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5000 stairsteps, 40 ciao bellas, 12 trains, 8 pizzas, 3 women, 1 report

5000 stairsteps, 40 ciao bellas, 12 trains, 8 pizzas, 3 women, 1 report

Old Jun 13th, 2013, 04:01 PM
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We all fell in love with Cinque Terre, the beauty, the people, the food...even with our morning rains it was wonderful. The cities weren't crowded at all while we were there. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and left of a Wednesday morning - perhaps not being in the area over a weekend helped? You don't need to worry about dressing up here. It is very casual and most people spend there time wearing hiking clothing and hiking shoes. We have all decided that hikers who use walking sticks need mandatory training courses before being allowed out in public with those things. They are dangerous to the other pedestrians when walking through town!

My daughter's impressions of Cinque Terre:

Em:
First impression: Gorgeous! I knew I was going to love it.

Favorite: Hiking

Least favorite: Nothing

Lasting memory: The gorgeous colors, the taste of the gorgonzola pesto gnocchi.

El:
First impression: Stunning, I had never seen anything like it.

Favorite: Seeing all the cities, the hike, getting lemonade in the middle of the hike.

Least favorite: Almost getting on the wrong train.

Lasting memories: The beauty, Stefano having to carry our bags, the gorgonzola pesto gnocchi.
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Old Jun 13th, 2013, 04:34 PM
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How did you arrange for your underground tour of the Colosseum?
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Old Jun 14th, 2013, 07:27 AM
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Diane - we used a tour company called Walks of Italy. It was a pricey tour - I know there are ways to do this more cheaply. It was a small tour group and the tour included Colosseum, Colosseum undergroung, Forum, Palantine Hill...it lasted over 4 hours and was very indepth. Hope that helps.
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Old Jun 14th, 2013, 08:20 AM
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As we left Cinque Terre, little did I know that we were about to begin my least favorite day of the trip!

Before we left home we were looking at our train options from Manarola to Florence and realized that we would have to change trains in Pisa. The girls immediately decided that they wanted to take the opportunity to see the infamous tower. So...I made reservations to climb it. They were really excited about doing this!

The night before our departure from our lovely view in Manarola we checked the Trenitalia site and realized we would have to leave our apartment by 8am in order to make all our train connections and get to our climbing reservation on time. I gave my daughters the opportunity to bail out. (Hoping that they would) Nope. They still wanted to see and climb that dratted tower.

The next morning was cold! Surely it would get better, right? I think I mentioned that we didn't really have the appropriate clothing for weather this cold? That was especially true for me.

We trained to Riomaggiore. Waited there for the train to Pisa. Trained to Pisa. Walked to the far end of the train station to stand in the left luggage line. Left our luggage. Walked to the other end of the station to stand in the bathroom line. Walked through town to the Field of Miracles. The town was great, but the wind had really started to howl and we were freezing. Finally arrived at the Piazza dei Miracoli. Oh my. How did the town of Pisa or the Italian monument department or whoever is in charge let this place get into such a state?! Gorgeous, gorgeous place almost ruined by the gauntlet of people selling stuff. Sad, really.

We managed to get through the crowds, stand in the line to drop off our handbags (because you aren't allowed to take them in the tower) and then get into the line for our 11:45 climbing reservation. I was absolutely frozen by this point and, according to my daughters, grumpy. A family group of about 8 people cut in front of us in the tower climbing line.

Seriously?

OK, I've read all the threads about rudeness, I understand cultural differences...but there was OBVIOUSLY a queue here. Of course it didn't really matter who got in first because we all had reservations so I let it go, but it didn't help my mood.

Gotta admit. Climbing the tower was pretty interesting. Man, that thing leans! Climbing can be a bit disorienting because the stairs spiral through and at times even though you know you are walking up the stairs you almost have a feeling of walking downhill. Of course the cold wind was blowing so much at the top that we barely took time to enjoy the views! It was kind of like, "ok, did that, looks pretty, let's go."

We exited to the crowds. I was really starting to dislike certain tourist groups by now, but the girls insisted (along with the rest of the world) on getting their photos made "holding up" the tower. Hey! That is a harder photo to capture than you might think! Especially while being pushed and pummeled from all sides.

When we picked up our handbags I mentioned the crowds to the person working the line and was told, "oh, often it is much worse." Sheesh.

