Sunday, October 8, 2017

Under the Tuscan Rain

Since the Cinque Terre towns are small, we had enough time during our long weekend to see what we wanted to there and spend a day driving to Tuscany and back.

David wanted to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa for the first time. I wanted to see something that was new to me, so I took Jenna's advice (she spent a semester studying in Siena), to visit San Gimignano.

Driving through the Tuscan countryside was BEAUTIFUL. It was 2 hours of green, rolling hills, vineyards, and cute towns. I felt a little bit like we were in a movie. I've really enjoyed getting to drive through Europe this year instead of only taking trains- you get to see a lot more this way!

San Gimignano is nicknamed the "Medieval Manhattan" due to all of the tall towers that make up its skyline. 

We walked through the medieval streets in search of lunch. 

There were plenty of tourist shops lining the streets. It looks like the specialty souvenir from this area is hand-painted pottery. It seems like everywhere in Italy has a specialty craft. Venice has glass, Florence has leather, etc.

When we sat down to lunch, the waiter took one look at David's American flag t-shirt and explained in slow, condescending English that it wasn't a fast-food restaurant. If only he knew he was actually French, from the land of slow food (and rude waiters, lol).

I don't hold a grudge though... I'm guessing that a ton of American tourists have complained to him in the past about the speed of their cooking and that might get annoying. The food was good and homemade, so there's that.

Unfortunately it was raining by the time we finished our lunch, so we didn't get to explore as much afterwards as we wanted to. I did my best to awkwardly balance my umbrella while taking pictures. 

Apparently there is a Gelato World Championships, and one of said World Champion Gelaterias is in San Gimignano. We couldn't leave without trying some! I have to say that it wasn't the BEST gelato I've ever had, but it was respectable. 

On our way out of the city, we walked down the Punto Panoramico and got some great views of the surrounding countryside.

After an hour in the car, we pulled into Pisa! Right away we were accosted by people trying to sell us crappy souvenirs. Pisa is the definition of a tourist trap.

But I understand why. Seeing the tower, cathedral, and baptistery are all really worth the trip! My favorite part of visiting Pisa is people watching while everyone takes awkward pictures pretending to hold up the tower. When I came here with Jenna in 2013, we spent at least an hour observing. I have lots of funny stalker pictures on that blog post (click to make fun of people with me).

We were a little short on time to see everything before they closed, so no stalker pictures from this trip. We did get some of us, though :)

Old married couple! #oneyeardown

Did you know that the Tower of Pisa is centuries older than Machu Picchu? I do now, thanks to my aunt's comment on my Facebook post. They started building the tower in the 1100s and it was finished about 200 years later. It started leaning almost right away because the foundation wasn't sturdy enough. 

They did a lot of stabilizing work in the 90s/00s, so now it's expected to be around for at least another few hundred years. Until they worked on restoring it, it was leaning more and more every year. Even though it's stopped moving, we still didn't feel the need to make the climb to the top.

The cathedral (and especially its ceiling) is impressive on its own. 

I was very excited to eat PIZZA on a PIAZZA in PISA (see what I did there) for dinner. And yes, that is a pizza with nothing more than white sauce and mozzarella cheese. It's a picky eater's dream food.

It was cool to see the area at sunset and after it got dark out. The crowds of tourists and people aggressively selling stuff were gone, but the great views were still there!

La Spezia turned out to be a great base for exploring more of Italy. Here's a picture of me awkwardly posing on our Airbnb balcony with the fancy porcelain tea set I was excited about.

Grazie, Italy, for the great weekend!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Cinque Terre

One year ago on September 23rd, David and his parents left France and flew to the U.S. for our wedding a few days later. 

This year on September 23rd, David and I drove to Italy for a long weekend to celebrate our first anniversary.

This will (likely...) be our only anniversary where we live road trip distance from Italy, so why not?

Being only an hour from the Italian border has been one of my favorite things about living in southern France. I've loved getting to explore more of this beautiful country with the best food in the world. Driving to Italy for us is like driving to Illinois from Milwaukee.

Cinque Terre is a destination that's been on my bucket list for a while. In Italian, Cinque Terre means "Five Lands." It's made up of 5 small villages, mostly each with a population of just around 1,000 people. The villages are so picturesque due to their location on cliffs overlooking the Ligurian Sea, and for their colorful buildings.

The famous thing to do in Cinque Terre is actually hiking, believe it or not. There is a famous trail that links all of the towns and can be hiked in about 6 hours. I had 0 desire to hike and most portions of the trail are currently closed for restoration anyways, so I was very happy to discover that Cinque Terre can still be thoroughly enjoyed by those to refuse to wear comfortable/ugly shoes.

We drove just 4 hours from Cannes to get to our Airbnb in La Spezia, a neighboring city that is much larger. It's not really possible to drive into Cinque Terre, so we decided to park in La Spezia and take the 5 minute train ride to the closest village: Riomaggiore.

I was able to find a walking tour online, and by following those directions we were able to do a circuit of the whole town. The weather was cloudy and foggy (yay fall!), and I thought that kind of added to the ambience. It was definitely a night and day difference from the nearly 100 degree weather in Naples just a month ago.

Church in Riomaggiore in fall


Flowers in Riomaggiore, Italy

Train station, Riomaggiore

Streets of Riomaggiore

View of Riomaggiore

View of Riomaggiore, Italy

View of Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Backpacking in Cinque Terre

The views kept getting better the longer we walked! 

We finished the night with pesto pizza (me), fried calamari (him), and gelato (both!).

The next day, we took a little break from Cinque Terre to visit another beautiful place in Italy: Tuscany. Click here to read about our Tuscan road trip!

On the last day of our long weekend, we made it to 2 more Cinque Terre towns. First on the agenda was Manarola. I was impressed immediately after stepping out of the train station.

Manarola, Cinque Terrre

There was a walkway along the water that led to a stunning view of the whole town. I didn't want to leave this spot ever.

Stunning view of Manarola, Cinque Terre

Colorful houses in Manarola, Cinque Terre

But there was more to see, so we continued along the trail. In the distance we could see the next Cinque Terre town, Corniglia. We skipped going there because it has less to see, but at least we caught a glimpse.

The water was a beautiful turquoise color. We walked down to the waterfront to see it up close.

Since we had no desire to leave Manarola, we found a restaurant for lunch even though it was a bit early. We sat outside and people watched the hordes of tourists and a handful of locals. Even though I'm sure they make tons of money from said tourists, I almost felt bad for the locals that their small towns are constantly overwhelmed.

Our last destination before heading back to France was Vernazza. 

In Vernazza, we were greeted once again by colorful buildings surrounded by mountains on one side and the sea on the other. We enjoyed popping in a small church, browsing the shops, and getting one last gelato.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre


When we saw everything there was to see, we picked up the car in La Spezia and headed back to France. Even though it was a great weekend, we were both a little sad to head home to real life. We expected to be back in America by now and since that process is dragging on... it was a breath of fresh air to forget about immigration frustration and just really enjoy being in Europe together.