September 9, 2013

The coasts of Italy and France

I had realised that it'd be difficult to get to the camp grounds outside Rome but I didn't realise that I would need to use this degree of resourcefulness. I must explain: My next leg would be testing out another means of travel in the use of the shuttle 'Loops' by Busabout. It’s effectively an inter-country bus service linking you between hostel drop off points within each major city of the South, West or Northern 'loops' that they offered. I would be leaving from Rome on the South and West loops that would eventually take me along the Mediterranean coasts of Italy and France to Madrid and then back up the coasts of Spain and France to Paris before threading through Switzerland to Munich.

The designated bus stop in Rome was a place called Plus Camping Roma which was rather out of the way. While I had intended to take the metro to a station close to the grounds, I always knew it would be tight in order to catch the last metro so when the flight was slightly delayed, with only two customs desks open and with my bag being the last on the conveyor I knew I had to change plans. My flight had come in at 10:20pm and in high insight it would have been a much better idea to get an earlier flight which could have utilised the camping ground's free shuttle from the airport till 10:30pm. However, in the real world, I relied on the last shreds of international mobile data credit I had on my phone to create a new travel plan. I caught the only public transit service which was still operating close to midnight being a shuttle service to Termini in the heart of Rome. From there I would catch a night bus which would take me most of the way to the hostel. I thought this would save me the 70EUR cost of the taxi which would be seven times the cost of my tent stay that night. When I got to Termini, I found that all the train lines were closed and with those last bytes, I figured out that I needed the N5 night bus which entailed 45 minute wait till 12:30am. It was pretty long and monotonous for the most part with the exception of one character who approached me after some time from around the corner shop over the road. At first I thought this portly middle aged man was striking up conversation making a gesture over his mouth as to say that I must be tired. While a being a little on edge and protective of my bags, I agreed and tried to recognise the tired verb but in less than a minute, he clarified the hand gesture a little more. I soon figured out that he was offering a blow job rather than conversation, at his place just around the corner. I realised that my gestures of encouragement before were very much misplaced and that my answer to that was a firm no. I saw that he realised my revelation so after laughing him off, he pleaded that "it would be easy, just 10 minutes"... Once again, I said no and told him to leave and that I was sure there were plenty of other people that he could ask standing around at the bus station.

I was both amused and surprised that this would be my first exchange between a local Italian in Rome but soon the bus came. The bus bounced over the stupendously rough cobbled streets until the street lighting got a little darker and my GPS told me it was time to get off. It was then that I realised that the camp grounds where definitely outside the bounds of the city. I took to the road armed with a mobile phone with maps and sign of life communication. I checked in with friends in Australia as they woke to give myself a little bit of a security blanket as I did my bag up for the long walk to home for the night. I walked the road under street light, blinded by the cars passing every minute or so. After 10 minutes, the footpath stopped with foliage on both sides of the road. Around the next bend, the road lights stopped too. At that point I thought it probably would have been a better idea to have shelled out the 70EUR for the taxi but there wasn't really a choice at that point as my last drip of mobile credit was out by that point. I was tense and listening intently for any sign of life residing in the darkness. I used my phone as a torch in the pitch black and after another 5 minutes found myself back under lamp light. It didn't get that much better after that since it seemed the place was effectively next to a highway. I walked up and down a couple of on/off ramps and suddenly I saw the golden light at the other side of the tunnel, praising my new phone for it's invaluable guidance on the late night journey. I was drawn to the light of the Plus Camping sign like an insect and once I had my key and checked that Busabout were really going to pick up from this obscure place, I made the last trek through the grounds to my tent.

This place was like it's own village with shops and bars and a restaurant. The tent that I'd hired was more like a mesh walled house with bunk beds and power points. I had the 3 bed area to myself and it was a perfect night to effectively sleep outside but I was still wired from the eventful trip up to that point. I headed to the bar just after they had served last drinks so joined a small group of British boys and Spanish girls which ended up picking up a little group of Argentinians. I stayed with the Argentinians when they offered me a share in their wine and we got to know eachother a little better. I got talking with one of them who actually lived in the north of Mexico and worked as a scuba instructor and tour guide in what she thought was the most beautiful water in the world. While I of course had to defend the places I'd dived including the great barrier reef and Kuta Kinabaloo, I figured that she probably knew what she was talking about. It seemed she liked Australians a lot so we kept exchanging stories in broken English till a little later at night.

