Italy - We climbed it!
4:05pm: OMG, we're going to Italy!
7:00pm: We are finally leaving SFO.
4:00am: Sweet jesus! Won't the lady behind us shut-up??
2:25pm: Landed in Paris, finally, with chubby feet.
5:00pm: Landed in Milan's crappy little airport. Bags? No
bags for you! What do you mean no bags? Well, no bags.
They promise they will arrive on the next flight, just an hour behind us. Exhausted we are off to our hotel… Antica Locanda Solferino, which - from their website - promises to be an adorable boutique hotel. Hmm… turns out the only thing that is great about Solferino is their PR firm! It is a crappy crappy little hotel, with a 2'x2' shower whose water temperature oscillates between scalding hot and freezing cold.
7:30pm: OMG, no bags! We go off to a yummy dinner in the neighborhood.
10:00pm: OMG!!! No bags! Wake up in the morning, and NO BAGS? And we have a 9:00am train to catch, which we miss! Trip is ruined! RUINED! Assana is ready to head back home. After multiple phone calls - no thanks to our receptionist who can't be bothered to translate for us - bags arrive at 12:30. Lesson learned? Italians lie!
Ruined! Of course we have long missed our train. Insert bubble over Assana's head: "Trip is RUINED!" Turns out our route, yeah, it runs hourly. Could it be that the trip is not ruined? Off we go to Genova, on our way to La Spezia! (we only know to pronounce it with an exclamation mark!) for a connection to Vernazza. Patrizia meets us at the train station and takes us to our room which is more like a pantry. Two double beds with a foot in between. Teeeeeeny bathroom and a counter that acts as a kitchen. And, it is a hundred yards from the rails! Great.
We don't care. Vernazza is every bit as postcardy as we expected. A village suspended in time, completely preserved and oh so full of character. Turns out Vernazza is the birth place of pesto. Dan orders some for dinner and it is make-to-order. Yummmm-mmmy (Assana accidentally finishes Dan's dinner!).
12:00am: Lighting storm shuts down our power. But we manage to not only get a good night sleep, but also over sleep! Doh!
Stumblina A hiking trail connects the five villages of Cinque Terre, and we have plans on hiking the whole way in two days. Vernazza is the second village from the north. The first day takes us from Vernazza to Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Its 11:00 before we head out, and it is already hot. The trail is well maintained for the most part, and has a nice gentle rollyness to it - a bit of uphill, a bit of downhill - generally more uphill than down, but manageable, despite Assana's bjillion stumbles. And it is beautiful!
We go thru basil fields, and olive groves, and we stop in each village and get food and drinks. Corniglia is perched on the cliffs with no beach access, but lot's of cats! Manorola is also perched on the cliffs, but it has a rocky beach. It's 4:00ish when we arrive at Riomaggiore, exhausted and hot. We buy some grapes so we can take advantage of the store's A/C. Thank god we are not hiking all the way back: Assana's research points to a nice boat ride back. Dan complains, but soon loses the battle! The boat ride was both a relaxing and quick way back, and an opportunity to see the villages from a different vantage point. And as for Dan, he loves the ride. Enough said! Dinner at Al Castillo wraps up the day. The views are magnificent! The only draw back is the table of American next to us complaining about how "Cinque Terre" is hard to pronounce. Losers.
FoCcccccacia Now we are off to Monterosso al Mare. The trail is ridiculously steep leaving Vernazza. Seems like we climb a foot for each step! But the views! OMG. So beautiful. And on this side the trail goes through vineyards. Eventually it levels over the ridge but then we have a thousand steps to go down to town. Thank god we are going down and not up. How about tomato & olive focaccia sandwiches for lunch? Mmmm. We try to order a couple. The guy doesn't understand. We repeat, "Focaccia?" and he repeats that he doesn't understand. We finally point to the sandwiches and he says, "Ahhh. FoccccCCCCCaccia! Si! Si!" For crying out loud.
