Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cinque Terre -- Three Soul-filling Days

This post will start with the photos and have a few short stories at the bottom. Thanks and Enjoy!

Late night flight Budapest --> Milan.

Fancy looking a little too comfortable in the shopping district in Milan.

Duomo doorso in Milano.

All aboard!! to La Spezia -- you have to know exactly which stop to get off beforehand or you just keep riding the train to it's final destination.

One of my favorite photos from Cinque Terre.

I am definitely not posing.

Arriving in Vernazza -- our first walk down via Roma.

First stop, wine and foccacia bread.

Vernazza's famous walkway down to the water.

I remember thinking 'this is what it's all about'.

Our arrival to Vernazza was filled with wine from plastic cups and freshly-baked foccacia bread...and this spot on the Med.

Our first sunset in Vernazza was spectacular.

People from Vernazza are big UGA fans!

Good morning Cinque Terre.

Fancy's hiding spot.

Early morning hike, leaving Vernazza, while the sun is still rising.

Our 'window' from our lunch spot in Corniglia.

For lunch in Corniglia: a plate of toast and homemade pesto sauces. Never have I been this excited about toast. Someone took a bite before I could take the picture!

Our lunch spot photo in Corniglia.

No binoculars necessary for this view.

Views of a sunny day in Corniglia.

I can't even describe this incredible pesto gnocchi because I am drooling on the keyboard.

Stairs for days -- climbing down from Corniglia.


Where we were dropped off from hitchhiking with the Canadians.
We weren't really sure where we were.

This amazing sunset on the rock/pebble beach of Riomaggiore.  You've got to get your butt to fit just right in between the rocks to get comfortable.

Top and Bottom: The difference of Instagram.

Coffee with a view in Vernazza - day 3.

The "poster child" of Cinque Terre -- Vernazza.

Vernazza peeking out of the background as we hike to Monterosso al Mare.

Arrival in Monterosso al Mare from Vernazza.

I will never, ever, ever forget this pizza from Monterosso al Mare. The owner even encouraged us to buy our own bottle of wine from a store because it would be cheaper. And, "no, we don't have fresh parmasean because we already make the best pizzas in the world" -- 'Tis True.

Loving these views on the hike, however the Lemonade Stand wasn't open for business -- maybe should charge more?

Fancy keeping an eye out.
We may have been riding the regional train around CT this day without a pass -- not exactly what you would call 'street legal'.

Fancy on our last day -- Riomaggiore.

The were spying on us. Or frowning.


The famous Luini pastries in Milan.  Incredibly, there was no line when we arrived. In the 5 minutes we were there, more than 25 people showed up.

On top of Il Duomo in Milano. 

Here are a few short stories from the trip:

The unforgettable journey through Cinque Terre was full of unparalleled beauty, old-town ruggedness and lots and lots of carbohydrates in the form of pizza, pasta and wine.

When it was time to depart this wonderful region of Italy we understood why it is constantly recommended by all of those lucky enough to experience it.

Our flight to Milan arrived late Friday and we had already planned to spend the night in the fashion capital.  We had an early afternoon train to CT leaving our morning free to dart into Old Town to see the Duomo.  We navigated the protests behind held for the 2015 EXPO in Milan (lots of money spent on on the exposition, not on its citizens) and we were able to make it back to the train station just in time.

I found the new “tourist tax” extremely annoying and a way to further take advantage of tourists (Italy now assesses a 1E-4E per person per night tourist tax, based on the number of stars of the hotel added onto your final bill) but Fancy wouldn’t allow my grumblings to ruin the trip.

“Just part of the cost of visiting this lovely country” the math teacher, now-economist quipped.

We navigated the always difficult Italian train station and wondered if it is a game they play with tourists to help teach them Italian geography.  In Italy, like many other places in Europe, the board that displays destinations (similar to an airport) only displays the final destination of the train so the system is reliant on you understanding the country’s general make-up and direction of cities.  Sometimes, the platforms aren’t posted until 10 minutes before departure making for a frequent last-minute scurry.

Alas, we find our train as all seasoned travelers do and were even smart enough to purchase tickets from the ticket office (not a machine) so that we could reserve window seats.

From Milan we headed south through Genoa and into Levanto.  It was a beautiful afternoon and as the train hugs the coast heading south to CT we were afforded incredible views of the Mediterranean Sea — there are few things better than relaxing on train with good tunes on your headphones while it speeds on to your destination.

Out of the five villages that compose CT we decided to stay in Vernazza.  It is one of the smaller villages, and other than our pension being located along side the regional train track (it was comically loud inside our room when a train past by) it was our preferred choice.

