The Ardeché region of Southern France is largely unspoilt – there are deciduous forests on a scale that simply don’t exist in Ireland or Britain. When ‘civilisation’ collapses, it’s somewhere like Ardeché I’d want to be. After spending a few nights there with our lovely host Françoise, Lisa and I hitch south toward Nimes and camp in an olive grove before going our separate ways the next day (she’s off to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago). Within half an hour I hitch ride to town with a cheerful French woman who tries to tell me about the Illuminati and aliens in her broken English while I nod and smile. Before hopping on a free train to Avignon where I had to cross town to another station in torrential rain to get another train to Nice. With nowhere to go in Nice (planning/arranging such practicalities is something I wish I could be bothered to do) I decided to get one final fare-dodging train across the border to Ventimiglia.
The town Ventimiglia is a bit of a shithole but I’m glad to be in Italy. My destination is a farm/community on the East coast near Ancona but my lack of organisational skills ensures it’s going to take nearly 3 days to get there. I don’t usually travel with such a willy-nilly approach but I’ve had it with the hostel scene and I feel adventurous. Finding somewhere to sleep doesn’t prove easy though. Neither does hitching. After getting a couple of hours sleep under a motorway and spending most of the morning at a bad hitching spot holding a piece of cardboard with GENOA scrawled on it I resign myself to getting a train. In Genoa I then resign myself to getting another train to Florence after learning there were no beds in the two (two!) hostels in the city. Resignation and the will (or lack of it) to live is on my mind as I arrive in Florence just as the heavens open up and swarms of fat Yank tourists mill around the train station for cover. So while I’m not quite what you’d call happy, I accept that this is the path I’ve chosen to travel and keep the faith. I’m rewarded with a British War Cemetery on the outskirts of town where I’d got a late bus in preparation for hitching eastward the next morning.
I’ll tell you what, if you’re ever stuck for somewhere to stay in Florence, go out to San Jacobo Al Girone late at night and hop over the wall to where the good auld Brits have commemorated their fallen – it’s a lovely spot. After signing the visitors book “Go raibh mile maith agaibh” I spend the morning hitching around 10 km at a time as no one seems to be going further than the next town and by mid afternoon I find myself in some remote mountain hamlet in the middle of Tuscany. After another couple of rides I eventually make it to Forlì, a large town in the East with nothing of any interest apart from a massive civilian mausoleum. The walls were too high to jump over into it so I settle down for the night on the deserted outside. After getting feasted upon by mosquitos for a few hours (for the 3rd night in a row) I think “fuck this” and decide to start hitching south at 2am. Not a good idea. At 7am I give up and find a cafe and ponder what the hell to do. For some reason it never occurred to me to get a train to my destination south along the Adriatic but when I go to the station it turns out there is a feckin train and it only costs 8 euros to get there. From the town of Sentimilgia on the coast I get a 15 minute bus ride inland to the farm/community that is to be my home for the next two weeks – and be Jaysis it feels mighty fine to have a bed to sleep in and a roof over my head again.