Tuesday, September 20, 2011

T & R: In Pisa and onwards to Florence. Day 5 out of 2 weeks in Italy.

Day 5 : Pisa and later Florence.
Before leaving for Florence from Cinque Terre, might I add that I had a fantastic time staying at L’Antica Terazza B&B that is located in Monterosso.
The hosts were very accommodating thus if you ever visit Monterosso, make this place your accommodation.
From Monterosso to go to Florence by train, do make a stopover in PISA (there is no need to pre-book even in summer). The reason we stop is because you have to stop anyway in order to go to Florence thus PISA is a good place to do your change of trains plus you don’t want to say that you go to Italy without seeing the leaning tower of PISA right?
Don’t forget to stow your luggage, because there is one in the train station itself and plus you don’t want to lull in across the roads all the way to the leaning tower ….. how unglamorous is that?
From here, it is simply a half an hour walk to the famous leaning tower.
Once you pass the bridge (you will see small statues as depicted above when you find the bridge), it won’t be long till you see the famous leaning tower.
Pisa’s famous Leaning Tower is simply the bell tower for the adjacent cathedral – cathedrals all over Italy have bell towers, and many of them are also leaning for one reason or another. This is one little fact the folks in Pisa would rather you don’t know, but it’s true. Of course, if you try to convince your friends that you’ve seen plenty of leaning towers in Italy, if you haven’t seen the one in Pisa they’re not going to be all that impressed. Besides, you’ve seen everyone else’s pictures of themselves “propping up” the Leaning Tower, why not have one of your own?
Construction on the Tower of Pisa, called “La Torre di Pisa” in Italian, began in 1173 and went on more or less for about two hundred years. The ground beneath the tower was soft, and so even before the building was near completion it had already started to tilt. It was noticeable enough that the builders even tried to compensate for it by angling the new construction differently than the old construction – if you look at the tower from the appropriate direction you’ll see it’s not perfectly straight on one angle. The Leaning Tower has been closed to visitors at various times as engineers worked to shore up the base, fearful it would eventually topple completely. If a visit to Pisa won’t be complete for you without climbing the tower, check in advance to make sure it’ll be open when you go.
PLEASE BOOK YOUR TICKETS IF YOU INTEND TO CLIMB THE TOWER else if you reach the tower during Peak seasons i.e summer, the tickets to climb the tower for the day could have sold out!
Climbing the tower of PISA is a lifetime experience (it felt that way the first time however if you intend on coming to PISA ever again then that statement will become invalid) thus I of course have a prebooked ticket (which you need to go to the counter to exchange for a real ticket) and was 15 minutes early at the entrance. (If you are late, I believe you will have forfeited your turn so don’t be late!) Also make sure you have deposited your bags at the area in which you collected your bags else you will not be allow entry into the tower. Only cameras are allowed.
There will portions of the tower which you can stop to admire the view before heading straight to the top.
And before long, you will have reached the top of the tower which lies the flag.
Do soak in the atmosphere and the view of being on the top of one of the world’s iconic monument. (I have done the Eiffel so this is another nostalgic moments)
Once you have had your fun (plus buying whatever souvenirs you need to albeit very expensive!) it is time to head back to the train station.
Don’t forget to buy your tickets from the machine and have it validated before boarding (its the yellow machine!) and off you go …… to the town of the renaissance aka FLORENCE.
You can find cheap accommodation around the Florence’s Duomo itself so try to book yours roughly at most 200m from the Duomo so it will be easier for you to gravitate to. (in case you get lost!)
Cinque Terre to Pisa (approx 2 hours)
Spending time in Pisa (approx 2 to 3 hours)
Pisa to Florence (approx 2 to 3 hours)
Next stop : In the city of renaissance itself, Florence has lots to offer!!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Travel and Review: Cinque Terre (Day 3 to 5 of 2 Weeks in Italy)