A lot of people have asked about which cities to stay.  While I really believe you cannot go wrong as each offers its own charm and all five towns are connected with a frequent and inexpensive regional train system, here are my thoughts:

1a) Vernazza — it’s small, quaint, beautiful during the day and gorgeous at night. It’s middle-third location makes it ideal for hiking to and from each city.  It still exudes the true sense of the small fishing village it was before they built the regional train system that connected CT to the rest of the world. The Il Pirata restaurant is a reasonable-priced, family owned (two brothers) Italian restaurant with the best pastries in (dare I say) Italy — you must stop here if you’re ever in Vernazza.  We returned for dinner and were equally happy with as much of the menu we could put in our mouth (which was alot).  There’s a wonderful walkway along the water and a old castle now converted a restaurant that adds to the village’s allure.  The village is as it’s best in the early morning and evening when the throngs of tourists aren’t clogging the narrow streets.

1b) Riomaggiore — I place it also number 1 (but below Vernazza) because it is a bit larger and overrum with people, both locals and tourists.  There is a wonderful (pebble) beach area connected to the village which I’m sure is very popular during the summer months.  However, it’s the furthest south of the 5 villages and currently not connected by any of the hiking trails because they’ve been washed away due to recent flooding

2) Monterroso al Mare — The most northern town of CT and has the largest and best beach area for Cinque Terre tourists.  Fancy and I spent three hours lounging on it’s lovely semi-sandy beaches with a bottle of wine and our books.  It is certainly the most touristy-feeling town of CT but still gorgeously sprawled along the water.

4) Corniglia — The way the village sits perched atop it’s cliffs is stunning.  Some don’t like the village because it’s small and has no direct water access but I found the narrow alleyways and rays of sunlight that reflect off it’s buildings to be one of the more memorable walks through CT’s villages.  

5) Manerola — To be fair, we didn’t spent much time here.  Instead, we arrived by train and decided it was a good idea to hike straight up the mountain to find an alleged winery that we realized halfway up our ill-advised climb that we weren’t even sure it was open.  Fortunately, it was and we arrived hot, sweaty and thirsty (read the full story here).

FA couple memorable stories from our time in CT:

Five for Five in Cinque Terre

“successfully” making it to all five villages in one day (read: accidentally).
We started the morning in Vernazaa and hiked to Corniglia.
Lunch in Corniglia.
Taking the train (Huck Finn style) to Manorola we hiked up to a winery.
Hitchhiked via a nice French couple to Riomaggiore.
Attempted to take a train from Riomaggiore back to Vernazza for a dinner reservation.  Without knowing, we had incorrectly boarded an express train that took us from the further southern CT town to the most northern CT town without stopping.  We waved hello to Vernazaa (and our dinner) as we sped by and finally arrived in Monterosso al Mare.  The next train to take us to Vernazza wasn’t for 90 minutes.
Dinner in Monterosso al Mare all of sudden sounded nice.

Hitchiking with the French

After finally arriving at a small winery on the hillside of Manorola (Cinque Terre, Italy) I immediately decided I definitely did not want to hike back down.  We had two options — (1) wait 90 minutes for a bus weren’t even 100% sure was coming (2) introduce ourselves to the French couple at the winery with a convenient winnebago parked outside.

In my mind it seemed completely logical to ask them for a lift, which Fancy reminded me was the equivalent of hitchhiking.  After finishing our disappointing tasting at the small winery, we waited outside for 2 minutes — Fancy described it as lurking, or stalking.  As the older couple exited the winery with a case of wine, I made my approach.  Asking simply if they wouldn’t mind giving us, a good-looking American couple, a ride down the mountain, they looked confused.  This is how I discovered they didn’t speak English.

“Great, this is going to be more difficult than I assumed.”

I was determined to not have to return by foot, however.  I started to point at Fancy and myself and then point to their large Breaking Bad style winnebago.  When they followed my fingers from Fancy, to myself to their car, they understood.  As their eyes returned to me, I greeted with my biggest, charming smile.  How could they say no?

“You come with us?”.  They exchanged a look and quick conversation in French and we were in!

We gladly hopped into the back of their ‘home’ and pointed to the map where they could drop us off which wasn’t too far away but it would save us immeasurably from walking back down or along the busier road.  Instead of heading back to the town from we had arrived (Manarola) we decided to accompany them as far as the most southern town of Riomaggiore.  They were heading onto a town further South, outside of the CT region so, without really knowing where we were, and only one sign that displayed Riomaggiore, we said Aur’ to our French drivers and found ourselves on the side of the road once again.  We saw a village that looked like Riomaggiore but the road leading down the mountain initially led us away from it.   Luckily, the switchbacks eventually guided us down to a rather dodgy-looking set of stairs that lead us through farmland, cemeteries and past people’s front doors, but eventually emptied us into the crowded streets of Riomaggiore, at last.

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