Friday, May 8, 2015

Northern Italy: Part I of II

May 8-14, 2015

During the second week of our vacation, we spent 3 nights in Cinque Terre and 3 nights in the heart of Tuscany.

Friday May 8, 2015
We left Lugano,Switzerland in the morning for Riomaggiore via a transfer in Milan.
Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre is a series of five brightly colored fishing villages perched at the foot of sea cliffsides in a protected coastline. It is a 6 mile stretch of Italian Riviera without cars, isolated from elsewhere. The villages thrive by catching fish and cultivating grapes. Riomaggiore, the most southern town is the biggest and most workaday town. The next town north, Manarola is picturesque. Corniglia is on a hilltop. Vernazza is the most touristy and the most dramatic. Monterosso al Mare is the closest to a beach resort town. Our airbnb apartment for the next 3 nights was in Riomaggiore.
We arrived at the Riomaggiore train station in the late afternoon. We passed through the pedestrian railway tunnel onto Via Colombo. Jackie led us to our airbnb apartment up the hillside some and then up a few flights of stairs. Once we found the building, we still had 3 flights of stairs to get to the top of the apartment. After settling in, we went out to walk around Riomaggiore.
We took Rick Steves advice to go to Il Pescato Cucinato shop where Laura fries up her husband Edoardo’s fresh catch. We enjoyed a paper cone snack of deep-fried seafood cone snack with the local favorite staple, anchovies.
Enjoying the view of the Mediterranean Sea in Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre 
Family photo in Riomaggiore with Brooklyn napping in the baby bjorn
Wright family photo in Riomaggiore
We ate a sitdown dinner at an outdoor table at Trattoria la Grotta in Riomaggiore. 
We ordered a bottle of red wine. The boys had a huge helping of seafood while the ladies had mussels with risotto. I didn’t get a photo of our plates quick enough before we devoured it.
We were a short walk up the main street in Riomaggiore
Further up the main street in Riomaggiore
Our balcony view from Cinque Terre in Riomaggiore
Our sunset balcony view from Cinque Terre in Riomaggiore

Post dinner drink for Brooklyn before bed
We were only able to get one packnplay bed for the baby and the other was a camping cot. We let Harper take the contained bed since Brooklyn isn’t really mobile yet and should be fine sleeping on the mattress on the floor with pillows around it. More to come about that later…

Saturday May 9, 2015
The only hiking trail open between the Cinque Terre towns was between Monterroso and Vernazza. We had hoped to walk the short distance to Manarola today, but the slow movement on improvements by the government on the trail conditions in the UNESCO site since the 2013 flooding prevented that from happening. We decided today would be our easy day in nice clothes and the big hike would be tomorrow.
We had a nice leisurely morning and let the girls get a good morning nap. We noticed from our balcony that the town’s population quadrupled every time a ferry boat came in with daytrippers.
Brooklyn is ready to head out for lunch in Riomaggiore. 
Kayakers near Riomaggiore
Riomaggiore coastline

Riomaggiore coastline with the restaurant we ate lunch in the top left 
Cute little backpackers

I appreciate the description as a tangle of pastel homes leaning on each other like drunken sailors.
The marine protected Punta Mesco in the distance near Monterosso from Riomaggiore harbor

We grabbed lunch at a place with a view of the sea near the boat departure. 
Some of us had foccacia sandwiches. Focaccia originated in this Liguria region and locals say the best is made between Cinque Terre and Genoa.
We took another family photo in Riomaggiore with Brooklyn napping in mom’s arms 
Wright family in Riomaggiore
If you look closely, you can make out our apartment balcony from all our laundry hanging out to dry.
We may have found a pair of someone’s underwear in the alleyways beneath our building during our walk…
We still had some room after lunch so got some gelato, because when in Italy…
We took Rick Steves walk through Riomaggiore.
Riomaggiore hillside

Buildings on the northern side of the Riomaggiore train station

Wright family in Riomaggiore
Quick mommy daddy moment with a fussy Brooklyn
Brooklyn passed out in momma’s arms on our walk in Riomaggiore
We suspended the walk when Brooklyn woke up so Jackie could nurse her for a bit on a bench in Riomaggiore. We enjoyed watching the Italian boys play soccer in the square outside the church. The girls had created their own type of dodgeball game with many girls talking a lot with their hands and trying to be the boss of all the others. Just in this short time observing, it revealed so much about the Italian mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. 
Riomaggiore, looking out to sea
Green window shutters, typical on all the buildings in Cinque Terre
Jason in Riomaggiore
Riomaggiore Via Colombo, the main street
Emily in Riomaggiore
This is the view from our apartment window down into the Sant’ Antonio alley “street” below 
We took the ferry boat over to Manarola for 2.50 euro a piece.
The Riomaggiore ferry boat “dock”
Gusty daddy on the wet rocks with his baby

