In which Charles is introduced to a big Lizard and to bloggers from Italy, Spain, Belgium and Sweden. And eats lots of Pizza.

 

In April I received  a most unusual invitation:

Dear Blogger,
this mail comes from Liguria, a region situated in the Italy’s
northwest.
We have visited your website and your blog too, we have traveled (sic) with
you through your captivating multimedia content and we have enjoyed
your stories.
Maybe you would like to visit our area as well, walking up and down
all-round the Riviera dei Fiori with us. A narrow land closed between
sea and mountains, full of history and traditions; here you can find
great panoramas, beautiful villages, excellent food and welcoming
people.
We would like to host you in september, for a week, in order to
receive your expert traveller opinion.

 

The contact came from one timon@timonlepidustrip. Timon Lepidus – that’s an amazing name, like someone from ancient Rome. I googled and found that Timon Lepidus is, in fact, a lizard.

Was this a spoof?  Why would someone think that I would want to go to Italy to see a lizard?

Timon (real name turns out to be Alessio Tondo – not a bad name in itself)- had sent a link to a website  which described the purpose of the trip: not a lizard-hunting expedition but one to test out a new walking route he was hoping to establish in Liguria. (Well, new in parts – it emerged his  path was mostly based on the existing Via Della Costa – but taking out most of the churches and and trying to keep a bit closer to the coast.)

I felt flattered by being thought of an an expert and hooked by the talk of beautiful villages and excellent food. The Riviera dei Flori (The Riviera of flowers) sounds up my street, doesn’t it?  And on day one we would be visiting the Hanbury Botanic Garden (La Mortola); a garden I had not visited before. An offer I couldn’t refuse? I thought so.

I had been on several press trips to Italy  in the past, the most recent being in 2016 – an all-expenses paid week supposedly walking on the Via Francigena (full story of that trip here). Except that on that trip we spent hardly any time walking, and an awful lot of time sitting on a coach and having talks in beautiful rooms from local dignitaries about their wonderful wine/town/ice-cream/camp site. Although I had  enjoyed that trip (and hey, I received a blessing from the Pope at the end of it) I didn’t want a repeat. Also, this wasn’t expenses paid – it included our accommodation, visits and most meals but not the air fare (Easyjet, £295 Bristol to Nice – hardly cheap).

During the next few weeks of email exchanges (and one rather jittery Skype conversation ) with Alessio I felt reassured that he really was wanting us to walk, that I would have my own room, and that I would be able to cope with his quite demanding programme.  Well, that’s what I told him – I wasn’t too sure on that score.

Of the four days walking, the last two were going to be around 14 miles, which is more than I am normally comfortable with, and on top of the route we would have two guided walks on both days around towns we would pass through.  I felt better about the distances after I had managed  a couple of 15 mile days walking on Offa’s Dyke with Paul (I will be writing this up soon).  But as August turned to September the weather on the Riviera dei Fiori was hardly autumnal with temperatures around 28 or 29 degrees and was showing every sign of staying that way. Back to feeling intimidated.Mad dogs and Englishmen?

Also, I had not really taken in that apart from one of our guides (Lorenzo, who turned out to a super-fit, Everest-climbing, sub-60, super-hero), I would be the eldest in the group of nine by about 20 years. If anyone was going to expire, it was likely to be me.  Ultimately, I said to myself that if I was finding that I wasn’t coping I would simply deal with it. I wasn’t going to die in Italy – not even for a free meal with drinks.

So (I make no apology for this “so”) Sunday September 9th saw me enjoying the view from my window seat on the Easyjet flight from Bristol to Nice, feeling, if not excited, then not in too much a state of anxiety either.

Image of Easyjet plane wind by Charles Hawes

We would be a group of nine. Just five of us were bloggers – and I was the only male of the five and the only one who just blogged about walking. Alessio and Lorenzo would be our guides and we would also be joined each day by two local students of tourism, Beatrice and Miriam.

Ok, time for some introductions:

Alessio Tondo of Timon Lepidus Trip; image by Charles Hawes

Alessio- Our Leader and Giver Of All Good Things and a Gentleman

(I never got clear what Alessio does for a living but he seems to have organised the entire project in his own time)

 

Lorenzo Gariano climbing tree; image by Charles Hawes

Lorenzo. Principal translator and all round Super-Hero with just a touch of the show-off.

Lorenzo appears to circulate the globe doing extreme climbing and hiking and gets paid for doing so.

Andrea; image by Charles Hawes

Andrea The Lovelorn . He owned the apartment and made us breakfast every morning and provided unlimited beers every night.

Andrea owns several apartments in Liguria and finds it all a bit of a pain but he was surprisingly relaxed.

Self portrait by Katarina Wohlfart

Katarina (blogger)- Swedish beauty who loves to talk and knows her way round her camera better than I do.

Katarina has a full time job working with adults who have “issues” but is looking to move into being more of a techy. Katarina blogs at http://www.antligenvilse.se/blogg/. 

