Wow, we are here in Mykanos and it's startlingly beautiful. What is more we went for a run this morning - long overdue I might add, but we have had plenty of exercise honest!!
We visited the cathedral in San Gimignano before we left and every wall was completely covered in frescoes including the scene of 'the seven deadly sins'. It was fabulous with a story for every frescoe. On Sat 7th we headed off towards Vernazza stopping for a short break in Pisa on the way to ogle at the leaning tower, the baptistry and huge cathedral before going on to the Cinque Terra, where we spent three nights, parking a long way up a narrow winding road, with a bus ride to and from the town included in the exorbitant parking fee! We were led up another steep narrow track of steps to our apartments (aka rooms with bathrooms - our shower being outside but covered in plastic), not exactly conducive to a good night's sleep. However, Vernazza was beautiful. Each morning we breakfasted on a pastry and good coffee at the local bar.
Vernazza is one of the five towns of the Cinque Terra and in my opinion the pick of them. It's a delightful fishing village where we enjoyed gorgeous swimming in the little beach in the salty but clear water winding in and out the rocks. We enjoyed lovely meals at different places each night and explored the cute little beachside shops. We also purchased a two-day ticket to walk the Cinque Terra.
On the Sunday we walked the first three stages starting at the easiest end and covering four villages on our first day, taking our time by visiting each village - Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia and our own village of Vernazza. Each stage became progressively more difficult but all were manageable with stunning views. There were lots of people going in both directions along the winding narrow paths, many steep steps and goat tracks.
On the Monday we walked the most difficult of the walks from Vernazza to Monterosso - the largest town. This was just a craggy goat track in parts, very steep and narrow with many many steps at the start and towards the end. It was a real sense of achievement to finish all the walks without difficulty. Two years ago when Mr B and I went to the Cinque Terra we could only walk the easiest walk as, due to inclement weather, parts of the walk was closed as there were falling rocks. This year the weather was perfect and it was all open. On our last stage we came across a cat shelter built in the hills where little bowls of food had been put out for the wild cats.
On our last night we visited a recommended restaurant - Cafe Sandro (took a photo for you Sandra) which was opposite our apartments and the food was yummy. After the meal Mr B and I listened to a visiting school band playing by the waterfront. They were great but the most entertaining part was watching the reaction of the locals and the little children starting from about two holding on to each others waists forming a long line and weaving in and out of the crowds having a wonderful time. It fascinates us the hours that children stay up in all parts of Italy. We often see them up and about well after 11pm.
Tuesday 10 July we went to collect our cars from the carpark only to find that somebody (I won't mention names of course) had left our headlights on for three days and our battery was flat. A group of helpful South Africans tried to assist us but our Mercedes being an automatic was impossible to crash start. We also discovered the battery was in the boot and this was interesting in itself as the boot opened by battery. However eventually we found a secret key hidden in the automatic opening lock and with the help of the bus driver we eventually managed to start the car with jumper leads. Phew - another little drama overcome!!
From Vernazza we drove to our bed and breakfast homes in Lucca - one of Mr B and my favourite spots from our visit there two years ago. It's a delightful medieval town set inside walls. Our intention was to run round those walls which we have done previously but both Mr B and CJ caught some sort of bug and were decidedly off-colour for our second day in Lucca and I had a slight touch of the bug so we gave running there a miss.
Mr B and I had explored Lucca fairly thoroughly a couple of years ago but it was good to walk through the familiar little streets. We were disappointed to discover that the sales had not yet begun in those classy little shops but perhaps it was just as well considering our weight restrictions in our suitcases!
On our first evening we were lucky to purchase some of the last tickets for a live performance of Elton John. He sang and played non-stop for 2 1/2 hours. For a short fat bloke with a bad haircut who's past his prime he can sure sing well. It was a fantastic performance and the atmosphere and location were fabulous.
On Wednesday we all had a drink in the bar where Puccini (composer of Mme Butterfly) used to play the piano - very classy bar with wood panelling and we were given plates of shortbread biscuits free with our coffee. We ate our final evening meal at Trattoria da Leo where it states that 'it is not difficult to eat well'! How true indeed! The food was exquisite and a very apt finale for our final meal for just the four of us.
Later we walked through the village where we found ourselves in the middle of a medieval pageant - absolutely amazing outfits and performances of flag throwing, bands etc all dressed in medieval costumes.
And so on Thursday we drove to Civitavecchia where we finally met The Black Knight and his lady along with one of the members of his army and his lady. He booked us into lovely hotels near the port and guided us to Tarquinia where we visited the most amazing Etruscan Tombs. They were really well-preserved. We also saw lots of artefacts that had been buried with the bodies.
In the evening we enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of our Italian companions and CJ and I were presented with black t-shirts - photos will be blogged in due course - but we are now Aussie followers of the Black Army - so exciting. We will wear them with pride and promise never ever to "piss off the Black Knight"! We were taken to a lovely restaurant in the hills with a fantastic banquet selection of Italian delights - a superb meal and just so much food including delightful sorbets to complete the meal - bellissimo. It was so lovely to be part of true Italian families and enjoy such superb hospitality. Grazie Stefano. One day you all must visit the many Aussie friends here who also want to meet you.
Friday morning was an early start as we had to check out of our hotel and drive to the Rome Airport to check in two hours before our flight at 9am. Mind you although we were on the plane ready to go we all had to sit there for 1 1/2 hours as the flight was delayed. It was a long stuffy wait as the air conditioning was not on and we were hungry and thirsty by the time we were given a small cake and cold drink 2 hours after the plane took off. We arrived in Athens, checked in to a nice hotel, where we will spend one more night on our return from the islands.
We were not very impressed with Athens - a bit grubby looking and absolutely everybody smokes in Greece inside and outside of restaurants and shops. I guess we're just not used to this. In Italy lots of people smoke too but not inside as a rule. Mind you, there are some interesting looking shops.......!!
Another extremely early start on Sat when we were collected from our hotel by taxi (bright yellow cabs here) just after 6am and taken to the ferry where we spent a very long six hours sailing across to Mykonos with a couple of short stops at other islands on the way.
Mykonos is absolutely beautiful - blue, blue water and blue, blue sky and white, white buildings. The ground is quite barren - no grass, but the astounding views overcome this. We are in a cute hotel with blue doors and earthy tiles - fresh and clean. The weather has been extremely windy but hot and sunny. Yesterday, Sunday, we went by bus to Paradiso Beach where we had a couple of swims in cold, clear water. It was indeed like Paradise - just fabulous. We did become a little sunburnt but gee it was so lovely there. Later we explored our local island and we have so far enjoyed delightful evening meals in Mykonos at different waterfront spots. Our hosts are always very friendly and we are always given a taste of something unique after the meal 'gratis'. On our first evening it was a little icecream on a stick and last night it was a yummy liqueur something like a brandy with honey but lighter - very delicious. Must try the cocktails and the ouzo tonight! The wine here is very pleasant too.
This morning, Monday, we ran up and down hills to a beach about 4km away, then went for a refreshing swim for 15 mins before running back up up up to our hotel.
Total distance: 8km
Time taken: 45mins
And all this before breakfast!!
We have another sunny day here today and tomorrow we are sailing across to Delos to have a guided tour of the "ruined" city in the morning giving us a free afternoon for more swimming. Wed afternoon we have another long ferry trip to Santorini, another beautiful Greek Island. Paradise is here indeed!