Sunday, June 23, 2013

Vietri Sul Mare & Salerno

I'm not sure why it has taken us this long to visit these two beautiful cities on the coast. We've driven through them a few times as they are a great place to start (or end) a drive on the Amalfi Coast, but have never actually stopped and spent time in them. They are popular destinations among locals and tourists alike, with beaches, shops, restaurants, and beautiful views.

Looking out from Vietri

From Vietri

Vietri Sul Mare means "Glass on the Sea" and the small town is known for its ceramics at very nice prices. We wanted to visit Vietri before one set of movers came to our house so we could pick up last minute bowls, plates, mugs, and anything else that we might want. We drove just an hour away from our house and arrived in the pretty town. After a little hassle with the parking (what else is new?) we were able to walk around the streets and walk in and out of the different shops adding more ceramic pieces to our ever growing collection.

We then drove to Salerno, only about 10 minutes away. Salerno is a much bigger city and is a commune in the region of Campania. It is an important cultural center and has had a long and important history. It was actually the capital of Italy for a very brief period (February - August 1944). 

To be honest we didn't spend that much time here. We drove around the city a little bit just to get an idea of where we wanted to park and to see if anything caught our eye to visit. Usually we do our fair share of research when visiting a new city, but things have just been so crazy with the moves that it was kind of an afterthought and we didn't realize it until we got there. After parking the car we got some gelato and took a walk on the beautiful promenade. Many people were out running, strolling, and taking in the nice Saturday and it was nice to see such activity on a gorgeous clear day. 

Walking along the promenade

Looking at Vietri from Salerno
Amalfi Coast, we will miss you greatly!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Our Top European Experiences

So as our time in Italy winds down and we embark on a new chapter in our lives we've been reminiscing about all of our experiences and travels over the past two years. We've done some amazing things and have been to places that we could only dream of going to. We really wanted to make the most out of our time here and we don't think we could have done it any better. We are definitely known as "the jet-setters" among friends and colleagues here in Italy, rushing off to a new city or country every weekend Jon wasn't on call, sometimes taking a plane two or three weekends a month just to make sure we didn't waste a single opportunity. And although at times, especially towards the end of our tour here, we became weary and tired of plane and train hopping to new cities, we were always inspired and thankful when we got there and appreciated what each place had to offer. Of course, every experience we had was the tops in our books, but these are the ones that stood out the most. So, in no particular order, we give you our top European experiences.

1) Staying overnight in an igloo in Zermatt, Switzerland: What an experience we had eating, drinking, and sleeping inside an igloo in the middle the Swiss Alps facing the Matterhorn. Not only did we meet people that we are still friendly with, but dinner was solely cheese fondue with bread. We also got to sled down to breakfast the next day. You can't beat that!

2) Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany: There's nothing like getting together with 10,000 of your "closest friends" in a tent (dressed in the traditional Bavarian gear) with one common goal of drinking liters of beer until you can't remember holding a rifle for a shooting game, dropping and breaking a camera, and getting back to the hotel... or was that just us?

3) Seeing a flamenco show in Seville, Spain: We were truly mesmerized by the singing, dancing, and guitar playing of this genre of Spanish music.

4) Husky sled and snowmobile driving in Saariselka, Finland: Everything about this trip was fun and different, from being in the Arctic Circle, to having three hours of sunlight a day, to staying in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere. But actually getting a chance to drive our own sleds with our own team of dogs and then driving our own snowmobiles at night through the Lapland wilderness was icing on the top of an amazing experience.

And speaking of Finland...

5) Seeing the Northern Lights in Saariselka, Finland: There are no words... just spectacular.

6) Fireworks on New Years Eve in Naples, Italy: For 30 minutes, watching every Neapolitan set off fireworks from their roofs, balconies, and inside their homes (yes, this happens) makes for a spectacular display for all of us who want to keep our extremities intact.