Quick visit to the Duomo and then we were outta there and I couldn't wait to leave!

Gosh, I feel like a terrible person even writing all this. And most trip report writers don't seem to complain as much as I have in this post. However, this is an honest assessment of how *I* was feeling in these particular moments on this particular day. I'm usually an easygoing traveler, but not this day. If you have always wanted to see the Leaning Tower then please don't let my bad mood dissuade you!

I was so cold by this point that I made an executive decision that we were going to take a taxi back to the train station. Worth every bit of that 6E.

We picked up our bags from left luggage and went to buy our train tickets to Florence. We were told, The train leaves in 5 minutes. Is that enough time? Certo. Well, it *was* enough time, but barely. We lugged our bags down the stairs through to the very end of the tunnel, up the stairs, and then straight onto the waiting train. It departed seconds later. Whew.

Later that night I asked the girls if the stop had been worth it. One said yes and one said no. My vote would be no. I would still go see Pisa, but not as something to do on the way to somewhere else. Too stressful for me. I suspect that staying in Pisa would be the way to go as my impression upon passing through was of a fun, young, vibrant city.
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Old Jun 14th, 2013, 10:36 AM
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Your CT visit sounded wonderful.

I'm so sorry about Pisa. Your remark is right on about staying there. JR and I were there twice. Once to climb to tower (we didn't) and a second time (we did) to make it a base for travel. We loved the areas away from the tourists--I expect the Paisans (Pisani?) prefer it also. We went in March and were able to get a quiet afternoon during the week for the Tower. We listened to a tour of the Duomo while we waited. There is some amazing history and the art is incredible also. Pisa's historical value is almost always ignored.

It's a tough call when one has an itinerary and a certain amount of time. Despite the down side, I'm glad you saw it. It tilted almost immediately according to what we read. JR kept talking about walking in Galileo's foot prints.

Can't wait for more of your TR!
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Old Jun 14th, 2013, 05:42 PM
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Stopped twice and never left the train station because two of my group said not worth it. Glad to hear you say all that. I loved seeing all the granite and marble on that ride to Pisa though. Beautiful countryside.
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Old Jun 15th, 2013, 02:48 AM
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We "did" Pisa on a very rainy day trip from Florence - were going to include Lucca, but the weather was awful. it was December, so absolutely freezing, but crowds were very tolerable.

We did not climb the Tower - I agree though that the "holding up the tower" photos are not so easy to get! (Even harder to set up are the "what is that massive tower coming out of your groin?" photos for the teenage son!!!)

After our look around, because Lucca was off our itinerary, we wandered into the nearby street, past the point at which most of the tourists had given up, and found a little cafe. We enjoyed a couple of wonderful Pisan pizzas with a delightful bottle of Chianti Classico.

Put us in a great mood for the trip back to Florence - only hiccup was not realising that we needed to change trains back at Centrale - fortunately the conductor who came to yell at us all had reasonable English, so we quickly changed trains along with all the other tourists who had been waiting patiently to go to Firenze!
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Old Jun 16th, 2013, 12:37 PM
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Just returned from Italy myself (there are a few redundant Adriatic trip reports in here somewhere), and since My trip is still ooccupying my thoughts and dreams, I can't get enough of other people's postings. When I saw that you had 86 replies I thought this has to be something. It certainly is. You are a wonderful writer. Have you ever published? What humor and intelligence! Wonderful!!
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Old Jun 16th, 2013, 03:56 PM
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Thanks guys for your stories and experiences with Pisa.

TDudette - I hope to go there again and get off the beaten path, sounds like you had a great experience.

Bendigo, I laughed out loud at the image of your son trying to get the photo with the tower coming out of his groin. I can see my son, now age 26, trying that as a teen. flpab - we were seated on the train near someone who kept insisting that there was snow on top of the mountains. (it was cold, but not that cold) I told him that it was marble and I don't think he believed me!

partypoet1 - I can so relate to the after travel glow - that time when you just can't let go of what you have experienced. I'm still in that spot as well! Thank you so much for your kind words. I enjoy writing but, no, nothing professional.

