The day trip to Cinque Terre and Portovenere was mainly just for a viewing of each place. It had been a while since I had been to either spot, so it was time to reconnect, even if just for a day. Portovenere, which means the port of Venus (in my first version I said “door” of Venus, hence the comment below, lol!!) is another lovely seaside town located not far from the Cinque Terre in Liguria. The cutest of its features in my opinion is a little church at the end of the town that is built up on the rocks jutting out to sea. It is a very popular place to get married, and in fact while we were there, one wedding was just ending and as another bride was making her way up the steps for her turn, lol!! Portovenere also has a grotto and often times the waters of the area are blessed with pods of dolphins!! Unfortunately for me, the day after we were in Portovenere, a pod of 50 dolphins was spotted!! Oh well! It was probably just as well because otherwise I would have jumped in the water to chase them, lol!! Anyway, as the trip to Portovenere was really just for a quick reconnect, not a ton happened aside from wandering around and taking pictures. So enjoy them while they’re hot! 😉
For those who personally know me, the next sentence won’t come as a surprise, but for everyone else… I am fortunate to have been born and raised (for the first 7 years or so) just outside of Florence. My dad has been living here for several years now, and since it has been 4 years since I’ve been back to Italy, why not #1 spend some time with my dad, #2 use our home in Italy as a base to explore other European countries and #3 make the eventual trip to Thailand not such a painful one from a flight perspective:)
I know, I know, I sound totally spoiled. But I can’t help where I was born, I can only recognize how fortunate I am in many ways and most importantly to be thankful for what I am able to do and to have such an international family!!
Now that that is cleared up, I am currently still in Italy writing furiously to catch up on this blog from the years past travels so that I can write about more recent adventures and ones that are still to come:) I arrived here in Italy at the end of August (2014- I know, I’m really almost caught up with blogging about my travels to present day!!!) at the Florence airport and was greeted by my dad at the airport with one of his famous “daddy” pick-ups, as we call it in my family. That is simply where he insists on parking the car so he can go into the airport and greet the new arrival from the gate, instead of waiting outside in the car for the new arrival to walk out of the airport:)
We had a lovely dinner at a pizzeria near where my dad grew up and has been going for over 40 years!! Let me just say, for the record that, in my opinion, there is no better pizza IN THE WORLD than the pizza in Italy, and more specifically the pizza in Tuscany!!! The thin crust is to die for!! Now the further South you go in Italy, the thicker the crust gets… Just a warning for those going South wondering why I’ve described the pizzas as being thin-crusted:) Oh and the ham too… I’ve never tasted better ham either (on my pizza of course!!) than in Italy!! Ok, I better stop talking about food for now… I’m making myself hungry!!
We headed to the house (about 40 Km outside of Florence) after dinner and turned in for the night. The next few months were spent catching up, hanging out, hiking in the National Park that we back onto, exploring several surrounding cities, reconnecting with Florence, a trip to the Island of Elba, going to Salzburg, Austria for a few days together (then I left to explore more of Europe on my own), entertaining some friends from Scotland, blogging (for me:)) and now we are getting ready to head out on a cruise that the family organized for my dad’s 75th birthday present!!
It’s been a busy few months for sure!! Not to mention that while I’ve been here I’ve been making sure that my dad has stayed busy making me homemade lasagna, limoncello, meat sauce, arista, crostate di more, pasta with the favorite sauce (can’t tell you the recipe it’s a family secret:)) focaccia, pasta fagioli, and on and on!! It’s a miracle I’m not obese!! Lol!! Actually, it’s not a miracle… I workout vigorously everyday to counter the calories I indulge in while here:)
Oh… I should mention I’ve cheated a teeny bit on the pictures… All are current except for the Florence pictures… They are ones from winter 2010… But in coming posts of Florence I will have pictures from this trip, I promise!! Just wanted to give you a little teaser to start;)
As my time in Glasgow was coming to an end, and since again Anna and I do enjoy a good hike, we asked Anna’s dad if we could stay a few days in his cottage in Lochgoilhead. Thankfully he said yes, and was even kind enough to let us use his truck to get there!! He and his wife also happened to be going when we were planning to go, so we got to spend one of the nights with them:)
Her dad and step-mom were already at the cottage by the time we were able to go, so we took a cab to his house, picked up the truck and headed on out. The drive there was all along normal 2-way lane roads, but just before we got to the turn-off where the road was only 1 lane (for 2 way traffic!!) with the little side pull-offs for people to pass, we stopped for a little lunch… There at the “Rest and be Thankful” landmark we had a bite to eat and I had my first taste of black pudding… Also known as blood sausage… Ick!!! Is all I have to say about that!!! I really didn’t like it at all!! Perhaps it was mainly due to me knowing what it was to begin with, I don’t know… I think it’s just one of those things you have to grow up with to actually like…!!! Anyway the “Rest and be Thankful” stop goes back from quite a long time ago! Those words are inscribed on a stone (see the pictures) placed there by soldiers who built the original military road in 1753. Apparently the original stone was destroyed and replaced by a commemorative stone instead… This point marked the turning point to get to Lochgoilhead. And after our nibble, we headed on to the village where the cottage resided.
