Our first night on the French Riviera was in Fréjus/St Raphael. What a delightful place. Reminds me a lot of the old Mooloolabah or Coolangatta for you Aussies. Lovely sandy beach totally open to the public, coffee shops and cafeteria’s on the other side of the street and no building above six stories. Found a local market and bought our lunch of calamari, paella and potatoes.
Next day on to Italy, but not without first going by Monte Carlo, Monaco. We only saw it from up high on the hill but probably the best view. I was commenting on the number of small cruise ships in the harbour when I was informed they were private yachts. Nobody should have that much money.
On to Menton a lovely, modern upscale beach resort. Menton is our last stop in France. So, au revoir France and allo Italia.
Our first stop in Italy is the Italian Riviera. We make our way past Genoa, and La Spezia to Marina Di Carrara and Marina Di Massa. From the highway we can see great spots of white on the mountains. These are cliffs of marble and is where Michelangelo got all his marble for his statues. The two small towns are very much seaside towns. However, the difference I see between here and France is the beaches are privately owned by the properties adjacent to the beach. Actually, they have it set up nicely for day visitors, providing a space for parking your car, then little rooms that I assume are change rooms. Some have cabanas where you can stay overnight. Then on to the beach where you get an umbrella and deck chairs. There is also a restaurant and snack bar. All very nice, but you do have to pay and it doesn’t sit right with me that the beach can be privately owned but I guess that is the wave of the future.
We have been traveling off the toll roads which allows us to see more of the countryside but there is a definite difference between the toll roads and the non-toll highways which are in bad shape. It is a rough ride in the back of the van. To get to our next base we had to travel on some local roads. These are very narrow - two lanes no shoulders - and very windy, but very picturesque. Quite often, when going through the small villages, the buildings are built right on the edge of the road. Just as well I am not sitting in the front.
We made a detour via Pisa to see the leaning tower. We followed John’s google maps which led us down some very narrow streets. At one point, we weren’t sure if we should go there (A cyclist pointed to a sign) but we were past the point of no return. When we got to the end of the street we were out in a huge square. Fortunately, a parked car pulled out of a street leading off and we ended up in a perfect parking spot. However, there may be a picture of us in a newspaper somewhere saying ‘Van drives through the town piazza’. The leaning tower of Pisa was our introduction to the crowds in Italy and how easy it is to get separated. Besides the tower is a huge cathedral but we needed to get going as Robbie and Glenda were babysitting the van and all of our stuff.
Our home for the next four nights was in Greve in Chianti. We are in the heart of Tuscany and the Chianti wine growing area. We have rented a villa in a vineyard. I say villa but it is an old stone house that is 500 years old. Everything has been updated but the integrity of the age of the house has been maintained. The kitchen is probably where it is most evident inside with an alcove for a wood burning fireplace for cooking, the original cement sink and a huge old wooden kitchen table. There appears to be another apartment on half of the front of the house but the other half of the front is in ruins. The whole countryside is all vineyards with these old stone houses spread throughout. Very pretty.
Greve was supposed to be our base for seeing Cinque Terra. What we hadn’t calculated was how far away we were from there. We also didn’t count on five continuous days of rain there. It was warm and sunny where we were. So we substituted Sienna for Cinque Terra. Seinna is the largest centre in Tuscany. It has an historic area the center of which is Il Campo which is a large bowl shaped piazza facing the town hall. This is somewhat different to other towns where the cathedral and Piazza in front were the centre of the town. This marked the movement away from the church being in control to the politico or people’s government in control. The bowl is all clay brick but there is a strip about 50 ft wide around the perimeter part of which, on the upper level, is occupied by restaurants today. This is where they hold the annual horse race between the 17 neighborhoods that make up Seinna. We did see a video of the horse race but it would be something to see it live.
John and I were wandering the narrow streets in the old town when there suddenly was a very heavy police presence. We continued on past them when we started to hear drums, whistles etc. The next thing we knew, we were caught up in a mass of demonstrators coming down the street. It turned out to be high school students protesting the deterioration of the environment but you just couldn’t move anywhere. Apparently this was part of a world wide push as John read something about it in the Cdn news as well. However, I think this would have been a harrowing experience if this had been a real protest. I can’t see students in Cda being given a day off to go protest as half of them would just take the time off and that is what I saw here. There were lots of them protesting but a lot hanging around the various squares and streets having a great day off. But protests seem to be a way of life here so I suppose it is normal to allow students to protest.
For the first night in Greve the guys went shopping to buy meat to bbq. Based on our host’s recommendation, who said the beef from their area was excellent, they came home with one huge steak. I have to say, it didn’t come close to Alberta beef.
Our host invited us to a tour of their winery which has been owned by the same family for over 500 yrs. She took us through all the processes and down into the cellars. It was just like one sees in all the pictures. At the end, we were treated to a tasting of their three classes of wine. A noticeable difference between the first and the last. They also produced a limited amount of olive oil from their orchard. The piece de resistance was their Vincenzo which would be similar to our ice wine but produced using heat and not frosted grapes. This was excellent but at €50 ($75) for a small bottle, this small taste was as close as we got.
We went to Florence for a day. Drove to a parking lot on the outskirts then caught a bus from there. First stop was the Mercado centrale. First purchase - Italian leather. Went upstairs to the food court where we had one of the best pizzas I have ever had. From here we walked to the Duomo which is absolutely magnificent. John and I were going to go inside until we saw the length of the ticket line and then the length of the entrance line. It would have taken 2 hrs just to get inside. So we contented ourselves with the outside. The Medici series on Netflix portrays them as a wonderful family who paid for the duomo out of their own coffers and built it to glorify God. But actually, they were a very violent family who taxed the people to pay for it and built it to show all the other towns who was the mightiest. Seinna tried to build one bigger but only got one wall built before they realized they didn’t have enough land on top of the hill to support a bigger cathedral. The one wall built is still standing there in Seinna today. Florence was unbelievably crowded. The same lines were at the Iffuzzi gallery. So we had to be content with a photo with an imitation ‘David’ statue.
So we leave Greve and on to our next stop - Sicily. But on the way, we stay in a small hotel in a small town. Here we met a group of Italians having a party on the lawn beside the pool. We came down and we had a party also. So, even though we could not speak each other’s language, we all had a good time together.