When I left off last time, I was in the south of France. Well yesterday I traveled to Italy to begin my adventure here. Among the volunteers at Chateau la Merienne, it was decided to take a day trip to see Toulon, the city to which we had all taken the train. It had a beachy vibe, mixed with the urbanity of cultural pockets. This created a great place to wander, listening to many varieties of music spill out of windows and echo in the alleyways. There was a boardwalk along the port, where the locals were relaxing and gearing up to watch a rugby game. Toulon was worth visiting to see all sorts of people living a French Riviera lifestyle.
(I will add more pictures of Toulon later--I have had difficulties uploading photos recently)
On my last true day in France, I took a dip in the Mediterranean in wonderment at how warm the water was. The waves looked black with teal tips when I swam out as far as my arms and legs would carry me. I treaded water and floated in the center of the little cove for as long as possible, turning in circles, trying to memorize the mountains and beach.
It was definitely hard to leave France--its amazing how close you can become with people you live with for only a few weeks. But all the same, the boys drove me over the Italian border yesterday and I am once again on my own.
We set off early, after I had shoved all my clothes back in my bags. The plan was to get me to Ventimiglia, a town right across the border so I could catch a train the next morning at 6:30 to Rome. The drive was beautiful, though there were moments when I thought the wind might sweep us right off the road. We stopped in Monaco, excited to hit three countries in one day.
I knew Monaco was small, but at one point we were driving along the French side and I was able to see across the width of the country and to the Sea beyond. Monte Carlo was charming in a polished and pretty way. Walking around, the architecture was detailed and fancy. It reminded me somewhat of Paris, but with more mosaics and gold edges. You can practically smell the wealth of it, the yachts lined up in the harbor, each bigger than the next. We grabbed sandwiches and ate in the park near the center of town. Green everywhere, it felt like a pocket of wonderland. We realized just how posed it was when my friend sat on a rock and found it was hollow and plastic. Next we walked through a casino, simply for the experience. Green-lit and with a colorful carpet, the slot machines got more ridiculous as we walked through until we reached the 'Glitter Kitty' machine and decided to head back. With a bit more exploring all three of us decided that Monaco was fun to visit, but nothing more.
Another half an hour driving and we were in Italy. Ventimiglia exceeded all expectations. Partially old crumbled buildings and partially modern cafes and pizza places, it sat right against a gorgeous stone beach. I know it is the same sea, yet the water looked brighter and more aqua than in France. The waves crashed here, though only around knee-height. The beach had very little sand, just rocks ranging from the size of my fist to pebbles no bigger than a pea. In the distance you could see the French coastline jutting out.
Next we crossed the small waterway that split Ventimiglia in half and then climbed as high up as we could go. Here the buildings were older and falling down. The tiny streets with their cobblestones and arches displayed underwear and dresses hung to dry. Up and down, they wound and led us to a church from 1100 that was bare of paintings. However, the house came in all colors: golden, cream, salmon, pink, lavender, and gray with shutters in many more shades than that.
Headed back towards the car and grabbed my first Italian gelato on the way. Then began the chase to find my Airbnb host for the night. This was the first time I had rented a room via Airbnb. My best tip would be to make sure all details like an address and meeting time are put in place a few days prior to arrival, while you still have plenty of access to wifi. There was some miscommunication between my host and I, as I realized I didn't have her full address. After find a free wifi hotspot and a few emails, we straightened things out and I got to my room. It was comfortable, with some great paintings on the walls and a small balcony. I said ciao to my friends from France and settled in with a piece of focaccia sitting on the balcony, listening to the scooters pass by.
Now I am on a train to Roma. I stumbled to the train station while it was still dark this morning, forgetting my lunch on the mantle of my rented room. Dragged my bags up the steps, bought a much more expensive lunch, dragged my bags down some steps and boarded my train. In case any of you ever are hauling bags through metro and train stations, I have a bit of a strategy: if you can stack your bags, do so then face the stair rail and shuffle sideways up or down the steps, using one hand for leverage and the other clutching at the handles of your luggage. It may look quite silly, but with continued practice it can be an efficient skill. Currently I am facing another three hours of train with five already behind me. I must say that the TGV train I took in France was more comfortable and faster-moving than this, although my Trenitalia ticket was half the price for double the time. A frugal traveler must do what she can to conserve her funds, this means sacrificing comfort and gaining a leg cramp or two in order to spend a few unexpected nights in Rome.