I woke and scrambled to pack up the few things that left my bag, showering and heading to the bus for my first leg with Busabout. The group seemed nice enough and before long, I'd met a couple of nice South Africans. There was a surprising stop on the way to Florence. The tiny hill-top village of Orvieto was on the itinerary where we would take an extended lunch stop. They boasted two things: A massive basilica and boar ham, both of which I intended on sampling. The basilica was incredible from the outside but in true tradition was pretty devoid of 'distractions from prayer' on the inside. That being said, the quire, high alter and side chapels were still pretty amazing in their decoration!

The main strip up Orvieto.

The incredible carvings and mosaics of the cathedral.

With a boar focaccia in hand, it was back in the bus and off to Florence.

It wasn't long after we arrived at this 5 star hostel (complete with lockers and a pool) that we were out on a welcome tour of the town. It went past the famous Duomo, Logia, Affizi and bridge. We got a little introduction to Italian leather then settled in a place called the Red Garter for a big Italian meal.

Despite feeling bloated after the three course extravaganza, we all filed through to the next room, slightly more like a tall cellar with long tables and a mezzanine. It was happy hour and this meant 1.5L cocktail jugs or 4L beer towers for the next hour. You knew they had really planned this out when we were told that karaoke would be starting soon after that. I got involved and after choosing a song on the little computer thing after some sensible consensus on the song, I ended up losing my karaoke virginity to a song that got swapped in at the last moment. Three of us were up there looking fantastic and swapping the mic between us and sharing in the chorus of a song that none of us knew at all. Despite feeling a little violated by the whole violence of the rush, being pulled up the platform, being surprised by the song and then being dropped back down to the crowd after with just a few friends to sympathize with, it was still a good thing to get out of the way. Maybe it'll feel better next time.

Despite having kicked on to a couple of bars after the karaoke, I was up and comfortably jogging down the street in the morning to the meeting point for my Tuscan wine tour that would be taking off from the central bus station. There were few indications as to where in this large area we would actually be meeting but after looking around and recognising some similarly confused and slightly irate faces around the designated point, I'd brought together a couple of groups who were all looking for the tour bus. We sent out a couple of scouts to the possible secondary rendezvous locations but after a good 15 minutes after the time, an easy going Italian walked over the road to us and just stood there for a while until we asked whether he was a tour guide. After a little interrogation in broken English, we figured out that he was working for our guide company. After much fuss, we eventually crossed the road and hopped into an unmarked van which took us out into the Tuscan sun.

Is the tour happening?

We eventually came to a little winery called Il Vecchio Maneggio. This place had stables where we met our equine guides for the morning. I decided to re-name my horse 'Hungry' after a little while. I soon ended up at the back of the winery and grounds tour line when my horse decided to eat every green piece of foliage that came across it's path. I got in to a regular of stopping for a snack break then jumping him into a trot after to catch up to line once again. They stopped worrying about me after a little while when I'd got the hurry up horse signal figured out.

A view with San Gimignano in the far distance.

The vineyards from horseback.

After a little tasting of local honeys with all sorts of different flower pollens, we hopped back on to the bus for the drive to a UNESCO protected medieval village called San Gimignano. This remarkably preserved site was home to the country's best Gelato and after a cup of pistachio, hazelnut and ‘fruits of the forest’ gelato, I would say that I agree that it is. The guide told us about the rather funny way the rich and noble families decided to protect themselves from the poor and destitute of their city. They decided to build tall windowless towers that they could retreat up into at night where they would pull the ladder up to keep themselves safe as they slept. For this reason, there were over 10 of these spires around the city at various heights depending on wealth and status.

The old medieval roads, preserved.

The best!

The tour closed with a winery visit where we had a good 5 course lunch with 7 suited wines to taste. The selection was great and we also got some truffle oil with the lasagna which was amazing and then some 10 year old balsamic too which was pretty special. There were two couples on honeymoon trips so to celebrate; our guide took a sword to a couple of bottles of prosecco on the grass outside. It was a good way to finish off a pretty merry tour and a good way to drop in to a little afternoon nap on the way back to Florence.

Tasting and just the right foods.

The newlyweds.

I joined a pub crawl that night and took in some more of the numerous local and ex-pat bars before heading to main club in Florence, Space. This was a pretty great place for music that night and had a funny little system for buying drinks that I hadn't seen before. When you get in, you get a little card which you use to buy drinks. When the get a drink, they put it through a machine that will punch it so that when you leave, you know how much is owed. If you try to go to the door with a card that isn't cleared you are not let out. The line to the check-outs were stupendous when the club closed which was ok with some good conversation.
A shot in sync with the strobe.

