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Travel Journal: Italy, Day 4

Yesterday, we did a lot of driving. Our original plan was to drive to Piombino and take a ferry to the island of Elba, where many Italians go for summer vacation. But, after talking to Doris in the morning, we realized that it was more of a trek than we probably had time for (we got going around 10:00am, and it's a couple of hours to Piombino, plus an hour ferry to Elba).

Instead, Doris suggested that we go to the beach town of Viareggio, where many Italians also spend summer vacation. Apparently, nearly the whole country spends August at the beach, cheek-to-cheek in the sand for a whole month. Sounds like hell to me, but they enjoy it.

So, we drove to Viareggio through gorgeous country mountain roads. The town itself feels like a combination of Coney Island and Florida - a large promenade with ice cream shops and stores, and a beach packed with cabanas and umbrellas, with a backdrop of taller hotels overlooking the ocean. It was a nice place to walk, along the beach and the palm-lined main drag.

The day got really warm - many of our friends encouraged us to bring sweaters, but I think we could have brought even more warm-weather clothes.

It was nice, though. Kind of a lazy day. We grabbed a couple of sandwiches from a shop and sat on a bench eating and people-watching. We figured we would leave Viareggio and try to find something else to explore. Doris suggested Pisa, but since we fly out of there we're going to save that for our last day. We decided to head where we thought the Cinque Terre was - so we'd know where we were going when we went there to hike. We drove and drove and drove - through the port town of La Spezia, which reminded me a little of Duluth, and up miles of winding mountain roads with the most stunning overlooks.

The hillsides are terraced, with grapes and olive trees growing all along the stepped surfaces. Along the side of the road we would sometimes see a little chair mechanism perched on what looked like a track. I thought maybe that's how they got mail or something down to the Cinque Terre, but Doug told us later that those are for harvesting. Baskets go on the back, and the farmers use the tracks to haul them back up to the road. Regardless of their use, they look extremely dangerous.

I can't describe how stunning the area is. Sheer cliffs with whole villages clustered against them, appearing to completely defy all laws of gravity. The villages look like something out of a Dr. Suess book. It was a wonderful drive.
After all that perilous mountain driving, and realizing we needed to get to Doris & Doug's for dinner, we decided it would be best to take the Autostrada back. We made it to Tofori at top speed, and remembered to take the ticket so no fine this time. Yay!

We had a lovely dinner with D&D, and didn't get home to bed until 2:00am!

For food, I had:
Breakfast - Quaker Cruesli with rice milk. Twinings English Breakfast tea and some bread and jam.

Lunch: Caprese sandwich in Viareggio. Pistachio gelato for dessert. My first - delicious!

Afternoon: A caffe latte, which the guy at the bar openly chuckled at me for. Apparently no one drinks those in the afternoon here.

Dinner: Doris cooked up a feast. Bruschetta (tomatoes, basil and olive oil on toasted bread) to start, followed by oven roasted veggies (onions, peppers, asparagus), roasted potatoes (sliced and drizzled with olive oil) and chicken - two kinds - skinless, boneless breasts with a cornmeal and spice crust, and roasted legs and thighs. For dessert, she thoughtfully picked up some chocolate and vanilla soy ice cream (which was super good, but not a brand we have in the US). We also had some local white wine, and Limoncello - a Tuscan liqueur that tastes like lemonade and gives you that fire-in-the-chest feeling. Mm.

Posted September 30, 2003 11:00 AM | On This Day: 2002