Posts Tagged With: Italy

I’m so not happy right now!

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Says our youngest daughter on the way to school this morning.

“Why?” I ask her.

“Because I’m not in Europe! While we were there I didn’t really like it, but now I just want to be back in Monterroso – it was so cool there!”

This sudden wish to be in Europe was spurred by a visit from a friend last night who is about to take a trip to Cinque Terra. The girls were advising him on where to stay, how to find the local beach to avoid paying for the overpriced loungers, where to snorkel, the best food to eat – Nutella and breadsticks, naturally – and how he might not want to bother with the long, hot, sticky hike from. Monterroso to Vernazza. But if he does do it, he should look out for the strange cat on a table under a tree half way up the second mountain, just there, in the middle of nowhere.

I guess this visit inspired a bit of nostalgia in them.

And now, this morning, our oldest daughter headed off on a French Club trip to Montreal and Ottawa, all set to compare Paris’ Notre Dame with its namesake in Montreal, visit Parliament, The Biodome, and the Olympic Stadium where her cousin competed for England in 1976.

How things come full circle…

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Shakespeare’s Globe

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You know, we never did get to London’s Globe Theatre, even though it had been on my original list. Nor did we go to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see his birthplace, or the pretty little cottage that was Anne Hathaway’s. And yet, I felt the presence of Shakespeare in so many other places, none more so than Italy. I sometimes forget how many of his plays are set in Italy, but driving around the country and seeing run-of-the-mill road signs for Mantua, Padua, and Verona makes Romeo and Juliet seem so much more real. I found myself wondering why he chose these particular cities, and how he had such intimate knowledge of them. And they actually still exist, and I was driving right by them! So weird. We even saw a sign for Aleppo, the place Macbeth‘s witches mention during one of their many nasty curses. As we drove, I imagined Romeo banished from his true love, only now I actually knew how far away he was banished! The literature geek in me even posted “Banished” as my facebook status as we drove through Padua, because I knew the location tagline would say -in Padua. Apparently I was the only one of my several hundred facebook friends who thought that was cute. Even my English teacher friends didn’t bite. Moving on.
Our travel book said you can even go see Juliet’s house in the fair city of Verona. I pointed out facetiously that this would be tricky since she was a fictional character. But I wasn’t quite so facetious when Dev reminded me where we actually live…and the fact that millions of tourists come every year to see Anne of Green Gable’s house. Right.

And then there’s Venice. Having walked through the Rialto Bridge, and seen the dozens of tiny shops still selling all manner of things, I can now imagine Shylock there counting his ducats, and Antonio trading goods in Merchant of Venice. Before that, it was difficult to visualize how a bridge could be a market place.

Another place that constantly evoked Shakespearean images and quotes in my head was Scotland. Driving from Edinburgh northward to Loch Ness, we saw signs for Cawdor, Scone, Fife, Forres, Inverness, and even saw Glamis Castle and Dunsinane Hill on the map. Having driven almost as far as Inverness, and knowing how long it took us in our Citroen Picasso, I realize what a mammoth journey it must have been for Macbeth and his cronies to get to Scone on horseback, or on foot, for the coronation – quite a hike! But then again, that’s fiction too…although we did see a huge mural at Edinburgh Castle that traced the line of the monarchy in Scotland, and Macbeth and Duncan are both there; we even saw the Stone of Destiny, on which they were supposedly crowned.

I guess the point is that even though we didn’t do any of the more direct Shakespeare touristy things, we still experienced, and talked about, Shakespeare. His influence is everywhere, not just in our language and our literature. And seeing some of these places, even fleetingly, makes his plays so much more real and relevant.

I hope that when our girls start studying them in school, they will take a little bit of that experience with them as well.

