So the trip began after a very long and rough night of doing laundry, or attempting to do it, in my apartment. I went downstairs to find a young man filling all of the washers with his clothes. Perfect. I asked, politely, if it was possible for him to spare one as I had two loads of laundry to do between 11pm and 6am before we left for a ten day period of time. Mind you, I had been babysitting until this point, unable to move in on the laundry facilities earlier. He told me no and that there were washers in the apartment next door. I impolitely told him that he was an ass (in my head).
This did, however, give me the pleasure of getting to converse with Laura, a Californian at her finest. She let me in the building multiple times until 3am, when I was finally finished stalking my own clothes. I was in her apartment for a time watching her leaf through a book she was to have read, scanning page by page in to her printer (which she packed up in Cali and flew with her to Paris) so that I might borrow the book for break. Fabulous and much appreciated effort, though drastic and humorous nonetheless. As we say, "just box it up."
So the next day we met Alex at the train, Gare de Lyon, whereupon we departed with a car-fill of sweating, greasy, loud French teenagers at the pleasant age of 14/15. Such a wonderful time during one's life...They shouted, swore, made odd noises, and above all, engaged in disturbing mating rituals and patterns never before seen by many voyeurs sitting nearby. The ride couldn't end soon enough as the ventilation was lacking and their body odor was starting to waft our way. Ah, Nice...finally!
We checked in to our adorable hotel, Alex and his Easter bunnies, before heading to the beach and simply plopping ourselves onto the beach of rocks to burn for two hours. I slept while Katie and Alex were absorbed in what seemed like a deep and meaningful conversation. I awoke with some sign of being sun-kissed, while it seems Alex was the equivalent of "raped." We hiked to the top of the waterfalls to view the Old Nice and new at their full glory and marveled at their beauty. Of course, gelato ensued.
Let me just say, there are vendors with up to 96 flavors of gelato including cactus, lavender, basil, and more...I stuck with more traditional or dessert-y flavors, and enjoyed every bite.
To summarize relatively quickly for those of you who have made it this far (!!!), we relaxed. We did enjoy an afternoon of roller-blading, or rather, Katie and I did. Alex got to know the asphalt pretty well, but was quite good-spirited (the entire activity being his idea!). Katie and I got some great laughs, a nice burn in our muscles, and the physical activity we had been missing and lacking for the past month. We dined at a Moroccan/Persian restaurant, hoping only to find couscous, meanwhile discovering a pandora to never again be shut. The owner and waiter was an Armenian man who had lived all over Europe, spoke seven languages, and had no other guests than us three to serve. We dined and enjoyed. He lectured us on the etiquette of being a traveler, a foreigner, and better yet, an apprentice of culture. He offered us free cake, which we ate with alarming gluttony and when he returned with tea as its complement, was distraught to see that we had finished it and had crumbs on our lips. We drank the tea anyway. He showed us his hobby of calligraphy, Irish music (he knew my heritage right away and took pleasure in brining it up), as well as his celtic string instrument, which I unfortunately forgot the name of.
After three full days in Nice, we departed for Venice. What a treat. Late to arrive to Milan for our connection, and even later to arrive in a city that has no concept of maps and easy-to-find locations. We arrived in Venice at 8pm and it was not until 10 that we were successfully installed in our hotel (only several hundred meters from the station) and went ravenously in search of dinner. Delicious pasta, not expensive, but painfully small portions as pasta is only the first course. We, on the other hand, could not afford two courses. The next day we walked around Venice, admiring the handiwork of her craftsmen and glassmakers, the overpriced gondola ride, and hundreds of bridges and canals. We spent the afternoon in Lido, an island across the base of the Grand Canal, at the beach. Several people had told me that they hated Venice for its smell and pollution, but I thought it rather quaint and adorable, best at night after the hoards of tourists abandoned the main island for Mestre, a cheaper option for lodging (or so they thought).
Next was the Cinque Terre, another three days of refuge in the Italian Riviera before heading back (today!) to Paris, where life seems all to real and fast. Katie and I left Alex in Venice and embarked in a female adventure that was quite simply, wonderfully unbelievable. It is where the French, Germans, and Italians reside during their vacations (as evidenced by the hundreds of Germans with their hiking poles that violently make you aware to mind your personal space). We had hoped for time to sit on the beach, but the contrary weather of rain and clouds forced us to reevaluate and re-plan. Not a problem. We hiked most of the next day in a pathetic excuse for rain to the third village, Corniglia, whereupon we were forced back to Monterosso by train as the hiking path had been shut down due to land slides. Well, certainly glad to avoid that risk...
Exhausted, we collapsed in our beds after hot showers for three hour naps before the most SCRUMPTIOUS and DELECTABLE dinner of all time. While I enjoyed my dish, I am actually referring here to Katie's, which I got two nights later when we returned for our last dinner. Freshly made, hand-carved ravioli bouquets drizzled in a creamy cheese sauce littered a black plate. Upon cutting these pieces of holiness, the invigorating aroma of sweet pears crawls into your senses and almost causes temporary insanity. You can bet your balls I will recommend this restaurant to anyone, now and forever, and I'd maybe even be willing to buy a flight just to accompany you there and sample it again. The owner was spectacular company and joked around with us as well as neighboring tables.
We finished the hike of the five towns, finishing Montorola and Riomaggiore the next day. Of course, lots of reading and laying around occurred and I was pleased to have finished all of my homework goals way ahead of deadline. I am actually quite reflecting on some of the literature I read and have had quite a mental provocation since reading some of Yunus' work.
Don't think I forgot about Pisa (I know, Piza!). This was simply a layover location for a cheap flight to Beavais that turned into a nightmare from Hell. We arrived in the rain and as we left the train station, we had men pushing umbrellas into our arms in a desperate attempt to make a sale. Little did they care that we had an umbrella out and were wearing virtually waterproof clothes. We found the cheap and recommended hotel very close-by and settled in. The only one thing to do in this town is to see the Leaning Tower. On our twenty minute walk down uneven, puddle-laden streets, intoxicated with pollution and jobless men, Katie stopped me, saying, "Is that a dead animal?" It couldn't be! You might expect something like that in Morocco, perhaps even parts of the socio-economic losers of Europe, but surely it couldn't be...
Sure enough, a small black dog (could have been a puppy, didn't look that closely) was sprawled on the ground, mouth hanging open, surrounded by groups of young men (each group of a different ethnicity, of course). Katie and I then decided, pick up the pace. After arriving and enjoying the tower for a grand total of thirty seconds, we stopped at the tourist tents selling the most cheasy and horrible souvenirs. Who in God's name would want a replica of the tower, the size of backpack, for over 20 Euros? Well, if I had seen someone even approaching the stand to buy one, I would have kindly done them a favor and knocked them unconscious. Better off that way. The rest of the night we stayed in and read in fear of seeing more than we had bargained for...and to get away from the Hotel concierge who was fond of kissing, quite too close to the mouth.
Congratulations on finishing this entry! Worthy of a prize (gelato or ravioli)...but sadly, I am lacking them to give away. Talk soon, blog more, read less (per visit).