SENTIRE: COME STO A RUOTA LIBERA
(Translation: Feeling like I’m Coasting).
Ciao! (Because – even more reason to love Italy – ciao doubles as both a greeting and a farewell).
On the day of departure to go coastal, I awoke at 6am in a tizzy (haven’t been in one of them for a wee while). So I spent a few hours doing admin (working out the fund situation – not ideal, but when is it ever? – booking hostels, buses and what not), a round of some lackadaisical uncoils and repacking my already packed bag, before PMS and Claudio awoke to have our bye-bye breakfast (many a “mate” sprinkled into the chats on behalf of Claudio, what a lad).
Interesting an insert: PMS imparted me with the insight that the grounds around everywhere really are actually patterned as they are not just to be pretty; rather, the little lumps and random raises are like brail for the blind, in the configurations and tessellations of the terrain telling those unable to see the layout of the roads and what not. So like, at the train station just before a corner the footpath formations change to alert the visually impaired persons that they must turn; likewise, at the coming-to edge of the track the bumps bridge up to warn them of the danger ahead. This is what buzzes me out with how our different brains work – in my mind, I just thought the difference in design was for aesthetic value).
So, the Cinque Terre. (Hereafter CT).
The CT is like a necklace of centuries-old seaside villages stringing along the rugged Italian Riviera coastline in the region of Liguria. (“Cinque Terre” translates as “five terraces”, there being five little towns). Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are each made up of colourful abodes (usually of the yellow-peachy-pink hue range) and ancient vineyards and lemon trees (seriously, SO many lemons – thus the abundance of Limoncello, the citrus-y liqueur) clinging to the steep cliff faces.
So after an hour-and-a-half-or-so train journey from Genova we disembarked at the Corniglia train station, the third of the five wee villages peppered about the craggy seashore. It was incredible coming in – the railway literally runs through the cliffs, and when out in the open is right next to the ocean. Back in fresh air you could feel the spittle spraying your face and the salt scent engulfing your senses.
Instantly I just felt myself loosen up a bit. There’s truly something about being by the sea, is there not? Like a change of pace, a lessening of rushing, I don’t know – just a full on disentangle of all edginess and over anxiousness. It’s a fucking fabulous feeling.
Corniglia is right up on a cliff top, like a cat upon a perch or some shit. I looked ahead at the path to take up and had an ebullient right cackle; I am roaming with my big backpack, but having come straight from the training trip old PMS is still peripateticing about with a suitcase. And to get to Corniglia? A very steep, very large number of brick steps. What a bastard with a 20kg suitcase, am I right?
PMS certainly thought so.
About 25 minutes later once I had stopped my taking-the-piss puns (you know, “hard case”, “step on it”, “all were stair-ing at you”, such lark) and PMS had garnered back some strength, we roved about the lanes to find our staying place.
And how cute is Corniglia! So compact, the whole little lot stretching no more than a twisty turvy cobbled street or so. After dumping our bags and what not at our apartment (honestly, so on point with the Airbnb pics and exactly what we wanted for out two-day stay) we wandered down and around the tiny town.
We stopped in at a little delicatessen where PMS got a freshly made panini (like the most upmarket Subway of sorts, where you chose your bread, your choice of cheese, a layering of meat then condiments and compliments, such as pesto – the region’s specialty – eggplant, peppers, anchovies and such lark) and then we sat on some concrete steps and looked out at the astounding view as he downed that along with a beer.
Insertation here: What has really detonated my brain about Europe all over really, Italy in particular, is the openness to alcohol. Swindling back sips of sangria, barrelling back beer, going to town on the goons – and this is just on the street. Literally. You can waltz along with a six pack of Peroni, pull one out and have a scull and no one nocturnal flying creatures an optic (I.e., bats an eye).
