So after leaving beautiful Southern France, Anna and I are sitting on a train bound for the Cinque Terre, Italy, another part of the world I have longed to see for some time now.
At some point, a female, Manuela Reyes, originally from Bogota, Colombia, who is now residing and studying in New York, boarded the train and sat in our section, so of course we started talking about her home country and NYC. She too was on her way to the Cinque Terre and we actually ran into each other another day in Manarola. We swapped details and I said I would give her a call when I was back in NYC in a few weeks time to catch up.
We arrived in Monterosso al Mare, the most northern town of the five that make up the Cinque Terre, which is a rugged coastline on the Italian Rivera with magnificent views of the Mediterranean Ocean. The majority of these little towns/villages have lots of hills with steep terraced landscape gardens/vineyards and colourful houses.
After arriving at the train station we had to work out how to get to the top of the mountain where we had booked accommodation for there nights, as there is no way we could pull our bags up the very steep incline.
We grabbed a taxi and arrive at our accommodation, Suisse Bellevue and wow what a view back down over Monterosso and the ocean, it was pretty amazing.
The following day we decided to do the one and a half hour trek from Monterosso to Vernazza. Normally you can trek along the coast between all the towns, however due to recent landslides, the other tracks between the towns were closed, so it was the train or the more difficult high road to walk on.
The trains run very regularly between all the towns and it is very easy to get from one to the other.
When I walked around the corner and looked down from a height to the town of Vernazza, it was just like most of the pictures postcards I had seen over the years and exactly what I imagined the Cinque Terre to be.
We decided to go to a restaurant on a cliff that sat high above the ocean and looked back down over the town, where we shared some pasta and had a few well deserved beers, as it was quite a hot day.
It was then off to the next town via the train, Corniglia, where we climbed three quarters of the way up a steep mountain and decided to turn around and go back and check out the township before heading to the next town, Manarola.
Corniglia was one of the smaller towns, which was nice but it didn’t have the same appeal as Vernazza.
We arrived in Manarola and walked down a small tunnel into the cobble stone village from the train station, which was very cute. We walked around the town for a bit taking photographs and as the sun was going down and it was getting late, we decided to have some dinner at Nessun Dorma Cinque Terre, before catching the train back to Monterosso.
We sat down and ordered some bruschetta, an antipasto platter and wine. This place was magnificent, very casual, but you sit there looking over the water to the main town with some progressive house music playing in the background, what a location.
Within a short period of time we engaged in conversation with the Americans sitting next to us, and fun banter was going back and forth between us all.
Anna and I were sitting there conversing over a couple more wines and just generally enjoying the view whilst having a bit of fun and laughter with the staff, it was a very relaxing atmosphere and one that we need after all the walking we had done that day.
As we were sitting there I noticed a long blonde headed female walk past us and ask the waiter if she could sit down on the couches in an Aussie accent and as I am a bit of a stirrer, I said, “No you can’t, but you can sit here if you want” and then laughed.
She then continued to walk down to where she was pointing but then returned a short time later and pulled up a chair and sat with us. Kate Nutt is her name and she is a Photographer from Byron Bay, who had been over in Germany photographing a wedding and decided to get some rest and relaxation in Italy and the Cinque Terre on the way home.
We all shared information and laughed over some wine and before we knew it, we were the only ones left and the café staff was basically packing up around us.
All of us walked back towards the main street of the town to where Kate was staying and where we had to go to get the last train for the night back to our town. We had decided that afternoon, the following day we were going to do a hike from Riomaggiore to Portovenere, which would take about five hours up and down mountains and along the top of the rugged coastline.
We had mentioned this to Kate and said if she wanted to join us we would text her and pick her up via the train on our way through to Riomaggiore.
Whilst waiting for our train we started talking to a couple from China who was also waiting for a train that was going in the opposite direction, they were on their honeymoon, Ting Yan and Xiaolong Sang.
