Five towns + the home of ceramics + Roma (we’re not talking tomatoes)…

28 06 2011

 

This was actually a hot day!

Cinque Terre or Five Lands

Pretty cool- literally! We want one!

Well, we are currently in Santorini Greece but before we tell you about that we want to share our experiences in Italy. As you might know we arrived in Manarola the fourth or second town on the Cinque Terre trail about two weeks ago. We booked a little one bedroom unit online the week before in Manarola and we really werent sure what we were going to get. It turns out that Manarola is the most beautiful of all the five towns and probably the oldest- its even listed in the ancient geographical maps in the Vatican Museums. Our unit was great with a really big balcony overlooking the local swimming spot- literally a swimming area made within the ocean by building up rocks and cement- not a beach by our standards but still really cool. When we got the keys to our little place we went straight to the “Coop” and got some drinks and watched the sunset over Manarola from our balcony (the balcony was the same size as the two other rooms of the apartment combined). We then headed down to the main street for tea and stumbled onto a little restaurant called La Scogliera. Chris had meat lasagna and I had Ligurian style large ravioli parcels with a pureed walnut sauce. We finished our meal with a nip of Limoncello- probably not necessarily but when in Rome, I mean Manarola… It was the best meal both of us have ever had, it was just awesome! Over the week that we were there we went back another couple of times and by the second time they were greeting us like old friends. On our last night we told them we were leaving and they insisted we get a pic with the owner in front of his prized ocean mural on the wall of restaurant. Now, about the walk trails…while sitting on our balcony enjoying a few of the local wines we discreetly jeered at the walkers with their two “hiking sticks”, proper boots, camel packs etc thinking how unnecessary and a couple of days later we headed off to test it out. Unfortunately the low (we mean easy) trail along the coast between Manarola and Corniglia was closed due to three serious landslides that occurred the week before due to heavy rain- that part of the trail is not likely to be fixed for another 4 months although according to the tourist/information centre, it will be a couple of weeks- so we had to take the high (we mean extremely, extremely hard) trail into the hills and back down. We walked for 5 hours that day and only did two legs of the trail, Manarola- Corniglia and Cornigial to Vernazza! It was bloody hard going. About 30 minutes of solid climbing in the 35 degree heat we were admiring those walkers with their two “hiking sticks”, proper boots, camel packs etc and wishing we had them ourselves. It was straight up and very hard going, Chris actually got a bit dehydrated (he recovered with a beer when we finished, apparently this is the best thing for dehydration as it actually contains electrolytes and is more easily absorbed by the body 🙂 this is his theory anyway!) but it was all very worth it as we were rewarded by stunning views and really lovely landscapes. We will try to put some pics up. Both of us decided to retire from walking for a couple of days after that as our knees were playing up from all the stairs. We then finished the other two legs of the trail- Vernazza to Monterosso and Manarola to RioMaggiore at opposite ends on another day when we had both fully recovered!!! In saying this though there were parents with kids doing bits of the trail and a couple of guys were actually running it, funnily enough we saw a couple of tourists along the way that obviously had gotten a bit hot and were doing it in their bras and shorts!

 

We found out about some antique markets in a little fortified village called Lucca so we decided to make the voyage there by train during our week at Manarola. It took us about 4 hours each way to get around 150 kilometres but we were rewarded when we got there, it was awesome! The whole town was full of antique stalls, and we mean REAL antiques not stuff that is 30 years old, some of these items would have been 500 years old. It was sooo interesting. Chris loves his coffee and his pepper so we ended up buying an ancient grinder with a drawer down the bottom to grind coffee or pepper. It is made from walnut wood with a little draw at the bottom and is just gorgeous. The guy that we bought it from specialises in kitchen antique items and really has a passion for it, he had cleaned this one completely and there were not traces of whatever it had been used for prior to us getting it, apparently it was made in 1890 so we have already sent it home in the post and it will become our pepper grinder- a really great souvenir!

Chris “planking” in Manarola

 

We’d just added our padlock to the collection…

 
 
 
 

We also did a yacht cruise while we were at Cinque Terre, this left from La Spezia (Chris insists I write in La Stinkia) and was organised by the company that we booked our accommodation through. It was 220 euros for both of us the equivalent of about $300 and included drinks and food. We were both expecting this huge luxury yacht and the drinks flowing but when we were picked up by our skipper- Giorgio – we started to think that it might not turn out as planned. Funnily enough Chris saw this rough looking guy from a distance and said “I bet our skipper is a real salty sea dog” jokingly and guess what? That was Giorgio! The yacht was a bit smaller than anticipated and one look below deck and the piles of foccacia made you think that he was a baker in his spare time. We took off from the port with another Aussie couple and were heading out into the wide blue yonder when Giorgio got a call on his mobile (not sure if talking on a phone while driving a yacht in Italy is illegal?!?), turns out we had left half our passengers behind and head back! Anyway, we finally got out onto the open water and were able to see the Gulf of Poets and all the Cinque Terre villages, it was absolutely stunning! We stopped for lunch and went for a swim off the side of the boat and the water was an exquisite blue, it was so blue that in Australia it would mean that you were in 50+ metres of water but the reason for the dark colour was actually due to the black volcanic sand on the floor of the ocean- it was actually only 9 metres low. Unfortunately by about 11:30am all the beer was gone- there were 8 cans for 6 people- they obviously did not realise they were counting for Australians so we all had to drink white wine which ran out by 1pm. Lunch was lovely, we started with foccacia, olives and anchovies. Giorgio then asked us if we would like pesto pasta for our second course or just have the pesto with the focaccia, we all heartily indicated that we wanted pesto pasta, we were a bit tired of the focaccia. About five minutes later Giorgio came up from the gallery looking a bit concerned “weewn problemmm, de bosss forgett to buy de pasta” so it turns out we had pesto and foccacia for our second course as well! There was also foccacia for sweets if you were still hungry! After lunch we actually opened up the sails and cruised around all day and it was really enjoyable, we even spotted Giorgio Armani’s luxury cruise liner- the size of a cruise ship, it was painted completely in black- Chris commented knowledgeably “this is because black never goes out of fashion Deanna”- glad I’ve got him as my style advisor!?! We all got off the boat tired but happy after a great day on the water.

