Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Buon giorno!

Written 8th March

We rounded a headland and bing!, there we were in Italy, in the Liguria region, a sliver of land between the mountains and sea,  otherwise known as the Italian Riviera.  

Despite the overcast, chilly weather, the road was lovely, wiggling along the very edge of the coast at the foot of olive-terraced hills

and through pastel hued towns, seemingly made of battenburg cake and fondant fancies.

We stopped for late lunch and a cuppa by the sea in Diano Marina - conveniently in an unexpectedly patch of unsecured wifi with the radio advertising Toyotas, the only other comprehensible word of which being 'gpl' , maybe we will be ok after all :)

And we saw a Ferrari garage, right next door to Lidl - gotta be in Italy!

We stopped here as one of the books I have on board is 'Extra Virgin' by Annie Hawes, her account of a temporary job with her sister in a rose farm in Diano San Pietro some 25 years ago, which led to the purchase of a tumbledown rustico amidst the olive groves of Liguria.  It is a fantastic book, full of description of the locals and their way of life in this out of the way village, so reliant on the olive harvest.  We didn't detour up to the actual village - I haven't read the two further books and it has probably changed beyond all recognition in the intervening years so wouldn't match my imaginations anyway - but Diano Marina is mentioned and we saw Bar Sito where the two sisters used to hang out with the youth of the village,

and the apes, the tiny three wheeled flatbed trucks, with which the locals went about their daily business - if you flit about socialising on your vespa (lit. wasp), you buzz about working in your ape (lit. Bee) :)  still, v exciting!  I know all about olive harvesting, when you should and shouldn't drink coffee and how your salad should never be eaten with your pasta for fear of dire consequences on your digestive system - something I agree with entirely ;)

As dusk was falling, we disappeared into a tunnel and popped out the otherside to a view of snow capped mountains.  The air was suddenly icy with that burning rasp you get in the back of your throat if you inhale over a glass of freshly popped out icecubes - I don't know why I have done this but I clearly have :)

We skipped through Genova - birthplace of Christopher Columbus - as we have had enough of cities.  Will has fully adapted to the extremely aggressive italian driving style and is careening round the streets like a rally driver, changing lanes and vying for position at lights and roundabouts like a game of grand theft auto - if they ever remake the italian job with vw campervans, Will is more than qualfied for a part!  

We have so far learnt that; stop lines mean merge in turn, give way signs mean merge in turn at speed, pedestrian crossings are merely markings in  where it is suggested that pedestrians should gather to wait for a natural break in the traffic, red lights mean that three more cars can go through the junction at least, and orange lights may as well be green.  All much fun and games!

We got through Genova unscathed and eventually found an unrestricted parking spot in the small village of Camogli.

The weather was once again glorious this morning. 

We found a gpl garage clearly signed from the village we stopped in and the adaptor worked - too easy :)  And we set off to Portofino.

Described in our 1001 places book as 'the most photograhed village in the world' and a playground for the yacht own-ing rich and famous, we hadn't planned a long stop, just to drop in and see it as we happened to be passing. 

The 5kms of twisty coast road from Santa Magherita Ligure was fabulous and marked with all kinds of width, weight and vehicle restrictions which we don't fall into. 

Being smaller than most modern 4x4s or MPVs, we fit into normal carparking spaces and we don't look like the picture on their no motorhome sign... A distinction we are happy to make whilst driving or daytime parking than nighttime parking and one which, as yet, we haven't been required to argue the toss on.

Unfortunately though, the one restriction they forgot to specify at the beginning of the road was the 2m height barrier of the village's only carpark, beyond which, no vehicles can go - bother.    So we turned round and left again, photogenic village unphotographed.  I have since fished out our italy rough guide which basically says, once you've looked at the pretty harbour and the lace shops, there isn't anything to do except watch other people do the same and two beers in a cafĂ© won't leave you much change from €20.  So all in all, nothing lost :)

Next destination was Levanto, a seaside village at the edge of the Cinqterres national park, recommended by the aussi's we met in Sagres.  The park is named for its five picturesque fishing villages, clinging to the dramatic cliff side - apparently the most beautiful bit of coast in northern italy.  Until very recent times, these villages were nearly completely isolated, both from each other and the rest of the world, accessible only by boat or mule track.  There is now a railway and some unclear degree of roadage, but the clifftop walk is the thing.

For somewhere quite close on the map, it seemed to take along time to get to Levanto, the road by turn hugging the shore then sweeping up, up and away to the top of the olive covered hills, but we eventually got there, fives minutes after the tourist office closed for its two-hour lunch.  So we had smne coffee, half the size and half the price of french coffee but twice as strong - delicious! And bought some ciabatta from the market to eat by the seashore - not a bad way to pass the time :)

Map and info obtained, we decided it was too late to make a start on the train to the nearest of the five villages so that is tomorrow's plan - just hope the weather is as nice!  The tourist office lady was merely concerned with temperature - it is chilly! - not sunshine so prognosis unclear....

And we set about trying to find the all important wifi she had marked on the map.  Curiously there was no wifi where she said there might be, but pockets of unsecured wifi with no discernible source on random street corners but not near any cafes.  So email can just about be be picked up and pre-written messages sent using the thingamy but we will freeze to death doing so :( - how is it so cold here??  We are more south than france!!  Ho hum, we have it, important emails sent - lots going on at home, hence the preoccupation with the subject - and we will walk tomorrow - a plan, excellent.


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