Welcome back blog fans. This Easter break, Tara and I took some vacation days and did a pretty extensive tour of southern France, along with a little bit of time in one of Italy’s most scenic places: Cinque Terre. Here is our overall plan of attack.
We got a Friday, Monday, and Tuesday off from work for Easter so we decided to spend 3 vacation days and take the whole week off. Here goes:
We flew into Milan Bergamo on Thursday night and made our way to a local hostel. If you’ve never heard of Bergamo, you aren’t alone. It’s about 45 minutes outside of Milan. Ryan Air, one of the discount airlines, has great deals to airports that sound great, but are actually in the middle of nowhere. We knew this going in and just booked a cheap hostel near the train station since we arrived very late on Thursday evening. Here’s the only picture of Bergamo. We were only in this town for about 6 hours. More sleep would have been nice.
We hopped on a 6:30 train and made our way to Italy’s most picturesque region: Cinque Terre. I’m intentionally up-selling how beautiful this place is because of the awful weather we had while we were there. It made our experience cold, wet, and limited. It made our pictures less than amazing, but it was still fun. I would definitely go back and pray for sunshine. Here is what the Cinque Terre region looks like:
Cinque Terre translates to ‘5 Lands’. It is a beautiful chunk of pedestrian only real estate smashed between the mountains and the sea. Here’s a quote from the man himself Rick Steves, “There’s not a museum in sight- just sun, sea, sand, wine, and pure, unadulerated Italy. Enjoy the villages, swimming, hiking, and evening romance of one of God’s great gifts to tourism“. Sounds pretty awesome if you ask me. My sister and brother-in-law have raved about this place ever since they went a few years back so we had to go check it out for ourselves. We arrived on Friday midday and it was cold, cloudy, and drizzling. We didn’t let that stop us though, we decided to hike to the next town.
As it turns out, the horribly rainy and windy weather warranted the closing of the paths between the towns. This wasn’t a normal closure warning that I would typically disregard either. We spoke to some locals and they told us about the crazy expensive fines (circa 500 Euros) and danger associated with trespassing on these closed trails. We sadly listened to the sign and turned back. At least there were some good views on the way back to Vernazza.
On October 25th 2011, there was a massive storm that caused tons of water, mud, rocks, and debris to destroy a lot of these 5 towns. Since then, Italy has been working to rebuild. The walking trails were supposed to be open this spring, but I guess they were late. Check out this video of the flooding carnage.
The cities themselves looked perfect. Everything on the ground floor had been rebuilt. Check out all these arches going back and forth between the buildings.
Vernazza reminded me of Venice, except with lots of stairs. We had to walk up about 150 steps from the main strip of Vernazza to our hotel. Here are a few of the steps.
We went out to a nice dinner that evening and rested up for our full day of exploration the following day. Our plan was to spend all day exploring the remaining 4 towns via hiking trails, boat rides, and trains. When we woke up however, we realized that the weather was even worse than the day before. There was punishing rain, high winds, fog, and cold temperatures. It was one of the worst days you could ask for weather wise. It kinda put a damper on our plans to walk around and see beautiful scenery. As previously mentioned, the hiking trails were closed. Because of the sea conditions, no boats were running. That left us taking the train from 1 town to the next with the other wet/stubborn tourists who were determined to explore the region.
We started with the southern most town of Riomaggiore. We did a walking tour of the town while fighting off the rain and wind. My umbrella kept going inside out because of the high winds. The pelting rain made it difficult to take pictures but here are a few. It was still pretty good views.
Next up was was Manorola. I wish we could have made this hike. As you can see above, the trail seems to go right along a cliff looking out to the ocean. Oh well, maybe next time. The towns were all pretty similar. Really cool looking buildings winding up to the hillside/mountain. We walked around and snapped some pictures while trying to keep our feet dry.
Check out the rain, and the lack of people.
From the top of Manorola, we were planning a hike up into the hills to check out a vineyard. We got about 15 minutes up the hill and we had to turn back. The winds really picked up and it was incredibly unpleasant We were just getting pelted in the face with stinging rain. Also about this time, our waterproof hiking shoes had lost their ability to be waterproof. Our feet were completely soaked and our feet were squishing around in our socks on every step. It was about this time that we decided to skip the next town (Corniglia). The town of Corniglia is a 10 minute uphill walk from the train stop. At this point, we were too miserable to think about that kind of walk. We decided 4 out of 5 towns was sufficient.
With the decision made, we headed for the northernmost town of Monterosso. As you can probably guess, the weather was less than awesome. The wind had started to pick up (again) and we couldn’t seem to shake the rain storm.
We did our best to see as much of Monterosso as we could while trying to forget that we were soaked to the bone. Here are a few pictures.
After an hour or two in Monterosso, we decided to go home and drink some local wine in our nice warm hotel room. We made it to the train station 20 minutes before our train left and spotted an earlier train with the same final destination as the one we were supposed to take. Brilliant right? We hop on this train and will get home 20 minutes earlier than anticipated without having to wait on the cold platform for 20 minutes like a chump. We were feeling really smart sitting on this train until it zoomed right past Vernazza and didn’t stop for another 20 minutes. It took us all the way to Spezia, which is the next major city to the south. This was not our day. We were cold, wet, and now in the complete wrong city. We had to buy another train ticket once we got to Spezia and wait 45 minutes for the next train to depart. And on top of all that, once we boarded the train, it was delayed another 20 minutes because there was too much water in the train tunnel. We somehow turned a 3 minute train journey into a 2 hour ordeal and lost another 10 Euros. This is what’s known as an epic fail.
Eventually, we made it back to our hotel. Honestly, we felt pretty beaten down by the day. We put on some warm clothes and went to hang out on our hotel’s private cliffside terrace just in time to see the sun come out for the first time all day. This terrace was pretty amazing. It was carved out of the cliffs. The towns castle was right above us (also carved out of the cliff).
That night, we had dinner in a nice warm restaurant and laughed about our ridiculous stretch of bad luck.
The next morning, we were due to depart for the French Riveria. We woke up and saw the greatest site in the world: the sun! It was pretty bittersweet though since we had to leave the city in an hour. We quickly climbed up to the top of the other side of the town and snapped a few pictures of the sunny version of Vernazza.
A few minutes later, we hopped on a train and headed for the French Riveria. Our time in Cinque Terre was good and bad. I really enjoyed the amazing towns and cool scenery. I’m really sad that we didn’t get to enjoy the hiking trails, take a boat ride, and enjoy these towns when they are fully functioning. I definitely want to go back to Cinque Terre in the future.
Last but not least, here’s a carbtastic food collage of some delicious Italian food. Pesto originated in this region, hence all the green pasta. Hey, we had to make the most of this depressing weather right?
Stay tuned for Tara’s recap of the French Riveria.