I woke up in Mondragone around 9, with a Polish woman who spoke no English or Italian bustling around me. Groggy eyed, I tried to explain why I was there while simultaneously coming to and accepting my surroundings. I have gotten pretty used to the feeling of waking up in an unfamiliar place...but waking up on a beach chair in an enormous dirty garage with old circus type equipment and a car that looked like it has been bombed still always gets me. Eventually I got up and went into the main beach cafe thing and got a bite to eat and charged my phone. The woman working the counter gave me a token for the shower and I quickly rinsed myself off before heading back into the center of town. I bought some credit for my cell phone and had a woman help me out with adding the minutes before hitting the road towards Napoli.
People had told me that Mondragone was sketchy...and people in Mondragone told me that Napoli was sketchy, so I didn't really know what to expect. People kept telling me to "not stop" on the way to Napoli. It was a long run, and I definitely stopped a couple times to get some water. I took the whole thing pretty slow and easy in general. The run never really seemed dangerous at all...except for the usual crazy Italian drivers and high speed roads with no place for me.
When I got to the edge of Napoli I was wiped. I stopped in a grocery store and got something to eat and drink and then ended up walking the rest of the way to Dave's apartment, a guy who I met through couchsurfing.
I had to wait a couple hours or so for Dave to get home, so I killed some time by stretching and then heading to a nearby pub for a very good beer. Dave called me just as I left the pub, and I met him around 8 at his apartment. Dave is a U.S. Marine, which naturally makes him a few times more bad**s than a normal person, so I didn't have to worry much about my stay in Napoli not being awesome.
After I took a shower we headed out to meet Dave's friend Fergus and then hit the town to get some drinks. I had a great night talking to random Italian students, drinking and eating...and around three in the morning we took a cab back home and I fell asleep in an incredibly comfortable bed in an air conditioned apartment as my change of clothes spun around in the washing machine.
30 August 2009
I slept comfortably and late, and woke up alone in Mal's apartment. He had gone to work early and left me there to get some things done before I headed out. I had some cereal from his huge selection of American kid cereals (Lucky Charms, Fruity Pebbles, Captain Crunch...the classics) and spent a while working on the computer, putting out a blog post and planning my next couple days. I was enjoying the peace and didn't start running until almost three o'clock.
The run towards Mondragone was long, and I took it pretty easy. I was pretty anxious for the whole run...and as I ran all these crazy thoughts were simultaneously running through my head. I was imagining gang violence and mafia scenes...and to be honest, I was pretty excited to get to where I was going. When I came into town, it was the early evening and from the way people were speaking, I was expecting gun shots and baseball bats. Instead, it was old guys sitting on the side of the street in lawn chairs in front of pizzerias. I did the safe thing and went into a pizzeria and got a couple slices. I spent some time talking with the guy who worked there. He was the same age as me, and we spoke in English. He couldn't host me, but he pointed me in the right direction of the beach, where I would more likely find people in the evening.
Somewhere it got dark and sometime I found myself near the beach. Apart from a couple people offering to sell me drugs and a slightly different feel of the city, the place really didn't resemble the nightmare that it was put out to be. I still felt like I should take the advice that I was given and not sleep outside, so I began my process of talking to random people. This time, it was in search of a store where I could add minutes to my phone. I spoke with several people, including an ex-semi-professional German tennis player before I walked into an online Poker bar (that also sold phone minutes) and asked if I could buy some credit. For some reason the credit wasn't available, but I got into conversation with all the young people that were hanging out there. Just awesome people, nice and joking all the time. They let me use one of the computers and told me to take a "shower" in the sink. I went in and wiped myself off with a towel and changed my clothes. When I emerged, one of them (Antonio) sprayed me with some Italian cologne (a lot) and I was ready to party. We looked over my blog, and everyone was excited to take the above photo. Enzo (who ran the restaurant next door) made me a mean sandwich, and as I ate, Antonio wrote my blog post for the day:
"Sono stato a Mondragone in provincia di Casserta. Sono stato accolto molto bene da tutto le persone. Infatti sono stato invitato da Enzo "Big Show" a mangiare uno buonissimo panino. Dopo sono stato nel Pokeroom di Armando, dove ho conoscuto tanti ragazzi: Alessandro "polpetta," Mario, Valerio "Sidis," e Antonio "Tropicale." In fino sono stato ospitato presso il lido Cin Cin da Gianluea "Zanna." Ora sono diretto a Napoli."
No one was really in a position to offer me a place to sleep, but the guys helped me out by talking to a man who ran a private beach/bar thing down the road. They brought me there, and I spent the rest of the evening talking to some another funny group of young people. It was someones birthday party, so people kept bringing me plates of food and birthday cake. I washed my things in a sink before going to sleep on a beach bed in a kind of sketchy garage. A man who was working there would be guarding the place all night, so I fell asleep feeling pretty safe some time around three in the morning.
The south of Italy might be famous for mafia lifestyles and crime...but I didn't see any of that. Instead, I saw the other things that this region is famous for: happy, helpful people and delicious Mozzarella di Bufala. I think I found the better part.
29 August 2009
I slept until almost ten am, woke up, packed up my stuff (a pretty quick procedure), and headed into town. I had been staying in the apartment of Lino's mother (who wasn't there), so I called Lino to meet him for breakfast. We met in the same place that I had met his wife Anna Maria the night before, and I had a bite to eat and a liter and a half of water. Lino decided to run with me for 5 km or so, and we set out after noon towards Gaeta. He informed the that the first 20 km or so of my run would be fairly comfortable, with a wide shoulder and little traffic...but the last part would consist of mountain curves with no shoulder and in turn no place for me.
We had a good run together, and I just cruised on towards Gaeta. Because the number of kilometers started with a "3" I somehow considered it "a short day." So much of running is mental, and I am a big believer in trying to trick your mind into doing things that your body doesn't want to do. I often break down my runs into halfs, thirds, or hours to make it easier on me. When I get to some artificial marker that I have made I think "ok, the run is done, good job...now you just have to do the same thing again without stopping in between." I have run with artificial mental fractions for years, and it seems to get me through. Maybe I'm just bad at math, but this system definitely seems to work a lot less when there is more than 40 kilometers between me and where I want to go.
Anyways. The run was easy and straightforward, and while the roads were windy they were much less perilous than others that I have been on, and I got to run through several short tunnels. Running through tunnels is always a little bit scary, but also pretty freaking exciting.
I got into the edge of the town of Gaeta about 34 km into my run, where I stopped and decided to walk into town. I didn't realize however that my couchsurfing host Mal lived on the side of a hill at the far end of the peninsula on which the town was situated, and that I would have to add on a few more kilometers of switchback roads to get from one side of the small town to the other where he lived.
Mal is stationed in Gaeta through the Navy, and I had a very relaxed stay at his place which has an amazing view of the water. We went to a grocery store and and stocked up on stuff to eat, and had a great dinner when we got home.
In the late evening, I got a few calls from some friends from the days before, all of whom warned me about the coming days. Everyone in the north has told me to watch out down south...and in the morning I would be running down south. One friend told me to just run straight through all of Campania without stopping...almost 100 km to get to Napoli. "Whatever you do, don't sleep outdoors in Mondragone...it is a little bit...Bronx." Not stopping, however would be just as dangerous for my body as any ghetto. This night, I went to sleep on a comfortable and safe airbed, knowing that in the morning I would be running to Mondragone and that I had nowhere to sleep there.
27 August 2009
I slept for a solid 9 hours or so, and after 11 am we gathered our things and headed into Latina with Tobias. We went to a gym were Luana (who we met during the race) worked and hung out for a while waiting for Dere to meet us. We talked until around 12:30 when I said my goodbyes. Tobias and Dere were heading out to do some work and then go back into Rome, and Dan was going with them as his flight was the following morning. Luana took me on a motor scooter tour of the town and pointed out all of the rationalist fascist Architecture to me...including a building which is very clearly in the shape of an "M" for Mussolini. The entire town was basically rebuilt and renamed by the guy.
At one o'clock she dropped me off at the place where Dan and I had arrived the day before, and I met up with Mario (who I had met the night before at dinner) who had offered to accompany me 32 km or so to San Felice. Mario not only knew the way, but also knew the few places where fountains could be found for a quick water stop, so I had the rare opportunity to just run without having to worry about any of that stuff. Mario has run a 2:30 marathon, so I was pretty sure he wouldn't have a problem keeping up. We had the kind of run that you can only have with another person...the kind where you are pushing the pace but don't really want the other person to think that you are. The kind where you say:
"This pace alright for you?"
"Yeah, good for me...I mean, if it is alright for you."
