Abode {W}

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Getting there is half the fun

I am sure we have all heard the saying "getting there is half the fun". I do not know to whom that quote can be attributed, but whoever it was surely never relied on the Italian train system for getting from point A to point B. Getting to Manarola from Florence was quite the journey, and it was only fun in retrospect. It sure did not seem fun at 5:30 on a chilly, drizzly Saturday evening when cold,,tired, and hungry we were told the train (and last leg of our journey) from La Spezia to Manarola had been canceled! The next hour and a half was spent dashing from one platform to another, getting on a train headed the wrong direction, pulling our suitcases up and down stairs multiple times, being totally misinformed by the charming bulldog of a lady in the information kiosk, and finally spending 40 Euros to take a taxi to Manarola.

The taxi driver, in spite of driving like Jehu, was very helpful, and actually got ahold of the B&B owner at whose establishment we stayed. If not for him, we would not have been able to get through to him, as my phone had very poor reception there. So, the whole train fiasco turned out to be for the best, as taking the taxi also meant we were dropped off at the top of the hill and not the bottom, as we would have been if we had been on the train. Upon arriving at our room, we found out that what Giovanni (B&B owner) called a bed and breakfast was just a bed. No breakfast. He also wanted to be paid in cash, which neither of us was prepared for. We were tired, frustrated, and hungry, also unsure of how we would get breakfast in the morning, as it would be Easter and most businesses are closed on Easter. We were, truthfully, despairing a little bit. We tossed around the idea of just leaving, but decided to go check things out and have a cup,of coffee and a good meal. Coffee and good food always make things seem better. After deciding this, we opened our window to see the view. The picture below shows the view that greeted us.

Lovely! Just seeing that made us feel better! Soon, all talk of leaving vanished. We walked down into the main part of Manarola, bought bread and fruit and yogurt for breakfast, and enjoyed a delicious dinner in a,little restaurant overlooking the ocean. After dinner, we wandered into a little cafe, and the very nice young lady there told us that all businesses would be open on Easter. Greatly cheered, (sure we had food for breakfast, but still hasn't figured out how we would get our daily coffee fix!) we walked back up the hill and went to bed satisfied and happy. Manarola is an absolutely charming little town, built into a cliff overlooking the Ligurian Sea. The people who live there were friendly, the town itself clean and lovely, and the views were incredible. Manarola is one of the five towns that make up the Cinque Terre. The towns are connected by train or hiking trails, and people come from all over the world to hike the trails between the towns. The main hiking trails were closed due to stormy weather, so we contented ourselves with walking around the town and the hills it is built into. I went to Mass Sunday morning, in a beautiful old church just a few yards away from our hotel. Exploring this lovely town was one of the highlights of the trip for me. On Sunday afternoon the sun came out, and the town came to life as villagers and tourists alike walked the path around the cliff. Stone benches carved in to the face of the cliff were full of people basking in the warm sun, and the gelaterias were doing a brisk business.

Ultimately, getting to Manarola was fun. We look back on the hour and a half spent trying to get there from La Spezia and laugh- it makes a great story now, and was a good adventure. However, actually being in Manarola was wonderful, and though I would gladly go through all the craziness of getting there again, being there really is more than half the fun!

I leave you with pictures of the lovely town, and the advice that if you ever have a chance to travel to Italy, put Manarola on your list of must see places. Next up? The adventure of getting from Manarola to Siena on a national holiday when the trains are crowded and you have to ride,on four separate trains! Ciao!







Wednesday, May 15, 2013

On to Florence!

Thursday morning found us on our way to Florence. I remember going to Florence as a child; our father took us there for a few days, and we went to countless art galleries and museums. I remember loving it, and have always wanted to go back. However, leaving Perugia was hard. I was just getting reacquainted with the city, remembering all I had loved about it as a child, and then it was time to leave.

