Our last day

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Since our escape from Italy was a little more exhausting than we thought it would be, we are a little late getting this up .  But, here is a quick rundown of our final hours in Italy.

We wanted to get as much as we could out of our last full day in Italy, so our day was busy – but nothing like some of the earlier days of our trip.  Maybe we were just growing accustom to the slower pace that started in Monterosso.

We started our day with breakfast at the hotel, and then we started roaming the streets of Venice.  We had a general idea about what we wanted to see and get done, but unlike  Rome, we didn’t have any specific times we needed to be anywhere.  We started our morning with a 10 minute walk to Piazzale Roma so we could figure out our exit strategy.  At this point in the trip, I am not too worried about transportation details since for the most part everything has worked out. But, we wanted to do a test walk, since we would have to find our way out of the maze that is Venice in the dark at 5am. Our trip was successful, and we were able to see the Calatrava bridge – the most hated bridge in Venice. And it is the most hated for good reason – it is horrible.  In a modern city it would be a perfectly fine bridge, but for Venice it is out of place.

After that, we walked down to the Rialto market. We had heard about the market prior to our trip, but we weren’t really prepared for the massive size of the market.

After buying some berries and pistachios from the market, we started wandering the streets again. We didn’t have much of a goal – only that we wanted to eventually end up in St. Mark’s square – which we ultimately did.

St. Mark’s square was a mob scene.  Generally speaking, there were a lot of people (and pigeons), but primarily a very large line to enter the Basilica.  There was also a little left over water in the square from the night before.  This was our only indication of the issues that they have with water.  When it gets really high, which there were supposedly about 100 days of last year – they refer to it as acqua alta (high water).  Instead of standing in the line, we decided to hit one of the museum’s first.

In a nutshell the Correr Museum contained artifacts about the history of Venice.  It was interesting, but we passed through relatively quickly – with most of our attention paid to the armory, and some of the historical currency.

After the Correr we went into St. Mark’s Basilica.  Brief history lesson – the relics of St. Mark the evangelist were stolen from Alexandria in 828 and brought to Venice.  The winged lion of St. Mark is all over everything in Venice – including the flag.   Entry was free, but basically to see any of the more interesting components you paid for each item separately.  We elected to not do the separate items, and just look at the Basilica as a whole.  It was pretty impressive, but relative to St. Peter’s or the Duomo in Siena its most interesting trait was its mosaics.  After the Basilica we ventured next door to the Doge’s Palace.

The Doge’s palace (Doge = Ruling Duke of Venice) was pretty impressive, huge, and right next door to the Basilica of St. Mark.  Of particular interest were the Golden Staircase (Roof covered with 24k trim), the Hall of the Grand Council (housing the largest oil painting in the world), and the prison underneath the palace.

After this we resumed our wandering for a while, got some lunch and returned to the room to pack up for the next day.  We ventured back out after dark to get a look at the city lit up, took a shorter than expected vaporetto (water bus) tour, and had one last really good meal before heading back to the hotel and going to sleep.

The end is near

Today we made our way to Venice. I am very excited about heading over to Venice, but it is also our last stop – and it means that our trip is wrapping up.  Boo.

We took a 7:10 train out of Monterosso this morning. There were quite a few transfers – one of which was way stressful.  We only had about 5 minutes between stops, and to us inexperienced rail travelers, this was a bit closer than we would have liked. But in the end, it all worked out.  We had transfers all through the middle of Italy, with stops in La Spezia (the 5 minute connection), Pisa, and Florence before making our way to Venice.  It was especially hard to stop in Florence without being able to check things out – but hopefully we will make it back there some day.

Getting off the train in Venice was quite an experience. The view exiting the train station is so different from anything else we have seen so far in Italy.  Combine that with our giddiness from being finished with train travel, and  we already considered the day a success – and we hadn’t even had lunch yet.  It took us about 15 minutes to find the hotel, and luckily we could check in a little early.  We dropped off our bags and wandered out into the streets of Venice.  We started following signs to the Rialto Bridge, and Saint Mark’s square. We didn’t go in to any museums or basilicas today, but we may do that tomorrow.  Everything went great until it was time to head back.  That took a bit longer than expected, but we did eventually wind out way back.  We also kindof lucked out because there is a museum right next door to our hotel – so when we get close, in theory we can just follow the signs back to the hotel.  I think that tomorrows first order of business will be to get a good map.

An actual relaxing day of vacation?