Brooklyn is a happy girl hanging out in the backpack waiting on the ferry boat
There were swimmers on the rocky beach shoreline to the south of the boat docks 

This is how you walk the plank (with railings) both on and off the ferry boats as it noses into the Cinque Terre town “docks”
Departing Riomaggiore on the ferry boat, on our way to Manarola

Riomaggiore train station from the ferry boat
Entering Manarola from Riomaggiore to the south on the ferry boat with a slight haze over the hillside 

Mediterranean Sea along Cinque Terre
Jason was really itching to see the viewpoint at the end of Rick Steves walk around Manarola near the umbrellas in this photo so we took the route backward. We passed the beach and went up Via De Giovanni to Punta Bonfiglio which offers some of the most commanding views of the entire region. 
We had some drinks at Nessun Dorma on Punta Bonfiglio in Manarola.
It had quite the view of Manarola

Post drink selfie at Nessum Dorma in Manarola
Harper sitting on the steps
We played on the swings in the park playground on Punta Bonfiglio in Manarola for a bit. 
That’s one way for our little girl to go on big kid swings…
The view of Manarola above the food & wine place we were just at
Manarola’s population doubling as the ferry boaters disembark
The view north from the picnic bench at the tip of the point called Punta Bonfiglio in Manarola
That is Corniglia to the north, the central Cinque Terre land-locked hillside town

Emily, our tour guide to all of Rick Steves highlights
The views of Manarola from the vineyards and lemon groves to the north atop the town 

Manarola and its hillside vineyards
Irises growing along the path through the vineyard hills
From here above the town of Manarola, we could see Piazza Capellini which was built in 2004 to mitigate the train track noise and give the kids a place to play. It has a mosaic depicting the local fish.

Our tour guide Emily is equipped with Rick Steves Italy
Selfie over Manarola from the hillside vineyards

We walked by the Manarola vineyards and lemon groves
Manarola and its vineyards above the town

Manarola square with a church, now a religious and community meeting place

Manarola square with a bell tower, which served as a watchtower when pirates raided the town. 
A cat relaxing on the bench surrounding the bell tower/old watchtower in Manarola 
We had a great view of Manarola and its hillside vineyards looking out to see from this square
In Manarola there is a variety of simple wooden religious scenes, the work of local resident Mario Andreoli setup in the hillside vineyards. They are lit up on religious holidays, highlighting the Nativity, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and more. We saw them from a good angle at the square.

The skinny streets of Manarola (“now get a picture of me walking”-some tourist)

Piazza Capellini fish mosaic in Manarola 
Manarola main drag

More of the Nativity scenes which are lit up at Christmastime
A cat enjoying some freshly caught fish from a villager
We head to the ferry boat docks to ride back to Riomaggiore.
Here is a much brighter view of the Manarola beach, Via De Giovanni and Punta Bonfiglio where we first stopped for drinks. 
Happy Brooklyn playing with mommy while waiting for our ferry boat
Manarola as we depart on the ferry boat
Emily on the ferry boat with Manarola behind
Jason and Harper on the ferry boat
Coming into Riomaggiore from the ferry boat 

Brooklyn checking out the Riomaggiore beach with daddy
Jason putting his feet in the Mediterranean Sea on the beach in Riomaggiore
It was cold!
Dad & Brooklyn relaxing on the Mediterranean Sea beach in Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre
And how could you not love this little cutie
We took turns bathing our daughters in the shower. We put Brooklyn down to bed at 7:30 and retreated to the upstairs balcony for some homemade dinner and wine.
This region is the birthplace of pesto. We enjoyed the basil, cheese, garlic, olive oil and pine nuts sauce served over pasta. At the grocery you can buy small containers of refrigerated fresh pesto to eat that very day. We also picked up focaccia from a local bakery. Something as simple as olive oil and salted flatbread here was absolutely amazing! Focaccia served anywhere else will never compare!
Vino delle Cinque Terre is a good local white wine that goes great with seafood. We also got some aged Sciacchetra which has an 18% alcohol content.
So I mentioned how Brooklyn was sleeping on the mattress on our bedroom floor with pillows around it. Jackie put her to bed and she seemed to fall asleep fairly well.  At 9:00 Joe had to get something out of our bedroom. As he got near his bag he heard something at his feet. Our baby girl had somehow moved 5 feet from the mattress and had been sleeping on the cold bare tile floor! Joe was dying laughing about this but Jackie did not find it funny at all. Ask her in a few months if she finds it funny then…

Sunday May 10, 2015
Harper bright eyed and ready to begin the day from our sunny Riomaggiore balcony 
Brooklyn wearing Mommy’s Packers hat and chewing on her sippy cup cap
Sant’ Antonio alley “street” our airbnb apartment was on
We took the ferry boat from Riomaggiore to Monterosso al Mare for 10 euro a piece this morning. The best part of this journey is the boat would pull into 4 of the 5 villages for perfect photo ops (Corniglia is not accessible by water, only train). The boat noses in and the tourists disembark via a plank so under choppy conditions stops can be cancelled.
There is the ferry boat heading from the north for Riomaggiore
The guys carrying the girls and all the gear on Mother’s Day
Manarola from the ferry boat