Once we arrived and settled in for a bit, we headed off for our first hike! Again, we aren’t really the kind that prepare the way we should prepare for hikes… Honestly though we didn’t really expect the hike we ended up doing! We simply set out just behind the cottage on a trail that led to some lovely waterfalls! From there we saw some signs pointing this way and that, and thought, why not? So we headed uphill, and up and up… Eventually we came to an area that looked like it could be a good place for a ski slope in the winter! Two older people were coming down the way fully geared in proper hiking attire including ski poles, proper wind pants and hiking boots. As we passed them we stopped them and asked how long to the top? We didn’t get an exact time, but they did warn us about how wet and mucky the way up was and how windy it was at the top, and they further warned us not to go past the stile! We thanked them for their input and headed on our way, figuring that if/when it got too tough for us and our completely inept sneakers/clothing for us to continue, we would turn back!
Up and up we climbed! The slope was pretty decent, nothing really to laugh at by any means and while the land did slosh under our feet (sometimes water did sneak into the sides of my sneakers from the amount of water that pooled from some of the steps) we made it to the stile (don’t cross it!!) in good condition and basically dry.
Once at the stile there really were only two ways to go… Back down or up past the stile… Neither of us was terribly tired at this point and though the view from the stile was nice, you really couldn’t see all the way around because we were surrounded by dense forest on both sides. And since what appeared to be the top of the hill/mountain was just a little ways beyond the stile we thought, heck, why not?? So past the stile we went!
Up and up and up we climbed!! And it was during this hike that I was properly introduced to Scottish hills!!!! You see, what appears to be the top of any hill/mountain in Scotland isn’t at all the top once you actually reach it… For once you get to what you thought was the top, you realize that the top is actually just a wee bit further on… And again just a wee bit further on… And again!!! So literally we went from one “top” to another and another and another until finally what looked like would be the actual top appeared, but by that point it would probably take another hour to get to it and as it was starting to get late in the day (sun was getting lower on the horizon) we opted to give up that mountain top and do the sane and safe thing- turn back toward town! First we had to take some picts of the surroundings and later estimated that we had probably walked about 20-25 kilometers on that hike! We never could actually see on a map where the heck we went, but isn’t that part of the fun?? However, from the position that we made it to, you could see the town below, so we had at least some perspective of where we were!
We made it back to town just as the sun was setting, and after a pint in town we headed back to the cottage for a homemade meal! We watched a YES!/No Thanks debate on the tv, then headed to bed (after Anna’s step-mom cleared a rather large spider from our room!!!). The next day we rose at the rear-crack of… about 11am, lol!! Anna’s dad and Step-mom were downstairs with trail maps/paths of the area and they gave input on where we should probably go. We took their advice and around one or so (after packing something to nibble on- how sensible we became!!) headed out again for a hike. Her dad and step-mom joined us for the first half-hour or so of the hike, then headed back while we headed up the trail to the steep/climbing bits.
After the hike from the day before both Anna and I were interested and pumped to climb a hill/mountain once again!! And we thought that this particular trail would allow us to do just that… However, the trail never really led to any mountain base. It simply wound around the base of several mountains. Each time we tried to get to a base we were cut off by marshes or terrain so thick with heather/brush that who knew what was under! Finally we did come to the end of the trail that basically dead-ended on the tip of a kind of peninsula. Yet we were still quite determined to get up a hill!! The end of the trail happened to end at the base of a mountain, but the way up was quite steep! Did that stop us?? No, not really… We scaled part of some sheer rock on the side of the mountain up a little way… Then we came to our senses… That we were probably being really daft!! So we gingerly made our way back down. Seriously, the only real way to get up that particular mountain was with proper mountain climbing gear! But again, once at the base we thought surly there MUST be a way up! Anna happened to find a little sheep path, which we followed for several yards until it literally dead-ended at a drop hundreds of feet below us!! Yup, we were being daft in trying to follow the sheep path…
Again we had to give up our quest for the day and headed back. All the while that we headed back we kept looking for ways to get up a dang mountain to no avail! It was probably best though that we didn’t find one… By the time we got back (after a brief scare with some hairy coos- well I wasn’t scared but they are known to be aggressive when babies are around, and as we walked through the field one of the coos spotted us, turned and started walking toward us. I thought it odd behavior and then spotted some baby coos to the right… yea… we hustled a little bit out of that field!) it was almost dark again. We had some drinks and dinner in town then wandered back to the cottage in pitch beautiful darkness!! The kind of darkness where you can see every star!! Just wonderful!! Though Anna was scared out of her wits over walking in the dark and barely let me a few feet away from her, especially when it came time to cross the river, lol!! All in all that day, we estimated we walked about 30-35 kilometers that day! We left the next day and headed back to town (with a brief stop in the lovely town of Luss) where we had a lovely and delicious curry dinner with Anna’s mum! Good times!! 🙂
I almost forgot about the ticks!!! While at the Cottage, Anna’s step-mom left us an article about ticks… Beware the ticks when you hike!! You can get Lyme disease from them!! We laughed it off and didn’t really get bothered by the potential for ticks, though we did check ourselves for the potential of some… I never found any until a few days later when I was in Gatwick!! 4 on my arm!! Ewww… I know!! But they were babies and I plucked them out, watched for signs of Lyme disease, and luckily I can report I’m Lyme disease free!! Yay!!