Actually, when I go back and see some of spelling and grammar errors in this report I cringe...I really DO know how to spell and the proper use of the words there, their, and they're. But I don't have much time to write each section so editing is almost nonexistent. I'm not going to even apologize for my punctuation. Let's just call it conversational punctuation.
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Old Jun 16th, 2013, 03:57 PM
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Photos from Pisa and Florence:

http://karentk.smugmug.com/Travel/20...0001758_86CcPg
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Old Jun 17th, 2013, 01:53 AM
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I love your photos- viewing them makes me so excited for my up coming trip.
Please continue - I would love to know what you did in Florence.
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Old Jun 17th, 2013, 05:10 PM
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We arrived at the train station in Florence and easily found the taxi stand. I showed the driver the address of our apartment in Oltrarno and he said, "I believe that my taxi will fit on that road." It did, but barely!

We stayed at Residenza Il Carmine in Oltrarno next to the famous Santa Maria del Carmine church. This is a group of apartments that have been subdivided from a large home (estate? palace?) The apartments in the main section surround a lovely, little garden where guests are welcome to sit and use the free wifi or just relax.

Our apartment was one door down from the main section and was more spacious it had appeared from the photos on the website. You entered directly from the street through a large wooden door into the living/sleeping area which had two twin beds, (set up as day beds) several chairs, a table and kitchen. In the back there was a bedroom with a bed (the typical size bed with two twins pushed together). The bathroom was quite large for Italy with a much bigger shower than we had come to expect.

Breakfast items were left for us - things like yogurt, bananas, oranges, some bread and jam...that was a nice touch. In addition, there was daily cleaning including changing towels! I was inordinately excited about those nice dry towels everyday. I have two quibbles with this apartment. First, the person sleeping in the first room could hear lots of street noise even with the shutters closed. This was not a problem for those sleeping in the bedroom in the back of the apartment and certainly wouldn't be a problem if you were in one of the apartments off the garden. Second, one of the mattresses of the two pushed together in the bedroom needed to be replaced. It was badly sunken and lumpy. The other side was fine. That said, I would definitely stay here again, but I would make sure to stay in one of the garden apartments.

Even though our apartment was not on the garden we were given keys to that area so that we could enjoy the green and use the wifi. We very much enjoyed the owner, she was a beautiful and kind woman - probably around 60 years old. The property had been in her family for generations. Her english was adequate, better than my Italian although I still tried speaking Italian with her. We joked that we both spoke only in the present tense in our non-native languages. Still it was fun talking with her, learning more about Italian culture, answering questions about the US. She was very interested in hearing about cultural differences in the various areas of the US. In her dealings with Americans she had noticed some differences depending on what region her guests were from and wanted to understand them better. We had so much fun trying to explain.

Our street was very much a family street completely off the tourist track. There were teens walking past on their way home from school, parents watching their younger chidren ride trikes on the cobblestones, a man who would call and feed the ubiquitous cats from his second story window, older women sweeping and washing their stoop in the morning, people walking their dogs (and unfortunately *not* picking up after them). Watch where you step when walking the back streets of Florence!

We loved living in the Oltrarno area. We were less than a 10 minute walk from the river, maybe 15 minutes from the Uffizi. We enjoyed spending our days in the more touristed areas and then coming back across the river to spend the evenings in "our" part of town. It was still lively, but calmer, less crowded, more authentic, and with more locals. We enjoyed this area tremendously.

We had just enough time this first evening to do a little shopping. The girls were extremely impressed with the shopping in Florence. El was determined to buy a leather jacket with some of her graduation money. (Instead of things for her dorm room which would be the prudent thing to do!) She was aware that most of the jackets are no longer made in Florence, but she still wanted one. We made our way to the market and the search began. She is a picky shopper so nothing was purchased this first day.

Dinner this night was at Borgo Antico on Santo Spirito. Our hostess had told us that this restaurant had a very pleasant atmosphere but that the food was just ok except for their pizza. She said, "order pizza there, the pizza is good." We followed her advice. Pizza and wine and an excellent arugula salad with parmesan and sundried tomatoes for all of us. The service was very good even though the place was crowded. We loved relaxing and recovering from our day in Pisa. We lingered and the longer we stayed the fewer tourists and more Italians were in the restaurant. The food and the wine and the musical flow of Italian conversation and being with my daughters made this one of those nights that I wish I could hold onto forever.
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Old Jun 17th, 2013, 05:34 PM
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One of the cultural differences that came up often while we were on our trip was the attitude toward marriage.

