London and Italy Part 3 – Cinque Terre, Florence, Pisa

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CINQUE TERRE

We took the EARLY vaporetto train out of Venice on Friday morning to go to Cinque Terre, the five lands.
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It is five picturesque villages along a rocky coast. For hundreds of years the villages were completely isolated from one another, even though they were right next to one another. The jutting, rocky cliffs in between each cove were as impassable as mountains.

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The villages finally carved paths into the rocks to connect the villages, and suddenly romance sprung up among the villages. Some call it Via D’ell Amore, Lover’s Path. It starts in Monterosso and goes all the way to the last village, Riomaggiore, about 7 miles. Occasional mudslides and rock slides would close the azure trail for long periods.

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We were looking forward to hiking the path, which is beautiful, and the main reason many people go there.

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The weather was not looking promising, was it? It rained hard the whole first day, and we got completely soaked. We finally grabbed a slice of pizza and some bottled water and went back to our room and fell asleep by 5:30. We woke up at 8:30 to eat some more and went back to bed at 10. We slept again until 8 the next morning.

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We stayed in Monterosso.

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It has the best beach of all five villages. Our plan was to take the ferry from Monterosso to the first village, Riomaggiore, and hike back. Then we’d relax on the beach to reward ourselves. The other reason for doing it that way was because the hardest part of the hike is at that end, and I wanted to get it out of the way first.

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There was a cliff like that separating each port.

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That path does look a little tricky.

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That is more of the trail there.

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Monterosso.

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More of the trail.

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Not exactly swimming water.

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This is the boat that takes you from town to town. One stops at all the villages, but the one we took only goes from the first to the last and back.

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You can see why the villages were so isolated from one another.

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Just like in England, there were beautiful flowers everywhere. These vines are growing out of pots.

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Aren’t those rocks beautiful? They look like granite. They look like the granite rocks I built my garden out of. I didn’t bring any of these home either.

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These towns are not for people with bad knees or bum legs. We climbed up that mountain to get to our hotel, similar to Santorini.

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Lots and lots of stairs. The website for our hotel said 500 steps to the beach. If they meant 500 steps by a giant and down a very steep path, then yes, that is accurate.

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Over the centuries, people have carefully built terraces on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the sea.

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The villages of the Cinque Terre were severely affected by torrential rains which caused floods and mudslides on October 25, 2011. Nine people were confirmed killed by the floods, and damage to the villages, particularly Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare, was extensive. It devastated the towns.

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Corniglia is the middle village, and the only one that doesn’t reach the coast directly.

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The train comes in this way.

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Before tourism discovered this area, most of the families in the five villages made money by catching the fish and selling them in the small port villages. Fish was also their main source of food, so I recommend the fish.

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The variation of house colors is due to the fact that while fishermen were doing their jobs just offshore, they wanted to be able to see their house easily. This way, they could make sure their wives were still home doing the wifely duties.

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The best way to get there is by train. Cars aren’t allowed in the cities. There are parking lots outside of town.

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The ride to Riomaggiore was beautiful, and the town was even better.

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Some of the shops are built into the mountain.

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We decided to eat first. the bruschetta was so flavorful. I chose September because it was harvest season and the food would be at its peak.

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That’s right, I planned the whole trip around food. This pasta sampler was incredible.

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The fish was moist and delicate.

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I highly recommend this restaurant.

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I would love to shop here for my daily bread.

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And then we encountered a problem. The trail was closed from Riomaggiore (where we were) to Corniglia (the middle village) because the rain had caused some mud slides. Not only that, but there was going to be a train strike that evening, and we would be stuck here for two more days and miss Florence. Since it was raining, the trail was closed, it wasn’t beach weather, etc., we decided to leave a day early. We were really disappointed, but none of it could be predicted or helped. If it weren’t for the train strike we would have taken the boat back to Monterosso and hiked the part that was open. As it was, we couldn’t stay because we wouldn’t have a hotel room for the extra nights we would be stranded there.

At the train station we met a young American couple who was stranded. Their car was in the parking garage outside of town, but their debit card wouldn’t work, and they couldn’t get any euros. I can’t remember all the details, but we tried to give them some money, and they wouldn’t accept. We offered to trade them euros for dollars, which they had. Problem solved!

