Top 5 Tips on How to Be A Good Tourist in Florence

GUYS, GUYS! THE SUN IS OUT AND FLORENCE’S WEATHER MOOD SWINGS ARE OVER!! Wiggling my toes in my Rainbow flip-flops and walking around the house in my underpants complaining about mosquitoes has never felt so good.

In other awesome news, we have been hosting a pretty special visitor to our fair city these past few weeks in the form of one Mr.Tom Hanks. You might recognize him from such films as Forrest Gump or Philadelphia, but I know him as the guy who is currently causing some of the biggest pedestrian traffic jams in Florence and really pissing me off because the only place I’ve seen him so far is on everybody else’s Instagram feeds. COME ON TOM! Throw a girl a box of chocolates or two, would ya?

In T.Hank’s honor and also because it’s that time of year, the lovely group of loony tunes expats we call COSI decided to put together a video with some tips on how to be a good tourist in Florence. Unfortunately I was super late in showing up to the party as per usual, so I’m here with the 1990’s paperback version instead.

Top Tip #1: Learn how to greet people in Italian, and then actually DO IT.

Repeat after me: “Buon Giorno is for morning, Buona sera is for night. Grazie is for leaving, remember to be polite.”

Listen, these poor Italians have to deal with incredible herds of tourists swarming into their cities day after day. The least you can do is acknowledge their existence upon entering their workplace. And possibly buy something from their shop or go on a date with their 40 year old single son who still lives at home, that one’s totally up to you. It’s amazing to me how many people just blatantly ignore the greetings of shopkeepers and baristas. SAY HELLO AND SMILE! You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in your experiences with the locals.

Top Tip #2: Embrace the chaos.

I know that a lot of people who arrive in Florence are shocked when they see just how chaotic our city can be–dudes, even though it’s small it’s still a CITY. There is no way to completely avoid the noise, traffic, pollution, or dog poop that you will inevitably encounter. Just roll with it, trust me. You’ll be happier in the end. And bring some earplugs for safety’s sake.

Top Tip #3: Talk to the locals.

Resist the temptation to just stop at the first overpriced restaurant with outdoor seating that you see and ask around for some recommendations on where to go for the best food in your area of town. It might be a local farmer’s market where you can make your own picnic lunch with freshly picked olives and sliced salami or it might be a Mom and Pop shop around the corner from your hotel that bakes its bread fresh each morning, but you won’t know until you ask, will you?

Top tip #4: Spend your money.

I know, I know. This one’s a toughie–it’s in our nature to always look for ways to save and stretch our coin. But if you’re on the fence about it, my philosophy is just go for it. You can always make more money but you might never make it back to Italy, and that butter-soft leather bag you’ve been eyeing for 3 days will definitely double as a pillow for when you can’t afford to pay your rent and wind up sleeping on your parents couch.

Top tip #5: Channel your inner Aretha.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: There’s nothing more obnoxious than a visitor without it. While Florence can often feel like a Renaissance version of Disneyland, just remember there are some people who actually have to live here and we have no problem dumping buckets of water on your heads at 3AM out our bedroom windows if you’re being too loud. You’ve  been warned.

For more tips on how not to get your ass kicked while traveling in Italy, check out COSI’s Facebook page or any of my awesome blogging partners’ websites under the COSI tab on the homepage of this blog.

London, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

The past few days I’ve been happily trotting around London for a training trip with work, blissfully unaware of the chaos that reigned unchecked in my absence from Italy. Case in point—my boyfriend’s mother, who tripped and broke FIVE of her bottom front teeth, or the bizzare earthquake that rumbled through Florence accompanied by several baby aftershocks. Friends broke up with their significant others, others quit their jobs, and I returned from the hustle and bustle of England’s most cosmopolitan city finding that in just a few short days, everything had gone ass-over-elbow instead.

Before we go any deeper into what happened in Italy while I was away, let’s start off by saying this—I was more excited about visiting London in December than a fat kid in line at a Las Vegas buffet. Have you guys ever seen that “Friends” episode where every 30 seconds, Joey blurts out “IT’S LONDON, BABY!”? Yeah, that’s me.

london baby friends

Anyway, the entire morning before our flight I was like a little kid at Christmas with ants in my pants. I must have taken about 20 pictures at the airport even BEFORE we got on the plane, which thoroughly embarrassed my co-worker, but I was just SO EXCITED. It’s London, baby. And then, I got off the plane and immediately changed my mind.

