04.06.2013 - 04.06.2013 20 °C
The last week has been so great! M&T leave tomorrow to head to Barcelona for a couple days before heading back to NS.
Last time I left off, we were waiting for the rain to stop in Venice at our apartment. It did shortly after I finished writing and turned out to be a gorgeous day! We headed to the dock and caught our boat to the Rialto Bridge. We arrived with sandwiches packed (the perks of having a kitchen at our spot!) and did some walking around before heading to St. Marc's square. I can't believe how these tiny islands can hold up massive buildings of epic proportions. Trevin did some research and apparently there are thousands of trees that were harvested to create 'piles' under the foundations in the water. Also, apparently the city has issues with rising waters so there is lots of flooding. We heard that when it floods, tourists think it's great and will swim in it in the center of the squares. Gross. The sewage system doesn't treat all the waste so some ends up in the sea... Which ends up all over tourists when they swim in floodwaters. Ugh.
Anyway. Venice was still great minus the crazy amount of tourists. Day trips, tours, etc just pack the streets and then by early evening it's pretty quiet! We found a restaurant down a small alley, ordered some pasta/pizza and wine and had another fantastic evening. We noticed in the menu that this restaurant only hires staff diagnosed with rare conditions to give them equal opportunities in the community. After dinner we had gelato (obviously... Right?), did done grocery shopping and grabbed our boat back to our island! The next morning we caught our boat to the train station and headed to our next stop, the beautiful and equally fattening, Cinque Terre. Sorry hips, chins and stomach. Apparently I'm on a food tour?
We arrived in Vernazza and met our host, 'Josephine', who was a woman in her early 70's, spoke no English, and was just amazing! She met us in the square and after some hand gestures we figured out she was the one we were supposed to meet. She brought us down a windy alley to an adorable guest room. It was an apartment/house feel with 2 stories (upper was a loft) and both levels exposed when you walk in. We had a little kitchen and fridge which was great news. We do enjoy our food. Upstairs was the bathroom off the loft bedroom and it was... Interesting. The tub was another 1/2 size tub with no curtain and a shower nozzle (typical European style). There was a hot water heater that provided us with either icy or scalding showers. Let's just say the sponge bath came back into fashion. Crouching in a tiny tub giving yourself a sponge bath from water you had to boil on the stove and let cool to warm before using... I'm pretty sure I won't ever take the luxury of a hot, roomy shower or bath at home. Man we are spoiled! Things are so easy for us. Here, they regularly think if space efficiency and efficient usage of resources (food, energy, water, etc). Groceries are bought daily with minimal packaging, cooked at home from scratch, limited processed foods, they ride bicycles as daily transportation or walk, sometimes the power goes out because of too many electrical things running at one time (makes you aware of the energy wasted!), oh the list goes on. I'm not saying everyone lives in this way but generally speaking, it's true. I love it.
So Vernazza was unbelievably gorgeous. A little town built on the ocean into the cliffs (really - search it online). It's been 7 years since I've been back and was such a great time revisiting. We went to this delicious restaurant by the water and had pasta and wine. I remember walking by and the gust of fresh baked pizza dough lured us in. So worth it.
The next day we took the 3 minute train to the next town in Cinque Terre, Monterosso. This is where MC, Maria and I stayed 7 years ago and we hit up the beach in the same secluded cove us girls did years ago! The town seemed to have a lemon festival going on because there were tons of stands selling lemonade, lemon baked goods, sangria, there were mini Christmas trees decorated with lemons, so neat! We grabbed some lunch (amazing salad with lettuce, tuna, mozzarella, shredded carrots, peppers, corn with balsamic vinegar and olive oil for the dressing, so delicious!). The only thing I was disappointed with was the amount of tourists around here... there seemed to be hundreds dropped off on the pier either by day boats or just day tours. That made it less enticing... but oh well! After heading back to Vernazza, we grabbed take out pizza at the place we went the first night and ate outside with a bottle of (very cheap) wine on the pier with the waves crashing behind us on the rocks... sigh...
We were lucky we had the beach day when we did because the next morning was cloudy and looked like it might rain. It held off for us to do the hike from Monorola to Monterosso (took about 3 hours total) and was SO beautiful. We did the coastal hike and were treated to the extreme sights of this part of Italy. There was a lot of hiking uphill and on very narrow footpaths but it was worth it. There's something about the ocean that is very difficult to describe... we are so lucky to have grown up surrounded by the ocean and have the luxury of driving minutes to a secluded area that eases all stress of any day. Plus Derek looks really good in a bathing suit. Haha. Kidding! (But not really...)
