“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”
Someone once told me that there are two types of people in this world, “Italians, and those who wish they were Italian”, and Jeff and I both, without a shred of doubt, fall into the second category. That being said, our first four hours in Italy’s capital, Rome, were slightly nightmarish. We landed at 8:00 pm, just as the sun was setting over the city and all the shops were closing. We had booked yet another hotel out of the city centre to save on cost, much to our eventual regret, and had already mapped out our route to get there. Train, bus, train, bus, train and by about midnight we had finally arrived at La Celsa station, which is really just a stop, on the tracks, in the middle of #&%$ing nowhere. Our hotel website claimed that it was, “just steps from the station”, but at first glance it was no where to be found…in fact there was nothing to be found other than graffiti and rats. Exhausted, starving and slightly scared, I began to take my frustrations out on Jeff and of course he calmly and patiently let me do so. By the time I was done my tantrum my sensible soulmate had composedly figured out where to go, took me by the hand and lead me straight to Hotel Falminius, which as it turns out was in fact just around the corner.
Our first day in Rome we wandered, as we always do, map in hand but schedule-free. First stop, the Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps, which were covered, top to bottom, with tourists because of their iconic status. Second stop, the Pantheon, a circular building with a large frontal portico, which is one of the most intact buildings still standing from Ancient Rome. It was quite an amazing sight to see. Third stop, the Fontana di Trevi, where we threw in a euro which, legend has it, ensures your return to Rome one day. I guess it worked, as we will be in Rome for Christmas 2015! The fourth and final stop of our first day was, of course, to lounge in the sun and ogle at the masterpiece that is the Colosseum. We finished our first day in Rome searching the narrow cobblestone streets for the Gelateria Frigidarium. We met a student, on our flight to Rome, who had been studying there for the past six months. He claimed the Frigidarium’s gelato to be the very best in all of Rome. We had to taste a lot of gelato, in order to form our own opinion, but he was, in fact, correct!
We decided to devote an entire day to a guided tour of Vatican City, which was well worth it. We were very pleased with the tour, the highlight being that we were able to skip the two-hour lineup to get in. The pinnacle of the tour would had to have been Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and its infamous hand-painted ceiling, which depicts various biblical stories, and took four years to complete. As we packed, shoulder-to-shoulder like sardines, and slowly walked through the chapel, the only downfall to witnessing this epic feat was the rule preventing us from taking photographs of it. Understandably so, as many years of camera flashes would ruin the stunning fresco.
Our last day in Rome, when we were getting off the train into the city, there was a holdup in the line. We soon realized that the transit police were checking tickets and we didn’t have any! Remember my description of La Celsa station, just a stop on the tracks; no washroom, no ticket booth, no nothing. In all our days in Rome we could never figure out how to buy train tickets, so we never did. We were thrilled for our savings, right up until we were hit with a 100ECU fine from the Roman Transit Police and a stern lesson about buying train tickets from the front desk at our hotel; a lesson we will never forget!
After a few days in Rome we were ready to hit the beach, so we headed to the coast for some camping, hiking and ocean views. We stayed near the coastal town of Ostia, at Country Club Castelfusano, the highlight of which was the on-site market which sold bottles of Italian reds for 0.99€! At the time, they rented out canvas tents, that were all set up and equipped with cots, a mini fridge and electricity. It was the perfect setup for us! During our days on the coast, we spent a lot of time hiking the lush trails of the State Natural Reserve of the Roman Coast. Many trails in the reserve lead straight to the beach, which is where we would typically end up most days, soaking up the European summer sun and drinking ice cold Italian Peronis. For dinners we dined at the restaurant at the country club, which is where we learned that when you’re Italian you get pizza as an appetizer with every meal. We were dumbfounded to see half eaten pizzas being taken back to the kitchen, from Italians who were saving room for the main course. After dinner we usually followed the music to the on-site outdoor hookah bar, where we made some awesome travel friends, James, Kim and Peter, who we’re still in touch with today.
Upon leaving the coast, we headed north. An hour-long journey back into Rome, followed by a four-hour train ride to Pisa on Rail Europe, where we caught a connecting train to La Spezia, and finally a bus to Borghetto di Var, landed us there by the early evening. Our destination was essentially Cinque Terre, but once again, to save a buck, we booked outside of the five villages. We searched the narrow streets of the tiny mountain town, looking for the B&B that we had pre-booked, but soon realized that it did not exist. As the sun was setting, and the panic setting in, a sweet elderly Italian woman emerged from a small yellow house. She did not speak a lick of English but could tell we were lost and needed a place to stay. She pointed to the sign in front of her house that read, “Locanda Belsole Bed & Breakfast” and then pointed to her house number to indicate 55€ for the night. We gladly accepted the offer from our guardian angel and settled in for the evening. However, the next morning we decided we wanted to stay right in Cinque Terre. After a few hours searching online we found a beautiful apartment available in Riomaggiore, one of the five villages, and booked it immediately.
It was love at first sight…Cinque Terre was positively the most spectacular place we had ever seen. The rolling hills, daring hikes and Mediterranean beaches simply took our breath away. The cliff-side trail begins in Riomaggiore and winds through all of the five villages, each one possessing its own unique charm and characteristics. We added a lock to Via dell’Amore, climbed the 382 steps to Corniglia and went cliff diving in Monterosso. We had to drag ourselves away at the end of our four days spent exploring the quaint villages.
Our time in Italy was sadly coming to a close as we headed back south, taking the same route we took on our way north. In an effort to seize every minute of our time in Italy we decided to take advantage of our train transfer in Pisa and explore the city for a few hours before catching the train to Rome. On our way out of the train station and into the city we had our first experience of what true friendship on the road really means. Through the crowd we spotted James, Kim and Peter, just as they spotted us, and we ran to each other for a hug. It was the perfect coincidental moment that showed us that when you’re far away from home, even the newest of friends feel like family.
We learned more about each other, and ourselves, in those two weeks in Italy, than we had in all our years of friendship and love..
That first night at La Celsa Station, it became apparent to me for the first time, that Jeff and I were the perfect pair. My strengths are his weaknesses and vice versa. All my meticulous planning and organization failed us at that moment in time and as I began to break down Jeff stepped up. He was there to calm and protect me and guide me to safety. I will never forget the thought that comforted me as I lay my head to sleep that night, “I have surely found my kindred spirit.”
I could never have imagined such an amazing adventure. Literally, I could not have researched and planned and booked all of these places. It is only because of my then girlfriend, now wife, that this was made possible. Lindsay also however, could not have done this alone either. The frustration and confusion that I would see in her while trying to understand where we were and how to get to where we were going, was painful at times. This was the only time that I would feel important to the makings of any trip. She will plan it, and I will get us there. She dreams it up, and I do everything in my power to make it a reality. It’s all about the balance of the give and take, knowing when to take the lead, and knowing when to trust your partner and let go of all worries.
“You’re waiting for a train. A train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you can’t be sure. But it doesn’t matter. How could it not matter? Because you’ll be together.”