Day 24 - Wed Apr 27 To Vernazza
(Chris) Up early, a cappuccino (I gotta say I don't mind the nudie girl pics hanging in the coffeeshop), a vaporetto (boat) to the train station, and we were away. The train from Venice to Milan was superb, fast, quiet, and had a snazzy dining car. This was our first train using the EuroRail pass, so being adults we were forced into first class. Darn.
Then from Milan to Vernazza, not so snazzy. Our train was inexplicably delayed by 45 min, and got very hot while it was sitting there, and then once in the vicinity of Vernazza we didn't quite get off at the right stop. Despite our best efforts, we often see the easiest way to do things after we've done them. Hoping it pays dividends throughout the rest of the trip!
Bushed and grumpy from our travels, finally at around 7pm we rolled into Vernazza, part of CinqueTerre, or the 5 seaside towns, on the Med just South of Genoa . Well not quite sure what to say other than it's just breathtaking here. Jen and I already feel that the only place to compare so far is Greece's Ia. It's just beautiful. Vernazza is a tiny little town with no cars that is only connected to society by the train. It has a population of about 500, and sits in a rocky little cove on the Med (technically the Ligurian Sea I suppose). There are steep terraced hillsides, blue water into the horizon, old 4 story buildings, and the remnants of a fortress. It's extremely peaceful and mesmerizing. Due to Jen's fine research we have an amazing room with a killer view of it all.
The other good news is Vernazza has no museums. Our only big agenda items here are to relax and do a little hiking. Oh we met our friends from Maine again, Catherine and her daughter Morgan. It's a small world, and it's even smaller if you have a Rick Steves book.
Dinner included some pesto pasta from the birthplace of it, and some knockout cheese-walnut ravioli. And in a small salute to Greece, some fries. We did a load of laundry for €5 and decided to skip the dryer and let it air dry in our room. Saved us €5 that way.
Day 25 - Thur Apr 28 Vernazza
(Jen) Relaxation was the name of the game today. We slept in until about 11 AM and didn't manage to get out of our room until just after noon. We were surprised to find the square outside of our room a buzz of activity with tour groups - probably a few hundred people in total. Given that it was a sleepy town when we arrived yesterday evening, we deduced that lots of folks must day trip here. I'm happy to report that the weather here is quite nice - sunny, clear skies, and about 75. I'm excited to give my long sleeve shirt a much needed break.
We had cappuccino and pastries at a little bakery Rick recommended and then headed out for a hike. The 5 towns of Cinque Terre (CHINK-weh TAY-reh) are connected to each other by an hourly train and a 7-mile hike. Our town, Vernazza, is second in the line of five starting from the North, so we took the train to the southern most town, Riomaggiore and hiked back to Vernazza - saving the last bit of the hike, Vernazza north to Monterosso for tomorrow. The first ½ of the hike was an easy stroll with amazing cliff and sea views. The last ½ was a bit of a workout which made me think that I'm in for a world of hurt come August when we go hiking with Kim & Shawn. I don't think all the walking is getting either of us in as good of shape as we were hoping for. It just makes our feet hurt!
After our hike we were hot and sweaty so we hit the shower and then joined Catherine & Morgan for dinner. On our way to finding a place we were stopped by a woman named Heidi who told us she worked for Rick Steves and was updating the Italy and Best of Europe books for 2006. She wanted to know what we thought of our hotel and where we were headed for dinner. Pretty sweet job I must say.
For dinner we experimented a bit and tried anchovies as an appetizer. They prepare them totally different than in the US. They were sautéed in lemon, herbs, and butter. They were good but not great. Catherine & Morgan liked them quite a lot though. We also ordered grilled fish which came to the table looking like the entire fish including head and tail. The waiter then expertly cut off the head and tail and de-boned the fish at our table. Pretty slick. We had so much fun hanging out with Catherine & Morgan that we shut the place down and were the last ones out.
I'm super happy with our room here at Albergo Barbara. For €80 our double room with private bath has a view to die for of the harbor. Our bed is the most comfortable we've had since leaving home (though it's super squeaky) and has a down comforter (woohoo!). The bathroom has a regulation shower with a shower head that is better than what we have at home. There are only two rooms here with a view quite like ours so we feel very lucky and spoiled.
Day 26 - Fri Apr 29 Vernazza
(Jen) We hiked from Monterosso to Vernazza - this hike was a bit more of a butt burner than yesterday. Lots of up and down but the views looking back at Vernazza were fantastic. Monterosso is the bigger of the 5 towns and more beach-resort like. It has the only substantial beach and a bit of a boardwalk.
After a light lunch in Monterosso we headed about 1 hour South to La Spezia, the nearest major train station to try and book our train to Barcelona. Trying to book this ticket has been a fiasco. It's an overnight train, so we have to reserve it in order to get a couchette (even though we have 3-month eurail passes). Amazingly, you can't use either the automated ticket machines in the train stations or the internet to make reservations - you can only do it via an agent at a "major" train station. This has been the only critical activity where the language barrier has really hampered us. We tried to book the Vernazza to Barcelona ticket in Venice, but the agent had us transferring trains three times and the duration was 19 hours. I balked and suggested we wait to book the ticket until we got to Vernazza with someone that hopefully spoke better English. Come to find out Vernazza doesn't have agents that can book a ticket to another country to now we have to go an hour out of our way to book the ticket in La Spezia. Unfortunately this idea didn't work out so great either; we are still transferring trains three times and now the duration is even longer, 21 hours. We are hopeful that we can shave 2 hours off that by catching a different train the last leg of our journey. Chris and I are pretty amazed at how hard the entire process is. Seems you should be able to just go on the internet, put in your "from" and "to" cities and print out your reservation. Sigh. If only we ran the world. ;-)
Another awesome shower and we were off to dinner again with Catherine & Morgan. We went back to the same restaurant we visited our first night (Trattoria da Sandro) since it was so yummy, and the host was pretty darned funny to boot. Chris and I both had the walnut Ravioli. Yum. Between the four of us we went through 3 baskets of bread and when the owner brought us the third one he said "finish", we're not sure what he meant but I think it may have been, "you darn Americans are not getting another serving of bread". Oops. Catherine had some sciacchetrá, an 18% alcohol dessert wine. I think Morgan was glad her mom only had one glass and didn't get silly.