and actually walked us there!!!
- Appertiv - an amazing tradition in Italy - you go to a bar/café - in this town, Illy's was the happening place - order a drink and then get countless serves of nibbles brought out continually - for FREE!! At Illys, we had 9 different plates brought out, not just nuts and chips, but salmon on bread, foccacia, etc - all bite size. We didn't need to have a meal- all for the price of a drink or 2
The walk -
- Amazing scenery - if not a bit scary walking along narrow paths on cliffs
- Steps - hundreds of them - up and down
- The "tractors" on single rails for the olive groves in terraces all over the area
- Interesting small hamlets with cats - everywhere in obscure places as well as towns
- Meeting 30 Aussies in one day!!!!!!