So we catch the last train, by now it was about 11.30p.m. and there were not too many on this train, however there was a lady that Anna started talking to, who was pulling her suitcase along as she had just arrived in Monterosso. She was another Aussie, Julie, who was from Victoria, so we helped her find, her hotel and walked with her to there before getting the shuttle bus back up the hill to our hotel. We mentioned to Julie that we were doing a walk the following day with another Aussie we had just met and if she wanted to go; she had to be at the train station by 9.00a.m.
The next morning we got up and it was very overcast and not good weather for hiking, so we decided we would still catch the train to Riomaggiore and see what the weather was going to do. Funny thing was we were running a little late and basically ran all the way down the mountain to the train station to grab our train, which was delayed.
We had received a text from Kate and she was in for the hike as well, so we are waiting at the station and from another platform I thought I heard my name being called. When I looked over I saw Julie, who we had met the night before and she also wanted to go with us for an adventure.
So the three of us grab the train to Manarola and picked Kate up there and we all continue onto Riomaggiore, where we went to a café, had a coffee and got to know a little more about each other.
As the weather was starting to break up a little and it was not too hot, we decided to do the hike and took off around 11.00a.m.
Julie had never done anything like this before and Kate was not totally prepared but in typical Aussie fashion we just started walking up a fairly steep mountain to where the trek started.
As we walked on the sun came out and it got hotter and hotter and around every corner we turned the scenery would change. It was a pretty amazing view as we walked along the top of the mountain range we saw all different spring flowers, terraced vineyards, small towns and the never ending ocean.
We had walked for about three or more hours when we came across this little restaurant and decided to stop for some lunch and drinks.
Again in true Aussie style we all ordered either beers or wine and shared a giant plate of spaghetti. Our waiter was good fun and when we were leaving we were joking with him and all of a sudden he just picked me up and swung me around, it was too funny. As we had a fair bit more ground to cover we set off again, but this time we were on a time limit to get the last boat back.
Unfortunately we did not make it in time for the boat. A local guided us down a shortcut to the start of the township of Portovenere, so we then boarded a bus and went to La Spezia and then caught the train from there back to Manarola, where we arrived after 8.00p.m.
We all the had a meal together at Marina Piccola and some Prosecco wine before again waiting to get the last train out of there. I had one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had at this restaurant.
Overall with our lunch stop of about an hour, it took us just over seven hours to complete our journey with our new found friends and lot of laughs along the way. It was truly a day that none of us will forget.
The next day Anna and I packed up and headed for the train, as we decided to spend a couple of nights in Florence. Kate and Julie had a couple more days in the Cinque Terre.
Once again we lugged our bags up and down train stairways and when we thought we were settled in for a nice ride through the Tuscan countryside, our plans were changed, but when you travel you have to be prepared to just go with the flow.
Anna and I sat in different rows, as we had our luggage with us and I had my headphones on listening to music and looking out the window watching the landscape and scenery change.
A lady came and sat next to me at one of the stops and although I had noticed announcements in Italian over my headphones I really didn’t have a clue what they were saying.
I took my headphones off and the lady just started talking to me in English with an Italian accent. She currently lives and works in Berlin, however was on holidays and was going home to visit her parents who lived in Tuscany.
She said to me, “Do you know that we have to get off this train as there was a problem”. She then told us that they had announced that we would all have to get off at the next stop and then get buses to another station, where we would have to board a different train to get to Florence, which was very helpful.
She also later emailed me some information on Como and the surrounding areas, as her mother happened to be a tour guide. I will catch up again with Martina, when I am in Berlin for a coffee.
We had two days in Florence, which I really enjoyed even though the weather was a little overcast. The handmade leather shoes and bag were just beautiful and of a high quality. There are plenty of statutes to see including, David.
I visited the Gucci Museum, which was very interesting, as I love fashion and the history that accompanies it.
The next stop via the train again was Milan, one of the fashion capitals of the World, but not only that, it is where Expo 2015 was being held.
We had booked tickets to see Cirque du Soleil’s exclusive show at the Expo, Allavita, which was in an open air theatre. So we caught the train into the Duomo Milan, where we had some lunch and a look around before heading on another train to the Expo site about half an hour ride from the city centre.