After a good sleep in, the next day was a gallery day with the academy being first on the list. There was the famous David (which wasn't too unfamiliar after seeing the two duplicates elsewhere in the city) which dominated the main gallery. The unexpected pleasure though was to spend some time in the instrumental museum that was part of the main exhibition space. The old Stradivarius and Amanti instruments where living pieces of history and it was awesome to get some local context of what the Medici family did for arts in their time. The way I see it, the Medici family effectively embodied the enlightenment and catalysed major works from artists and composers alike. There were music samples from major renaissance choral composers, being reminded of the historic importance of patrons of the arts and their necessity for bringing about the creation of beautiful works.

The big man in the flesh.

The Medici commissioned Stradivarius to make the 'Medici quartet'.

When I walked into the hostel room, another room mate was checking in and I let her know about my plans to go up to an old orangerie in a park where a company would be performing Verdi's Rigoletto. She thought it would be a good thing to do and in 15 minutes, we were heading to the bus station. In real Italian fashion, the bus eluded everyone at the platform so by the time the next one came, we were in a little bit of a rush. A short walk up the hill in near darkness and she might have been hoping that she hadn't mistaken me for someone with less noble intents but soon we made it to the stealthy concert venue. We both flocked to the little food stall after grabbing tickets and relished the warmth of the last toasted panninis in stock.

It really was an enthusiast amateur production when it came down to it (perhaps with the exception of Gilda). The cross shaped stage in the middle of the room made it hard for the singers to make any good contact with any particular part of the audience let alone the conductor who sometimes had to flail at the tenor who would sometimes be almost a full beat behind. The opera was just too familiar, having done it soon before leaving home, to have missed all of the flaws, especially having known simple solutions for some of the problems they suffered. It made me appreciate and miss the skills of some of my colleagues back home in OperaBox. Despite this technical criticality, it was still possible to turn off some considerations and enjoy the opera. Despite my suspicion that a lot of the audience were family and friends from the distinct lack of any English spoken anywhere, it was fun to witness my first mid-opera encore as Gilda and the Duke closed act 2.

Over breakfast, I ran into my Kiwi friend from the bus to Florence and we headed out for a random roam of the nearby streets. We stumbled across the leather market where I picked up a proper replacement to my fake French wallet and then we made the great find of the day being the food market. This big shed housed the tastiest fresh and preserved foods we had come across in our travels as of yet. The vegetables, figs, limoncello, balsamico, cheese, prosciutto and pesto were just stellar and we wished we had emptier stomachs and fuller wallets to make it a more exotic food safari. We parted after and I embarked on an afternoon of churches and monuments.

Nom nom.

On the way in to the city centre and after getting a little lost, I ran in to an old convent named after Maria Novella. After that I finally made it in to the main attraction of the day, the Duomo and the whole museum complex. The Duomo interior was the first and it was as with many churches in the area, relatively bleak inside so as not to distract the congregation from prayer (with the exception of the cupola and side chapels which of course serve to distract the clergy). The crypt was pretty ordinary but facilitated some bumps on the head from low ceiling collisions. With the cupola line being ridiculous, I took on the stairs of the bell tower and took in the view of the city from the sky, admiring it's flawless consistency in period style throughout the city. Another fresco marvel back at the foot of the tower was the Baptistry which I checked out pretty quickly before lining up for my most anticipated experience.

The convent high alter is pretty lush.

The dome from below.

A long way up.

People on the top of the dome, dwarfed.

The baptistry ceiling.

Ever since I saw a documentary on the construction of Brunalescci's dome some 5 years prior, I'd wanted to visit this structure which proved to be a remarkable architectural and engineering fete at the time and for some time before it was surpassed by St Peter's at the Vatican in terms of space spanned by a dome. After a good hour in line, I was there, inside the cavity between the inner and outer domes, climbing the stairs to the gallery within the Duomo. The internal height of the gallery was absolutely incredible and the expanse of the all-encompassing frescos was truly awesome. There was just enough time left at the end of the day to drop into the last of the Duomo complex inclusions being the museum. It had some of the original religious art but wasn't much of a show after the structural masterpiece that was the dome.

The dome interior gallery.

It was a service entry really...

The view from the dome.