With the hike wrapped up we were in Monterosso and had a quick dinner and then took the train back to Vernazza for our last night in Cinque Terre! Hard to believe that this time was coming to an end. But next up was Pisa and Florence (in the Tuscany region) so had lots to keep our attention and looking forward.
Our first stop the next day was to Pisa to see the leaning tower, it's definitely a neat sight to check off your list but it is, yet again, very touristy. The town itself is adorable! It's all contained with walls which is neat and there are tons of cafes, shops, gorgeous town squares. I would go back just to spend some time there to explore some more. After taking the very cliched photos with the tower, we took the train to Florence (Firenze in Italian) and made our way to our hostel which was across the river and about 30-40 minutes walk away from the main city sights. It was fantastic... Florence was everything I remembered and more. The first night we got there, we got take out pizza as per my cousin's suggestion and sat on the steps of a church overlooking a square, then we went out at night and walked around. Everything was lit up, the streets were filled with cafes and people sitting outside, there was a carousel in one of the squares which was all lit up. Just gorgeous! Let alone the architecture... one of my favorite things about Italy is Florence and one of my favorite things about Florence is the 'duomo' which most people don't think about or even know about when it comes to this region. It is mind boggling. Derek, Monique and Trevin were blown away by the size and intricate nature of the outside design. After getting some much needed gelato (seriously... we were low on fuel... gelato is the only solution!), we headed back to our hostel to rest up for the next full day in Florence. The next day we set out for sightseeing and it is just crazy how different cities are night versus day. The night has been much more quiet and beautiful than during the day in most of the cities we have visited. Plus the tourists aren't out in full force! Yah! Trevin ended up buying a piece of art - a watercolor by a local artist and it was gorgeous. Lunchtime was fantastic, went to a restaurant down a tiny alley and had the 4.50 euro pastas off the menu (homemade pasta mind you!). That night we had dinner at a restaurant which was way too expensive but we still had fun. Just goes to show you that although a place might be more expensive, it doesn't mean they have better food! The rest of the night took a bit of a detour than what we planned... we were going to walk to this hill area to overlook the city but instead found our way into an Irish bar... the rest is history. We had headaches the next day let's just say. Haha.
Unfortunately our time had to end at some point in Florence so the next morning we jumped on another train to Rome. All roads lead to Rome as they say! Our first 10 minutes in Rome was horrible actually. We bought bus tickets at the train station and got on our bus... 100 meters after we were on the bus, the bus officers jump on and ask for our tickets and then our passports, then order us to get off the bus at the next stop. This poor man was trying to help us that was also on the bus but he got yelled at by the officers! Apparently we had to validate (stamp) our bus tickets in the machine on the bus when we got on... we didn't think to ask and had no idea but he wouldn't cut us a break so he told us that we can be fined between 100 and 500 euros or if we pay now we can pay him 50 euros each, then that was dropped to 50 euros per couple. His coworker pulled off 2 couples and a baby from Argentina but of course asked no locals on the bus who also didn't validate. We were easy targets. We were SO angry. So basically, we paid the 50 euros per couple ($75) and went on our way, just fuming. We totally thought this was a scam... then we looked it up when got to our apartment and apparently it's legit. Just frustrating, but totally our fault... we didn't ask how the system worked and the officers kept saying 'know your information!'. Oops. Hey, it could have been worse!
Our time in Rome made up for this unfortunate event. We arrived at our apartment that we rented from a local man and he was so nice! The apartment was tiny but gorgeous and he bought us groceries, had DVD's, wifi and wine with 4 glasses waiting for us! Goes to show we spend too much time wasted on negative events and not enough on the things people do that go above and beyond. All the officer was doing was his job but we expect him to cut us a break... why do we do that? I realize it's human nature to be forgiving but why did we get so upset when we were in the wrong? Anyway, we were over it with a glass of wine! We walked out into our tiny alley street and into this square with a whole market set up and shops encircling it. We picked up some ground beef at the butcher shop, vegetables at the market, bread at the bakery and made pasta. Our evening was pretty low key to prepare for our big day of sightseeing the next day.
Rome is a great city but it's like any big city. Lots of people, can be dirty, not the same charm you see in smaller places... BUT it's Rome for a reason. The sights are worth it. The history is amazing and I wish I knew more about it. It was my third time here and the first time was definitely the best but can't complain about going back one bit! We found our own little piece of Rome with the neighborhood we stayed at and that made it so nice. We walked. A lot. Probably 6 kms in one day... whew! Our feet were pretty weary but we have to work off all that food somehow!
Unfortunately this was the last stop we had with Monique and Trevin, we had such a great two weeks with them and felt like they were just part of the mix so it was sad to see them leave. They left early the next day to fly to Barcelona and Derek and I hopped on another train to Lucca, Italy which is close to Pisa. I will leave that for my next blog entry!