7) Wine tasting anywhere in Italy: Wine tasting here is completely different than in the U.S. You're not given little sips of wine to taste, but rather full glasses for you to enjoy. Not only that, but a lot of places will leave the bottle on the table for you to taste at your leisure. Some come with lunch and snacks, and the hospitality can't be beat! Touring the old cellars is pretty cool too.

8) Opera in Vienna, Austria: Even though we're not the biggest opera fans we're glad to have gone to our first (and last) opera show in Vienna. The beautiful Italian opera of Tosca sung in German was pretty interesting as well.

8) Seeing the concentration camps in Auschwitz, Poland: This isn't necessarily an experience that we enjoyed, but it was an experience nonetheless that gave us a deeper understanding of the atrocities that happened there... and we will never forget what we saw. We wanted to go, we saw it, and we don't have to return.

9) Kayaking in the Adriatic Sea in Dubrovnik, Croatia: We were able to see Dubrovnik from a different perspective while getting in a great arm and core workout!

10) Sex shows in Amsterdam, Netherlands: As if one show wasn't enough, we were offered a deal of two shows for the price of one with two free drinks at the second show. And we're not ones to pass up free drinks.

No pictures of the sex shows, but a lovely picture of all of us who went to see them.

11) Hiking in Cinque Terre: We've done our fair share of hikes in Italy, but this one was our favorite. The scenery, the towns, and the activity makes this a top area of Italy to visit.

12) Going to France - at any time: It's no accident that we went to France four times during our two years here. Whether we went to a big city like Paris, or the small town of Beaune in Burgundy, we enjoyed the food, the ambiance, and the vibe that France puts out.

So there you have it. Two years of incredible travel and experiences that we'll remember forever. 22 countries in as many months, with many repeat visits to some countries and cities kept us pretty busy. The ease and proximity of going to all of these places is something that we're going to miss greatly. People have been asking us if we got to see everything that we wanted to see while here. Yes we have... and so much more!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Cinque Terre

Oh Cinque Terre... you are so beautiful! Cinque Terre in Italian means Five Lands. The area consists of five towns that are in close proximity to each other and are dotted along the Lingurian Coast of Italy.

We had been saving this trip for the end of our time here for a couple of reasons. One is because in October 2011 the area suffered massive flooding with landslides destroying two of the towns for quite some time, making it impractical to visit the area with that heavy damage. Two is because we wanted to do a bit of hiking in the area and we didn't want it to be cold and rainy during our time there - so we put it off for warmer months. There are many Italian cities that you can visit all year round in all kind of weather, but since this area is better known for its hiking and beaches it's best in the warmer weather.

We flew into Genoa from Naples and decided to drive into the city of Genoa to walk around and have lunch. We stumbled upon a few things like the house of Christopher Columbus, a pretty piazza, and remnants of a castle. Since we were in the area known for its pesto we had to sample the local cuisine. We both ordered trofie with pesto (trofie is a thin twisted pasta) and could not have been more satisfied with our order! With our stomachs full and riposo starting we walked back to the car to continue on our trip.

Christopher Columbus's House

We're not sure what this is, but it looked nice

A quiet street during lunch time

Piazza de Ferrari

We drove to Monterosso al Mare, the northernmost Cinque Terre town and where our bed and breakfast was located. The town is divided into two parts, the old and the new, with Cinque Terre's only extensive sand beach. It is the largest out of the five villages, and it also serves as one end of the hiking trail between them.

Our "hotel"
Monterosso al Mare

One of the biggest reasons people visit Cinque Terre is for the hiking. There is a cliffside trail which connects the five villages, while also providing stunning views of the sea and coastline. We wanted to see each of the five towns and since we enjoy hiking this was perfect for us. The first part of the hike is from Monterosso al Mare to the next town of Vernazza. This is actually the most challenging section of the coastal hike mainly because there are very steep inclines and declines with pathways so narrow that at times only one person can fit at once. It took us one hour and five minutes to hike to Vernazza (books state that the average is 1.5 hours... go us!) and when we made our way down to the town we browsed the shops and refreshed ourselves with some water.

Monterosso al Mare from afar

Vernazza from above

Almost there!