Em is married. She is only 21. People here are surprised by that. Most people here don't think it is a great idea for someone that young to marry. Believe me, when she was 20 and got engaged I was also surprised and didn't think it was a good idea! However, after the surprise most people here will smile and wish her well and say something about young love and then go about their business.

The Italians were way more than surprised - they were shocked. More than shocked - they were appalled. They tried to hide their reaction, but you could see it. After they managed to hide how appalled they were they were fascinated. Often, the usual reserve was dropped and on several occasions she was peppered with questions: But how do you live? Why would you want to be married? Do you live with your parents? Where do you live? You work and go to school? How do you do this?

She would explain that they don't live with their parents, that they both work, they both go to college, they rent an inexpensive apartment, they manage on their own...except for trips to Italy. I would try to explain that marriage at her age was unusual even for the US, but that marriage while people were still in their 20's was not. This was almost unfathomable. We learned that marriage is happening later and later in Italy and grown children live with their parents well into their adult years.

When I explained that I also have a 26 year old son who is married and that he and his wife have a one year old daughter and that he never moved home after he left for college and that he fully supports his family - it was just almost too much.

We also found these conversations fascinating. They typical answer as to why the young Italians don't marry and continue to live at home was the economy. A close second answer was the women no longer want to have to take care of a man. Who knows? It was all very interesting.

However, by the end of the trip Em was avoiding telling anyone that she was married. She said she couldn't handle trying to explain it anymore.
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Old Jun 18th, 2013, 07:58 AM
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Our Uffizi reservations were early this morning so we bundled up as best we could with our limited clothing selection and slogged our way out into a very cold, very stormy, very rainy Florence.

We had prebooked our tickets and naively assumed that this meant we would bypass lines and get in quickly. Nope. First there was a line to pick up the prebooked tickets. A long line. The British couple in front of me was turned away because they had booked their tickets through some type of agency rather than through the museum? I didn't have time to get to the bottom of what happened, but I would suggest making your reservation directly through the museum.

After that there was a line for those with tickets to acually get into the museum and then to get through security. Anyway, we were finally in and it was worth every minute of waiting in the cold! What a place! The building itself is worth seeing - not to mention the artwork. It was crowded, but not miserably so. I got yelled at for starting to take a photo in the hallway - I was not using a flash - people all around me were taking photos with their phones. Hmmmm.

A large portion of the museum is currently under renovation but that detracted little from the experience. Em and El loved seeing the Boticellis - those were their favorites. It was the Carvaggios again for me. Yes, the girls also got a kick out of "the Portrait of Dwarf Morgante." I guess this portrait was lost for a while and has only been back on display for a few years - it was the butterfly over the genitalia that did them in.

Lovely morning spent here. There is also a great top floor coffee shop with a view of the top of the Duomo for a nice break. After we left the Uffizi we walked toward the Duomo. The first sight is pretty stunning. The designer of this building was not a believer in restraint. The place is what we would call busy, perhaps bordering on tacky? I had heard about it, seen pictures, but it is so much more in person. The green and pink are brighter than I had imagined. I can't describe the building as beautiful - it wasn't to my eyes - but it is impressive and inspiring. The knowledge that it was built in a moment of such optimism that they planned for a dome that they didn't yet have the technology to build...amazing. I had missed the fact that the bell tower was an exact match to the church. This adds greatly to the immpression.

We decided to follow a nearby Elizabeth Minchelli recommendation for lunch at Robiglio 2. The sandwiches were just ok, nothing special. The pastries on the other hand - delightful. I wouldn't recommend lunch here. Just stop by and stand at the coffee bar and get get a coffee along with one of their pastries. We each had something different and shared and they were all delicious. It was here that we had our first experience with rude (not formal, but rude) service. The girls were getting offended and taking it a bit personally.

This led to a great discussion about how we react differently to certain things when on vacation than in our everyday lives. We've all had had a surly waiter at home, but because we aren't so invested in "this is the experience of a lifetime" we don't let it get to us. We don't assume that the waiter is rude because we are women or have brown hair or are American or whatever...I think that it is even harder for those of us who don't get to travel often, who have scrimped and saved to take a trip overseas, and who hope for every moment to be wonderful to deal with situations that are obviously less than magical.