On the way home I found the Leonardo Da Vinci museum which was a little gimmicky to be honest but at least presented some real life manifestations of his plans alongside a couple of the original manuscripts. He is really a great representation of the polymath, one of these great men who dominated antiquity through their inventions in the fields of both art and science. He was a painter, musician, botanist and engineer and in all of these pursuits, he was renowned and appreciated. The great Greek philosophers also had so much background and recognition in mathematics. I just love to see these examples in history where it is not a case of 'Jack-of-all trades, master of none' but instead, 'Jack-of-all trades, master of some'. Just as we today will so often buy a DVD player and TV set top box separately rather than an all in one solution because of a perception of watered down quality in the second, people can sometimes be assumed to be better at one field because it is all they do. I suggest that like a DVD/set top box combo, the two functions enrich each other to the point where one field will inform the wisdom in another field. Just like a TV combo will be able to record TV to DVDs where the separate boxes may not. I think this is a concept that isn't so widely considered in Australia. While travelling in Europe, there is a much stronger appreciation of arts and science working together rather than separately and with different agendas. They study nultiple languages and history compulsorily later into their high school careers and avoid specialization too early despite finishing high school later than in WA. I was very fortunate at the end of my schooling to have the opportunity to work quite comprehensively with music alongside my predominantly scientific and mathematical course. To be able to bring the characteristics of creativity and time management into my science has allowed me to surpass my science colleagues in some instances just as the stepwise logic and rigor of mathematics has accelerated my learning in singing.

Having met a bunch of people the previous night at the bar, our six strong group of Brits, Aussies and Americans all met up in the morning to take on the famed Uffizi gallery. We braved the line for a good hour and a half before we managed to get in. This place was chock full of the finest renaissance art from the world over. It was fitting that the exhibits occupy the rooms of the Medici family who were so instrumental in the explosion of artistic production in the city. While it was a pretty incredible sight, one's eyes do become a little glazed after a good couple of hundred of paintings, predominantly in a religious style. We all became a little impatient and took the last half at a bit of a jog, starting to yearn for lunch. After a stroll around and over the Ponte Vecchio, we parted and generally drifted our separate ways back to the hostel.

Uffizi as a palace. Art everywhere!

Not just a gallery space. Everything is to be looked at.

On the Ponte Vecchio

I caught up with the couple of Americans from Arkansas who I took out to dinner the night before and having reminisced about it at the hostel, we just had to go again, this time with 3 others, two of which being the British boys from the museum. It was a killer dinner once more and after leaving bloated as usual, we would meet later that night to take on the Red Garter, this time with some supermarket beverage stock beforehand. Later that night, two Swedish girls and I got in to a little dance club, the three of us appreciating the craziness of each other's styles. Over a couple of cigarettes, we came to a realisation that sometimes you just want to dance for yourself and not in conformity with others. We could just move in what ever made us feel good about the beat and raw physicality of it. It was a fun stagger back to the hostel as about 15 of us took to the streets in a big multilingual gang of merriment at closing time. We took photos sitting on the eerily well parked lines of mopeds and bikes and continued talking on the steps of the hostel till 4am before finally sleeping after the long night out.

Contentedness over dinner.

Swedes on the dancefloor.

Another day, another 8am bus on very little sleep. So sleep continued on the bus till we arrived for a little stop in Pisa. I had no idea that it was the complex of buildings that it was, complete with church and baptistery. They were all pristine and despite only having 20 minutes, I wanted to visit them all! It was obvious after a little while that this was a papal seat and that Pisa was the centre of a dynasty that I had never known about. I took the obligatory tower photos and navigated the wash of tourists to the ticket office. The Baptistery was great but more so was the church which was the centre of the Square of Miracles, the centre of the capital of the powerful province of Pisa. I was running on nothing but an apple and a muesli bar that morning so I managed to find a panini which tasted like the best one in the world. The place was just so touristy with all of the café menus in English with meal deals and with tacky souvenir shops lining the complex walls. It was strangely relieving to get back to the bus and away from the bustle and know that the calm of Cinque Terre was coming closer.

Pisa isn't just the tower folks!

I didn't really meet any cool people on that bus so when we arrived at La Spezia, I didn't have many compatriots. I joined a couple as we all tried to decipher the train system (and hiking trail pass options which could also include transport) and find our way to Riomaggiore, one of the five little towns that constitute Cinque Terre. Once there, we found our way through a little tunnel and up the steep slope of the main road to the hostel reception.

