You know all the clichés you learn about Italian people? How they’re always loud and dramatic and love food? It’s all true.
Clive and I had dropped Martin off at the train station in La Spezia and had found a bed and breakfast a little way out of town. So here we were sitting in a completely local restaurant in the middle of nowhere and we had the restaurant staff and all the patrons discussing quite vigorously everything from which item was best on the menu for us to what we should definitely see in their particular area, it was awesome! The only thing missing was Tony Soprano sitting in the corner contemplating who to whack next.
Their lack of English was quite noticeable but boy do they make up for it by trying hard. That experience in itself was one of the best introductions to Italian culture. The land lady at the bed and breakfast didn’t speak any English at all but my combination of French and Spanish seemed to do the trick and left Clive wondering how on earth I understood what she just said. She loved talking to us as well even though I was clearly struggling to understand.
There are five little villages just on the coast near La Spezia called Le Cinque Terre and they are so beautiful. UNESCO protected and carless, they really are a glimpse into life a hundred years ago or more. With perfectly clear water and rugged cliffs they were ideal for swimming which we did plenty of since the day was mid thirties. Little did we know we’d be returning to La Spezia in a couple of days after going to Venice.
I think once you’ve been backpacking and reliant on public transport you really know how it feels to be in certain situations. That’s why when after booking into a campground near Venice, going for a drive to the nearest town, and driving back in the rain I knew exactly how some backpackers trudging towards the campground felt. It was about 9.30 at night and dark and stormy. We drove past them towards the campground which was about three km away when I saw them and I felt so sorry. I said to Clive I bet they had problems with the buses and just want to eat dinner and go to sleep. So I turned round and picked them up. Sure enough “Thank you so much! We go to the camping and had problems with the bus” in a fairly heavy German accent. A knowing look at Clive.
Our good deed done I said to Clive I just hope someone would do the same for us. And what do you know, the very next day after walking around Venice we caught the same bus which went to a completely random point. Awesome. We were so frustrated. Apparently you have to catch that bus at only one particular time to make it to the campground and we took the wrong one.
So here we were walking along the same road. I was pretty tired so I thought I’d see how easy it was to hitchhike in Italy. Two seconds later I spotted a car, held my thumb out, and it stopped first time. Not only was it going to the campground but he was the manager! Unbelievable. I’m sure if I hadn’t picked those Germans up the night before we somehow would’ve been stuck for hours. What goes around comes around. Anyway, Venice was very picturesque and I enjoyed it even for the third time.
That night we found out Clive had somehow left his travellers cheques at the bed and breakfast in La Spezia. Fantastic. So the next day we found ourselves going back exactly the same way through La Spezia towards Rome. If anyone asks why we went to La Spezia twice I say because we loved it so much but travellers cheques are the real reason.
Oh well, it wasn’t too far away and I think 1000 euro was an integral part of our funds. On the way through past Padova we got completely confused and frustrated and always seemed to end up heading towards the city centre. The signs were absolutely useless and even wrong in some cases. I think the old adage that ‘all roads lead to Rome’ should be changed to ‘all roads lead to Padova’.
Anyway, a quick flying visit to the old bed and breakfast and an extremely uncomfortable sleep in the car by some train tracks and a farm later and we were at the Renault office returning the car. I still cannot believe we drove 7700 km, through the Sahara, the madness of Marrakesh, the mountains of Spain, the vineyards of France, and the gaggle of Italian drivers without even putting so much as a single scratch on the car. And it only got checked for drugs once.
Rome itself lived up to its name; it’s such an amazing place. Seriously, you can just about walk anywhere in the city and you’ll come across some extremely old buildings in various states of repair. What a history. Clive on the other hand was walking around and made the remark “Rome is a lot like Melbourne”. Nice one, comparing one of the greatest cities in the world to Melbourne. Never heard that one before or probably ever will again.
Barcelona beat Liverpool there in soccer so for one day we were surrounded by very depressed Englishmen and ecstatic Spaniards trying to get photos of them holding up their team colours in basically every famous place in Rome.