Here’s the thing—I’m a small town girl. I grew up in California, but in the suburbs surrounded by lots of grass and places to ride my bicycle. And then I moved to Europe, which opened up my mind in a whole new way, but still—I live in Florence. If you’ve ever been here for more than 3 months, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a small town, where everybody knows everybody else and you float around in your security blanket because there’s a pretty good chance that even if you do end up face down in the Arno, at least one person will recognize your disgusting bloated corpse after you wash up along the dams at Ponte Vittoria.

London, on the other hand, is a whole different universe. I stepped off the train at Victoria station and into a sheer madhouse of bodies all rushing past me, elbows held out aggressively from their bodies to check the never-ending tide of people crushing in around them. Shrinking back from the waves of chaos, I stood timidly in the middle of the train station, anxiously looking around for my co-worker, who was fearlessly charging ahead through the masses of people, confident in her knowledge of the city seeing as how she had already lived there and knew the ropes. I, on the other hand, spent the next 3 days alternately bemused, shocked and thoroughly bewildered as I attempted to keep up with the mayhem.

In the few quiet moments before the sky lightened enough to feel like daytime, I meandered through the neighborhoods near our posh Kensington hotel, admiring the classic white Victorian buildings and soaking in the English charm. This was what I had been hoping for, not the panicked feeling I got every time we had to brave the hoardes of people while taking the tube.

 After a whirlwind few days of meetings, parties and pubs, I was more than ready to be back on a plane heading to Florence.  Although I had enjoyed my brief glimpse of the city, the sparse daylight hours and stressful atmosphere of London’s city streets had worn me out.  And then, of course, I just had to go through security at London Gatwick and fall into the 21st century a.k.a shopping Wonderland, where not even the joys of getting felt up by the airport security lady could compare to the glee I felt when I saw all the mini travel-sized toiletries lined up before me.

Seriously, Italy–is it too much to ask to stick in a Boots or a Waitrose’s every once in awhile?  You sure know how to break a girl’s heart.

I’m not quite sure how I’d describe my feelings towards London after my all-too-brief encounter with the city, but I do know that I’d like to go back and continue exploring it one day.  For now, though, I’m perfectly content to be sitting on my couch at home in Florence with Zola at my feet, with a BBC documentary on TV and my Cadbury’s chocolate in hand.

Malta, Malta: Revenge of the Lamb Vindaloo Part 2

(Click here to read Part 1 of Malta Malta: Revenge of the Lamb Vindaloo)

As I lay on the cool tile floor panting, I tried to call out to Francesco for help.  I was so weak from the wrath of that little Angry Vindaloo Baby that had taken up refuge in my cramped stomach that I could hardly even sit up, let alone stand I was shaking so badly.  I placed my forehead against the wall and slowly caught my breath, leaning against the toilet for support.  What the HELL was in that goddamned sauce, razor blades?! I thought to myself as my stomach slowly unclenched, having expelled the wretched demon food as far away from it as possible.  In the next room, Francesco slept on, peacefully oblivious to the fireworks show taking place just steps from his bed.

Okay, if I can just make it back to the bed, maybe I can sleep this off, I thought to myself hopefully.  Let’s give it a try.  On wobbly legs, I somehow managed to stumble back into the bedroom, looking like a drunken squirrel.  I sat down gingerly on the side of the bed and crawled underneath the covers, laying on my side and trying to lay perfectly still so that I could will myself back into a dreamless sleep.  Eyes shut tight, I began counting. Okay, let’s just count sheep until you fall asleep.  One, two, three….uh, four…..five….oh no, not again!  This time I shot out of bed like a cannonball, scaring the living crap out of Francesco as I clapped my hand over my mouth and raced to the bathroom and slammed the door.

“Jesus christ!! What’s going on? Are you dying?” I could hear Francesco calling from the other room as I sat there with my head shoved so far into the toilet, it looked like it might as well have replaced my head.

“Yes, I’m dying, kill me now please,” I moaned in misery.  My angry little Vindaloo baby had gone full-on postal, and was now punching and judo-kicking the crap out of my insides.  I heard the door to the bathroom creak open, and then Francesco entered the room, one hand pinching his nose and the other holding a glass of water.