"Yeah, I mean, it is definitely good for me...I mean, unless it is too fast for you of course."
We alternated the lead every 15 minutes, which made the run go by much faster. It was definitely in the nineties, and halfway into the run I could hear that wet shoe sound squeege in time with Mario's stride. Too much sweat. We averaged 6:05 mile pace for that 32 km. Not too bad for running with a backpack. Once we got into town, we walked down the main street of town for a few minutes where we hydrated and Mario bought me some awesome granita. Soon afterwards he got picked up and I started on my way to cover the next 14 km or so to Terracina.
It wasn't long before I started to get hungry, so I stopped for a sandwich and a tube of the Italian version of "Fruit Pastilles" and then walked for a while before running the last 8 km or so into Terracina.
I called Christina, who I had met the evening before, and who said she might know someone in Terracina that could help me out. She informed me that nothing had come up. I then called Mario to see if he knew anybody (I've got much better odds if I can find someone through someone who knows me). He told me he would call some people and get back to me. Waiting around, I wandered around the historic center of town, and then slowly started making my way up the hill where I had seen an awesome wall and a temple overlooking the town. I was wearing my 99 cent flip flops, but they had gotten to that point that the little thing popped out of the hole every 5 steps (that thing that cheap flip flops do). I decided to just put my running shoes back on and make a run for it. Sometimes I wake up feeling tired and unable to run in the morning and go to bed having run one of my longest days ever. This was one of those days...but when I got to the top of the little mountain, it was all worth it. The view from the top was amazing.
Mario called me back while I was on the top, and told me that I needed to go back into town and meet the wife of his friend a little after midnight. It was a little too dark and dangerous to take the little busy windy road back into town, and considering that it wasn't really a part of my "line" but a little detour, I got a ride back into the center of town with a family. I sat in the back with their probably 5 year old daughter that kept going on and on about her toy crocodile and how the crocodile was going to her house. It was pretty funny, and I enjoyed hearing a little kid pronounce "crocodile" the Italian way about 30 times in a 5 minute drive.
I got something to eat back in the center of town, and around midnight I met Anna Maria (the wife of a runner friend of Mario) who brought me to Mario's mother's apartment where I could sleep for the night. Once again, BED.
In the morning Dan and I drove with Tobias and Dere to a nearby athletics store and watched them do some business before they dropped us off in Lanuvio for our run. 37 kilometers in the heat. The run was long and hot, and as almost a perfect contrast to the fountains and beautiful antique Appian way that carried us through the beginning of our run the day before, we finished our run with only one stop for water and an extended section along the side of a busy highway. Dan says "You run on roads like this?!" I respond "Eh, when I have to." The road ended up being better than it looked.
When we got into town, we went into a grocery store in search of some chocolate milk. Now there were two of us who were disappointed to see that it wasn't available. Instead of just settling for something else, we ended up getting a container of Nesquik and some regular milk. Before we had left the grocery store parking lot I had worked my way through two liters of incredibly chocolaty chocolate milk. I had to get my money's worth.
From there, we walked to a McDonald's where I used the bathroom and we sat outside on their covered park benches talking for a while. Having just come out of this radio interview with "EcoRadio," we started talking about the actual environmental implications of my run. I don't really think of running as a particularly efficient means of transportation, and unless you love to run I don't think it would be a good idea to ditch your car/bicycle/motorcycle on that cross country road trip you have been planning just for the sake of the environment. Dan brought up an interesting point (from this book "Omnivore's Dilemma" that he had read) that most or our diet (especially corn products) comes from a conversion of fossil fuels into food. We can't eat fossil fuels for energy, so we burn them to power the machinery that harvests our great corn fields, and then we use that corn to feed our proteins. Every time that exchange is made, we lose a certain amount of energy through heat or waste, and what we end up eating gives us much less energy than what we started with. With the amount of food that I eat, I'm sure that I have burned much more fossil fuels than if I had just hopped in a car and drove to Athens on a couple tanks of gas. Then again though, I'm not really just looking to go to Athens.
For me, the environmental lesson of my run is not the efficiency of human travel, but rather my own personal ability to see first hand the scale of the world. Seeing the size of this continent on my own two feet, and seeing where cities end and where mountains begin, I have developed a greater understanding of how small our world actually is. This place really is like a "Spaceship Earth." Everything we make and throw away doesn't have very far to go. The grime of Milan is only a few runs away from the mountains and crystal waters of the Alps. For me, seeing that everything REALLY is connected is one of the greatest lessons of this trip. When you take a plane or a train from one city to the next, it is easy to think of each city as its own little island. There are no such islands on this planet...everything is connected to everything. The only real island is our own planet...and if we eat all the coconuts we are going to be in some serious trouble.
I don't know how much I believe in most hippie/organic products and lifestyles...with the amount of energy and waste that goes into producing those things (things that power humans) they aren't much better than what we are used to. For me though, the good thing is that we are thinking about it. With all that soy milk burning, someone has got to come up with a good solution eventually.
Anyways, after this conversation we went to an Internet cafe where a hamster powered our computers as we fed it French fries, and when we were done we met up Tobias, Dere and a bunch of other friends and runners to have another epic refueling session. When we were done with dinner, we drove back with Andrea, and I took a shower and washed my stuff before going to sleep in the same place as the night before.
25 August 2009
In the morning, Dan and I had some breakfast with Tobias and his kids and we drove back into town where Tobias dropped us off at the Caracalla baths, a place that I had arrived on foot (and interestingly the inspiration for the old Penn station)...and the place from which Dan and I would begin running towards Napoli. The large part of our run was along the Via Appia Antica, and we collectively marvelled at the Italian landscape and numerous Roman ruins as we hopped over giant classical paving stones. It was incredibly hot, but we were lucky to have flowing potable fountains about every 20 minutes of the run...so apart from the heat and an epic endless uphill, it was a pretty good run. The good thing about epic uphills is that they generally end in epic views and long downhills. When we hit a huge bridge in Arricia and looked over at the countryside below, it all seemed worth it.
We got into Lanuvio in the early afternoon and bought something to drink. A couple minutes later, a Brooks van pulled into the center of the tiny town and Tobias stepped out and introduced us to his friend Dereje. There was a race in a somewhat nearby town called Sabaudia this evening, so we went with them to watch the race.
We spent the rest of the day lounging around a race start (we couldn't enter because we lacked some Italian athletics card...not that we really wanted to anyways after a 31 km run) talking to some cool runners and relaxing. Dan was having some problems with his knee, and he got some ice from a camo military medic van before the race rolled around us. Dereje ended up winning, and as I smiled and shouted as he came out of the woods into the last 200 meters, I couldn't help but feel like I was at a race back home cheering on my teammates.
After everyone rinsed off with a hose and watched the awards ceremony, we drove with a group of people up to an amazing little restaurant in the mountains. We didn't even order anything, but they just kept bringing more and more food. Plates and plates kept coming out, and we shared them "family style" between 7 people or so. The food was amazing, and the meal ended with lemon gelato, limoncello and pastries. It was an epic meal that lasted into the late hours of the night. Eventually we drove back with Tobias, Dereje and Andrea to their place nearby. I took a shower, threw my stuff in the laundry and went to sleep stuffed. A couple rough nights last week sure helped me appreciate the easy ones a bit more.
24 August 2009
A lot happened in Rome. One thing that didn't happen frequently enough was Internet access, so I'm going to try to catch up on those three days in one quick post. I had been to Rome once before (a time where I looked up the location of every single sculpture/painting/building that I had seen in Art Humanities and architecture classes and searched each one out)...so this time was a little more relaxed. Just kind of chilled out and worked on finding places to sleep each night. As quickly as possible, these were my three days in Rome:
90--Woke up in Paolo's apartment. Went to the dentist office where he works to use the computer and send out a few emergency couchsurfing requests. Say goodbye to Paolo. Go to Trevi Fountain to meet the infamous Dan Whitt, a fellow former Columbian athlete who came out to run with me for a couple days. Go with Dan to his hostel, where I met Ruby who was working at the desk. She wouldn't be staying in her apartment that night, so offered to let me stay there. Walked around the Colosseum and near the Roman Forum with Dan (but not through the forum...it has been recently fenced off and you have to pay to enter). Met Ruby and many backpackers (Australian and American) for dinner and good wine. Went to bed and slept for 10 hours.
