Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sunday, September 29, 2019


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Normally I'd enjoy roaming the airport terminal by myself, checking the shops, finding a spot to settle down and reminisce every stop of the trip, in anticipation of arriving and picking up the car, showing off the photos, and driving home for a shower. This time, heart heavy, trying to enjoy the last of the trip, but simultaneously silently grieving and mourning. Alone in the room facing the tarmac filled with Air France planes. A moment of reflection. A silent prayer. Mommy! Dreading the moment to face the music and the duty, the contaminated car, the now lonely drive home and the lonely night. An empty feeling. The world's gone silent, has lost its colors in the first time and now the remaining light has gone out. Didnt expect this would happen. didnt think it would affect me so tremendously. But now I'm empty. Alone. Hurt and angry. There's no one there. Now I'm free.

Frederica drove us to the Peretola airport. Explore said they didnt arrange airport transfers and I had to ask the local tour guide or the hotel to arrange a taxi. I was pissed at them. Exodus did all my transfers. But Frederica said it was included. She got tickets for the shuttle or taxi or train for the rest and even drove those who planned to return via Pisa all the way to the Pisa airport. That's service you dont see anymore nowadays. I tipped her quite well. She was an excellent guide. Peretola was still quite empty when we got there at this early hour. Hung out with the canadian couple for a bit until they checked in to their flight to spain. Then I headed to the AF priority counter.

Business class proved again to be a good decision. I needed the privacy. finally got to see Dark Phoenix which I've enjoyed. the TV monitor was big enough and it pops out so the angled seat was perfect to view it. I actually like AF biz class better than Singapore airlines. The seat adjustments were electronic and it could be set to any position, totally flat or somewhere in between. since i detest lying down flat on a plane (it made me dizzy), I could adjust the position I liked and still have my feet up. The seat was positioned slightly towards the window, so there's more privacy and one could look out the window. However, there's only 1 small compartment to store personal belongings whereas Singapore had more nooks to stash things. But the service was nowhere near Singapore. There's no attention to details. they didnt call me by name and didnt come around to check on me every now and then, which was fine since I needed the quiet and the privacy. and when asked if I've wanted a meal, they just slapped a white cloth on the table (didnt look clean enough and certainly not pressed). the food of course wasnt asian but the lamb stew I've chosen was very good. the snack before the starter came in little boxes (are you kidding) but they were savory good. But the hot towel and pre flight drinks were offered. This was the trans atlantic flight. for the eu flight from Firenze, biz class was just having the middle seat vacant and a bottle of water (are you kidding) before the meal. Both flights were comfortable.

So which was my favorite cinque terre village? none was my favorite. I couldnt decide even if I like any of them. Perhaps too many tourists or perhaps we didnt have enough time to really explore each one. I even liked bonassola better than the 5 towns. Initially I had wanted to stay in one of the 5 villages. Now that I've seen the crowds, I think having Bonassola as a base was great. At the end of the day, we could return to the quiet and peaceful town to relax away from the tourists. And I've enjoyed the ferries and the azure trail from corneglia to vernazza. porto venere was actually my favorite but it's not part of cinque terre. and I really liked Lucca.

both san gimignano and sienna were great and the tuscany hikes were very good, even with the difficult one to Montepulciano, I've enjoyed all the hikes. the hotels were OK but the rooms were terrible. Always given the worst rooms. There's so much more in Italia that I still would like to do.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Thursday, September 26, 2019

happy together again

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Saturday, September 21, 2019

Saturday, September 21, 2019

love pesto

Posted by Hippobean at 11:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
didnt really have time to explore Bonassola even after being here for 6 days. Today we hiked around town, up to the Monteretto village and I had an ice cream bar. The trail was up and down slippery at times. Nothing too spectacular but got to see the greater Bonassola. Stopped briefly at the pink church about 300m up and then back down to town. Wasnt hungry but had a seafood risotto with the boys.

At 3:30 we marched to Levanto for our pesto demo. A pesto lover but never actually thought of making it fresh myself. We tasted the one done by the blender and one by hand. Hm, couldnt really tell the difference but I think the manual one was fresher. Then the women had their try on the mortar. Basil, pine nuts, parmisan, garlic (lots of it), a pinch of salt and started to pound. Added olive oil. yum good. Then the guys had their go and we girls decided ours was better! Bought some trofie and pesto sauce. didnt know pesto could come in different variety of flavors, olive, artichoke, walnut, cheese. I've tried them all. Liked the olive one the best. then we were offered soft amaretti (yum and not too sweet) and even lemoncino (that's lemoncello in liguria).