“Here, take this.  It reeks in here.  What did you eat?” Francesco said.

“The same thing as you!! How are you not dying like me right now?” I protested.

“Well, I didn’t eat the vindaloo,” he said thoughtfully.  “It was too spicy for me.  Maybe it was bad?” He looked at me questioningly.

“Oh, YOU THINK?” I said.  “Look around, buddy.  It’s like Vietnam in here.  Save yourself while you still can.”

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Francesco asked me as he slowly backed out of the room, shielding himself with the door.

“Yeah, just go.  From what I can tell, it’s gonna be a long night,” I said wearily.

“Alright, I’m going back to bed.  Good luck in here,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said sarcastically as he shut the door behind him.

For the next 24 hours, all I did was lounge around on the couch, drinking tea and eating saltine crackers while watching SKY TV in english and catching up on all the TV shows that I normally miss out on living in Italy.  By the end of my convalescence, Francesco practically had to drag me back out of the house.  “But, but…I’m gonna miss the end of Doomsday Preppers!!” I protested as he tugged me towards the front door.”They’re making a CATAPULT in their front yard! Come onnnnn!!!”

Once I had gotten over my food poisoning & remembered that I was actually in Malta to do things other than watch crappy television and barf everywhere, I perked up and got out my big embarassing tourist map and starting looking up all the things I wanted to do while we were there.  Francesco and I hopped back in the car and slowly over the week we began to visit all of the little towns along the coast.

In no particular order, here is a list of my top things to do while on vacation in Malta:

1.  Take a day trip to Gozo Island.

While visiting the several different towns scattered throughout Malta is great, I highly recommend taking a day (or two) and hopping on the ferry over to Gozo Island.  A greener, rockier version of the big island, Gozo’s history is steeped in myth–legend has it that Gozo is actually the same Calypso’s Island that Homer wrote about in The Odyssey.  And of course it is absolutely beautiful, which means you will probably end up taking an obscene amount of pictures like I did.  We ended up visiting the main part of town, Victoria, before heading to the coast to check out the Azure Window, a natural rock frame that was created when two caves collapsed.  After taking too many pictures, we hopped back in the car and headed over to Ramla Bay, one of Gozo’s most beautiful beaches that is renowned for its red sand.

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Exploring the old Citadel and the fortress.
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Peeking out from the rocks outside the Azure Window!
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Enjoying the empty red-sand beach of Ramla Bay.

 

2.  Have lunch or drinks somewhere in St. Julian’s Bay

While Sliema, St. Julian and Paceville are all well-known for being nightlife hotspots, I’m not really into the whole “twerking in the club next to drunk Australians” thing.  Francesco and I decided to take an afternoon stroll around St. Julian’s Bay instead of indulging in the club scene–and with pretty amazing results.  If you’re in the area, I’d recommend hitting Ryan’s Pub, a typical English-style bar located just up the street from the bay underneath an Argentinian steakhouse.  Open for lunch and dinner, I gorged myself on a burger stuffed with gorgonzola and caramelized onions,while Francesco had the pork knuckle with mashed potatoes.  Set up on a terrace overlooking the bar, it was the perfect place to grab a late lunch before exploring the port.

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3.  Go for an evening stroll & a nice dinner in Mellieha.

Since the trip to Malta was part anniversary celebration, part Christmas vacation, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner one night.  All of my research pointed to Mellieha as the place to go for great food, so armed with a few restaurant recommendations from the internet, we headed off in search of a special meal.

Mellieha turned out to be absolutely gorgeous when lit up at night–before dinner, Francesco and I had drinks overlooking the bay and then explored down by the port before cramming our faces with seafood.

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Walking around the grounds of Mellieha’s Parish Church at night

 

4.  Get your history/culture fix in with a visit to Valletta, the capital city.

It’s definitely worth battling the hilly streets in and around Valletta in order to tour the capital city–there are tons of great shops, a big outdoor market right at the city gates, and tons of historic tradition.  A definite must-do is a trip to St. Paul’s Co-Cathedral–Francesco and I grabbed our audio guides for a few euro and enjoyed walking around the different chapels all dedicated to the patron saint of the 8 sections of the Knights of Malta, but the highlight of this church is definitely seeing Caravaggio’s stunning artwork The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, which takes up an entire wall of one of the smaller side rooms.

