Posts Tagged With: Cinque Terre

Exploring Liguria, Pisa and Sardinia…

Buongiorno a tutti,

I hope you’re all well. Following on from my post earlier in the week recounting Leg 1 of my Italian Tour, here’s what we did in Leg 2…

After a week or two at home following the Naples/Amalfi trip, I drove to Santa Margherita in Liguria (near the knee of Italy’s boot!) to meet up with the same friend I holidayed with for Leg 1.

Santa Margherita is a lovely town on the Ligurian coastline. Despite having two nights in an apartment not far from the center we didn’t spend too much time there. Our first evening, we went out for an aperitivo and dinner followed by a refreshing night swim. This kind of behaviour is frowned upon by almost all Italians because a) they believe you will die if you swim after eating and b) it was night and so therefore ‘cold’ (it wasn’t really) and consequently you will get some terrible illness as a result. I’m pleased to say though that it was fabulous and neither of us died or contracted a terrible illness.

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Just after swimming!

The next day we had an unexpected stop in Sestri Levante as our train was delayed on the way to the Cinque Terre. It’s a nice little town with a cute shopping street but the thing that sticks out for me most in that town were the trompe l’oeil effect paintwork on almost all of the buildings. It was so realistic that in order to work out whether the shutters were real or painted or the walls were bricks or flat concrete, you had to change your angle or get up close enough to touch it. Of the pictures below, only the windows and shutters are real. I was very impressed and would love to give it a go when my house eventually gets rebuilt!

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The thing we really wanted to explore was the Cinque Terre. I’d been there once before a few years ago (read about it here). Cinque Terre literally means “five lands” which refer to the five colourful little towns dotted along the lush green coastline. There are several ways to explore it. They’re not easily reached by car so the best ways are by train, walking or boat.

The trains run reasonably often between all the towns and are cheap. There’s a walking route which joins all the towns but unfortunately due to a landslide a few years back there’s a couple of sections that now you can’t walk. They are planning to repair them though and rumour has it that it will be ready for 2020.

We were limited on time and we both love the sea so we decided to go on a boat trip. We were slightly disappointed by the masses of people on the trip we did in Amalfi so this time we decided on a smaller boat tour from one of the towns, Riomaggiore, by a company called Cinqueterre dal Mare.  We were glad we did. The beauty of the smaller boat tour was that with only 6 of us in total it was a lot more personal,  we stopped off and went for a swim a couple of times, used their phone chargers and put our drinks in their fridge. It was a great way to see the towns too. We stopped off in Vernazza for an ice-cream and finished the tour in Manarola followed by an amazing aperitivo overlooking the town in a lovely bar/restaurant called Nessun Dorma. We could have stayed there all evening but there was quite the queue to get in!

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Riomaggiore

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Taken from Manarola’s harbour

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I thoroughly recommend stopping for something to eat and drink here at Nessun Dorma because then you can relax and look out over…

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This at Manarola.

The following day we drove to Portofino just 20 minutes up the coast from Santa Margherita.

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It has to be the nicest stretch of coastline I’ve ever seen and is home to some of the nicest boats I’ve ever seen too. The road snakes around numerous bays and the water is so clear you can almost see the fish swimming by as you’re driving. We wanted to stop off at the public beach / bay in Paraggi but there was unfortunately no parking and we were limited on time. On reflection we should have walked to it in the early morning from Santa Margherita or taken the bus. It looked absolutely idyllic (not the private beach mind, which was filled to the brim with sunbeds and umbrellas).

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Look at this water! It was at least 2 meters deep here.

From there we headed to Pisa to catch a flight to Cagliari in Sardinia. We got there in plenty of time for the flight so as a good tourist, I made sure to prop up the tower.  Pisa is tiny! I imagined it was a big city like Florence or Siena but it’s not like that at all.

 

We got to Cagliari in the evening and headed to our apartment at Poetto beach, a very long stretch of wide sandy beach dotted with beach bars and restaurants.

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It was a bit stormy on the first day when I took this picture.

