Saturday, June 30, 2007

The trip to Nice felt long, even with the last hour of uber-touristing - staring out the window at the mansions of Monaco and the Azure Coast. Bono's private island tacked onto his "shack" was rather fancy.

I found my hostel pretty quickly, but ended up waiting while the "Pink Lady" (the name of the hostel that quickly became the pink-wearing receptionist's nickname). It was one of the most unusual check-ins I've had so far.

I was sharing a dorm with three guys - a Chinese fella who only spoke a little English, and two Canadians who I ended up hanging out with for the next day. We went to dinner (because I balked at the €3.50 per kilo apples at the grocery store) in the "Old Town," and later went to a hideously trashy tourist bar named Wayne's.

[Mike, me and Gad at Wayne's]

I wandered home on my own in the wee small hours - as always, getting lost along the way, but making it back eventually. The following day, after using the free internet at the Busabout hostel (shh...), I returned to the Pink Lady and decided to join Mike and Gad on their trip to Monaco. Though, as expected, it was just a chance to look at ridiculously expensive-looking yachts and swanky cars, and visit the toilets (free!) at the Casino, it was fun to visit a different, albeit very rich and rather random, quasi-country for the day.

The boys took a train back to Nice at around 2pm (they had a 5pm bus to Barcelona to catch), and I stayed in Monaco a little longer, visiting the Palace, and the cathedral where Grace Kelly is buried. I had to hang around the train station for 45 minutes for the train back to Nice, and filled in a little time by reading trashy magazines at a newsstand - until the owner told me off. While I was waiting on the platform, I realised that although I don't know much Italian - or at least not as much as I thought I would know after my course - but I realised that I know a little, because when the announcements came over the PA system, I couldn't understand a word in French, whereas in Italy I would get the general gist of it. It's the little things, but I'm proud.

[a helicopter, on a yacht... as you do.]


[Grace Kelly's grave]

When I got back to the Pink Lady, Gad and Mike were just collecting their bags, which turned out to be quite serendipitous as the Pink Lady (the woman) had to ask me to change rooms (not sure why), and Gad was able to translate for me. French Canadians. Bless 'em.

I cooked up a big bowl of pasta, resorting to veggies from a can (extortion at the Spar, I tell you!), but it was actually not too bad. That, or I was starving. After my late lunch/early dinner, I went to explore the seaside. There is an old castle (or was an old castle) at the eastern end of the beach, perched on a hill. The Chateau, though quite the climb (my poor calves still aching after Cinque Terre) made for a beautiful view. I stayed up there for quite a while, initially waiting for the sun to set, but then I discovered a fete - full of locals with food stalls, bars consisting of little more than a card table covered in a table cloth, and the usual jewellery stalls. There were three stages - one with an African theme, one middle Eastern, and one with young, French boys doing English rock'n'roll covers. I was one of very few tourists there, and it was fantastic.

Afterwards, I trudged down the hill, and walked along the promenade. There had been an Ironman race that day, and there were still some people heading for the finish line. Half of the main road was blocked off, and there was a huge crowd cheering them on, dancing along to music being pumped out of the PA system. It was very cool.
Following a great little evening of unusual Nice experiences, I headed back to the Pink Lady for bed.

Though it felt as if my calves would never recover, I went for a nice little jog along the promenade the following morning. I think it may have actually done them some good in the long run. I snuck around the room, trying not to wake the others as I ate my breakfast and got my daypack sorted.

Mum and Dad had emailed and told me to call them at midday so that we could sort out our collective travel plans, so I spent the morning roaming the under-construction-for-three-years main drag, wandering in and out of shops, looking at things I couldn't afford to buy (be they too expensive or too heavy). At midday I called home, but - surprise surprise - they weren't home. I grudgingly paid the €0.20 for the two-second "call" I'd made (the phone beeped - money well spent), and then returned to the Hotel Anvers - where all the Busabout people were staying - for a little while before returning to the phone centre. I had a little tanty/break down on the phone. I think the three month mark seems to be my "cool-headed traveller" limit.

