Travel Diary: Europe, 2018
Previous posts4.9.2018: Sydney to London
6.9.2018: Canterbury, UK
7-9.2018: London City
8.9.2018: Greenwich, UK
8.9.2018: Goodwood Revival
10.9.2018: Trip to Edinburgh
12.9.2018: Glasgow, Scotland
13.9.2018: Inverness, Scotland
Loch Ness, Scotland
14.9.2018: Train To Leeds, UK
15.9.2018: York, UK
16.9.2018: Leeds, Scarborough, UK
17.9.2018: Liverpool, UK
18.9.2018: Otley, Dawes, Grassington, Appleby-in-Westmoreland, UK
19.9.2018: Carlisle, UK
20.9.2018: Lake District, UK
21.9.2018: Hurworth, Whitby, UK
22.9.2018: Goathland, Robin Hoods Bay, UK
23.9.2018: Coverntry; UK
24.9.2018: Stratford-Upon-Avon; The Cotswolds, UK
25.9.2018: Cardiff and Swansea, Wales
26.9.2018: Aberfan, Merthyr Tidfil, Blaenavon, Wales
27.9.2018: Bath, UK
28.9.2018: Abergavenny, Llangollen, Wales
29.9.2018: Wilmslow, UK
30.9.2018: Manchester, UK
1.10.2018: Skipton, Bolton Abbey, UK
2.10.2018: Beverley, UK
3.10.2018: Beverley, UK
4.10.2018: Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK
5.10.2018: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
6.10.2018: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
7.10.2018: Rotterdam, Gouda, Utrecht, The Netherlands
8.10.2018: Cologne, Germany
9.10.2018: Nuremberg, Germany
10.10.2018: Salzburg, Austria
11.10.2018: Salzburg, Austria
12.10.2018: Innsbruck, Austria
13.10.2018: Zurich, Switzerland
15.10.2018: Milan, Italy
16.10.2018: Venice, Verona, Italy
17.10.2018, Turin, Italy
18.10.2018: Bologna, Modena, Italy
19.10.2018, Cremona, Italy
20.10.2018: Genoa, Italy
21.10.2018, Cinque Terre, Italy
22.10.2018: Pisa, Italy
21st October 2018
Wow, can this place get any better?!
We left our apartment in La Spezia early with a view to looking at all five localities of Cinque Terre, which literally translates into English as "Five Lands". It refers to five towns on the mountainous Liguria coast, which is between Genoa and La Spezia on Italy's western seaboard. The five towns, of medieval origin, remained self-sufficient, isolated, and conserved their characteristics up until the first half of the 20th century when new access roads were opened up. Today, visitors flock here from around the world and are fascinated by the way human activities have been sculpted into the dramatic natural landscape.
We started at the farthest one - Monterosso Al Mare - then caught the train from one to the other until returning to La Spezia. Monterosso is probably the most spread-out of the five towns, and is in two sections, the first resembling a typical Italian Riviera resort village. We walked along the beachfront - some sand, lots of pebbles and you have to pay for a deckchair/sunbed to sunbake there. In the busy summer months you are allocated a spot. As the day progressed, there were plenty of people taking advantage of the unusually warm weather - it is only 6 weeks to the beginning of Winter and the temperature was a very warm 26 degrees C.
Monterosso is a beautiful town, its two parts separated by a medieval castle. We had a beautiful pizza for early lunch in one of the outdoor cafes in a back alleyway of the old town. We had an interesting pizza, a house specialty, with proscuito, soft cheese and zest of lemon rather than a tomato base. It was a truly delicious pizza, and having lemon as a main ingredient, it highlighted the main fruit produced here, which grows prolifically on the steep hillsides above the town.
The second town we visited was Vernazza, an upmarket town that is built on a narrow, semi-circular bay with lots of cafes and restaurants circling the waterfront. The main street has many shops and souvenir stalls and the place was crawling with tourists. This seems to be the most popular of the five towns. Steve and Debbie went for a walk along a pathway up the hillside to a popular spot from which to photograph the town (below); the view is one of the most recognisable images of Cinque Terre.
Corniglia is the only one of the five towns to be on top of the coastal hills, rather than beside the sea as the other towns are. It required a 15 to 20 minute walk up, and took a lot of effort, given that the temperature was around 26 degrees, but it was well worth it.
What an intriguing little place, again very old, with lots of tiny alleyways, many reaching upwards around houses; sometimes in these places you feel as if you are walking on private property, especially when a door opens onto the road in front of you and someone steps out of their house and into the narrow street. As the street twists and turns higher, every now and again you catch a glimpse of a magnificent view, either further up the hillside to houses perched even higher, or down the picturesque coast to one of the other four towns.
When almost at the top, we entered a tiny piazza, above which loomed a small church. Four cafes surrounded the square, each cafe had their own four individually coloured sets of tables and chairs which they jealously guarded as their own. At one of these we quenched our thirst with a much needed drink before we headed back down towards the railway station near the shoreline. Corniglia also has a beautiful beach, Guvano, that you can reach walking along a disused railway tunnel not far from Ladarina. A famous staircase with 380 steps (below) connects the station with the village.
