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Italy in the springtime, tra la - and what an excellent adventure it was.

Italy in the springtime, tra la - and what an excellent adventure it was.

May 10th, 2006, 01:55 PM
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Italy in the springtime, tra la - and what an excellent adventure it was.

To begin our travel saga, let me just say how lucky we are to have been able to travel to Italy not once, but twice in the past calendar year. This most recent April trip is a bonus as we had already planned our July '05 30th anniversary trip when our college daughter announced she was going to study abroad in Siena in January '06. And then her older sister announced her engagement, wedding to come in fall '06. What to do, what to do?

In a very untypical manner, for us anyway, we decided to do it all. Summer '05 was already in the planning can, and pretty much paid for. We decided we would visit Rachel in Siena on my Easter break and squeezed out a few days more since it was Passover. Her class schedule and availability became the parameters of our trip; since she was studying at a University of California center, she did not have the traditional Easter break, but she would have several days around the holiday.

We decided to fly into Rome, take the train to Siena and after some conversation, decided to spend the Easter weekend in Liguria and visit the Cinque Terre with Rachel. After Easter, David and I would spend the rest of the week in Siena and then end with a weekend in Rome. It turned out that Rachel's program ended the week after Easter, so after her final exams she went to Rome with us and took off from there to travel around Europe for several weeks (as I write this she is in Egypt, about to take off for Spain, Scotland,Netherlands and France).

Day 1 - Getting there

It's a new experience for us to travel in the springtime and we have to pack accordingly - layers and layers, slightly more warmer clothes than our usual summer trips require. Rachel tells us the week before we leave to think "San Francisco in the spring" and that helps.

We were able to cash in AA FF miles and are flying Business class to London and then onto Rome via British Air. The London flight from Los Angeles is overnight and over the pole; we will land in London at 3 pm and then have a 3 hour layover in Heathrow before our 6:30 flight to Rome. This will pretty much take most of a day when you include the time changes.

Tuesday, April 11

We finish packing, having left work a bit early, and then we're off, leaving copious notes for the engaged daughter and her fiance, who are housesitting. ED rolls her eyes a bit at the notes, but I remind her that while the dog gets fed, she forgets we have fish. She and fiance drive us to LAX.

First surprise of trip - there is no traffic at the airport. We all comment on this and I consider it a good omen. There is also no line at check-in and no one in the security line as well. Now it's just odd, but since we are flying Business we get to use the AA lounge and we certainly have the time. That, plus our flight end up leaving a bit late.

We are flying a 777, new plane for us, and it's very comfortable. We both appreciate the extra room upfront and as usual, the AA Business class meal service is excellent. I think I even manage to sleep some.

Connections in London are made, nice long walk and terminal change at LHR. I had read about this and was curious as to how long it would really take since our return connection is only 70 minutes. We do have over 3 hours, the airport is not too crowded and we make the transfer in under 40 minutes. I have some renewed hope for our return. Again we are able to use the British Air lounge and that was really appreciated since we were pretty tired at this point.

The flight to Rome left on time; we were served an ok meal and landed in Rome on time. It seemed to take forever to get the luggage, but we were just grateful that both bags came out. We had arranged for car service to get us to our hotel in Rome - www.limoservicerome.it - had used them last summer and really liked the service. When we emerged from the luggage hall, there was a very nice man with a card with our name on it. He also showed us where to meet them the following week since we were going to return our rental car to the airport.

On to Rome, nice drive at night past the Coliseum, that's all I remember. We had chosen the Hotel Cortina (recommended by the Hotel Aberdeen since they were booked) simply for the $$ and convenience to Termini since we were planning to take the train to Siena in the morning. The hotel was decent and while it fronts Via Nazionale, we had a room in the back. All we needed was a bed and shower - both were more than adequate, as was breakfast in the morning.

next - on to Siena where the real journey begins . . .
socaltraveler is offline  
May 11th, 2006, 12:16 PM
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Day 2 - off to Siena

Tho exhausted from the travel day, we wake early - I'm beyond excited to get to Siena and see our daughter who has been in Italy for 4 months. We have a nice breakfast (breads, cake, jam, cheeses and meats - I really love Italian hotel breakfast rooms!), grab our bags, load into the extremely rickety wrought-iron elevator and hit the street. Termini is a 5 minute walk; David has his first experience with the ticket kiosk, the train is on time and we're off to Siena.