Riomaggiore was the biggest of the five towns and had a population of only 2000. It felt like a tiny provincial country town, nestled in between ridges in a little gully so that all of the houses were built on terraced levels up the sides of the ridges. It was a post card of yellow and red pastel shade houses dotting the boarders of the main road.

The hostel was really a collection of little rooms scattered across the town. Four of us were to be situated in a room a bit further away from the reception. We started following our guide through some narrow lanes and over slimline squares but the same characteristic stuck. Every path was an endless hike up stairs. The views over the town distracted us as we ascended, soaring over the town at this point as we crossed a square by a church. Two of the girls had big suit cases and although a couple of us guys had volunteered ourselves to help, having not originally known the enormity of the task, we had to cycle the work around the group under the strong sun.

A little lookout on the way up to the room.

After a full 268 steps from the reception, we were in the room and what a fantastic view we had. A communal sigh of relief was breathed as we collapsed into the beds, two of the other guys figuring out how they were going to share the one double bed that was set awkwardly in an all single room. Once we gathered the strength to brave the stairs again, it was time for the beach.

The first swimming spot of Riomaggiore.

The jumpers up 12m on the cliffs.

The lookout at the end of the sunset.

As with all beaches in the area, the beautiful blue of the Mediterranean water was bordered by boulders and other sizable chunks of land that constituted our sun beds and change rooms. The best way in was to make a big jump and the cool water hit was just the best feeling imaginable. A cliff jumper added to the entertainment as he scaled the rock wall to the height of 12m, waiting until a crowd had been drawn till he made the fateful jump, flawlessly landing and plunging into the deep blue. The Riomaggiore crew were a good one and we ended up catching dinner together after drinks at the one bar/venue with wifi in the whole place. We finished the calzone dinner with a shot of grappa (wine distilled to 80% alcohol) which was surprisingly drinkable given its potency.

By the time we arose from the restaurant cellar, the sun had just dropped below the horizon but the twilight glow still lay over the town. Two of the guys from our room had the insight to catch the full sunset from the cliff top lookout on the way up to our place and were still coming down from the experience. After some sips of local limoncello, we all drifted off the bed as there really wasn’t much else in the town past sunset.

One of the four towns, Vernazza, suffered an unusually massive rainstorm in late 2011 which caused a catastrophic landslide, wiping out homes and businesses. The town was left under up to 4m of mud with two deaths and over 100 million euros worth of damage. Since then, with little support from the government, locals have been seeking help from volunteers to revive the lives of locals for whom life was already a little fragile before the storm. I joined in and on my second day, I was up and on the train from Riomaggiore to Vernazza before the sun was up. As you looked up to the steep sides of the gully that the town was set in, you could see evidence of where earth used to adorn the hills and the path of destruction towards the back of the town were the earth had ploughed straight through buildings. Six of us were led by a local as we were introduced to a farmer who had been struggling to regain safe access to his land as his only means of access was a narrow little footpath from the town. Armed with hoes and pickaxes, we carved and cleared the path. The sun rose over the hill and we continued in the heat, shedding as much clothing as possible as we continued at work. The winding hillside path eventually led us to an olive grove that was heavily terraced up the hill, saved from the landslides but where more help was needed to clear the charred remains of burned dead trees. I dragged the long charred branches down one tier at a time, coming to regret my choice of bringing a white t-shirt as I was stabbed over and over again by blackened branches as I pulled them from the pile. The middle of the day neared and it was eventually time to call an end of our labour and the presentation of the treat that we were all starting to look forward to. Homemade quiches and wine were laid down on the picnic rug under the shade of the olive trees.¬¬ We gladly tucked in to the meal and admired the view of the narrow valley below us and the little town of Vernazza that was nestled faithfully within it’s grasp.

The Vernazza clean up team.

Vernazza from above.

The narrow paths in Vernazza.

We made our way back to the town along our much more navigable path and through the narrow back alleys characteristic of these towns (back alleys so there would always be two ways to get in and out of the house in the case of a landslide). There was a silver lining to the landslide which in effect created a new beach for the town. In contrast to the other beaches, this pebble beach was only accessible through a little natural tunnel. After gelato where our guide worked now, we came back for a swim which was a little cut short when there were screams from other tourists when a group of stingers washed into the area. We were all on the lookout for those little sea nettles but had had enough of the water and were looking to explore some more.

The recently opened beach.

