These are the options for hitchhiking out of Rome:
Appealing right? Thankfully we didn’t get lost in a swamp or confused for prostitues. When we were waiting for a bus a bearded musiciany looking chap noticed our sign and told us – instead of going to north, head east. There’s a beautiful coastal road which goes all the way to Portugal.
We got our first ride in six minutes. A Neapolitan real estate agent with a cavernously unbuttoned shirt, horse-tanned skin and some surprisingly subtle bling. He was a loud human and I loved him. It was a sign of things to come.
The rest of the day looked like this:
It was easy waiting all day but most rides only skipped and hopped up the highway without ever going very far. When it came to around 5pm we decided one more ride and we’d call it quits for the night – where ever that may be.
Our last ride for the day – one sexy ass Italian couple.
Francesca: Thin and dark with a military grade smile used for paralyzingly dudes. a designer
Luca: The Italian style of handsome that doesn’t include oil slick hair or looking like a yacht salesman. An architect.
If Selena and I weren’t already romantically engaged back at home we would definitely have offered our bodies for Luca and Francesca to use as they wish (hopefully some kind of sexy group activity).
Well anyway, the sexatalians were heading to Orbetello, a small town on the edge of a spectacular and peculiar lagoon. Just off the mainland is a saggy mountain, green and round. It looks like an island but on either side it’s attached to the main land by two long strips only wide enough for a road, a slither of buildings and a beach. In between the two roads, the mountain and the mainland is the lagoon.
We were dropped off at a campsite on one of the thin strips. When we said our goodbyes Francesca gave us a box of cosmically ripe cherries. As if we weren’t smitten already. We exchanged details in hope of sharing some dinner (group sex) but the campsite’s internet was less reliable than my knowledge of grammar.
The campsite was strange – well for me anyway. I’m used to Australian campsites where the only amenities provided are a few BBQs, a tap and maybe a toilet. This one had cabins, a bar, an open air theatre and a deli with fresh pizza and a ridiculous spread of cheeses. The cabins were sold out but the campsite captain Marcelo, a cuddlier Italian version of Gerard Butler with a lazy eye, offered us a cheap tent for the night. Excellent.
It was a beautiful day and the Brazil Chile game was on so we decided to fuck the tent building off for later and enjoy the beach and the game. Sometime after Brazil slugged to victory, after the sun had set and the cam info had closed, we decided to unpack our tent.
Wait, wtf is this? Where is the door? Or the walls? This isn’t a tent. This is just a cave shaped piece of plastic.
It was about two metres by one – not enough room for two adult humans and their luggage. On one side there’s a concave piece of nylon and on the other a big whole planet of air. I don’t have a sleeping bag, sleeping mat or pillow so I spent half the night trying to stealth my way into a spoon arrangement and the other half picking rocks from under my hip. Oh and for the first three hours of our attempted sleep the campsites open air theatre was staging an amateur production of something very loud and Venga Boysy.
When I woke (decided to stop trying to sleep) I was hoarse and sunken – sounding like a cigar swallowing blues signer but moving like a cancerous axelotyle.
If I was alone I would of found this state of affairs rather difficult but Selena’s an energetic lass and hitchhiking as a couple makes things about twice as easy. The wait times are halved and the variety of people picking you up is far greater. For example:
Meet Francesco, Giuligia and Filipo – the Zorba family. Francesco’s a truck driver and a self-educated lefty, Giuligia’s 12 and totally infatuated with Selena and Filipo, 9, is scared of talking. Francesco said he could drive us all the way to Genoa (we were aiming to get there the following day) but only if we didn’t mind going to Pisa for lunch. Obviously yes.
“Do you have lunch with you?” He asked us, eyebrows up and lively.
“No. We were going to buy some.”
“I can take you to a cheap place, I know this area well from truck driving. Afterwards we can have a picnic together at Pisa.”
He took us to his favourite local panini store and we had got a panino each, a cake and a glass of fresh orange juice.
I tried to convince Selena to do a wacky tower photo but she was too embarrassed. Instead we napped and I played hacky sack with the Zorbas – Filipo really came out of his shell.
