Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Day 3: Venice to the Cinque Terre

On our third day in Italy, we woke up early at 6:00 am. We were a little overzealous, as we knew we had to walk to the train station to catch our 8:30 am train.  Although we knew which way we intended to go, by now we knew better that it doesn't always work out that way in Venice.  So we wanted to leave ample time in case we got lost once again. We went downstairs to check out, which ended up being a fairly lengthy process.  As I have mentioned in this previous post, I had verified with the owners that I could pay in Traveler's Cheques in American dollars.  Although these are not commonly used anymore (and almost impossible to use in many places), several private B & B's such as this still take them, since they have a cash-only policy due to high costs of accepting credit cards.  Since we were staying in many places such as this on our vacation, we got traveler's cheques to lessen the amount of actual cold, hard cash we had to carry. Although the owner had pre-approved this- and of course he was not here- the man on duty seemed extremely confused by this.  He made several calls (at 7:00 am) to the owner because he was not sure of the procedure or how to handle the exchange rate between dollars and euros.  After about 20 minutes of figuring this out, we were on our way toward the Santa Lucia train station with only one wrong turn. We even stopped by a small bakery in an alley and picked up two pastries to go for only €2.40. 

At least the cappuccino was pretty...
We arrived with plenty of time to spare so we decided to stop by a small coffee shop next door- just at the stairs of the Scalzi Bridge. It is called Bar Olimpia.  See the full review here. Never. Go. There.  We got suckered into this high-tourist trap since it was so conveniently located next to the train station. Sam ordered a cappuccino, and I ordered a small bottle of Coca Cola Light.  We sat down and relaxed as we waited for boarding time.  When our bill came we were in shock!  His cappuccino was €3 and my soda was €6!!!  Those are insane prices, and I don't think I will ever forget my diet coke that cost me about 8 bucks!  We grudgingly paid and left, griping all the way back to the station.  Lesson learned!  

We still had quite a bit of time, so we sat on the train station steps and watched the world go by...brave squatters sleeping on camping mats on the station steps, vaporetto buses carrying the rush hour load, and travelers entering the city for the very first time.  Here are a few more Venice pictures before we depart: 

Gondoliers..we only watched.  They are quite expensive! 
The fresh produce boat outside our hotel. 

Musicians who were playing songs from the "Pulp Fiction" soundtrack in front of a church????
A boat full of wine! 

Leslie boarding the train.
We then easily boarded the train and found our seats.  The trains are very well-kept and super easy to figure out.  Actually, the train travel ended up being a very enjoyable part of our trip.  With no security lines and easy do-it-yourself machines to buy your tickets, it is fairly hassle-free. Just don't forget to validate your ticket (time stamp it) in one of the small yellow or gray and green machines on the platform before you board!  Trenitalia employees came through and checked our tickets for validation on every single train we rode.  If you do not, there are hefty fines.  Luggage is stowed overhead or behind your seat and the seats are fairly roomy- about double the size of an airline seat.  Most newer trains have a table in front of you as well.  Once you are moving (and they go pretty quick!), you can simply enjoy the scenery, read a book, or chit chat with those around you.  In fact, we met so many different people from all over the world during our many train rides! On this trip, we met a woman from North Carolina who used to live in Italy.  She gave us several useful tips about the culture of the country. This particular train ride was our longest, as we were headed to the opposite coast- from the Adriatic Sea to the Ligurian Sea. Our route included two legs that totaled about 6 hours- from Venice to Milan and from Milan to Monterosso al Mare.

During the second leg of our trip, we were in a small cabin with four others- a young couple from Canada who were traveling Europe for the summer, as well as a couple vacationing from Switzerland.  We had nice casual conversation. Sam and I lunched on a mozzarella and tomato sandwich that we bought at the Milan train station.  We both read books on our iphones and soaked in the scenery of the mountains of northern Italy. Once we rolled into Genoa (Genova) and along the Ligurian coast, it was simply breath-taking landscape!  Here is a taste of what was to come...