PMS and I discussed it and came to the conclusion it’s all to do with maturity. Look at NZ and Aus – a four pack of vodka cruisers costs upwards of $25 in the Brisbane Dan Murphy’s, and if you were found to be guzzling potent grape juice on a park bench at the Auckland viaduct, a cop would be fining you quick smart. But here, the approach to alcohol isn’t – to put it to its most basic – Let’s get fucked up”.
No. Here alcohol is the norm. Having a glass of red and stopping at that, maybe two, is just familiar and cultural and nothing more. Don’t get me wrong, there are those young stallions and what not that enjoy getting sozzled as motherfuckers, but for the most part it’s about the social sit down not the getting bladdered.
So train stations sell takeaway wines. Bottle shops offer to pop the top off beers so you can swig back as you exit the store. People gather in public piazzas with their alcohol out in the open, no need to hide it in a Ribena bottle or swindle it inside a shirt. It’s baffling. But it’s brilliant.
Ahem. Apologies. Back to the day.
We decided to rove along to the next village or so, as we had come to the understanding from on Bible-being Google that tracks weaved around the cliffs connecting them all. So back down the steps we went (“A lot better without a suitcase, is it not?”) and along the path to the track.
Unfortunately, what Google had failed to preach was that midway along the track from Corniglia to Manarola it was in fact completely destroyed, washed out in such a way that a massive chunk of the cliff was gone. (Later on we researched and found that the region had been hit by severe storming and flooding back in 2011, obliterating a fair bit of the construction that has as yet not been rectified). So we bundled back and onto a train to take us through to Riomaggiore (“And we can walk back to Manarola from there!” I declared. Alas, not the case – the path linking those two villages had also been razed away, necessitating a train back yet again).
We explored Riomaggiore, climbing to the high hills and looking down at the profusion of lemon trees (we had been inquisitive as to why the region had been inhabited in the first place – I mean, the rugged terrain? The high cliffs? What the appeal? Well, apparently it had been the seafaring fishing that had reeled the people in, as well as the topography being ideal to grow – you guessed it – lemons). Then we came across a bar stationed on top of the rock face so we pulled up two chairs and supped on some swills (beer for PMS, Spitz for myself).
Honestly, I could’ve sat there and watched those waves for hours. Being a windier day, the oscillations and undulations were going to town, curling and crashing like no day following this (I.e., tomorrow). Ever the metaphorist, I sat narrowing my eyes trying to find similarities of what the currents looked like in alterative things. So for your jollies, here is what I came up with: the surges swirling looked like tissues that had accidentally been put through the wash (you know how they come out all matted and what not in your clothes?); they looked like meringue mix just before being beaten into stiff white peaks (thank you Edmond’s Cook Book for that on point terminology) and last but not least, they looked like old school paper doily things (I still don’t even know the purpose of “doily’s”. Like, what even are they?). (“A doily – also doiley, doilie, doyly, doyley – is an ornamental mat, typically made of paper or fabric, and variously used for protecting surfaces or binding flowers, in food service presentation, or as a head covering or clothing ornamentation” – cheers, Wikipedia).
At just before 7pm we headed back to Coniglia, timed to meet our mate Brandy at the station.
Who’s Brandy? Let me fill you in.
No, this isn’t a reference to a spirit that we were “meeting” by point of purchase. Rather, Brandy is a Canadian broad who was also on the Contiki training trip to be a tour guide. About a week in, she decided the stress and what not of the training wasn’t worth it and she pulled out – a few days before PMS – and took off to travel herself. I had met her in Paris and deemed her a lovely lass of laughs, so I was pumped to have her in our presence for two nights in our little ETT drop out trio.
Unfortunately, Brandy had had a shitfuck of a day making her way to CT. Two buses to London, a flight to Genoa and then many a mistrain (see, some of the engines throttle through stations and don’t stop at all – you need to be extremely chary of the charts and such to ensure the one you are boarding is actually going to sojourn at your required station) meant her ETA was tardy from the initial 7.15pm to a good 10.30pm.