The Expo site and building were very well done and we sat and had a glass of ten year vintage French champagne, which was very nice, before attending the show.
Well Allavita had a bit of everything and was to the normal high standard that a Cirque du Soleil show has to offer, but there was something a little more magical about being in the open air with a clear sky and the stars out.
After the show we headed back to our hotel, as earlier that day we had tossed a coin to chose where our next adventure would take us the following day with an overnight stay, it was between Venice or Lake Como, unfortunately we did not have enough time to do both, so we let the coin decide. Heads it was Venice and tails it was Lake Como.
For once we were travelling lightly with just our small backpacks as we left our large bags at the hotel as we were returning for one more night.
We headed to the train station and it was so nice not to have to lug heavy bags up and down the stairs for a change.
As tails had won, we grabbed our tickets to Lake Como, which took us about an hour and a half on the train.
We had booked Hotel Flori, a stylish old regal type hotel, which was right on Lake Como itself and offered majestic views of the lake. We got a really good deal, as this hotel was normally very expensive and it was a few weeks before their summer holidays when it gets extremely busy.
After we arrived, we dropped our bags off at the hotel and then headed for a boat, as we had decided to take a ride to a number of towns along the lake.
When we set off it was a little overcast, however by the afternoon this cleared and it was a beautiful day. The lake that is shaped like a Y, is one of the deepest in Europe at over 400 metres. It is a beautiful colour and the surrounding mountains, some of which still had some snow on top, makes the most stunning backdrop.
Most of the houses located on this lake are amazing with manicured gardens and lawn, and as you travel along the lake, every little town is different. The boat stopped at a number of them, but our first stop was Tremezzo, where I wanted to go and visit a famous house and gardens, Villa Carlotta. This place is definitely worth the visit.
After a couple of hours, we boarded the boat again and headed for Bellagio, where we had a late lunch before having to get the last boat back to Como.
On our ride back, we decided to sample a few of the local beers on the boat and it was a very relaxing ride.
That night we had dinner at our hotel that looked over the manicured grounds to the lake, it was a great setting and the company was pretty good as well.
The next day we took some of the hotel bikes and decided to ride into Como to have a look around the old town, which had a bit of character about it.
Unfortunately we had to leave Como, which was just a great relaxing stay, to head back to the busy city of Milan. We caught a taxi to the train station and headed in to check the monitor and I saw that there was a train that was running just a few minutes late back to Milan.
We went to the platform, but the train wasn’t there yet, so I went and grabbed a drink and some chips and just as I was finishing up paying, it pulled up, so it was a bit of a rush.
Anna and I jumped on this train and as I did the doors shut and it was starting to pull out of the station. Just before jumping on this train I noticed the carriage in front of us had a, “Restaurant” sign on the side of it and I thought that was a little odd as the train we had caught there was very old and very basic and this train inside seemed to be of a high quality, but as we were in a rush and the train was leaving we went with it.
As we were standing in the luggage area, I said to Anna, I don’t think we are on the right train and mentioned the restaurant carriage I had seen as I jumped on and she was of the same opinion, which we started to laugh about, as we were technically stowaways.
Within a short time the Conductor came along and I said to him I think we were on the wrong train and he checked our tickets and said we were, this was the express train from Zurich to Milan, basically, First Class. He said we would have to get off at the next stop and to just hang around the luggage area, as the seating was numbered, otherwise we would have to pay to get to Milan.
We were killing ourselves laughing as we were sitting on the floor of the luggage area.
As we were nearing the station where we had to get off the Conductor came back and we engaged him in general conversation. We asked him how much it would cost us to get to Milan and he said about ten euro each, but then he took both our tickets, put a rip in them and said go and find yourselves a seat and, “I haven’t seen you two”. We thanked him very much and then found a very comfortable seat for our trip that took no more than about forty minutes on this fast train.
The next day it was time to part company, as Anna was off to do some surfing in the Maldives and I was heading via NYC again to Vancouver, where it is going to be home for about five weeks.
Absolutely loved my time in Italy, the scenery, food and the people I met along the way. I am sure I will be back to see more.
So until next time.