Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Viareggio Beach, Italy

            It seems to me that most adventures begin with a lot of luck and a bit of ignorance.
            We didn't know when we booked our two-week trip to Florence, Italy that the city would be hit with the first heat wave of the summer. We slogged our way to Santa Croce, sweated down the hallways of the Uffizi, and left pools of perspiration at the Duomo. We aren't newbie travelers, realizing of course that Italy is hot during the summer, but we had forgotten just how sweltering and draining 98 degrees can be, especially while traversing through crowds of tourists.
            We are California beach people at heart, so it's no surprise that the first place we looked to for relief was the coast of Tuscany. We went online and found the perfect destination, Viareggio, 1 1/2 hours by train from Florence. How could we have known while we were searching hotel websites that it was a holiday weekend, St. John the Baptists Day http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nativity_of_St._John_the_Baptist, and that we'd be competing for lodging with the thousands of locals planning to spend their 3-day weekend lounging by the Tyrrhenian Sea? Everything was full, and the few rooms that were left were being snatched up left and right. So when we finally found an air-conditioned, water-view room at a reasonable rate, we were so thrilled that we failed to notice that we had accidentally booked a room in Lido di Camaiore, another town just north of Viareggio and a place we knew nothing about.
            Luckily, Friday afternoon we arrived at the Viareggio train station, and I say luckily since the on-again-off-again transportation strike had threatened to leave us without a ride. When we booked and paid for our hotel room in advance, we knew nothing about the strike. (Are you seeing a theme here?) But somehow or other our train left the station in Florence and we arrived in Viareggio as scheduled. From there we could have taken a taxi to Lido di Camaiore (what fun would that have been?) but instead waited in front of the train station for a bus that never arrived. We then began to wonder if we needed to cross the street and take the one heading in the other direction. Back and forth we schlepped, trying to decipher the schedule until finally giving up and walking towards the vast beach we saw in the distance. From there, we figured we'd get to our destination.
            Backpacks slung across our backs, we trekked to the water, and as fortune would have it, right into a bike-rental shop. For a total of 30 euros, we rented two bikes for the entire weekend, and at the same time, used the bikes for round-trip transportation from Viareggio to Lido di Camaiore, an adjacent beach about 2 miles north. Once again our aimless wandering had seemed to pay off.
            A wide promenade and bike path run along the Riviera, a destination made for bikes and a far cry from the maddening traffic of Florence.  After checking into our hotel, a delightful, family-run place called Hotel Sirio, we hopped back onto our bikes to revel in the cooler temperatures and explore our surroundings. As it turned out booking a room in Lido di Camaiore had been a happy accident. It was perfect quaint, relaxing, and much to our amazement, full of surfers. It's a beautiful little beach city with great restaurants, shops, and private beach clubs where you can rent a cabana for the day. If you prefer, there are a few slivers of public beaches to park your towels and umbrellas.
            Don't get me wrong. I love the art and culture of city life, but biking along the Italian Riviera and dipping into the refreshing Tyrrhenian Sea was an unexpected, if accidental, highpoint to my Italian adventure.