The Rialto

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Edinburgh Castle

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Coast Roads

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This is a tip for novice travellers based on our recent European road trip. When you look at a road atlas to plan your route, and you see a coast road that looks like it will be much more scenic than the more inland highway, do some further research before you decide to take it. As we discovered in Europe, many such roads offer you barely a glimpse of the coast, certainly not enough to warrant taking a slower road. Sometimes because of trees (but not often), other times because of how built up an area is (more often), and sometimes because of tunnels (most often).
Lets talk about tunnels for a moment. They are hateful. You can literally drive for hours with only fleeting glances of daylight as you exit one tunnel and enter the next. No views. And they are really long and dark sometimes. And crazy busy. Especially in Italy. Drivers in Italy are aggressive and fast, and that’s hard to get used to when you come from a small rural community in Canada, but combine that with a tunnel, and it can be a little frightening.
On the other hand, I guess the alternative to these tunnels would be aggressive, fast Italian drivers on winding mountain roads. That’s a little hairy as well. And in less cosmopolitan areas where there are still little mountain roads, the scenery can be stunning, but if you have my head for heights, you rarely appreciate it as you grip the car door handles and look the other way, hoping your husband doesn’t drive off the edge while he is marveling over that same stunning scenery.
I sound like I’m whining. My point here, though, is about expectations. I expected, for example, to drive from Genova to Cinque Terre on a scenic coast road, and instead we whizzed there through a series of tunnels. And when we actually got off the tunnel route into the part with the scenic coast road, the road was very different than I expected it to be. For example, I expected that it would be wide enough for two vehicles. And I expected there to be the odd guard rail on sections where there was a 500 foot drop if you happened to swerve off the road to avoid an oncoming vehicle or something.
Basically, what it all boils down to is this. I did not know how to read a road map. For example, I did not realize that a wiggly road on a map meant you would probably be meandering up, over, around, and through mountains. Or that a coast road was not necessarily a coast road. And my expectations were off. Purely because of my own naivety. In fact, my expectations of roads were based mostly on Atlantic Canadian roads (straight) and British motorways (also straight). And having never spent any time in mountainous regions, I didn’t realize….well, I didn’t realize lots of things. And let me make it clear that these are my observations only – not necessarily those of the rest of my family. Or any other normal people.
You know, what I really could have used on this trip is one of those great big plastic relief maps with all the mountains in 3D. You know the ones you could practically climb into. Like Joey on Friends when he visits London. That would have made things a lot easier!

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Food/Nutella

I had a comment recently that remarked on how good the food must be in Cinque Terre, and we did, in fact, have a meal in Monterroso that was exceptional. Risotto a la Mare, complete with eyes and antennae. Dev said it was the best meal he’s had in a very long time, and once I picked the offending items out, I have to agree, it was delicious. We also had pasta one night, and pizza the other, so we covered the essential Italian fare in our first three nights.
However, accommodation has cost us more than we anticipated, gas is ridiculous, and there are tolls everywhere (over 100 euros in tolls just getting to our first destination), so really, food is where we’ve been cutting corners. Our staple picnic fare has accidentally become breadsticks dipped in Nutella (which our youngest calls Nutzerella). And I say accidentally because our first day in Monterroso, I was charged with bringing lunch down to the beach and I couldn’t find anything suitable, so I went to the little store and bought the two items most easily recognizable (and some fruit). The kids said it was the best picnic ever, so it has become a bit of a standby. In fact, at the cafe here on the camp, if you don’t want to eat a raw ham sandwich (which they generally don’t), Nutella is pretty much the only other choice.
I remember a friend of mine travelling in Europe in her early twenties and blaming weight gain on Nutella. Now I can see why. It is everywhere, in very large quantities. And it’s cheap. And when you can’t understand the words on a package or menu because you did not learn enough Italian before you came to Italy, Nutella is a pretty safe option. Europe’s answer to PB & J.

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Back to the Real Italy!