I spent the afternoon wandering some more - unintentionally, of course, as I didn't have a map and somehow couldn't find my way to the beach. When I eventually did find it, I was sufficiently hot and sweaty enough to warrant a swim in the Mediterranian. It was a strange experience - stumbling over the rocks, wearing thongs into the water in order to save my poor feet from their pointiness, and then finding myself somewhat more buoyant than usual. Either that, or my thongs were trying to float. I lay on the beach for a short time (the rocks can only be comfortable - a term I use loosely - for so long), finished my book (satisfied), and then headed slowly back to the hostel. After showering, I cooked up the rest of my pasta/sauce/vegetable mixture, and sat down to a huge meal. The perils of not having a kitchen at the next place.

Though there had been some suggestion of going to a pub trivia match, a group of us ended up going to the beach instead. About thirty Busabouters sat on the rocks, most of them drinking or eating gelati. It was really nice.

[Busabouters take over the beach in Nice]

Tuesday morning I got up early and was at the Hotel Anvers just on seven in order to check my email (more planning with Mum and Dad) before the bus left for Avignon at 8am. It turned out that only 7 of us were getting off in Avignon. Steve and Sophie, the English couple I met way back in Bruges, Dustin, a Canadian 20-year-old, and I were all sitting near each other on the bus, and got off together.

Dustin and I went into the Old Town of Avignon with Matt - a New Zealander I hadn't met before. We found our way to the touristy main drag, got some lunch (baguette with tomato, lettuce and brie - mmm), and then went to the tourist information office. From there we went to an internet cafe, where Matt and Dustin left me to book my flight to the UK. Once I'd done that I went up to the Palais Des Papes - the building in which seven twentieth century popes resided. There is quite the impressive statue on that building! The nearby park was also lovely - just the place to sit and read my newly-purchased "Harry Potter" (a last-minute attempt to catch up with the rest of the world).

[Palais Des Papes]

At around 6pm, I returned to the hostel/campground, and joined Matt and another couple of Kiwis - Marissa and Tim - as well as Dustin for a Happy Hour beer. We sat chatting for hours, and ended up going to dinner at the grounds' restaurant at about 9pm. By midnight, the waitress was getting sick of us (but never said anything), the mozzies were biting, and the wind was picking up, so we all took ourselves off to bed.

I ran along the Rhone the next morning, appreciating the grand ramparts and the seemingly half-finished Pont D'Avignon as I worked the last bits of stiffness out of my legs (bloody Cinque Terre!). We all met up for breakfast, and at 10am, everyone but Steve, Sophie and myself went off to take a ride through the local wineries. The three of us sat chatting for a while (English music festivals being an exciting topic), and then went our separate ways into town.

It seemed the entire city was having a sale. It was actually quite wird. I spent most of the day talking myself out of buying anything. I also returned to the Rocher Des Doms and my favourite bench to read for a while. Just before 5pm I arrived back at the hostel only to discover that my room was locked. Having not been given a key, I was not to impressed to hear it was a manditory lock out from 2pm to 5pm. Not that they'd told me about this anti-siesta... I was starving, hanging out for some mini-toasts and vegemite, so when I was finally let in at 5:20pm, I was getting a little antsy.

Matt, Dustin, Tim and Marissa returned from their "wine tasting tour" at about 6, and after another Happy Hour beer, we all went to the same restaurant we'd gone to the night before for dinner. Yet again it was a lovely evening, with lots of chatting (Matt's various outbursts about the French were pretty funny), and ended with a card trick that the next morning, six of us still didn't understand. We were all checked out by 10am, but the bus didn't come 'til 12:30, so we spent a couple of hours sitting by the river playing cards.