91--Woke up and met Dan after 11. Went on first run in three months without backpack. 30 km or so down to the baths of Caracalla and up along the Tevere. Got called by Alfredo from couchsurfing who asked me to come and do a Radio interview for the station "EcoRadio." Rushed to the subway without showering to meet him. Drank two 1-Euro McDonald's chocolate shakes on the way. Arrived not really knowing what to expect. Walked quickly to the station while Alfredo informed me that the interview would be live and in Italian. "Hahaha." No, but really. Somehow did Radio interview (which I will try to put up for listening pleasure if I can get a hold of it). Went back to meet Dan. Went back with Dan to meet Alfredo. Went with Dan and Alfredo through town and then to his Apartment to get some dinner and see a pretty wicked view of the city. Dan went to hostel. I went to sleep.
92--Three month mark of my departure. Said bye to Alfredo, went back into town. Met Dan and walked to the Galleria Borghese. Paid a heavy price to see arguably the greatest statues that have ever been carved. Grinned for two hours looking up at marble that seemed beyond alive. Reassured myself of the greatness of Bernini. Walked with Dan to the Vatican. Entered what could almost be defined as my 7th country (city-state). Marvelled at the interior of St. Peter's and thought of the other people that have come here from Northern Europe on foot (Specifically from Amiens, Day 22). Also thought of the 1/3 scale replica that Matthijs pointed me to outside of Willemstad (Day 8) long long ago. Called up Tobias (a friend of Marco from Brooks) and went to his place with Dan. Spent the evening hanging out with his awesome kids and eating way too much food. Got a comfortable night of sleep for the third time in a row.
Through all of this I just kept thinking: I am in Rome...I can't believe I made it here. I've still got a long ways to go, but man am I looking forward to it.
22 August 2009
I am in a castle, a museum or an old Roman library. It is an awesome place, like in a mystery novel...and I am wandering through on some adventure looking for a bathroom. Stepping around a corner in the dim light, I do not notice the step below. I understep and lose my balance. I collide with the ground but suddenly realize that it is not castle floor that I have hit. I have collided with the hard earth, waking up suddenly to realize that I have fallen off my high stone park bench. I am not in a romantic castle. It is 6 a.m. and I am lying on the ground in a public park in Marina di Cerveteri.
I hadn't slept much at all, but I knew that I needed to take off. Today was going to be one of the hottest days yet, and it would be good if I could make it out of town in the early morning. I gathered my things and set out on the road towards Rome. The first 6 km were pretty slow, as I had not really fully woken up and I actually desperately needed to find a bathroom. Once I had found something to eat and a bathroom though, I was ready to run and clicked off a solid two hours or more.
Two hours of running was my line today. I am pretty good about running while being sleep deprived...my years at Columbia of being an architecture student and an athlete prepared me for this part of the trip. I would sleep for two hours and then have to do a two hour progression run at the Rockies. I couldn't say "Sorry I can't go, I'm tired" then...and I definitely can't say it now. But two hours of running was my line today though. The sun wore me down, and I stopped in a grocery store to grab something to drink before walking the rest of the way into the city. The road was a bit crazy, and I definitely had to hop over some highway barriers and run along some very busy sections on occasion. I made it though, and now...now I am in Rome.
When I got into town, I called Tobias, a friend of Marco who works for Brooks. Originally I had planned on staying with him, but he was away on vacation. He tried to find some of his friends...but they were all on vacation too. Everyone was on vacation. John (who's mom I stayed with in Milan) gave me a huge list of people he knew in Rome. All of them seemed to be on vacation too. The whole city was gone. I had been sure I would find a place...but it seemed rather unlikely now.
By some miracle however, Paolo from near Orbetello was coming into town late at night for an appointment he had in the morning (he is a dentist)...and once again he hooked me up with a comfortable place to sleep for the night. Until I met him, the rest of the day was pretty uninteresting. I fell asleep in the park inside of the Castello S. Angelo and spent some time in an Internet cafe.
Around midnight I walked 5 km or so to the north side of town to meet up with Paolo at his apartment. It was pretty strange seeing someone that I had seen 4 days before. Those days in between had been pretty rough, but here I was...in Rome and with a bed. It was glorious.
21 August 2009
I woke up around 6 am with the head of a train breathing in my face. The conductor was looking at me. I felt pretty awkward.I got up and went back into town where I found the laundromat that I knew would be open at 6. I changed into my pants and jacket, put in my clothes, plugged in my phone and fell asleep as my clothes spun around. I woke up briefly to put them in the dryer and then went back to sleep, staying in the place until around 10 or 11 am. From there I went to the "Seaman's Center" Internet cafe (Civitiavecchia is a big port town) where I ate breakfast and did some work on the computer. Before setting out on my run, I spent a few minutes on a park bench applying sunscreen and organizing my stuff. I was beginning to emit a very serious homeless dude vibe.
I set out in the direction of Ladispoli in the mid afternoon during one of the hottest days of summer. Around 40 minutes I felt like death, but found a magical waterfountain that restored my health and allowed me to keep running until the 2 hour mark rolled around and I stopped in a town 4 km before Ladispoli. People in Civitiavecchia had told me that Ladispoli was pretty dangerous, so I decided to give where I was a shot. It was getting late, and the Marina di Cerveteri seemed like a safer stop. I went to a pastry shop and bought some Powerade and water and then had some spinach pizza thing before trying to make something happen.
I wandered around town for a while, and followed the direction of some runners towards the beach, where there was a 1 km straightaway that people were running back and forth on. I had already run about thirty kilometers to get to where I was, and I was also starting to get some serious chafing...but I decided to try the "find a runner" approach once again. I would find a runner or group of runners, run up along side them and say "This is strange but..." and tell them my story. I met a lot of runners, and covered some more kilometers running next to people, trying to let them see that I was a normal guy and hoping they might offer me a shower or a place to sleep. No dice. One guy seemed pretty nice, and was talking to me about all sorts of things...about marathons that he has run in the US, etc. I was giving him advice on form and kind of pacing him (he was panting in an attempt to finish 10 km at 5:00 pace). I jogged next to this guy for 8 km helping him through his "workout"...at the end of it, I was sure that he would be up to help me out...to let me sleep in his garage, or at least call a friend for me. Instead, he said goodbye and left me on the street. "You're welcome for the workout."
I joined another guy, who couldn't help me out. He had a wife and seemed a little bit afraid. I would also be afraid of a scrawny kid like me. He did point me in the direction of the nearby church...but it was 9 pm when I got there and everything was closed up and locked. It was a huge complex with several buildings and community gathering spaces, so I called the number on the gates to see if someone might be willing to help out. After the second time I called, a woman answered:
"Hello, I am an American who arrived here on foot from Amsterdam, and tomorrow I am running to Rome and the Vatican...but I need somewhere to rest for the night. A man told me that I could find help here. Is this true?"
"No. No. Absolutely no. Goodbye."
From there I started walking back towards the center of town. I found a girl speaking American English to her mother on a balcony, and stopped to tell her my story. She brought me back to the church to see that it was in fact closed and that nobody would help me there. She didn't have any space for me, but offered me a towel and a reclining beach chair that I could take with me to sleep in the park with. I said "Thank You" and that I would come back for it if I found nothing. I was hungry, so I went into a nearby kebab place to grab something to eat. I ordered a kebab wrap and a bottle of water. Somewhere along the line I got to talking to the guy who was working there, and he offered me what I was eating for free. He had come here from Romania and had seen some difficult times early on...he knew a little bit about how I was feeling. I said that I couldn't accept...but he wouldn't let me pay, and before I left he handed me a bag with two more kebab sandwiches and two bottles of water. Way too much food, but I ended up working my way through it before the end of the night.
I talked with so many people that night...but none of them resulted in a place to stay. There are many reasons that make Italy a difficult place to find places to stay. Many people live with their parents until very late in life, and afterwards they live with their wives. I don't know how stable these relationships are, but it seems that people and are always afraid to make them upset. The other problem for me is general fear and distrust. Here, things go wrong all the time...things break down, stores close when they like, roads are falling apart, etc. You just can't have much in terms of expectations. People lose trust in the world around them, and in turn they lose trust in others. Guys twice my size seem afraid of me. It is nuts.
Some time after midnight, after talking to around thirty people, I decided to call it a night and head towards the beach. When it gets late and I have talked with too many people, I just can't do it anymore. I feel like a broken record, and that whatever I am saying is no longer really me...that even if the person allows me into their home, that there isn't time to forge a real connection. I did pass one more group of kids before completely giving up. They ended up offering me a shower (which was very important for running the next day, considering my chafing), and I went out to sleep near the train station. I went out to the farthest bench and fell asleep. It was cold and trains kept whizzing by incredibly quickly. Around 4:30 I got up and spent some time trying to find a better place. I wish I had a record of all the places I climbed on top off, fences I hopped and places I walked through searching for a better place to sleep in the tired haze of that early morning. I didn't find much, and eventually settled for a high stone bench in a small park on the edge of town. This whole sleeping on benches thing was starting to get me down, but there was one thing that kept me smiling: I would be in Rome tomorrow.
