Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sunday, September 29, 2019


Posted by Hippobean at 2:30 PM 0 comments
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. Mãe! 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.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Saturday, September 28, 2019

ancora Firenze un'altra volta

Posted by Hippobean at 10:09 PM 0 comments
morning hour and a half drive to Firenze with me riding shotgun. One last time of the italian highways and european signs. Love them! It's been a long while since I've been to Firenze. Dumped luggage at the Classic hotel on viale machiavelli and drove up to the piazella michangelo for a grand view of the capital of the renaissance. i forgot how beautiful Firenze was. Here I bought 2 tshirts. Walked down past the fountain and along the arno and crossed the ponte vecchio straight into the old city. Immediately the place was filled with people. every church, every restaurant and cafe and shops there were queues. The capital of the renaissance is now the capital of the tourists. didnt want to waste time queuing for tickets and queuing to get in to the sites, I simply walked everywhere. The Piazza Duomo, Basilica San Lorenzo, Piazza san Croce. had a sausage, mushroom and cheese pizza lunch at a restaurant on the square, across from santa maria della novela. didnt have pizza at all on this italian trip. And the pizza was good and satisfying. At the uffizi, I thought about on the first day, frederica had mentioned we should order Uffizi entrance tickets ahead of time. thought about it but decided against it since time was limited and I didnt want to be tied down to a specific time and spend half or most of the day doing just 1 site. I could still do uffizi but it would be another mad dash, so I just had a quiet moment by the arno. i said quiet but had to drown the noise from the crowd next to me. walking back to the hotel, I passed by the Pitti palace. Very long lines. Skipped it.

back at the hotel, my room was again tiny and on the attic with a window on the roof. shabby again. there's a little garden at the back of the hotel which meant another good place for my last evening tea. Last supper was at restaurant a short walk from the hotel. They had bacalla and I've ordered it. Knew it wont anywhere as good as our bacalhau but it was fine.

Very late into the night for my usual evening tea at the garden, all alone. Stuffy was crying a river.

Firenze photos:

Friday, September 27, 2019

Friday, September 27, 2019

beautiful hilltop Montalcino

Posted by Hippobean at 9:11 PM 0 comments
This morning the view at the breakfast in the hotel terrace was magnificent with mount amiata in clear full view.

Early morning panoramic drive to San Quirico, another town on the Via Francigena pilgrimage route, passing through cypress landscape where some of the scenes from the Gladiator was filmed. San Quirico D'Orcia, beautiful cathedral, narrow cobble stoned streets, town quiet in the early morning.

After exploring the village, we descended to cross the Asso river and followed undulating trails with views of the Val D'Orcia. This time of the year, the fields were bare and grey. No crops so this part of the hike was quite dull and boring. Picnic lunch again in a vineyard but no views of the hill town of Montalcino. Frederica brought a bottle of red from her boyfriend's farm. Quite good wine. Another satisfying picnic lunch of a different breads, cheeses, prosciutto and turkey, olives and cucumbers and biscuits and cookies. The last part of the trail was uphill to Montalcino.

Montalcino had several beautiful churches, a nice main drag and square piazza del popolo with shops and cafes but it was the Rocca that was worth the visit. It offered fantastic views of the town and church towers. After visiting it, I settled down for one last gelato. The Brunello di Montalcino wine was very good.

Back at pienza, i painted town and looked for a new place to dine. Last dinner in Toscana, I had wanted pappardelle with mushroom and didnt want to do La buca de Fate again. By chance I saw pasta in the little cafe next to the hotel and they did have pasta with porcini. So I've ordered it. While waiting at an outside table, I've heard a microwave ding. Sure enough the pasta tasted like frozen dinner. But it did satisfied my yearning for porcini. One last tea at the cloisters and it's off to
Firenze, the trip's last destination.

San Quirico photos:

Montalcino photos:

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Thursday, September 26, 2019

town with no flat street - montepulciano

Posted by Hippobean at 11:39 PM 0 comments

a bit chilly in the morning. Breakfast was on the hotel terrace overlooking the Val d’Orcia. it looked like a white lake with monte Amiata peeking out from it. The white lake turned out to be the morning fog over the valley. a bit later, the fog cleared and we could see Amiata in full glory. Breakfast at the chiostro di Pienza hotel was good. Good fresh bread, great variety of very good cakes and muffins, different cold cuts, boiled eggs, juices and real americano, not from the machine.