We lugged our overstuffed suitcases down to the lobby, ands took care of checking out of the hotel. We asked them to call a taxi to take us to the train station, and stressed the fact that it needed to be a large taxi, not a tiny little Fiat. Cute as they are, fitting four large Americans and all of their junk in to one little taxi is physically impossible. The taxi came pretty quickly, and it was an itty bitty little thing. The driver was a very surly man, who was actually angry that he had to try to fit us all in to his taxi. He was cursing under his breath (and between his teeth which were clenched upon a cigarette) and slamming our suitcases around. We finally decided that two of us would walk to the station while the other two rode with the luggage. This seemed to appease Mr. Surly Pants, and so Sally and I wedged ourselves in amongst our suitcases while Sarah and Jenny began the trek downhill to the train station. With a lurch, we were on our way as well. It was a wild ride- dodging pedestrians, squealing around corners, barely fitting through the narrow streets. The lovely man was still muttering darkly, and even though I understand quite a bit of Italian, I didn't even try to understand what he was muttering about. I am sure it would have been unrepeatable.

Halfway to the station, Sally leaned over and told me that she was about to barf. Just like old times in the family car as kids. However, we made it to the station in one piece, and guarded the mountain of suitcases until the others joined us. We made our train in time, and after the adventure in getting to the station, our sadness at leaving was lessened.


Florence is, as you probably know, an incredibly lovely city. Full of art, beautiful old buildings with gorgeous details on them, and stately bridges over the river. The city was very crowded, but it didn't seem noisy, and the city was clean. We stayed in a very nice hotel, and it was close to everything we wanted to see. We spends hours just walking around, taking it all in. There are a lot of high end shops there- Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi,Yves St. Laurent, Pravda, and so on. It was pleasant to just wander with no agenda, just stopping and checking out things that interested us.

The Duomo in Florence is truly incredible. Very intricate, and covered with statues and frescoes. We did not get to go in to it, as it was Good Friday, and the church was not open to tourists that day. Since we are determined to make another trip soon, we were not too disappointed. It will just go on to the "must see" list for next time! On Friday afternoon, we had massages in the spa at our hotel. The massage ladies were not great, but it still felt good and relaxing.

I loved the expression on this policeman's face! It looks as if he and the motorist are sharing a good joke.

This is where we had the best meal of the whole trip! It is named the Buca Lapi, and was recommended to us by an older man who operated a shop selling Swarovski jewelry. After we had made our purchases, he pointed us in the right direction, and we are so,glad he did. The service was great, and the food was outstanding. I had a wild boar ragout, served on top of polenta. They serve a chocolate cake that is justifiably famous, and even though we were stuffed, we managed to share a few slices and wre so glad we did. The restaurant had started as a wine cellar, and when that grew too large for the space, the wine business moved to a larger space. The family then opened a restaurant in the old space, and it has been there for a long time. You can still buy the family's wine, which we did with our meal. It was wonderful, probably the best wine we had on a trip filled with good wine! The bicycle outside belongs to the owner. We stopped by the next morning to take a picture of the place, and watched him climb on his bike and ride away.

About twenty minutes later, we were trying to get a shot of the four of us before we left Florence. Who should come along but the owner of the Buca Lapi on his bike. He saw us trying to figure out how to get a camera set to take a picture remotely, and came over and offered to take a picture for us! So, we were able to tell him how much we enjoyed his restaurant. He was delighted, shook our hands, and rode away. It was a fitting end to our stay in Florence- a last encounter with a charming Florentine in a truly charming city. Directly after the picture, we checked out of our hotel and headed to the train station. Sarah and Sally headed to Rome, to fly out on Sunday, and Jenny and I headed to Manarola, in the Cinque Terre area. So, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways, content and grateful that the Sister's Italy Trip 2013 had not only actually happened, but had been a truly wonderful time. Good food, long walks, good wine, reuniting with friends, reliving good memories, a few memorable adventures, and laughing until we cried. It was wonderful.

The story does not end here though, as Jenny and I still had another 6 days in Italy. Furthermore, we all hope that there will be another Sister's Italy Trip in our futures. Stay tuned for the story of getting to Manarola, and two days in one of the most beautiful,places I have ever seen! Ciao!