Last supper was at Lungomare again, in the garden under lemon trees. Was so absolutely full with bread and pesto, I only ordered the minestrone that came with so much pasta, beans and veggies, it looked more like a stew than soup, and couldnt finish it. Last night in Cinque Terre, last cup of tea before bed. The trains just kept running outside my window.

Bonassola photos:

Friday, September 20, 2019

Friday, September 20, 2019

cinque terre from the ferry

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Trained to Riomaggiore this morning, our final cinque terre village. from the train station was a tunnel walk to town. The town went up the hill and some steps down to the harbor. I knew I didnt want to do the hike to porto venere. It's the longest one, 15km with 385m of ascent. A few of us the wimpy ones, bought a day ferry pass so we could admire cinque terre from the sea to have a different perspective. It was a fantastic decision as the hikers never got time to see porto venere properly. With a few minutes to spare before the ferry arrived, I walked up the hill to the cathedral and took a few pictures of riomaggiore. Unlike corneglia and vernazza, this small town didnt have many meandering alleys to explore. mostly buildings on either side of the main uphill drag. But the small harbor was picturesque. With the ferry speeding away, riomaggiore looked triangular, with houses on either side and the harbor on the base of the triangle. Very beautiful indeed.

The church on the rock headland with the castle on an imposing clifftop caught everyone's eyes on the ferry. magnificent entry into porto venere harbor. Not part of the cinque terre, porto venere was actually more vibrant. Filled with tourists (what else is new) but nevertheless it was extremely exciting to explore it. The sea views from the Gothic Chiesa San Pietro atop the rock and from the castello Doria, were spectacular and the day was warm, not too hot and the sky clear and spectacularly blue. People were sunbathing at the Grotta dell'Arpaia, the Byron's Grotto. The water was turquoise and green and if you look up from the grotto, you could see the castle. One of the most beautiful sights I've seen. We had pizza lunch by the seafront. On the way back, Jim and I disembarked at Manarola, the final village that the trip didnt cover. I had to visit all 5 villages. The dock was small and the path to town was narrow and people were many. We were immediately put off. But we walked into town a little ways, just to sample the feel of the place. From afar, Manarola was perched on a little ways up the hill, not quite as high up as corneglia. I've read about it online. the author mentioned staying in manarola and did his preferred morning hikes into corneglia. however, Vale said that trail was closed. The daily ferry pass did not go all the way to Levanto, so we had to get off at Monterosso (again) and get a new ticket to Bonassola. We had wanted to get off at Levanto and then walk back. so monterosso one more time and it was the last i had to endure the crowd and the heat.

Dinner was again at Antica Guetta. This time on the terrace in front of the sea. I didnt feel too hungry after the satisfying pizza, but ordered a pasta with porcini (my favorite mushroom, very hard to find back home) and it was so good I cleaned up the plate. Like everyone said, gosh I really did like porto venere. My favorite town on the ligurian sea.

Riomaggiore photos:

Manarola photos:

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Thursday, September 19, 2019

pesto of the world

Posted by Hippobean at 11:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
today is the free day I was looking forward to. But a bit uneasy as I had to navigate the trenitalia system on my own. Almost chicken'd out. The alternative was to do the easy straight train to La Speza or just chill in Bonassola. But bravely stuck to my plan at the end. the 9:50 train to genoa didnt appear. Had to wait a whole hour for the next one. Had to change at sestri levante (what else is new) and had I not asked the counter, I would have never found the train. It wasnt shown on any of the monitors. The counter said 'T1 bin (binari=track) to Savona, behind the toilets'. Savona? huh? The train was just there, behind the tracks, waiting to depart. Even after I got on board and the train ran for a while, I still wasnt sure it was going to genova principe. Had to ask the people onboard. The train made a lot of stops (earlier at breakfast, Vale did mention that) and it took almost 2 hrs to get to genoa. It was 1PM when I finally arrived at genova principe.