So PMS and I went back up the stairs of serious calf stretching and went to a little restaurant across from our apartment for him to have a pizza (me eating all the eggplant off it of course). We had a glass of wine, then the call came in that Brandy had indeed arrived; however, in the dark the direction to go in was not so discernible (the stairs were not at all visible in the black of night) so after some attempts to explicate the way to her we decided to instead go and meet her.
My wordo, it was hilarious. We came across the track-panted blond bunned girl striding – and I mean striding – along with purposeful pace. Upon calling out her name, Brandy turned and clocked wild eyes on us, flustered and enervated and ruffled – but overjoyed to see us.
“Fuck!” she called by way of greeting. “I thought those two up ahead were you!” – gestured to a tall male and smaller blonde girl in a red dress – “They came up to me and mumbled something then turned and walked back the way they came, and in the dark I thought it was you two all fucked off at me for being so late!”
After a chuckle and convivial cuddle, we herded brandy back to the apartment and proceeded to get well and tiddly on calimoucho until the early hours.
Side note here: obviously much of our discussion orbited around Contiki training and what not, with the three of us having gotten the ins and the two of them quitting the training. It was extremely interesting hearing them talk of what it had involved; honestly, it sounds like the most stressful, underslept undertaking ever.
It made me wonder about myself. Upon pulling out, I had put into loose agreement that I would be going through the process next year instead. On my own tour the last few weeks, I had eagle-eyed TGTaz and observed all her day-to-day doings and what not. The first week or so had me certain it was what I wanted to do. The following two had me a bit more questioning. And talking to PMS and Brandy had me all the more doubtful.
I’m not usually a quitter and I know that should I have gone through with the training this year, I would have clung on with the very tips of my fingers to finish it even if I had been falling apart in all ways around. I could’ve been hating it, hating life, hating myself, but would have adamantly stuck it in just so I could come out the other side knowing I had completed it.
But now I can see that in doing so and then doing the job, I would have no time to do the things I love. Write. Exercise. Do yoga. Roam on my own. Being a Contiki trip manager would be insanely awesome – one of the best top notch jobs I could ever imagine – but at the end of the day, I don’t think I have the required patience and tolerance that an ideal TG would have. The need to sometimes babysit a bunch of drunk 20 year olds would – at times – have done my head in.
No. Coming here has full on shown me exactly what I want to do. Exactly where I want to be. And map out the next year to get to that point. And I am certain steadfast in my way forward from now. (Shall share with you at a later date).
The next morning, I rose for a run and yoga and what not, and at about 10am PMS, Brandy and I set out for a hike.
You see, CT is very popular a destination for many middle-aged American tourists. Rather than reeling in the youthful backpacker and such, it seems to appeal to this niche audience quite a lot (evident from the busloads unloading at the little square atop the stairs, with them all skipping tem out in favour of automobiling up). One of the draws is the trekking about the hills, also evident in the people adorned with hiking boots and walking poles. So we decided to get on board and take off on a trek to the next few villages.
Turning our noses up at the lesser-gradient path along the lower contours, we headed for the pretty precipitous hill and made our way up to the height of hamlets by the road to hear the church bells chime (or more the case, dong loudly when right underneath them). We then trottled down to Vernazza (where I got humped by yet another Golden Retriever; seriously, why? Do I appear as an on-hind-legs blonde bitch of canine characteristics?) and partook in some gelato, before boarding a train to take over to the first in the line of little villages, Monterosso. (We had been full of good intentions to hike over there too. But after already having taken on two hours, and the path declaring a further three, the train proved the winning election).
We sat down at a restaurant that had blatantly been overrun with a lunch rush (I got up and helped the middle-aged waitress clear all the piled up tables – the poor thing was left to fend on her own as the two men inside watched her frazzledly flit about; they got a good glare from me) and PMS and Brandy indulged in some Italian edibles. We then roamed Monterosso, seeing a WWII bunker and a clifftop castle, then after stocking up on sangria ingredients at the supermarket trained back “home” to Corniglia to nap (those two), check emails and do admin (myself) and then re-rise for round two.
