Friday, October 12, 2012

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Wherefore art thou Romeo?

After only a couple hours I had found the perfect sunset location, I'd sorted out my food for the next days' hike, grabbed a Birra Moretti and hit the stairs. Reminiscent of a few days earlier, I arrived at the top of the path overlooking Riomaggiore sweaty from the dense humidity and my heart racing from the unrelenting steps. Local ladies chatted, old men walked dogs and I sipped, ok skulled (just a little!), my icy cold beer, enjoying the view as the sun slowly sank into the now clear sky.

As I made my journey from Torino early that morning it was grey, drizzling and grim, it was the Northern Italy weather from the day before but more surly and inhospitable. Upon arrival to Cinque Terre, it appeared vapid instead of the picturesque vision I was expecting, but thankfully after a couple of thunderstorms the worst of it had passed.

Despite the preceding dreary day in Torino my weekend had been nothing but sensational. When I told Manuel I would visit; knowing my affinity for hiking, he informed me we were headed on a day trip, to the edge of the Dolomites, to climb a mountain. I guess I didn't quite take our proposed excursion as seriously as I should of, being Manuel's first hiking foray I assumed it would be, lets say, 'a walk in the park', so to speak. As we exited the train, after an hour and a half of me completely pulverising Manuel and 'Shithead' it was time for the slopes of Tre Croci to enslave me. The hike to the top of Tre Croci was  in fact a climb, not a technical one but a series of steep ruthless switchbacks leading to an incredible view of the surrounding pistes which writhed across the mountain sides.

After binging on every kind of Italian delight and a well deserved nap we made our way back down through an autumn forest, all around us were dazzling shades of amber tinged leaves suffused in the afternoon sun. Upon our arrival back in Torino we mustered just enough energy to pick up a pizza and a bottle of red before calling it a night. 

Often I am astounded by the abilities of the human body, how we can end a day so utterly depleted, sleep and then wake up the following day ready to go again. Day 2 of my Torino visit brought city sights, a Peruvian lunch layover, mouthwatering organic gelato, Italian lessons from a native Spanish speaker, followed by an evening of wine, pasta and charming Colombian company.

I woke early the next morning, eager for a day of hiking, the trailhead began high above the village of Riomaggiore and crawled even higher around the ridge line overlooking the surrounding azure waters. I stopped frequently to admire the view, to pick the juiciest blackberries which were always just out of reach and to take pictures of pretty wildflowers blooming through a previously charred landscape. My chosen trail took me into the mist filled mountains and stretched from one end of the Cinque Terre region to the other. I had left the Keen™ wearing, iPad carrying masses of tourists behind, my company for the day was a wild boar and a plethora of lizards; whose favourite pass time, akin to my own; baking slowly and steadily in the warm afternoon sun.

Many hours later the trail wound down to the chapel of Madonna di Soviore, its painted ceiling and chandeliers glistened in the glow of candles and at the perfect moment the sun shone into the chapels' garden and far into the valley below; illuminating my final destination, the village of Monterosso. I sat for a long time, ate my lunch, enjoyed the view and the sensation of tired legs.

I was looking forward to tackling the coastal walks the next day and exploring each of the villages along the way, so it was disheartening to learn that the entire coastal trail had been closed due to a landslide in one section and the risk of others due to the rainy weather. Despite the bleak veil hanging overhead I was determined to tackle the crowds and wander the villages, they were all charming, each with their own churches, mini castles, cobbled narrow streets, harbours, beaches and brightly coloured umbrellas. 

I had come for the hiking, so, the next morning, my last morning, I wasn't about to let grey skies and the "chance" of rain undermine my plans. I was up early and ready to obliterate the back trails between Riomaggiore and Corniglia, and much to my elation there were large patches of blue smeared above drenching me in morning rays. The trail weaved through mountain side fields of vegetables and vineyards, producing picture perfect views of the villages below. I powered past tourists, down into Corniglia for a well deserved lunch of pasta and beer before boarding my afternoon train back to Torino.

