After our incredible, whirlwind time in and around Rome we spent two days driving along the Italian Coast, on a mission to find antibiotics for myself, see the Leaning Tower of Pisa and get ourselves out of the scorching summer heat.
We left the olive farm near Rome very early in the morning. We had found a website (www.viamichelin.com) where you type in your origin and destination and it tells you the most direct route and the amount you will have to pay for tolls and fuel. You can then select alternate routes, including those that have less or no tolls. We spent a fair amount of time before we set off, working out the cheapest ways to go. They were going to take a while longer but would save us heaps in tolls. The extra driving time didn’t bother us so much knowing we were saving money, and besides, by avoiding the main freeways the drive is bound to be more scenic and enjoyable. And it was! We drove through some beautiful Italian countryside. Through little villages and past rolling hills and farms. We saw castles and views worth paying for, all the while saving money. Win-win!
To begin with we were headed to Pisa, but our main objective was to find a way of getting me some antibiotics. My tonsillitis was now worse than ever. I could barely swallow water let alone food and it was even hurting to talk. I had attempted to research the best way online but found little information, and what I did find was very conflicting. Some had said the best option was to go to the emergency department of a public hospital which may or may not be free and may or may not be well run (to say the least). Others had said it’s easy to get in to see a doctor but may cost a fair bit. Others suggested simply going into a pharmacy and asking for antibiotics, apparently it’s not common (or legal I’d say) but has worked for tourists before. Peter tried two pharmacies both of which told him you absolutely cannot get antibiotics over the counter, you must have a prescription. I really didn’t want to go to a hospital so we decided to find a doctor and cop whatever fee they may charge. We found a practice in the middle of a town and Peter went in to see if they would fit me in and how much it would cost. He came back minutes later saying not only would they see me straight away but it would cost nothing. I couldn’t believe it! I saw a very friendly doctor who spoke very little English. It was almost like a game of charades trying to communicate with each other. Fortunately Peter had come in with me and, while trying to contain five restless children in a very small room, helped me explain why I was there. The doctor looked at my tonsils, acknowledged how inflamed they were and I wrote down my name and the name of an antibiotic I knew would work and he wrote a script. Straightforward and frighteningly easy. He never even asked for any form of identification……… We went straight to a pharmacy where Peter went in and got the medicine for me, again needing no I.D.
Extremely relieved, we drove straight to Pisa. By this time, thanks to a concoction of painkillers, I was feeling quite a bit better than I was earlier. As we headed in to the city the traffic was crazy and it took a very long time to drive a very little way. As the Leaning Tower of Pisa came in to view we were all super excited and we found a car-park nearby and walked straight to it. Once again we announced loudly in front of the many selfie stick sellers, “Look Dad, didn’t you want to buy a selfie stick?” and cracked up laughing as Peter again attempted to assure them that he in fact did not want one! As we walked on to the grass in front of the tower we all agreed that it was much smaller than we had expected, but still incredible. It was an amazing feeling to be there, standing in front of yet another monumental landmark that I had been dreaming of one day visiting for as long as I could remember. We found a clear area within the sea of people doing the standard ‘holding up the tower’ pose and spent ages taking photos. First we took some basic family photos and then moved on to the mandatory tourist pose. Getting the little kids to hold their hands up and keep them still, while confused as to what on earth we were actually getting them to do, was both frustrating and entertaining.
After a long time at the Leaning Tower of Pisa we drove about an hour further north, along the coast, to a town called Forte Dei Marmi . I felt a little sad the we hadn’t spent any time exploring the region of Tuscany, Florence in particular. We had originally planned on spending a few days in this beautiful part of Italy, but with my sickness and the extreme heat, we had decided to stick with the plan of heading North as quickly as we could. At least we got to enjoy some beautiful Tuscan scenery by taking the scenic route and avoiding the freeway and tolls.