[The Pont D'Avignon on the Rhone]

Arriving in Barcelona, I set off straight away for my hostel, despearately needing to pee. The pressure of the hip-strap of my pack certainly wasn't helping! The street I was staying on - Passeig de Garcia - had me a little confused for a while. It is one of the main shopping precincts in Barcelona, and from the bus, I carried my pack past Cartier, Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci. I was a little bit worried I was at the wrong place when I arrived at #116, but on the third floor of a not-so-ritzy residential building was the Catolonia Hostel. I had just enough time to get changed, put my valuables in my locker, and send a quick couple of emails home (last minute requests - "am running low on vegemite") before I had to dash back down the road to the Busabout hostel, where I met Marissa and Tim, along with two of their friends (who they'd met on a Contiki trip and were also now on Busabout) and we all headed out in search of dinner.

We all seemed to be on the lookout for Tapas, but most looked quite expensive, despite our best efforts to find the "dodgy back alleys." In the end, hunger caused us to settle on a Sizzler-esque buffet place. Not exactly the typical Spanish meal we were going for, but the piles of food we all consumed and the free glass of wine went down a treat. After dinner, we wandered around, finding ourselves at the Columbus Monument before heading back up La Rambla in search of a cheap bar. One Irish and one Aussie bar later (menus looked at, but not a drop drunk), we gave up on our mission, and headed to our respective homes. The fact that the sun had set so late, and we'd eaten dinner so late had me all confused, and I didn't realise quite how late it was when I got back to the hostel. Barcelona is quite the night owl!

On Friday morning I ran around the streets and alleyways of downtown Barcelona, as the nearest park was quite a treck. It ended up being quite nice - passing little grocers and bakeries early in the morning.

After breakfast, I went to the Busabout hostel to see what everyone else was doing, but they all seemed to be either going shopping or going to the beach. With my nerdy list of things I wanted to do/see in Barcelona spilling out of my Lonely Planet, I decided I'd best go it alone. Two days didn't seem enough time to see everything!

Quite the treck to the north east, and I found myself at Gaudi's Sagrada Familia. Just when I thought I was sick of churches, along came the mother of all churches - that is one crazy, amazing, beautiful building.

[Sagrada Familia:]

Once I'd finished gawking at the - apparently - half-finished, and still very much in the process of being constructed building (watching the builders go about their work was odd), I walked up to the Parc Guell. Though I wasn't entirely sure I was going the right way, I found the park much sooner than anticipated, and spent a few hours there exploring, admiring and taking photos of Gaudi's next most famous work of art. To think that he designed these things in the early twentieth century is a little mind blowing. He was certainly ahead of his time.

[view of Barcelona from the park]

[Parc Guell:]

I spent my "siesta" at the hostel, chilling out, reading and just enjoying being out of the sun!At around 6, I walked down La Rambla again, wandering the alleyways of the El Raval area, and occasionally finding myself back on La Rambla with its many and varied street performers. My favourite was the "tourist," with his socks and sandles and big video camera.

I spent quite some time at the Market la Boqueria - a very busy, quite impressive fresh fruit/veg and meat market. The atmosphere was so lively, it's hard to believer it's open 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. The sheeps' heads - eyeballs and all - were pretty disturbing, though, and I tried to keep away from the meat and seafood section. On my way back to the hostel, I popped into a cafe, somewhere near the Busabout hostel, and enjoyed my first Spanish specialty - hot chocolate and churros. The hot chocolate was thick, the churros (basically stick-like donuts) oily, and my arteries may never be the same, but it was pretty good stuff.

[Hot chocolate and churros - heart attack on a plate... and in a cup]

The hostel was - like the rest of the city - only just getting started by the time midnight came and went, but with the aid of my earplugs, and a little bit of exhaustion thrown in for good measure, I was out like a light. The next morning I had a freezing cold shower (why does this always seem to be the case when I have to wash my hair?!), a leisurely breakfast, and then spent a few hours uploading photos onto the net for Tiffany to burn onto a CD for me at home. The things I'll do to save €4.

I'd read that there were art markets near La Rambla on Saturdays, but I was a little disappointed to be honest.

On my way to the Olympic Village area, I stopped in the Ciutadella Park and had a great little quasi-siesta in the shade of a nice, big tree. I read my book, lay there a while, and basically did nothing. It was great.