The train takes us through some lovely coutnry-side. Last summer's sunflower fields are now trees bursting with white and pink blossoms, the fields are so green. At Chiusi we change trains, lug the luggage down the stairs - again we vow to pack lighter on the next trip.

And soon we're in Siena - we have been here before on a day trip but now we will be actually sleeping within the walls for several days. We're off in a cab to the Palazzo Ravissa, an incredibly charming older building at one end of the city. The gardens and back rooms overlook a romantic garden and countryside beyond the wall. Our room in not ready, but we stow our bags, call our daughter and wait for her to meet us. Hugs and kisses all around when Rachel arrives. Does she seem older, more European, well maybe, but for now she's just our lovely younger daughter. Actually, true to form, she arrives complaining that the weather has warmed up and she's overdressed for the day.

Next is lunch; David reminds us that he has been in Italy for oh, 14 hours, and has yet to see a plate of pasta. Rachel takes us to a small trattoria that she has been to several times while she has been here: La Tverna di Cecco, vai Cecco Angiloeria 19. The daily menu is written on a dry erase board brought to the table. We are treated to Prosecco and order pastas: funghi, pesto and polenta bolognese, also a few insalatas and an side of braised artichokes. David is in pasta heaven, or maybe it's the house wine, too. We will return for dinner later in our trip, its that good.

Feeling more like a nap, but still without a rooom, we let Rachel walk us all over Siena, showing us the city she has lived in since January. We see the Duomo and Il Campo, her former apartment and school, the soccer stadium, a few churches. By this time we decide to return to the hotel, really need a rest before going out to have dinner with Rachel's host family that evening.

Our room is ready, No. 14, second floor, at the back with a simply gorgeous view of the garden and Tuscan hills. I open the wide window and actually nap. We then walk across the city again to the Piazza Gramschi to catch a bus to Rachel's home.

This is a first for us, dinner with an Italian family in their home. Halfway through her stay, Rachel switched to homestay to improve her Italian. She lives with Francesco, a winery manager, his wife Cristina and their 5 year old, Dido. They do not speak English and our Italian barely translates menus; Rachel interprets for several hours and her father realizes that perhaps his money has been well spent on her semester abroad. This is a good thing.

Cristina serves what Rachel tells us is her company meal - first a primi of pasta and meat sauce (Cristina grew up in Rome and Francesco, a boy of Siena tries to explain the differences in sauce - I actually understand what he's trying to get across), and then veal with prosciutto and cheese, several vegetables and finally, strawberries and whipped cream. Finally is what I think but no, she also brings out a Columba, the special sweet yeast cake for Easter and we have that with chocolates and coffee. I think I forgot the copius amounts of wine, too.

We have brought them some wine from California and Francesco gives us a bottle from his winery to take home. And then another treat; Francesco belongs to a Siennese contrada and wants to show us some videos of the Palio. We watch, sleepily, and finally the wonderful evening ends; David and I are driven home to the Palazzo Ravissa by Francesco and Rachel. It has been a joy to meet the people who have shared their home with our daughter; we invite them to California, perhaps someday they will come.

next: Easter weekend in Lerici

socaltraveler is offline  
May 11th, 2006, 12:29 PM
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How happy you must have been to be reunited with your daughter! Seeing and hearing her interact with the host family must have been a rewarding parental experience...
dorkforcemom is offline  
May 11th, 2006, 01:01 PM
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Lovely report socaltraveler! How fortunate your daughter was to have such a charming family to stay with. And isn't it wonderful to have a homecooked meal in Italy. It makes me hungry just thinking about it. Now more, please!
LoveItaly is offline  
May 11th, 2006, 02:07 PM
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Thanks for the kind words; hopefully, tomorrow's workload will give me some time for writing.
socaltraveler is offline  
May 11th, 2006, 04:01 PM
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Such an enjoyable trip report! Looking forward to more . . .
LCBoniti is offline  
May 12th, 2006, 04:22 AM
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You make the countryside come to life. Now we must travel to Italy in the springtime!
quiltfan is offline  
May 12th, 2006, 04:26 AM
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Great trip report, S.

