Friday morning Zach and I headed off for our drive to Italy. We got a bit of a late start, but were still on the road by 9:30am so pretty good. We were also set with snacks and water and stuff in the car. The drive was predicted to be about 5.5 hrs, and we were making pretty good timing until we hit Genoa... where we got stuck in traffic for a good hour or so. We wound up making it to La Spezia, where Sean works, around 4pm or so. Luckily we had finally figured out how to program a trip on the GPS, it didn't make a big difference until this one messy interchange we had to go through in La Spezia where it just told us where to go and we followed the turns, which I'm sure we would've been completely lost in otherwise.
So, we picked Sean up from work at the military base that's right off the water... pretty cool. We drove to Lerici, the town where he's living, and walked around a bit, heading down to the water and getting our first of many gelatti to come. Sean is completely addicted to the stuff-- I swear we stopped for gelatti 3-4 times a day. I don't know what he's gonna do when he has to go back to Seattle in another month or 2.
Andrew and Jakki were set to take the train from Florence to the nearby town of Sarzana, and we got a call from them as we were walking around saying they were at the train station so we went back to the car and drove to pick them up, then found parking and walked around Sarzana a bit, had some aperitivos at this bar that had drinks for $5euro and also brought out all this delicious snacky food to eat that was included in the price, basically like Italian tapas, and then had dinner at another place. All these little Italian towns were just so cute... so Italian. And the people seemed so Italian as well-- you saw many people that just seemed to fit the stereotype... like the guy at the gelatti stand that had the light pink button-down shirt open to the chest, with the collar pulled up and his hair all greased up. The other things that was amazing... we were walking around after dinner, it was about 11:30pm-midnight, and stores were STILL OPEN!!!! To us Genevans, where everything closes at 7pm, it was just amazing. There were so many people still walking around, it made perfect sense, and it was just so nice to be someplace that wasn't even a very big town but had nightlife.
Anyway, we soon headed back to Sean's place and got a good night's sleep, in preparation for our busy Saturday-- when we got up early and headed out to take a boat to the Cinque Terre (the only way to get in or out of any of the towns along the Cinque Terre is by boat, train, or hikijng-- there are no cars). We stopped first in Vernazza and grabbed some pizza to eat. The plan was then to hike the trail between Vernazza and Monterosso. However as we started the hike it proved to be more strenuous than previously anticipated, and Zach being the doting father-to-be that he is, was worried about me. I happily agreed to turn back, and Jakki and Andrew joined me, as Zach and Sean went off to finish the hike. The 3 of us went back down into Vernazza an did some shopping, drooled over some very cute cats sleeping in the shade, and had some more gelatti. The boys eventually took the boat back over, and then Sean, Zach and I went swimming in the ocean while Andrew and Jakki decided to take another hike over to one of the other towns.
The swimming was awesome. We went over to some rocks along the ocean that faced the town and found ourselves a cozy little spot. The locals were hilarious-- they seriously reminded us of seals splayed out on the rocks, looking unconscious as they soak up the sun's rays. And, of course, there were some topless women that Sean and Zach pretended not to ogle at. ; ) The water was incredible-- a little cold as you first walk in, but as soon as you dip in to your shoulders it's just the perfect temperature. When I first jumped in, I looked out onto the adorable little Italian town ahead of me, the gorgeous water glittering in the sun as far as you could see, and it was one of those moments where it just feels like heaven on earth. Words cannot describe.
After about an hour or so of swimming, the 3 of us took the boat to Manarola to meet up with Andrew and Jakki. As we waited we got some food to eat (and, of course, some more gelatti) and Zach took another dip in the water. We then all took the last boat back to La Spezia, then the bus to Lerici, and back to Sean's to change before going out to dinner. I have to say, this trip has convinced me of the need to get a small dictionary for whatever language of the place you're going to, so that you can decipher the menus. Sometimes Sean knew what stuff was, or our French or Spanish knowledge helped us out, but there were at least a few times when a plate showed up at the table and the receiver was a bit surprised at what was on it. Anyway, dinner was good, the waiter was kind and patient with our non-Italian, and the best part is that we actually kinda got kicked out at the end... not anything we were doing, just that it was getting to be closing time and you could tell they were ready for us to leave. We didn't even get offered coffee or anything. I think that was a first in our European dining experiences! Of course, dinner was followed by, what else? Gelatti, and a stroll down by the water, though then soon we were off back to the apartment for some shut-eye.
Sunday we woke up a bit later, around 10am or so, and headed down to this little alcove of a beach in Lerici that's a bit tough to get to-- you have to climb along some rocks right along the water. But it was worth it, to take another dip in the water. The Mediterranean is great, b/c it's so calm, and I guess it's also extra salty so you can just float out there. Literally, you can go limp and just float in the water-- even Zach tried it, and he's never been able to float on water before. It's awesome.
After our swim we had some pizza (and gelatti) for lunch, Zach grabbed a cappuccino (figured between the caffeine and the stomach ache that coffee always gives him, he'd stay awake enough for the drive home), and then we piled into the car, sandy and sweaty and everything, at around 3:30pm or so to start our drive back to Geneva. It was pretty smooth, we didn't even hit any traffic, and the only downside was having trouble finding a place to grab food as dinner time approached. We got home I think in about 5-6 hrs or so, not too bad.
I'm glad we drove this time, but next time we may simply look up EasyJet tickets. Driving's fun and all, but it's so much more expensive here-- and it's not just the $5-$7/gallon gas prices. I think we also paid about $60euro in tolls each way (right now, about $85 or so?). It certainly adds up...
But, yeah, overall an incredible trip. I'll post some photos real soon, though I was looking at them last night and they just don't do the place justice.