Monterosso al Mare is the northern most town in a series of five (Cinque) small towns (Terre) clustered along the Ligurian Sea and within walking distance of one another.  The Cinque Terre is absolutely beautiful!  Monterosso is probably one of the most popular and touristy towns because it is the only town that has an accessible  beach.  The other towns (going from north to south)- Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore-

La Spiaggia Hotel
The private hotel we stayed at in Monterosso al Mare was La Spiaggia, meaning "The Beach" in Italian.  This is because the hotel sits directly on the beach, literally 12 feet from the sand, 10 feet from a gelateria, 10 feet from a bar/restaurant, 10 feet from an Enoteca, or wine store, and about 40 feet from the local grocery store. What more could you need?!  In addition, our second floor room had a balcony facing the sea.  See the review here.  I must say, this hotel had by far the BEST service of any place we stayed.  They were more than accommodating. Both Ella and Andrea, the owner, made you feel right at home.
Our room at La Spiaggia

The bathroom at La Spiaggia

Our balcony overlooking the beach 
Check out this video featuring the view from our hotel:
This hotel, like others, was very energy-efficient.  In order to turn on the lights or use any electricity, you have to place your key card into this holder.  Therefore, you cannot leave with the air or lights on.
We decided to walk ten minutes along the coast to old town Monterosso.  The old town is just charming- definitely a small village feel!  There are less tourists on this side of town, winding small streets and locals selling their wares.  We stumbled upon Ciak, a restaurant.  I recognized it from the reviews, and we thought we would give it a try. We sat outside in a small, shaded alley amidst the locals.  I had the BEST salad I have ever eaten.... with fresh mozzarella, corn, lettuce, tomato, onion, and carrot. (By the way- the only salad dressings available in Italy are olive oil and vinegar.) Sorry- no ranch here! The salad was perfect! It was the freshest salad I have ever had, and I remember thinking that even the lettuce tastes better in Italy! Sam had the bruschetta Romana with anchovies.  Both were excellent and the cold beer hit the spot on a hot day in July! When we were done, the waiter offered us complimentary shots of Lemoncino and shared the history of the restaurant with us- as well as gave us the honest low down on Italian tipping. See the review here. 
Lemoncino is liquor made from fresh lemons from the CT.  It is VERY sweet and VERY strong! 
Tipping in Italy is a bit more complicated than here.  First of all, servers do make more there than they do in the states.  Several "upscale" or touristy restaurants include a "cupertino" (cover charge for the extras such as water and bread) or "servizio" (tip) in your total bill.  Do not feel as if you have to tip beyond this.  However, if your service was outstanding (and it was at Ciak!), then you may leave a tip if they went above and beyond. 
Walking in old town Monterosso 
Wonderful lemons are produced here! 
After dinner we strolled through old town and visited several shops and Sam even bought some of his own lemoncino. Later he admitted he was still a bit toasty from the shot of the lemoncino at dinner, otherwise he probably would not have bought more! It was a bit too strong and sweet for us.  We couldn't even bring it back to the U.S. since we only brought carry-on's.  We ended up leaving it unopened in our room in Tuscany for some lucky travelers. 
 We then walked along the beach, dipped our toes in the water, and hit the local grocery to stock up on snacks and cheap beverages.  We bought more water, 2 small cans of coca cola light, several cans of Peroni beer, a bottle of wine, some local cheese, meat, crackers, and bread. We then took it back to our hotel, and enjoyed the drinks from our balcony with a great view!  We picnicked on the balcony and ate the cheese, meat, and crackers as a late night snack. Thank goodness for that multi-tool we bought in Venice! 
Later we chose to grab some gelato from the place literally at our hotel's doorstep, Gelateria Produzione Propria.  Horrible.  I had the hazelnut and Sam had the mora, or blackberry. I do not recommend it. The girl behind the counter could not be more rude and inconvenienced. See the review here.  The gelato was not anything to rave about- so much so that it left Sam so dissatisfied that we walked down to another gelato place (Once not judge.) and tried new cones from the place down the street, which was much better.  We continued to sit outside on our balcony and people watch.  Here are some of the views of Monterosso:
We decided to go to bed at about 10:30 pm.  I had just started to fall asleep when...  along came the marching band!  What?  A marching band at 10:30 pm you say?  Yes.  At 11:00 pm on a Tuesday night.  What was the occasion?  I have no idea, but apparently this was not unusual.  They stopped directly below our balcony and almost serenaded us while a crowd gathered.  Check it out in this video: 
 Although fun, new town can be pretty loud at night.  Since we slept with our window open (no air-conditioning), it got quite noisy.  There were people drinking at the bars and restaurants below, and it was quite difficult for me to sleep.  I would guess that we had about two good hours of quiet between 3:00 am and 5:00 am before the street crews came in to empty the garbage and clean up the litter (Litter is much more prominent in Italy than that states.) and the construction crews started to arrive to work on rebuilding the parking lot across the street quite early as well. (The Cinque Terre was hit by torrential flooding and mudslides last fall.  They should be commended on their brilliant recovery! Check out Rebuild Monterosso for more details.) 


  1. Great narrative, but just to correct, the drink is called Limoncello. Too bad you couldn't bring yours home. Love your pictures.

  2. Thank you! I will definitely make the corrections. Thanks for checking in on the blog.