19 August 2009
I managed to stay on the park bench until after 10 am, falling in and out of sleep...despite how sketchy I looked to all the people who were passing by, all wrapped up in my silver sheet. I finally got up and spent a good several hours making loops around town trying to find a new tube of sunblock. At some point during this process I also went to a campground where I snagged some liquid soap from the bathroom and took a long, hot and free shower. I think it was around 3 pm when I finally headed out of the Montalto Marina towards Civitiavecchia.
Once again I had the problem of the Via Aurelia being too big to run on. I also once again had the dilemma of having two roads which would be perfect for taking me where I was going...except for the fact that they weren't connected on my map. When I got to the end of the first road, I stopped to ask a farmer how I could get to the next road. It was impossible by car he said, as there was a river in between ("a small river" he said after seeing the distressed look on my face). I just had to run down the country road for a while, turn in to the beach, take of my shoes, cross the river/stream where it connected with the ocean, put my shoes back on and keep running. That is what I did, and in the early evening I arrived in Civitiavecchia.
I stopped in a "Subway" and got dinner, mainly because they had free wifi. I ordered my usual "Italian BMT"...except for here it was just called "BMT." After going through my messages on my phone and reading many encouraging birthday wishes (thanks guys!) I set out to try to make some magic happen. I went down towards the water, where I saw a pretty serious looking guy run by (with expensive looking running gear). There was not much time to let this guy pass by and say "eh, the next one"...so despite the fact that I had already changed into my 99 cent flip flops, I started running after him. I have gotten used to going with the moment...I figured, if this guy is a serious runner, he will most likely have some pity on me and help me out. Turns out (despite the fancy gear) that he wasn't a very fast runner...and after catching him in flip flops and running and talking comfortably next to him for around 5 min. he pointed to a random fishing building and suggested that I "just sleep there." I kindly let him run on into the sunset and went back into town.
At some point I passed by some kind of beach gym where there were guys in cycling outfits, and I stopped by and told them my story. The woman who was running the shop let me take a quick cold shower before locking up the shop and giving me some fruit, croissants and permission to sleep on the sand in front of the gym.
After some more loops and some more dead ends, I went into an Irish Pub (they always feel welcoming) and ordered a beer. I worked my way through that and 5 bottles of water before finding the right moment to ask some advice on a place to stay. They gave me the usual response in this part of Italy: "try the train station or beach." There were a lot of people there though that were friends of the bartender, so after my story got out I spent the rest of the night talking and answering questions while desperately hoping that someone would make the offer that would make my night. When one a.m. rolled around, nothing had come my way, I was starting to fall asleep in my chair. One of the barmaids suggested that I go to the back of the bar and sleep (still sitting upright) on one of the more comfortable and discreet chairs. I don't know how long I slept, but it was hot and I was constantly in and out of awareness...I was pretty terribly tired. At some point I gave up on sleeping and re-entered the conversation. Around 3, the head bartender said he would let me sleep on the floor in the bar's outdoor terrace. When the bar finally closed up shop, I laid down using my backpack as a pillow. It wasn't ten minutes before a group of guys having an incredibly stupid argument decided to halt their conversation ten feet from where I was. One of the guys had a voice that sounded like Andre the Giant crossed with a teenage girl (impossible to imagine), and kept repeating "Un Euro!" loudly. After this went on for about a half an hour I calmly gathered my things and headed over to the train station to find a different place to sleep. I bought a Ritter Sport from the vending machine, and ate it as I headed out to the furthest bench on the furthest platform. I pulled out my space blanket and christened yet another bench "home."
18 August 2009
A.K.A. Day 8,035. My 22nd Birthday.
I woke up in the morning in a comfortable bed and went upstairs, where Paolo and his family sang the "Happy Birthday" song. I ate breakfast and spent a few hours on the computer getting caught up on my posts. Italy isn't quite as computer friendly as the rest of the countries I have visited, and due to some Big Brother policies you have to give your passport information to access a wifi hotspot or an Internet cafe.
Paolo and I had lunch together, and after saying goodbye to his family, he dropped me off near Ansedonia at the point we had run to the evening before. From there I set out towards Montalto di Castro, on a small and straight country road that ran parallel to the Via Auralia (which is a freeway in this part of the country).
The parallel road ended in Pescia Romana, so I stopped there to figure out what I would do to continue on. The country road that I had planned on taking (from looking at Paolo's map) wasn't anywhere on my cell phone's maps...so I took the plunge and ran 5 km along the Auralia until I hit the next parallel road. It actually wasn't that bad...I spent that 5 km running on top of a wide concrete curb, taking some awkward steps over gaps and around poles and turning my shoulder in every time a big truck drove by. I got into Monalto di Castro a little before 6 pm. The place was pretty much a ghost town, and apart from some short conversations with people here and there and some calls from family members, it was getting off to be a pretty lonely day.
Someone recommended that I go to the marina town 4 or 5 km away (there would be more people there), so around 8 I set off to add a little bit more to my mileage for the day. It was dark when I got into town, and I was getting hungry.
Not wanting to eat by myself on my birthday, I went up to a pair of girls about my age and said: "Have you eaten dinner yet?" A pretty up front way of approaching someone, but I didn't have anything to lose. They looked at me like I was crazy, but after explaining that I was in town alone on my birthday and that I just wanted to eat dinner with some people, they accepted and we went to a nearby pizzeria to grab something to eat. I had a big "Birra Moretti" and we spent an hour or two talking over dinner. When we finally got to the "where do you sleep?" dilemma, I learned that neither of them were from the town, and lived almost an hour away by car. The best they could do was show me where the public beach was. They left from the beach around midnight, and I fell asleep for a half hour (the beer/marathon combo had hit me hard) before forcing myself up to talk to some more people. It was my birthday, and despite how tired I was, I was going to put my remaining energy into trying to make something happen. Paolo had sent me a text message offering to come and pick me up for the night, but it didn't really make sense to me to have him drive an hour out to find me and then an hour in the morning to drop me off again.
I went to a nearby beach bar and ordered a Coke. I don't even like Coke...but it was really the only thing that I could order that wouldn't kill me immediately. One of the guys who was working there refused to plug my (dead) phone into one of the many unused outlets behind the bar. I downed the last swallow and headed out on my way.
I went to another bar and ordered another Coke, and for the first time I got completely shut out when I tried to join a group of people:
"Can I sit here?"
"No, get out of here."
"But...but...it is my birthday."
"Get out of here."
Nice Italian dudes. I forced a smile and went to go drink my coke alone on the beach. Around 2 or 3 in the morning, I walked back past the first bar that I was in...where another (nicer) bartender was locking up shop. I explained my situation to him, and he said that I could probably sleep in one of the hammocks that were on the beach. I took him up on the offer, took off my shoes and laid down to fall asleep...sand below and stars overhead.
At 4:30 a street cleaning crew passed by and started making all sorts of racket a few feet away from me. Not really able to sleep, and knowing that some employee of the beach bar was going to wake me up in an hour or so anyways, I started stumbling around the ghost town looking for another alternative. I was pretty hungry, and found a pastry shop with a door open on the edge of town. It was not open yet, but the guy sold me something anyways. I walked along the side of the beach for a little bit and stumbled through a carnival that was closed for the night before finding a park bench in the woods. It was just about long enough to fit my body, so I pulled out my space blanket and christened it "Home" for the rest of the night.
16 August 2009
In the morning, we went drove out to the harbor and spent the day on Paolo's brother's speedboat. It went fast, and in a matter of minutes we were at a nearby island where we stopped to go swimming in the beautiful clear water. All day we ate, drank and swam...every once and a while moving the boat to a new location on another part of the island to swim in some different water. This was definitely some of the nicest water I have been in, and the island was also pretty incredible. It had an old castle, and in many places there were steps cut into the stone to go down to the water. I also finally had some time to work on making my backpack and sockline tan a little bit less harsh. It was an amazing last day being 21 years old, and I just had to marvel at where I was and how I got there.
In the evening, we came back in and docked the boat, and Paolo and I prepared for a little run. He wanted to go out for a little bit, and I wanted to knock a few miles off of the next day (and get my legs moving a little bit to better recover from the day before)...so I Kenyan shuffled the 12 km up the other side of the peninsula with Paolo before dark, where his sister picked us up and drove us back.
