Fresh off the boat – the Adventure of a lifetime begins

December 24, 2003 – Roma

The adventure begins!!!

Had a great flight from New Zealand apart from the fact that I was bitten on the hip by a spider that was in my bed the night before. As a result my leg was in absolute agony and I had to lie across four seats and keep moving to stop the pain. The wound got really itchy and ulcerated . . .Amazing what a little arachnid can do to a leg! However, most of the plane was empty from Bangkok so slept most of the way. Thai airways is average – food is ok and it was an old plane but still, no complaints. Couldn’t believe how easy it was to get through everything. Lee and Will met me at tiburtina railway station.

We drove to the time share which was cute but miles out of rome. Had coffee, croissant and a shower and then hit the road. Lee went hunting for jeans so I sat in the sun and got fed panecotta and biscotti by the locals. It’s really freezing here but in a kind of European, fresh, snow winter. Rome is absolutely gorgeous especially at xmas. There are nativity scenes everywhere and lights and xmas trees.

We sat on the Spanish steps in the centre of the city with all the other tourists, went to the pantheon with the massive hole in the ceiling, walked past the collesseum and the Fountain Trevera which was so majestic. It’s amazing how you can pop around a corner and run into absolute beauty. I bought some leather gloves from the xmas village market as my hands were freezing. The architecture is divine and the cobble streets. My jet lag landed with a thump and I crashed at 5.30pm. I was so exhausted that I threw up.

Xmas day – Rome

Slept in and ate coffee and croissants and opened some presents. I got a v cool wooden Pinocchio doll from lee and will. Our xmas tree was one we made – grew from water. I also found a small toy dog – a Lab I think – while walking around rome so he became part of our nativity scene. We decided to drive to Tivoli for lunch but found everything closed including the metro so we decided to drive to rome which was probably a big mistake.

In fact, it was very stressful and quite mad. The romans don’t follow the road rules and overtake on the inside and outside. Plus they drive on the wrong side of the road. The instructions are always wrong – ie the road signs don’t make sense. You follow one arrow and it takes you somewhere else. We ended up in rome and wandered around until it got freezing cold. Then a hair raising drive back to the timeshare and once again, I crashed. Jet lag still seemed to have me and I was asleep by 8.30pm. Merry Xmazzzzzzz.

Boxing day – rome

Woke up at 8.30am in our tomb of a timeshare. There are no windows so we had no idea when its daylight. We went back to rome again today – to the Vatican in fact. It was beautiful, amazing frescos, gold-coated altars everywhere. Freezing cold though. Once again everything was closed but luckily the metro was working. we also went to the forum gardens and into an old church which was, once again, quite stunning. we got back to the timeshare and played cards and drank a copious amount of alcohol and ate yummy xmas food – Italian style (pasta, salad and cake).

I’ve made a rule that I’m going to jump into every Foto express I see in France and Italy and photograph myself with different backgrounds So far my face has been imposed on a bodybuilder and as a maniac eating a donut.

Also beware the dancing Disney characters being sold on bridges in Rome. They are not all they claim to be . . . . There was a guy selling dancing Donald ducks, mickey and Minnie mouses on a bridge in Rome and I completely fell for his scam. He claimed the magnets attached to the cardboard cut-out cartoons made some sort of energy from the stereo that made them jump around. Wow, I said, I’ll buy one. And then Lee discovered there was in fact a jumping wire from his bag that they were attached to. Still, it was the best two euro I’ve paid to uncover a scam.

December 27, 2003 – Pompeii

We got up earlyish and drove south through thick fog to Pompeii. We found a great camping place near the ruins and set up tent etc. then we wandered into the city to eat pizza. Went into the piazza which was lit up with xmas lights and quite stunning. I bought a leather belt and warm socks from a wee shop as I was frozen. Went back to the campsite, cooked dinner and then drank heaps of fake baileys and red wine and tottered down the road to the gas station where there was a bar. . . . . . yes, you’ve read right – we had a night out at a GAS STATION. We sat there with the locals drinking and then tottered back to the campsite. A fun if slightly wierd night. I slept in the car which was quite uncomfortable, especially for my poor aching leg, but at least I slept.

