I was perusing through some of our old pictures, and stumbled upon some photos of our trip to Italy in 1999. It was my hubby and I’s last trip before kids. We went with some friends of ours rather off the cuff. We had tried to plan a meandering trip through Italy without using a travel agent by selecting key cities that we wanted to go, and booking the trip ourselves. Due to the time difference, language barriers and trying to communicate via fax with different hotels, we did not have much luck securing reservations in advance of our departure.
We had managed to book a small apartment for our first destination in Venice, but for the remainder of the two weeks we were going to be there, we decided to roll the dice and rely on our trusty Rick Steve’s Back Door Italy Guide, our Budget Frommer’s Guide and the insight and experience of the locals to help us reserve lodging for the rest of our trip. It may have been a bit risky I guess, but believe it or not, it turned out more than fine. We were disciplined enough to get up and call our favorite choices to stay each morning and using our trusty translation guide and very broken Italian, we managed to roam our way from Venice through Verona, Genoa, The Cinque Terre, Florence, San Gimingano, Rome and to our final destination, Sorrento with relative ease combining train travel and a car rental to tour the wine country, travel to Rome and drive along the Amalfi Coast. I don’t think anyone could have done a better job finding more unique and memorable places to stay to lay our weary heads.
Believe it or not, we were able to score quite acceptable lodging at moderate prices which allowed us the flexibility to tweak our plans to suit the locations we favored. The only major disaster that befell us was not being able to score a room on our last night, and as a result, we had a miserable respite trying to catch some zzzzz’s sprawled out on the rigid airport chairs using our luggage as a makeshift extension of our “beds” Although there are many memorable moments we had during our trip, one of our favorite parts of our journey was when we visited the Cinque Terre.
The Cinque Terre is a grouping of five fishing villages situated cliffside the Ligurian Sea. http://wanderingitaly.com/a/cinque_terre_hiking_trails.htm. For the first week of our trip, we traveled via train to our destinations. We had just finished up a trip cut short to Genoa that we had decided to break up with a jaunt to the coastal towns of the Cinque Terre. These five towns are linked together via a train service. There were three choices to navigate through these five towns: by boat, by train and by a hiking trail woven through the cliffs. We landed a small apartment in Riomaggiore. It was a quaint, bustling little town with a beautiful view of the sea with colorful buildings wedged upon each other against the cliffside.
We had decided that the best way to investigate the coast was by hiking the trail from town to town. Since we had arrived to our destination via rail, we chose to take a boat to the first town along the coast, Monterrosso al Mare, and work our way back to the last town, which was Riomaggiore. It was not a brief, nor simple walk by any means, but a day long adventure following a 6.8 mile trail of increasing difficulty–in retrospect, probably not the best strategy saving the most difficult terrain for the last, but hey, we were much younger then!
To start our trek, the boat pulled up to the town of Monterrosso al Mare. This town had a wonderful little beach for sunbathing and frolicking in the water. There were also a few restaurants and shops to serve the tourists ambling into their town. After exploring the village for a little while, and stocking up on some water, we set out a little bit before noon to test our mettle and get hiking along the shoreline.
It was an absolutely gorgeous day for a hike, and we were looking forward to getting some exercise while we were exploring these wonderful towns that were brimming with character and had obviously been there for years. Knowing that our adventure would not be an easy one, and would likely take a good bit of the day, we didn’t waste any time. We moved along at a decent pace, only stopping every now and then for a water break or to soak up some of the breathtaking scenery that we were passing through.
For the most part, we didn’t run into many people along the way, but we did cross paths with an awe inspring couple in their late 70s. We were blown away that this couple had it in them to take on this hiking trail when we, 30 years younger than they were, were working up quite the sweat and adding more and more stops as we progressed to catch our breath. We very much enjoyed our conversation with them, as they had so much spunk!
The gentleman showed us his incredible pictoral journal of their travels–he had decided to work on a series of sketches of all of the places that they traveled that they could pass along to their grandchildren…what an amazing gift! They were also very much in love. They gave us a lot to think about and gave us some inspiration of our own to remember and strive for as we make our way into our elder years.
We took the time to explore a little bit in each town, score some lunch, visit some shops and work on our pledge to find our favorite shop in Italy to take in gelato, their yumalicious Italian Ice Cream.
It was truly a memorable experience. Although modern in many ways, they also seemed frozen in time as well, with laundry flapping in the breeze and merchants going about their trade and daily lives. Many of the cliffs had planting beds cut into the steep hills, being that the landscape was so steep, we were amazed that they could farm at all.
There was row upon row of grapes that was undoubtedly crafted into some wonderful wine. Planted alongside the grapes, we also saw a smattering of lemon trees as well. How cool was that?
As our journey was winding down, we were definitely tuckering out, and had to keep hustling as the sun was making it’s way down as well. Between pee breaks (where we worked on our aiming skills as the restrooms often consisted of just a pit in the floor, not quite modern luxury), water breaks and foraging for food, I think our trip took somewhere around 7 hours. Not a bad way to spend the day. Bonus that we were even working off some of the incredible food that we were partaking in while we were away. As I’ve said many times, they could make a pile of dirt taste good in Italy.
We had finally reached our destination, brimming with dirt and sweat and had worked up quite an appetite. We were looking forward to dining in an open air restaurant a la fresco, that we had scoped out earlier in the day. We were reminded of the surprises you could get when booking rooms on the fly when we had no choice but to scrub off our sweaty, dirty selves with the ice cold water that awaited us in our room. Jolt inducing would be an understatement. Feeling clean and refreshed, we ended a fantastic day by with a fabulous meal and delicious glass of red to end. All things considered, I’d do it again in a heartbeat–cold shower and all.