Sunday, December 15, 2013

(Europe trip, post 11 of 14) Cinque Terre!...and back to Siena

June 11, 2013

First of all, this day was amazing!  Cinque Terre was a little tricky to fit into our itinerary logistically without making it only a day trip excursion, but it was an absolute MUST visit on my list - so a day trip it was.  Although we could have done it on our own, I wasn't willing to chance problems if there was a train strike (which happens frequently there), and I wasn't thrilled about the idea of being tied to a huge bus group of other tourists if we took a bus tour.  So, we hired the same driver (Alessandro) as from our Tuscan countryside tour to take us!  I'm so glad we did.  He even popped by Pisa for us to jump out and get the iconic leaning tower photo.  First though!...here is Ale parked right outside our hotel to pick us up that morning.  Note the pink shirt on the top floor - that is me in our room's window, Alessandro is parked at the bottom left of the photo.  We checked out of our hotel in Florence, loaded up our luggage, and we were off!

Pisa!



It was actually pretty amusing to see all the people along this stretch standing with their various poses holding up the leaning tower.

I'm pretty sure Tommy's signature picture pose (on his hands) was the most unique one we saw though...
We are grateful that we were able to swap our Cinque Terre and Tuscany tour days to accommodate the previous day's on and off rain, since in Cinque Terre if it rains they close the hiking trails (due to landslide risk) and stop running the boat.  In fact they open and close things frequently based on conditions, and while the weather was much better than the day prior (when everything was closed) things had been open and closed already that morning.  So while we drove Alessandro called a couple times to double check which areas were opened and closed.  He delivered us right to our first village and handed us pre-purchased ferry tickets, hiking passes, and train passes.  He gave us instructions on where to go in what order (including times the ferry/train runs so we didn't waste time just missing them and waiting around), and he told us where he would be waiting for us whenever we were done.  He made things easy and seamless for us, and maximized the amount of time we could simply spend enjoying the beautiful villages of Cinque Terre!

In Italian Cinque Terre means 'five lands' (or villages).  The first village where we started our adventures was Riomaggiore!
 (Photo credit: www.destination360.com)

I have to mention that one of the things that kept me from doing posts on my trip earlier was that I wanted to learn how to edit my photos before sharing them.  I doubt that it takes a ton (once I've learned) to really make the colors on these vibrant buildings and boats pop like in the previous photo, but alas I still haven't learned yet so I will continue to post my photos un-edited.  Someday maybe I'll learn and I can go into these posts and swap them out.  Until then, at least they are compiled!

We walked down past all the brightly colored buildings and homes (many which had to be gutted after the terrible mudslides of 2011), down to the dock where we waited with tickets in hand for the next boat to depart for our sea view of the charming villages.







A whole lot of people (speaking a lot of different languages) crammed onto one small-ish motorized boat, and we headed out on our excursion past the 5 villages.  I am really glad we had the chance to view them from the sea, they were so picturesque.  We did snap a few photos from the rocking boat, but I won't attempt to definitively label which village each of them are...I will say that we departed from Riomaggiore and traveling north passed Manarola, then Corniglia, then Vernazza, finally docking at Monterosso.







This is an area where you can see the train zip by.  The villages are connected by train, footpath, and boat.







Here are a couple quick video clips that Mark took while we were on the boat:
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Mark as we were approaching Monterosso...



After docking in Monterosso.

Mark looking for shells or rocks to bring home to our boys.

As good a place as any for Tommy to do a handstand...

View back at the beach and village of Monterosso as we walked up the path to the trail-head.

Me on the pathway that lead up to the trail-head.

Quick video clip from the same area...
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Just starting out our little hike.  This is something that was a must-do for the four of us.  We were all so excited to be able to walk along those beautiful mountains from one village to the next.  I don't remember which trails were closed when we were there (some were), but Alessandro knew we didn't want to do just the Via dell'Amore ("Lover's Walk") that is a shorter paved pathway from Riomaggiore to Manarola (although I would have loved to have done that in addition to our hike if we had the time).  Our hike that went from Monterosso to Vernazza is apparently the steepest of the old goat trails.  It is a narrow trail that winded through olive orchards and vineyards and offered us beautiful views of the coastline...and of Vernazza when we got there!

 



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This picture cracks me up.  During a picture stop on our hike we noticed this lady wearing a "twinner" outfit to Megan...




Beautiful Vernazza...


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You can find musicians playing for money in most cities that I've traveled in Europe, but this was one of my favorites just toward the end (or beginning if you're hiking the other direction) of the trail.