[my siesta in the Ciutadella Park]

The area near the Olympic Village seemed all but desserted (post-siesta ghost tow), until I arrived at Port Olimpic and found the throngs of people on the many big, sandy beaches in the area. I awlked along the boardwalk at La Barceloneta for a while, cursing myself for not having brought my swimmers! I walked through La Barceloneta on my way back to La Rambla, and really enjoyed it - a little way off the tourist trail, and feeling a little more authentically Spanish.

[an example of a random piece of modern art in Barcelona, in the Villa Olimpica]

Before I forget to mention it - I realised quite quickly that Barcelona smelled somewhat familiar and soon put my finger on it - Thailand. The slightly cringe-worthy smell of stagnant water and rotting vegetables. Must be something to do with the heat.

Back at La Rambla, I returned to the market, bought some fruit (grapes, on the advice of the woman at the fruit stall, which were delicious), and then sat at the Placa de Catalunya for a while, reading and people-watching. On my return to the hostel, I had some dinner, caught up on my diary, read some more, packed my pack and just generally did very little. It was nice.

The trip to Madrid was pretty unexciting. We stopped through Valencia briefly, where I had some paella for lunch. Mmm.

When we arrived in Madrid, I headed straight out to see the Palacio Real and the very manicured surrounding gardens, and then to El Retiro and the even prettier gardens. There were some pretty cool buskers along the side of the Estanque, including clowns and marrionette puppets. The view across to the Monument to Alfonso XII in the lowering light was quite nice.

[Palacio Real]

[Monument to Alfonso XII, across the Estanque]

[View from my hostel room. I call it "Late Night Boredom in Madrid."]

The next morning I ran back to the park, spending the first half of the run with my iPod off because it was still dark (!) and I'd heard that Madrid was a little sketchy.

Then it was back on the bus - again - and off to San Sebastian.

On the way, we stopped in Burgos for lunch - a pretty little city with a big, gothic cathedral. It was also a little dramatic when the bus was pulled over. Apparently a fairly common occurrance with Busabout, but a first for me. Everyone pulled on their seatbelts quickly as the policemen boarded the bus - except for me, the big nerd who wears her seatbelt all the time.

[Burgos' cathedral]

It took a while to check in at the "Urban House," and once I was checked in I went off in search of a grocery store. Buying fruit and veggies was intimidating, what with my inability to speak Spanish and my tendency to attempt words in Italian, but the nice grocer put up with me and I eventually got my campinons and... other veggies.

After a big, fat, carrot-less salad for dinner, I headed back ou tto explore the city a little. The river by night was really pretty.

The following morning I went for a lovely run along the beach. Although I've run along quite a few beaches in Europe, this was the first beach that actually felt like a real beach - the waves were making plenty of sea spray, and the sand was sandy!

After breakfast, I went for a walk up the Monte Urgull Parque, with its giant statue of Jesus. It was a little chilly (in my skirt, singlet and swimmers - optimistically), but after 15 minutes of trecking up the hill to see the giant Jesus aerial [see below], I was a little toastier.

[the cloudy view across San Sebastian]

[I just liked the contrast of a cannon in front of a statue of Jesus. No comment.]

[Looks like a regular statue from the front, but then, from behind...]

[...giant Jesus aerial!]

[San Seb]

I went looking for the laundromat, but at €6 for an 8kg load of washing, I took all my dirty clothes back to the hostel.

It wasn't warm enough to go swimming, so I went wandering through the shops instead - right on siesta. Clever. But some stores were still open, and I was entertained for a while.

I had an early dinner, read some more Harry Potter (it's addictive), and then spent the night sitting around with some othre people from the hostel, chatting and playing cards.