December 28, 2003 – Pompeii

Spent the whole day wandering around the ruins which were amazing. Saw dead bodies and dogs which had been preserved under the ash. Mt Vesuvius loomed in the distance as a constant reminder of how an entire village had been wiped out. We had bread and cheese for lunch on the outskirts of the village. We saw some amazing villas including one which had two courtyards with a fountain, a battering ram, servant quarters and amazing frescos. It’s weird as it was outside the town walls while just about everything else dug up was inside the walls of the city. The fog also hung low over the village although occasionally the sun shone through. The sunset on the pillars and ruins were amazing. Then we wandered around the streets again looking at shops which was fun. I slept in the car again while Lee and Will slept in the tent. It was fairly uncomfortable as there was a join where the seats fold down that stuck into my back all night, coupled with the fact that my leg has completely seized up and the spider bite on my hip has now got really inflamed and painful.

December 29, 2003 – Assisi

I had a shower in the morning at the campsite which was freezing cold! It started out quite hot and I was like, wow, great. Fantastic and then it suddenly went warm, cold and switched itself off. We packed up camp this morning and headed towards Umbria. A beautiful drive and we saw some amazing ruins along the way.Stopped at some of the autogrills for coffee and pizza on the way. We arrived in Assisi on dark and after a few hours, finally found an agruiscemento or something which is a country house and found a room for E50. Will did all the negotiations while Lee sat in the car with the engine running. . . . I guess in case we had to make a quick getaway or something. I had a quick look at the town of Assisi from the flatlands of the farm and it was so beautiful with all the lights on – like some sort of hilly mecca.

December 30, 2003 – Assisi

Wandered around Assisi for the day. What a fantastic town. So beautiful. Perched on a hill overlooking Italian farmland. Quite majestic and peaceful and almost religious in feel. But still so foggy. The fog hung around the base of the village so that you couldn’t see the land below and only the rooves of houses and the cranes dotted around the village that were doing repair work.

Then we hopped in the car and drove to Umbria to stay with mark and Karen wisbey – internet friends of lee and will’s. they own a wee bed and breakfast in Umbria – San Tereziano. We dumped our stuff, said hello and then headed to Todi to look around.

We had dinner with Karen and then Mark turned up from Rome around 10pm.  They have an amazing cat called Gauldo who is so naughty and steals anything it can get it’s hands on, including the food straight off your plate.

New Years Eve – Umbria

I had a great sleep in, then sit-down breakfast with Karen and Mark. Then we (Lee, will and I) took off and went to Montefalco where I checked my internet.

Lee and Will went off to get groceries. Then Karen and Mark turned up with their English friend Jan who lives in Rome and works at ITV with Mark. We broke open a bottle of champagne and ate some cake. Then lee and will got back.

We then watched Harry Potter Chamber of Secrets and got ready for NY Eve. WE drove to Grutti to an 800 year old medieval tower that belongs to an American woman who has been living in England for 30 years. She approached the church in Grutti and paid E60,000 for the tower and ten years rent. The church then did the tower up according to her requests and it’s amazing. White walls, dark timber, small windows, two stories with a winding staircase that leads to the roof.

New Years Eve went off! We drank tons of mulled wine and then went on the roof and set off a shop full of fireworks. BANG BANG! It was so loud and deafening and sometimes quite terrifying. The people in the square also let off skyrockets and bangers and whole valley was exploding with fireworks like a brightly coloured coral reef. It was amazing to be so high and so close to the fireworks themselves. We kept ducking and weaving from the dots of fire that were raining down on us. Quite an incredible night! I felt sorry for the white doves living in the abandoned tower next door though as they were flying all over the place like startled rabbits. We got home at 2am. We also had amazing dinner – dahl, paella, trifle, lentils, home-made bread.

January 1, 2004 – Pisa

The fog finally lifted after about five days and the sun came out – hooray. We left Umbria after the longest farewell in history and had an amazing trip to Pisa. The countryside was stunning with ruins, castles and towers everywhere. We went past a beautiful lake with two islands in the middle with a castle on it. The landscape completely changed once we drove into Tuscany and it became what I had always imagined the Italian countryside to be like.

But we arrived in Pisa at sunset which was a bad mistake again. All the campsites were shut and we couldn’t find any cheap accommodation. But, we did see the leaning tower which is incredible. I couldn’t believe I was seeing it to be honest as we came across it in the fog and dark by accident. And Will goes – ‘there’s the tower’ and there it was – it was like I had stepped on a film set or that it was made out of cardboard. After driving around for FOUR hours again, Lee and Will finally deposited me at a freaky, grotty youth hostel and went off to sleep in the car. I slept for about ten hours but it wasn’t pleasant and the place smelt and was unclean. There was a great dirty river running past it and I expected to see some bloated corpse go floating past. Plus I was the only person in the girls’ dormitory which was a bit spooky.

