Cinque Terre and Tuscany

9-16 May, 2015

9 May. I travelled alone to Manarola, and had the apartment by my lonesome for a night before friends arrived. I had been anxious before the trip, but quickly relaxed into the monotony of the jouney.

La Coste apartmentI checked in to the apartment (Le Coste via booking.com). Secured the place and headed to the cafe opposite the station for a lunch of lasagna al pesto. Service was slow, food was just ok, wine was borderline ok. I walked about the town, bought wine, water, cheese and biscuits and made myself at home. Dinner was stuffed mussels that I had been dreaming about since I first set foot in Manarola years ago – but I was made to sit in a not so good table as I was alone. The mussels were good but not as I remembered, and loud music was blaring from the top of the hills attracting the younger crowds. The years seemed to have changed cinque terre. Manarola

I settled with a glass of wine in the apartment’s terrace and chatted with the husband online as I watched the day trippers leave and the town slowly fall asleep.

10 May. Started the morning off with a long walk to the top of the hills. Had tea and biscuits and cheese and lounged at the terrace people watching. And then it was off to the station to meet my friends. Turns out the steep hills is a bit too much for those with heavy luggage. It was a good thing this apartment in only halfway up the hill.

They settled in and we tried to catch up on stories. I booked us in the restaurant up the hill as they do their laundry all the while downplaying how steep a climb it would be before we reach the restaurant.

We walked to the seaside, taking in the views of the town and the Italian riviera. No loud music blaring tonight, and it was a nice walk down the hill. We headed up hill with plenty of time to spare, and plenty of time to rest between walks.

Trattoria al BillyTrattoria al Billy was well worth the trek. Booking is necessary, and book well in advance if you want to get a seat on the terrace. We had the mixed antipasto di mare – 12 plates of seafood antipasti – and it was wonderful. We had seafood pasta next. And the staff were showing other guests how fresh the fish are by taking the fish to the table. You also have to love seafood to eat here. We went back to the seafront to see Manarola at night. it was a more peaceful walk with less people about. Fireflies have started coming out. I would have loved to take a beer and sit out here and watch it get darker. Manarola

11 May. Tea and biscuits at the apartment. Breakfast at the cafe. Bought our cinque terre pass al treno and off we went to the first town, Riomaggiore. We had fritto misto – fried anchovies and calamari in a paper cone – on the way up. And then took the train again to the farthest town – Monterosso. This is the town to stay in if you wanted a beachfront. Plenty of tourists, but it’s a big place. Plenty of pickpockets here too. It is beautiful, but it’s the town that doesn’t look like the rest of cinque terre. We had lunch a bit farther in – a big pot of risotto di mare.

VernazzaWe went to Vernazza next, the most beautiful of the 5 towns, they say. Nearing the station, a group of youngsters crowded around us as we were near the door, seeming in a hurry to get off. Another man shouted to watch our bags – must have been pickpockets. Vernazza is indeed beautiful, but it’s hard to appreciate when it’s overcrowded. We did not spend a lot of time here. Last of the towns was Corniglia. We were only planning to take a photo at the station as I know it’s a steep climb up. But we found out there was a shuttle that regularly takes people up and down from the station (until 6:30pm I think). So we boarded the shuttle and got off at the sleepy town. We’ve enjoyed our time here, less tourists, quaint shops, and they offer aperitivo (cocktails and light tapas) at the bar opposite the church. Dinner was back at the apartment, with takeaway pizza, fried anchovies, wine and leftover pasta from trattoria al billy. Manarola station12 May. Checked out at 10, had a big breakfast at the cafe opposite the station and took the train to La Spezia at noon. The lift at La Spezia was a funny experience – you had to press the button all the time as the lift goes up/down, else it stops. Train to Pisa, then changed again for Firenze. I could only imagine how tiring it is for my friends who had to drag heavy luggage up and down the stairs, but I know my back would not be able to bear that. Rang the agency where we’re renting the apartment at Florence and took a taxi. Found the apartment (Porta Rossa Halldis suite) and waited for a full 30mins before our agent got there 😦 It is a big and beautiful apartment, but it had a poky, tiny bathroom. And I really hate it when self-catering apartments don’t think about the little things – not enough toiletries nor loo rolls, not providing dishwashing liquids, coffee filters, bin liners. I should also remember to ask about access to wifi routers as it conked out on us and we had no access to the hallway where it was located. Dinner was at Buca Mario after getting turned away at our first choice. There was a line of tourists at the restaurant when we got there just before it opened. It looked a bit touristy, but the bistecca alla fiorentina was why we’re here and it did not disappoint. We ordered the mains straightaway, and it was a huge chunk of steak. We were near the river and Ponte Vecchio. And the grocery was just across the bridge (turn left after crossing the bridge). We shopped for water and breakfast there. 13 May. I booked us on a coach tour of Siena and San Gimignano the night before via Viator. We had a quick breakfast at McDonald’s, shameful I know, but it was the nearest place to the bus stop. Coach wasn’t very full. Tour guide had a sleepy voice, that we practically were half asleep on the way to Siena. The walking tour in Siena was really good. I got to find out more how the locals lived, their history and how the bi-annual Palio features in their daily lives. We had the town’s specialty, Pici pasta, for lunch. And bought home almond cookies from Il Magnifico, touted as the town’s best bakery. San Gimignano was less crowded than I remembered it. And I still have not had enough time to explore it as before. Dinner was back at home for some take away pasta from the grocery and leftover steak. 14 May. Breakfast at the apartment and we’re off to Firenze SM Novella station, about 10 mins walk away. Bought tickets to Pisa S Rossore (NOT Pisa Centrale) and it’s a short walk from there to Torre di Pisa and the duomo. There isn’t any fee to pay if you just walk around the grounds, we opted not to go up the tower as it costs a lot and there is bound to be much waiting time. We’ve taken the obligatory photos and walked towards Pisa Centrale to see a bit more of the town. Lunch was a simple pasta along the way. Pisa towerI was buying tickets from the machine and my travel mates were looking at the train times. Not a very busy station, but I always have my guard up against pickpockets when I’m appearing distracted. One of my friends hurriedly called me over to them and warned me that a man had been eyeing us individually. We headed for a shop at the station as we looked for our platform, and the guy along with another companion was following us. We can’t find our platforms, so we headed for the customer info office and stayed there for a bit. At the platform for Lucca, we found the men who had been following us. We boarded the train and stayed in the car with the most people. One of the men boarded the train and walked up the aisle as if looking for someone and I tried to stare him down so he’s aware we know he’s been following us. He got off and boarded the train again at the last minute with his companion. We ended up heading for Lucca but didn’t leave the station. My friends were already terrified at this point and are only likely to have a miserable time. So we bought our train tickets back to Florence and called it a day. Ponte Vecchio

Carlo arrived from Prague and Racky and I headed out towards the duomo in search of flowers for Gemma’s birthday.

15 May. A slow relaxing day as we try to recover and celebrate Gemma’s birthday. pizza for lunch at the apartment.  And a lovely dinner at Golden View Open Bar Ristorante. We didn’t get to sit by the windows as we only booked the day before and it was a busy night, but we still could see much of the river and the food was good.

We stayed up till late talking and I had to say my goodbyes as I have to sneak out early in the morning to catch my flight.

Florence

16 May. 0500 start for me as I shower and finish packing. Left soon after 6am to walk to the station and catch the Terravision bus to Pisa airport. A more relaxing flight back as I checked in my backpack and did not have to compete for overhead space.

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