Wednesday morning was spent stuffing around - checking emails, etc, and waiting for a reasonable hour to head to Bilbao and my flight to the UK (at 9pm!). An English-speaking country for the first time in three months. I'm excited!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Italy Part 2: Napoli and Cinque Terre

On Saturday I took the train (just making it at 8:15) to Napoli. The walk from the station to the hostel was a little off-putting. Everything was pretty grimy. But the hostel was pretty nice and - map in hand and padlock securely attached to my day pack - I headed out into the heat to see what Napoli had to offer. I had a little trouble, but eventually made it round to St Lucia and then Chiaia, with their "beaches" of giant rocks! How people were actually lying on them, I don't know... Aussies are so spoiled.

I was starving, and found a not-too-dodgy restaurant for the best pizza I've had in a while. Margherita with Mozerella di Bufala - oh my God, so good.
I polished off the whole thing, and feeling sufficiently stuffed, went to look at the Castel Dell'Ovo, a castle dating back to the twelfth century, just off the coast. The view from the top - of the town, the ocean and Mount Vesuvius - was pretty special.

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the tourist-riddled streets, full of shops, many of which were closed as it was Saturday (and everyone seemed to be getting married, if the glamour shots being taken at the Dell'Ovo were anything to go by!).

I had some of the tastiest gelato while walking up towards Naples' Duomo, which ended up being closed, along with another church I tried to visit (where were the couples getting married??).

I quite enjoyed the adventure, though, through lots of smaller streets which were less touristy and had lots of little grocery stores and bakeries. When I got back to the hostel, I (ab)used the free internet, and then had an early night - I was exhausted!

Sunday morning i Had a leisurely breakfast - also free - amongst the biggest Nutella jars I've seen to date. 5kg. That's a lot of hazelnuts.I checked out, but left my bag (very impressed by that hostel!), and went to meet Mirella at the train station. We were meant to meet up at 10, but by 10:45 I decided to line up for a train ticket, keeping an eye out for her while I waited. The curse of the mobile-less strikes again!

When I finally got my train ticket - despite being so busy remembering how to order a ticket in Italian I forgot the name of where I was going - but then realised I'd left my camera battery charging at the hostel. Aah! A hurried walk, and almost an hour later, and I was back at the train station, ready to finally board the train to Pompeii. The ruins were pretty impressive - if for nothing else, for how huge they were! I was there for a few hours and only probably saw half of it. I'd just finished looking at one of the theatres (looking oh-so ancient with its spotlights and PA system), when I ran into Mirella. In such a huge place, what're the chances? We went to a more authentic-looking theatre before asking a guide for... as Mirella tried to put it "la casa di... di..." "Erotica?" The guide knew exactly what we were looking for. It was the busiest area of all of Pompeii. Too funny.

[an ancient Pompeiian dog]

[the World's Biggest Bathroom has some competition]

[La Casa di Erotica... ancient porn]

[the line outside]

Mirella and I rushed for the train, and then parted ways at the train station, promising to catch up in London. I also had my first European, two-cheek kiss goodbye. I've seen so many people - even young men - do it, and I love it!

I went back and got my backpack from the hostel, took a bus to the train station (NOT walking the1/2 hour with my pack!), and got to Rome just after 9pm. The metro had closed for the night, so I took a bus back to Camping Roma, where I stayed in a very comfy house tent. My only complaint was the tents' proximity to the highway. Thank God for earplugs!

The next morning I had a cold shower - thoroughly unimpressed, as I had to wash my hair - and was ready for the bus at 8am. Good old Busabout. And who was there to be our guide? None other than Stewie! Bless.

Rather than have a stop at a dodgy petrol station, we stopped at Orvieto, a town perched at the top of a steep old hill, which we had to take a cable car up! There was a pretty, big, stripey church at the top, which I wandered around for a little while, then went off to find some good Italian coffee. I have come to be very fond of Italian espressos, but still find the whole "drink at the bar or we'll charge you twice as much" thing very weird.

[Orvieto's stripey church]

We got into the Camping Internazionale in Florence at about 2:30, and I straight away headed into town with my pack, looking for the Locanda Latina - the dodgy little guest house I stayed at. After asking a number of people (in dodgy Italian) where it was, I finally found #5 Via del Sole... conveniently located between #9 and #17.