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Sunset lighting up the dome of the Carmelite Church in Valletta.

 

5.  Take a drive to Ta’ Qali Craft Village and pick up a few artisan souvenirs to take home with you.

Housed on the grounds of a former RAF wartime airfield, the Ta’Qali Crafts Village is a great place to pick up some souvenirs from Malta while also helping out the local tradespeople continue on with their traditional craftsmanship.  From glassblowing to lacemaking, they’ve pretty much got something for even the pickiest of your friends.  You can also watch the artists at work in their studios, which I thought was pretty cool!

6.  See who can pronounce the names of the cities without sounding like an idiot. 

Sidenote:  Unless you speak Maltese, this is pretty much impossible–but it does make for some pretty entertaining conversations when trying to read a map, as Francesco and I found out when we were trying to get to the Dingleberry Cliffs (Dingli).

random malta

 

 

A Day at Lago di Bilancino

This past weekend, Francesco and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful May weather and head out into the Mugello to Lago di Bilancino, a gorgeous lake set back into the countryside that’s only about 45 minutes away from Florence.  A bunch of my American girlfriends used to celebrate 4th of July here every summer, and now I can see why–with the clear water and gorgeous surrounding valleys, it’s kind of hard not to love being at the lake on a hot summer day.

Now, I’m the first person to get annoyed when someone gives me a recommendation for something that requires using personal transportation.  As an expat and foreigner, I don’t have a car in the city and most days I’m totally fine with that–less money spent on gas and parking. I always hate it whenever I see advertisements for things like sagras and really awesome festivals that aren’t easily accessible by public transport, mostly because while Italy does have a good basic urban network of trains, buses and trams, they’re about as reliable as a condom from the 99 cents store.

However, dating an Italian does have its perks, and I’m not above wheedling Francesco into borrowing his dad’s car to take a day trip from Florence to Barberino to go swimming (which is exactly how we got to Lago di Bilancino in the first place).

Getting to Lake Bilancino is easy–just find someone with a car and tell them to get on the A1 freeway north towards Bologna.  Once you see signs for Barberino, follow them and you’ll exit the highway and immediately see the lake off to your righthand side.  And also make sure to bring some good tunes for jammin’ in the car, some sunscreen and a camera!

Malta, Malta: Revenge of the Lamb Vindaloo

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Visiting the red sand beach of Ramla Bay in Gozo.

This past year for Christmas, I wasn’t able to make my yearly trip back to the States to visit family, so Francesco and I decided to take our first vacation together and go to Malta.  Yes, I know–we have been dating for over 5 years, but this was actually the first vacation we’ve ever taken together (not including visits to family).  Between our crazy work schedules and traveling and life things, it was nearly impossible for both of us to get the same amount of time off, but with some strategic begging & pleading with our respective bosses, we managed to wrangle a week away from Florence and hit the open road (or in this case, skies).

Malta is an island just south of Sicily, and categorically one of the most underrated destinations I hear people talking about when exploring the Mediterranean.  But hey, you know what they say–when Ryanair offers you 2 tickets to a fantastic paradise for less than the price of a fancy dinner at a restaurant in centro…then don’t be an idiot and buy the damn tickets.  Obviously.

We arrived at Malta’s Luqa International Airport to unseasonably (for Florentines) warm weather–somewhere in the mid 60’s (Fahrenheit), in the middle of December. Did I forget to mention that Malta enjoys about 3,000 hours of sunlight each year, nearly double the amount of their northern European counterparts?  Needless to say, the sunloving San Diegan inside me was definitely doing her happy dance as we walked off the plane and immediately shed our heavy winter coats that we’d donned en route to the Florence airport.

After picking up our rental car (and me getting used to the fact that the Maltese, like their British forefathers, drive on the opposite side of the road!) we headed off to St. Paul’s Bay, where we’d rented an apartment for the week for dirt cheap. Once we’d checked in with our gracious host and dropped our bags off, we immediately headed down to the bay to check out the surrounding area.

The view from our balcony...incredible!
The view from our balcony…incredible!