After lunch the quest was to find a leather jacket for El. Many shops later she had "the one." I'm certain it was obvious to the sales girl that my daughter was excited about this purchase and I think that she decided to try to take advantage of a young woman. They had agreed on a price, but just before purchase the clerk went all wonky. She suddenly claimed that she had made a mistake and couldn't sell this jacket for the agreed price. She was quite an actress...making a show of calling her boss...letting tears come to her eyes...I'm going to get in trouble...blah, blah, whatever. My daughter wasn't buying this spiel AT ALL. She said, "I'm sorry to hear that you made a mistake. I guess I will need to buy my jacket somewhere else." She turned on her heels and headed for the door. The clerk came after us, "I'm sorry, it was my fault, even if I get in trouble I will give you the price I told you." Do you think people actually fall for this?

El got her jacket and she is very happy with it, but the shopping experience did leave a bad taste in her mouth and took away some of her joy in the purchase.

We spent the rest of the afternoon huddled in the warmth of our apartment quietly napping and reading and taking a mental break from vacation and from one another! It was the perfect day to take it easy.

When we finally emerged into the early evening the sun was struggling to make a last ditch appearance. We wandered over to Pitti Palace and joined others sitting on the slope in front of the building to enjoy the waning light.

We had reservations at Casalinga on Santo Spirito for dinner. Loved this meal, loved the old timey atmosphere of this place, loved the service. I did see an American tourist at the next table send back something she didn't like, but everything we had was very good. Among the three of us we tried bruschetta, arugula parmesan salad, ribbolita, ravioli with bolognese sauce, a florentine steak, and roasted potatoes with rosemary. Yes, lots of food and we pretty much ate all of it. We even had dessert: tiramisu, and strawberries with vanilla gelato.

Perhaps, it wasn't the best food of the trip, but there was just something about this restaurant and this meal that we all enjoyed immensely.
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Old Jun 18th, 2013, 09:55 AM
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kayTkay - more lovely details about your trip - that apartment sounds terrific, apart from the mattress. we stayed in a slightly less touristy area of Rome in Feb and it was lovely coming "home" at the end of the day.

i like the story about your DD buying her jacket too - good that she kept her nerve longer than the salesgirl.
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Old Jun 18th, 2013, 10:11 AM
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Perfetto!
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Old Jun 19th, 2013, 08:24 AM
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annhig - thanks so much! Glad that someone is still reading this tome! I am about halfway through reading your Iceland trip report. Love it and so glad it was brought to the top!

TDudette - thank you for the encouragement! Hopefully I'll be able to get back to finish this thing soon.
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Old Jun 19th, 2013, 10:36 AM
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KayTKay - glad your enjoying the Iceland TR. someone we were talking to today was going on, and on, and on, about all the exotic and unusual places he'd been to so we asked if he'd been to Iceland. 'Nuff said!
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Old Jun 19th, 2013, 11:41 AM
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KayTKay, your trip report is seriously awesome!!! love your pics also. how did you book your cinque terre section of your trip specifically the hike? how many nights did you have in each place and was it enough/too few/too many? thanks!
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Old Jun 19th, 2013, 01:40 PM
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annhig - love that! And interesting and exotic is all kind of relative isn't it? Depends on where you are from and what you live with everyday. There are things in my home state of Arkansas that I'm certain would seem exotic (or perhaps just crazy) to someone from another country.

alifafa - thank you so much. We booked our Cinque Terre apartment through a rental company called Apbaspaa.

You don't have to book the hikes or the trains. I'm sure you can find maps of the hikes on the internet, but we just waited until we got to the Cinque Terre and went to the tourist information office in Manarola. (these are also located in some of the other towns.) The office was very helpful. They gave us a map of the trails (one of these was also in our apartment) and told us about the various hikes and how to get to the trailheads. As of the end of May only one of the trails between the towns was open because of the landslides. Some are supposed to be re-opening soon. There are many hikes higher above the towns that are supposed to be wonderful, but we didn't have time for them.

We stayed 4 nights Rome, 3 nights Cinque Terre, 4 nights Florence, 3 nights Venice. I think we divided it up perfectly for the time we had available, but I always wish for more time! We did a day trip out of Florence, but if we hadn't been doing that I would have taken a day from Florence and added it to Rome or Venice.
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