I’ve always romanticized Italy. And I remember vividly where it all began—on a school field trip charter bus where they played the Lizzie McGuire Movie. This is what dreeeeams are made of. In 2006, I got to visit Rome on a school trip where I was first introduced to pesto, World Cup fever, and a cute boy named Emmanuel (;. So with all these fond memories of Rome, of course I was excited to return to the land of pizza and pasta. Since Catherine and I had both visited Rome already, we decided to opt for Venice and Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre, for those unfamiliar, is a region comprised of five villages whose main livelihood was fishing (and now tourism). Also, claim to fame—this is where PESTO was born. My favorite, yum yum.
After a bumpy and not so comfortable sleep in the overnight train, we arrived from Vienna to Venice late in the morning (Side note: do not order pate from a sleeper train in case you ever feel inclined to do so. It does not taste like restaurant pate). We met our Airbnb host and they led us through narrow cobblestone streets and over countless bridges to our apartment for the night. It was clean and nice, but overall had a lingering odor of fish (Mr. Fishoeder! Bob’s Burgers anyone?). In our Airbnb host’s defense, the whole city smelled like fish. I guess we shouldn’t expect anything else in a town built on canals. And just as our noses expected, seafood is the specialty in Venice. Our host gave us a recommendation for a seafood restaurant called Pontini along the canal so we popped in there for lunch.
After lunch, we set out to explore Venice. We hadn’t booked any tours, so we went looking for the tourist information center. Unfortunately, what we didn’t know is that the tours, museums, and famous buildings in Venice generally close early. This is because most tourists visit Venice as a day trip since it is VERY expensive to stay there. We were still able to soak in a lot of the beautiful sights and admire the exterior of the buildings.
Although we couldn’t tour a lot of the famous places in Venice, we did sign up for a late afternoon gondola tour and a late night ghost tour at the tourist information center. Catherine and I had done a faux gondola tour at The Venetian in Las Vegas the previous year. Our gondolier in Vegas was an amazing man named Tino. He wore a stereotypical gondolier straw hat with a red ribbon and a monochromatic striped shirt; he serenaded us in beautiful Italian and joked about dancing for “Chunkendale’s” as his side job. Sadly, Tino set the bar too high, and our real life Venetian gondolier was terrible—just terrible. At least the sights made up for it… absolutely breathtaking. Venice, if anything, is quite the photogenic city.
After disembarking from our gondola, we strolled around some more since we had time to kill before our ghost tour.
We couldn’t get good pictures during the ghost tour since it was so dark, but it was pretty interesting. We were led all throughout Venice and told many true tales of the deaths and murders in Venice. Our tour guide touched a bit on Casanova, who was known for his wild romantic escapades/conquests. We also heard a bit about Venice’s Carnival, which was a 4-5 month celebration where people wore extravagant masks and partied the night(s) away. How did people survive such debauchery?! I can barely last through a 3 day music festival… The tour was not in the least bit scary, but it was great for digging a little deeper into the history of Venice and getting a general feel for the city.
After the tour, we went to Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) to enjoy some live orchestral music. This was a Rick Rec, and one we were really glad to have experienced. The cafes in the square have outdoor dining tables set up in front of stages where orchestras will play anything from classical music to twists on pop hits (like Abba!). You must pay a fee for the experience, but it’s well worth it. It gets really entertaining when neighboring cafe orchestras duel—like an old school rap battle. This was probably my favorite thing we did in Venice.
Something I haven’t touched on, but is quite important to know before going to Venice: it’s really expensive and PACKED with tourists. I felt like a sardine the whole time I was there. It was very very uncomfortable walking through the narrow streets with hordes of people being funneled through the little cobblestone passageways. Overall, I vote Venice as the Number One Photogenic City. Other than the photo ops it had to offer, I felt like Venice was a bit lacking. I would say this is definitely a place you should visit before it disappears forever, but only spend a day as your time and money is better allotted elsewhere.
