We both begrudgingly and excitedly left Nice for Italy. Ten minutes into the drive, we were there! It’s a funny thing that two countries, exactly right next to each other, with similar roots, can be so different–and so different so fast. Already, the highways were different. Instead of winding along the coastway, causing even the most un-motion sick person to feel a bit queasy, the highway heading to Genova went straight, straight over a very tall bridge, right into a tunnel in the mountain, then straight onto bridge and back into tunnel.
This stretched on for many kilometers (miles for you southern Americans). We couldn’t get enough pictures in, each turn brought a new picturesque scene. A few hours later, we reached our first destination of Genova. The cities, although built similarly to Frances’ south, were distinctly different. Italy seemed more….compact? Considering 60.52 million Italians live in an area that takes about 10 hours to cross by car, I think this is a fair assessment.
For a fun comparison, Canada boasts 30 million in an area that takes about 60 hours to cross by car. You could drive from Naples to Milan in the 8 hours it would take to fly from Gaspé, QC to Vancouver, BC. So…that’s fun. So 30 minutes into our drive, we stopped again in Ventimiglia, where we had to immediately try out an Italian treat. Our taste buds exploded, we had not had that much sugar in months!
Genova was what I expected Paris to be like and wasn’t. The huge, old city was built high and close. So close that some “streets”? “walkways”?–I’m not sure what to call them really–barely allowed for two people to pass side by side. We loved it. It was like being in a huge labyrinth. When we thought we were going south, we weren’t. When we were told to go to the corner and take a left, what they meant was, go to the corner and see if there is a street that veers more left than the other five. Towards dusk, we were desperately trying to find the barber we found online so that Hakim could get a real Italian haircut. Unfortunately we got turned around in our labyrinth and ran across multiple women of the night. And possibly their….bosses? Promptly, Hakim googled some magic words and we found out that prostitution is legal in Italy. We came to a crossroad and we chose to the left. I knew we had chosen well because three armed policemen, who were in the middle of some confrontation, eyed us, started towards us, hesitated, waiting for our choice, then backed away after we chose. I have a feeling he would have turned us around had we chosen right. For this instance, I was happy to be recognizable as a tourist.
The famous Cinque Terra–Five Lands
Leaving Genova, our overnight destination was a city outside of Florence. This was to be a stopover before hitting Rome. But like explained before, it doesn’t take that long, so we got to have two sites in one day. The first site was the famed Cinque Terra. It is named this because there are actually five cities on the coast, each unique but beautiful. Although we would not have missed it, after spending so much time in the south of France, we didn’t notice much that was more unique about this city than another city on the coast. I think the most unique thing was that because the streets are so small, cars are not allowed in the cities themselves. So you can choose a boat ride across or you can park off the highway and walk into the city. This made it very fun in that the streets were filled with crowds of people, which made it a perpetual street fair. We bought our gelato–which was the same price we would have bought our croissant in France–and made our way back to the van.
Our next stop was Pisa. We went into this site totally unprepared and having no expectations, because we only knew what we had seen in cartoons. This was one of my most favourite sites. The whole site where the tower is built, is more than just a tower. It is part of a whole Cathedral and green space. The color alone is stunning. I had always seen it dark, but it and all the buildings around it are white and very beautiful. And I sort of expected a slight tilt, but no, that thing is leaning! No straight edge and squinting needed. It was more of a hotspot than I expected and it was the selfie-Instagram spot of the day, everyone, including us, trying desperately to make some optical illusional picture with the tower. We found our better priced gelato and hit the road to our overnight AirBnB.