This was meant to be a different story. One of getting in touch with nature, real up close and personal. Eschewing our modern comforts to camp at the top of a massive hill overlooking the Mediterranean sea. It was an Airbnb booking which I was particularly excited about, a literal breath of fresh air after all those cities, to round our Italy trip off like a dream. It was also dirt cheap, being just a wooden framed permanent tent with basic toilet facilities and a cheap onsite ‘restaurant’ serving home cooked food at picnic tables on the hill. But it didn’t work out like that.
Just over a week before we were due to arrive I got an unceremonious email from Airbnb informing me that they were sorry that my booking had been cancelled and offering me a tiny discount off my alternate choice of accommodation. Tiny because the price I was originally paying was tiny and it was a token percentage of that. I was DEVASTATED, I contacted the camp to ask what happened and got a rather disgruntled reply. It turned out that the camp had been badly damaged in a storm and had had to cancel all bookings until next Spring due to unpredictable weather. A small mercy for us being that this happened before we arrived and not during, but still, having to try and find an alternative at a week’s notice when we were trying to enjoy the cities we were in at the time was an annoyance. Not least because this place is EXPENSIVE. We wouldn’t have been staying there had it not been for the bargain we found. But we’d been so excited about this part of Italy and didn’t want to miss out, so in the midst of back and forth complaint emails to Airbnb we booked an apartment 5 times the price, the cheapest we could find at short notice, and swore we’d spend less on food to make up for it, ha!
The Cinque Terre, if you don’t know, is an astoundingly picturesque UNESCO heritage site of 5 candy coloured fishing towns balanced precariously atop a rugged hilly coastline. It’s a big hit with hikers, which we are not, but also just a really beautiful place of nature, which we were keen to soak up along with the late summer sunshine and salty sea.
We learned the hard way that it’s a nightmare to get on a train, they’re surprisingly infrequent and the queues at the train station are frustratingly long and slow every day. However, during our short time there we managed to visit a lovely beach at Monterosso from where we took a leisurely ferry ride back to La Spezia, which was a great way to view the gorgeous little villages from the sea.
The beautiful rainbow-coloured Riomaggiore with its little harbour of brightly painted wooden boats and beach of HUGE pebbles and rocks. Here we relaxed, soothing our tired toes in the sparklingly clear, turquoise sea after wandering around the town buying pretty local ingredients for dinner.
…And gorgeous Manarola where we did a bit of light hiking up to a beautiful graveyard on the hill. Each small white tomb was adorned with a glossy photograph of its occupant. I noticed the gaps in the adjacent walls awaiting their future tenants, reminding me (as is sometimes necessary) that life is short and to be cherished. Afterwards we paused for drinks and free nibbles in a nearby bar with views we felt we could gaze at forever.
Here too we ate some great food, obviously. We saved money by cooking most evenings but we bought local trofie pasta and pesto Liguria, as well as the luxury ingredients and wine which we’d brought with us from Florence, and I relished the chance to do some cooking myself.
We tasted the local focaccia, freshly baked and crunchy with sea salt, cheap and really delicious. How could we not indulge in a bit of seafood too? My favourite in this field being an outrageously rich ravioli with shrimps at one of the few restaurants open late enough for us to eat ‘lunch’ at 4pm in Monterosso.
We shared a massive seafood platter and spaghetti vongole in Manarola where we found ourselves sitting next to a couple from, you guessed it, Bury. And in Riomaggiore we shared a big cone of deep fried seafood, chips and onion rings, to munch as we wandered around the village.
I loved swimming in the sea here, it was clear as glass and not too cold considering it was nearly October. I floated serenely on the salty water, gazing at the glory that surrounded me, breathing in the sea air and trying to hold on tight to the moment.
Anyone that knows us well knows we rarely stop to catch a breath in our daily lives. I’m addicted to ‘doing stuff’, I work hard in my day job(s) and I work hard at my music career, I seem to have a constantly updating to-do list which is never finished. Moments of just ‘being’ are rare, and even in our travels we are stressed and ratty quite often trying to decipher transport systems in new places every few days and rushing around trying to see and do as much of possible where time in each location is short.
We’d wasted some time bickering about petty inconveniences lately. I naively hadn’t anticipated how much stress would be involved in travelling, it didn’t fit into my hippy bohemian daydream. It’s a reality which is hard to swallow when you’re supposed to be having a wonderful time all day every day. It’s not like that when travel is ambitious and long term, there are too many things to get your head around and endless plans to make (and recover when things go wrong). But bobbing around in the Italian sea with the sun beating down on my face surrounded by natural beauty of the highest order I felt truly at peace and in the moment. This is what it’s all about, this trip, giving ourselves time to enjoy life, experience new surroundings, and just be. Oh, and to eat, lots.
Title lyric from ‘By the sea’ by Suede.
Currently reading ‘The Grifters’ by Jim Thompson