Friday, May 7, 2010
This expression always reminds me of a time in my life when I was a free moving, free living, roaming, traveling girl. I didn't do the normal backpacker thing, I spent almost 2 years traveling and working my way through Europe. The one time during my trip when I came close to running out of money, I headed to Greece. I figured it would be better to run out of money on an island, in a pretty place and I would find myself a job as soon as possible. It all worked out and I found employment and a great community of travelers in Rethymnon on the big island of Crete. I lived a few blocks away from the harbor and the beach and had just enough money to subsist on.
One of the memories I have of this wonderful city, was being verbally "checked-out" by the Italian men while walking the promenade on the beach. What they would say when they saw a pretty girl walking their way is "Ciao, bella!" I think it translates to: "Why hello, beautiful!"
I would hear this every day while strolling in town. Instead of this "compliment" having the intended effect of flirtation, this young Canadian girl would cringe inwardly and skulk nervously away every time. A little culture clash.
My time spent in Italy was a little more limited. I spent a couple of beautiful spring days in Torino, which was first time in Italy and a very accidental trip. I had gotten on the train in France and ended my day in Italy. I spontaneously got on the first train that pulled into the station and rolled into another world a few short hours later. I was overwhelmed to say the least, but it was all serendipitous - Torino was magical, the people warm and welcoming and the food divine.
There was also a short trip to Venice and a few days of getting lost in this one-of-a-kind place. My favorite cheap pastime was hanging out in the Piazza San Marco and people watching. As well as a not-so-good experience in the port town of Brindisi (known as Sleezy Brindisi in the backpacker world), these 4 experiences pretty much sum up my quality time with all things Italian.
Naturally, I'm heading straight for the mountains, instead of the cultural centres of Rome, Florence and Naples. We'll have to save that for another trip. For this adventure, I'm heading to the Aosta Valley where I'm going to get the ultimate 330km mountain tour. I've signed up for the Tor des Geants a brand new race in the Italian Alps, starting and finishing in Courmayeur.
I've spent some time in Chamonix, which I think of as the "Banff" of France. Courmayeur is another mountain town on the Italian side at the base of Mont Blanc - only 30 minutes from Chamonix through the infamous Mont Blanc Tunnel.
The Tor des Geants is a one-of-a-kind format. Essentially, the race looks like it's a "supported fast-pack". There's aid stations, sleep stations, food stations, but you have to be self sufficient and carry all of your gear. It's one stage only, but you have 7 days to complete it. The winner will be the runner who completes the race in the shortest time, making his or her own decisions on when and how long to stop for rest and food.
The list of friends who have signed up is growing, so it's going to be a social extravaganza. The bottom line is: it's going to be awesome.
So, Ciao Bella Italia! I can hardly wait to meet your beautiful acquaintance and get to know you and your sweet mountain places just a little bit better.