A taste of Italy – Fall break, part two

I have been meaning to blog about the rest of my adventures on fall break for the past week now and I have just been so busy that I haven’t had time.  The end of semester projects are in full swing and everyone is rushing to get all of the work completed.  I can’t believe there is only one month of Bucknell in London left!

I left off explaining that Becky, Lauren and I woke up early on Monday morning in Barcelona to catch our flight to Venice.  We flew into Italy and, upon landing, were surprised to find that we didn’t have to go through any customs or passport checkpoints.  We were disappointed because we wanted our passports stamped to show that we had been in Spain and Italy.  We found the correct bus to take us from the airport to the Piazza at one end of Venice – the last area in the city that vehicles can enter.  My favorite thing about Venice is that it is a city for pedestrians.  The only motorized form of transportation is the water bus and that never interferes with foot traffic because there are bridges across the canals for pedestrians.

The very first thing we did in Italy was find a pizzeria, of course.  It was probably in the top five list of the best pizza I have ever had.  All of the pizza I ate in Italy is somewhere in that top five list.  We then bought a three-day student pass for the water bus service because it gave us the best deal and we thought it would be useful for traveling around and visiting the islands.

The view of the grand canal from the waterbus.

We found our hostel pretty easily and were surprised to find a different hostel atmosphere than we had experienced thus far.  It was much more of a community feeling and we got to know all the other young people staying in the hostel; at the previous hostels, we didn’t talk to any of the other guests at all.  The hostel served us a group dinner every night that was included in the price of our stay.  We bonded with the other travelers over our plates of yummy pasta.

Our hostel in Venice.

That evening we visited the Piazza San Marco – the most famous area of Venice with St. Marks Basilica, Doges Palace, and the Clock tower surrounding the Piazza.  We went into the very beautiful and impressive St. Marks Basilica and I was amazed by the intricate gold tiles covering the ceiling.  We walked around the piazza and took pictures and watched the crazy pigeon ladies attract flocks of pigeons.  Then we bought our first Italian gelatos! I had a cookie flavored one and it began my week long obsession with gelato.

The next day was our only full day in Venice.  We started the day by getting lost – the perfect way to discover the city.  There are so many little alleys and twisting streets in Venice that it is impossible to follow a map and it’s much easier to just wander. Somehow we managed to end up back where we started though, so that was pretty cool.  We had pizza for lunch again and then decided to go visit the island of Murano, where the famous glass making takes place.  We visited the glass museum there and saw some really intricate glass sculptures and dishes.  I bought a lot of cool presents there for friends and family and some souvenirs for myself.  We went back to the hostel for dinner and then went for a ride on the grand canal at night with some new friends we had met at dinner.  The grand canal was really pretty at night and I’m glad we got to see a different perspective of it because it has a completely different look during the day.

Becky, Lauren and me on a bridge in Venice.

We got up really early on Wednesday to take the train to our next destination, Cinque Terre.  We took a three-hour train to Florence and then switched to another one that went through Pisa and eventually took us to Monterosso, the northern most town in Cinque Terre.  Cinque Terre is a collection of five small towns along the cliffs above the Mediterranean in the northwestern part of Italy.  We were pleased to find that it was very warm there, around 70 degrees every day!  We called the place we were staying at and they told us to take the train to the next town to the north, Levanto, and then get a cab that would drive us there.

Our cab driver, Eduardo, was playing the “Mamma Mia” soundtrack in his cab as he drove us across switchbacks up a mountain.  I felt like I was in a movie – the shimmering blue sea was stretched out in front of us and the colorful little houses and shops in Levanto dotted the valley below.  It was breathtaking.  The dream suddenly ended when we got there and Eduardo charged us a steep 20 euros for the short cab ride.

The view during our cab ride.

The place we were staying was really nice though.  We were expecting a hostel, because we had found it on hostelworld, and we actually had our own little bungalow in a resort village on the mountain.  We had awesome views of the water from the porch of our bungalow.

The first thing we did after settling into our bungalow was go to explore the town on the other side of our village.  There was a path along the cliffs above the water from our village to the town of Bonassola to the north.  We did that 20-minute hike and then walked around Bonassola and checked out the beach there.  The town was very empty because the tourist season had just ended and a lot of the places were closed.  We found a little market and bought some snacks and food for dinner.  We cooked ourselves dinner and then watched some TV and just relaxed.  There was nowhere to go at night since we were on a mountain in a little resort where the median age of the guests was probably about 50 years old.  It was a very relaxing part of our trip though and we got to catch up on some much needed sleep.