We have been going at a maniac pace for our entire vacation to this point, so we were ready for a little break. We thought we would get that break when we hiked the trails of the Cinque Terre – but  that turned out to be slightly more intense than we thought it would be. So, we decided to take a day off and enjoy Monterosso.  We slept in a little (probably the first day of vacation that we didn’t have somewhere to be early), and went over to visit Giovanni and get some breakfast.  After breakfast we packed up some of our left over lunch supplies and went over to the New Town to hang out on the beach.

After the beach we ate some lunch and strolled the town and blew some Euros in the shops.  After our shopping, we got cleaned up and went back to visit Giovanni and some of the other guests of Manuels Guest House. After about an hour on the terrace, we went down the stairs to get some dinner.  We ended up choosing a place out of one of the guide books – L’Alta Marea. It was great.  I know that it was the best pasta that I have had so far – and Jason says that it was a coin flip between here and the place we tried in Siena,  (for all the times we have cursed Rick Steves on this trip, he hasn’t lead us astray on food recommendations yet).

After dinner we headed back to the room to pack up.  We had to be out early to catch a 7:10 train to Venice.

Our hike along the Cinque Terre

Hiking the CInque Terre

We got up early to deal with some laundry, and then headed to breakfast on the terrace.   Breakfast (free) was a nice surprise, and got even better when we discovered that it was served on the terrace overlooking “old town” Monterosso.  At Manuel’s Guesthouse Giovanni serves the breakfast in the morning and runs the bar in the afternoon.  His English is minimal, but he makes a really good cappuccino.  After breakfast we walked down to the train station to get our Cinque Terre card  – the pass for the hiking trails.

There is a seaside hiking trail that connects the five towns Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.  Unfortunately we discovered that the portion of the trail connecting Corniglia and Manarola was closed, but a detour was made (more on this later).  We started our hike in Monterosso, and the trail went up, and up, and up.  The beginning was basically a neverending staircase, with very irregular steps.  The climbing was the downside, the upside was some amazing views of the coastline.  We also got to walk through some of the local farms/vineyards that are perched on the cliffsides.  After much climbing and about an hour and thirty five minutes we arrived in Vernazza, surveyed the town – and continued on our way.

From Vernazza to Corniglia was again, lots of climbing.  Melissa loved the uphills and steps, especially when we would descend just to climb again.  The second leg was a little shorter than the first, about an hour and ten minutes.  When we arrived in Corniglia we again gave a quick survey of the town, and found an excellent spot for our picnic.  Santa Maria Belvedere is a panoramic viewpoint where a church used to overlook the water.  We were able to find a stone bench and had our picnic of bread, prosciutto, mozzerella, tomatoes, grapes, and plums.  By far the best lunch we’ve had thus far – and much cheaper buying the supplies from the market than buying lunch from one of the bars or vendors.

After lunch we checked out the detour from Corniglia to Manarola, and decided against it.  While the normal trail runs right along the coast, the detour basically went straight up the side of the cliff.  When we were making our decision we observed two hikers with boots and trekking poles turning back – and decided that the train ride would be better.  Once in Manarola we did the mandatory quick screen of the town, then proceeded along the trail en route to Riomaggiore.

The portion of the trail between Manarola and Riomaggiore is known as the “Via dell Amore”.  This part of the hike is actually paved with stone, flat, and with railing, etc.  Two traditions of the area are attaching locks to the fencing, and writing names on the rock wall.  The “Via dell Amore” was much ballyhooed in the travel books for it’s picturesque views and for the traditions of the area, but it basically came off trashy.  The rest of the hike was so beautiful, and such a good experience that ending with the graffiti covered walls kind of cheapened it.

By the end of the hike we were pretty beat, and retreated back to Manuel’s.  We decided to hit the terrace for a few drinks, and to enjoy the view.  It turns out that in addition to making a good cappuccino, Giovanni also gives the healthiest pour of wine that we had ever seen.  We also met some other travelers that were really nice, that we talked with on the terrace.  After this we hit the town for a dinner of pasta (Melissa – trofie with pesto, Jason – spaghetti al mare), and then called it a night.

Quick Cinque Terre Update

We wanted to post a quick update, because we have been having some connectivity issues with the computer. This post is brought to you by the iTouch which will connect, but is not as friendly to type on. Yesterday we hiked between the 5 towns of the Cinque Terre – absolutely beautiful with many great pics. On the hike we had a pretty sweet little picnic of bread, proscuitto, mozzerella, tomatoes, grapes, and plums that we picked up in the markets. After getting back we had drinks on our terrace and visited with some of the other travelers. Today we’re gonna hit the beach in “new town” Monterosso, then do some shopping in “old town”. Should be a relaxing day, then travel to Venice starting early tomorrow. We’ll do a revision post with pics once the computer gets it’s act together.

