The Retirees go Abroad – Cinque Terre

We had heard it reported that Cinque Terre was the place to go in Tuscany. So we did.

It all started with leaving our flat and taking the car to La Spezia where we parked under the train station. We then caught the train to Riomaggiore along with thousands of other tourists. Our arrival at Riomaggiore coincided with at least half of those tourists on the train – the others were going to the beach judging by the towels and sun screen.

The village is sitting on the edge of a rocky outcrop and each house seems to be either clinging on or dug in. Enquiries with the information office gave us two options – take the tunnel to the main square and the harbour or do a tour of the village by walking around the hill and down into the main square. When we stated that the stroll through the village sounded nice the assistant at the information office came to life and produced maps and information about “her village”.

Outside the day was starting to warm up. The sky was clear and there was very little breeze. A very tired mural on the wall outside of the office told the story of the hard work and life endured by the locals and set the scene for the village we were about to explore.

The walk started with a steep climb past some “high rise” and then higher up there were detached houses with gardens growing fruit and vegetables in all possible spots. We were about half way to the top and the sea came into view. The sea was a deep blue and dotted with ferries, and the vision affirmed our decision to travel to the next village by ferry. We could see the ocean path leading to Manarola (the next village) and we could also see the rock slides that had closed the path thank goodness. It meant our decision was between the ferry and the train. It was too hot to walk across the top of the hill.

We climbed further into the village following the stony paths that passed for roads and encountered picturesque views of the village and its houses with “altanas” – (Italian roof top patios) and its community church. After the church the main street ran from the top of the village down to its square. Busy with tourists, we quickly moved through to catch the ferry. From the harbour I was able to photograph some of the more beautiful sights in Riomaggiore. We lined up along with a few others (busloads of them) and caught the ferry for a five minute cruise to Manarola and a meeting with our own Italian Roberto the bus driver from Bribie.

The landing at Manorola was a little more harrowing than Riomaggiore due to the narrowness of the access but the village was just as enchanting as Riomaggiore. Roberto was waiting breathlessly with his travelling companion to greet us and to whisk us away from the tourist highlights of the village to a more traditional (or so he said) part of the village and his chosen restaurant for lunch- Nessun Dorma. I must say we did have what appeared to best the best vantage spot to view the village and the restaurant was quaint with its vegetable gardens growing throughout the restaurant.

After lunch he showed us the toughest way back to the village, but in the course of doing so I met this lovely iron maiden who insisted on wearing her birthday suit to the beach and a quaint place of rest overlooking the sea. In the shade of the umbrellas and with the sea breezes kissing our cheeks we had not realised how hot the day had become until arriving in the village main street. Enclosed by houses and protected against any breeze it was stifling. So we bid our farewells to our Italian Stallion and caught the train to Monterosso al Mare.

The northern most village of the five towns making up the Cinque Terre, Monterosso al Mare has beaches rather than rock walls. But the beaches are all segregated into little kingdoms of umbrellas and deck chairs. For a fee you get your own piece of the beach for the day with access to showers toilets and change rooms. We had a choice – walk to the old city and see the town or get our own piece of beach and go for a swim. The sun made up our minds – swim it is.

For 11€ we got two sun beds and an umbrella. For the four of us that was fine and relatively in expensive. A change into our swimmers and a dash across the sand we were pulled up short when entering the water. The sun decided to hide behind a cloud and the water was bloody freezing. I was delayed about a nano second before diving in “to exercise my injured tendon”. It took Kerry a bit longer but she got in pretty quickly for Kerry standards. So refreshing! There are no waves and no current and the beach drops away fairly quickly so that floating around in the water was the way to go as every time you dropped your legs into the deeper water a cold current “freshened” you up again. We spent the rest of the afternoon refreshing and forgot about the village and the other two villages – next time maybe.

Around 5.00pm we headed for the train and home. The crowds got the same idea. Even so we managed to get to the carpark and home by 7.00pm for dinner and a few hands of cards.

The Retirees go Abroad – Florence

The hot weather has continued. Even as we awake we can tell it will be another stinking hot day, but we have booked our tickets and we are going to Florence – home of David. Not David Colch; the real statue of  David by Michelangelo. We arrive at the station and the train turns up if not on time a little ahead of time. So un-Italian!

Arriving in Florence our plan of action was to catch the hop on hop off bus and determine what sights we wanted to see. We knew that the bus station was “just outside” the railway station but the railway station was large and very busy. In addition there were a number of entrances. We made our way to the front and watched as one of the Hop on buses sailed passed the station. Kerry skilfully tracked it down and we managed to catch a Blue Line bus – you have a choice of blue, red or yellow each with a different route.

Our tour took us past the river and up onto a hill overlooking the city where we got fabulous views of the Duomo, the Palace and a look alike statue of David above the Acadamie where the original stands (and you can view for a small fee around €30). We thought we would see what else was on offer.

The next point of interest was the Ponte Vecchio – a bridge similar to the Rialto Bridge in Venice – covered with shops. However this one had an additional feature. It provided a secret path between the Palazzo Pitti and Palazzo Vecchio for the lords to pass without the commoners knowing. The bridge is covered with jewellery shops and tourists. We walked across rather quickly trying to keep to the shade and on to Palazzo Pitti. I found this to be a large colourless building and as it was too hot lunch beckoned.

So we found a restaurant. Walking back to the Ponte we encountered Hotel Scarletta. They offered a two course plate for 15€ and we decided to splurge. The sign directed us into a passage and then into a chamber where the sign told us the restaurant and reception were on the third floor. A decrepit old elevator edged its way down and on opening the following notice appeared – “two people only and no unaccompanied baggage”. The girls got in and Veronica was concerned that she would lose her breasts as the cabin was so small. David and I walked the 96 steps to the reception.

The restaurant was located on an “altana” above reception and had fabulous views including the Observatory where Galileo’s astronomical instruments are kept, Palazzio Pitti and the houses that surround it. But most impressive were the fans with the misters. This cooled the atmosphere noticeably and the waitress who had been rather terse. After lunch, which was very tasty and a lot more expensive than the 15 euros we had planned to spend, we ventured to the “altana above the restaurant and got a view of the whole city – Palazzo Vecchio and the dome of Duomo.

Finished with lunch we visited Palazzo Vecchio and the statutes that adorn the Palazzo.

Next was the Duomo.

We made our way back to the Hop on bus stop outside the station and caught a yellow line bus just as a large storm hit the city. The yellow line includes all of the blue line stops but then it goes off into the mountains to Fiesole, a small village often the summer home to Florentines over the centuries. It was then that my battery died so there is only the one photo from the hills.