As the train spiralled through the countryside and the sands in my 'Italy Round 4' hourglass slid away, my thirst for all things Italian had hardly been satiated, the opposite in fact, I foresee many more Italian adventures to come.....

For now however, Bitchface awaits. A reunion with one of the besties, my Geordie pal but still Middle East dweller; Phil. Watch out Prague, we're a coming!

The famous leaning tower - Pisa

A mountain climb anyone?

Autumn colours
Pistes all over the mountain
A view from the top 
Some Colombian guy ;)
Amazing views
Switchback after switchback 
The colours were amazing 
Cinque Terre sunset
Another Italian Church! 
Madonna di Soviore 
Views views everywhere
Nature reclaiming the burnt earth
The trails were full of gorgeous wildflowers
Me...among the mist 
My lunchtime view
Sunshine across the Italian coastline

Such beautiful churches
Village views
My hiking companions
Finally its sunny and picturesque 
Its hard to hike with views like this
Vineyards and Vegetables
The village of Corniglia
Well deserved Gelato pitstop 
Sunset waters
Trail side beauty 
An eerie but beautiful cemetery perched high atop a hill
Agave it all its glory
Dreary days look better with Instagram!
Someone I met on the trail

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Austria in Greece!

I didn't expect the White Mountains to be white but as I exited the bus at the entrance to the Samaria Gorge the ashen peak of Kinkilos dominated the landscape. In an endeavour to avoid the droves of tourists headed for the gorge; instead of going down, I headed up, into the Lefka Ori and towards the small mountain lodge of Kallergi Refuge.

As I headed up the mountain it wasn't long before all I could hear was the tinkering of goat bells and all I could see was the view of the Omalos Plateau sprawled below. Before too long I arrived at the refuge sitting high atop the mountain, boasting impressive views of the basin below and prime position to gaze at the vultures soaring and diving and the clouds fluxing in and out of the valley.

After too long, staring entranced by the view I made the move towards the lodge to get myself settled and found myself promptly in Austria! Kallergi is owned by a well traveled interesting Austrian man whom I spent the better half of the afternoon chatting with as he plied me with Glühwein and fed me Obst Knödel! Certainly not how I had envisaged the day but a welcome development of events.

Early to bed, early to rise was my plan of attack. Early enough to see the Milky Way as a glittering rainbow above me and early enough to need my headlamp for the first 4km of my 22km hike.

While being lovely the Samaria Gorge had nothing on its Rethymno cousin of Myli. It was 16km downhill, over rocks, with little more than a few Cretan butterflies to spot. Ruined by tourists who have built up small piles of rocks everywhere in order to consummate their trek of the gorge. A LNT disaster....thankfully I had managed to avoid almost all of the tourists. I was through the gorge in five hours and then sat impatiently for the next five hours for the  ferry to arrive, watching the masses arrive at the end of the gorge in the small village of Agia Roumeli on the South coast.

Prior to my arrival to Omalos I had a fleeting and also lacklustre sojourn in Heraklion, for the primary reason of visiting Knossos Palace, which turned out to be a load of arranged ruins; some British guys interpretation of what the Minoan capital had looked like.....

I guess its had to compete with the adventures of the past month; Santorini, the Magnificent 7, Athens and the two wonderful weeks at Biotopes, which had culminated in a night out in Old Town, much vodka and sleeping out under the stars on a trampoline!

With one day left on the island of Crete and in the spectacular country of Greece, I'm looking forward to a sleep in and exploring the Old Town of Chania before I head off to one of my favourite countries, fourth time around.... the land of pizza and pasta, designers and style, MotoGP champions... Hello Italia!

View of the lighthouse in Chania Old Town

Old Town Harbour Chania

Knossos Palace

Chania Old Town...gorgeous

White Mountains Crete

Heraklion Fortress
View of the basin from Kallergi Refuge
Omalos Plateau
Fragana & Mountains
Soaring vultures 
An Austrian hideaway in Greece

More Lefka Ori beauty

Kallergi Refuge
I took so many of the view....

Inside Samaria
Rocky understatement

Samaria Gorge at its narrowest

At Agia Roumeli