Today we headed downhill from pienza on the strade bianche, the white gravel road towards the village of Monticchiello. The hike was gorgeous passing chianti vineyards and the famous cypress tree avenues on the valley of d’Orcia. This was the most beautiful hike on this trip. We had views of San Quirico, Monticchiello and Montepulciano on the hills along our hike. We reached the hilltop fortified village of Monticchiello, an unspoiled gem in tuscany. Right before entering the Porta Sant'Agata into town, a stone gate with towers, there's a belvedere with lovely views of the Montepulciano on a hill and Val d’Orcia countryside. Beautiful and clear this morning. No tourists and the village was quiet, perfect to explore the cobble stoned streets flanked by ancient brick buildings. the terraces and outdoor stairwells were filled with blooming flowers. Very pretty village. The 13th cen. Pieve dei Santi Leonardo e Cristoforo a Monticchiello church had some well preserved frescoes inside but the façade was unimposing.

We had a picnic lunch at a vineyard among the vines and with a direct magnificent view of the hilltop town of Montepulciano, our final destination. Frederica surely knew how to do picnic lunches. Good local focaccia and sliced bread, a variety of cheeses, tomatoes, different kinds of prosciutto cotto, salamy, carrots and even cookies for dessert. All for only 3 euros each.

After our satisfying lunch and glorious views, we headed uphill to the hilltop town. After passing an avenue of cypresses, the Renaissance temple of San Biagio came into view. From there, it's all uphill to Montepulciano. at 605m high, perched in a limestone ridge, montepulciano was encircled by renaissance walls and fortifications. once we've crossed the Porta delle Farine into the town, nothing here was flat. Only the Piazza Grande which was the heart of town. From the square, every street was a downhill . Inside la Mura della Fortezza, the wine shop had glass floors that showed the archaeological artifacts below the ground and there were some dry wells below and standing on the glass floor looking straight down the well was quite eerie. many churches in the town, and the Via di Voltaia Nel Corso, the main drag, had great shops and cafes and many more churches. Again, not enough time to do the whole main drag any justice, and had to walk uphill back to the piazza Grande. We took a local bus back to pienza.

For dinner that night, i went back to la Buca de Fate and had gnocchi with wild boar sauce. The gnocchi was in thick squares, not at all like the ones we had at home. But the sauce was good. The hike today was quite tiring. Hiking up to montepulciano was an absolute killer.

Monticchiello photos:

Montepulciano photos:

happy together again

Posted by Hippobean at 12:30 PM 0 comments
Posted by Hippobean at 12:30 AM 0 comments

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

medieval grandeur - siena

Posted by Hippobean at 11:00 PM 0 comments
Siena this morning. Very much looking forward to seeing this truly medieval town. Dropped us off at Porta Tufi and an incline to the piazza del Duomo . the sight was magnificent. The Gothic cathedral de Santa Maria Assunta (built on an ancient temple of the cult of Minerva) absolutely demanded your total attention. But already the multitude of tourists filled up the square, with long queues at the ticket counters. And it's not even 10AM yet and most of the sites werent even open. Bought the ticket for all the sites (and so I thought). Since the Duomo was not open till 10:30, we first did the museum (bleh) and Panorama del Facciatone which was a terrace and had good views of the city below. Next I've waited for the big tour groups to enter first and then sneaked in to the cathedral. Its grandeur blew my mind! And it's not just the tourists which packed the cathedral. I didnt know where to start looking first. The entire floor was filled with marble mosaic inlay and graffito which were cordoned off, leaving the visitors a narrow path between and around Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Donatello, Michelangelo, Pinturicchio, Domenico Beccafumi and Bernini's masterpieces. The arches, the frescoes, the ornate vaulted ceilings, the Sculptures, the stainglass, where to begin? But couldnt really appreciate it all and not only because of the massive tourists but the ticket to the Porta del Cielo, the heaven gates, had a scheduled time. up the narrow winding staircase and we were now on the attic of the cathedral. Small windows let us take a peek of the inside of the cathedral from above, closer views of the statues, the arches and the stainglass. Awesome! It's called the Porta del Cielo because getting up the winding staircase was like jacob's ladder that reached up to heaven with "the angels of God ascending and descending on it". Then we continued the path and we're now on the outside of the cupola with super glorious close views of the church tower and adjacent buildings and of course unparraled views of the city. This was the best part of the tour.