Jackie on the ferry boat
Corniglia from the ferry boat 

Vernazza from the ferry boat

Monterosso al Mare Old Town (Centro Storico) from the ferry boat

Monterosso al Mare New Town (Fegina) from the ferry boat 

From the ferry boat near Monterosso looking south you can make out the other cinque of the terre 
The boat nosed in at the breakwater spit of rocks near the bunker between new and old town Monterosso.  
Jason and Joe did some negotiating to get a pair of cheap sunglasses from a guy at the boat docks.
Monterosso al Mare
Selfie attempt #1 in Monterosso al Mare
Selfie attempt #2 in Monterosso al Mare 
Monterosso al Mare new town beach

We walked over to the train station in new town to buy the CinqueTerre Trekking Card in order to hike the one coastal trail open between Monterosso and Vernazza, the most challenging one. It is valid one day with a park entrance fee of 7.50 euro. We each had to have one on us with our name and the stamped date or else be subject to a hefty fine. The national park designation in 1999 seemed to have become corrupted with money and power. By starting in Monterosso we will be tackling the toughest section up lots of steep narrow stairs first. It was the preferred route for Jason because going down is hard on his knees.
Here is a view of the beginning of the trail up to Vernazza
Walking in Monterosso 
Monteroso al Mare old town beach 
We ate lunch at Ristorante via Venti in Monterroso al Mare.
A bottle of wine to start the meal
Harper doing a little lunch time shopping in Monterosso
Harper went up and down this step during most of lunch 

We weren’t expecting this full-sized crab when we ordered but we are sure happy this is what we got!
The best part of travelling with others is sharing our meals: gnocchi, crab, prawns, seafood ravioli and mushrooms.
Happy girls after a yummy lunch 
Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist (Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista) has black and white stripes with white marble from Carrara and green marble from Punta Mesco that get narrower the higher they go to make the church appear taller. 
The lacy rose window has 18 delicate mullions for petals of the rose
Black and white striped Oratory of the Dead (Oratorio dei Neri), a Catholic Church confraternity rotary club whose mission is to arrange funerals and to take care of the widows, orphans, the shipwrecked and the souls.
Walking around Monterosso
Monterosso shoreline and waters 

Monterosso beach from higher up the trail to Vernazza 

Monterosso vineyard hills 
Hiking the #2 trail from Monterosso to Vernazza 
Lots and lots of stairs to climb on the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza 

Looking back at Punta Mesco by Monterosso 
Vineyards and lemon groves on the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza, Vetua la Vigo I think 

Monterosso from even higher up 
We stopped for some fresh lemonade made from lemons on the trees from the hike between Monterosso and Vernazza 
The view down the coast toward Vernazza and the other cinque terre 

High above the Mediterranean Sea on the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza 
The Wrights taking a break in the shade
Cinque Terre coast of Monterosso from the trail to Vernazza
Punta Mesco & Monterosso from the trail to Vernazza 
Our first sight of Vernazza from the hiking trail 

Punta Mesco & some of Monterosso again from further south down the trail to Vernazza 
Vernazza, a sight for sore eyes or should I say sore sweaty legs 

More vineyards on the hike down to Vernazza 

Emily and Jackie selfie in Vernazza 
Vernazza harbor 
Hand door knob 
Vernazza main street 

Happy hikers after a few drinks on the waterfront of Vernazza

Vernazza beach and Santa Margherita Church
Vernazza harbor and Santa Margherita Church
Vernazza harbor

It was already 5pm so we decided to skip taking the train to Corniglia and head back to Riomaggiore for dinner. We bought our boat tickets for Riomaggiore to Vernazza 
Vernazza from the ferry boat back to Riomaggiore 
Corniglia from the ferry boat

Manarola form the ferry boat

Riomaggiore as we came in on the ferry boat one last time 

After that intense hike, we needed to cool down in the Mediterranean waters on the beach in Riomaggiore.

Emily hanging with the kiddos while Jason, Jackie and Joe swim 
Joe tried sticking Brooklyn’s feet in the Mediterranean Sea 
She was not a fan of the cold moving water 

One nice last night on the beach in Riomaggiore 
We went to the train station to pick-up the free wifi so we could all call and/or skype our mothers for Mothers Day.
Jackie and Emily made a special request for dinner: make the same pasta, pesto sauce and foccacia bread we have had the previous night for dinner. It was that good!

Sunday May 11, 2015
Our baby girls enjoying the last bit of time on the balcony before we depart Cinque Terre for Tuscany.
Traveling babies! These two have been troopers the past few weeks 
We left the apartment around 9am to make the train to Florence to pickup our rental car to take to Tuscany. I will write more about this in my next post.

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