After a short break we left the pretty town of Vernazza and walked up towards the trail on the way to Corniglia. Corniglia is the smallest of the five towns and is the only one not accessible by water. Because it is on top of a hill, no matter which way you come from you have to head up. We had a very steep uphill start from Vernazza and from there it was a mix of uphill with small breaks of flat path for us to follow (though still pretty narrow). This section took us about 1.5 hours. By the time we made it to Corniglia we were out of water and were famished! We quickly found a cute restaurant that served all we wanted to eat that weekend, pesto, and cooled off. Afterwards we spent about 30 minutes walking around the town. Corniglia feels smaller and quieter, but is just as charming as the other towns, if not more. There's a little piazza with a tower where people sit to pass the time, narrow car-free streets to wander through, and an overlook to take beautiful pictures of the sea.

Leaving Vernazza

Corniglia. In the distance you can see Manarola. 

From the outlook point in Corniglia.

Now we had a decision to make. Because of landslides blocking the trail, the 1.2 mile coastal section between Corniglia and the next town Manarola was closed. We wanted to keep hiking so we decided to take a route that would take us UP and around the other trails in order to get to Manarola... about 2.5 miles. It winds up to the small town of Volastra and then all the way down to Manarola. So up we went. We went up so much that we really didn't think it was possible to go up anymore. But then we would turn a corner and see another set of treacherous rocks to climb up and there was no other option but to keep going. After making it somewhat to the top, the rest of the trail consisted of small ups and downs, a nice reprieve from climbing. We made it to Volastra, followed the signs to Manarola, and finally went down. It seemed like we were descending way more than we had ascended in the beginning. The hike ended with 1,200 steps and though our calves were starting to tense up, we finally made it to Manarola two hours from when we started in Corniglia.

Leaving Corniglia

A steep climb up!

Manarola from afar


Getting a little bit closer

The descent begins

Almost there... maybe!

Don't fall! 

Trying to keep my balance

We were finally at the last section between Manarola and Riomaggiore, which is the more well-known part called Via dell'Amore, Lover's Lane. It's the easiest part of the trail by a long shot consisting of simply a straight, paved, 20 minute walking path, which actually would have been a nice end to our long all-day hike. But this section is also closed due to rockfalls that injured four hikers last September, and they are still working on deciding who is responsible for the rockfalls which has caused a deadlock in any progress in reopening the section. Disappointed that we couldn't walk the last part, though determined to get to the fifth town, we took the train from Manarola to Riomaggiore.


After spending some time in Riomaggiore, we took the train back to Monterosso al Mare. But our hike didn't end there. From the train station it was at least a mile uphill (why is it always uphill??) to our hotel, which at this point we felt like it was never going to show. We calculated that we hiked a total of 12.15 miles that day, including walking in the towns a little bit... not bad for me being 14 weeks pregnant at the time!

After breakfast the next day we wanted to stop at some small beach towns on the way back to the airport. Our first stop was to Rapallo. We walked along the water and stumbled upon a local market selling typical products of the area. We bought some pesto (what else?), fresh pumpkin gnocchi, and trofie pasta.

Second on our list was the small fishing town of Portofino, about 4 miles away from where we were. Unfortunately, about 2 miles away from the town police officers weren't letting anyone drive in since it was already overcrowded with day trippers, locals, and tourists. The only way to get into the town at that time was to take a ferry or take the bus, both of which we didn't have time for. Disappointed, we drove on. We tried to go to Camogli, but parking was also a major issue there. We ended up stopping in the town of Recco, another beach town that had one parking spot left for us! We had a pesto pasta filled lunch, then bought some gelato and walked (hobbled?) along the water.

View from our drive

The beach in Recco


We really enjoyed our time in this area of Italy and this was our favorite hike so far out of all of our hiking experiences here. Not only does the hike give you stunning views of the sea during the trek, it was pretty cool being able to hike to the different towns and take in the scenery and characteristics of each one. Each town has a different feel to it, but all seemed to hold onto the quaint fishing village theme of the area. It was a great area of Italy to save for the end of our time here!