Friday, August 26, 2016

Discovering the Riviera: Ventimiglia

I try to see someplace new on every trip I take, and my day trip to Ventimiglia, Italy checked off that box for me last week.

At first I considered going to see one of the French cities of Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, or Menton- none of which I've seen before, but I ultimately decided it would be much more adventurous to go to Italia! My 2013 trip to Italy was amazing, and I've looked forward to going back to that beautiful country (and eating their food again) ever since.

Ventimiglia is the first town across the French border, so it's actually serviced by French train lines, and you can speak French there! That saved me from having to whip out my sad excuse for Italian too often. 

I learned that Ventimiglia is always crowded with French people on Fridays, who come to the big weekly outdoor market. Apparently fruit, cheese, fish, and other food is much less expensive in Italy than in the glitzy Riviera towns over the border. The crowds made it easy for me to follow the flow of people over to the market and and center of town from the train station. That was good, since I arrived with no map and no plan of what I was going to do ;)

I was more interested in seeing the old town than the market, so I headed that direction first. Thankfully it was on of a hill, so I knew where to find it! Sadly, I had to walk up that hill in the 90 degree weather. That was a theme of this vacation: hiking up hills to see the medieval parts of cities and sweating all of my makeup off.

It was very enjoyable to walk through the colorful and narrow streets. It seemed like a very off the beaten path tourist destination- I didn't see anyone else walking around with a camera. I almost felt like an intruder walking around in people's neighborhoods since it was such a huge difference from the masses of other foreigners in Nice and Cannes.

I actually got Jerusalem Old City vibes from these streets- possibly because some of them seem a little run-down and have exposed pipes and wiring, but also because of the layout. 

A lot of the houses had tunnels running underneath them to connect to other streets. Pro traveler tip: if you see a street like this, you HAVE to go explore.

It paid off- that particular tunnel led to this view!

Ventimiglia has not one, but TWO Romanesque-style churches from the 11th century.

At first, I just walked by this chapel (not part of the churches above), but I backed up when I heard music coming out of this open door on a residential street. I poked my head in, and I was surprised to find this!

That seems about right in Italy. That's just a random room you can walk into off the street.

After spending a while wandering the medieval streets, I headed back down the hill in search of food.  Here's a view of newer part of town and the market- you can see the white tops of the tents if you look really hard. By the way, I had no idea Ventimiglia was in the Alps until I got off the train.

I came away from the market with some colorful (uncooked) pasta to bring home and a cannoli to eat later that night. I also found a pizzeria (it wasn't hard) for lunch. I must say that while I'm not a huge fan of pizza in the U.S., I can't resist it in Italy with its fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce that isn't sweet, and homemade crusts. Did I just make you hungry? Of course, I also tracked down some Nutella flavored gelato before heading back to the train station.

The train station. Here's where the story gets fun. I immediately noticed a huge line of people at the ticket counter, which I thought was weird since there are automatic ticket machines. When I tried the automatic machine, it said that all trains going back to France were sold out until the next day. Cue some major anxiety haha

I decided to try the line, and after waiting for a while I was able to buy a ticket going to Cannes. Sigh of relief. But then I look up at the board, and the next train to Cannes is cancelled. The anxiety starts to return. Maybe there really were no trains until the next day? I could hear French people freaking out all around me too.

The next train to France left in 30 minutes, so I went to the platform to wait and hope that it came. When it did come, there was a mad rush to get on since the previous cancelled train left a lot of people waiting. The train was so packed that most people waiting on the platform couldn't get on. It was standing room only, and everyone looked miserable packed in like sardines as more people tried to stuff themselves on.

I decided to wait for the next train and hope that it got better. It didn't. After another 45 minutes of waiting, the air was very tense as everyone prepared for battle to get on the train. I wanted to get on because I was afraid of more cancelled trains and getting stuck in Italy with no phone that worked in Europe.

It was chaos when the train arrived, because everyone decided it would be a good idea to rush on, push everyone (including old ladies with walkers, true story) out of the way, and not even let anyone get off the train. Which is idiotic, because if you don't let people get off the train, then there won't be room for you. I was towards the front of the crowd, so there were French people screaming at me to get on and Italians screaming at me to stay off until they could get off. There was so much multilingual swearing happening! I tried to just laugh. I did laugh when I actually heard a few Italians say "Mamma, mia!" while waving their arms stereotypically.

In the end, I got on the train, and even got a seat... even though it was one of those crappy fold-down seats that's super uncomfortable for an 1.5 hour ride. Somehow, WWIII did not break out, although I thought for a minute that it might. Mediterranean tempers were going crazy.

I'm glad I went to Ventimiglia, even though I was happy to get off that train in Cannes. I definitely felt like I was in a different country for the day (sometimes border towns don't really seem that different). It was interesting to see because, unlike in most of the French Riviera cities, it's not a place where millionaires go with their yachts to spend their money. As a result, it wasn't touristy, and kind of felt more authentic in some ways.

I can't wait to spend more time in Italy next year! I'd like to go to Venice and Milan, since I've never been. We're also planning on doing a long weekend mini honeymoon in Cinque Terre and Lake Como- since it looks like our Athens and Santorini plans will be delayed until David can take more time off from work. He already has to take off over a week to come to the US for the wedding, and since he's just starting a new job it's not the best timing to take off more than that.

Last post of this trip coming up: Monaco with David

p.s. Shout out to Milo Ventimiglia, the Gilmore Girls actor who shares a name with this town. I thought about you often during my trip here ;)

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