After days in small towns, Genoa looked big and modern and busy. I knew I had to follow along the sea to get to where I was planning to visit. and of course I chose the opposite way to go. but finally found the right direction and saw the gallata maritime museum right on the water's edge in porto antico, the palazzo san giorgio with the beautiful frescoes on the exterior walls, and after thinking I was lost, I've asked a policeman where piazza cavour was, turned my head and saw cavour 21. It was close to closing time so there were no lines. It was around 2:30pm when I ordered the trofie al pesto con fagioli e patata and a coke. The pesto was heavenly and I loved the trofie. The waitress came to ask me if i'd wanted anything else since the cucina was closing. When a customer paid and left, the entire staff said 'grazie' much like some of the sushi restaurants at home. Took a picture of my pasta and the osteria sign to send to tomelia. They were the ones who suggested this place. Tummy happy, headed to the San Lorenzo cathedral which was just a short walk away. Found the Palazzo Reale Balbi, small, unimposing, behind and nestled among houses. Not grand at all. nevertheless, it was on my list and I paid to get in. Almost no tourists. The rooms were ornate but not impressively. The garden was small, overlooked the sea but now there were many building in front.

Missed the 4:11 train back (what else is new) and had to wait another hour (what else is new). So instead of riding it direct to Bonassola, which was about 1.5 hrs, I've decided on impulse to switch at sestri levante for a bit of a break for my legs. Not sure if it was a good decision, as, again I had to wait an hour for the next Bonassola train. Got back around 7:10.

Didnt do dinner that night. Satified I've visited the places I've wanted to visit.

Genova photos:

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

finally Corneglia and Vernazza

Posted by Hippobean at 11:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
This morning with anticipation, we took the train to Corneglia to start our Azure trail to Vernazza. The train sped through Vernazza (didnt stop). Another of Trenitalia strange moods. Even Vale was surprised. We climbed up the 370 steps to Corneglia. I liked Corneglia. Being 100m up the cliff, every house had a view of the sea. perhaps due to the early hour, there werent too many tourists. Was able to meander through the narrow alleys, up and down the cobble stoned paths and steps, a true feel of the Cinque Terre. Bought a powerade for the hike. Energy drink with electrolytes were probably better than mere mineral water for the hike. The hike was easy with just a few ups and downs along the azure sea. Gorgeous hike indeed but the trail was packed. Made a stop for the lemon slush with great views of Corneglia and Manarola in the distance. Snowie requested a photo with Corneglia perched on the hill. Request granted. The last part was a bit harder as they were steep steps down to Vernazza. Snowie insisted on several photos on the trail with the Vernazza town below so I could send to tomelia. Vain stuffy.

Vernazza reputed to be the most beautiful but I didnt find it so. Most likely due to the hordes of tourists, the place was crowded, every restaurant and shop filled with lines and people. Coming down from the trail, we passed through winding alleys and it did again, like in Corneglia, gave me a feel of cinque terre. climbing up more alleys to the castello Doria but disappointed as the view wasnt that great. Waited for about 20 mins to get the fried calamary and french fries for lunch. There was no place to sit in the crowded town but did finally find a bench near the beach. The calamari was good and fresh. but oh the tourists! A few of us continued to walk to monterosso but again I've opted out. We took a boat to monterosso instead. The driver complained about having to paddle out to sea as motors werent allowed to run on the harbor. Vernazza view from the boat leaving the harbor was very picturesque. Vernazza's unique layout on the jut of land, did indeed make the town look beautiful and different from the rest of the 5 villages. The rock strata on the coast was peculiar. Due to water erosion, said Charles. We came upon 2 shallow caves. Not much to see. the boat docked at Monterosso old town. We were supposed to have a walk in the old town but it never happened. I walked up and down a bit and lost interest. We trained back to Bonassola.

I wasnt too hungry so I've ordered the vegetable soup and on impulse the shrimp souffle for dinner. Never big on souffle but wanted to try it with shrimp. It was too salty. The veggie soup was all beans and thick, not to my liking. It was the most expensive meal and I didnt even enjoyed it. Snowie spent the afternoon by the hotel room window counting and checking out the trains passing by.

Corniglia photos:

Vernazza photos:

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

did not find love in portofino

Posted by Hippobean at 11:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Valentina changed the itinerary which confused all of us. Huh? Instead of the coastal hike through three Cinque Terre villages, we're doing Santa Margherita and Portofino today. I sang 'I found my love in portofino' and Vale laughed and sang a few lines.

So an early morning 40 mins train to Santa Margherita. The train ran along the coast, with glorious views of the sea, and in and out of tunnels. On the way I saw sestri levante and Moneglia stops. sestri levante was where I needed to change trains to Genoa. Moneglia was the base of the Exodus Cinque Terre trip.

