Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Exploring Cinque Terre from Manarola

It was a looong day trying to get to Manarola, but the once we arrived I totally forgot :-). The first hotel shuttle from our hotel left at 9am so we made sure to be up, ready and finish our breakfast in time to catch that one. Once we were in Venice we decided to take the public water taxi system to the train station, not knowing it stopped so frequently. In hindsight we would have just paid for a personal taxi and been to the train station in 15 minutes. Instead we were on the public system for nearly 1 1/2 hours...yikes! It is a great, and slow :-), way to see the entirety of Venice though. We got to the train station around 11am and stopped by the ticket office to figure out how to get to Manarola. I was pretty nervous about switching trains two times but after the first switch went so well we were feeling pretty confident about our Italy train riding skills. Then we got off at the wrong La Spezia stop (one stop before La Spezia Centrale) haha! A few other people did the same thing but it all worked out...the next train came through only 10 minutes later, we got off at the correct stop and got onto our last train of the day for a quick 10 minute ride into Manarola.
One of the stops I was most excited about as we planned this Italy trip was going to the Cinque Terre. I read about each of the 5 towns and debated between a couple of them before picking Manarola as our home base for exploring the region. It sounded smaller and a little less touristy and busy than a few of the towns but still was right on the water. When we got off the train we quickly realized we would be getting good exercise in during our stay! There were steep steps to get anywhere since the town is built into the side of the mountain. We were very thankful for the backpack option on our bags as we made our way to the hotel! Once we found Aria di Mare I knew we made the right choice in where to stay. The owner was the sweetest guy and helped us get settled in. It was quaint and peaceful and we had our own terrace with a great view of the water and the city below. We were starving by this point so we got dinner at a restaurant nearby and then headed out to explore a bit, walking around the city and then up a steep trail into the vineyards on the peak across from where our hotel was. It was absolutely gorgeous.
steep stairs from the main drag to the homes and hotels
our patio door and terrace
our hotel was just to the left of the big red building so it was easy to spot and fun to do every time we were looking at Manarola from afar
our teeny little town
thank goodness for the selfie stick :-)!
The next morning we were up and ready for our hike of the 5 towns. Starting from the south the cities work their way up the western coast of Italy in this order: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterroso. Unfortunately the beach trail was closed from Manarola to Corniglia when we were there, but we were told we could do a harder hike up to Volastra and then make our way back down to Corniglia where we could get back on the main trail again. I really, really wanted to be able to hike the entire thing so we went for it. That first part was definitely the steepest of the day but the views were very motivating :-)! We made it to Corniglia where we got a little lost for a brief minute before figuring out what we were doing again and continued on to Vernazza. When we arrived we were definitely ready for lunch so we spent quite a bit of time here, scoping out the harbor, the tower and the lunch options. We ended up really loving the restaurant on the piazza that we decided to go with (Ristorante Pizzeria Vulnetia) and after stuffing ourselves we continued on to Monterroso, the beachiest of the towns. Another thing I had really hoped to do was take the boat shuttle from Monterroso back down to Riomaggiore to get some cool shots of the towns from the water, and then complete our hike by walking from Riomaggiore back home to Manarola. The water was too choppy for all the boats to be running though so it just didn't work out. After getting some gelato we headed to the train station to get back down south to Riomaggiore. If we had had another day in the area I would have done the boat for sure and also spent some more time in Monterroso; it looked like it had some cool stuff to see. When we made it to Riomaggiore we went on the search for a padlock. The stretch of trail from there to Manarola is the most famous and apparently romantic stretch and is called Via dell' Amore (Lovers’ lane). We had read there was a place to add a lock to seal your love forever and I love that kind of stuff :-)! We never found a lock though, so eventually gave up and headed to the trail head. When we got there it was locked :-(! So we never got to walk the Lover's Lane portion, which means we will just have to go back for sure!
The owner of our hotel, Maurzio, had told us he makes his own wine and to let us know if we wanted to buy some. Since we don't drink we didn't think much about it but I did wonder if he really made it himself. Well, a couple hours into our hike we saw him working his land! Turns out he really does haha! Also, we thought these lines we saw throughout the vineyards were irrigation systems of some sort, but they are like little roller coasters for the farmers to use to get up and down the steep mountains! So cool.
saying goodbye to Corniglia, next stop Vernazza!
around every corner was another amazing view
We were pretty exhausted (the entire normal trail is 11km and we don't know how much we added going to Volastra) but still wanted to be sure we saw all of Manarola before we headed out in the morning to Florence. We walked out to the cemetery that was on a little strip of land sticking out into the ocean which gave some good views looking back at the town and then headed back through the main road towards our hotel looking for food options. This little place, Il Discovolo, had a sign that said gluten-free so we went in to check it out. They had lots of options so we loaded up our food to go and headed back to eat it in peace and quiet on our little terrace. The weather was gorgeous and cool the two days we were there and it was such a perfect conclusion to watch the sunset as we ate. I LOVED our time here!!!
Notice the fat cat hanging out with us to the right? He was one of many cats we saw early in our traveling. Our guide in Venice told us that people love cats there because they took care of a rat problem long ago, so maybe that has carried over to present day? Somewhere in the middle of our hiking we came across this sanctuary for homeless cats. It had little houses for them to sleep in (and cats were really in them!) and a box to leave food donations, etc. Maybe someday Addie will combine her love of nature and cats and do something similar :-).
During our first week away the kids got to have fun with Papa and Meema! Eating Chickfila, going fishing and getting in lots of quality time. We had to be sure they didn't miss the school's big carnival, Funky Friday, as well so the Millers took them to that. We were truly able to relax and enjoy our travels knowing the kids were hardly missing us!
Ella had extra friend time as well ;-)

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