Saturday, July 23, 2011

Travels in Euroland

So, where've we been?

Including stopovers, we've seen Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, Nice, Ventimiglia, Milan, Florence and Ausserferrera so far. We didn't spend very much time in Lyon, Nice or Ventimiglia, but we spent at least four nights in each of the others. Paris is.. Paris. It's an incredible, vibrant city, chock full of history and art and culture. It's beautiful, but then most places are in the middle of summer, on a perfect evening.We spent the days in galleries and museums and doing classic touron things like seeing the Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomf and the Eiffel Tower. And, you know what? They're pretty spectacular.

Marseilles feels like a sleepy beach town, a playground for the rich tourists, but it's also a sprawl, built around a picturesque harbour, encircled by overpriced restaurants. We spent days walking Marseilles - to la plage des Castillanes for a swim or up to the Notre Dame (another one) to take in the city. Milan is very different - it's industrial and it has a vibe about it, especially in the difference in people and attitudes. Where France is very laissez faire, but subtle and elegant, Italy is brashness, emotion and warmth. But while the French can't really be bothered about you, the Italians will engage you, chat and generally be friendly. We wandered the streets of Milan, Tanja enraptured by the fashion, debating the merits of a culture that worships a 1000 Euro handbag, eating ice-cream and drinking the incredible coffee that is available almost everywhere.

Florence is as pictureseque as anywhere you've been - il Duomo, the river Arno and it's bridges, and the view from the Plaza Michaelangelo are incredible, as is the art collection in the Uffizi, which is the equal of the Louvre and the National Gallery in London, if not in size, but in quality of collection. we spent four days walking Florence, getting completely lost and trampled by tourists, but eating ice cream and canoli and drinking more coffee and Heinieken than is healthy.

And then to Ausserferrera, via an hour in Milan to collect a rental car. If Florence was tourist-choked, Ausserferrera is the opposite. Dead quiet, high up in the Swiss Alps and, blessedly, cool. Tree-lined hills, rivers, boulders and peace and quiet were so different to anything else we've experienced, where the beauty was completely man made. I wanted to come here for the climbing, but the change in pace and aspect is refreshing - the endless drive of travelling tires you out, to the degree that we reached a point in Florence where we couldn't face leaving the guesthouse. I guess that after two-odd weeks of walking and moving and missioning (and yes, we've been walking a lot - I would guess that on some days we easily walk 12 - 15kms, and we probably averaged 5 - 7kms a day), you actually deserve a rest. Who would have thought?

We're spending a week here and then we're off to Vienna, another entirely new stop on a list of stops the feels immense and exciting.

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