After bidding bon voyage to our new Croatian sailing pals, Kelly and I boarded a ship bound for Ancona – back to the gelato and pizza filled shores of Italy!
Having just spent a week on board a boat, (and also recalling the endless journey from Italy to Greece) we embarked with a trepidation that (as we were to discover) was not unfounded.
Our 10 hour trip turned into 14 (two of which were spent standing in line for a bottle of water!!), our cabin was windowless, bathroom-less, definitely not cat swing-able, and two floors below the car parks. Safe to say my first order of business was finding out where the life boats were!
After a night spent rocking and rolling in our povo cabin (not helped by my imagination replaying those scenes from Titanic where the cattle class passengers were locked in lost causes) we finally made it to Italy and onto our train to Florence. After ditching our bags we ventured straight out on our first order of business – finding gelato!
The food tour didn’t stop there as the next day we joined an Italian market tour and cooking class. First we explored the two storied Mercado Centrale, learning the difference between Tuscan and Parma prosciutto, what Chianti wine is, what type of meat works best in bolognaise, and the efficiency and importance the Italians place on knowing where their food came from.
After purchasing ingredients, we made our way to the kitchen, where the awesome chefs and hosts showed us how to make first bolognaise and tomato sauces before we moved on to the main event – pasta!
Kelly’s technique earned him much praise from the chefs (which of course went straight to his head, but has meant I’ve managed to get out of cooking a lot since!). After we cut up the tagliatelle and squared off the ravioli, we were shown how to layer up a perfect tiramisu – again with praise for teachers pet Kelly- but best of all was getting to eat it all at the end!
We used Florence as a base to do a day trip to beautiful Venice. We took a gondola trip through the canals, strolled across the sinking bridges to admire the views, marvelled at the sinking streets and of course visited the market for lunch!
After the ease of visiting Venice, we also decided to train to Cinque Terre hoping that the limited time we had was going to be enough to enjoy it. On the way, our trains changed in Pisa with just enough time for us to pose in front of the tower, keeping an eye out for surprise hail storms as we did..
Back on the train, the first glimpse of the beautiful coast of Cinque Terre piqued our excitement, the cliffs and azure water zipping by below. We hopped off in Riomaggiore and wandered the tiny, colourful fishing village, before jumping back on the train intending to go to second village – me thinking that was all time would allow. To our despair, we zipped by all but the last village (and that was a relief – suddenly we saw ourselves arriving in Genoa some hours later!) a more developed resort town than Riomaggiore, Monterosso was a long umbrella filled beach, bound by dramatic cliffs at each end. We climbed down to dip into the beautiful deep water and sun ourselves on the rocks, before reluctantly boarding the train(s) back to Florence.
Our whirlwind tour of Italy gave us one more night, in a town on the border between France. Planned more as a break between train journeys as we travelled ultimately to Spain for the La Tomatina festival (more on that next time), Ventimiglia was an unexpected paradise. A stunning beach, backed by dramatic and unique cliffs, with a restaurant lined promenade that was packed for Friday night festivities, including an extremely impressive fireworks display! I was very sad leave – particularly given we had to get up before 5am to catch our first train of the day (an entirely unsatisfactory hour when on holiday!).
So that concluded our Italian chapter – with waistlines definitely expanded, tans topped up, and a new appreciation for high speed trains!
Apologies for the limited photos – we have had a travel casualty in the form of a missing camera cable! Hopefully it will be replaced soon so we can show beautiful Cinque Terre and Ventimiglia.
Kelly’s pro travel tip:
Travelling through Europe can be expensive. Especially when one of the best bakeries in Florence is sat directly outside your apartment. Best croissants ever. So when you find some activity that you can do for free, it really pays to check it out. One such activity I can recommend: People watching. Whilst more than often this does not pay off, sometimes you stumble upon some absolute gems.
Whilst on the 2nd floor of AirBnB apartment in Florence getting ready for another day exploring, we notice a commotion outside on the street below. “Trelise!” I yell. “Come hither. There’s a hubbub at our local Pasteria”. Outside our newly acquired bakery there was a scene unfolding. A wailing Italian woman was in hysterics, being comforted by some locals. However as she was yelling in Italian I had no idea what she was saying. She was cursing and yelling, gesticulating wildly. All in the direction of our bakery. How could this be?! Maybe she’s unhappy with the pain au chocolat? Madness. Oh shit. Here comes an old lady with the broom. Said old lady lines up the wailing woman. In the nick of time a baker comes out of the store to restrain her (damn you baker boy). Wailing woman has had enough and throws her handbag. Old lady ain’t having none of that and try’s to rip it open and throw it away. At this stage I’ve got my iPad in hand and am leaning halfway out the window, google translate working in overtime trying to figure out the the fuck is going on. Hold my feet Trelise I need to get closer. I look up and every window in the street is full of people. All showing a high degree of nonchalence to the whole scene unfolding below, one guy is just chowing down on a bowl of cereal. I can only gather this is a common thing in the streets of Italy.
Oh lord, here comes a new player to the game in the street below. A nun! What the hell is going on here?! The Nun saunters right into the mire (oh shit here we go!), the gathered crowd thinks it’s all over and the nun is about to dole out some of the lords gospel. Don’t hold your breath Jesus. Nun pushes right through everyone and enters the bakery. Move heathens! the lord demandeth his croissants. Step into her way and he shall be smite you from this world. Jesus must love his pastry. The nun then returned with a full bag of pastries under one arm, not even sparing the peasants tussling on the street the slightest of glares. Y’all need Jesus.
In this time the old woman had returned after being foiled with the broom, with a bucket of water. Classic move to snap a woman out of histeria right? But again foiled at the last minute. God damn it baker boy! Go cook something, that nun must have cleaned you out anyway. Historical woman tries to fight some ransom guy. Siri can’t keep up with the translation and has refused to go any further. After another ten minutes of wailing most of the residents have had enough and the crowds disperse. What a morning! I’m worn out already.