Day ? – Travel to Cinque Terre

Last night we decided that we loooooved Siena.  So much so that we decided to try and squeeze a few extra hours out of the city.  Instead of taking the 9 o’clock train out, we decided to sleep in a little, get some (free) breakfast from our B&B, and catch a later train to our next destination. (Just incase anyone is looking for a decent B&B inside Siena, we stayed at the Palazzo Bruchi – which I would recommend.)

We had a ten to fifteen-ish minute walk to the bus stop, and it probably took us about that long to figure out the Siena bus system, and to discover that “Ferrovia” and “Stazione” both mean train station.  After a quick bus trip we were at the train station, and on our way to Monterosso.  Todays travel seemed a little intimidating at first, since until this point we hadn’t had to change trains at a station that wasn’t the end of the line.  But, in the end it wasn’t too hard to figure out – even if I did run back to check the schedule 5 times at every stop – just incase the printed schedule magically changed since the last time I had checked it….

The whole trip was about 3 hours and 45 minutes, so it was a long travel day, but surprisingly it didn’t seem too bad.  We passed by Pisa, but we didn’t get out to check it out.  Not that we wouldn’t want to see it, but we have had some pretty packed days, and were on a fairly tight time schedule since we opted to take the later train. We arrived in Monterosso, part of the Cinque Terre, around 3:00 and found our way to our room by about 3:30.

Another quick lesson: The Cinque Terre is made up of five towns along the Italian Riveara. Literally, it means “the five lands”.  There is a local train that connects all of the towns, and hiking trails that you can take also.  It is also apparently a huge American and German tourist draw.  I think that I have heard more American accents here than in any other place we have been so far – and less smoking.  As an aside – ALL ITALIANS SMOKE.  It is unbelievable.  We ran into a group of four older folks, 2 from Bama, 2 from Georgia – who told us that they knew we were American because we weren’t smoking while waiting for the train.

Anyway, we made the trip up to our room. And when I say up, I mean UP. I think we had to climb about 100 stairs, with all of our bags in tow.  But, when we finally made it to the top, we were treated to a pretty awesome view.

After getting settled in, we headed out to check out the town, and picked up a few things to take with us on our hike tomorrow. I also continued my Italian-domestic-animal-safari. Taking pictures of random cats and dogs has become my side project while on vacation.   This leg was pretty easy to complete – there are cats EVERYWHERE. As I type this, there is actually a one-eyed cat on our terrace, meowing, and trying to make friends with Jason while he is hanging our laundry to dry. He is actually pretty cute, despite his one-eyedness.  He is trying to make a break for the open terrace door, not Jason – the one eyed cat.  Although neither of us wants to risk petting him – I bet he is scrappy.

Despite the moving around (travel days are always a bit crazy), today was pretty relaxed compared to our previous maniac pace.  To me  it feels a little weird to  slow down so much – but it is a welcome change of pace.

Tomorrow, we hike!

Good Bye Rome, Hello Siena

Il Campo

The first half of today was a travel day. We got up semi-early, grabbed some (free) breakfast from the Hotel Aberdeen in Rome, and then schlepped all of our belongings – which are starting to take up more room every time we pack – across Rome.  After a quick Metro ride we were at the bus station, ready to move on to Siena.  Just a note to anyone who may want to travel to Italy – bus travel is waaaaaay nicer and much less stressful than train travel.  The bus took about 3 hours to reach Siena, and that gave us plenty of time to research what we wanted to do.

 

Quick history lesson: Siena is about 35 miles south of Florence, and the two were medieval rivals.  Siena had been a large military and trade power, but was hit hard by the black death (1348 – so, not any time recently) – and was then conquered by Florence.

We realized that we have been travel maniacs for the past week and we should probably tone it down a little.  So, we decided to check out Il Campo (rated by some as the best piazza in all of Italy), and the Duomo. There is also a large tower that we had wanted to climb (the Torre del Mangia for those who are interested), but as part of admission to the Duomo, we got access to a “Panorama View”  which had some great views of the city and Tuscany.

After leaving the Duomo museum, we strolled around the town, and had dinner at Trattoria La Torre. Jason refers to this restaurant as the coolest place ever . It was a family run eatery with an open kitchen and freshly made everything.  He got home made pasta with boar sauce – something that he has been looking forward to this entire trip.  THEN, he got what the owner referred to as “pork steak”-  which was a giant piece of pork.  As we were leaving I tried to take a photo of the restaurant and the owner stepped out just as I was taking the photo. I don’t know if it was the language barrier or what, but now we have photos of both of us with the owner.

Anyways, tomorrow we are on the move again. We head to Cinque Terre for 3 nights, and hopefully can take things a little slower for a few days.