Inma Gregorio; Image by Charles Hawes

Inma (blogger) from Spain; with a temperament the colour of her hair and a reluctant subject

Inma seems to get paid for travelling and blogging. Inma blogs at https://www.aworldtotravel.com/

 

 

Marika Ciaccia; image by Charles Hawes

Marika from Italy (blogger) – professional heart breaker (inside information), vivacious and as full of energy as a puppy on steroids

I don’t know what she does when is not breaking hearts. Marika blogs at https://mylifeintrek.it/

 

Els Mahieu; image by Charles Hawes

Els from Belgium (blogger) but living in Belfast- I thought of her as the Grown Up (apart from me, natch) and I loved her sense of humour

Els landed up in Northern Ireland for love and works in the  Tourist Office. She blogs at http://www.myfeetaremeanttoroam.com/

 

Beatrice Demotis; image by Charles Hawes

Beatrice (student) – Image is All

 

Miriam Rizzuto; image by Charles Hawes

Miriam (student) – Such a sweet girl

If I fulfil my intentions you will see a lot more of all of my companions in due course. In the meantime….

Alessio was there to greet me and whisked me off to an airport  cafe where Els and Katarina had been waiting. Marika was arriving by train to our base in Imperia and Inma was coming a bit later. I fell in step with Katarina as we walked to our minibus; she was a generous  and energetic talker and I just enjoyed listening to her excellent English delivered in a Swedish lilt and with just enough grammatical errors to be utterly charming.  From Nice to Imperia was about an hour and a half on the A10. This road goes to Genoa; the recent disaster of a motorway bridge collapsing was fresh in my mind, as was a piece someone had written in The Spectator about how terrifying the tunnels were along this road.  In truth I wasn’t worried; denial is useful like that. I kept my eyes on the view.

Charles Hawes; image by katarina Wohlfart

Thanks to Katarina for this study of the back of my head.

We were accommodated on the second floor of a building on the edge of Imperia made up of several apartments and the building was set back a little way from from a road right next to the sea.

The sea off Imperia; image by Katarina Wohlfart

Lovely pared back shot of the sea from the apartment by Katarina

Andrea was there to greet us and show us around and give us two sets of keys between us. We had four rooms (not en-suite) between the five of us and two bathrooms. Els and Marika seemed to be happy to share (Els speaks reasonable Italian) and took the twin room at the front. Katarina grabbed the best room in the place – a huge  room overlooking the sea and with a balcony and a double bed.

Apartment in Imperia; image by Charles Hawes

Katarina’s room ; pic by Katarina!

My choice was between a double and a single bed in rooms at the side of the apartment (sharing a balcony and still had a sea view).  Since Inma wasn’t there I chose the double (also right next to one of the two bathrooms.) A big, light room with sockets in all the right places that I immediately felt at home in.

Room in apartment in Imperia; image by Charles Hawes

I unpacked and had a look from my balcony and had a wonderful rush of excitement and feeling good ; this was going to be fun!

The sea at Imperia; image by Charles Hawes

Time for a beer. Two more floors up, at the top of the apartment, were the kitchens a big dining room and a terrace where for the next 5 mornings we were to enjoy breakfast at sunrise.  No one appeared to be around but above me I heard voices.  A steep flight of metal stairs led to the roof where Katarina, Els and Marika were already on their second.

Charles Hawes, Els Mahieu and Marika Ciaccia; image by Katarina Wohlfart

It was a sultry, beautiful evening. Alessio turned up with a ruck-sac full of goodies and forms for us to sign and Andrea, meanwhile, provided us with more beer, olives, breads and tapenade.

Snacks in Liguria; image by Katarina Wohlfart

Inma still hadn’t arrived and all this fresh air was making us hungry, so while Alessio dealt out the goodies, Andrea went off to get the first of our take-way pizza orders.

Goody table on Timon Lepidus Trip; image by Charles Hawes

Goody bags are something you expect on press trips. Usually most of the stuff is either tacky or heavy (like not very good books on regional food or something). Our treats were rather practical.

We each had a pen, a water bottle, a first aid kit including a torch (because, Alessio said, we would be walking through some tunnels – ooo, exciting!), a mini rucksack-in-a-bag, and a thingy which creatives could make into a wrist band (see Marika) or head band or, I suppose an emergency tourniquet.  What no tee-shirt with the Lizard logo? He missed a trick there.

Goody table on Timon Lepidus Trip; image by Charles Hawes

On the sea below us, a sun-worshippers was staging a last stand….

Man on rocky outcrop at Imperia; image by Charles Hawes

… watching a solitary windsurfer grab the last puff of air before heading home.

Windsurfer at Imperia, Italy; image by Charles Hawes

Back on the terrace, the pizzas had arrived, the beer was still flowing and I was feeling happy.

Portrait of Charles Hawes by Katarina Wohlfart

As captured by Katarina -its not often you get to see my teeth (a good thing). I’m not convinced this is flattering.

We had such a feast that night. Inma arrived half way through but there was little time to say hello.

Pizza feast; image by Charles Hawes

Inma top left of pic

And I think we were all pretty tired, and with Alessio demanding that we breakfasted at 7, we needed an early night. Well, I did anyway.

 

 

Pizza feast; image by Katarina Wohlfart

Eating pizza as Art, courtesy of Katarina

We were all there in the morning though at 7sh , ready to roll!

Breakfast on the terrace in Imperia; image by Charles Hawes

From ;left to right: Katarina, Andrea, Marika, Els and Inma

Special thanks to Katarina Wohlfart for all her great pics and to Els Mahieu for telling me stuff about the trip that I had been too lazy to find out about myself. 

 

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Copyright Charles Hawes (2012)