His mom made an incredible dinner, and I ate a pretty incredible amount of food as well. After dinner Paolo went to sleep (pretty wiped out) and I spent the evening talking to his mother, who is a pretty incredible woman. She was born in Russia, and moved to Tehran when she was a baby. Refusing her arranged marriage at 10 years of age, she went to Sicily to take singing lessons. She ended up singing in New York, and meeting her husband with whom she eventually moved to Rome. Now she paints (and had a piece in the Venice Biennial long ago) and cooks and keeps a garden. We talked until late, and around two am I went to sleep...technically on my birthday.
I woke up after a good night of sleep and walked out to meet Stefano and Ella's parents Libero and Tina who had set out some stuff for me to eat. Tina gave me my laundry that she had washed and dried, and as I checked out my socks I noticed that there were no longer holes in the toes. Tina had actually mended my socks. Not only had I had a great dinner with some awesome people and a comfortable place to sleep...but I also got my laundry done and my socks repaired. I definitely know very few people who would bother to repair their socks...I think Italians are much less prone to just throw something away when it starts having problems. Regardless, it was awesome.
Stefano drove me back to where I had left with Ella the day before, and I spent the early afternoon doing some work in an Internet cafe and getting a bite to eat. I started running towards Orbetello around 2 pm, where I had found a place to stay through couchsurfing.
It was supposed to be a pretty straightforward 43 km down the Via Auralia...but when I got to it, it wasn't the same two lane country highway that I had been on before, it was a 4 lane freeway with a clear "no pedestrians" sign. I started running down it anyways, but after a couple kilometers I started feeling pretty unsafe. Running is not very fun when you have to step off the road every couple of seconds to let a semi pass by.
I decided to take first exit and try to find another way to Orbetello. There was a system of country roads that would take me there, running almost parallel to the Auralia, and the road that I was on just about connected the two. The key word there is "just about," so I ran 5 km down small country road really hoping that I could make the connection between where the road ended on my map and the main road I needed to be on to get to Orbetello. After missing my turn and having to add on an extra mile to get back where I needed to be, I got to the end of the dirt road on my map. I was at the top of a hill, and there was about a half mile between me and the road below. This half mile was through a farm, and right in the middle there was a strip of green that most likely meant a river that I would have to cross. Not really having another option, I hopped the fence into someones farm and made a run for it. I had to climb through some serious bushes to get down to the river bed (which was amazingly mostly dried up) where I spent 15 minutes picking stickers out of my shorts, and then another couple minutes tweezing splinters from the stickers out of my fingers. Eventually I emerged triumphantly on the road again and set off running towards Orbetello.
The climbing through the bushes had made me tired a little bit sooner than normal, so at 20 km I stopped in a tiny town called Montiano and bought a liter and a half of water. I drank it all and was still a little bit thirsty. I have no idea how I can fit three liters of water in my stomach, but I did...and I even kept running afterwards. This detour had added a lot to my mileage for the day, so I had to keep up the pace to get to Orbetello before too late.
Around 4 Paolo gave me a call and asked where I was at, I told him about my detour and how I would be arriving a little bit later than planned. A few kilometers later, a car pulled over on the side of the road and Paolo introduced himself. He cycles around the area pretty frequently, and had known exactly where I was. He gave me directions to get to his place and set off towards home. His place was not in Orbetello, but another 10 km or so away down a peninsula. It was going to be a long run.
I stopped once more after another 20 km and grabbed a banana and some liquid before struggling through the last several kilometers to Paolo's house. It was a 55.2 kilometer day, and I was tired and concerned about some pain that I have been having near my ankle.
I had some fruit with Paolo's family and took a shower before Paolo and I had some pesto and wine for dinner. As we at this amazing pesto (made from scratch by Paolo's mom) I used a bottle of frozen liqueur to chill my ankle.
Paolo proposed that I take a day off to go out boating with he and his brother and some some friends, and after thinking about it for a while, I accepted. I have a friend from my cross country team coming out to meet me in Rome for a few days, and if I took off a day we would most likely arrive at the same time.
I woke up baking under a hot sun...it had been cool when I fell asleep, so I had left my long black pants on. I was also lying on a reflective space blanket, which wasn't really helping to keep me cool either.
I gathered my things and started stumbling down the beach towards the Marina of Grosseto, a little less than halfway to the town I wanted to be in by the end of the day. I stopped in a beach shower/restaurant thing to take a shower, shave and change my clothes. I got something to eat and set out running towards Grosseto feeling fresh. The run was not incredibly exciting, but it was short.
In Grosseto I had the name and address of another running store, and I was really banking on another runner having some sympathy for me...but when I got there my dreams were shattered by a sign that informed me that the place was closed for the August vacation that is almost like a religious holiday here.
From there, I went into the center of town and started looking for potential places to sleep if nothing fell in my lap: I walked around a pretty cool castle that I could definitely storm at night if I needed, and tested the grass by falling asleep on it for an hour so. I went to a pretty amazing exhibit at the museum of Etruscan artifacts and spent an hour or so marvelling at the craft of some of these things that had been made almost 3,000 years ago. I couldn't sleep in the museum though.
I was feeling pretty hopeless, and in the evening I started to feel hungry...so as I passed by the "Irish Soul" pub, I decided to stop in to see if there was an Irish breakfast on the menu. There wasn't, and the two women at the door informed me that the place was actually closed for the evening. There was a soccer match between Grosseto and Roma, and they were not allowed to sell alcohol until after midnight. I started conversation with Ella and Robbie, and they invited me in to sneak a beer. The bar is awesome...and has the feel of a real pub. It is built into one of the old storage areas in the castle walls, and has enormous vaulted stone ceilings. At the end of our beers, Ella and Robbie started heading out to close up shop. They asked me what I was doing for the rest of the evening, and when I explained my scenario Ella quickly offered me a place to sleep. It was some of the best news I had ever heard.
We went back to her place, where I met here brother and her mom and dad (who was walking around in his underwear). I took a shower, and then headed out with Ella and her brother Stefano to meet some friends for a drink and dinner. We drove out of town and spent the evening at a small town party eating freshly made gnocchi and ribs while listening to folky Italian music and watching people line dance. After having a pretty rough time the night before, it was a perfect confirmation of why I have this crazy rule for myself.
Around midnight I said goodbye and Stefano drove me home and I quickly fell asleep, once again extremely grateful for the hospitality that I have received.
Someone back in Reggio had informed me that there was a beautiful beach between Follonica and Castiglione della Pescaia that I absolutely had to stop at, and in "Music and Run" many people told me the same thing. The place is called Cala Violina, and it is supposedly one of the nicest beaches in Italy, accessible only by foot down 4 km or so of dirt road. While getting there meant complicating my route a little bit, it seemed worth it, even if many of the roads I would have to take didn't appear on any map.
The directions were pretty clear to Cala Violina, and it was a beautiful 11 km to the bay. I arrived in the early afternoon and spent a few hours just chilling at the beach. It is an incredibly beautiful place with clear water, but despite the fact that it is not accessible by car, there was still a huge amount of people laying out on the beach. I escaped the crowd by climbing around to a more rocky part of the bay where there was literally nobody. As I fumbled through the water with my shoes around my neck and my backpack on, I was really hoping that I wouldn't fall in. It would really suck if all my stuff fell in the water. Luckily it didn't, and after a beautiful afternoon at the beach I set out (walking at first to let myself dry off) towards the town of Punta Ala, where I would need to find some connection over the hills/mountains to get to the road to Castiglione on the other side. Of course, there was no connection on my map over these hills, only two squiggly roads that ended in the general direction of Castiglione. To me, a squiggly road means hill...so if this road went up the hill and then happened to continue in real life where it dead-ended on my map, I could make the connection to the other side of the mountains towards Castiglione. Of the two squiggly roads up the hills, I took the one that was closest to me. Before it ended, there was an dirt road that branched off up the hill, so I figured I could probably take that up and over to the other side. Eventually though, the dirt road turned into a tiny trail, and then turned into some kind of animal footpath, which eventually turned into nothing. I hiked for about an hour through the bushes up this mountain, hoping to get over the top and down the other side. When I got to the top however, the forest got so thick that there was no way I could pass through it. I had already done so much forest romping (which was a little bit more uncomfortable after Tristan told me about how many olive farmers here die from vipers who nest in trees), but now I had to turn around and do it all again in reverse. At least the view was nice.