This was my hiking ensemble. Those are Teva sandals. They are meant to hike in or get in the water. I had on my swimsuit underneath, and the shirt was super lightweight. It was to protect me from the sun and double as a swimsuit cover up once we made it to the beach. Well planned, but not needed. I wore the hat so it wouldn’t get crushed in my bag. That bag was all I packed in for the whole three weeks. It was so liberating to be so portable and be able to pack in five minutes, like we just did.

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Adam took a picture of me reading on the train because he said all I did on the trains was read. Well…yes I did. And he worked.

FLORENCE

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We were able to get a last minute reservation at the St. Regis Florence that night.

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It was another palace.

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Not as oppulent as the Gritti Palace, but still very beautiful and incredible.

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The view from our balcony.

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Just WOW!!

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That is the Arno River.

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The daytime view.

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There was a TV in our bathroom mirror.

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The hotel was beautiful.

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Lots of medieval buildings here.

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The Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence. It’s lined with shops. It used to be meat, cheese, and bread shops. Now it is jewelry and tourist shops.

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Just a quick lunch.

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Replicas of famous statues everywhere.

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We bought the Florence City Pass, the Firenze Passe. It got us into a lot of museums and things, but not only that, we got to skip the lines. SKIP. THE. LINES. is a good thing. This was the Uffizi Gallery.

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You could spend weeks going to all the museums in Florence, but we only had one full day and a morning, and we had to choose carefully.

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Florence is the home of the Renaissance, and where you will find a lot of the most famous works.

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The key is to buy your pass somewhere that is unpopular and has short lines. Then go to the places you really want to see and wave to the chumps standing in line while you cruise right in.

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The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is the main duomo in Florence. Confession: We did not go in. We had seen so many duomos between England and Italy. They all start to look the same.

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Just trying out the gelato. Also quite tasty in Florence.

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One of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions.

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Just a picture of me and a 13-foot naked guy. I was very surprised at how big he is. I thought the statue was 6 feet tall.

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Where is that selfie stick? PS That is the David, quite possibly the most famous statue in the entire world. The detail was incredible. You can’t go to Florence and not see the David.

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Lunch ūüôā

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The Pitti Palace was bought by the Medici family in 1549 and became the chief residence of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It grew as a great treasure house as later generations amassed paintings, plates, jewelry and luxurious possessions.

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We were running out of time, but I wanted to see the Boboli Gardens. It is straight uphill.

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And then straight downhill into the garden.

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I bet this is stunning when the wisteria is blooming.

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Then we went back to the Pitti Palace.

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All the lights were dimmed really low to protect the paintings.

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The colors were so vibrant.

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There are just no words.

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Sunset.

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That night we ate dinner at Il Profeta. The owner is a very charismatic man who goes table to table helping and charming. He kept feeding me bites of delicious foods.

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Adam was a little jealous. He wanted Claudio to feed HIM some delicious foods. Food is my love language. Can you tell?

PISA

The next morning we had to rent a car to head off to Tuscany. Because of the train strike, there was a run on rental cars. Each of us got in line at two different car rental agencies to see who got one first. It took us all morning to get a car, so our sightseeing plans for the day were over. We decided we wanted to see Pisa for a couple of hours. It was on the way to Tuscany.

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You know I had to, right? Be the giant who knocks over the leaning tower of Pisa?

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But now I’m saving the tower. I’m holding it up. I’m a hero.

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A little lunch. Why can’t lunch in the US be like that?

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The tower’s tilt began during construction, caused by an inadequate foundation on ground too soft on one side to properly support the structure’s weight. The tilt increased in the decades before the structure was completed, and gradually increased until the structure was stabilized (and the tilt partially corrected) by efforts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

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Of course we climbed the tower. 296 steps to the top with no stops.

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These brilliant Italians put spikes on all the roosting spots to keep the pigeons (and their poop) off.

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Poor Adam’s pants were still wet from the downpour in Cinque Terre. We had to pack up and leave before they dried.

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The lean is so significant, you can’t help but fall to the outside of the step, which has gotten a lot of wear.

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Adam thought it was lame, but I made him save the tower too. He gave me one chance to get the shot. He’ll thank me one day. According to him we spent most of our time in Pisa trying to take my giant picture.

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