Cinque Terre is famous for the walks which you can take between the towns. We got on to the track from Vernazza to Corniglia and despite the ever present stairs, we were still cool enough from the beach and continued to be amazed by the views from that height. We came to Corniglia and headed straight to the beach, only just making it before our legs started to give up on the stairs. The water was a blessing once more and also the reaper for my new cheap watch which I had bought not more than 2 hours prior in Vernazza (I’m not really used to non-water proof watches yet…).  It wasn’t really that big an issue to resign to the place without a concept of time once more. That being said, the time did end up catching up to us as we realized that the trains were only running disparately that Sunday and we had to rush over the hill to get the one we wanted. Of course there is always enough time for more gelato so we slurped at our cones on the way down the hundreds of steps to the station. Dinner with beautiful pasta and pesto and there was just so much joy and contentedness around the table after a day well spent.

Vernazza pano.

Starting the walk up from Vernazza toward Corniglia.

The first sight of Corniglia, perched on a ridge.

Stairs down from the town to the beach.

Hiking buddies taking a break by the sea.

Up in the morning for the bus and it felt as though two days was just not enough. I left Cinque Terre feeling it was certainly a place to go back to, a place to spend some real holiday time one day.

Riviera scale.

The bus shot across the coast, through the French Riviera and past countless, really built up, tourist accommodation rich towns. This was the road over the French boarder and into Nice and an increasing vision of affluence. On the way we passed the second smallest city state, Monaco. With my hostel booking made on the bus, I headed up to the Villa St Exupery Gardens hostel for 3 nights. Being a good 40 minutes’ walk out of the town centre and only really accessible via tram, night life options were limited so I ended up making some new friends over sangria. The bar sold 6 EUR bottles of wine so when we ran out of our own wine and then the soft drink mixers, the pot mix brew got stronger and stronger. There was a lot of clothes swapping before everyone ended up stumbling to bed, be it in someone else’s clothes or not.

Lazy Nice street artists.

Sangria times.

The next morning, we followed a man who wielded a baguette as his tour guide beacon and enjoyed confronting awkward locals as he included them in his stage re-enactments of various historical events around the town. We checked out the expansive Italian quarter, heard about the people who resided in Nice including Matisse and Chagall and some of the differences between the Nicoise and the rest of the French due to its historical swapping from French to Italian and back again. With its Italian influence came gelato and while not of the best quality, one place compensated by boasting the biggest selection of flavours in the world where I sampled the rhubarb and lavender flavours. We finished with a picnic lunch on the hill beside the port, a brilliant place to see a panorama of the city on both sides. Despite Nice being boasted as a beach side haven with many people in the morning tour flocking to the coast after, having just come from the impeccable water of Cinque Terre, I didn’t feel the need. I roamed with a new group and we finished with dinner in the Italian quarter with a mix of Nicoise and Italian cuisine to the booms of fireworks over the Francophone festival in the main square not that far off.

Spices in the Saturday markets.

View from the waterfall.

Nice is a pretty big city.

Liquor by the millilitre.

French patisseries.

Quirky ice cream.

I felt like a slow day so after sorting out some laundry, I got on to planning a little day trip to Monaco by myself. I was on the public bus just after lunch and was at the Monaco harbour in an hour and a half. The amount of wealth that was captured in those mega yachts was staggering. Porches and Ferraris lined many of the roads, with the whole place just screaming wealth to the point of gaudiness. It was a place that was more about wealth for the sake of vanity and superficiality than for enjoyment.

I walked endlessly, around the port, up to the oceanarium, the cathedral and then over to the Monte Carlo where I was surprised to get in despite my thongs, shorts and t-shirt. It was immaculately finished with fantastical chandeliers and gilded plaster over the ceilings. While the card room was stylish it was sad to be reminded that it was very much just a casino when going in to the next room, full of flashing pokie machines.

Play boats.

The Monaco port.

My last stop in France for this leg would be in Avignon on the way to Barcelona. While it was only a lunch stop, I could tell from the history I hadn’t known of before that this would probably be somewhere I could come back to another day. Like Pisa, as it was the papal seat of power for some time, the structures built there were pretty impressive.

Avignon charm.

As I said goodbye to the south of France and the Mediterranean coast of Italy, I couldn’t help but appreciate the tremendous amount of culture captured by this area and its effortless mix of environmental beauty and historical intrigue. The introduction of the Medici family and the various motions of the rule of the Holy Roman Empire through the area gave me a stronger understanding of the significance of the areas and while I could probably do without more time in Nice, I would definitely be hoping to visit the coasts of Italy sometime in the future.


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