When I got back to Punta Ala at the bottom, I asked a man at a golf course if he knew where the trail to Castiglione was...he said it was down the other squiggly road, but that it has been blocked off for years. He suggested that I run back towards Cala Violina and get on the main road...but that meant another 20 km that I really didn't want to do. So, instead, I made my way to the other squiggly road, which was in fact walled off with a "attenti al cane" sign. Not really certain that this road would connect anyways, I started running down the street to see if there was another road. Along the way I met an awesome Nigerian lady who explained to me in English that while the path is walled off, the dog sign was for a different place, and that if I went through the bushes just to the left of the gate, I would find a hole in the fence. That was just the hint I needed, so around 7 pm I went through the fence and up the hill, and where the road ended on my map one of the most beautiful roads I have ever run began. The road was wide and made of dirt, and I had it all to myself. The sun was low as I rounded the sides of these hills and cliffs with the ocean far below. After climbing over a huge gate to get out of the place on the other side, I got back onto the charted roads and made my way to Castiglione.
Castiglione della Pescaia is an awesome medieval town, with castle walls and a nice beach. I spent the evening walking around on my lonesome, getting some pizza to eat and enjoying an amazing sunset from the top of the town...looking back towards the lighthouse that I had passed by on the lost trail only an hour before.
Eventually, I went into an Irish pub and started making come conversation with the (Italian) guys who were running it. After a bunch of false leads it was getting close to midnight and I was getting tired. I left the bar and started making conversation with other groups of young people, all of which ended in nothing, except for one guy (who I guess also worked at the Irish pub) who said that he could give me a place...but that he was going out until after 4 am, and that he would give me a call when he got home. I gave him my number and set out to make something else happen in the meantime. Nothing happened, so somewhere around 1 am I found a chair on the beach and laid down, thinking I would sleep for a few hours until Michael called me.
The problem with all the beaches in Castiglione is that they are all pretty much private, so you aren't really allowed to just go sleep wherever you want...but many people told me that the worst thing that would happen was that someone would wake me up around 6 when the place opened and kindly ask me to leave. That was fine for me, so I broke out my space blanket, wrapped up my legs and fell asleep.
I woke up suddenly in my bed...in an earthquake. It took me a few seconds to realize that I wasn't actually in my bed, and there wasn't actually an earthquake going on...I was homeless on a beach in Italy and an angry old man was beating my chair with a rake. I kindly apologized: "I'm so sorry, I was just walking by and sat down for a second and fell asleep...I just happened to have this large silver blanket with me as well." I also asked what time it was, to which he angrily responded "4:30!"
I staggered back into town and sat down on a park bench until 5 am, waiting for this guy to call. He never called. From there, I went to the only place that was open, a kebab place surrounded by kids about my age coming back from the same party. I talked with them for about an hour, but none of them had a place for me...they suggested that I go to a nearby cafe for people who are going out sailing (that opened early) to get something to eat and charge my phone. This I did, and around 7 am I started zombie walking towards Grosseto...it was a short day I figured, so I could just start heading over there and see if something happened on the way.
I made it about 4 km (feeling pretty terrible) before I walked out to the beach, spread out my space blanket and fell asleep.
14 August 2009
In the morning, I went with Elena to the center of Suvereto, and we had breakfast together in the pretty cool medieval town. My breakfast consisted of yogurt and "focaccia with olives" that ended up being a very odd sweet bread with grapes (my mistake). I drove back to San Vincenzo with Elena, said my goodbyes and started off towards Follonica. The run was direct and along the Via Aurelia.
After grabbing something to eat and drink at a supermarket and briefly checking my email in and Internet cafe, I headed towards the center of town to seek out a running shop. Marco (from Brooks) emailed me a list of a few running shops around Italy, so I decided to go to this one and see if I could potentially find something to do and somewhere to sleep.
At "Music and Run" (a running shop that originally also sold CD's) I met Ferruccio, who was quick to offer me a place to sleep in the store for the night, and who got me a pass to use one of the nearby beach showers.
Apart from spending some time walking around the town/doing my laundry/getting food, I spent most of my afternoon and evening in the store, talking to customers and friends of Ferruccio.
The highlight of the day was definitely Ferrucio's attempts present (and sell) this new magic shirt that increases your balance. Supposedly the shirt has some mineral which emits infrared signals to the brain and encourages greater balance. Ferruccio would make a person stand on one leg and then apply pressure on their arms until they lost their balance. Then he would put the shirt around their neck and do the same thing...and the person would stay standing. He did it to me, and I watched him do it to many other people...and I am still not really sure if I believe it or not. I would love to see an actual scientific explanation of the stuff, if it exists. Regardless, a lot of people bought the shirt.
Around midnight I went across the street to a gelateria/cafe to use the bathroom. Ferruccio introduced me to the woman who was working there, and she gave me a free gelato. Afterwards, Ferruccio closed up shop and gave me the key. I locked myself in and slept on the bench that people sit on to try on shoes. It was actually pretty cool.
I woke up around 7 am cold and with a serious need to pee. I left Tristan sleeping on the floor and ran over to the train station to go to the bathroom. Before leaving the station I fell asleep sitting upright in the waiting room for a few minutes while waiting for myself to warm up. At 7:20 I went over to wake up Tristan, and we went to a nearby cafe to get something to eat together. At 8:30, the laundromat opened up, and we changed into our pants and jackets and threw all of our stuff in the washing machine. As the stuff washed and dried, I slept sprawled out on the floor and Tristan slept sitting upright in a chair with his mouth open. When everything was done, we walked a few kilometers out of town, to the beach and then to a campground to take showers and have our last lunch together. Those things happened quickly, and around 2 pm I said goodbye to Tristan (who was heading back to Pisa on the train) and set off towards San Vincenzo on a forest path that lasted about 5 km before I had to get back on the Via Aurelia, which I will be on and off of until I get to Rome.
I when I got into town, I ran straight through to the other side to the COOP supermarket to get something to drink. After recuperating I walked down to the beach and spent the afternoon wading through crowds of people hoping for something to happen. When nothing really happened I went back into the center of town and started doing the same thing around the street market that lined the main street. Around 7 pm, while heading down to check out a pier, two girls about my age approached me and asked if I spoke English. I happened to speak English just fine. They were looking for something interesting do to (and so was I) so we went together to a bar that Paolo (Livorno) had recommended. They were Swiss, and I had run pretty close to where they lived, so we talked through drinks and then a quick dinner. They were camping nearby, and ended up running out in a panic to catch their bus back to the campground around 10 pm. So there I was, at 10 pm alone and with nowhere to sleep.
I went back to a shop that I had been with them earlier, and asked the guy if he had a suggestion for me. He had a friend who ran one of the nearby baths that I could probably take a shower at, but when I got there the people who were running the place told me that he was asleep. I spent the rest of the night (until after midnight) telling random people on the street my story and asking for a place to sleep. Eventually I bought a coke and sat down with some young people who were sitting outside of a bar. I explained what I was doing, and we talked for a long time. I heard many of the same propositions for public places where I could sleep, and was pretty sure that I would end up in one of them. When the night got late, and my eyes started drooping, Elena offered me a place to stay in a nearby town called Suvereto. We hung out around San Vincenzo for a while more, and then made the drive to Suvereto where her parents had already prepared a sofa bed for me. Divine.
12 August 2009
Tristan and I slept pretty late, waking up a little before noon to warm bread that one of Paolo's roommates had brought us. Tristan and I walked almost 9 km from the north side of town down towards Cecina. When we started running, I went out ahead (my legs were starting to miss running at my own pace) to scope out the roads and town before Tristan got in.
The run was beautiful but difficult, over some rolling hills and cliffs above the ocean. Some of the views were amazing, but because so many people were flocking to the beach any potential extra place on the road for runners was occupied by parked motorcycles.
I got into town in the early evening, and completely wiped I did my usual "drink various liquids until you feel like you need to puke" routine. From there I found an Internet cafe and checked my emails and uploaded my photos, waiting for Tristan to arrive.
When Tristan got in (after also keeping up a pretty good pace) we started wandering around hoping for something to fall in our laps. We soon realized that it is not very probable for one object to randomly fall in two laps at the same time.
The good news was that there was a parade in town that evening, and that the streets were full of people. The bad news was that we had to pay a 6.50 admission fee just to be in the middle of town...and that we didn't yet have a place to sleep.
After getting a quick bite to eat, we went around talking to whoever might be willing to talk to us while simultaneously watching the same handful of floats make loops around the city. Pretty much everyone just told us to go sleep on the ocean or in the train station. We talked to so many people...but kept coming up short. I was starting to get pretty tired, and after talking to more people than I have ever approached in a day, we found ourselves homeless around 1:30 in the morning. Having a tall silent guy standing behind you while you are asking for a place to sleep definitely seemed to make things a bit more difficult than usual. After spending a few minutes in a bar charging my phone, we decided to make one last loop through town and walk the 2 km out to sleep on the beach. Before leaving town, we approached that last group of people to be found on the street, sitting on a stoop in front of a restaurant. They ran the restaurant, and after some talking they let us brush our teeth and use the bathroom, and gave us permission to sleep on the pavement in their dining terrace in the middle of the street. It was covered and surrounded by hedges, so we figured it was just about as good as a room, and we said goodnight and sprayed one another with "Off!"...finally falling asleep on our concrete bed pretty close to 3 am.
