Thursday, May 27, 2010

Italy, Day 5: Travel day to Florence

Here's another travel day, so a little lighter on the pictures.

This is the door to our hotel. During the day, the shop immediately on the right has souvenir Tshirts, umbrellas etc pretty much blocking the door. That's where I got my (lousy) umbrella.

We went across the street and into an alley to get to our breakfast spot (part of the same hotel).

After breakfast, we did some laundry. While it was going, I went for a walk around to the harbor.

This may give more of a sense of the climbing I've been talking about. Everything is built on the side of the mountains.

When the laundry was done, we packed up and walked back to the train station. We caught a local back to La Spezia, then to Florence via Pisa. We didn't get to look for the leaning tower, just grabbed a slice of pizza at the station and jumped on the train. We checked into Hotel Globus, then went out to explore a little. Practically right outside our door was an outdoor market with stalls full of pashminas and leather bags! But more about that tomorrow.
We stopped for a gelato...

I loved this fountain...
We puttered around until about 6:30 or 7:00 when the restaurants open for dinner. We crazy Americans eat SO early! We found a great restaurant, but I didn't keep the name! Co-travelers,
do you remember? Very eccentric decor, colorful paint. I think we had some kind of little rocking horse statue on our table.

Spaghetti al Carbonara, mmmm.
More about Florence tomorrow!
Lessons learned:
Why didn't we take a cab to go see the leaning tower of Pisa? I don't think it ever even occured to us to do that. Or maybe it was the train schedules. Yeah, I guess we had booked in La Spezia and didn't have time between trains in Pisa. Guess I'll have to go back for that!
UPDATE: Totally forgot to add that this was the day we went to the Accademia to see (the) David!
They didn't allow photos inside, but lots of people were ignoring the rule. I wasn't brave enough to do that.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Italy, Day 4: Cinque Terre

Oh yeah, the blog!

Cinque Terre is a group of villages along the Italian Riviera. We stayed in Riomaggiore, and took the train to the other 4 villages (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola). In good weather, there are trails open between the villages and it's possible to hike from one to the next. We heard that two of the trails are pretty easy and the others are really challenging. On our day, only one trail was open, the one between our village and Manarola.
As you can see, not such a beautiful day. But who cares?? We were still in Italy, and it was still beautiful.
Waiting for the train with a few other people in Riomaggiore.

In Vernazza

In Monterosso al Mare:

Not sure which village this was!

I think this one is Corniglia. We decided that we just had to get this shot, so popped off the train thinking we'd be able to pop back on in 5 minutes or so. Nope, we had to wait over an hour for the next train. It's a good picture though, right?

The sun came out! So we took the trail back from Manarola to Riomaggiore.

All these locks were along the trail (Via dell 'Amore). There is a tradition there that when you make a commitment with your sweetheart, you come seal it with a lock.

And write a message about it apparently. Lots of graffiti in Italy, and it seemed more like art than anything and is also traditional.

We had dinner that night at one of my favorite restaurants on the trip: Ristorante la Lampara. We had a charming waiter and there was a little black and white cat wandering around under the tables. Then we stopped off again at Bar Centrale for a limoncello before climbing the hill and stairs back to the hotel, Locanda Ca' dei Duxi.
Lessons learned:
No problems here. My 5 Euro umbrella didn't last 24 hours, but in Monterosso I bought a rain jacket for 15 Euros and it worked well enough for the rest of the day.
Thanks for helping jog my memory Jennifer!

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Italy, Day 3: Travel day to Cinque Terre

This was a train day, so not too many pictures. We took the water bus in Venice to the station and caught a train to Florence (about 2 hours). From Florence, we took another 2 hour train to La Spezia, then a quick local train to Riomaggiore, part of Cinque Terre in the Italian Riviera.

It was a little rainy when we got there. This is just outside the train station. Past the mural is a tunnel you go through to get to the village.

The tunnel had mosaics on the wall, very interesting. I think I read that the townspeople stayed in the tunnel during air raids in WWII.

First taste of the rocky shoreline:
This is looking downhill (steeper than it looks) from about where our hotel entrance was. It wasn't easy pulling our suitcases up the hill in the pouring rain! And then the room was on the "3rd" floor but up more than 3 narrow steep flights of stairs. I'm glad I packed light, but next time would pack much lighter!
That night we ate in a local trattoria called Il Grottino. I had a dish with pasta made from chestnut flour which was traditional in that area. After dinner we stopped for a caffe at Bar Centrale and met Ivo, the very fun bartender there. I think I'll have to let my co-travelers add thier comments about Ivo. We had a great time with the 80's pop songs, and luckily Jennifer's video malfunctioned so there's no evidence.
Lessons learned:
Pack light! Most of the train stations don't have escalators, just stairs. It was not easy lugging that suitcase down the stairs then back up again to cross the tracks and I bet we did it twenty times on this trip. Plus two of our hotels had only (narrow and steep) stairs. I had a pretty small suitcase, but next time I would take some kind of backpack with wheels. Do they make those?
Tomorrow, exploring the villages of Cinque Terre!