After hiking up and down the Ligurian hillsides for 2 hours, we felt refreshed but also hungry.  Luckily Alessandro was waiting for us at the base of the footpath and had eating suggestions for us.  He went over to one of the restaurants and talked with an employee there that he was obviously familiar with.  After another group was told of their wait, he seated us immediately (another perk of having hired a driver who has established connections) and we enjoyed sea views while waiting for our food!  The restaurant was Trattoria Gianni Franzi, and we enjoyed our lunch there immensely.

Before our trip I read that a local specialty was melon and prosciutto, so we enjoyed that for an appetizer.  Not being a huge fan of either one, I was surprised how delicious the combination was.

Mark ordered this yummy black pasta with scampi sauce (all things seafood are local specialties obviously).

And I ordered another local specialty - pesto!!  It was one of the tastiest things I had on our trip (and that's saying a lot - we ate plenty of delicious things).

I wanted to experience the Cinque Terre by all three modes of connection - boat, foot, and train.  So, we used the tickets Alessandro provided us to travel by train from Vernazza to Corniglia where Alessandro and his vehicle were waiting for us.  I will say that I was picturing something more quaint (with views?) on our train ride, but at least the section we rode was pretty un-memorable.  Personally, I could have skipped that part for a few more minutes enjoying beautiful Vernazza.  Nonetheless, it was fantastic to have our driver pick us up at the train station and whisk us up to one last unexpected vista for a lookout...

Mark and me at the look-out.  Notice the mirror by us for motorists for navigating those hairpin turns on the mountainside.

Megan and me with Alessandro.

I had to include this.  Tommy brought an inflatable with him for making sleeping while traveling comfortable.  Not like an inflatable neck pillow, but a huge inflatable (ball or something?)  He blew it up and fell asleep on it, and it seriously cracked us up, but it seemed to do the trick.

As I mentioned previously, we swapped tour days and were supposed to have ended our previous Tuscany tour in Siena where we had hotel reservations, but since we did Cinque Terre the second day Alessandro transported us down there after we were done on the coast.  We were all pretty tired on the drive to Siena, and things were pretty uneventful getting there (which is good).  It was nice that we had our luggage looked after during our day enjoying the coastal villages, and to not have to think at all about getting to our next destination...and to be dropped off right at the door of our hotel!

We stayed at Pensione Palazzo Ravizza.  It is perfectly located within the old city walls, and I cannot emphasize how much I loved this hotel.  Everything about it.

Here is one of the sitting areas inside the hotel lobby area.

The staff was extremely friendly, and things were clean and well organized...right down to where the keys were kept (which, like most hotels there, guests turn in to be held when they leave the hotel during their stay and pick up when they come back in).

This hotel was one of the first places I made reservations when we decided to book our trip.  I explained my infatuation with Siena in my last post, and I knew I wanted the perfect hotel with the perfect view.  We stayed in room 12 and it was indeed perfect.

Our room was a standard room so not as fancy or big as some others, but I thought it was beautiful and the view (which was most important of all to me) was to die for.

Note that the herringbone pattern in the flooring matches that of the red brick pattern on the ground at Il Campo.

And now for that view.  Drumroll please...






Seriously, I just took all of those photos from right in my room.  Amazing, right?  So, if you are going to stay here my vote is to book early and get a garden view.  Speaking of the garden, this is the view out of our room looking directly down...

Even the bathroom felt nice and spacious (then again, our previous room's bathroom was modest and tiny).  Really though, it was tastefully done, comfortable, and clean.

A view of the exterior (back side) of our hotel from their beautiful gardens.  Mark is in the window of our room.


I loved the outdoor space of our hotel as much as the hotel itself.  They had a beautifully kept garden with seating areas that take advantage of their amazing view of the countryside.

A couple quick shots from the garden area...


And a view of the countryside taken from one of the garden's seating areas.

We had dinner reservations at a place that I was really excited about.  La Taverna di San Giuseppe.  The restaurant dates back to 1100 and it's wine cellar dates back to Etruscan times (2 BC)!  Their website is only in Italian, but you'll have no problem finding an excessive amount of reviews from pleased patrons online on various sites.  The ambiance is rustic and unique, and the food is delicious.


 
Our appetizers...

Mark's dish of pasta with wild boar sauce (specialty for the area).  It was really delicious.

Gnocchi with truffles.  I'll be honest, I had never tried a dish with truffles and it felt like a good time to do so!  The dish was rich and flavorful.

Dessert was too hard to say no to.  Perfect end to our meal.

After dinner we made the short walk back to Il Campo to see it by night.

Then it was back to our fabulous hotel for a restful night's sleep.  In fact, I purposely planned the one sleep-in day of our trip for this hotel.  After 10 packed days of travel and sightseeing, and then our hiking that day, a restful night and morning is just what we needed before launching ourselves at Rome.

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