Walking up the road, we decided to hit up a local pastry shop for some pastizzi, a local specialty made from pastry puff and filled with various meats and cheeses. After wolfing down a couple of those suckers at only €1 a pop (as if I wasn’t already falling in love with the place) we hopped back in the car and decided to drive along the coast for a little while, stopping when we saw this:

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What an ugly view…

 

The clearest water I've ever seen.
Some of the bluest waters I’ve ever seen.

At this point I had already fallen in love with Malta–what’s not to like about cheap, delicious food and beautiful surroundings?  However, every vacation isn’t complete without a little drama here or there, and I was about to encounter my worst nightmare in the form of a little-known demon known as the Lamb Vindaloo.

Now, one of the greatest things about visiting Malta for an American expat is the fact that Malta is a former British colony.  Translation=English food.  And lots of it.  The entire week we were there, Francesco and I pigged out on all the stuff we can’t get back in Italy–pub food, fish and chips, indian food, Cadbury’s, cheddar cheese, etc.

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Our suitcase aka Fatty Fat Kids.

On our first little exploration around town, I had excitedly pointed out a large restaurant with big black columns in front, and a decadent golden fountain in the window.  “Look, babe, it’s an Indian food restaurant!! We HAVE to go!”  After living in Florence for nearly 5 years, I get all kinds of excited whenever I see ethnic food because I pretty much exist on the 3P diet when I’m in Florence (Pizza, Pasta and Panini).  Luckily, F was born and raised in England so he is all about the Indian food and immediately agreed with me when I stopped to make us a reservation for later that night.

Our dinner that night was decadent–we ordered samosa after samosa, exotic dishes piling up on our table like offerings to the gods.  The climax of the meal came in the form of a steaming hot plate of Lamb Vindaloo, a dish so blood-red and spicy that I could barely choke it down, no matter how much I insisted to the waiter that “I love spicy food! No really, it’s great!” (Side note: my tongue was completely numb after the second bite.)  After consuming enough food to feed an African village, I sleepily toddled to my bed that night, cuddling my food baby as Francesco got ready for bed.

At about midnight, I woke up after a fitful few hours in bed.  Now I generally don’t sleep very well when I’m on vacation, mostly because I’m sleeping in a new place and it takes me a while to get used to the different sounds and feelings of a place, but this time was different.  It felt like a stone was sitting in the pit of my stomach, a tiny little angry Vindaloo baby who was about to make my night hell on earth.

Getting up from the bed quietly so as not to wake Francesco, I walked out into the living room to get a glass of water.  Sipping it slowly, I sat on the couch for a bit, hoping that if I could just fall back asleep again I’d feel better in the morning.  However, Vindaloo Baby had other plans, and before I could take another sip of water from my glass, I sprinted over to the bathroom and barely made it to the toilet before Vindaloo Baby unleashed the wrath of Montezuma’s Revenge all over that bathroom, and I puked up an entire 4 course Indian dinner in spectacular red and orange splashes all over the floor.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Malta:  Revenge of the Lamb Vindaloo.

 

Visiting the Cinque Terre: What to Know Before You Go

A few weeks ago, I took a group of students to the Cinque Terre for a day of sunnin’ and funnin’ along the Italian Riviera.  I was shocked at how little these kids seemed to know about the area, other than the fact that it was “pretty famous or something” (as I heard one student so eloquently state), so I figured if these little bastards were this uneducated, somebody needed to set the record straight.  While I’ve been to the Cinque Terre numerous times, I still find something new to discover each time I’m there–if you haven’t been before, then get your little booty on the next train to La Spezia….now.

Here’s what to know before you go:

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1.   The Cinque Terre is a region, not the name of a town. 

I cannot stress this point enough—if I have to hear one more group of twenty year old American girls blabbing on and on about how they just can’t figure out how to get to the town of “Sinkway Terray” because it doesn’t show up on the Trenitalia website, I’m gonna throw myself off the Duomo.  The Cinque Terre, or “Five Lands” as it translates into Italian, is a region consisting of 5 tiny towns perched along the Ligurian coastline (actually, the Cinque Terre includes tons of smaller little hamlets and villages, but most people just tend to visit the 5 famous towns and skip the podunk countryside).  So in order to avoid being mocked mercilessly by Italians and expats alike, please—for your own sake—remember that you are in fact referring to multiple places when you talk about Cinque Terre.

