July 20, 2008
Travel facts and local attractions
It’s been over a month since I last wrote a diary page. At that time I reported the non-arrival of summer, and sure enough, a few days later it duly arrived. Not as hot as in some years, perhaps, but plenty hot enough, and uncommonly humid for the first week or so. Since then we’ve had maybe two days with rain and the skies are mostly blue with just occasional clouds. To prove the rise in temperature the cicadas are in full voice, competing with other village noises; the buzz of conversation, cats fighting, dogs barking, cars and motorcycles, flocks of swallows, the occasional Saturday night disco at the local Osteria and of course the church bells on the hour and half hour. Whoever talked about the peace and quiet of the country wasn’t living round here.
At the beginning of July I took a brief trip back to England for a few errands and to pop in on family members. While in London on my way to Stansted Airport I passed the “Gherkin”. This impressive building manages to look smaller than it really is, by dint of the unusual shape that gave it the name by which it’s known to all. And here it is, also proving the sun does shine in July in England.
Now I’m going to get really geeky and go on for a bit about travelling costs. Booking a return trip to England is easy enough, but the need to use Nice airport makes for some very expensive flights. Going to London on July 3 was reasonable at about €70, but the return trip on the 5th or any day in that vicinity would have been well over €200. So I looked around for an alternative. Changing the dates wasn’t an option as I was going mainly for an already-booked appointment, so the next things to try were alternative airlines and alternative airports. The first didn’t help reduce the cost, but the costs to other airports turned out to be dramatically lower. Ryanair fly to a number of Italian airports, all of which can be reached from railway stations along the Riviera.
The most obvious was Genova but the flight times are very user-unfriendly, requiring the passenger to turn up at Stansted at about 4am, a time not noted for abundance of public transport. Torino is the next; trains run from there to Ventimiglia, but the flights are evening ones and dump you at the airport at nearly 10pm. By the time you’ve made your way across the city to Porta Nuova it’s close to 11pm and the trains are thinning out. Ryanair were offering one-way flights from Stansted to Genova and Torino for about €30, a great improvement on €200 even if you throw in the train fare and a night in a budget hotel.
I finally tried Milano and to my surprise found a Saturday afternoon flight at &uero;0. Yes, that’s zero. By the time the various additional charges were added it came to a princely €11. So that’s the one I booked. The flight actually comes in at Bergamo, requiring an 8-euro bus trip to Milano Centrale railway station. This is pretty comparable with the bus from Liverpool Street to Stansted, costing €7 or so and taking much the same time; just under an hour. At the station it was now 6.30pm and I had a choice of trains; one went to Ventimiglia but it must take the scenic route through Reykjavik or somewhere else exotic, because it wasn’t due to arrive until 1am. The other was direct to Genova so I arranged for a pick-up by car from there.
I hope the above may be of some interest and help to other travellers with more time than money to spend.
So back to the Riviera. We only moved to our little village behind Ventimiglia a few months ago and are still discovering what it has to offer. (Something it doesn’t yet offer is high-speed internet, but that’s another story.) A couple of weeks ago a neighbour mentioned a nice walk along the river, up to a natural rock pool called Ballestra. This is also the family name that is most visible on gravestones and war memorials, being one of the two families that are most prominent in the village. Ballestra is about a half-hour walk away and is well worth the effort if you take swimming gear with you. There’s easily a swimming pool sized area to bathe in and it’s quite popular with the locals, being much closer than the beach and not requiring a car ride. Yesterday was hot and sunny so half-way through the afternoon we headed that way to cool off by or in the water. Among the trees and other plants clinging precariously to clefts in the rocks are oleander, now in glorious fragrant flower. Perhaps surprisingly, although the river comes from the mountains high in the French Alps it’s not at all cold. Of course I should really keep quiet about this little gem as we don’t want the whole Riviera turning up here and filling our already packed car park. Just don’t tell anyone where you heard about it, and park tidily when you arrive.
Then to complete the weekend we had our first trip this year to the beach at Calandre, another local gem. It’s the only natural sandy beach this side of Cannes and a pleasant ten-minute walk along a winding path from the old port at Ventimiglia. I’ve sung the praises of this area before but I’ll do it again; the old port is a delightful backwater of fishing boats and beach restaurants, and not in the least bit spoiled. Popular, yes, but retaining much of its old charm and a notable contrast to the bustle of the town centre only a ten-minute walk away. Calandre is a small beach and the high tide almost covers it completely, but there’s enough sand left to accommodate a goodly number of people, generally packed in like sardines by late morning. So the best plan is to arrive early and leave when there’s no more room. The beach shelves gently out to sea and it’s a sandy bottom with crystal-clear water all the way, making it entirely safe for bathing. Behind the beach is a steep hillside, starting with a wall with the main line railway above, and the only other access to the beach is via an outside lift that curves gently down the cliff from the apartment blocks in Calandre itself. The beach has a bar, fresh-water showers and toilets, and its south-west facing location makes it a suntrap, warm on a sunny day at any time of year but in midsummer requiring frequent visits to the water to cool off.
As we left the beach at lunchtime the sky clouded over with the promise of rain. What materialised later on this afternoon was just a few spots, enough to take the precaution of removing the cushions from the chairs up on the terrace, but it doesn’t look like it’ll amount to much.