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.
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.
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!
Day 4 – another travel day. We packed up last night, got up early and headed to the train station. Sadly, Bar Tavernusa was not open this morning for the awesome pastries we had gotten the previous 2 days – so we tried another place and they were still pretty good. We managed to catch the 8:26 Circumvesuviana train toward Naples. It was a much different experience this morning with the school and work travel than it was mid afternoon over the weekend.
Instead of taking the train straight through to Naples, we decided to stop and tour Pompeii en route. We arrived at Pompeii a few minutes after nine and ended up following a self-guided tour, with some modifications, from one of our guidebooks. Melissa was interested in the ruins, but also very much enjoyed her own personal stray dog safari. Seriously though, Pompeii was very cool. It’s amazing how well preserved things are, and some of the technology that they utilized almost 2000 years ago is amazing. It was a good thing we got there early, because by the time we headed out around noon the place was crawling with huge tour groups.
After leaving Pompeii it was back on the train to Naples. We made a small error in train stops and ended up having to walk through Naples a bit, but it only amounted to a ten minute detour that ultimately had no effect on our catching our train to Rome. We did encounter some gypsies in the Naples train station who were all too willing to assist us in getting our tickets. Apparently my Italian is crappy, but my facial expressions cross language barriers and I managed to shoe them away pretty quickly. We ended up taking the 14:31 train out of Naples to Termini station in Rome. I have had enough of trains for the time being, so we’re working on maybe doing a bus for our next travel day. Our train arrived at Termini station pretty much right on time, around 17:10.
A short walk and a little frustration with a poor map, and we were at the Hotel Aberdeen before 6pm. We walked around a bit trying to find a Roma Pass, but apparently all of Rome is out of them. We were told this at the airport, but thought we would check a few of the small vendors anyway (As I post this from the little Wi-FI area, Melissa is on the phone in the room trying to work some things out).
Tomorrow it’s up early again and off to the Colosseum in the morning. We will probably also try to hit the Spanish Steps and the Trevi fountain.
So, Friday and Saturday are one big blur. Friday we left Philly around 6:15, and it was actually a much easier flight than either of us expected. Somehow we both fell asleep, and stayed asleep for the majority of the flight. And it’s a good thing. Once we landed in Rome on Saturday, we were in for a lot of traveling. First, it took a bit longer to get out of the airport than we had expected.
Next we took a bus to the Termini train station in Rome, where we just missed the 11:40ish train to Naples. Bummer. So, we grabbed some lunch, (and Jason discovered his love for prosciutto) and we took at next train to Naples at 12:45. The guidebooks and everything we had seen preparing for the trip made it seem like all train stations are crawling with helpful and friendly employees. We couldn’t find ONE employee to ask if we were on the right train. But, we were. And it’s a good thing – it was a long trip to Naples (like, over 3 hours long). Once in Naples, we changed trains, and got on the local commuter train to Sorrento. That too was a longer than expected trip. I don’t know if we made up these times in our heads when we were planning or what.
Anyway, we finally arrived around 6ish Italy time on saturday. So, it was pretty much a full 24 hours from when we left our house.
After we got checked in, we cleaned up a little and walked around town a bit. We will put up some photos from that tomorrow. The internet connection is slow, and there are some Italians watching the wrong kind of football for a Sunday. (Go Ravens!)