Day 3 and 4 : Hiking along Cinque Terre.
From Milan, after 3 to 4 hours of train ride, you will reach the coastal town of Cinque Terre.
The Cinque Terre, while most often described as one place, are actually five villages on the coast of Liguria that are connected by hiking trails, a slow-moving train, and a ridiculously windy road. The villages are, starting from the northernmost one, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Monterosso is about 1.5 hours from Genoa by train, and the closest city of any size to the Cinque Terre is La Spezia, just south of Riomaggiore, at about 15 minutes by train.
Thankfully, the Cinque Terre is just remote enough that most people don’t plan on visiting as a day-trip – but some people assume that since it’s a relatively small area they can do it with only one overnight. It’s technically possible to do this, but you miss out on a bit of the quieter elements of these delightful villages if you try to cram too much into 24 hours. By just adding one more night in the Cinque Terre to your itinerary, you get a glimpse of what makes this place so special.
Since my home based was in Monterosso, I actually hiked from one town to the next till I reach Riomaggiore and from there I took the train back to Monterosso. You need to purchase a ticket to hike along the trails but don’t worry, if you start from Monterosso, along the way you will see a hut that will enable you to purchase that ticket (which can also consist of a train+hike which was the one I purchased).
I know you’re on vacation, and I am the most anti-morning person on earth, but I do recommend getting up bright and early on your second day in the Cinque Terre to get on the trail. If you’re visiting in cooler weather, this isn’t as critical – but in warm weather the hike can get extremely hot and uncomfortable at mid-day and the early afternoon. Even if you’re only planning to hike between a couple of the towns, it’s still a good idea to get up early so you don’t get stuck on a cliffside with no shade for protection from the noon-day sun. Trust me – I speak from experience.
Whether you’re a hard-core hiker who wants to just keep going once you’ve started or more of a slow-paced walker, I do think it’s well worth it to stop in each town along the hike and poke around to see what’s different about that one. The towns are similar, to be sure, but each one has a unique feel. I like to get something to eat – even if it’s small – in each town, and scope out which one I might want to stay in next time I visit. I also keep my eye out for people selling things along the trail – like homemade olive oil. I have a very soft spot for buying things like that from the people who made them.
Along my hike from Monterosso, you can actually see the next top while you are on the hiking trail. The above picture shows the town of Vernazaa and although it may look near, that town will probably take you another hour or so before you reach. But the view you get is so beautiful , it is worth all that effort.
Have a good rest in Vernazza and enjoy the view it has to offer.
Above: A coastal view from the town of Vernazza.
Once you have your rest, head on to the town of Corniglia. During my hike, the easy trail was closed due to some avalanche or soil erosion of sort so I took the train from Vernazza to Corniglia. However, do note since if you are coming via a train to Corniglia you will have to climb lots of steps to reach the top.
Once you reach the top you will be pleased to know that you will be given a sort of certificate.
From here you can walk into Corniglia rather easily to reach its peak.
From here, another short hike will lead you to Manarola, another town with its own unique features.

From Manarola, the hiking is no longer on mud path but basically all concrete based thus it is way way easier and definitely something I was hoping after the tough hikes thus far.
Along the way, the view is still as majestic as ever. You will pass through tunnels after tunnels but every time you decide to stop, the view is there to soothe your tiredness away.
And before you realized it, you will have reach the last town of Cinque Terre known as Riomaggiore.
Starting the hike early means that even if you’re hiking all four trails connecting the five towns in one day you should be done by around lunchtime. So even if you’ve stopped in each town for a bite to eat, reward yourself post-hike with a feast in another of the Cinque Terre’s many restaurants. Then indulge in an early afternoon glass of Sciacchetrà, the local sweet wine (with a biscotto cookie for dipping), before heading back to your room to get cleaned up.
This leaves you with the rest of the afternoon and evening to relax. Head back to the beach, find a sunny rock from which to read or write or just stare at the sea, explore the towns a bit more fully (using the slow train to get from one to another, thanks to that train-plus-hiking pass you bought), pick up a few souvenirs, or take a nap. Then it’s time for another dinner, more scraps for the cats, and a good night’s rest. You’ll head out the next morning, back to the train station and on to your next stop on your tour of Italy.
Next : Day 5 – Onwards to PISA and Florence.