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Inside the big stone Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia in Vernazza

2.  There are 5 major towns in the Cinque Terre—Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza & Monterosso.

Obviously no one gives a crap about the tiny little towns that surround the area but the people actually living there, so if you’re going to Cinque Terre you’re probably gonna want to visit these 5 places first.  Here’s a little blurb about what to expect in each town:

Riomaggiore–This is the first town you hit when you’re on the train heading into the area.  It’s tiny, but then again so are all the other towns.  To be honest, there’s not a whole lot to see/do in this town, but it’s got a cute little harbor where you can sit and have a glass of white wine or snack on some foccaccia while you plan your attack on the other 4 cities.  This is where the famous Via dell’Amore, or Lover’s Lane, begins as the Sentiero Azzurro path connecting Riomaggiore to the next town of Manarola, but like I said before, it’s currently closed.

Manarola–The second (and also second smallest) town on your train stop (coming from La Spezia) will be Manarola.  Surrounded by vines, it produces the most grapes in the whole of the Cinque Terre and is home to the famous  Sciacchetrà, a sweet dessert wine.  The footpaths to and from this town (population 739) cut through the vineyards and allow for some nice views of the coastline and neighbouring town.

Corniglia–The third town on your way through the Cinque Terre, Corniglia is a bitch to get to (we’re talking 365 stairs to climb from the train station to get to the main part of the town) but once you’re there, it’s lovely.  It’s the only town not directly next to the sea, but is surrounded by the jagged vineyards and latticed gardens so common in this area.  Plus, it’s the best town to catch a 360° view of all 5 towns along the coast.

Vernazza–The fourth and most famous town of them all, Vernazza is a bit of a show-off.  It’s also the town that is most frequently photographed, and for good reason–it’s freaking beautiful.  Getting off the train, follow the road that slopes gently down towards the harbor.  Here, you’ll find the central heart of the city, where fishermen clean their wooden boats in the shadow of the Church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia just off the main Piazza Marconi, while children run barefoot along the stone promonotory, skipping rocks along the water and collecting sea glass.

Monterosso–The fifth and biggest town in the Cinque Terre, Monterosso is the most resort-like of the five villages.  Here you will find a long stretch of sandy beach and an established promenade with shops, cafes and restaurants all scattered along the waterfront.  Don’t forget to check out the gorgeous Old Town center while you’re there–Monterosso is actually split into two, with one side of the city dubbed the “New Town” and the other side just before you hit the tunnel that connects the two halves together.

 

3.  Buying a Cinque Terre card is not always the most practical thing to do while you’re visiting.  Read the fine print carefully before you commit to buying the card.

The Cinque Terre card is a pass that allows you:

a) unlimited access to the trains that run between the 5 towns (including from La Spezia to Levanto, the two towns that sit at either end of the string of 5 coastal towns)

b) entry to the National Park of the Cinque Terre, which is where you will find all of the hiking trails that connect the towns.

As of April 2014, the Cinque Terre card will cost you €12 for a day-long pass (although it claims to be a 24 hour pass, the one-day Cinque Terre card will in fact expire at midnight on the day you’ve validated it).  Now this may be worth it if you’re planning on hiking all day long and riding multiple trains, but as the most famous Trail #2 (connecting all 5 towns along the coast) is currently closed, you might just skip buying the card and instead just purchase individual train tickets (around €2  each) for your passage between the towns.

 

4.   The most popular hiking path, the Sentiero Azzurro or Trail #2, is currently closed (unless you don’t mind viewing these closures as “suggestions” rather than fact, as most Italians tend to do).

I was totally bummed the last time that I went to Cinque Terre, only to be told that the most popular hiking path had been closed for ongoing “renovation” work.  While the Cinque Terre has been hit with its fair share of landslides that destroy the surrounding areas, I decided to be a little bit furba and hike from Vernazza to Monterosso along Trail #2 anyways.  Although there was a sign stating the path was closed, there were no barriers preventing you from accessing the path, and many people were already on the trail so I figured what the hell, why not see how far along I can go before someone yells at me for clearly violating the sign.  To my surprise, not only was there no one manning the little wooden huts that connect the trails (this is normally where you get your Cinque Terre card stamped upon entering the National Park) but I managed to make it all the way to Monterosso without fainting or falling off a cliff.  Score for me.


