The Retirees go Abroad – Viareggio and a day at the beach

Florence had been such a hot day and we had enjoyed our swim at Monterosso al Mare so when Kerry learned of a beach at Viareggio from Robert’s sister in law Jane, we knew how we would be spending that day. Jane has been living in Lucca for a number of years and when we called upon her, her sister from the UK was visiting. Jane will be moving back to Australia and her sister was quite upset that distance would make their catch ups less frequent. We had a relatively peaceful drink at the Mercato Cafe of the dead chook except when any one squeezed the “dead chook” which then emitted a squealing sound. Kerry learned about Aperol, ginger ale and prosecco that afternoon.

Our drive to Viareggio was very pleasant. We avoided the toll roads and saw some of the villages on the way. There were pleasant river crossings, typical villages and reminders of the past along the most circuitous route imaginable. Nevertheless we got to the beach.

Along the road in front of the beach was an enormous market then a line of shops then the little kingdoms. Again the beach was divided into little kingdoms. The day was hot and getting hotter so we wasted no time in selecting Narcisa to set up camp. Narcisa is a family run business with lovely flower gardens to greet you and grandma on the front desk who “no speaka de English” but her son does. The son, grey haired and about our age, comes over in his DTs (dick togs) and gardening gloves and gives us the sales pitch and throws in some extras (two lounges instead of one) which was very nice. We agree to rent the umbrella and go to the designated change rooms (a store room most of the time) to change into our swimming gear.

We made our way to the designated umbrella and settled in. The beach was sandy and at least 100m wide with umbrellas as far as the eye could see. We were comforted to see the life guard at his post. We strolled into the water. It was a little warmer than Monterosso but not as clear and not as deep. We walked out about 20 m and the water was barely above my waist. Even so we were in the water for about 5 minutes and a fish jumped from the water. It looked about a kilo in size and the shape of a mullet. This was to happen at least half a dozen times whilst we were paddling and lolling in the water. Then I noticed that something in the water was bumping into us. Jellyfish! Blue with a small black fringe, they danced between our legs. Some the size of a twenty cent piece and others up to the size of a man’s fist. I managed to catch one or two for a closer look.

After swimming we went back to the office to get money for lunch at the café on the premises. We ran into the son again and told him of the sighting of the fish jumping and he looked at us in complete amazement and said “what out there – fishes jumping”. He then said “I don’t know nothing about fishes you ask my brother the life guard he knows about fishes”. Well I thought it hilarious. The astonishment that something lived in the water and the fact that the life guard was as old as us – not that there was much rough surf for him to contend with.

After lunch we thought we would go back to the markets and stroll through and eat an ice cream. No such luck. The markets had finished and the shops had closed for lunch time siesta. But we got to witness some pretty incredible technology in the way in which these stalls were set up. Most had vans with a large box on the roof. In this box was the awning and using just a remote control the stallholder opened and closed his shop. Oh and there was some other equipment caught my eye. See if you can find it in the photos.

We had heard that there was a free concert on in the amphitheatre in Lucca so that night we made our way into the amphitheatre by bus. Surprisingly the bus was free so a good start to the night. I made an error of judgment as to which stop to get off and we ended up walking through the city where we encountered a shop with a weaving loom in the front window and the weaver hard at work. No sale items though the price tags all had three digits.  We selected our restaurant Bistro Bar L’Emiliana and settled in for dinner and the show at 9.00pm. Well it was not much of a show – a jazz trio playing classical music (Puccini) – not to my taste.

We finished about 10.00pm and knowing that the last bus had long since gone we asked the waiter to organise a taxi. No problems. He told us to wait at our table and the cab would come into the amphitheatre to collect us. The amphitheatre was wall to wall restaurants, jazz band audience and kids playing on bikes etc. This I had to see. As I expected the cab was a no show. The waiter clearly embarrassed by the no show went in search of the taxi with us in tow. We found our cab with the driver trying to explain to an American with pins through his left leg that he could not just hail a cab when it had been booked. The driver made the Yank sit down and told him he would be back to get him.

