Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bella Italia: Cinque Terre

We spent a wonderful week in the Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre (five towns) is located on the north western coast of Italy, on the Italian Riviera. The area is a national park and protected heritage site, where the locals are encouraged to keep doing what their ancestors have been doing for centuries--farming the terraced land and welcoming the tourists. (Except they no longer have to watch for Turkish invaders from the sea.) We stayed in the southern-most town of Riomaggiore, and that was our home base for exploring the region.

You can see our apartment--the burnt orange building, bottom left of center. Our balcony is on top.

Our kitchen/living room.
Living like locals with our wash hanging off the balcony.
One thing I was not prepared for was ALL THE STEPS. Seriously, it was an aerobic workout to get from the girls room (on the bottom floor) to the kitchen (on the top). Major stairs. And usually I was carrying baby doppleganger so add another 20 lbs to the mix. All in all, it was a great physical workout wherever we went. As you can see from the pictures, the towns are crammed into the crevices in the cliffs, so they are easy on the eyes...tough on the legs. :)
We visited four of the five towns, and really enjoyed riding the train between them. Italian trains are not like German trains, however! Sometimes a train is late; sometimes a train changes tracks; sometimes the names don't match the tracks shown on the monitor. (These things would never happen in Germany.) So you take it all with a grain of salt and chalk it up to "that's just Italy."

I love how they're hanging out like two little Italian ladies, chatting on the front steps.
 One day we took the train to Monterosso al Mare, the northern-most of the five towns. We wandered around a bit, found a playground where the kids could play and I could enjoy this:
I didn't get many chances to have tasty coffee in Italy, so this really stands out. Seriously, the kids happily playing on the playground and Jon and me enjoying macchiatos (lattes) and bruschetta? Definition of vacation, baby.
After lunch, we wandered up into the hills about Monterosso and found this little gem: Burano Vineyards. (Kate is hiding behind the barrel.) The sign on the door said (in English) "Tastings" so we headed in. We had no idea the incredible experience that awaited us.

Enjoying Burano's wine while sitting on their huge veranda. See the terraced vineyards in the background? They also grow lemons to make a fantastic lemon liquor. (Lemoncino) When we paid for a tasting, they gave us three kinds of wine and a bit of lemoncino, along with a whole plate of complementary food. We even tried another local specialty--anchovies. (ugh!) :)

The girls were deliciously rewarded as well, with cookies and limeaid. The best wine I tasted was the Sciacchetra (ski-uh-chet-trahh). It's incredibly expensive and comes in a very slim bottle. Probably because it's wonderfully sweet and has to be picked at night, under a full moon, yadah yadah. What an unforgettable experience. The owners of the vineyard were so nice and they enjoyed all three of our girls. We sure enjoyed their wine!

 After leaving Burano, we hiked up a bit to a cemetery high on the hill. It afforded a beautiful view of the best beach in the 5T:

Of course we had to visit the beach, and even though the weather wasn't great, the girls had a wonderful time.

Enjoying the waves
Here's the best pic we have of the five towns, taken from Monterosso. Vernazza on the far left, Corniglia just above the boat, Manarola to the right of Corniglia, and Riomaggiore just peeking out on the point on the far right. Such a beautiful area of the world!
We also located a playground in our own town. Climb a ton of steps and see this incredible view, right from the playground:

View from the swings
 We had hoped to do quite a bit of hiking. Numerous trails run between the five towns and the views are said to be amazing. But unfortunately, almost all the trails were closed. Even the Via del Amore trail that is the most well-know of the 5T sights. There wasn't a great explanation as to why, but it didn't matter--they were closed. So we explored the towns instead. The weather was pretty variable, and we waited until the best possible day to spend our "beach day." Since we had already visited Monterosso's beach, we took the train to the next town north (toward Genoa) and got off in Levanto. Levanto isn't technically one of the 5T, but its beach is so much better than Monterosso's. (Also, it wasn't as smelly!) So we hiked from the train station down through the town, toward the beach.

Don't need much more than this in life, eh?

Enjoying our picnic lunch before heading to the beach.
Sporting the biggest souvenir expense in 5T: Jen's Italia sweatshirt. I had so underdressed for the weather that I needed something to keep me warmer. (Can you believe it?) This fit the bill and I wore it every day during the trip.

Levanto's beach from the far south side. It was neither pebbly nor smelly--great!

 It wasn't the greatest of days to be at the beach, but at least it didn't rain. We had fun! There were a lot of German speakers on the beach, so we felt right at home.
I can't finish our post about Cinque Terre without posting the picture of our favorite pizza place in Riomaggiore. The restaurants opened after our kids went to bed, so we'd feed them from the food we brought, then one of us would go out and get food for the mom and dad. We'd sit on the balcony and eat our pizza or fresh was wonderful. What a great way to taste all the yummy food.

Can't forget the gelato!
Of course, I can't finish the post without telling about the hail storm. We were walking to the playground on our last evening and were accosted by a horrendous rain storm, complete with hail! Poor Jon was going to get the pizza and he was going to meet us at the playground. The girls and I took shelter in someone's entry way--they took pity on us and handed us four umbrellas. That saved the night...except for Jon, who sloshed all the way to the playground in the rain and arrived and all. He was such a good sport about the whole thing, even though he was drenched. His scatterbrained wife didn't even think to wait for him to give him his umbrella! :(

 We had a wonderfully relaxing time in the 5T. Despite a baby that kept the entire block up at night, the days were great and we wish we were going back to enjoy the fantastic scenery again. Ciao, Cinque Terre.

 Final installment: Lake Como!


Nana said...

Again, what wonderful pictures and stories of great times spent as a family. I hope the girls will remember some of these places. The place you stayed was good exercise, but also spacious! Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

What an adventure!!!! We are amazed at all you did! Loved hearing about the winery - what a find that was!! Jen, I am so proud you tried the anchovies! The picture of K & E in front of the door is adorable!!!

Love little M's 9 month pictures. She is growing sooooo fast and is so cute!!
Love you, A and J