Thursday September 7, 2017

Imagine finding yourself in a stunning, atmospheric old town … on a spectacular stretch of the Mediterranean Coast … in a beautiful bay ringed by boutique hotels and stately orange/red/yellow villas and boat-crowded marinas and beaches smothered in wall-to-wall umbrellas. Imagine lying in the sun beside a gorgeous pool after a lazy swim in the tepid water … recalling the yummy lunch you just ate in the shady courtyard of a tiny restaurant along the road … and dreaming of endless gourmet possibilities for dinner tonight. And imagine telling yourself to stop all this nonsense … take your slothful self indoors … and start writing the travel-blog that should’ve been started three days ago.

It takes a very strong man to tear himself away from such idyllic loveliness and, instead, go sit at a desk and type words into a small laptop. And, until half an hour ago, that man was not me. Which is why this blog-entry is so embarrassingly late.

But I am what I am. And it is what it is. And at least, at last, I’m DOING it! So allow me, patient reader, to bring you up to speed …

Our Mad Midlife group left Godzone last Saturday in search of adventure. (Actually, that’s not quite true – some had left days earlier and were already in Europe, waiting for the group to catch up.) We spent Sunday enjoying Singapore, before taking to the air for another 12 hours of long-haul torture. And we finally touched-down in Europe (a little worse-for-wear) on Monday morning.

Milan is Italy’s second biggest city. But, frankly, we didn’t care. With the help of Elisabetta (our delightful Italian guide), we loaded bodies and bags into a coach, and hit the highway for an hour or three, stopping enroute for a stroll around the magical town of Parma (famous for its locally-produced Parmesan cheese, Parma ham & salami, focaccia bread and wine) … followed by a delissimo country-style lunch (of Parmesan cheese, Parma ham & salami, focaccia bread and wine) at a locally-produced country-style farm: namely, La Fattoria del Boschetto.

A further two hours away, on the Mediterranean shore, lay Santa Margherita – a charming, palm-lined harbour town that has long been a fashionable resort for the rich and famous. And, given that all 25 of us are rich and famous, it was inevitable that we should end up here – not just for one night, but for four! And not just in any old b&b, but in one of the region’s most luxurious beachfront establishments: the Grand Hotel Miramare!

You really oughta see it!

The Italian Riviera is one of Italy’s hottest holiday hot-spots – nestled between the Ligurian Sea and the Maritime Alps, and famous for its over-the-top glamour, its natural beauty, its laid-back charm. And, on Tuesday, after a slap-up outdoor breakfast on the hotel terrace, we drove around the coast to another Italian treasure: a World Heritage Site known to the world as the Cinque Terre (literally ‘five lands’).

Strung along 18km of serrated cliffs are five higgledy-piggledy villages – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore – dating from the Middle Ages and set amongst eye-popping seascapes. Cars and motorbikes are banned from these steep, crooked streets – instead, the villages are connected by train, which we rode on Tuesday, speeding through countless tunnels, rumbling past terraced olive-groves and stone-walled vineyards.

All of the towns slope down to sea-level – except for Corniglia, which is perched on teetering cliffs. And they all possess an olde-worlde charm, their narrow lanes lined with multi-hued old houses stacked haphazardly on top of each other.

But wait! There’s more …

Further around another coastal corner in the opposite direction is the picture-perfect town of Portofino … crammed with brightly-coloured houses, cafés, shops, and super-yachts, and nestled snugly in a crescent-shaped bay where the cliffs of the Appenines plunge to the sea.

Despite the rain which threatened yesterday, some eager Kiwis covered the distance by boat, while others walked. And all were very glad they did, because Portofino, no matter how you get there, is a sight-for-sore-eyes!

Look: if you haven’t already done so, you must add the Italian Riviera to your ‘bucket-list’. And, when you finally get here, you must take your time. Listen to the bell-towers chiming … watch the old men with their colourful little fishing boats … check out an ornate cathedral or a ruined castle … join sunbathers on a pebbly beach, or spread your towel on a lumpy bit of rock … choose from the endless array of cafés, bars and restaurants … suck on fresh strawberries and cherries … tempt your tastebuds with cheeses, olives, pizzas and the like … then sit yourself down on an ancient seawall and lick an icy-cool gelato.

COMING UP: Tomorrow morning we’re off to arty-farty Florence, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and other jewels that lie waiting for us “under the Tuscan sun”. So stay tuned …

PEOPLE-NEWS: Our internationally renowned Quacky Yellow Ducks are already finding new homes as people get caught doing silly, embarrassing or hilarious things …

  • STEVE was first up, winning our ‘Medical Emergency’ Award before we’d even left Auckland! Upon arriving at the Airport, poor Steve discovered he’d forgotten his pills – so promptly caught himself a taxi and raced home to get them, rendezvousing back at the Airport in time for a quick coffee before boarding.
  • SUZANNE was next, claiming our ‘Coffee-Grinder’ Award here in Santa Margherita. Our posh hotel rooms all have ensuites, and those ensuites all have bidets. And, in an attempt to try hers out, Suzanne pushed the nearest button – and was rewarded with a noise that sounded for all the world like a coffee-grinder. She was momentarily excited, thinking she could perhaps multi-task here, and enjoy a latte while having a wash. Alas, the button turned out to belong not to a coffee-grinder but to the shutter which adorned the nearby window. A disappointment? Yes, but she’s getting over it.
  • HELEN earned herself the ‘Knickerless’ Award … after doing her laundry the other day. She’d hung her smalls outside on the balcony to dry. But, sometime later, those smalls had mysteriously disappeared. Turns out Helen’s lingerie had taken flight and ended up on the balcony of the camper below … and it took some not-so-small effort on the part of her husband plus a willing maid to retrieve the runaways.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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