After feasting my eyes in the Duomo, I checked out the Cripta which again blew my mind, with 1 fresco filling an entire wall depicting the story of the Passion, and the glorious colors in the columns, pilasters, capitals and corbels with geometric or phytomorphic beautifications.

Then to the Battistero, the baptistry of san giovanni, by master-builder Camaino di Crescentino, with an enormous marble baptismal font by Giovanni di Turino, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Donatello and Jacopo della Quercia. the vaults and apse frescoes were painted by Lorenzo di Pietro, known as Vecchietta. Again, everywhere you looked, you see brilliant colors and exquisite art and you couldnt but to bow down and be humbled by all this grandeur and beauty that reached into the heavens.

I followed the street signs and came upon Il Campo, the semi circular piazza surrounded by ancient brick buildings and the Torre del Mangia, a 100m bell tower. Too many people so I didnt linger. Next the Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico where it housed Santa Caterina's relics. The 1200 church was entirely in red brick. The inside was simple. Not far from it, was the Fortezza Medicea but I couldnt find the stairs to go up to the wall. The market was still open and on impulse, I brought some fried chickens legs to eat on the way for lunch.

One final site was the Basilica di San Francisco which Reed said it had a beautiful stainglass but I never made it. Instead I found the Church of Santa Maria in Provenzano nestled among buildings and thought it was the San Francisco. Couldnt go inside as it was closed.

Feeling quite tired I returned to the piazza del Duomo for a rest. But I still got one last site to visit. however I couldnt go in because the ticket I got didnt include Santa maria della Scala. Doh! with only a half hour before departure time, I debated if I should get a ticket to see the last site I've wanted to see. Browsing the museum shop, I saw placemats with the frescoes from Santa Maria della Scalla and I knew I had to see it. and what a decision it was. Santa Maria della Scala used be the Ospedale for the Pilgrims as Siena lied on the Via Francigena. it had the most gorgeous frescoes I've ever seen. The Pellegrinaio, the Pilgrims Hall, a cavernous, long hall designed to house the pilgrims turning to the hospital for help, entirely filled with gigantic frescoes painted in the mid 1400's. The figures of saints, prophets and Old Testament figures in the vaults were painted by Agostino di Marsiglio, a painter from Bologna, the side aisles painted by 15th century Sienese artists Lorenzo di Pietro, Domenico di Bartolo and Priamo della Quercia. I felt humbled below these gihugic masterpieces.

The street level also contained the Sagrestia Vecchia , the Old Sacristy, the Sacred Nail Chapel, with an amazingly preserved fresco and the 13th century church of Santissima Annunziata, displaying a stunning bronze Risen Christ by Lorenzo Vecchietta.

The subterranean level was the archaeological museum showing etruscan and roman artifacts, ceramics, statues and tombstones from the city and from the surrounding chianti and upper Val d’Elsa areas. It's a spooky place with dim lighting and inside the tunnels, with windows looking out to the 'inner' road, a hidden road that was once open to the surrounding landscape. The original marble statues of the Fonte Gaia by jacopo della Quercia were displayed at level 3 of the complex, called the Corticella, a small cistern courtyard.

half an hour was nowhere near enough time to appreciate all the frescoes and the statues, the basement arhaeological museum and the chapel, all the displays and so much more. but I blazed through it all. Definitely the highlight of Siena and I was sooooooo glad I've decided to see it. ran back to Porta Tufi and made it just in time for departure.

Just as we arrived at pienza, it started to rain. Our hotel Relais II chiostro di Pienza used to be a convent and it's adjacent to the town's cathedral. One entered through a spacious square courtyard with cloisters. Perfect location for my evening teas with the Stuffy. My room was tiny with a window set halfway up the wall. had to get on a chair to open/close it. On the 2nd floor, absolutely no views. Rhonda said it was to prevent the nuns temptations to look outside. In Castellina, the window was on the floor. And now the window was halfway to the ceiling. bad luck. The room floor slanted downwards from 2 walls and so were the 2 twin mattresses on the double bed frame. When I get out of bed, my body would turn towards the bed, making me dizzie and off balance. However, the bathroom was big and there's even an electric hot water boiler.

Dinner was at La Buca de Fate, possibly the only good restaurant in pienza. the menu offered rabbit, wild boar and tons of other delicious animals and pasta. Had the wild boar stew with french fries. it was good.

A very packed and tiring day. LittleSnowie sat in front of the high window but there was no view so he was cranky.

