Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cinque Terre

Our next destination was a little town on the coast of Italy called Riomaggiore. It is part of what is known as Cinque Terre (five lands) because there are 5 pirate towns connected by hiking trails. We had heard that it was a must-see place so we decided that we needed to spend a few nights here to relax and enjoy nature. We were looking forward to spending some time hiking, eating seafood, and going to the beach. Natali especially wanted to go to the beach and enjoy some nice weather but sadly the weather didn't want to cooperate. That is the bummer about such a long trip is that no matter what we were bound to get some less than desirable weather. 

We left Florence on Monday, September 9 in the morning and went to catch our train. We decided to take a small detour so that we can see another one of the most famous structures in the world: the Leaning Tower of Pisa! What we didn't know is that there are some really cool buildings around the tower that were also neat to see. You can see the leaning tower in the very back and see just how much it leans.

As a structural engineer, I had mixed emotions about this building. On one hand I knew why one end of the building had settled and I also knew that they could fix the tower and make it straight quite easily. But then why would people go out of their way to see the normal Tower of Pisa? They did have to straighten the building out slightly a few years ago in order to make it safe for people to go inside and climb to the top. I was very impressed that the building could lean so much and still remain intact without damage. Another testament to the incredible buildings of the Romans. 

We debated all the way to the tower whether or not we were going to do the "tourist pose" and hold the building up from falling. And we decided that it was just one of those things that you HAD to do, so we did it.

Yeah, I just needed one finger.
Because we were traveling with a lot of our stuff (we left our big bags at the train station) we were not able to spend a lot of time at the tower or get a close-up look at it. It was definitely worth the detour and time to go and see it thought.

We got back on the train and headed to Riomaggiore. We booked our own apartment through airbnb.com and met the apartment owner close to the train station so he could show us the apartment. We headed back into a small alley, then back into another one, and one more then we finally arrived at the door.

This was our view from the kitchen balcony. As you can tell there are steep hills all over the coast. All of the villages were built on steep hills and rock cliffs which make for fantastic pictures.

 The apartment was very nice. It was 3 levels total with the bedroom and bathroom on the second story and the kitchen and balcony on the third story. It was all very nice and romantic. It would have been perfect if it had wi-fi (and maybe we wouldn't have fallen so far behind in our blogging as well ;)

We got situated and headed out to explore Riomaggiore and take some pictures. Here is the main street of the town but you can't really tell how steep the road actually is. 
We hiked up the road and found a great overlook where we decided to take some pictures. This picture is BEAUTIFUL. The scenery is okay too I guess ;)
We love being able to get good pictures of us together. 
I know we have talked about it a lot but the GorillaPod is a must for a couple that is traveling and wants to have pictures of both of them. You can put it just about anywhere. I loved finding challenging places like the side of this rock wall where I could set it up and take pictures.
We then headed down towards the coast to enjoy the ocean and look at the waves coming in. We passed by a gelato place so of course we had to have some to hold us over until dinner.

We got Lobster Gnochi for dinner that was really great. We were right on the ocean and had a great view. Tip: if you ever go to Cinque Terre make reservations at the restaurants you want eat at. The restaurants with views fill up fast and the wait can be horrible. Luckily we were walking by this restaurant and just decided to make a reservation for later.
The next day we were going to go to the beach, but it was a little chilly and overcast so we decided to do one of the hikes instead. We took the train to Monterosso del Mar, the most northern town and hiked to the next village, Vernazza. It was a great hike with some great views. It was pretty steep but definitely worth it. 

Tip: We bought the Cinque Terre Card with train travel. It was unlimited train use within Cinque Terre for 3 days as well as access to the hiking trails. This made it so we could hike when we wanted but also get from one town to another easily and quickly. We also heard that the boat rides from town to town are amazing but because of the bad weather and large waves the boats were not running while we were there (which made the trains VERY crowded). 

This was the view of Vernazza at the very end of the hike. Seeing the town was a very welcome site (because it meant more gelato!) as we were starting to become tired and hungry.

We received a recommendation from the guy that owned the apartment for a restaurant called Trattoria dal Billy in Manarola,  one of the neighboring coastal towns. It was amazing. First, we were seated at a table that was pretty much all by itself with an amazing view. Second, we hit the sunset perfectly and enjoyed all the different shades of pink, orange and purple during our meal. Third, we had some amazing mussels for our appetizer. I am not a huge fan of mussels but these were amazing. Fourth, the dessert (raspberry-covered ice cream goodness) was amazing. And to top it all of, it was one of our cheaper meals in Cinque Terre. Amazing!

We wanted to take some night pictures so we went up the trail a little ways in Manarola after dinner. It was amazing to just hear and see the waves crashing against the rocks at night. Because it was kind of stormy and overcast all day the waves were larger than usual which made the whole thing even better. The picture really doesn't do it justice but the whole experience was amazing. 
It was really the perfect night... until we got back to the apartment. We got to the door and I started checking all of my pockets and in the backpack when I realized I had forgotten the keys inside the apartment. It was 10:30 PM by the time we got back so when I tried to call the apartment owner, there was no answer. So there we were, locked outside, nobody to call, in a teeny alleyway, late at night, all alone. Then we remembered that the owner had specifically told us to keep the bathroom window open at all times. Calling it a window is very generous as it was a tiny opening in the side of the wall. We decided that Natali had the best chance to get inside but it was on the 2nd story. So, she stood on my shoulders to get up onto a small ledge that was below the window. She was still too short to get inside so I grabbed a big rock to stand on and then boosted her up as high as I could extend my arm to help her get up and into the window. Once she was up high enough, she couldn't fit through normally because the window was so narrow so she had to wiggle her way inside sideways. While she was squirming to get inside I knew I had to catch this moment on camera so a snapped a few pictures of her feet dangling out of the window! After much effort and pain, she got inside and unlocked the door, giving me her angry eyes to show how unpleased she was that she had to do that. She wasn't happy about it at the time but I thought it was hilarious. She has come around and we now laugh about the whole experience. It is one of my favorite moments of the whole trip.
The next day was a disaster. We woke up to pouring rain. And it rained, and rained, and rained. We were so sad because we weren't able to go to the beach. When we finally decided to brave the storm and go out we ended up walking in about a foot of water on the streets as it poured down rain. It was crazy how much water was just flowing in the streets (we were so mad that we didn't get a picture of the water on the streets).
Then, all at once, it stopped raining and the sun came out. 

We were still wet so we went in a little restaurant and got some hot chocolate!

We went back to the place we took night pictures to take some regular pictures. Everywhere was a perfect picture but right outside of Manarola might have been the best place for pictures.

Even with the rain it was still a romantic and beautiful few days but we are looking forward to going back again sometime to explore it more without the rain!