I woke up around 8:35 to the sound of my phone ringing. It was Marco from Brooks checking if I was ready to run. I guess I'm always just about ready to run, so we decided to meet a little after nine in a piazza near the house. By the time I had really woken up and got dressed I was just about late, so I said goodbye to the family and set out the door with Filippo and Tristan (who set out ahead of me towards Livorno). After a few minutes in the piazza and a couple calls and mixed up meeting locations, a Brooks van pulled into the piazza and I finally met Marco and his wife. Marco had all sorts of running stuff in the van that he offered me, but showing him my baggage, he quickly realized that I couldn't really add much to what I had. Around 9:30 Marco and I set out towards Livorno and took the run easy...spending some time talking about past races, experiences etc. Marco has finished three Ironmans, which is pretty badass. Along the run we passed by a US Military base, and I was technically 2 feet away from American soil (all the gates were closed though). I also got my first view of the ocean since Holland. It was big and flat but I couldn't see New York.
When we got into Livorno we got something to drink together and met up with Tristan. Marco's wife picked him up and Tristan and I headed into town together. I called up Paolo, who we had met with Angela in Empoli. He didn't pick up the phone so we headed out to get some lunch and spend some time swimming in the ocean. We briefly contemplated swimming out to an island offshore, but after talking to a local that told us that it was terribly dangerous and there was nothing interesting there, we decided against it (the dangerous part obviously wasn't what deterred us).
In the late afternoon we headed back into the center of town and started wandering around the Venetian festival that was going on, walking along the canals and looking at little stands with things that we couldn't buy. Tristan wasn't willing to add a two foot stone model of the David to his backpack.
Paolo sent us a text message telling us that he was at work, and that he would meet us at 11 in the Venetian quarter in a place called "Il Refugio." Eventually we found it, and had some beers before meeting Paolo (and Angela) and his friends around midnight. The streets were packed, and we spent the night having drinks and meeting some hilarious people. On one occasion someone introduced me to his sister by saying "This is my sorell." When I don't know an Italian word, just throw on an extra vowel at the end of an English word and hope for the best. This was the first time that I heard an Italian doing the same thing but in reverse ("sorella" being the word for "sister").
Around 1 am we headed to a huge dance party inside of the castle on the water. The place was huge and packed full of people. There was music playing and huge projectors were playing trippy videos on the walls of the castle. It was pretty amazing, but we were both incredibly tired and wearing out backpacks...which kind of made crazy dancing impossible. It was mostly quiet wall standing for me, despite my being the most fashionable person in the club.
Around 4 am we headed back to Paolo's apartment and set up a couch and some cushions on the floor for Tristan and I to sleep on. I went out like a light.
08 August 2009
After staying most of the day in Lucca the day before, I decided to stick around Pisa for a day to do some planning and to make sure I took that typical "holding up the tower" photo (Check it out!).
Tristan and I woke up around 9, had breakfast and headed out to see a bit of town. We stopped by a pharmacy in the middle of town that Octavio (the father in the house we were staying) ran. He had left out a bottle of Calcium for me, because I hadn't had any luck finding it anywhere else (it is most often chewable or in fizzy drink form here). Tristan and I had lunch at a nearby pizzeria and spent a couple hours doing some "work" at an Internet cafe before heading over to the tower.
As soon as we arrived, we spent about 15 minutes trying to hold up the tower using "real life Photoshop". I think I succeeded after a while, but it was pretty hard. My expression is definitely somewhat real because it was pretty hard to hold that position for 5 minutes while Tristan was saying:
"Ok, now move the front hand slightly forward. No. No. OK. Now back. No, too far. OK...now angle it kind of forwards. No, the other forwards. OK. Lean back. OK, now put your lower hand forward again"...etc.
After photo time, it was time to have a look. Around that area you have to pay for everything, but figuring that we might as well do it, we reserved a time to go up the tower and spent the afternoon between the Duomo, the Baptistery and the Camposanto. Each building has some (or many) incredible features on its interior, including an amazing pair of 700 year old frescoes in the Camposanto that were destroyed by Allied bombs during the Second World War and then carefully pieced back together again...definitely by some dude who really really loved jigsaw puzzles.
Tristan and I sat around in the grass waiting for our 7:20 tower climb to roll around, eating lemon gelato and raspberries that we bought from a nearby supermarket, using the caps of chocolate milk bottles as spoons. The tower was interesting and about what I expected it to be like, but it was a great view of the surrounding landscape. I don't know if I will ever get tired of climbing up stone steps that have supported so many visitors that they have begun to dip in the center...something that I have really only found in huge tourist destinations in Europe.
A little after eight, we headed back to our place for the night, where we had an enormous and delicious dinner with the family. After dinner, we went upstairs to talk to the oldest son Filippo. Noticing his last name on an award on the wall, and then seeing a photographic family tree, I realized that he was a member of the same Sassetti family that had constructed this house in the mid sixteen hundreds. That was pretty amazing for me. I also called Marco, the main man behind Brooks in Italy who had offered to run with me to Livorno the following morning to arrange when and where we would meet.
Before we went to bed, Tristan and I sprayed ourselves with some "Off" that we had bought in the supermarket earlier in the day...we had both been destroyed by them the night before.
07 August 2009
Tristan and I woke up around 10, had some breakfast and set out to do our laundry and see some of Lucca. We got some bicycles and rode them around the city walls on our way to the laundromat. Lucca is a fortified city with old Medieval, Roman, and Renaissance walls, and the latter has a bike path that rings around the entire city. After making a loop, Tristan and I locked up our bikes and waited around the laundromat wearing only our jacket and long pants while everything else washed in the machine...it was definitely a muggy and uncomfortable wait, but in less than an hour our things were washed and dried and no longer smelled horrible. We changed back into our running shorts and t-shirts, dropped off our bikes and went over to go to the top of the medieval Tower Guinigi. There are trees growing on top of the tower, so you can stand in the shade and enjoy an amazing view of the rest of the city and of where we came from and where we were going.
In the afternoon we finally set out towards Pisa and once again took things pretty easy. After about 10 km we came upon a tunnel that was clearly marked as being almost a kilometer long...and after looking around to find that there was no other option, we buckled up our packs and took a run for it. The air was dank and cars were zipping by, but as we breathed the fresh air on the other side, we were suddenly taken aback by an amazing view of the city of Pisa in the distance. The rest of the way was around windy roads and very straight roads, both of which were busy and neither of which had a shoulder...so instead our shoulders were getting scratched by the sharp tall grass that lined the wall of earth on the side of the road as we would try to lean away from passing cars.
Eventually, we got to the tower (this time a "wow, WE came here on foot") and I called up Simona who would be my host for the night. Brenda and Antonio in Milano had put me in touch with their friend Lele in Pisa, but he was away for the week and very kindly set me up in the house of a friend of his. I spent a little bit of time being stressed on the way there, not really sure of what would happen now that Tristan was with me as well, but Simona was very welcoming when we arrived and invited us both in. The house was incredible, and right in the historic center of town...with high ceilings and that old Italian style, it was definitely a change from the storage closet we slept in a few nights before. Simona actually runs a bed and breakfast (the Relais Sassetti...if you are ever in the whearabouts of Pisa) and has hosted many American exchange students, so the family was pretty used to having visitors. We took our showers and had a great dinner with Simona and her family (who had a lot of questions to ask about running) before washing our cloths in the sink and going to bed. I still can't really believe I'm in Pisa.
In the morning, we woke up and took turns rinsing off in the little sink that was in the storage closet. Around 10 we called Angela and she let us in to have some breakfast with her. Tristan took a shower, and we ate some bananas and cereal before putting on our shoes and saying our goodbyes.
We had decided the night before to change my original itinerary to head slightly north towards Lucca (instead of Pontedera) on our way to Pisa. Tristan and his family have vacationed in Lucca in the past, so we were heading towards a place that Tristan knew well and where everything was worked out before we arrived (Tristan was on his Blackberry sending e-mails back and forth to his family who were giving him the info of who we would meet, where we would eat and where we would sleep).
The trip to Lucca was long, and it took us an incredibly long time to get there. We did a lot of walking and talking, and Tristan caught me up on a lot of things that I had missed being away from friends and news for two and a half months.
