8 years ago, in the times where your hair had to have a big poof at the front and your socks MUST be pulled up high, my family of 7 took on Europe. For 5 weeks (I remember this because I had to record 5 episodes of ‘Saturday Disney’) we went from country to country, town to town, Harry Potter book to Harry Potter book in our matching bright yellow “Aussie Aussie Aussie” shirts, trying to see all the sights and cultures of Europe.
Whilst this jam-packed form of travelling was necessary (and brilliant), we were constantly in transit or busily trying to find the next monument, city or gelato shop. Being only a little youngen, I don’t think I fully appreciated the historical, scenic and cultural significance of where we went (only where we ate) and to be honest, I don’t remember it all that clearly. But what I do remember was driving through Italy and catching glimpses of their stunning North coastline in between the vineyards and olive trees that were set out in perfect formation up the ridiculously steep hills.
This joy ride took us to Cinque Terre, a national park area consisting of 5 coastal towns, all with multicoloured houses scattered up a hill in an artistic array of brilliance. After the busyness of France, strangeness of Venice and busyness of Rome, we felt so at home and in heaven at Cinque Terre.
Ever since this magical encounter in 2007, I have always had this burning desire to re-visit Cinque Terre. But I had fears that my and my family’s memories were rose-tinted, that it only seemed so paradise-like because it was a sort of haven and slow-down spot within our rapid travels. So I tried as hard as I could to not get my expectations up too high when I planned my return in the Easter Holidays. But my self control is poor, and prior to the trip I found myself virtually walking along the coastline through the means of google earth. Man I love technology.
I should never have worried though, because my expectations were kicked, thrown, blasted and thrown out of the window – this adventure was magnificent, spectacular, heavenly and every other word which teachers use to describe an excellent piece of homework.
The train ride to Cinque Terre provided a sample of what was to come – new friends and fantastic views. I met a Chinese traveller, who is also spending a year in the UK, studying in London, unfortunately I never got her name but we shared in our admiration of the crystal blue waters and excitement of what was to come.
On arrival at Riomaggiore, I was reunited with Ellie who I met in Ireland on the Paddywagon tour. We walked up the main road, in awe of absolutely everything – the landscape, the shops and the Italians. We hadn’t booked anything so went from place to place asking for prices and vacancies. We learnt very quickly the Italian words for “cheap” and “too expensive”. Once we heard a number that sounded reasonable, the worker indicated to follow him to the room. We went up the street to a very dark entrance point with even darker, cobwebby and untouched stairs which looked like they led to some sort of Italian dungeon. Ellie and I exchanged frightened and “are we going to die” looks and ascended the stairs… We were happily surprised to find an actual room with actual beds and actual views and definitely no weapons of torture. We unpacked and met our roomies, two French-Canadian girls Catherine and Cynthia who are also spending a year in UK and making the most of holidays. We instantly realised that the four of us were going to get on like cheese and tomato on dough and made plans to have dinner together that night. Ellie and I spent the afternoon exploring, catching up and getting into deep philosophical conversations about life and how our world needs changing. It is a bit scary how similar we are, our ambitions, perceptions of life and personalities are nearly identical. It soon became hungry o’clock so we returned to the room and met up with the Canadian girls and two other room mates – one was a 30-year-old American lady and the other a 20 year old Mexican. All together, we bought pizza and wine and went down to the bay to watch the sunset. I can’t even describe how perfect this was, we sipped wine and ate pizza with our new friends, looking over the same gorgeous image that has been my desktop background for the last 6 months. We made friends with some locals also and marvelled at how good we’ve got it. 2 Australians, 2 Canadians, 2 Italians, a Mexican and an American bonding over card games, incredible views, accents, languages, travel stories and a shared fascination with life and the places it takes you. It was my idea of a perfect night and I went to bed smiling with the knowledge that my dreams couldn’t get any better than my reality.
But incredibly, my reality was only getting better. There was so much more to explore and discover of this diverse country. We met up with our friend Lauren, another Aussie gappy I met in Ireland and we began a hike towards the neighbouring town Manarola. We walked all together with our new roomies up a very, very steep hill, which of course meant very, very good views. Vineyards, colourful houses and crystal blue waters not only encouraged us to keep climbing, but also gave us a good excuse to make regular stops. Once we arrived up the top, sweaty and even more in love with the place, we began our descent. And what a lovely descent it was, until Lauren decided to go for a trip, and I’m not talking about a holiday. Down the steps Lauren had fallen and twisted her ankle. She was in immense pain and was unable to move or do anything so we all forgot the number 1 rule of our first aid courses and we panicked. After we panicked some more, Catherine and I ran down the steep hill towards Manarola. Still panicking we searched desperately for an ambulance, medic, pharmacist or even just a living breathing human being. The streets were deserted except for cats, which seem to populate the entirety of Italy, taking naps wherever appropriate (under restaurant tables, in shops’ baskets of Italian crockery, in the middle of busy paths etc). But this time we needed a catwoman type of personality, not regular licking and purring felines. It was a sunday during lunchtime so nearly everything was closed except a small souvenir shop, which we bombarded and began asking for help. The lovely shop owner offered his phone to call an ambulance and we were connected to the least helpful emergency worker, ever. She spoke perfectly acceptable english yet asked us about a million and one times where we were. Even though she gave us a reassuring ‘Ohh Manarola’ after each time we answered her she still seemed confused and persisted in asking us which town. I’m pretty sure the town ‘Manarola’ is exactly the same in both Italian and English. Anger levels rising, we passed the phone over to the shop owner who conversed with this emergency worker and he got irritated with her incompetence also. But somehow an ambulance had been organised to meet us at the end of the path so we ran up to find Lauren and the other girls, very dirty at the foot of the hill. Lauren had used the bum slide technique to manoeuvre herself down the rocky path which is a feat worth appraising. She was holstered into the ambulance by the funniest 3 Italian men and Ellie and I followed. Knowing that Lauren was going to survive, we sat back and enjoyed the ride along the Cinque Terre coastline in a flipping Ambulance van! It was such a hilarious situation as these drivers turned on the siren for us just for kicks and giggles and persistently flirted with us through google translate and the excessive use of the word ‘bella’. The hospital was a maze of craziness, lauren was taken away quickly and looked after. We rejoined her and then were told that she had to see a certain nurse before going home. We were accompanied out of the building, through a park, up some stairs, out a door, up an elevator, along a bridge, into another building and down the elevators to find some other medical room. It’s lucky we were all capable walkers – well 2/3 ain’t bad. In here the very very Italian nurse tried to give us instructions on how to look after Lauren. But when we profusely apologised for having no idea what he was saying he proceeded to just move closer to us and speak louder and quicker… Which of course was helpful. All three of us just got the giggles until we came up with a strategy. Ellie learnt French at school and I have some Spanish so we matched this together to try and work out what each word or phrase could mean. With the diagnosis of a bad sprained ankle and instructions to keep off it for a few weeks, Lauren hopped out of there in pain but also in amusement of the crazy day we’d just had. To top off the craziness, we took the train to the last of the cinque terres Monterosso and went for a swim. We received many strange looks from the sensible tourists thinking ‘why are these insane aussies swimming when its freezing?!’. I think that is enough excitement for one post. Will upload part 3 of the Easter Holiday Italian story but maybe not in chronological order. Ciao!