Thanks for sharing.

ira is offline  
May 12th, 2006, 05:13 AM
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Very nice trip report so far- I love the way you write.
edhodge is offline  
May 12th, 2006, 09:05 AM
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April 13 - Day 3
Good Friday, or Passover, 3rd Day

(We are celebrating all spring holidays this trip, but think that the substitution of pasta for matzoh will have to be forgiven. Really, we're in Italy!)

Today we will be picking up the rental car and driving to Liguria for our weekend on the Italian coast. Rachel has classes until noon so her father and I choose to sleep in, (concept: vacation is part of the trip)and have a leisurely breakfast in the glass walled breakfast room overlooking the gardens of the Palazzo Ravissa).

sidenote: see above for professed love of breakfast rooms in Italy - I may have to write a book - next trip I'm doing a photo essay.

After breakfast we take a taxi to the car rental office - no problem with getting the car but it takes a very long time because we have been assigned the new trainee - she speaks no English.
At last we get the keys to a brand new European hatchback cum station wagon; we are going a little bigger this time since we have Rachel and will have her friend Natalie as well by the end of the trip (we are also bringing Rachel's luggage back home with us - concept: the parent as sherpa).

sidenote to maitaitom: mechanic looks at us across the top of said car and clearly says the magic word: DIESEL. we were going to check, but there is no doubt now.

David gets in (he always drives, fine with me in other coountries, really, gets directions back to hotel and we're off. We immediately go 20 km south in the wrong direction, decide to call it our morning drive in the country. By the end of the following week, David is negotiating in and out the Siena gates with great expertise, but this is not then.

We do make it back to the Palazzo Ravissa before check-out time, David gets the car to the parking garage and we use their internet, and read in the garden until Rachel joins us.

I have decided to let the daughter be her father's navigator on this trip - after all, they haven't seem much of each other and besides, David is still unfavorably comparing my navigation skills to that of our last summer's companion, Dean F. I know he's hoping Dean and wife Lisa will rejoin us on our next Italian adventure.

This time we get on the road to Siena and have our favorite family conversation: where to stop for lunch. We decide that Lucca, a town Rachel has wanted to see, is sort of on the way and will have decent lunch options. We get there in a reasonable hour or so and actually find a parking place. We have no map of Lucca, but my family assures me that they can find the car. I am wishing for bread crumbs at this point.

We really don't "see" Lucca in any depth but we do have a nice stroll around, and duck down a side street and find lunch. It's more of a bar than a trattoria and David is denied pasta, but we eat reasonably well with antipasto and pizzas. We have never had a bad meal in Italy - the new family mantra.

Even without bread crumbs, they do find the car and we set off for Lerici, our base for the weekend. David and I have driven this way in 2000 and so things look somewhat familiar - the navigator daughter gets us on the ride road off the highway and there ahead of us is simply the most beautiful coastline I have seen. We are from California, and have seen coastline from San Diego to Vancouver - this part of Italy is stunning.

To no surprise, the directions to the Hotel Doria Park are useless since we just don't see street names anywhere. We know the hotel is at the top, we find ourselves at the bottom by the marina (hey, there's the ferry we need for tomorrow morning), and we look up and see the hotel. It's there and we drive up and around several times - just can't seem to get to it. Eventually, there is a road that heads to their parking lot and we are there.

I had forgotten that there would be 70 steps from the parking lot to the lobby; Rachel gets to be the sherpa this
time and we get our keys. We have a triple room with a large window that opens to views of both marina and hills. The room is not large, but adequate and there is an oddly shaped bathroom with lots of space and a very large jacuzzi tub - no standing shower - but we've done this before.

There is a pathway leading down (yes, and it means it goes up coming back) to the harbor; we are just in time for the sunset, which is a beautiful shade of pink, through clouds. David is taking pictures and Rachel and I are sitting on the rocks. She decides she is going to live here some day.

The sun sets and we go look for dinner. I have the name of a restaurant from my travel notes. We actually find it upa street off the piazza, but it's tiny and they are full - we make a reservation for tomorrow night. Rachel remembers seeing someplace on the path leading down from the hotel and we go off to look for it.

Our Adventure in Dining, Part 1

The small room on the path is called Il Pescatore; we think, great, fish on the water in Italy. We go in and while they are almost full, the very nice lady gives us the last 3 seats at a table for 2 (later we watch everyone after us being turned away and we know we wre lucky). Immediately she brings bread and a large green carafe of the local white wine. Heaven. We're waiting for a menu when the food starts arriving.