January 2, 2004 – Lucca

I woke up at 8am and waited for an hour on a huge verandah for Lee and Will to pick me up. I was so glad to be out of that place!!!

Anyway, we drove to the Leaning Tower and I ended up climbing up for E15. It was amazing as you’d lean one way as you were going up and another way on the other side of the tower. I felt a bit giddy and vertigo.

I bought a red leather bag from a nearby stall which is really beautiful but kind of weird. I hope I use it heaps. It can be turned into a backpack as well. We then drove to the town of lucca and we got this amazing apartment for E70. It’s a huge apartment with massive lounge, kitchen, three bedrooms, a bath, tv, terrace and on the outside of the town walls but close enough to walk etc. Lee and Will are both sick so they’ve gone to bed.

I’m hoping to go to Barcelona to stay with Meredith but she’s not sure when she’s going to be there. I also want to go to Egypt with Lee and Will. I imagine I’ll get to London around end of Feb/early March and look for work and hopefully stay with Claire and Boris until I can find a place of my own and a job. It’s so weird I still feel as though I’m in a timewarp and can’t believe I’ve actually left New Zealand. Everything seems so normal and easy and I’m not homesick. But I guess I’ve only been away ten days! But it feels much longer. Even sleeping in the car and camping has been easy . . .well apart from the fact that I think my leg is probably going to drop off soon.. Nothing has really fazed me too much. I still have no expectations so we’ll see what happens,.

Friday, January 9

Whoops, I’ve missed a few days. We stayed in Lucca for two nights which was just heaven. I absolutely loved the apartment – it was so European and quaint. I gushed over it. Lee and I went to Florence for a day shopping. Will stayed at home in bed. I got a gorgeous pair of brown boots at a sale.

We got lost in Florence – more stress – as we ended up driving towards the Ponte Vecchio and up to the Duomo and somehow ended up in one of the main shopping streets which was wall to wall with people. We had to inch through the crowds who staring at us (thinking stupid tourists no doubt) . . . . not to mention I was holding a stupid map for all to see. Lee started freaking and I couldn’t stop giggling as we were obviously in a place we shouldn’t have been. Florence was freezing but a very beautiful city (for what I saw).

We had a quiet night in and then woke up early the next morning to drive home. It was fairly uneventful as we hit about a thousand tunnels ALTHOUGH we did get lost and ended up driving through Genova which was an amazing, seaside town that reminded me a of a giant Wellington in that it seemed to slide off the hills (alps perhaps?) and slither into the sea. You could drive right through the middle on the autostrade and look straight into people’s apartments which were that light Mediterranean colour with wrought iron balconies and washing for all the eyes could see.

Driving across the border was very uneventful – I was sure we’d get stopped, passports checked, car searched – but we just drove straight through as though we were driving from Auckland to Wellington. It was incredible to see how the landscape changed from disorganised italy to groomed and tidy France.

We drove across the back of Monaco which was exciting.

We arrived to St Raphael and arrived at the house that Lee and Will are renting. A typical French style house with large swimming pool and simple garden.

Saint Raphael is quaint although very quiet – lots of small dogs. We’ve been to Cannes and Antibes which were cute but I want to go and explore further. Today the weather is overcast– it’s windy and rainy so I might blob as the past two days I’ve walked for miles.

Spent a pretty quiet two weeks in Saint Raphael – sunbathing, watching movies, going shopping. I did heaps of walking back and forth from Frejus along the cote d’azur. Met Florence, Eric and Lucie who live up the road. Went to their place for a delicious dinner.

January 20, 2004

Woke up early and walked to Bouloris to meet the train. We sat by the waterside and watched the sun come up which was beautiful. Took a train to Nice and then a flight to Amsterdam. We spent two hours in Amsterdam which was so beautiful, filled with gothic architecture, rivers, bridges and bicycles. There were three storeyed terrace houses all leaning against each other . The city is a criss-cross of canals, bridges and streets. There are lots of styly, well dressed, funky people wandering around.

I bought a Che Guevara tin from a weed shop and then we walked to Anne Frank’s house which was pretty cool.


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