Sailing and Scenic Hikes
Trip Start Jun 19, 2008
29Trip End Oct 11, 2008
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Where I stayed
After camping in Aix-en-Provence, we darted over to Nice - a place we have been before (and thought was just OK, but decided to give it a good 2nd chance). There, we stayed in the self-proclaimed "best hostel in France!" We spent our first day in the city at the crowded public beach catching some sun (next to a joint-smoking transsexual, no less. Hah.). On our next day, we chartered a large, fancy sailboat with a group of other people from the hostel. We soon met the owner/captain, Jean Pierre, and were warned that he would "kill you" if you spilled anything on his precious boat/threw cigarettes in the water/damaged the wood floors or leather interior in any way. I think he might have been serious. Nevertheless, the day was beautiful - blue skies, sun, Mediterranean swimming, and cheap beer and wine for 7 wonderful hours. After a hostel dinner with our Aussie roommate/fast friend, we all went to sleep around 10pm, exhausted from sun and sailing.
From Nice, we made the 4.5 hour drive to Avegno, Switzerland - a beautiful place nestled between even more beautiful Ascona and Locarno on Lago Maggiore. I must admit that this piece of the itinerary involved a slight miscalculation on my part - I thought Ascona/Avegno was in Italy, seeing that most of Lago Maggiore is...Well, I chose the place as far north on the lake as I could, and we had quite a drive to get there. Anyway, it was well worth it. We camped during our three days on Lago Maggiore, and at our campsite I was plunged head-first into an Italian speaking staff. Sink or swim...and my very very rusty skills (and sign language) managed to find us a fairly good campsite. While on Lago Maggiore, we spent a day enjoying the Swiss Alps - riding gondolas and chair lifts to (what seemed like) the top of a mountain only to be dragged by Ryan up another 1000 meters of steep mountain trails. The view from up the top of our hike was breathtaking... we saw the Alps and Maggiore in all of their glory. Check out our pics.
Our second day on the lake, we took a hydrofoil from the northern Swiss part of Maggiore to the southern Italian region. We traveled to the "Isole Borromeo". These two small islands have been converted into Borromeo family palaces with beautiful gardens. Apparently, the Borromeo family was a big deal in Italy... Their palaces' walls are covered (almost cluttered) with priceless art, a Murano glass chandelier hangs in every room, and their family tree boasts dozens of cardinals, several popes, and a six or seven battle-scared Generals. The gardens around the two palaces have flowers and trees from around the world, as well as a unique collection of exotic birds roaming around. If you ever have the chance, we strongly recommend you visit Lago Maggiore! It is fairly-tale beautiful. At times it doesn't even look real...more like a painted movie backdrop. We can't wait to come back.
From Switzerland, we drove another 4 hours to Monterosso del Mare, the first town in the famous string of Italian villages known as the "Cinque Terrre". To rest from our drive, we had an evening wine and beer with some fellow Americans in our Guesthouse's "honor system" bar and ended the night with a very interesting seafood risotto at a nearby restaurant. Our meal was placed before us in a massive terracotta bowl literally brimming with bubbling rice and strange sea critters. We ate things I've only seen in fish tanks. It was...interesting. Somehow, a day of travel and a couple glasses of white wine allowed the meal to slide down a little easier than we thought it would. Today we hiked the 5 cinque terre towns. Our town of Monterosso lies on one edge. They are all connected by a steep and dusty footpath, with hikes between towns ranging from two hours to twenty minutes. It took us 7.5 hours to hike the 10km CinqueTerre (we stopped at two beaches along the way and a little restaurant for some pesto). I don't need to tell you that it was breathtakingly gorgeous. It was also quite strenuous. We were glistening from rivers of sweat, and we smelled like true Europeans by the end. Haha.We now sit exhausted, ready for bed and excited for the next two days in the Cinque Terre. This is our "vacation from vacation" and we plan to spend the next couple days doing nothing but sitting in the sun and eating gelato. More soon as we continue our descent into Italy. Ciao.