Monterosso, Cinque Terre, Italy
We used our Eurail pass to get from Venice to Monterosso, arriving at around 3 PM. We had booked our lodging at a charming little B&B called Il Parco. Once we arrived at the train station, we walked over to where our B&B had arranged to pick us up. Important note: expect to hike up to your B&B, as the villages of Cinque Terre are scattered throughout pretty high terrain. Most B&Bs offer a pick-up service, but make sure to check so you aren’t stuck lugging your bags up to crazy heights. We were picked up by Marta, our lady patron saint of timely travel. She was whippin’ it through the winding streets of Monterosso, and made us question several times whether we would live to tell the tale. Her hair was a wild, curly yellow mane and she, like many of the other locals, was a born and bred Cinque Terrain. She gave us a tour of the bed and breakfast punctuated by many “Prego”s. This is when I found out Prego does not just mean “you’re welcome” like I had originally thought. Google says it means: don’t mention it!, you’re welcome!, not at all! , please sit down!, after you!
After nesting in our BEAUTIFUL room (highly recommend!) and soaking in our amazing view of the ocean, our stomachs’ song called us outwards and onwards. We found a cafe to have what the hobbitses call second breakfast because that train pate did NOT suffice.
We found an ATM afterwards to get some more cash monies and then returned to our room to decompress. We looked up Rick Recs for restaurants (In Rick We Trust) and found one called Miky, which is a Michelin recommended restaurant. The specialty Rick had raved about was a sort of “pizza pasta” where the pasta dish was covered with pizza dough and baked. Who could say no to that? We made reservations (a must) and arranged to have Marta drive us down for dinner.
The dish pictured above was an appetizer of assorted seafood, lightly breaded. Everything was fresh and tasty, but this was not the star of the night…
THIS WAS! Not only do they bake the pizza dough covered pasta in a wood fire oven, they also flambe the whole shebang in front of your eyes! Dinner and a show 🙂
And of course, what meal would be complete without a little sweet note to end on? We had lemon creme pastries and I felt like Sansa Stark.
Cinque Terre is not really a poppin’ nightlife spot and also we were actually really just exhausted at this point in our trip so we turned in for some R&R. Here’s a picture of us in the process:
Cinque Terre, Italy
Rejuvenated after our rest, we were ready to take on the hike through Cinque. So, as I previously mentioned, Cinque Terre is made up of five villages. The villages are connected by train or by a walking trail; outside vehicles are not allowed. The trail is roughly 8 miles and takes a whole day to do so make sure to have ample time if you want to hike it! Also, make sure to stop by and purchase a train card or trekking card beforehand.
Our hike turned into less of a hike and more of a food hop. Hehe. We didn’t even make it out of Monterosso before taking our first “gelato break.” Hey, hiking is hard. We deserve it.
We decided the most practical way to go about this hike would be to take the train to Riomaggiore, the village furthest from Monterosso, and hike our way back. The trains stop at a certain time at night and we didn’t want to get stranded after a long day.
We got off the train at Riomaggiore and ambled into a restaurant (A Pie de Ma) perched up at the top of a cliff for our first real meal of the day. We were treated to some pretty sweet views.
A Pie de Ma does not serve any hot foods and is more of a light snack type of restaurant. Everything is self serve and overall the joint was pretty no-frills. The food was delicious, and even more so with the backdrop of the sea.
Not pictured: the hordes of sea pigeons rudely intruding upon our meal. They were pretty aggressive little assholes. We managed to fend them off and get the fuel we needed for our hike to Vernazza.
The villages are so colorful and vibrant against the blue blue sky and sea. It’s easy to see why so many tourists flock here to take in these sights.
This map gives you an idea of the lay of the land. You can also see where they had closed off some of the trail due to the weather.
Not all of the path was paved, but we came across this pretty part of it that was and stopped to snap some pictures.
The whole hike is along the coastline so you always have a good view of the water. It’s also really cool how you can see each village you passed in the distance as a splotch of buildings on otherwise untouched land.
It started to get dark and we were a little worried since there was no lighting along the pathway. Luckily we were nearing Vernazza.
Sadly, by the time we got to Vernazza it was too dark for any really good pictures. You can check out the video montage below for some decent video clips though. We had a scrumptious dinner al fresco as our reward and even made friends with the restaurant kitty who kept rubbing all of the patrons’ legs to persuade them for a bite of fish. Heh. Thus ends our travels through Cinque Terre. Next up on the Euro travel series is Lisbon. Til’ then Ciao, bella—and remember, appreciate the little things, always.