Before getting into town, we spent a good twenty minutes trying to stage the above photo of me dragging Tristan into Lucca...balancing my camera on the guard rail on the side of the busy road, supporting it with pieces of trash and grass that we found nearby. It seemed like a good symbol for the day.
After passing through the city walls (around 8 pm) we met up with a family friend of Tristan, Giovanni and his wife, and we sat around talking, hydrating and eating some awesome grapes. Afterwards, Tristan and I took a shower and we went out to an awesome dinner where we stuffed ourselves with meats, pasta and wine in the cool night air. Somehow we still found space for some gelato and beers afterwards, and we went to sleep without washing our clothes for the second night in a row. For me, it was really nice to have an easy day of rest, with good food and a comfortable bed. For Tristan, well...I think he was pretty wiped out.
Tristan and I woke up around 10 and walked the 5 km or so into town to see Michelangelo's David before leaving Florence: I had arrived too late on Sunday night, and it was closed as always on the Monday I took off. Knowing that we would probably be taking it pretty easy to get to Empoli, I wanted to get out of town before noon so that we wouldn't arrive too late. The only problem was that when we arrived at the museum of the David, there was a line around the building which would have added at least two hours to our departure time. The line was slow enough that people were sitting down on the floor playing cards. There was however, a short line (maybe 5 min. wait) for people with reserved tickets, so I went and asked the guy who was guarding the line if I could just buy a ticket on the Internet and then come back to the shorter line. He said yes, so Tristan and I set off to do the smart thing and buy a ticket online in an Internet cafe. It took us about a half hour to find one, and when we finally got there and onto the ticket website, all of the tickets for the day had been sold. I was a little bit stressed, and we were going over our potential options: waiting in line and most likely staying in Florence for another night, buying a ticket for a later date and coming back for a day trip with a train, not seeing the David at all or doing the jerk thing and asking someone in line if we could cut in front of them. We decided to do something along the lines of the latter, and went back to the line to see if a miracle would happen. It did. I went up to the guy who we had spoken to before, and told him (in Italian) that even though he had informed me that there were online tickets available, they actually were not...and without another question and despite how many annoying and demanding tourists that guy must deal with, he moved the rope and just let us in. We didn't wait at all, and after passing our stuff through an X-ray (they found and temporarily confiscated my Swiss army knife) and buying our tickets, we were standing in front of the David. It was pretty awesome, and I had another one of those "wow, I ran here and this thing is actually real" moments. The statue is enormous, and seeing it in photos really didn't give me a good sense of how amazing the thing actually is. In my honest opinion though, I think Bernini's David could destroy this Goliath.
Tristan and I headed out of town around 1 pm towards Empoli, and despite some jogging and walking on big hills, we actually made it to Empoli in a decent amount of time. Tristan is a good friend from school...but hasn't really had the same exposure to running as I. This day was the longest he had ever done...and the next day would be even longer.
When we arrived in Empoli, we stopped in a grocery store and got some fruit and something to drink, and after filling ourselves up, we headed into the center of town to see if we could make something happen. Once again, I found myself in a town with no place to stay...hoping that something would just happen. We did the usual wandering around looking for potential places to stay, and Tristan got to see how difficult it is to cover over 30 km and then spend the rest of the day on your feet with nowhere to sleep making loops of a city. We found a potential last resort in a soccer stadium, and then went back into the center to start asking questions of random people.
After walking through a little street market, it began: "Is there anything to do here?" "Is there an Internet point nearby?" "Is there a cheap restaurant here?"...eventually two nice young women guided us to an Internet cafe...and while they were busy for dinner, one of them (Angela) said that she would give us a call later in the evening if she had time and nothing to do. Tristan and I went to the Internet cafe for an hour and then went to eat at one of the cheap restaurants that someone suggested.
The restaurant had messed up our order, and it was after 10 pm when we finally got our food. It was dark, late, and we had nowhere to sleep...but we casually enjoyed our meal. I'm pretty used to this situation, but it was a bit more difficult knowing that now there were two of us who needed to find a place to stay. Fortunately, at the end of dinner, Angela gave us a call and we agreed to meet by a fountain in town. She was there with two friends, one of whom had a beer for us. We sat around the piazza drinking for a while, speaking in Italian (Tristan understanding some things from past Latin and Spanish classes, but not really able to speak). After a while, someone stood up and said "Ok, we go to the mountain now." I wasn't quite sure if I had heard correctly (Tristan had heard the same thing)...but despite this uncertainty, we were soon packed in a car and certainly on our way to a mountain. When we arrived at the top of this little mountain on the edge of town, we hiked up a little path to a park with an amazing view of the surrounding cities. From there, the night was spent talking under the stars and drinking huge amounts of limoncello. Finally I had another person to marvel at how crazy it is that you can be at one amazing place in the morning (the David) and after going for a run, end up at a completely different crazy place (drinking on the top of a mountain).
At the end of the night, we drove back into town still not really sure where we would sleep. Angela lived with her mother, but offered us this strange storage closet outside of her building. At two am, she unlocked the metal door, rearranged some of the random stuff that was littered all over the floor and said goodnight. Tristan and I layed down some blankets on the floor and went to sleep, packed in a little space that was just wide enough for Tristan, myself and a bicycle.
04 August 2009
In the morning, Akila and Simone drove me back to the cafe, and we said our goodbyes before I started my run out of town. The night before Simone had showed me a map of a sentiero that ran from Bologna to Firenze (I didn't know about it the day before), and while I had missed the first half of it, I was excited to get off the roads and back onto some mountain trails. I ran around a panoramic road around the lake (the one that I had swam in the day before) before finding a red and white trail sign that had "Bo-Fi" scrawled at the bottom of it. From then on, it was an amazing (and on occasion, amazingly difficult) Tuscan mountain trail. Basically, it felt like I was running through a scene from Gladiator...the whole time I was kind of expecting that a Roman soldier on a horse would storm out of the woods and cut off my arm. Didn't happen, but I did come across a pretty cool old convent in the mountains, where I stopped and had some lunch and something to drink. There were a bunch of nuns standing around with the black and white outfits, and it was cool to see them talking and giggling amongst themselves just like any normal group of girls.
After lunch, I was pretty tired, so I walked for a while to let my food settle. Even when I started running again, I kept having to slow down to a climb on some sections of steep uphill of slippery gravel and scattered branches. After conquering one of the last crazy uphills, I got to a meadow where I saw my first view of Florence. It was incredible. Nearly 20 km from my destination, I could clearly make out Brunelleschi's Duomo through the saddle between two mountains. To me, the city looked like an ancient kingdom, and I forged on towards it with a huge grin on my face. After some more big hills, I finally arrived in the outskirts of the city...I was 5 km away from the center, but I was too tired to run. I stopped and got some Powerades and struggled the rest of the way into the city, feeling like I would never be able to stand again...but somehow pushing forward.
When I got near the Duomo, I gave Pamela a call (Simone had given me here information the day before when I told him I was going to be in Firenze)...her housemate Gloria answered the phone, and I was almost too tired to speak coherent Italian. After some serious struggling, I got the directions to her house (another 5 km from where I was). After that, I sat on the steps of the Duomo for a while, gathering up the courage to make the remaining run/walk to their place on the edge of town. I got there a little after 8 pm (a long and slow day), and we had dinner together with their friend Paolo. After dinner, Gloria, Pamela and Paolo agreed that we should go get some gelato. They are all Buddhist, and before we left I sat in on them doing a pretty interesting vocal chant/prayer...the name of which I forget how to spell, but the importance of which they explained pretty well.
I ended up getting to bed around 2 am. I was woken up the next morning at nine by the sound of my phone ringing. It wasn't a strange Italian number though...it clearly said "Tristan"...and when I picked up, my friend and college roommate was on the other end. He was in Pisa...and he was coming to find me. After some working out of details with Gloria and Pamela, they agreed to let us both stay for another night (I had planned on taking the day off anyways) and Tristan took the first train into Florence from Pisa. We met around 1 pm in front of the Duomo...it was a serious shock for me. The idea of meeting someone that I have known well halfway across the world is a bit crazy...but somehow everything worked out, and there we were.
We spent the day catching up and going through Tristan's stuff, deciding on what he needed to toss and what he needed to get in order to be my running partner for a stretch. We went inside the Duomo and up to the top of the dome (from which we had a great view of the mountains I came from, and the mountains we would have to run over). We went around to a few more of the main sights in the city, and had a late dinner...again, it was pretty crazy having a friend here with me, so a lot of the time was spent just getting over that. At 10:30 we met up with Gloria and Pamela, and I had a shower and washed my stuff. We got to bed around midnight, knowing that each of us would have a big challenge in the coming day...but at least this time it would be a challenge for two.