Perched on rocky cliffs circling a tiny inlet, Manarola feels a bit more rustic and less polished than its northern neighbours; for this reason some find it a bit more charming and less populated with tourists. Pathways from the town lead up into the hillsides and the many terraces planted with grape vines. One path in particular, which starts behind the church, is easy and panoramic, offering spectacular views of the town and the coast within 15 minutes.
Riomaggiore is the most southerly of the towns and has been nicknamed Little Venice, as houses on either side of a stream which today flows under the main street were originally connected by bridges.
A visit to the marina is a must - it is accessed by going through a short tunnel under the town's houses. With fishing nets spead out to dry, coloured fishing boats dragged up on the tiny beach, and houses painted in many lively colours that climb the hillside, the marina is one of the most fascinating areas, not only of Riomaggiore, but the whole of the Cinque Terre.
We arrived back in La Spezia at around 5pm and had a take-away meal (one of only a handful on this trip) of chicken and salad, then planned the next day while writing the next chapter of our adventure in the travelogue.
The Arno River at Pisa
22nd October 2018
We took the train from La Spezia to Pisa and walked through the mall to see the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, where we discovered there is much more to Pisa than its famous tower. The city of over 91,104 residents (around 200,000 within the greater metropolitan area) contains more than 20 other historic churches, several medieval palaces and various bridges across the Arno. Much of the city's architecture was financed from its history as one of the Italian maritime republics. It is supposed that Pisa was founded on the shore. However, due to the alluvial sediments from the Arno, the shore moved west.
As we walked, Debbie was surprised to see a shop with a chef's hat embroidered with the words "Chef Stefano", given that Stefano was an old nickname she used when she first met Stephen. As he loves cooking, she was taken by the fact that it described him to a tee.
We went in for a closer look and found a lady who had so honed her skills with the sewing machine that she custom-embroidered words or names on items of clothing she sold with great skill.
After lunch we made our way to the leaning tower - what a beautiful structure, one of a group of three, all white in colour, crawling with tourists and souvenir stalls. Out came our cameras ... and oh, the joys of technology!
Our cameras, in their infinite wisdom, decided to correct the lean on the Tower and straighten it up. Anyone who has photogrphed buildings will know that digital cameras have a built-in program that skews the image inwards. That is all well and good if the buildings are all vertical, but if you are photographing a building that is not vertical - like the Leaning Tower of Pisa - the last thing you want your camera to do is to correct the lean, which is invariably what happens when photographing the tower.
Fortunately, we had Stephen as our tour guide, and as always, he knew exactly wat to do. He quickly sorted the problem for us and we soon got the shot we wanted (below).
While the bell tower of the cathedral, known as "the Leaning Tower of Pisa", is the most famous image of the city, it is one of many works of art and architecture in the city's Piazza del Duomo (Square of Miracles), to the north of the old town centre. The Piazza del Duomo also houses the Duomo (the Cathedral), the Baptistry and the Campo Santo (the monumental cemetery).
The Knights' Square is another landmark in Pisa, Italy, and the second main square of the city. This square was the political centre in medieval Pisa. After the middle of 16th century the square became the headquarters of the Order of the Knights of St. Stephen. Now it is a centre of education, being the main house of the Scuola Normale di Pisa, a higher learning institution part of the University.
As we are leaving La Spezia in the morning and hadn't had a chance to take a look around, we left Pisa with enough time to take a walk from our unit towards the city centre and harbour.
La Spezia, at the head of the Gulf of La Spezia, is the second largest city in the Liguria region, preceded just by Genoa. Though built on the coast, the narrow strip of land at ocean level has never been wide enough to contain the town, and many of its streets climb the hillside behind the town centre. These winding streets follow the contours of the landscape and offer a chance to see a variety of buildings and architectural styles away from the more crowded inner city streets.
The city is a mixture of old and very old buildings built on mostly one-way streets. There is the almost-obligatory castle, churches, large railway station and a piazza with many alfresco cafes and restaurants. We walked along a high road to the station - there were many sets of stairs down into the city, and even an inclinator at one point.
Parking In Italy
If ever you intend to drive a car in Italy, there are a few basics you'll need to know. These basics are based on our obervations during the past week on how-to and how-not to park in Italy. First of all, there aren't enough parking spaces in Italian towns and cities for the number of cars that need to be parked. Second (and this is only logical, given the first), don't drive anything bigger than a Fiat 500 - it just won't fit into a parking space.
Park at the end of the row. That way, you don't have to push another car out of the way if you are silly enough to want to leave your parking spot.
If there are no parking spots on the road, park on the footpath
If there are no parking spots and the footpath is not wide enough to park on, double park
If there are no parking spots and the footpath is not wide enough to park on, and there is no room to double park, park across the intersection
If the parking spot is too small for you to drive into, do a handbrake turn and slide in sideways. When it's time to leave, find the nearest bar and have a glass of vino or two until the car behind or in front of you moves.
If the only parking spot you can find is in a one way street going the wrong way, reverse up the street in the direction of the traffic flow and park there anyway.
Stephen Yarrow and Debbie Hall
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