The Great Italian Drive

We hired a car from Florence and felt freedom instantly, as we’d been travelling by train since leaving Rome.  It was nice to do things in our own time again.  The idea was to sleep in it if we couldn’t find a couchsurfing host.  As it turns out, Italy was super difficult.  Most of the profiles online were single men who obviously didn’t want to host an Aussie couple on a road trip through Italy. We tried though.  We tried really hard.  We sent out over 30 personal requests for different towns throughout Tuscany.  No one could host us.  This meant that our time was spent in the car, folding the back seats down, and sleeping in various streets and car parks.  It was fun.  It was kind of like being kids again.

Tuscany is a gorgeous region of Italy with its endless rolling hills of olive groves and vineyards, and quaint hill top towns. We’d spent a couple of days in the medieval city of Florence, wandering the streets and marvelling at the renaissance architecture and art that surrounded us.  We also found our way up to Piazza Michelangelo and listened to street performers play as the sun set over the city.  I could have spent an entire week in Florence i’m sure.  From there we drove to Lucca, Pisa, Volterra, San Gimignano, and Siena over the course of a few days.  We ate, drank, ate, drank, got lost, wandered in fields, visited vineyards, drove down one way streets, got stuck in the city walls, and lay in the sunshine.  The land was dry, but we got a day of rain.  The hills were brown, but we got to experience harvest time.  I would have loved to see Tuscany in the spring, when the sunflowers and poppy field are in full bloom, but we can’t have everything.  Maybe i’ll just need to return again.  One day when i’ve run out of places to see.

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We left the stunning Tuscan landscape and found ourselves on the road out to the coast.  We didn’t really know where we were going.  I just pulled out the map and picked a place name and put it into the GPS.  We arrived in Follonica on the west coast, late in the afternoon.  Rohan was tired from driving all day, we had nowhere to sleep, we’d tried to find a hostel but had no luck, and the hotels around were out of our budget.  So we gave up pretty easily and found a car park near the water.  By the time the 4th night of car sleeping came, we were starting to get a little sick of it.  We were in a strange mood and didn’t really know what to do next.  The town wasn’t that impressive, but we wanted to see what beaches were around.  We walked through a row of houses and the beach appeared out of nowhere!  We were struck by the most BEAUTIFUL sunset, and at the most unexpected moment when we thought all hope was lost.  On top of that there wasn’t a single other person around.  We sat down right there, opened our bag of snacks and decided it was time to just chill out and stop stressing.  We drank wine and ate cheese and salami for dinner.  We stayed until dark, then retreated to the car.  It wasn’t so bad after all.

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We spent an entire day driving south down the west coast of Italy from Follonica.  It wasn’t too spectacular, and we probably wasted a little too much time in the northern part.  The scenery and the coastline really only became rugged and beautiful once we were further south and the sun was setting.  We were on our way to Castel Volturno, a small area just north of Naples to stay with our first couchsurfing host of our European trip.  Andy is an American working in Naples, and he’d contacted us when he saw our public request for a host on the couchsurfing website.  We were his first surfers, and we were so grateful that he let us into his home.  He lived right on the beach behind a 6 foot high wall.  The streets were dirty, but his home was a palace.  It wasn’t a very appealing neighbourhood at first, but he told us there was nothing to worry about and it was perfectly safe.  The whole area around Naples wasn’t appealing to be honest, it was a shock.  We learnt that the city and outlying areas are all very much feeling the presence of the mafia and there’s a whole lot of corruption happening in the city.  We had even been advised to not bother visiting the downtown area of Naples, so we didn’t.  We used his home as a base for 5 nights, and hung out with Andy and his navy friends every night, drinking, storytelling, learning, laughing.  It was a nice break from it just being the 2 of us.  We learnt so much about Neapolitan culture from our new American friends. We were even invited to a group dinner on our first night where we had some of the most delicious seafood, Neapolitan style of course, followed by a never-ending flow of Lemoncello.

Thankfully, Andy saved us from what could have been many more night spent in our car.  We were able to go off most days and explore a different area all within a days drive.  We went out to the Sorrento Peninsular on the northern side, then spent another day driving the Amalfi coast, and another day (along with Andy) exploring the ruins of Pompeii.  The Amalfi coast was really magic, but the roads were insane.  Unfortunately for Rohan he spent an entire day driving along winding cliffs with narrow lanes and huge tourist buses passing blind corners.  It was possibly the most stressful time i’ve ever been a passenger.  Note to further travellers… get a Vespa or a Mini, it’s the only way to drive that road.  I must admit that although the Amalfi area was spectacular, the ruins really got to me the most considering the eruption of Mount Vesuvius happened in 79AD.  Some frescos were still intact, and the preservation of the whole area was remarkable.  I absorbed so much information that day.  It was incredible, yet so tragic.

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After Pompeii and a decent nights sleep we said our goodbyes to Andy and headed off to cross Italy’s ankle to the port city of Bari.  We dropped the car off, went down to the port to purchase our ferry tickets, then filled in the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city.  It wasn’t anything special, but it was great to not be rushed and we were able to pick up some snacks for the 16 hour or so ferry ride.  We boarded the ferry on sunset, and left Italy for Greece.  Another country, another adventure.

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2 comments

  1. Kim

    Hi there! I happened to run across your blog when researching my Italy trip online, and found a very strange coincidence- you went to all the exact areas that we are planning! So I thought you would be a great person to ask for advice.. How did you get to Cinque Terre? I was told from a cousin that lived in Italy for a while that this is a must-do, but they had a car for transportation, and I’m not finding that the Rail Europe goes that way? We will be travelling from Venice to Florence, and were thinking of taking just a day-trip to Cinque Terre from Florence, but after seeing your review I am thinking we may need more than just a day… Any opinions/advice you have would be great!

    • Sorry about the delay in replying…glad you like the blog. You certainly do need at least a couple of days there, it’s so beautiful and you need time to appreciate it all. We actually travelled by train from Rome to La Spezia, then switched trains at La Spezia (1 hours wait) straight to Riomaggiore and based ourselves there. Then then just did the small train trips between the villages each day. From Cinque Terre, we went to Venice by train. A long trip but easy. Then we went by train again to Florence. After that we had a hire car the whole time driving around Tuscany then down to Naples and across to drop off the car in Bari. The train trips were a bit of a roundabout way of going but it fitted in with not taking the car to the two places which we didn’t need it, those being Cinque Terre and Venice. If you have other questions i’m pleased to help 🙂

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