We had about 30 mins to explore town. Santa Margherita was a resort town, with high end stores, a beautiful church and many seafront hotels in a long and bright seafront promenade. on impulse, I've decided not to do the hike to portofino today. It's a 8km hike with 430m total ascent, over hills and through San Fruttuoso. I had wanted to see San Fruttuoso but I could get there either by hiking from portofino or by train. I didnt quite fancy another long uphill hike, so I opted out. instead I did the flat easy hour walk to portofino along the coast. It was a beautiful walk but it was very hot. The last quarter of the walk, was actually on the hill side along a park, then down into the famous over rated town. The trail ended at the Chiesa di San Martino and then you walk down to the town. The cove and harbor were smaller than I've expected. It wasnt too crowded yet but as the ferries arrived, they dumped more and more tourists.

Mike and Diane, who also opted out of the long hike, were sitting in front of the harbor. We walked around a bit to check out the stores and restaurants. We've decided Portofino was too over rated as we couldnt understand why all the hype. We didnt see any movie stars or famous personnel. Soon Charles arrived by ferry and joined us. I've decided I wont waste time hanging around with nothing to do until 5. So I bought a boat ticket and returned to Santa Margherita on the ferry.
It was a short but extremely refreshing boat ride. Found out I had to change trains in sestri levante, and had to wait for 2 hrs for the train, as the next one to La Speza wont make a stop in bonassola. So there are 2 trains going south to La Speza. One stops only at all the cinque terre villages and another makes all stops along the way. Each train runs hourly. There would be many more times on this trip I had to deal with these Italian trains that are confusing and unreliable. But I already knew that.

Back in Bonassola, I walked around town and found a restaurant with veal as I was dying for red meat. I sat on one of the tables outside in front of the restaurant. of course they didnt have veal. all they had was meat lasagna. The lasagna here was very different. The meat was actually mixed into the pasta, instead of 1 layer of pasta and 1 layer of meat. 'very good pasta' the waiter said. i didnt like it. the waiter came out and said I could stay as long as I'd like but they were closing (it was nearly 3pm), so they'd appreciate it if I could pay now. I did and they locked up the restaurant, leaving me and a couple next to my table. I was curious what language they were speaking in as I couldnt recognize it. So I've asked. They were hungarians and on holiday here. We've started talking about bonassola and the hiking around the area. After lunch I walked down to the beach. The public area was very small with both sides cordoned off for the private hotel and restaurant uses. Black pebbles beach, no sand. quite a big drop into the sea with some people swimming but lots of sunbathers. The water was cool. I've decided I didnt
like the beach here. later on, nn my way down from my room, I met the rest of the group who opted for the hike. Even the younger fitted NZ couple came back exhausted and looking beat. Nikki said I've made the right choice of skipping the hike. the hike nearly killed her. It was most difficult and she was absolutely wasted.

Dinner was the best in the entire trip. Owned by a Napolitano, the Osteria Antica Guetta was seafront. Vale and I shared a big pot of trofie a la napolitana, trofie pasta filled with shrimps, clams and mussels in shells of course and calamari. The sauce was awesome. It was one of the most delicious pasta I've ever had. I fell in love with trofie. Vale held up a shrimp with her fork and asked me "do you like this animal?". I guess she doesnt like shrimps. More for me, I didnt mind. Diane, who is from Napoli, said the Antica Guetta had the best margarite pizza. The owner was very friendly with us. I noticed the young waiter was very good looking, and the owner called him Gigi. Found out he was called Luigi. sigh! We went back to this restaurant one more time later in the trip as everyone loved the food and the owner.

Santa Margherita photos:

Portofino photos:

Monday, September 16, 2019

Monday, September 16, 2019

first hike and did not like monterosso

Posted by Hippobean at 11:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Italian breakfast was of course continental. Which means lousy. Cold slices of bread, cold cuts and cheese, cereals, scrambled eggs. Nutella (really?), jams and boxes of juices. Coffee machine with expresso, cappuccino, americano, hot latte and hot water as choices. like I've said, lousy. But it's european.