On to Most Random Street Signs
I should start by saying that I really didn’t have a plan. None of this trip was planned exactly. The farthest I ever got with “planning” was that I was going to sell everything, quit my job and travel out of the Country. But that was it. Seriously, nothing beyond there. So when I landed in the San Jose airport (located in Alajuela) I didn’t have any further idea of where I was going to even sleep that night or what my next move was…
Many would find that crazy especially since I had the time to figure it all out, but in my mind I was just interested in the experience and the challenge of having to figure it out as I went along. I have always done my best work when thrown into the deep end of the pool and in a way, planning to NOT have a plan was my own personal ocean:)
Walking out of the airport I was immediately ambushed by tons of eager faces and voices all asking “Taxi???”. I turned them down and asked someone nearby where the bus station was instead. My thoughts were to get out of San Jose immediately and get out to a more typical Costa Rica town: more nature, less city! As I made my way toward the buses I suddenly thought “well, one night wouldn’t hurt and I could use it to get my barring”. So I headed back to the taxis and met a couple of other people who were asking if I wanted to share a cab to San Jose. I took this as a sign that ok, I could stay one night in San Jose!
In retrospect, had I really understood that the airport was in Alajuela (which I did have a foggy memory of my brother telling me that, yet it somehow wasn’t solidified in my mind) I would have just gotten a taxi to downtown Alajuela…
In any event, about a half our later we were in San Jose and had dropped off my two taxi buddies at their various locations. The taxi driver then turned to me and (all in Spanish) said- “where are you off to?” I replied that I had no idea, but asked what he would suggest? I stated that I wanted somewhere cheap- the cheaper the better in my mind! He politely stated however that he would much prefer I stayed somewhere a little more pricey, but it would be in an area he considered safe for a single traveler. I acquiesced and was taken to a little B&B near the downtown area.
After settling in I spent the rest of the afternoon getting lost and trying to get directions on where downtown actually was! I ran into a few people on the street who I trusted to ask questions of and they assisted me very kindly- but each person also emphatically told me to either get back to my B&B prior to the night-time or take a taxi back. “Muy peligroso” was what I was told. Mainly because the drug addicts come out at night and petty crimes apparently aren’t unusual in San Jose. Though there are crimes everywhere, I took the locals advice to heart and made sure I was back at the B&B by 6pm (yes, it gets dark here by 6pm everyday, year round!).
San Jose was a bustling, constantly moving city! There were people everywhere!! In the markets, hanging out in the parks, moving on foot or in their cars or on bikes going to their destinations. Movement everywhere you looked! Buildings weren’t very tall but they were everywhere all squished together as far as the eye could see, thus blocking any real view of the beautiful nature that surrounds the city. McDonald’s, Quizno’s, Pizza Hut and other U.S. food chains were also everywhere! I hate to admit, but as I was getting a little tired from all the travels and walking around all afternoon, I did drift to a Quizno’s for dinner. The shame, I know!! But crowds and areas with lots of hustle and bustle tend to wear me out fast and it was nice to get a little food that I could relate to, so to speak. I knew there would be plenty of time to taste local flavors and I was certainly looking forward to that, but for the time I was happy with the Quizno’s.
After my bite to eat I did a little internet research at my B&B for Volcan Poas. My cousin, who is a “seasoned” Costa Rica traveler said it was a good day trip from San Jose, so I decided to check out what was available there (hostels and such) for a trip the next day. I found a few hostels online and took down their information so I could look them up once there. I also had to get the bus situation understood because San Jose has 4, yes 4 different bus stations all in different locations from one another. Depending on where you want to go to, that decides which bus terminal you need to show up to.
As I settled into the B&B to sleep, a huge thunderstorm settled in overhead… Now for those of you who know me, you know that I absolutely ADORE thunderstorms!!! In fact, so much that whether a place has thunderstorms on a fairly consistent basis is actually a deciding factor for me on whether I will plan to live there or not. I know, I know- sounds absolutely nuts picking a place to live based on thunderstorms, but hey, I follow my passions no matter what form they take!