After lunch Selena and I crashed – our energy, fighting like a scattered guerrilla resistance finally wilted under a parade of exhaustion tanks. Before lunch I’d been impressing myself by talking to Francesco about morality, vegetarianism, the role of the Italian media in propagating racism and taxation law – it was a strain but Francesco was patient. After lunch I couldn’t string a single sentence together without accidentally slipping into French/English or mindless gurgling. In the back Giulglia was documenting her love for Selena with a tirade of selfies but Selena wasn’t faring much better. Before long we were both floating in the dark and breathing like extinguished dragons. I felt guilty but Francesco didn’t care. He put the World Cup on the radio for me and took us all the way to a hostel in Genoa.
Excellent human beings right?
Genoa is a strange and beautiful city. It spreads over a sea-side valley like a sheet draped over an armchair. Most of the puffy stuff is down the bottom near the sea and on either side the the city’s suburban wings wrap around the side of the hill. Everything in between is divided by a slinky of thin winding roads barely equipped for a single car let alone two lane traffic with busses and trucks and shit. Our hostel (which was in the most classic school building!) was at the top of the slinky armchair. It’s really beautiful there – all autumnal villas with moss coloured vines, flowery tree canopies and cobbled steps. No action stuff though – only houses, for some reason all the tourism and business happens down the bottom. There are a bunch of heritage listed churches and stuff but the rest of the centre is occupied by tiny lanes of sooty, weathered bricks and abandoned looking scaffolding. At the seaside there’s a few incongruous new developments. It’s very intimidating at night.
I had the best eating day yesterday. As usual Selena and I slumbered through the normal eating schedule and woke up just in time for brunch*
That was from the most famous bakery in Genoa – it’s particularly well known for baking sexy focaccias, farinata and vegetable pies.
Focaccia: crisp from a heavy lathering of olive oil and slightly soft in the centre. More cruskety than what we call focaccia at home.
Farinata: a pancake made with chickpea flour, rosemary, pepper and sea salt. It’s soft and moist – if you shake it, it will wobble and break like a thin sheet of old polenta. Much more flavoursome than you’d probably expect – I loved it.
Vegetable pie: with spinach, potato and cheese. Soft like a baked potato but with a slightly crunchy bread-crumb like roof.
Bucket of pesto: dunk everything in it. Awesome.
Next stop was to find a good cuppa but we ran into Maria, a Chicagoan* bike tourist with levels of food enthusiasm comparable to mine. We found her sitting down on some church steps with an entrancing gelato. We asked her where to get a good coffee and this was her reply:
“I don’t know . . . All that matters is you go and get one of these. Best gelato I’ve ever had.”
As if I was ever going to say no to that.
I got straciatella and hazelnut and Selena got pistachio and rose. All four were fucking excellent. Right up there with the best ever. They had the most incredibly soft texture, not denser than soft serve but still with the same cloud like appeal. We don’t get gelato like that at home. I think it’s because no one is using the traditional metal containers which control temperature.
Sterling effort from Maria. We immediately and forcibly adopted her for our food quest.
Next stop was a panini place we’d earlier seen under heavy queuing.
There’s no menu. The locals ask for a panino with whatever meat and cheese they want. But we didn’t know what the fuck to pick – there were like 100 kinds of cheese and meats and then a whole stash of condiments that could have been anything. The dude running the place had an excellent system to deal with people like us.
“Is there anything you don’t eat?”
“Do you want a strong or soft flavour?”
“Complicated or simple?”
“Are you very hungry or just a little?”
Everything, complicated, strong and medium please*.
Dark prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella with a hump of salsa verde and heaps of chilli paste. Absolutely incredible. The girl’s picked the same as me but with the proviso of no meat and ended up with a delicious swordfish and pesto monstrosity. GLLLARARRRRRGGHH
Feeling satisfied but divided we split post sandwiches. Maria went off with a couple of hitchhiking of bubble buskers* we’d met outside, Selena got a haircut and I went for a quick dip here.
Selena and I met later that night for our last stop, a ravioli extravaganza.
1. Homemade ricotta ravioli with walnut sauce
2. Homemade cod* ravioli with grilled zucchinis, chilli and clams.
Phew, what a day.
*it was definietly lunch but calling it brunch makes me feel better about my nocturnalism
*I would love to start a restaurant where you order through a Q&A.
*They make giant bubbles on the street, kids go crazy and people give them money
*I’m pretty sure it was cod but it could have been another white fish