Siena photos:

Pienza photos:

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

finally, san gimignano

Posted by Hippobean at 11:30 PM 0 comments
Still a bit cloudy but forecast said no more rain. We started our hike to San Gimignano along the Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome. We were confused as we're walking away from San Gimignano. But the hiking trail looped around the hill and would eventually reach San Gimignano. Wide gravel paths past gorgeous Sangiovese vineyards and rural houses with the view of the Gimignano medieval towers always present. The weather was fine and at every turn up and down the path, we got the view of the towers at every angle. Very pleasant hike. snowie took several photos with the towers on the background as we hiked along. very exciting stuffy. A bit of up and down, nothing strenuous until the last part where we had to hike up the hill into town.

Past Porta San Matteo, the narrow via san matteo cobble stoned street up to the main square was lined with shops and restaurants in old brick buildings. So medieval! Passed the arch and we're on the main square with the duomo Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta and the torre grossa next to it. Stunning view. I bought a ticket that covered the church and the tower climb. The inside of the cathedral had voussoirs arcade on both sides of the nave, that were painted alternately in grey and black, creating stripes. first time I've seen arches like these, and behind them, gigantic magnificent frescoes. the main altar had a beautiful stainglass and round stainglass on the sides. the ceiling also had decorated arches and frescoes. This church blew me away with all that beauty. So much beauty but I didnt find it overwhelming. Climbed the torre grossa and the view from the top was glorious in this sunny gorgeous day. you could see all 13 towers and their tops, the square and buildings below, and the surrounding countryside with vineyards and cypresses from this vintage point. Next I did the museum of the tower with wonderful artifacts and paintings. Walked around a bit in the piazza della cisterna and just loved all the brick buildings and everywhere one could see the towers. On my way back, on via del Castello, discovered Osteria del Carcere, a small restaurant with a loft and they had minestrone, so i settled down for a light lunch. The soup was heavenly. Did a bit of shopping and on Via San Matteo, bought an orange leather bag that was backpack style in triangular shape. 39 euros. not bad. Loved it.

Afterwards, we had wine tasting at Sovestro winery for the unique Vernaccia di San Gimignano Wine. Too full body for me, but the setting was peaceful surrounded by vineyards. Gorgeous views. We then drove to Monteriggioni, a beautiful fortified hill-top village. It's a very small village with a small church, some shops and of course, I paid to walk the wall which looked very impressed from the outside. Monteriggioni was featured in Dante's Inferno in the Divine Comedy:

As with circling round
Of turrets, Monteriggioni crowns his walls;
E’en thus the shore, encompassing the abyss,
Was turreted with giants, half their length
Uprearing, horrible, whom Jove from heaven
Yet threatens, when his muttering thunder rolls

For dinner I went back to the Osteria Il Re Gallo for the Pappardelle with Wild Boar sauce. Heavenly. Another fantasticly delicious meal. Walking back to our B&B Villa Cristina was in darkness along quiet silent streets. Really loved it. Had a cup of tea with Little Snowie at the front courtyard with an occasional car passing by. Otherwise, total quiet. Love small towns!

San Gimignano photos:

Monteriggioni photos:

Monday, September 23, 2019

Monday, September 23, 2019

Castellina in the rain

Posted by Hippobean at 11:35 PM 0 comments
Arrived at Villa Cristina in the dark. Instead of given pre-assigned rooms, the hostess simply showed us each available room and let us take one. Got the one in the attic, with the small window on the floor level just like it's shown in the online images. 3 flights of stairs. Simply because I was at the end of the pack. would have preferred one on a lower floor which had bigger windows. but the room was big although the bathroom was minuscule. Ah well.

The following morning was cloudy and rainy on and off. We drove past Radda to close to Volpaia and decided to hike since it wasnt raining. Down the slippery rocky path into the valley, then up to Volpaia. Small town with a castle that turned into a wine tasting Rocca. Walked around town a bit. It started to rain hard so we've decided to drive to Radda. There we walked to see the church and the walled city and it really started to pour so we found shelter at a covered alley. Frederica bought us a picnic lunch and we ate it inside the white tents that were set up there for some festival. Good cheese, bread, prosciutto, really good tomatoes, and I bought a box of juice (had wanted arancia but it turned out to be grapefruit I think). Good picnic.

since the weather was still bad, we forwent the rest of the planned hike and drove back to Castellina for the included wine tasting at Rocca della Macie. We've tasted 2 different reds, a regular chianti and a full body reserved one, and 2 whites. I liked the regular red and the one of the whites. Outside, it poured cats and dogs. We've walked back to our B&B.

