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August 11th 2011
Published: June 13th 2017
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DAY TEN (8/11) — Cinque Terre, Liguria

"You may have the universe if I may have Italy." -- Giuseppe Verdi

A little extra stress first thing this morning. Len had told us it was imperative we leave on time as we had a specific reservation for our boat trip. We had breakfast, headed to the beach to take a few photos in the morning sun, cleared our account at the front desk and headed up the two flights of stairs to the room to grab our carry-on items. When we got there, our key no longer worked because we had cleared our account. Down the stairs Patrick went again to have the key reset. Back up the stairs to find out it still didn't work. Down the stairs I went, insisting to the front desk clerk I didn't want a reset key, I wanted a warm body to open the room. (In the meantime, I noticed ALL our fellow travelers were sitting on board waiting to depart.) Back up the stairs, meet the guy, back down the stairs and climb on to the bus … breathless and apologetic!

We finally headed from Viareggio to La Spezia for the boat ride to
Cinque Terre (pronounced Shing-kwa Terra). Cinque Terre is a rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera in the Liguria region. "The Five Lands" are five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, all of which make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Over centuries, people have carefully built terraces on the steep cliffs that overlook the sea. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages; cars cannot reach them from the outside.

Tauck took us by boat to the villages and by train back to La Spezia. Because it was Saturday, the first segment of the boat ride was packed with weekenders heading to the sea for the day. Luckily they got off at the first or second port, leaving us room to move around and take some fantastic shots of the villages and the Mediterranean.

We docked in Vernazza, had lunch on the piazza overlooking the cove. Gianni Franz's, famous for its pesto, Vongole (clams) and focaccia, offered good food, but the service was almost belligerent. When I asked for parmesan for my clam pasta dish, the waiter rudely told me not to use it as the cheese was too strong for the flavors of the dish. He dished
out opinions on others' dishes as well.

We then wandered the small town, dodging tourists, visiting the church and checking out the shops. Most of the throng was dressed in swimming suits and many were, shall we say, underdressed. The shops had little to offer.

We boarded a train back to La Spezia to meet up with Marco for our last bus ride with him. We organized our tip for him (Tauck recommends $3-5 per person per day.)

As we headed north, we passed a series of rock formations that looked like the Rockies with a spring snow on them. Instead, they were actually white marble quarries; much of the world's marble is mined here and almost all of it is processed here. The Liguria region is known for pinons (pine nuts) and pesto, marble and ship building.

About 90 minutes later we arrived in Florence, the capital of Tuscany and the city that gave birth to the Renaissance. We checked in at the Westin Excelsior, a truly elegant hotel. Our room has a balcony and overlooks the River Arno and the Ponte Vecchio, the city's famous arched bridge. These are definitely very high priced rooms..

Note to Maritz followers of my blog: In
Boating to Cinque TerreBoating to Cinque TerreBoating to Cinque Terre

Halvorsens, Bedelis/Dawson, Us
the lobby was an EdwardJones desk, and sure enough, the Travel Directors behind the desk were Maritz folks. They had joined Maritz many years after I had left (1999), but it was fun to chat. They didn't even know John Rae, so they were truly newbies.

At 5:15, we met Len in the lobby and he walked us to the three main piazzas of Florence to give us an orientation for our stay here. There are two organized tours but the rest of the time we are on our own to tour, shop and dine as we choose.

This was my first glimpse of the Duomo, which I have to say just might possibly be the prettiest building I've ever seen.

We had dinner with Sam and Vivi Ramirez, of Mission, TX, in the main dining room of the Westin's sister hotel, the St. Regis, across the plaza. Dinner had some highlights (the tomato/almond pasta) and some lowlights (the pasta with monkfish). The dining room was gorgeous though; and there was live piano music. The dinner and our companions were delightful.

My knees aren't too wild about the cobblestones here in Firenze; I think I'll wear a knee brace tomorrow.

Doug Halvorsen has given
up on his luggage. In fact, no one from Air France even knows where it is nor does anyone seem to care. Among the places it's been (besides where it started) are Paris, Houston (TX), Rome, Naples, Rome, Perugia, Naples. And now it has apparently checked out.

Additional photos below
Photos: 22, Displayed: 22


Vernazza, Cinque Terre ... Gianni'sVernazza, Cinque Terre ... Gianni's
Vernazza, Cinque Terre ... Gianni's

Laurie Balmes & Pete Capobianco

13th August 2011

puny desserts

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