Well, I’m starting this blog post while trespassing at what appears to be someone’s vacation home in Italy but we’ll come back to that one. First let’s review the events that lead me here. The day started in Pisa, woke up early to climb that tower! (The first morning, tickets were sold out) According to Wikipedia there are 296 steps to the top of the tower, more than the Astoria Column in Northern Oregon but this climb was much easier, probably because in my exuberance I hardly felt the screaming in my thighs and lungs! Made it to the top without much trouble but I really do hate heights. I won’t lie and tell you that the views were spectacular, as with most of the places I’ve traveled to industry, humans and “progress” have left their mark on the landscape. Not only that but the day was a bit overcast so even the Pisan Mountain range is obscured never the less, the fun house effect of walking the perimeter of the tippy top of the leaning tower was worth every single Euro. This was taken from the tippy top of the tower: At exactly 9:14 a recorded voice played in various languages saying that at the end of the message the seven bells would begin to sound. I thought “that’s nice, they are preparing you” one would hate to be startled and fall against the thin metal netting separating you from certain death. Trouble is, they what they DON’T tell you how many languages there are and WHEN the end of the message IS. I tried to prepare myself and my camera but by the time the message stops and the bells start you are not ready in the least because you have the attention span of a GNAT, I was so startled that I almost dropped the damn phone. After snapping some pics, I was ready to go, that was enough altitude for me and going down was even better than going up. I had just started my descent and noticed someone following me down, I offered to step aside and I was scared and slow. He was chivalrous and in broken English he said “I’ll go first that way if you fall, I can catch you.” So sweet, I bet he gets all the babes.
Next, off to the Vespa rental place and after a safety briefing, which included things like “don’t watch how the Italians are driving, just follow the speed limits and road signs” I was soon off on my next adventure and headed south. Riding about 90km today, I stopped frequently for pictures, food and sightseeing. By 3pm, I was in the walled city of Volterra. The city is only open to foot traffic and I spent an hour exploring the city and the shops including the Torture Museum, working up and appetite for some pretty amazing pizza, time to saddle up and hit the road, Jack. There was a good five hours before sunset so I took my time exploring little mountain towns and it occurred to me how nice it was having a scooter for this.
I would venture off the main road when I caught a glimpse of something interesting or interpreted a sign to read that there MAY be something interesting and off I’d go. Turns out not only can I not speak Italian but I also can not READ Italian and sometimes a sign is just another way to say “you’ll end up following this damn side road for over a mile and a half and find nothing or perhaps what appears to be a sewer treatment facility because remember, you can’t read Italian”. Had I been on my bicycle and seen something interesting at the top of a nearby MOUNTAIN, I would have REALLY wanted to go see it. Like this day, in the distance I could see the ruins of what appeared to be a dilapidated castle and thought it would be cool to check it out. Taking a side road that appeared to go in that general direction, I was up the hill in no time flat only to find that it is on private property and very close to a house that appeared occupied. Otherwise, I would have jumped the fence because you can always smile and apologize later. It was still a very neat place and something that would have taken me the better part of a day to do on a bike and I would have been dead after.
Now we come to the trespassing part, probably I shouldn’t post in the internet but I’m homeless and lost somewhere in Italy THEY CAN’T FIND ME NOW!! Anywhoodles, things were starting to get sleepy out and I was ready to make a home for the night. If you’ve ever tried stealth camping then you know how it’s done: you sneak off into a deserted looking area, stealthily pitch your travel hotel, sleep, wake up early, leave no trace and skedaddle early in the morning. Easier with a bike that can be hidden with very little effort, more challenging with a big shiny Vespa so I left the main road choosing what looked like an over grown forest access road. I was about 2km in and found what looked like an abandoned vacation villa in the middle of nowhere; it was shuttered up tight with rusty padlocks securing the doors and windows, it was obvious that they were not out for a grocery run. The grass was over-grown and no signs of recent occupation. I normally avoid humans when stealth camping and that means also places where humans COULD turn up as well but this place seems deserted and secure.
The terrace radiates a gentle heat from today’s sun-drenched afternoon and as the air around me cools, it feels like the perfect place to relax and camp. I learned the hard way (remember the Mexican Prison Camp?) to keep most everything packed and ready to bolt if needed. I pulled out my journal and settled into the dusk amid the smell of lavender, the occasional bat or lizard, owl noises and over-grown ivy covered walls. OMG, REALLY?!?! Pinch me.
If you have read the Mexican breakfast post, then you know I am no stranger to waking up in a panic and this time was no different. I was startled awake in the dead of night by what sounded like part woman’s scream and part barking yelp, FRIGHTENING. “Da fuq WAS DAT!?!” Surely, I must be dreaming. “No, you’re not and don’t call me Shirley.” It’s amazing the stupid crap that goes through your mind when you’re half asleep but could at any moment be eaten alive by an Italian werewolf. Then it barked/screamed again. Mind you, I had been hearing critters all night when the sun went down mostly birds, owls, a dog far off in the distance and scurrying things rustling in the leaves below my encampment so I’m not fazed by little critters in the night. However, barking/screaming probable murderous unknown beasts? Those I’m scared of. Seriously, I have NEVER in my life heard something like that. I had to calm myself, wake up fully and evaluate the situation. Seems far away, you marked your territory before turning in for the night, you’re off the ground, there’s only one way up – the stairs and you can defend those wiiiith…. Your toothbrush? (like I said, crazy stuff in your brains when you’re scared) So I did the only think I could think of to do: curled up on my side, in a fetal position to cover the vital organs, ya know, then promptly cried myself to sleep. Naw, not really it only went on for about 10 minutes then all was quite again and I soon fell asleep. (I’m fairly sure it was some kind of horribly smelly wild boar or something but werewolf sounds more exciting) I slept like a baby until after sunrise when I was awakened by the sound of a dog barking and a man’s voice calling after it. No doubt this was the angry pitchfork wielding villager and is hound hunting the werewolf from last night…. TIME TO GO.
Within 5 minutes I was packed up, had the Vespa loaded and was on my way down the mountain. I paused at the main road, pulled off the helmet to see if I could still hear the villager. Funny how sound travels in the mountains, while I could still hear them it was clearly coming from the other side of the main road and far away, that must mean that the sounds coming from the screaming woman/beast in the dead of the night before were obviously coming from Transylvania.