I didn’t warm to Cagliari as a city, though admittedly we only had one evening wandering around the streets and old town. The locals are very proud of their city so I can’t help but think I was missing something!

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I did discover a great new pasta dish though which is impossible to pronounce, Culurgiones. In my attempts to pronounce it, I come out with ‘coglioni’ which means testicles. Not wanting to order testicles (I’m vegetarian!), I usually settled for doing the typical tourist thing of pointing to the item on the menu. They’re like ravioli but filled with cheesy potato goodness.

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Food photography is not something that interests me so apologies for the blur, I was more interested in eating it than taking pictures of it. One of the great mysteries of Italy: If you order tagliatelle, they give you such a large portion you can barely finish yet if you order ravioli you need to have another 3 courses just to take the edge off your hunger after.

The other thing to try is a ‘dolce’ called Seadas (pronounced say-ah-das). It’s a fried pastry filled with cheese and then covered in honey.

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Filled cheesy pastry. This one was a bit dry, you need to have it with lots of honey!

To continue with our boat theme, the following day we had a trip around the coastline on a sailing yacht. There’s something special about sailing and it was nice to finish our trip on a high like that. We sailed to a bay an hour or two down the coast and then dropped anchor for lunch, a swim (or 5) and a sunbathe on the boat.  All in all it was a great experience but by then I was spoilt by the Ligurian coastline and in my opinion the Sardinian coastline (around Cagliari at least) is dry and characterless in comparison!  If we were staying for longer, we’d have hired a car and perhaps explored the Emerald Coast which is supposed to be more impressive.

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I did like a couple of pictures of the coastline but I’m having problems uploading them. Here’s a picture of a jellyfish and one of his team of fish that we captured and photographed instead! Strangely beautiful I think!

That about sums up Leg 2 of our trip. If you’ve been to any of the places I’ve mentioned and/or got any thoughts about them I’d be interested to hear!

In other news, on the weekend of the 13th/14th October, I’ll be selling my artwork at the Sapore D’Autunno (Taste of Autumn) festa in Montefalcone if anyone is local and fancies popping by!

A presto,

x

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Pub Club on Tour, Milan, Cinque Terre and Home!

Ciao!!!

Well it feels like a year since the last blog update but it’s only been a couple of weeks or so. I hope you’ve all been well. 

Dedications: This blog post is dedicated to Pub Club. I had a truly great weekend with them last week. I’ve never laughed so much. They were disappointed / rude about not getting a shout out in the blog last time so: many thanks to Sweet Cheeks, Hot Buns, Wet Pants and Cupcake for coming all the way to see me, several hundred miles from where I actually live 😉  

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From left to right: Wet Pants, Cupcake, Hot Buns, Sweet Cheeks…

So the weekend went like:

Trains: There were a lot of trains. Pub Club, in their hatred of Ryanair, decided to take the Eurostar from London to Paris and then Paris to Milan. All in all over the course of the long weekend, they spent 15+ hours on trains. My journey was relatively quick in comparison: 3 and a half hours from Ancona to Milan. Pub Club, knowing me as the font of all knowledge, asked if train tickets bought ages before a journey were cheaper than tickets bought on the same day. I checked the train website and confirmed it was the same price regardless. Pub Club ignored me and bought their tickets beforehand anyway. Imagine! Un-trusting bunch. I was hurt that they didn’t believe me. And even more hurt that when I bought my ticket on the same day, I had to pay 20 Euros extra <sigh>.

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Milan Train Station – the whole station was very nice actually, inside and out. Very impressive.

Milan Part 1 (Thursday): We stayed in the Navigli region of Milan. When I tell Italian’s this they say “aw, nice” (well, not really, they say “che bello!”) but, making our way through the graffiti-ridden, desolate backstreets to the industrial unit where our apartment was, I had to keep reassuring myself that the area was just cool and “edgy” rather than dangerous. 