Brandy made a bucket of sangria and we sat about playing cards and having a laugh for a few hours. PMS was struck down with a headache so he retired, while Brandy and I sunk a few more glasses and yarned and giggledly goss-ed as girls do.
At about 11pm I asked if she wanted to throttle downstairs with me to use the wifi (logged in to the café across the road’s broadband and sitting on the step of our doorway gave me a good four bars to check chats and what not). So we bundled down in out slightly sloshed states – blankets cocooned around our bods for warmth (me pink, her purple), PJs underneath, no make-up, and me in socks with her in socks and sandals. And of course, glasses of plonk in palm.
As we were inspecting Insta and following our feeds, two Italian men across the way engaged us in convo with a deft “Ciao”. Although they spoke not a word of English (aside from “I do not speak English”) we communicated enough for them to convince us to go with a few hundred metres up the road to the only open bar.
Honestly, the next hour or two were among the most comical and mirthful of my trip so far. Brandy and I sat in this small bar, the only females, and were dispensed Spritz’s and distributed focaccia and olives as men literally flocked to our sides. The two we were with sat with their chests puffed out for having drawn in us two quirky floozies, us trying to converse through Google translate as means of conversation (I think they were painters? Maybe builders? Unsure of the specifics). We laughed and we laughed and we laughed, until we realised the two were getting pretty heedy and thinking their luck was in.
Well fuck me, you should have seen the demeanour of the entire bar change. It was like every male in the place suddenly lost all interest in us, as now being “unavailable” we were of no use. Our two chaps still sat and “chatted” to us for a wee while, proffering cigarettes and asking about how our honeymoon was going (we may have gotten a bit carried away and said we were trying for a baby through artificial insemination and so on… I must say, we were very convincing) when an older man overheard and took up a stool beside us.
After initial surface speak he came to the crux – he was a bawd you see, a souteneur, a procurer, a pimp. He worked a diminutive op in each of the precipice hamlets, with an apartment for his “girls” where they earned 50 euro a “pop” (if you catch my drift… not entirely sure I like the use of my name as terminology for the untoward, but he said it) and would we perhaps be interested in “joining the team”?
I must confess, in our drunken states we did humour him a little. (Well, a fair bit. We scheduled a meeting for the following evening at the same bar to discuss pay packages and what not). He was greatly pumped (wrong use of the word?) at the possibility of having a Canadian-Kiwi lesbian couple on board his business. When we announced we were to return to our apartment to discuss it further he extended an enthusiastic handshake and confirmation of the next day’s meet-up. And Brandy and I went giggling along the lane and back up to bed.
In the morning relaying the japes and jaunts of the previous evening to PMS elicited a laugh, but also a little spell of sadness. “It takes away the magic of the place a little bit,” he said. “To think that sort of thing goes on here.”
Contemplating it now, I guess it does to a degree. Tarnishes it a trifle. But that sort of thing goes on everywhere, does it not? There’s always a tad of bad where there’s good, a touch of wayward with the virtuous. It’s how settlements have always been and always will. (Though Brandy and I kept our heads down as we cantered off to the train station upon departure).
We bade farewell to Brandy, then PMS and I took off to La Spezia, the first city after the lace of colonies along the cliffs. We spent the day perambulating the piazzas and wandering the waterside before a supermarket stop for some dinner snacks (“How do you always just get free shit?” PMS asked as I bounded up with two hunks of free focaccia from the deli lady) and a viewing of Gangster Squad to end the evening.
So the “word” for CT? Even though the pun part does bring me extra incentive to use this coming term, it is genuinely fitting enough in itself without the quip in it; it’s Coasting. Cinque Terre is just Coasting. To keep in line with the “C”’s, it is also full of character and oh so colourful. (As well as the whole undercurrent of shady colour in the prostitution part of things).