Monterosso is quite a bit more touristy than Vernazza. We go to a private beach and hop in the water ignoring the guy's call for money. When we get out he tells us we have to pay €18 each for the beach. Yeah…hmm…I don't think so buddy. By now we have cooled down and we don't even need the beach anymore. Showed him! Another boat ride takes us back to Vernazza in time to shower and pretty-up for our last dinner in this beautiful village. We are not gonna miss the trains though.
La Spezia! Italian train schedule is a mere suggestion. Our 10:03 finally arrives around 10:50. We are off to Firenze via La Spezia & Pisa! It is hot and our train doesn't have A/C in first class! Great. We have fun with the Policia who takes our photo in the train station but accidentally sees a naughty photo from the night before on our camera's display! Our hotel informs us that they are full, and that they have a room for us in a different hotel, but since it is an upgrade we don't complain. The taxi ride is interesting, to say the least! Tiny cab zipping around in even tinier street full of pedestrians. OMG! So many close calls, and no harm done. Amazing.
Firenze Who's the super-touristest ever? We are! We waste no time: the Duomo, the Gates of Heaven, the Arno river, Ponte Veccio with all of its jewelry shops filled with ugly jewelry, Baboli gardens. We see it all! There is a 15 minute wait to climb the Duomo, but so worth it: the climb, itself, is fun. The stairs go in between the ceiling and the roof and hug the curvature of the Duomo. On the top, we are in the tallest point of the whole city, with spectacular views of Firenze, the tile roofs, and a bunch of towers outside town.
Towers Done with Firenze, we pick up our rental car and head off to the Tuscan country side. Our first stop is San Giminignano. Adorable highly preserved Tuscan village with the largest number of standing towers. Seems like it hasn't changed since the middle ages. Too many Americans, but we manage. Assana buys a fabulous leather jacket at a killer price if she foregoes a receipt. Receipt? Who needs a receipt!
Piccolo Spoon We are staying at a beautiful tuscan-villa-turned-hotel on top of a hill just outside the walls of Sienna. Our room is on the top floor with stunning views of the Tuscan hills. Villa Patrizia has a gourmet restaurant and a nice patio in the gardens, so we decide to just stay in house for dinner. First we are seated at a table with just a table cloth. Then the bus boy arrives with plates. Minutes later, he come back with knives. Just knives. Then, with forks. Just forks. Then bread and butter… Eventually we do get a visit from our waiter, who also ends up disappearing. At one point he does return with our water and wine: the wrong water (fizzy vs flat) and decants our wine without asking us to tastes. We do eventually get our dinner, which is delicious. So services, not so much their thing. Of course the patio is so nice that we decide to also each breakfast before heading to town. Dan's choices of spoon for his yogurt are the tiny piccolo mini, and the huge ladle-sized one!
More Towers to Climb Sienna! Oh beautiful walled city of Sienna. We love it. We walk all over and climb a bunch more towers, including the Torre off the main square: 400 steps and 100 meters high. Wouldn't expect anything else from the climbiest trip ever!
Horse Trail Next is the countryside. Tuscany is truly gorgeous with its rolling hills and hilltop villas. We decide to visit the burned abby of San Galgano. The directions of kind'a sketchy, but we manage to follow the "San Galgano" signs. The road, she becomes a dirt road, then narrows, then we notice a lot of grass and weeds in the road, then she becomes even more narrow and eventually bam! There's a stream and rope bridge in front of us. Odd! We park the car and continue on foot. The trail is deserted and we are amazed that there is such a famous abby off of such a remote trail. We come over a hill and there is the Abby… complete with a large parking lot and a highway. What?? Yeah, turns out we drove on the horse trail. Woops! We put our car to good use and drive to several other towns. It is perfect except for Dan ruining the day by stuffing himself with breadsticks!
Ciao Our last dinner in Tuscany is in a restaurant right on Piazza del Campo. It is a beautiful warm night and we enjoy sitting outdoors and people watching. The next day we head back to Milan to catch our flight home.
Italia, we love you and hope to see you soon.