It’s actually been three and a half months since I last posted. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s amazing how it feels more like a year since Central America. Arriving home was pretty surreal at first but after a few short days I was quickly back into the swing of home life. Cornwall was on fine form – I dove straight into the early summer. In place of my usual complaints of the overwhelming “grey and green” there was a chance to appreciate the county at its best, definitely clarifying in my mind why so many view Cornwall as a holiday destination in itself.
I didn’t have too long to dwell on this however as I was swiftly scooped up on a family trip to Northern Italy via windswept Edinburgh to celebrate my sister’s medical graduation. We were staying behind a little town on the Italian Riviera called San Remo in a house that epitomised ‘Italian rustic’. By that, I mean it seemed virtually decrepit with very poor electricity, no internet, water that needed ‘switching on’ and the permanent appearance of not having been cleaned for centuries. The ‘sleeps six’ advertisement appeared to be a vast exaggeration – there was one bedroom. The rest of us had to fight it out over sofas and mattresses. What’s more the lane providing access to the house was clearly not big enough to safely drive down, with steep vertical drops off the edge. Locals, however, did not seem to find this a problem, whizzing past at impossible speeds, barely pausing to acknowledge the large family splatted against the wall to avoid the speeding vehicle. Other local specialties along the road were ludicrous amounts of dog waste, amateur graffiti, more mopeds than seem physically possible to fit into a small town and an array of ‘interesting’ smells.
Not a great first impression.
Despite my complaining, it was pretty beautiful from the outside – complete with grapevines, mulberry, plum and fig trees – yum!
However one of the main advantages of this location was its proximity to Monaco which we explored frequently, initially by the coastal route through bundles of beautiful classic terracotta-roofed towns. Monaco itself was very impressive, in a sort of flashy, glamorous and slightly pretentious way: Rolls Royce, Porsches, Bentleys, Aston Martins and Ferraris replaced your standard Fords and Toyotas. The ports were particularly outstanding in their display of obscene wealth in the form of super yachts! There was a surprisingly large amount to do without bankrupting yourself including botanical and Japanese gardens, port-side walking paths, museums, the castle etc. There’s also the beach, but like the majority of the beaches along this stretch of coast it was crammed full of people/sun loungers and with dusty rocks in lieu of sand.
Menton – just on the french side of the border.
Monte Carlo Harbour
The Cathedral, in ‘Monaco-Ville’ a raised area which drops off into cliffs on all sides on which you can also find the castle and the renowned musée oceanographique.
One of the highlights was Monte Carlo Casino which was disappointingly small but more than made up for it through it’s lavish decor. It’s also worth a minute stopping at the ‘Café de Paris’ for an overpriced drink to enjoy the display of wealth parading in the ‘place du casino’ largely in the form of flashy cars. One thing worth taking from this if you’re considering a visit: YOU NEED PASSPORT/DRIVING LICENCE TO ENTER THE CASINO. Needless to say we were not aware of this, leading to a highly frustrating first attempt.
The next stage of my journey involved separating from the family and investigating the Italian rail system – travelling down on a 9 hour journey to Umbria to meet my friends staying on the border of Tuscany. Although the internet coverage of the train system is poor, don’t be disheartened as its actually incredibly straight forward from the stations – just remember to validate your tickets with the little machines on the platforms! Umbria was as you’d expect – beautiful sprawling Italian countryside dotted with vineyards and picturesque hilltop villages.
Our day trip into Rome was at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. The absurdly high level of crowds severely diminished the otherwise spectacular sights. Combined with the heat this makes the summer a very inadvisable time to visit! The Vatican City in particular was like being herded through a cattle ranch.
I’m now frantically sorting out last minute bits and bobs for my next trip – starting with a rather intimidating journey to Yangon Myanmar TOMORROW via Delhi and Bangkok!! My mind is currently overflowing with medicine kits, antimalarials, maps, currency, confirmations, clothes etc etc- I’d better crack on.