Or don't ask a question in a foreign language if you are not going to understand the answer...
10.06.2011 - 17.06.2011
We rounded our one night in Venice off the following day by catching the Vaporetto No.1 from the train station to the Piazza di San Marco and walking back...
We had a coffee at a cafe that had its own string quartet, although we baulked at the idea of sitting down due to the 5 euro per person cover charge! We have since discovered that nobody really lingers over coffee here. Italians drink their coffee hot, fast and standing. Like a shot of tequila, but without the lemon (and don't you dare ask for milk!)
Little girl about to be mauled by a pigeon
After the San Marco, we wandered back to the Academia Art Gallery stopping at some of the peculiar modern art studios scattered along the way. One of the best (certainly the weirdest) we found was Giuseppe Veneziano, who could probably best be described as a sort of pop culture critic in acrylic.
Mc Mao - Giuseppe Veneziano (borrowed from his website www.giuseppeveneziano.it)
The walk back through the canals was incredibly atmospheric, not in the least because of the thunder storm heading our way. Luckily we found a little bar where we could have some lunch before the heavens opened up and flooded Venice by another couple of mls.
That afternoon we picked up our bags and grabbed a train to Milan. It was only a stopover (this time) because we had booked three nights on the Cinque Terre for Rob's 30th birthday, so there's not much to report. We stayed close to the train station and only ventured out as far as a little restaurant recommended by one of the staff at our hotel.
Early the next morning we caught a train to Genoa and a connection to Monterosso al Mare, which was to be our base for our three days walking the CT. Unfortunately, when we arrived in Monterosso we were told that about 80% of the main walkway had been closed due to landslides. After we finished sulking, we worked out that it was still possible to walk between the towns, just on the higher, more difficult paths.
The vineyards above Monterosso
Immediately after dropping our bags at our hotel, we set off on the section of the main path that was open between Monterosso and Vernazza. The path was quite narrow in a lot of places so the legions of tourists coming the other way (or going the same way reeeeaaaally slowly) made things interesting when our paths crossed...
The view approaching Vernazza
When we arrived in Vernazza we grabbed a gelati and wandered around admiring the patchwork-quilt colour of the buildings and the castle on the rocks, before having a drink and sampling some local anchovies on bruschetta – Liguria being famous for its anchovies, we ate more than our fair share...
We waited for the train back to Monterosso with several hundred other people heading in the same direction. When the train arrived the crush of people clamouring for a spot on the train was absolutely shameful! A heaving mass of tourists rushed the doors of the carriages before they had even opened. The people behind pushing the ones in front so that the passengers on the train wanting to get off had little to no chance without resorting to physical violence.
As we had arrived early when the platform was relatively empty, we had a position quite close to the carriages when the train arrived. At the door of the carriage we were hoping to get onto, a woman with a pram tried in vain to get off past a seething wall of “humanity” hell-bent on getting onto the train. Obviously it was no use pleading with us at the front as we were being pushed forward unrelentingly by the sheer mass of ignorance behind us. It took several of us to plant our feet and shove, elbow, and push people out of the way to allow her enough room to get herself and her pram off the train. As soon as the impediment was removed there was no stopping the stampede...
On Rob's birthday we walked from Corniglia to Manarola and the high path took us far above the usual tourist trail and through the incredible terraced vineyards and on to Riomaggiore where we had dinner at a fantastic little restaurant called La Lanterna.
View looking back to Corniglia
On the way to Manarola
On the popular Via Dell'Amore (Lover's Path) between Manarola and Riomaggiore
At La Lanterna
We almost fell off our chairs when a woman (who had been sitting near us) told us as she was leaving that she'd overheard our conversation, and had paid our bill on account of having a son about Rob's age. She wished Rob happy birthday and promptly disappeared out the door leaving us with dumbstruck looks on our faces and without an opportunity to properly thank her.
The birthday boy
The beach at Monterosso at night
The next day we caught a train to Vernazza and, despite the ignorance of the “Information Office”, we managed to find the start of the high path to Corniglia and made our way up to the ridge-line.
Looking back from the start of the walk (Vernazza)
It did get a bit hairy on the way down because the path had not been maintained in the off season and was really overgrown. Being snake season, we thought every rustle in the bushes was a large venomous reptile with a taste for blood... Once we made it safely down, we caught the train back to base to freshen up, and after grabbing a pizza and cheap bottle of red we headed back to Manarola to catch the sunset.
Sunset at Manarola
We spent a great three days on the CT and enjoyed being based in Monterosso, which is certainly the largest of the five towns (and has the best foccacia!) Despite the initial setback we managed to walk between all five towns and got about enough exercise to work off all the anchovies...
After the CT we stopped off at Pisa for a couple of hours on our way to Lucca. Other than the Leaning Tower and the spectacular buildings in its immediate vicinity (which incidentally also have a slight lean) we didn't find much more to see in Pisa and the 2 hours was more than enough.
The tower sneaking a quick peek around the Cathedral
Despite the obvious flaws, the architecture is incredible and there are a lots of very finely detailed carvings throughout the Cathedral and the Baptistry. Apparently the small (about one foot tall) sculpture of Daniel (of Lion's Den fame) on the Baptistry pulpit by Nicola Pisano marked the the beginning of the sculptural movement that culminated in Michelangelo’s collossal David – more on that later...
You may recognise the pose...
The impressive detail on the old pulpit in the Cathedral (by Giovanni Pisano)
We had intended to take the obligatory 'propping up the tower' photo, but after witnessing what we have (un)affectionately dubbed “Pisa-chi” being performed en mass we settled for taking pictures of everyone else looking ridiculous instead.
“Pisa-chi" first position
Later that day we carried on to Lucca where we had booked a room in a shared apartment for a couple of days. After six weeks of eating on the road, we enjoyed the novelty of cooking for ourselves and using the local produce.
Lucca is a gorgeous Tuscan town and one of the few towns to have its old city walls intact. We can understand why - they are about 20 metres thick!
The beautiful walkway around the city walls
The walk around the old city and the walls would have been a highlight, except Rob picked up a calf strain on the last day of the CT (from dodging ferocious reptiles) and spent the entire time hobbling around complaining... On our strolls/hobbles around the inner city we got stuck into some wonderful gelati (and learned that a grubby, unappestising pale olive colour means the pistachio is good!?)
The bell? tower
Lucca was a good change of pace and a welcome respite after several weeks of constant travelling. After blowing the budget on Nurofen, Rob was (thankfully) complaining about his foot a little bit less so should be right for our three day assault on the capital.