When a blood sucking insect is lodged in your leg, life ain’t pretty. Not quite thirty hours had passed in our little airbnb cottage before an ominous, “Honey? Could you look at something for me?” floated up the stairs to the kitchen. Suddenly it’s one o’clock in the morning, post-movie marathon, and we’re madly googling tick removal. Hopefully that’s the last consequence from our not-so-hot wwoofing farm 1normally we love our work exchanges, but this one wasn’t our favorite by a long shot!
We wrapped up a twenty-day stint of being guests in strangers’ homes by plunking ourselves down in private housing in a middle-class Italian neighborhood. South Livorno is devoid of tourists. A sense of authenticity pervades the lively streets, restaurants, gelato shops, movie rental stores, and seaside.
When you’ve been on others’ schedules for weeks, the mental health gains of returning to one’s own biorhythms are immeasurable. Sleeping in, skyping loved ones, writing and reading the day away, cooking our own meals, watching DVDs… every last second was heaven. We were renting just a stone’s throw from Florence and Pisa, allowing us to independently explore these treasures and enjoy some much needed solo time. Perfect!
I squeezed the aforementioned cities into one day to maximize my down time. Warnings about Florence being crowded gained validity as soon as I stepped on the packed, city-bound train. Braving the masses proved to be worth it: the cathedral, the plazas, the sculptures, the clock tower climb, the ancient bridges, the magnificent churches, and heavenly gelato all played a role in a fantastic Florentine experience.
Most impressive? The main cathedral (duomo). The wow factor is the type that can’t be achieved with paint. The intricate and detailed emerald, ivory, and rose-colored stonework merge into an absolute palace. I soaked in every stunning detail from every angle of the perimeter and from every window of the clock tower alongside.
I stopped in Pisa on the way home. The tour buses had mostly departed by the time I arrived, eliminating the bottlenecks, confusion, and frustration that come with an overrun destination. I walked through the pleasant town up to the famous bell tower that has outshone its cathedral. The wide green lawns were full of people taking the classic photos, and the place had the relaxed atmosphere of a giant summer barbecue in the park.
My heavy but amazing Chaco sandals had tackled at least seven or eight miles by the time I boarded my last train home. Unbeknownst to my tired toes, the weekend summer bus schedules are quite different than what’s posted. From the Sunday stop nearest our cottage to 99 Via Ricci, I ended up walking an additional six miles. Thanks to my general lack of fitness and a college knee-injury, suddenly I was out-of-commission for our planned hitching and famous coast hike the following two days.
Luckily, because of my beastly teddy-bear of a man, I was able to make the trip to La Spezia — jumping off point for the Cinque Terre trail — without carrying an ounce of my stuff. We spent a night getting eaten alive by mosquitoes at the wildly mediocre Elicrim B&B before heading to the much-talked-about coastal trail. Paths connect five picturesque villages hanging from the cliffs, drawing thousands of tourists a year. Lucky for me, trains also connect said villages. Pat hiked, I rode locomotives and photographed. I would say the area is somewhat worth all the hub-bub. However, being a mountain-woman at heart, perhaps I’m not a fair judge.
As the afternoon sun turned to evening, we embarked upon one of the best couchsurfing nights of my life. We met firefighter Ale (Alessandro) at the train station and indulged in a comical scooter/borrowed-bike tour of the city. Then he sent us packing to a gorgeous swim beach while he gathered materials and made plans for a clandestine evening BBQ. We made it to the boat yard with the help of his girlfriend Cecelia and her awesome old doggie — Flash. Ale motored us out to a mussel farm where we harvested the wild edibles that the companies would otherwise throw out. Finally we docked on the breakwater, set up the communal picnic gear, built up a mussel pot fire, and unpacked a feast from the picnic basket. The magic of the evening sky lasted for hours, and the still sea air was the perfect accompaniment to all the wine and delicious food.
We ended the night by motoring back under the twinkling city lights and tucking ourselves in at Ale’s historic flat. Italy, I love you. ♣
Check out this facebook album for men of marble, aerial Florence views, gelato art, seaside wonders, and Flash-the-doggie in his sweet shades.