Once I'd checked in, I went off to see as much as I could before nightfall. I accidentally found myself at the Duomo - perhaps not so accidental as it's huge and stripey and can be seen from pretty much everywhere. The painting on the inside of the dome is just gorgeous. I then got lost, ate gelato, and found myself back at the Palazzo Vecchio with its Fake David and fantastic Renaissance and ancient sculptures. There was a sculpture of a lion from the Renaissance, right next to the ancient one it was based upon. They didn't look as if they'd been made 1500 years apart!

[Florence's Duomo. Amazing.]

[Fake David]

[the lion on the left is 1500 years younger than the one on the right. Crazy.]

From there, I walked down to the Ponte Vecchio, admiring all the jewellery stores (bringing back memories of Dubai), and then across, and up (and up, and up) to the Piazzale Michelangelo. The view from up there was pretty special. I couldn't help myself and had a woman take a gratuitous "I'm in Florence" photo. I did a bit of research on the internet about accommodation in San Sebastian (damn running of the bulls!) before returning to the hostel.

[row, row, row your boat...]

[Tourist with a capital T]

I went for a lovely jog on Tuesday morning, across a bridge to the east of the Ponte Vecchio, and back through the Piazza Vecchio. I was at the Galleria degli Uffizi by 8:15, and at 8:35 realised I was in the wrong line. An hour and a half later, and I was finally inside (and able to get a discount with my British passport - at last!). And to think, I thought I'd had my fill of religious paintings at the Vatican! Seeing the Birth of Venus was quite exciting. I also really liked Botticelli's Primavera - with Chloe standing beside Flora, and the Three Graces dancing nearby.

After an early lunch - and a much needed sit down - I headed to the Galeria dell'Academia to stand in line yet again. Three and a half very hot, sweaty, dehydrated hours later, and I was finally viewing David. Not only was the statue striking, the room in which it stood was gorgeous. There was not much else to see in the gallery, but I think David was worth the wait. For some reason, I especially liked his left ribcage, viewed from behind his left elbow. It sounds odd, but I found it to look just as realistic and detailed as his right - and much-photographed - hand.

I walked through the markets after my very culturally-full day, and looked at all the pretty (and often also ugly) jewellery and leather-goods for sale. I'd never really noticed before just how smelly leather is!

After a spot of grocery shopping and a quick dash home, I returned to the area surrounding the markets to use the cheap internet, and then went back to the hostel for more study of the Lonely Planet and my rough timetable.

Wednesday started with yet another nice run - this time across two other Florentine bridges (and across the Ponte Vecchio twice), before heading home via the Duomo.

I had a lovely picnic breakfast in a park, being all class by eating my cereal from an old bocconcini container, and then went to the internet place I'd visited the night before in order to use my remaining credit. No such luck - the internet wasn't working, and I was unable to get my money back. Highly unimpressed. What happened to the customer always being right?

I went back to the hostel, packed my things, and then - backpack in tow - went back to a different internet cafe. An hour or two later, and I'd sorted out my accommodation and travel woes. Phew!

I then took the bus to the Camping Internazionale, hiked quite the hill, and was finally able to get rid of my backpack. A cold shower and a change of clothes, and I was ready to spend a lazy afternoon at the campground - reading my book by the edge of the pool was pretty nice. Unfortunately the €2 swimming cap they insisted you buy, and the bites on my legs from whatever attacked me in my sleep at Loconda Lattina kept me from going in the pool. I figure there will be plenty of swimming opportunities at Cinque Terre, Nice and San Sebastian.

I spent the evening talking with my roommates (Busabouters again - it's been a while), and then had a reasonably early night.

I woke before my alarm, so was showered and ready to go by 7:30. By 8am, we were on our way to La Spezia, but first we stopped at Pisa to see the leaning tower (and watch all the other tourists stand with their hands in the air, pretending to hold it up). It's a very pretty building. I especially like the way, from a distance, it looks as if it's peering out from the building next to it, like a small child behind its parents' legs.