There is no menu; Rachel looks at her dad and says, slightly worried, she hopes it's ok with him. I know what she's thinking because a) David likes to be able to choose and b) she's now thinking this could be a fortune. California girls know the price of seafood. We tell her not to worry, it's going to be an adventure.

The couple next to us is one course ahead, so I sneak a peek at their table. I have mentioned the food started coming - we have 4-6 dishes of fish based appetizers in front of us. I remember that there was one with warm cod and potatoes, one with calamari salad, one with shrimp - we're ok, except for the sardines, but it's one small dish.

The appetizers are followed by a large platter of a delicious seafood risotto, more than 3 people can eat and that is followed by 2 large platters of fish, one is grilled shrimp and white fish, the other a plate of mixed fried fishies.

We have finished the carafe and ask for another (remember we are still clueless to the cost, but hey, it's vacation). David watches the lovely lady fill it from a large barrel. By now the couple next to us is finished and David notices how much money they have left (Isaid it was a small room), tells Rachel not to worry.

After the fish, we are served a slushy, lemony dessert, and then out comes the limoncello AND the espresso. The bill for all this? 35 euros per person - we are actually stunned and gladly pay.

Now we're walking uphill to the hotel, and to our surprise, we walk too far - who knows where we would have ended up - thank you, nice couple walking the dog.
While it is not horribly late, it has been a very long day and we literally fall into bed.

Tomorrow - we visit the Cinque Terre

socaltraveler is offline  
May 12th, 2006, 10:55 AM
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I can't wait for more!
michellen is offline  
May 12th, 2006, 11:03 AM
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It's spring and I have a bad case of travel-lust!

This is so enjoyable, expecially since you are with your daughter. Thanks for sharing.
LCBoniti is offline  
May 12th, 2006, 11:23 AM
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My jet lag turned quickly into travel lust as well, especially since the daughter is still traveling. Since we left her asleep in Rome one fine morning, she has been to Greece and Egypt; we believe she is in Spain as of today.
socaltraveler is offline  
May 12th, 2006, 11:26 AM
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Enjoying the report...well done and informative...from a fellow Southern California (as spoiled as we are, we still manage to gawk and enjoy great ocean front scenes inother parts of the world!)
Stu T.
tower is offline  
May 12th, 2006, 11:34 AM
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I got cold chills reading the word "Diesel" while Tracy gave me the look when you mentioned the word "Sherpa." Glad you had a great time. Looking forward to more of your adventures.

maitaitom is offline  
May 12th, 2006, 11:40 AM
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My colleague here at work in catholicschoolland had a similar experience to yours while in Tuscany last month. They were rolling merrily along the highway from Pisa to Siena with their 2 grown children when the car started to shake. The kids convinced Dad to pull off the highway,luckily at a service area, whereby they discovered the car was, yes,indeed, a diesel. They had filled it with the other in Pisa - why it didn't just die, I don't know, but after adding diesel, they had no further problems. If I were only of a mechanical nature . . ., but there ya go.
socaltraveler is offline  
May 15th, 2006, 12:03 PM
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Day 4 - The Cinque Terre

We awake in Lerici ready for the adventure. Of course we throw open the window for the views; it's a bit grey out there and we hope the skies don't open on our "outdoor" day.

Breakfast at the Hotel Doria Park is all that the reviews and web pages said it would be. I remember reading that they had been voted "Best Breakfast in Italy" and we find out why. From the stylishly long room along a verandah with views of the harbor, to the bountiful buffet of hot and cold dishes, and exquisite pastries, I'm in heaven. On our last morning I will even have David take a picture of the machine that fresh-squeezes the blood oranges.

Back to the day. We walk down to the harbor and get on the first ferry, happy that the seas are not too choppy for the ferry to run. The ferry from Lerici first heads across the Golfo de Poeto to Portovenere, a very charming sea town. We take on more passengers and then head north, around the point, and there we see the Cinque Terre. We are all glad that we have taken the ferry because the view of these villages from the water is something spectacular.

We are not exactly sure just how many villages we will see in one day and know that we have the option of returning the next day. We decide to start at the first village Riomaggiore and take the fairly easy, and flat, Lover's Walk to Manarola. The weather is still fine and it being Easter weekend, there are a fair number of people on the trail; we notice, tho, that most of them seem to be Italian families on vacation.