The first hike was from Levanto to Monterosso, the Azure SVA10 route. Quite looking forward to it and I felt good and healthy this morning. We started off walking from our hotel Pensione Moderna in Bonassola, our base, to Levanto, which was the next town in the south. This walk was coastal with gorgeous view of the turquoise sea, clear blue sky and balmy weather. A series of lighted and surprisingly airy pedestrian and bikes only tunnels, cut through the hills, led into Levanto. Levanto a big town with a nice long seafront promenade. Already people were sunbathing. Not many tourists. We gathered picnic lunch material at a grocery. They didnt speak english and I've wanted prosciutto and the attendant pointed at different types of ham on the counter. I guess prosciutto simply meant ham, not exactly the long thin slices I was thinking of. I've pointed at a hard cheese but the attendant said it couldnt be cut and had to be bought in whole. so I've settled for a soft one and she cut 2 slices. Got a small french bread and a box of orange juice. Had wanted an apple but the weight scale was broken and didnt want to waste time waiting for it to be fixed. Outside, there was a red fiat and someone was tying a wide white bow on the hood. A perhaps late 20, early 30's man was standing in front of it. Through the Italian conversation among the people around the fiat, the man was the groom.

Levanto was a new town, no winding labyrinth narrow cobble stoned streets. Aside from the long refreshing seafront promenade and beach, not much was worth seeing in town. We started to ascend about 70 steps up to reach the castello. Not too impressive. From there, it was all gentle uphill along the coast. The views of the town below and the sea were spectacular. The mediterranean style houses along the path all had terraces with fantastic views of course. I wondered who lived in those houses and if they're happy. someone mentioned how they get their groceries up there. There's a road of course. but I dont think they had their groceries delivered.

The path quickly left the coast and it's now pine forest. Very steep with slippery rock 300m trail up to the ruins of St Antonio, the monastery of Augustinian monks, where we stopped for our picnic lunch. Up here on punta mesco, we could see Monterosso, the first of the 5 villages of Cinque Terre, below us and then further south, Vernazza and Corniglia on the hill.

Punta mesco was the best spot to view the 3 villages all in 1 sight. Nice way to start the trip. Many french hikers and they brought a bottle of red wine for lunch.
The final stretch was a 380m descent to Monterosso, all rocky giant steps. On the way down, we encountered hikers going uphill from town to St Antonio.

The hike took almost 7 hours, with a half hour in Levanto, half hour for lunch and a few stops along the way to catch our breath. While others declared it was a difficult hike, I was surprised it didnt feel that difficult for me. In fact, I've quite enjoyed it. It's only 9 km but it felt very long and I was tired at the end, but the climbs didnt feel so hard exactly. Normally I'd be bitching and swearing about the climbs and expected to be breathless with frequent rest stops, but I did surprisingly well.

The trail ended in the new town in Monterosso and the first order was gelato. The train station poured out a multitude of tourists and they filled the entire promenade. It put me off instantly so I just sat in front of the station, under a brutal sun. No shades anywhere except in the cafes. We took the train back to Bonassola, which was only 2 stops away.

Dinner was at Lungo Mare. The menu had gnocchi with lobster and pasta with lobster. I had want that but you need to order for 2 people and I had no one to share it with. So I settled for the seafood ravioli which came in stuffed with seafood and a few langostini. The sauce was heavenly.

Levanto photos:

Monterosso photos:

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sunday, September 15, 2019

start of cinque terre

Posted by Hippobean at 11:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Arrived at Pisa Galileo Galilei airport on time and luggage came out almost immediately. No customs as eu to eu Ams to Pisa. Scouted out the left luggage area and found where to catch the PisaMover. It was a warm afternoon, 2 hours to kill, and I settled down on he bench in the courtyard and waited for Explore arrival for the members collection.

The drive to Bonassola was along the Ligurian sea with a spectacular sunset on the left. The 2 lanes highway, the traffic signs, all so european, so familiar. We passed by the Carrara hills where the famous marble was from. We left the highway and the road started to wind down the hill in switchbacks. The sea town below was illuminated by the lights in the houses, the hill a giant dark spot. "It looks very beautiful in the day. Of course now, it's night and cant see nothing' said our driver. But for me, the town was already beautiful in the dark. The Pensione Moderna was just as it's shown in the online pictures. My room was on the top floor and the stairs were many and I had to lift my luggage all the way up. Of course, there wasnt an elevator. To my satisfaction, the room was big enough, with a double bed and it faced the front of the hotel. There's even a window in the bathroom. Both the bedroom and bathroom windows had the european green shutter and they were popped out. I could see the train tracks on the left side. A train passed in rapid speed. The noise was tolerable. The room didnt shake. Walked down to have a late dinner. Seafood pasta. Mussels, clams, calamari with pasta in tomato sauce. The pasta was of course al dente. It wasnt bad for hotel food.

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