Italia is a beautifula! Although we only traveled less then a 200 miles east of Nice there are so many differences between these two place.
It felt as though time, and our trip started to slow down a bit when we arrived in Italy and it was a good change of pace.
We woke up earlier than usual because our friend, and as she likes us to call her now, our Italian Sister, Emma offered that we take her car and go to Eze (an old city on the boarder of France and Italy). As we got ready to leave she invited us to come with her to go to a street market that they only hold once a month. Andrea was expecting her usual artisanel market that she had to go to at every chance but this market was much better, it was an antiques market.
I often wondered as a kid what was so special about antiques. I remember hearing my grandma talking about going antiques shopping and would think to myself, "Why would you buy someone else' old stuff?" obviously I knew nothing. This place she took us to was amazing! It was set up in the middle of the mainstreet in Albenga which is a village that was started around the 4th or 5th century A.D.
Walking down this street was like taking a walk back in time. The people that were selling were not necessarily collectors, although some were. Most of the vendors appeared to be locals with very old things and just getting rid of them and selling them at really reasonable prices. We saw some pretty crazy stuff like an ivory horn that was hollowed out but also had elephants carved into the hollowed out part. World War Two gear like Nazi hats, knives, American helmets, old Italian uniforms. There was old cameras and camcorders, original vinyl records from way back it was really interesting. We wanted to buy somethings but we know nothing about antiques so we probably would off ended up with junk. We kept saying how cool it would be if we bought something for a few bucks and than took it onto antiques road show and it turned out being priceless, but we didn't. So after making the full street walk and Andrea touching the absolute smallest and most fragile thingson each vendors table (I don't know why but that always makes me so nervous) we decided it was time to go.
Emma's car is a little 4 door Volkswagen hatchback, perfect for driving in Europe. I will be completely honest when saying that I was extremely nervous. It didn't help that she told me several times that cops are crazy about the speed limit and then wanted to make sure that I understood this by telling her friend in Italian and having him retell me in English. So I was the tourist driving the speed limit while every car, tourist bus and semi-truck drove so fast past us that it felt as though our little car would blow off the side of the road.
The road to Eze from Albenga was very easy and familiar considering that it was A-8, the same road that we walked on for three hours in Antibes thinking that this was a walking road. After exiting A-8 we started to make our descent to Eze. This road is out of control! I don't know how high we were but honestly driving on this cliffside and going around corners where there is nothing in front of you seems as though you could be flying your car with only a bit of road and the rest of the view being the Mediterranean and the blue sky. I thought drivers were nuts but cyclists have drivers beaten by a long shot. One corner we came around a cyclist was doubling a car but in the middle of the road rather than on the right, very frightening.
As we twisted and turned down this cliffside we came to a valley and in the middle of it on its own hill there it was, Eze. It is an incredible site with this old village in midst of littlerally cliffs. Eze was a strategic military stronghold in the Franco-Turkish war that was unable to with stand the Turkish attacks and fell in the late 1500's or early 1600's.
Parking was a bit difficult but luckily we had a tiny car to fit into a very tight space. As we walked through this old village it was cool trying to imagine what life would have been like when this city was alive with street vendors, soldiers and little shops. The city has now been converted into a tourist attraction with restaurants, an insane hotel at the top and a garden planted amongst ruins. Walking through the alley ways in the city you can see how they built the city into the mountain where parts of homes walls are the rock cliffside. There are tunnels, small bridges and paths going in every direction around every turn, it was very cool to discover. I couldn't help but thinking that I could see Jo staying in a place like this.
Wandering around the village and going every which way we ended up on the top where a garden was made about 60 years ago. The garden was mostly differnet kinds of cactus but there were statues placed all thoughout with small quotes of what each represented along with names. Andrea's favorite was Hannah who placard read, "Follow me and I will tell you all my secrets...almost" (that seriously was her favorite one). The view from the top was incredible, you can see the old village of Eze and down the cliffs into the deep blues and turquoises of the Mediterranean, it is something to be experienced. Apparently Eze used to be a hot spot for celebrities, royalty and the theorist Friedrich Nitchze (random) who said of Eze that it is one of the worlds most serene places with its location and view.
After about 2 hours it was getting hot and the sea was looking really good. So we drove down the cliffs and made it to the seasid. Something that I never knew or even thought would be a problem was getting to the sea was not easy. I realize now that the hardest part about driving in Europe is the parking. This is obviously why relatively no one drives SUV and when you see one it just looks ridiculous on these small streets. So we drove seriously for about an hour and a half looking for parking along a 5 mile stretch with no luck in any parking. Again, I was the tourist who was driving super slow down these tiny streets hoping, praying someone would pull out. This is never a good thing, especially when the guy behind you continues to throw his hands up on the air and ride your tail to make go faster. We finally found a spot and I'm guessing because the beach was not the nicest, although to the bum that had set up a make shift house out of scrap wood on the side of the cliff leading down to the water it was probably prime real estate.
Slipping and slidding on the rocks as we made our way into the water was not very easy or what we expected. It was even more of a suprise when the water was so warm and salty it felt thick. I'm not complaining but the people on the the 200 foot yacht with a massive waterslide leading into the sea looked as though they were enjoying themselves a bit more than we were. After getting our fill of the water and rocky dirty beach (maybe thats why we found parking) we headed back to Albenga.
When we got back to Albenga Emma was preparing dinner for us which was a nice suprise having not really eaten all day. Italy is known for its Prosciutto and she had bought this kind that was beef (most common is pork) and had squeezed lemon over it. Emma is an awesome woman who speaks good English with the thickest Italian accent where every word in her sentence ends with an a. When she asked if we liked the food she said, "You-a like-a the-a Prosciutto?". The meat was amazing (it was from a Prosciutto shop that is famous and has been on TV in Italy) and I would have never thought to add lemon to something like that but it made it too good. We ate it with a salad that had full cherry tomatoes, fresh goats cheese and artisanel olive oil from her friends olive oil press (the first one in Albenga which is old) and balsamic vinegar. Whenever Emma introduces us to a product local to the region she says, "this-a is-a special to Albenga". Because the town is so small everyone shops as locally as they can supporting local farmers so everything is really fresh.
Albenga has been great and everyone has treated us as if we were locals. You know you've found a good place when you come to a town where you fell like you are coming home, Albenga, who would have thought.