I feel like I have wholeheartedly “done” Italy. (Well as I know refer to it, “Eataly”). I would love to go south and “do” Naples and Sicily and such at a later day, but for now I feel I’ve given it a good go and gotten all Italianed up.
So where I am now? Currently in training, my friend. Catapulting back towards Genova (one train change required) for a just-under-two-hours stopover before boarding back on to hurtle head on to Milano. One night in what shall be an interesting a staying place (scored a seven-euro bed in a 14-bed mixed dorm, suffice to say I’m not expecting much sleep) before a fissure of cockcrow (I.e., break of dawn) “wake-up” (my conjecture is I shall already be completely conscious) to throttle off to the central station to catch the bus to the airport for my mid-morning flight back to London town.
I worked out last night I am currently at the mid-way point of my adventures. Insanity! I feel like I’ve been away for about three years, so much has occurred. I’m at that point of my journey that the “wow” component has dulled somewhat and that saddens me – I don’t want to become one of those indifferent travellers that doesn’t feel the delight of a new place. Thus, the decision to take Belgium out of my plans and nail it next year instead; in studying, Belgium was my favourite place to learn about and I want to explore it in my absolute element, not chucked in as an afterthought between other countries.
A few days’ downtime in London is just what I need right now. Just a chance to chill, regroup and reorganise as well as catch up with a few fillies I simply must meet up with before I gap the scene again.
Life is good. No, abrasion that; life is fecking grand mate. Before I left I said about how I just needed to get away and inject a bit of colour into my fading being. Well, consider me well and truly vaccinated up. I have had so many bloody boosters I am like a walking, talking ROYGBIV.
Righto. Bowing out now. (Get it?).
(Two additional add-ins: number one being, I made friends with a delightful American couple on the train to Genova. They were headed off to Nice – isn’t that nice? – and we exchanged pleasantries across the aisle. On disembark at Genova Brignole (my change train stop to head off to Piazza Principle) the male clapped me on the shoulder and said, “Be safe, huh?”. Don’t you just love caring strangers? You could see he wasn’t saying it out of customary farewell or what have you – he genuinely meant it. It made me feel all warm and looked out for.
Two: did I mention I am now again on my lonesome? PMS and I have parted ways for the following ten days; he’s going to continue trekking around Northern Italy and I am bounding back to go to Barcelona. And being in his presence the last week or so has had me rather spoilt when it comes to loading myself up with my backpack (I.e., I just get him to lift it on me). So upon getting to Genova Piazza Principle station and feeling the urgent urge to make wees, I was a little troubled as to how I would get into the cubicle with my back, manage to take it off, relieve my goon (I.e., bladder) and then lift it back upon me in such a confined space.
It was of great liberation to find, therefore, that I could manage on my own. How, you ask? Well, with some meticulous manoeuvres and deft machinates I managed to take a piddle with both backpacks still on. With a guileful hand able to undo the denim shorts and a sort of squat-like positioning, all was well in the land of bagging it in. Nailed it!
And, as just happened twice in an hour; when needing to put the backpack back on, stand and look a tad pitifully at your bag and then attempt to lift it on your back – Italian men love coming to your aid and helping you get it on (the bag you sicko) securely. Just give them many a “Grazie!” and big beam and they are chuffed).
(Sorry, another addition: so cute, on my third and final train of the day I sat next to a lovely ex-pat Italian who has lived in Switzerland for the past decade or so, back for a weekend to visit his brother. He nudged me and said, “New Zealand?” – twas using an All Blacks pen you see – whereupon we had a good yarn for a wee while. The woman opposite us asked him to translate to me that she thought I was “a lovely nice girl” but she wanted to act like my “mama and tell me to put on a jumper when I got out of the train” in case of me catching a chill. Sometimes I just love people so so much).
Pop on point.(And actually out now, I promise).