Jim, Amanda, and Jim Bob
Amanda preparing some pasta for dinner...Jim and Jim Bob giving moral support.
This blog entry will cover the last part of my "European Vacation," specifically Venice, Cinque Terre, and Vicenza. These are the areas in Italy that Jim and I checked out in the limited time we had in the country.
Most of you are familar with Venice. Many of you are familiar with Cinque Terre (travel writer Rick Steves raves about it). But how many of you are familiar with Vicenza? Well, Vicenza was our first stop in italy. It is where we would be staying our first two nights in Italy. It is a city 45 minutes west of Venice (Venezia) where the U.S. Army has a base, and Jim's friends' Jim and Amanda live.
To avoid further confusion with having two Jims involved, I'll help you out by calling the friend that I'm traveling with, Jim Bob. It's a nickname of his, one that I used fairly often from this point forward. The other Jim, married to Amanda, will remain Jim.
Confused? Let's review...Jim Bob is my friend that I am traveling with. Jim (no Bob) is married to Amanda, and lives in Vicenza. You got it? Good, let's move on. 😊
On Sunday night, Jim
St. Mark's (San Marco)
The famous cathedral in Venice
Bob and I arrived in Vicenza. After some challenges with directions (nothing new on this trip), we located Jim and Amanda's apartment. Of course, nobody was home at the time of our arrival (our fault since we didn't give enough notice). 😊 But we talked to their neighbors, and they were kind enough to call Jim and Amanda's mobile #. Jim and Amanda were thankfully close by, and showed up soon after.
The small world phenomenon came into play here. It turns out that Jim and Amanda are close with my cousin Rob, and his wife Amy. In fact, Amanda actually recognized me from Rob and Amy's wedding years ago (she was a bridesmaid).
What are Jim and Amanda doing in Italy? They are working on the U.S. Army base in Vicenza as contract laborers (she as a dietician/nutritionist and he as a computer tech). We had fun chatting and Amanda made some great pasta for us.
The following morning, Jim and Amanda went to work while Jim Bob and I drove to Venice (approx a 45 minute drive to the east).
We parked in one of the parking structures (20 euros) located near the bridge
love the stuff! This photo is taken from a shop in Venice.
connecting the mainland and the islands (no cars allowed past that point), and began the walk towards St. Mark's (Piazza San Marcos). It didn't take long to figure out that walking through Venice was no easy matter.
What is Venice like? It's a complicated maze of canals, small bridges, and narrow paths that can leave one hopelessly lost. It's also mysterious, fascinating, charming, overpriced, and somewhat dirty. I loved it, but unfortunately, it all came at me at a very rushed pace. We walked for almost 6 hours straight. It was an adventure, but a tiring one. For food, we mostly just snacked as we were walking. The two stops for gelato were especially welcome. That's good stuff.
Since we were meeting Jim and Amanda for dinner that night, we left Venice before nightfall to make the return drive to Vicenza. You may be thinking that 6 hours is not enough time in Venice. You're right. If you go, stay at least a couple of days to explore the fascinating city at a more leisurely pace. But on this European Vacation, time was tight.
Once back in Vicenza, Jim and Amanda took us to an Italian restaurant
Vernazza at Sunset (one of the 5 towns in Cinque Terre)
(forgot the name) in the center of town. We wandered a little through the streets there, and then returned to their apartment. This would be our final night in Vicenza. I wish I could have spent more time with Jim and Amanda. They were super hosts and I really enjoyed getting to know them. They also have a great pad (3 bedroom, 1 bath, 2nd story spacious unit with tile floors throughout).