When we got to La Spezia, I got on the first train to the Deiva Marina, as per the instructions from the campground I was staying at. I must've been on an express train, though, and missed my stop, so after backtracking one stop, I was there, waiting for the shuttle bus at 1:45. The next bus wasn't til 3:10, but I filled my time looking around the little town. There wasn't a whole lot to see - I guess it is out-classed by its five more glamorous neighbours. It was also siesta, so not a lot was open.

When I arrived at the campground the woman at the desk was lovely, even showing me to the 2-bed house tent I was staying in. Until she showed me the tent, I honestly didn't know what sort of accommodation I'd paid for.

After a few minutes spent staring at bus/train timetables, I left most of my stuff in the tent (chained to the bed - bless Tad and the lock he gave me for Christmas), and took the shuttle back to the Marina.

The beach was packed yet fairly unexceptional. The one plus of pebbly beaches, I suppose, is you don't get sand in your undies! It was amazing to see that even on the beach, there were people selling clothes and dodgy jewellery.

I've got to admit that I was feeling pretty lonely that afternoon. Since leaving Rome, I've been travelling pretty much solo, and am really looking forward to staying at the Busabout accommodation in Avignon. I tried to make the most of my afternoon, though, and tried to look on the bright side. The following day I was going to walk the trail of the Cinque Terre, which would be fun, even if I was doing it alone.

With my new-found optimism, I returned to the shuttle pick-up, only to see a sign announcing that there was to be a strike, and no trains would be running the following day. Trying to be calm and cling onto that optimism of only a few minutes prior, I asked a woman at the local tourist office if there was an alternative mode of transport. There wasn't, but she said certain peak-hour trains would still be running (strike or no strike, people still had to get to work). So, sunshine and rainbows once again, I returned to the campground, and inquired whether there were local buses I could take, as the shuttle didn't start running until after the precious few trains had already departed. There were no local buses. Fine. I'd walk. Only 2 1/2 km, a brisk stroll.

The following morning, after a fairly good nights' sleep, I hoofed it to the train station, bought my ticket for entry into the Cinque Terre National Park and got on my train. Arriving at Riomaggiore (the first of the five towns), I was a little disheartened by the thick, grey clouds which hung over the ocean and engulfed the nearby mountains. Never mind, I thought. A bit of cloud cover could be a good thing. As I entered the park, it began to spit. No worries, a nice bit of climate control - I was feeling a little hot. Then the heavens opened, and not five minutes into my walk, it was pouring with rain. Bloody hell.

After a few minutes spent huddling under a tree, the rain eased off, and for the rest of the walk, though oftentimes looking quite threatening, the weather behaved itself, and by the time I reached Monterosso (the last town - 5 hours later), the sun was actually shining.

It was a gorgeous walk. At times it was a bit of a struggle (so many stairs!), but it was definitely worth it.

[Cinque Terre:]

I spoiled myself and had lunch at a seaside bar, enjoying a glass of local white wine with my pesto pasta (pesto was apparently invented in the area). I wussed out of swimming - even if the water wasn't THAT cold, the "toes in" test made me a little hesitant.

I read my book in the shade for a little while, and was approached by TWO Italian men. One didn't speak English, and I'm not really sure what he said, and the second said "I am Italian, and I think you're very beautiful." I love the way he prefaced it - as if I would fall into a puddle of jelly just because he was Italian.

I had my last Italian gelato, and boy was it good.

At 6pm, I headed for the train, and though it was delayed, I eventually got on a train and back to the campground. I showered (so gross and sweaty), did some hand-washing, sorted out my pack, and got ready for another early night. When the sun sets at 9:30 and you're staying in a tent, you're left with few other choices!

I was back in La Spezia almost two hours early, but was a little wary of the local trains, so was erring on the side of caution.

I called Mum and Dad from a local phone centre (and had my last dodgy Italian conversation with the man at the desk), and then returned to the train station to wait for the 12:15pm bus.