On our third day of Italian camping, we set off on a ferry from Punta Sabbioni to Venice to get back to some real Italy. Our kids begrudgingly joined us (like they had a choice). So much for their week’s respite from sightseeing, but this was small time. A half hour on a boat can hardly be called “travelling” surely. It was an overcast day, so we dragged them away from the waterpark and had a great afternoon walking around Venice, and touring the grand canal by waterbus. The boat there was fairly expensive for all five of us, so we did the freebies – Piazza St Marco, a quick look in the Basillica, the Rialto Bridge, and all the little photo ops in between. Venice has a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in Europe, but there’s still lots you can do with a family for free.
We even had a great big gelato each for only a euro more than it would have been anywhere else in Italy. In the end, the kids loved it – the gondoliers in their bright stripy shirts and straw hats, the fancy glass shops everywhere, and the elaborate masks in almost every window. well worth an afternoon out of the pool. It wasn’t sunny anyway. In fact, there was a huge thunderstorm on the way home!
Today, however, perfect pool day. Not a cloud in the sky and 26 degrees. Bet they’re glad we did Venice yesterday!

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Culture Shock

Well, I don’t think you can get much more Italy than this. Cinque Terre, meaning Five Lands, is exactly that – five villages connected by hiking trails and a railway. We arrived in the first of the five, Monterosso al Mare on Wednesday evening at about 6:30, and we wandered aimlessly until the guy we were renting an apartment from, Fabio, appeared on the street calling “Janet” (which was me, as it turns out). The kids were overwhelmed, and I was too, to be fair. It was a lot to take in after two full days of driving. Bustling streets, raucous Italian voices, and colourful stucco buildings – all very unfamiliar.

Here are some of the comments over the first few hours:

I don’t like it here.
I didn’t expect it to be so foreign.
It reminds me of India; I didn’t think it would be like India.
I feel like I’m in Alladin.
I want to leave; it’s scary here.

Here are some of the comments on our third and final night here:

I wish we could stay here.
It’s so comfortable here.
This is the best beach I ever went to.
I love Monterroso the best out of all the towns here; it’s so comfortable here.

It’s amazing how you get used to a place, and how quickly it can feel like home. The first night they were clinging to us, and tonight they were racing around the streets, dodging tourists, laughing and shouting just like the local kids. They can order their own gelato, count to ten, and say thank you. They even hiked the arduous trail from Monterroso to Vernazza today, a stunning part of the Cinque Terre UNESCO World Heritage trail that links the five towns. It was a two hour, steep uphill trek, on which Liah was occasionally “going to die”, but all in all was quite successful. We saw lemon orchards, and lots of grape vines connected by a little “grape roller coaster” that allowed the farmers to pick way up on the cliffs and get the grapes back down again. The views of the ocean were absolutely stunning.
We also took the train to Riomiaggiore to have a little visit there, and then came back to an afternoon of snorkeling. A lot to fit in a day, but a great one.
This quick trip has reminded us that we need to stay longer in places. We are really just getting our bearings, figuring out how to read the menus, where to buy the best bread, where the freshest pastries can be found, and it’s time to go! Well worth the stop though, even though it was a hairy drive getting here – I would definitely consider a train in if we were to ever do this again.
Off to the Adriatic Coast tomorrow!

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Decision #1 = Error #1

So, exciting weekend for us; we finally agreed on at least one place we definitely wanted to go on our year of adventure (besides Harry Potter World!?!) – Cinque Terre. Friends of ours had been a couple of years ago and showed us their pictures, and we were sold. Hiking from one coastal Italian village to another, crazy cliff top views, lemons growing outside your hotel windows, authentic Italian culture. All this fits the bill. We love the fact that the kids could do the hiking, and it is hiking with a purpose – to get to the next place – so we could probably convince even Liah to do it!

The very next day after visiting with our friends, we started researching places to stay. It didn’t take long to realize why Cinque Terre had sounded so familiar to us; the whole place flooded last October from torrential rains! They are in the process of rebuilding the towns and the trails. Put a bit of a damper on the process. Just made me realize how many unexpected hiccups we will probably have as part of this whole process. Better get used to it, I guess!

Before...

After.

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