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Downstairs in the Milan apartment which was very nice…

Cinque Terre (Friday and Saturday morning): We headed out to Cinque Terre the next day. Cinque Terre consists of 5 coastal towns and is absolutely stunning. After waking up at 6am for a 3 hour train journey from Milan to Monterosso (the most northerly of the coastal towns), we got a connecting train to Riomaggiore (the most Southerly town) where we were staying, and then headed straight back out to Monterosso to make our way back to our apartment in a relaxed and leisurely fashion. There is a walk between all of the coastal towns (6 hours), or you can take the train (6 minutes).

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Monterosso – the most notherly of the 5 towns…

We had intended to take the train. Hot Buns had other ideas and embarked on an evil scheme to kill us off, luring us into following him with “let’s just take a 10 minute wander to the next town, I think there’s a pub up here”. Thirty minutes later, there was no sign of a pub, only a stream of exhausted looking people coming the other way wearing full hiking gear, laden with water and open mouthed at our audacity to conduct the same hike wearing flipflops, beach wear and with no water. We were at a loss: return the way we came or plod on desperate and exhausted in the hope of salvation? We plodded on (past a sign indicating there was another 1.5hrs to go). Finally, two hours into starting our “10 minute wander to the next town via pubs”, we made it to Vernazza. We learnt a couple of important lessons that day: 1) Be prepared and 2) never listen to anything HB says. HB learnt that evil deeds do not go unpunished.

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Looking back towards Monterosso. At this point we were hydrated, with un-blistered feet and blissfully unaware of the impending trek…

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Vernazza –  at this point, we weren’t sure whether it was a mirage or not.

Having said all that – the walk was spectacular and I highly recommend doing it. I’ll be going back there and doing the full walk and investigating the towns properly at some point. It’s very touristy though – it was almost like being back in London with the amount of English speaking people.  If you go, watch out for your bag – there are pickpockets.

Milan Part 2 (Saturday afternoon and Sunday): The next day we headed back to Milan to the same apartment we were in on the first night. The trains for that stretch all seem to consist of 6 seater cabins which was cosy. Perhaps a little too cosy for the old lady sharing with us who had to endure hours of an insightful and thought-provoking game of “would you rather…” and “if you had to choose between…” (for the uninitiated, an example being “would you rather have your fingernails pulled off or two of your teeth removed?” ). Anyway, I sincerely hope our fellow carriage passenger couldn’t understand English.

We decided on a cheap night on the Saturday and had pizza and nibbles at the apartment and then attempted to go out on the town. However, there are no taxi companies in Milan that: a) answer the phone or b) don’t hang up on you if they do actually answer so we didn’t make it to the town, only the balcony which was I think probably just as / more amusing.

Sunday was cultural – we headed to the Duomo (cathedral) and had a look inside and then made our way up to the roof (7 Euros each) which has some great views of the city.

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Il Duomo – from the roof

 

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Covered mall bit where all the fancy shops are – fabulous architecture…

Alas we didn’t get much time in the main city before heading back to the apartment to pick up luggage and make our way to the airports (me included – I’m writing this from the dank, drizzly and grey UK now!). Myself and Wetpants formed an economic splinter group and went with Ryanair whilst the others went with British Airways. Ryanair were such a pleasure to fly with as ever.  I lost my passport in the airport, I thought that was quite apt given my loss of the passport on the way out too. I wish I had been born in an age where my passport could be a microchip embedded in the back of my neck. Knowing me I’d probably still lose it.

I’m back in the UK now and it’s been busy! I’m sorry to the folks I’ve not had a chance to see – I’m back again at Christmas and hope to be able to see everyone I couldn’t get around to this time. I’ve got my nan’s car (bought I should add), much to her distress! It’s a Fiat – I’ve told her it’s going back “home” to its cultural heritage. She seemed to be mildly happier with that. Anyway, only one incredibly rude company will insure me to drive the car over here and in Italy. I didn’t want to go with the Rude Company. I wanted their business to fail and I wanted it to be because I didn’t go with them. But I need car insurance!!! So, I’ve had to swallow my pride and go with them. Grr.

This week will be one of sorting things out, seeing people and getting some practice driving the car. I need to plan the route back to Italy as well! Any tips welcome 🙂

Right, onwards and upwards – hope you’re all well.

xxx

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