Forte Dei Marmi is an absolutely stunning coastal town, packed with tourists enjoying their summer holidays. We hadn’t actually planned on stopping there, but as we drove in and saw the beach we just had to park and check it out. Covered, as far as the eye can see, in beach umbrellas and sun lounges and packed with people, the beach was like no other we have ever been to. And the view! Wow!!!! Looking up from the beach, away from the water, was the most beautiful mountainous backdrop. It was surreal. It looked more like a movie backdrop or a painting than a real life view.
We had brought with us no towels, let alone any swimwear, but we absolutely had to get in the water. The kids ran straight in and I paddled with them for a while but it wasn’t enough. It was so hot and the water was beautiful, so I did something that before coming to Europe I never would have had the nerve to do – I took off my top and swam and played with the kids in my bra and shorts. And it was fantastic! We had a ball. Anna was in her element, having to regularly be called back in as she went deeper and deeper; Elyssa swam and splashed, grinning from ear to ear; Korey ran in and out, cautiously chasing the little waves, not keen on going too deep; Lucy, the fearless little wild child, had the most fun of all I think, jumping into the waves and going under the water not at all perturbed by the mouthfuls of very salty water she swallowed each time. With Ben in the carrier, Peter took photos from the shore and then joined us in the water. Ben absolutely loved his first time in the sea, and along with the other kids, was not happy when it was time to get out. Although our youngest daughter definitely won the ‘who can throw the biggest tantrum’ award…….
We had spent a lot longer at the beach than we realised and by the time we got back in the car and found a supermarket to buy some dinner, it was getting dark. We drove to another section of beach and found an open hut marked ‘senior citizens’ full of tables and chairs. As there were plenty there we pulled some out and had a picnic under the moonlight. It was great! We piled back in the car and as the kids fell asleep we drove to our accommodation, passing many ladies waiting for buses (see our post on Northern Italy) along the way……
Very early the next morning we drove a short way to Cinque Terre, a UNESCO world heritage site made up of five colourful fishing towns strung together on rugged hillside overlooking the Italian Riviera coastline. The towns themselves cannot be reached by car, only by train, boat or on foot along pathways. I was still pretty unwell and we were all hot and tired from little sleep the night before so we opted to just drive up into the hillside and see just what we could access and see by car. We saw some absolutely spectacular views but the drive was pretty hair raising. The roads were narrow and extremely windy and at times I just had to close my eyes as the sheer drop beyond the barriers to the rocks and ocean hundreds of metres below was terrifying. At one point, after a very steep ascent, we passed an RV crawling along with a nervous looking man behind the wheel. I could only imagine how white his knuckles must have been, if climbing up the mountains was scary, going back down was going to be petrifying!
Vowing to return one day to explore Cinque Terre properly, but happy enough with what we had seen, we continued to drive north. We drove through Genoa, a city like no other we have been to. It was huge and busy, old, dirty and dusty , but at the same time really cool with a unique ‘European charm’ feel to it. On one side of the large freeway we drove along, there was a massive bustling port, full of ships and boats stretching for miles and miles, and on the other, huge, dark buildings and apartments as far as the eye could see. It was overwhelming, intimidating and exciting all at the same time.
Sticking to the plan of avoiding as many tolls as we could, we headed into the Italian Alps toward Southern France. That was the extent of our plans. We had an apartment booked in Paris for the following week but nothing until then. We were just going to drive and see where we ended up. Cool plan……………in theory. We drove and drove and drove. We were on a windy highway high in the mountains and to reach any town you had to exit the main road and drive for several miles. We did this a couple of times in the hope of finding a supermarket but only found sleepy towns with not much more than a cafe, each time angry at ourselves for wasting time and petrol leaving and returning to the highway. Eventually the road led us into some welcome civilisation. Towns with shops and people and accommodation. Finally! We bought food (a very late picnic dinner in the car) and somehow, miraculously drove right past a sign for a campsite (last minute accommodation for a family of 7 in the Italian Alps is not going to be cheap). And that is what led to a very interesting and fun few days camping in Northern Italy.