A long day that started in a hotel in Naples, had seen me trekking along rural country roads and through the ruins of an ancient civilization, sprinting through a furious Mediterranean inundation, and negotiating the chaos of Rome's train station, ended in a quiet room in La Spezia. Someone told me that my destination, Cinque Terre, was but a mere 20 minutes further on, if I could endure. But I was here, in La Spezia, the hotel was before me, and judging by the looks I drew from passers-by, I surmised that my mien reflected the thousand-yard stare of the walking dead. A room. A shower. Crash.
Next morning, I arose late. I walked across the street to the train station and caught the train to Cinque Terre (CHINK-wah TER-rah). "The five lands," consisting of five Italian hamlets in the Liguira region.
|Terraced orchards and vineyards|
|Italian hamlet nestled in the coastal slopes|
|Along the trail|
|Hiking along the Mediterranean|
I spent one more day in Cinque Terre, writing postcards, hanging out. But now it was time to leave Italy for Switzerland. Next day, I caught the train out. Arrivederci, Italia.
***Riding the train to Milan, I met a young man from Romania. This fellow spoke English well enough, and decided apparently, that I was worthy of hearing his life story. A troubled fellow, this young man. He was in love with a young woman whom he had met in a brothel. He referred to her as his "girlfriend." He professed his love to her, offered to take her away from it all. She was reluctant, leaving him in a state of anxiety. But he seemed fully prepared to accept the role of tragic hero. Well, had I been ten or fifteen years younger, I would have recognized his nobility. Now, having had a failed love affair or two of my own, I could only manage a sympathetic smile. You'll learn, my friend. We all do.
The ride up through the lap of the Italian and Swiss Alps was spectacular: high, green pastures, with spotted cows grazing on lush grass. Darkness descended too quickly, hiding it all in the black shroud of approaching winter.
Odile was on the train, too. Odile (open-minded, open-faced) lived in Geneva. Of course I noticed her. She was beautiful, unpretentious, and out-going. Like most Swiss, she spoke English, German, Swiss, French, and Italian. She was socially and politically aware and very, very smart. We chatted away the hours riding the rails through the alpine darkness and made plans to meet for dinner next day.
On arrival in Geneva I got a bed in the local hostel. There was the usual throng of Eurail travelers, including a family from Australia: a man and woman and their two young children. When asked about Geneva and things to see, they didn't have much to say. "There's not much here," said the woman. "We're leaving tomorrow."
The next day, I wandered around Geneva. I found one mildly interesting museum dealing with the Reformation: interesting only because of the hand-scribed books with the illuminated pages scrawled by monks some time in the dark period that came in the wake of Rome's fall.
The UN Office in Geneva (UNOG) is here. It is the largest UN office outside New York. The huge bureaucracy spreads its numbing tendrils out into the city, moderating, lulling, inviting oblivion. Not much to see really.
The lake, Lake Geneva, was glorious, with its alpine backdrop. And the people were friendly, especially the Spanish restaurateur who gave me a complimentary glass of grappa. Do not gulp! Strong stuff. They say it is made from the residue of wine grapes: stems and leaves and such. I gamely finished the glass. Gracias, amigo. No, no más, gracias.
That evening, Odile did indeed come to the hostel and from there we went to a seedy bar where she showed me Geneva's sordid underside. We drank with prostitutes and ruffians. I dined on fondue and enjoyed the atmosphere.
But Geneva, I decided, had little to offer me. In the morning, I caught the train out. Alas, my camera stayed behind, victim of my negligence. Here's hoping that some Eurail traveler found it and made good use of it. On to France!
To be continued...
- Pt. I Amsterdam - Arnhem - Copenhagen
- Pt. II Copenhagen - Oslo
- Pt. III Bergen
- Pt. IV Flam fjord - Goteborg
- Pt. V Stockholm - Gavle - Stockholm
- Pt. VI Berlin
- Pt. VII Prague
- Pt. VIII Budapest
- Pt. IX Vienna
- Pt. X Munich
- Pt. XI Salzberg - Innsbruck
- Pt. XII Venice - Florence
- Pt. XIII Siena
- Pt. XIV Rome
- Pt. XV Naples - Pompeii
- Pt. XVI Cinque Terre - Geneva
- Pt. XVII Avignon
- Pt. XVIII Arles
- Pt. XIX Barcelona
- Pt. XX San Sebastian
- Pt. XXI Bordeaux - St. Lo
- Pt. XXII Paris
- Pt. XXIII Brussels - Waterloo
- Pt. XXIV Brugge
- Pt. XXV Amsterdam at last