We began the next day by hiking to Bonassola again and then walking through tunnels that they have carved through the mountains for pedestrians and cyclists to use.  At the end of our 30-minute walk we were in Levanto, the town where we had gotten off the train and taken the cab.  We were glad to find that we could walk to these places and that the expensive cab ride was not the only form of transportation.  In Levanto we scoped out the pizza and gelato and just walked around soaking up the sun and the adorable little town.  We walked along the boardwalk at the beach and then headed back to Bonassola to lie on the beach.

The beach was strange because instead of being made of sand, it was composed of tiny pebbles.  They didn’t hurt to walk on or lie on though, and I liked that they didn’t stick to everything like sand does.  It felt great to be on the beach again and the water was such a pretty clear/blue color.  Just like in Barcelona, it was too cold to actually go in the water but I walked along the edge for awhile.  It was a relaxing afternoon and it really felt like a vacation.

On our third day we actually visited the Cinque Terre towns.  We got to Monterosso by doing a three-hour hike from Levanto.  The hike wasn’t too difficult and the views were gorgeous.  We walked right along the edge of the cliff above the water at some points and it looked like you could see across the water for miles.  The path went through some forested areas that made me feel like I was back in Pennsylvania.  It also had some areas that resembled desert terrain with sand and sparse shrubbery.  It was an odd mix.  We sat on a rock to eat our strawberry jam and Nutella sandwiches (inventive, right?) for lunch.  The hike was very long, but it was worth it because it was pretty and we felt so accomplished when we finally reached Monterosso.  We rewarded ourselves with more pizza, of course.  We looked around Monterosso for a little while and then bought train tickets to go between the other four towns.

We started in Riomaggiore, the southern-most one.  We took a few pictures of the colorful houses on the cliffs above us when we got off the train but we couldn’t find the actual town.  We found a path you had to pay to enter and we thought that might lead to the town.  We got back on the train and went to the next town, Manarola.

The view of Manarola sitting on the rocks below.

I think this town was my favorite because there were big rocks down in the water that we could climb on.  We were able to look up at the cheery town from down there or out at the sparkling water.  Corniglia was the third town and we had to climb 382 steps to get from the train station up to the town at the top of the hill.  It was worth it though, because this town was so cute and lively.  There was a belltower that you could go up to and look down the coast.  There was also a marina area you could go down more steps to get to – we went halfway down.  When we looked up at Corniglia from there, expanses of vineyards lined the hillside in front of us – it was amazing.  The fourth town was Vernazza and that one was really pretty, too.  It has a big area out in the water with benches where people were sitting to watch the sunset.  We were searching for some authentic gnocchi for dinner but ended up getting minestrone soup instead because the restaurant we found had a broken boiler.  The soup was yummy though and I think my body was happy to be fed something besides pizza.

The five towns of Cinque Terre are really awesome and it’s hard to describe how beautiful they are.  The pictures definitely don’t do them justice either.  My favorite thing about Cinque Terre is that it has both mountains for hiking and a beach for relaxing – you don’t have to choose one over the other when you go on vacation here.

Me in Bonassola.

I had a great time visiting the area and I really want to go back someday.

Traveling home from Cinque Terre was an interesting experience.  The three of us were miserable that day because we planned our travel arrangements poorly and we were traveling way too many hours.  We began by getting up at 5 a.m. and hiking the path to Bonassola with our luggage so that we didn’t have to take another 20 Euro cab ride.  The train we needed to catch left Bonassola at 6:11 a.m. and we ran to catch it.  We then sat in the Monterosso train station until 7 a.m. for the train that would take us to Milan.  We arrived in Milan at 10 a.m. and this is where we made our biggest planning mistake.  Our flight back to London didn’t leave Milan until 4:50 p.m., so we had over six hours to spend in Milan carrying our luggage around.  All we wanted to do was go home.  We planned it this way because we didn’t want to have to rush from the train station to the airport, but the time gap was a little ridiculous.  It would have been okay if there had been things to see in Milan around the train station but we could not find anything.  We got some food at a few different cafes to kill time and then just ended up taking the bus to the airport and sitting there for almost three hours.  We finally arrived in London and then we had issues with the tube and bus systems because they were severely crowded for some reason.  We ended up just walking back to our flats and being miserable by the time we got home.

Everything was fine when we woke up the next day, though, and we were able to appreciate the awesome fall break we had just experienced!  I feel so lucky to have gotten the chance to see France, Spain, and Italy on my break and I will never forget those 10 days.   Life in London is hectic with schoolwork and trying to fit in sightseeing during our last few weeks.  I have a lot more U.K. experiences to blog about, so I will try to write more soon!

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