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Italy, Day 2: Venice

First stop was the water taxi station. I'm not sure if that's the right term for it, but it's the public transportation system around Venice. More like water buses because we bought a 48 hour pass when we got there, didn't pay per ride.

St. Mark's Square. Shops and restaurants around the perimeter. People and pigeons in the middle. I think they're famous for the pigeons, but we saw them everywhere in Italy. One woman in this square was trying to get the pigeons to perch on her (she was successful - yuck). My first priority was to find a battery for my camera because the one I had died right off the bat!

The famous canals! It was really different than I expected. I think I was afraid it would be more commercial and almost like Disney, but it was historic and charming.

There were tiny alleyways with restaurants and shops. We stopped at one for caprese and veggies for lunch -- I think our lightest meal of the trip.
Then we'd come upon these little dead-end courtyards. Loved the laundry on the line.
We saw a couple of guys delivering a huge load of toilet paper on a cart -- no delivery trucks or vehicles of any kind.

Wrought iron, gondolas...

The Grand Canal, much wider.
And also this lagoon (Laguna Veneta) that we crossed on the water bus to get back to Lido.

And back to our hotel (there's a link in yesterday's post if you want more info on the hotel).
Lessons learned:
OMG don't get sick in Venice! I was dying this day, thank goodness for my very patient travel buddies. I won't go into details, but you should always have change for the W/C aka Toilette (€1,50) and good luck finding one when you need it instead of one of the charming deadend courtyards. Always bring any medicine you could possibly need with you, we made several visits to the Farmacia.
Also (duh) make sure your camera battery is charged but also bring a spare. I had to switch them out almost every day. We were also sharing one outlet adapter between the three of us, and there was always something waiting to charge between the camera batteries and IPods. Would have been great to have more of those.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Italy, Day 1: Travel, Milan

I decided to try blogging about my trip as a way to document it for myself before I forget the little details, and also a (hopefully) entertaining way to share my photos with anyone who'd like to see what we were up to!

We flew out on May 1 -- scheduled for a 6:30AM flight. The night before was crazy with horrible tornadoes and torrential rain. I packed while keeping one eye on the weather updates, and decided I'd skip a last minute trip to Walgreens -- they sell shampoo in Italy! I spent the night with my daughter and her husband so they could drop me off at the airport bright and early Saturday morning (4:30AM). It was a pretty sleepless night, and we had a few delays leaving Little Rock but finally were in the air around 8:30AM. I'll skip the details of the flights, but really everything went well. The longest bit from NY to Milan was 8 1/2 hours in the air and I slept as much as possible.
It was 8:30AM Europe time, May 2nd, when we arrived in Milan. We took a shuttle to the train station to stow our bags so we could explore a little before heading to Venice.

Jetlag anyone?

Milan's train station.

Then lunch (Penne al Pesto) and people watching.

Then off to check out the beautiful Duomo.

For €5 we climbed about 47 landings of 3-5 steps each (around and around).

Views from the top:

After a couple of hours we headed back to the station for a 3PM train to Venice. The trip was about 3 hours, and I was really trying to stay awake but I just couldn't. We had some drama in Venice when we all attempted to get off the train but only two of us made it! Turns out we were supposed to get off at the next stop anyway. Jennifer and I managed to get on the next train going that direction, and it all worked out. We found the water taxi and took the 35 minute ride to Hotel Riviera in Lido, an island just across from Venice. We had dinner at La Pizzeria Stella, then finally SLEEP.

Lessons learned:

You MUST have some form of communication within the group -- Jennifer and Rich had cellphones but I thought I could rely on wi-fi with my IPod Touch -- no wi-fi in the train station. Our little train separation would have been much worse if they hadn't been able to call and figure out where we were supposed to be. This turned out to be a problem for me again later in the trip.

Also, this is when I lost my Kindle. I had it out on the train to Venice and I THINK I put it in my bag before Jennifer and I got off the train (the first time), but then I left that bag behind when we made it to the real stop. Although I was able to run back and find my bag, the Kindle was gone. Did I leave it on the train or did someone take it from the bag? Can't be careful enough with your stuff. I blame the jet lag. When we checked back a couple of days later when we were leaving Venice I was told, "No lost office!" Note to TrenItalia, you need a lost office!

Tomorrow -- Venice!

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