Vietri Sul Mare- the home of vitreous ceramic…yeehaw!

Based on advise from one of Chris’ work colleagues to head to the Amalfi Coast while in Italy we booked accommodation while WWOOFing. We thought we had outwitted all the millions of tourists that go to Positano, Capri etc and pay a fortune for their accommodation by booking just a little bit out of the way in a wonderful place called Vietri Sul Mare. Turns out we didnt…We headed to the Amalfi Coast after Manarola and after an 8 hour train trip (through Napoli- scary!) we arrived at the train station we found a derelict building that was not staffed by anyone at all. We managed to find someone working on a building and asked where we could catch a taxi from as we were both carrying our backpacks that weigh about 20kgs each and he pointed us in the direction of the town. The place was a bit of a mess in all honesty, it actually is an industrial town that is scraping by as a tourist destination because technically it is the start of the Amalfi Coast. Lets just say lesson learnt. All those millions of tourists actually know what they are doing and there is no easy way to avoid the costs of accommodation at beautiful places during peak season unless you have a rellie or friend to stay with…if this is you we must catch up sometime! From Vietri Sul Mare (they did actually really invent vitreous ceramics which are used to make basins, toilet bowls etc) we did a couple of really great day trips via ferries, one to Positano which was beautiful and one to the Isle of Capri which was awesome. We only had a really short amount of time on Capri as we slept in that morning but during that time we managed to visit the Villa of San Michele- a beautiful villa built by a man called Axel Munthe and written about in his biography “The Story of San Michele” first published in 1929. Coincidentally this book was one that I (Deanna) had purchased from an online second hand bookshop to read on the holiday ‘cos I liked the cover. It’s a really amazing story and I was really glad to get to see it in real life- the book is also a recommended read for anyone! From here we headed to Rome for three days…

Rome- aahh Rome!

Admittedly by the time we got to Rome we were a bit “cultured out” as we have been travelling for 6 weeks at this stage and have been to many historical sites, museums etc, so all we could muster was the enthusiasm to visit the Vatican Muesums and the Colosseum. The Vatican Museums were really cool but very crowded, it was literally shoulder to shoulder for the whole time that we were in there (4 hours) as all ‘legs’ of the museum lead to the Sistine Chapel. We eventually got the to Chapel and were not disappointed. You could very easily stay there for hours looking at the scenes depicted and noticing interesting details. It was well worth it. We then jumped on one of those open air circular bus tours and saw the rest of the sites including the Colosseum which we think is also a must see. It was smaller than Chris had anticipated as we read in our Lonely Planet book (thanks Josie) that it could easily seat 50,000 people- Chris thought it would at least be bigger than Subi Oval! A final note about Rome: you know that saying “When in Rome do as the Romans do”?  well we have always wondered what it is that the Romans do and from our limited three day experience we found it was to be pushy, don’t be afraid to barter, get any price in writing and watch your belongings as this is the only way you have a chance of surviving without being ripped off. In honesty we were a bit jaded by the end of our visit and a tiny bit relieved to get out of there especially with Santorini (Greek Isles) nearly within our grasp.

And that brings us to the present day. We arrived here in Santorini yesterday on a flight from Rome and we love it. The place is STUNNING! Exactly how it looks in the postcards. Our hotel the Hotel Loucas (Fira) is also lovely. From our room we can see the dramatic back drop of the ocean and other islands. Our hotel is that blue white that you see in pictures with domed rooves and every hour a guy comes past with a pack of donkeys in case you want a lift down the hill- you can hear them coming with the traditional donkey bells ringing. They literally walk through the hotel which is divided by a little path which takes you to town or the old port. The donkeys are particularly popular with the heaps of visitors from the cruise ships docked in what is called the old harbour down below as the climb is pretty steep – around 400 metres down. The place feels really relaxed and also a bit decadent with everything painted white or azure blue, even treetrunks. There are also heaps of beautiful shops selling jewellery so I’m (Deanna) having to restrain myself!!! Last night we watched the sun set from the gorgeous little cocktail bar in our hotel and tomorrow we have hired two four wheelers to take us around the island and check out the sites including the still active volcano, many beaches and wineries ………………………………….. to be continued!!!!!!

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