The following afternoon (after Jim Bob made a brief appearance at the Army base for a haircut), Jim Bob and I were off to Cinque Terre. We arrived in Vernazza, one of the 5 towns of Cinque Terre, around 6:30 p.m. Amanda was kind enough to get us reservations at a small guesthouse named Filippo Castrucci rooms (Filippo Castrucci camere). It was there that we would meet the person who shall remain nameless. Why? Well, he didn't offer his name. Who am I talking about? The guy who answered the door when we inquired about our room. To us, he was "Filippo is not my name, he is my brother." No idea what his
name was, but the verbal exchange, the accent, the clothing, the mother (Rita)
overlooking Vernazza with a distant view of Monterosso.
opening the window shutters on the 2nd floor to stick her head out the window and smile down at us, was classic. He joined us outside, lead us up winding stairs, through a tunnel, up another set of winding stairs, and into a building with a hallway accessing 3 doors. Our room was the one at the end of the small hall. They apparently have 8 rooms available for rent (unknown where they all are). I believe we were in room #4 (www.filippocamere.com
). The cost of the room was 65, or maybe 70 euros (approx $85 with the exchange rate at the time).
Vernazza is town #4 (or land #4 considering Cinque Terre means "5 lands") if you consider Riomaggiore (furthest south) town #1. These towns are very interesting. They consist of multi-storied buildings packed tightly together along the rocky coast and steep moutains along this stretch of the Mediterranean.
After checking in, Jim Bob checked out (quick to bed since he wasn't feeling well), and I spent some time in town. The initial pic of Vernazza was taken that night at sunset.
The next day, Jim Bob was feeling much better, and it was time for
hiking into Manarola from Corniglia
some hiking. There are paths that connect the 5 towns (@ a cost of 3 euros for using the paths). We started from Vernazza and headed south. The initial stretch from Vernazza to Corniglia was quite a climb (took about 90 minutes, and no, it's not level). Corniglia is different from the rest of the towns in that it sits on a bluff overlooking the water, rather than being at sea level. We stopped for water and snacks, and then continued the hike. It did get easier. The walk from Corniglia to Manarola was only about 45 minutes, and the walk from Manarola to Riomaggiore 20 minutes (along a wider, more accessible path). The last stretch was more of a stroll than a hike. From there, we took the train through all of Cinque Terre to arrive at Monterosso (town #5, and the largest). This was actually not by design. We got on the wrong train. Each train has different stops. The train we boarded had its first stop at Monterosso. It passed right by Vernazza where we intended to stop (our car was there). So rather than go directly back to Vernazza on the train and drive to Monterosso
the town on the southern end.
like we had originally planned, we walked around it right then and there. Monterosso is a little more touristy and spread out then the other towns. Its sandy beach is quite big though (unlike the almost non-existent beaches at the other sea-level towns). However, I think it loses a little of the character of the other smaller towns.
What's my favorite town in Cinque Terre? We didn't spend enough time in the other towns to give them all a fair chance, but my personal favorite was Vernazza. I wouldn't mind staying at Manarola or Riomaggiore though either. Corniglia is not on the water so that's a negative, and Monterosso is a little too big and touristy compared to the others. However, that might appeal more to some. It does have the best beach.
Ok, getting back on track...from Monterosso, we took the train back to Vernazza (we paid more attention to the train schedule then!) to get to our car. By the way, make sure you get your ticket stamped before you board the train in order to avoid any hassles with the authorities (and a 25 euro fine). The train price is 1.10 euros regardless of the
the largest town in Cinque Terre, the northernmost town, Monterosso.
distance within Cinque Terre.
Leaving Cinque Terre behind (bummer!), we drove through La Spezia (big port city to the south), and on to Milan. We would be flying out of Milan the following morning for our return to Los Angeles.
We found lodging at about 11:00 that night (Jim Bob negotiated a rate of 50 euros on a 110 euro room???), 10 minutes from the Malpensa airport (which, by the way, is a ways outside of Milan).
The next morning, the early wake up call @ 5:30 would not be appreciated, but necessary with our 7:55 flight on British Airways to London. From London, we took American Airlines to LAX. With all the time changes, our arrival was around 2:15 p.m. on Thursday, May 11.
My friend Chris picked me up from the airport and got me home in time to lead the high school guys meeting (ISI) that night.
Reflecting on the trip, it was a great experience...but rushed. In the future, I would not travel as quickly, recognizing that I wouldn't be able to visit as many cities. However, I would dig deeper into the areas I did visit.
Umm, I better get a job.
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