From Manarola, we take the walk/hike to the next village, Corniglia. The views from above are stunning, the hike takes us the 1 1/2 hours our notes say it will. The 50+ members of our trio are relieved. Corniglia is the one the village that the ferry does not stop at, it being way on top of the hills. We know we will either be hiking back down, continuing on to the next village estimated to close to 2 hours away, or perhaps taking a train.

I must mention that we are most amazed by the vineyards that seem to be growing vertically along the cliffs. And also at the houses that are dotting the hillsides, perched out of nowhere. It was totally amazing.

At the top of Corniglia (where I am prepared to have Rachel certify to a few friends at home that I really did climb up there), we decide to have lunch and then decide the rest of the afternoon. We find a small and lovely cafe slightly outside the very small center of the village. There is a patio with a view down to the water and we happily take a table.

We have a bottle of the local white wine and follow that with insalatas and pastas. David has a local pesto while Rachel and I decided to have linguine with clams - we are on the sea. Again we marvel at the incredible tomatoes.

The weather is not improving and we decide to not hike any farther this day. The parents have knees to think of and I promise Rachel that she'll return to do it all some day. We decide to walk down to the Corniglia train station, and take it back to Manarola and the ferry.

A funny thing happens at the Manarola train station. we hear the daugher shrieking and look around to see Rachel embracing two friends, friends from home in California. Shawna is studying in Cordoba and Vicki in Rome; they are traveling the Cinque Terre together. Small world, indeed, but they are just starting out and we have been on the trail for hours. We take a picture of the 3 girls together and then we go find the ferry. Lucky us, it's leaving and we literally hop on; I'm thinking one small misstep and I'm part of the sea.

The ferry is leaving, but someone has made a small mistake and it's not the one heading back to Portovenere and then Lerici; no, this ferry is continuing north, around the base of Corniglia and continuing on to Vernazza and Monterosso. Well, now, so are we and I'm thinking that we will be seeing all the villages today after all. We're still sitting on top of the ferry but the wind has picked up and it's really getting cold up there.

The ferry arrives at Vernazza, but we decide to admire it from the boat. And then onto Monterosso, where all the passengers are asked to leave. We figure out that we have maybe 20 minutes and wander the main square for just a bit; we want to board the ferry as soon as possible. It has gotten colder and the idea of sitting on top is just not as fun as it was early in the morning.

To say the ride back was a bit rocky is understating the situation. We go up, we go down - luckily we are inside. This is the last ferry of the afternoon and it gets more and more crowded at each village stop. Still, it is a beautiful view from the sea. Finally we arrive at Riomaggiore, load on the last of the Cinque Terre tourists and head south to Portovenere. When we cross back to Lerici, we see some light rain drops and are very glad we are on our way home. There are many ways to "do" the Cinque Terre; we have just done one of them.

The evening is young and after some hotel R&R we head off to our reservation at Bonta Nacosta. The specialies are pizza and farinata, alocal speciality, but no one is game enough for an adventure this evening. There's more pasta for David and a calzone for Rachel; I have a pizza di mare. Rachel's calzone comes in the shape of a fish; my pizza has clams in the shell on top. That has to be a first. And of course there is wine; we toast to a lovely day on the Cinque Terre, and to returning here someday.

Day 5 - Easter Sunday, and our long drive to nowhere.
socaltraveler is offline  
May 15th, 2006, 12:21 PM
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I'll toast to returning to Cinque Terre one day!
michellen is offline  
May 15th, 2006, 12:31 PM
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Your trip report is wonderful...its bringing back such fond memories of the CT. I once ordered pizza with Shrimp in Southern France and they still had the shells...little eyes staring back at me...antenae and all. I thought that was the oddest thing I had seen. I can understand your surprise when you got your clam pizza. I can't wait to hear more about your trip.
CRAZY4TRAVEL is offline  
May 15th, 2006, 01:32 PM
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The clam shells were equal to the anchovies; I really need to ask about them next time. Actually, my daughter's comment on the shells was that since all the pizzas could be ordered as a calzone, she wondered if I had ordered mine that way, would the shells had been poking through the dough? That was a laugh, just visualizing that plate!
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