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Walking alongside a natural spring
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Starting up the path to Monterosso…RULE BREAKERS!!!
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The end of the hiking path leading into Monterosso’s Old Town

5.  If you don’t try the pesto, white wine (local only) and foccaccia while you’re there, then don’t bother going at all.

This seems pretty self-explanatory.  Also, the sea food is obviously also bangin’, so make sure you eat some of that too.

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NOMS in my face.

 

 

 

 

Viareggio Carnevale: Confetti in My Underpants

It’s almost the end of February, which in Italy means PARTY TIME and CARNEVALE!! While most people tend to go the traditional route and pay a visit to Venice for their infamous masked Carnevale celebrations, I decided to be a rebel and head to Viareggio, a small beachfront town in Tuscany, to see what kind of festa these fisherman folk could put on. That, and also I was kind of obligated to bring like 75 students for my new job. Which really isn’t that much different from my old job, come to think of it.

Anyway, we reached the beachfront right on time at 3pm for the start of the parade of floats. There are a ton of different groups that enter, but the ones worth waiting for are categorized into the 1st category, also known as the MEGA ENORMOUS FUCKING RIDICULOUS FLOATS. Yes, that is the official name.  Google it.

Of course, as soon as we reach the point of the day where I can stop worrying about everything going smoothly and start having fun, the shit started to hit the fan in the form of drunk college students losing their entry tickets.  After a minor detour into my role as the Fun Police (aka phoning my boss to report these idiots and making them all buy new tickets to get in), I finally managed to herd all of the kiddies into the parade grounds and head inside with my co-worker to check out the floats.

Enter the Twilight Zone. No, seriously. If you’ve never heard of Viareggio Carnevale, I strongly urge you to book the next train out to see it. I mean, what could be better than hundreds of Italians all dressed like lunatics on acid?

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Italian dalmatian baby watches giant John Lennon head bobbing down the street. Yeah, cause that’s normal on a Sunday.

The best thing about carnivale at Viareggio is that you can literally get all up in the parade’s business.  In the States, you’d have about 50 police officers decked out in riot gear holding down the front lines, but in Italy it’s more like, “Nah, whatever. Let’s all throw confetti at eachother and get hammered.”  So obviously I had to walk in the middle of the street during the parade to get my groove on with the dancers, which I highly recommend doing while you’re there.

voodoo float
What’s up, voodoo man.
Get down on that peace pipe, bro.
Get down with that peace pipe, bro.
Bubble man, bubble man....does whatever a Bubbleman does.
Bubble man, bubble man….does whatever a Bubbleman does.
Giant robot spider. Because....Italy.
Giant robot spider. Because….Italy.
it's...the CLAW!
it’s…the CLAW!

Because it was a) a Sunday and b) the first day in months where it wasn’t pissing down rain, everyone and their mother’s mother was out in town. After about 7 gigantic floats went by, we’d pretty much decided that it was time to head to the beach and put our feet in the sand.  And that’s when we ran into the problem of crossing the road when there were 50 foot high paper-mache’ demons crawling down the street and insane costumed dancers everywhere pulling people into the streets.

After a quick game of Italian frogger, we managed to get to the other side of the street and suddenly found ourselves in Hooliganville.  Seriously, if every angry Italian teenager within a 100 mile radius wasn’t posted up near the boarded-up beach shacks smoking blunts and drinking a Heineken, then I’m pretty sure there were at least 10 of them. Who knows, it was all a blur of silly string and confetti in my face.

As far as recommendations go, I’d say this: if you’re going to Viareggio for Carnevale, leave your babies and your dogs at home.  At times I thought the music from the floats was going to blow out my eardrums it was so loud.  I can only imagine what this poor fluffy guy was thinking…but it’s probably along the lines of “Get me the hell out of here.  It’s loud as shit and smells like baby poop and dirty paper.  Oooh, poop….”

puppy viareggio
Run, puppy, run away!

After plopping my butt down on the sand and watching my co-worker and his friends frolick around in the freezing cold water for a bit, I decided to call it a day and head back to Firenze.  One wrong turn, an overcrowded train platform and an hour of picking pieces of confetti in my hair, & I finally made it back to Zola and the comfort of my dirty blue couch in Florence.

Don't ask me where I found these pieces of confetti.
Don’t ask me where I found these pieces of confetti.