May 24

    The weather finally cleared to beautiful sunshine. Our next visit was to Pisa, just a few miles east of Florence. Our stopping point there--”The Leaning Tower Campground” is how it translates--is only about a quarter mile from the Tower, so we parked Rover and walked to it.

    The medieval city planners must have had tourists in mind because the tower, cathedral and Baptistry are all in a row down a wide lawn about three football fields in length; alongside runs a pedestrian street lined with market stalls of all kinds, mostly souvenirs of little tiny leaning towers (this is a great timesaver for the busy tourist: up one side, down the other, and back on the bus to your hotel).


    Pisa’s cathedral was once the largest in Italy and is absolutely beautiful. It is interesting to see very modern additions to some of these 1000-year old places: here it was a new altar and pulpit, both very different from the originals. We did not go up the tower and we resisted having our picture taking in what appeared to be the obligatory stance of pretending to hold it up (obligatory not only for tourists but for Snoopy and Disney characters on t-shirts). 

    We walked around the city a little, dodging the crowds of students in the afternoon, and then stopped by a grocery store on our way back to Rover. Later we shared a glass of wine with a couple from Florida who are touring for six months using a very affordable buy-back program from an RV dealer in the Netherlands.

    The next day we traveled only 16 miles to Lucca, whose claim to fame is the 2.5-mile long 13th century wall that surrounds the old city. It is topped by a paved road in a parklike setting used by walkers, runners and bikers and giving very peaceful and lovely views into the old city. We walked around and through the city and then back to Rover. We’d parked her in a camperstop (a parking lot for motorhomes, usually with few or no services) that we shared with 15 other for the night, just a couple of blocks from the city wall in a nice neighborhood.

    The next day we got back on the autostrada and headed north along the coast, looking at mountains again. We had located a campground that would serve as  starting point for visits to the Cinque Terre and Genoa, as driving to the former is impossible (no roads) and to the latter is difficult (big busy city). We had picked out Sestri Levante because it was very close to the  autostrada, in spite of the fact that it did not have any internet service (surely there would be some in town).

    But just a few feet after leaving the autostrade tollbooth, we were about to make a turn when we saw the campground sign accompanied by a “2.5m” overhead sign (Rover is 3.05). So we had no choice but to go straight instead. Then we saw a second sign for the campground, followed it around a long block and under the autostrada no less than three times, avoiding the low overhead (but introducing us to a one lane bridge--always fun), 50 meters up a steep-ish hill . . . and arrived at the campground.

    This one was the tightest place yet. The spot the owner put us into was fairly large, but by evening we had been joined by two Dutch couples and their cars and trailers. They fried up a huge amount of fish for dinner just outside our door and kindly gave us a plateful for our dinner. They were supposed to be leaving before us, but one of them had car trouble, so when we were about to leave a few days later, it involved a bunch of trailer shifting.


                                              (Rover's the one waaaay in the back, center.)

    This campground was a little too far from the town center for easy access. We walked in and out the first afternoon, but once was enough: the next two days, we took up the owner’s offer to drive us to the train station and pick us up on our return. Oh . . . and no Wi-Fi in town.

    The first day we took the train to the Cinque Terre, the five fishing villages along the sea that are (mostly) inaccessible by cars. We were expecting a gorgeous ride along the sea, but the trip was literally about 90% in tunnels, from which the train emerged only to stop at tiny stations. The villages are absolutely overrun with tourists. Just getting off the train at the first stop was really difficult, because way too many people had to funnel from the station platform up a flight of narrow steps, and into an even more narrow street. The towns are undeniably lovely and charming, but they seemed overwhelmed by the weight of tourism.

    We walked from the first town to the second along a paved walkway above the water’s edge, with gorgeous flowers blooming all along the way. Between the other towns, though, we took the train and managed to visit all five in one day . . . including the 382 steps up to Corniglia, where we rewarded ourselves with lunch.  And we managed to hit “Lemon Days” in Monterossa, where we were given free tastes of limoncello.


    The next day we took the train in the other direction to Genoa, the home of Christopher Columbus and now a busy port city of 600,000 with its own old center. We walked all over, avoiding every Renaissance museum and palace, and when we discovered the cathedral was closed--with nary a sign about open hours--we got back on the train. We got off again at Santa Margherita Ligure, a small, moderately charming, total tourist beach resort town. From there we took a tiny bus on a scary ride along the cliffs to Portofino, an even tinier, considerably more charming resort town, with yacht harbor, fancy shops and cafes (this is the harbor you see in pictures of the Italian Riviera). We saw the whole thing in an hour, bought some gelato and a t-shirt to spur the Italian economy to greater heights, and took the bus and train back to Rover.


    With the possible exception of Pisa, none of the places we’ve visited the last few days has lived up to our expectations, and none has tempted us to stay longer. And doing without internet for five days has not been easy. On the other hand, we have been on the road for six weeks now, so maybe we are just tired. So we are headed north to the lake country, where we hope to relax for a few days, avoid crowds, and add to our list of Things We Have Learned.