Dinner was a fixed menu at Osteria Il Re Gallo, just behind the Castellina Cathedral. The same guy who worked at our hotel was also waiting tables at the Il Re Gallo. Small town I guess. since I couldnt eat so much, I've ordered a la carte and the suckling pig came in 2 big delicious pieces and roast potatoes. I saw pappardelle in wild boar sauce so I knew I had to come back for another meal.

My room faced the main street and it was busy in the evening but the view wasnt bad, and Snowie sat in front of it where he was able to see the houses below and the mountains in the distance. A cup of tea from my travel electric pot in the front courtyard in semi darkness. Still cloudy but no more rain. Snowie spent all day at the window sill, looking out at the houses across the street and at the tuscany hills. The evening lights were few and the view mystic. The Stuffy enjoyed the views and fell asleep by the window.

Castellina in Chianti photos:

Volpaia photos:

Radda in Chianti photos:

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Sunday, September 22, 2019


Posted by Hippobean at 11:30 PM 0 comments
Morning drive to Pisa Galileo Galilei was under a cloudy rain threatening sky. Sat next to Keith and had a serious conversation with him about housing, mortgages and living in general.

Cinque Terre trip was over and I couldnt say if I liked it. The 5 villages werent as nice as I've expected probably due to the over crowding by tourists or because we didnt really had enough time to really explore each town. This trip was mostly for hiking. The hikes that I did, I did enjoyed them all except for the last one around Bonassola as it was nothing special. What I've enjoyed most was the ferries and specially the 3 meals I had in Bonassola, the seafood trofie a la napolitana, the pasta with porcini mushrooms and the seafood ravioli with langostini (and I dont even like ravioli). The trofie al pesto con fagioli e patata at cavour 21 was excellent and I felt triumphant to be able to manage genova on my own and hit all the places I've wanted to visit. Porto Venere I really liked but that's not part of the cinque terre. both levanto and santa margherita were nice and I liked them. portofino i didnt. So all and all, the cinque terre trip was a bit disappointing.

Left luggage at the pisa airport. The bags had to be scanned first and we had to walk our luggage to the scanning area. PisaMover to stazione centrale was only 5 minutes. Again (what else is new) I've missed the train to lucca. Had to wait another hour. Again the train to lucca was just sitting there on the track waiting to depart. Lucca was only 30 mins away with 4 stops. The day was cloudy with a bit of rain. Instead of finding the Porta san pietro, I've followed some people who went around the city wall and found stairs to the wall and the first sight was the San martino cathedral. It was magnificent in marble. The façade was intricate with statues and arches. the bell tower was partially in marble and partially in red bricks. Paid the entrance fee and the inside wasnt worth the 7 euros. Trying to remember the path I had to take to cover the next 2 churches but within a 2-3 mins walk meandering in typical italian narrow cobble stoned alleys, I found the chiesa de san michelle in foro, with almost the same architecture as san martino. the inside was not so elaborate. Then the rain started to pour and I was in heaven. The basilica di San Frediano was next after another 2-3 mins of walk through the same narrow streets. didnt go inside as it was closed but the mosaic facade was quite stunning. next to it, there's a path up to the mura and I've spent the remaining time walking on the city wall in intermittent rain. Satisfied again to have covered all that I set out to see.

back at the station, this time I had some time before the 3:40 train back to pisa. had a gelato in front of the station. got back to pisa centrale a little after 4 and decided to have a mickey dee burger and fries. You can order through the machine and use a credit card or pay at the counter. pisaMover back to the galileo galilei and saw Jim waiting for me in front of the left luggage. We waited for the Tuscany group and Frederica to pick us up. There was a canadian couple, a US girl from Georgia and a girl from UK.

So I was done with trenItalia. Well, not until next time I come to Italy again. No more waiting on trains that didnt come. No more switching trains at sestri levante. no more figuring out what trains and when.

By the time we got to Castellina in Chianti, it was already dark and I didnt go to dinner.

Lucca photos:

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Saturday, September 21, 2019

love pesto

Posted by Hippobean at 11:30 PM 0 comments
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

Posted by Hippobean at 11:30 PM 0 comments
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:

Porto Venere photos:

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Thursday, September 19, 2019

pesto of the world

Posted by Hippobean at 11:30 PM 0 comments
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
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
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
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
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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