We piled into the cab, gave the driver the address and settled back but not for long for this fellow took off at enormous speed through the narrow streets filled with pedestrians and bikes and then raced a scooter and another car to be the first out the city gate. Even though I sat in the front with the driver, I could feel Kerry’s grip on the cab door growing ever tighter and nervous laughter coming from Kerry and Veronica in the backseat. The taxi driver explained that he hated “romantic drivers” – people casually driving because they did not have timing issues and a family to feed from driving a cab; he said he had already had 4 expressos and there would be many more before the night was through. Well we made it home but felt like we had just got off a ride at Disney World. So the night ended on a happy note – we were still alive and on holiday.

The Retirees go Abroad – Cinque Terre

We had heard it reported that Cinque Terre was the place to go in Tuscany. So we did.

It all started with leaving our flat and taking the car to La Spezia where we parked under the train station. We then caught the train to Riomaggiore along with thousands of other tourists. Our arrival at Riomaggiore coincided with at least half of those tourists on the train – the others were going to the beach judging by the towels and sun screen.

The village is sitting on the edge of a rocky outcrop and each house seems to be either clinging on or dug in. Enquiries with the information office gave us two options – take the tunnel to the main square and the harbour or do a tour of the village by walking around the hill and down into the main square. When we stated that the stroll through the village sounded nice the assistant at the information office came to life and produced maps and information about “her village”.

Outside the day was starting to warm up. The sky was clear and there was very little breeze. A very tired mural on the wall outside of the office told the story of the hard work and life endured by the locals and set the scene for the village we were about to explore.

The walk started with a steep climb past some “high rise” and then higher up there were detached houses with gardens growing fruit and vegetables in all possible spots. We were about half way to the top and the sea came into view. The sea was a deep blue and dotted with ferries, and the vision affirmed our decision to travel to the next village by ferry. We could see the ocean path leading to Manarola (the next village) and we could also see the rock slides that had closed the path thank goodness. It meant our decision was between the ferry and the train. It was too hot to walk across the top of the hill.

We climbed further into the village following the stony paths that passed for roads and encountered picturesque views of the village and its houses with “altanas” – (Italian roof top patios) and its community church. After the church the main street ran from the top of the village down to its square. Busy with tourists, we quickly moved through to catch the ferry. From the harbour I was able to photograph some of the more beautiful sights in Riomaggiore. We lined up along with a few others (busloads of them) and caught the ferry for a five minute cruise to Manarola and a meeting with our own Italian Roberto the bus driver from Bribie.

The landing at Manorola was a little more harrowing than Riomaggiore due to the narrowness of the access but the village was just as enchanting as Riomaggiore. Roberto was waiting breathlessly with his travelling companion to greet us and to whisk us away from the tourist highlights of the village to a more traditional (or so he said) part of the village and his chosen restaurant for lunch- Nessun Dorma. I must say we did have what appeared to best the best vantage spot to view the village and the restaurant was quaint with its vegetable gardens growing throughout the restaurant.

After lunch he showed us the toughest way back to the village, but in the course of doing so I met this lovely iron maiden who insisted on wearing her birthday suit to the beach and a quaint place of rest overlooking the sea. In the shade of the umbrellas and with the sea breezes kissing our cheeks we had not realised how hot the day had become until arriving in the village main street. Enclosed by houses and protected against any breeze it was stifling. So we bid our farewells to our Italian Stallion and caught the train to Monterosso al Mare.

The northern most village of the five towns making up the Cinque Terre, Monterosso al Mare has beaches rather than rock walls. But the beaches are all segregated into little kingdoms of umbrellas and deck chairs. For a fee you get your own piece of the beach for the day with access to showers toilets and change rooms. We had a choice – walk to the old city and see the town or get our own piece of beach and go for a swim. The sun made up our minds – swim it is.

For 11€ we got two sun beds and an umbrella. For the four of us that was fine and relatively in expensive. A change into our swimmers and a dash across the sand we were pulled up short when entering the water. The sun decided to hide behind a cloud and the water was bloody freezing. I was delayed about a nano second before diving in “to exercise my injured tendon”. It took Kerry a bit longer but she got in pretty quickly for Kerry standards. So refreshing! There are no waves and no current and the beach drops away fairly quickly so that floating around in the water was the way to go as every time you dropped your legs into the deeper water a cold current “freshened” you up again. We spent the rest of the afternoon refreshing and forgot about the village and the other two villages – next time maybe.

Around 5.00pm we headed for the train and home. The crowds got the same idea. Even so we managed to get to the carpark and home by 7.00pm for dinner and a few hands of cards.