Day 1 -Stendhalized In Italy!

Takeoff –Newark NJ  to Milan to Venice Italy

Newark, NJ April 14 2008IMG_1480Year #7- Deb and Dolores most excellent adventures!

After many emails and discussions, the destination for our yearly girlfriend getaway is finally decided: Italy.

Not a bad choice. Better than Bed-Stuy and my first trip to Italy. Thursday April 24, 2008 we board Continetal flight 44Y from Newark at 5pm and take off at 6:30pm arriving nonstop in Milan at 8:30am. Now I am on Italian time! Afer a good snooze stretched out among three  seats in a wide plane, I arrive somwhat coherent.

Good thing because this is only the beginning of the journey. Now we drag luggage to the bus terminal outside the airport and hop on for an hour ride to Milan Central train station. Destination: Venice.

Since Rick Steves is now our guru, (we saw him speak at the NYT travel show in NYC previous to this trip) we follow his advice in this large crazy station. FIND THE YELLOW TICKET MACHINES!…

Ahhh–finally after much searching and pushing buttons while still half asleep, the machine spits back to tickets to Venezia San Lucia.

Eurostar is filled but we do manage to get first class seats, which guarantees your body is on the train, not a place to sit! (we do luck out thou and get 2 seats, others were piled on the floor near the bathrooms!)

So, at 11:05AM we are off and after 3 1/2 hours we arrive. The weather is perfect- about 65 degrees. Oh my God, am I really in Venice?

IMG_3784

SaveSave

Day 2 -Planes, trains, buses and boats to Venice!

Planes, trains, buses and boats to Venice!
Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy


We drag luggage again but this time out of the train station and into the sight of the glorious canals of Venice. My first new word: “Vaporetti”. Yes, its a boat. #51 to be exact, which will take us to the island of Lido where will be be staying for 2 nights at the Hotel Des Bains.

IMG_3778

A Vaporetti is not a water taxi, although similar. Difference is: You are jammed in with about 50 other people (and their luggage) and it costs 6.50 euros as opposed to 80 euros for a water taxi for two or so bodies. Dolores is being stepped on and pushed. I don’t care. I’m in Venice!

IMG_3759

A quick ride and we arrive in Lido and decide we will walk to our hotel even thou we hae no idea where is it. But alas, a roadside beer stand awaits us in the distance. Yes, after a cold adult beverage we will be able to walk better and think more clearly. And find our hotel. It’s amazing. Am I on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”?

IMG_3779

Directly across from the hotel, sits the deep blue of the Adriatic Sea, (which of course we dip our toes in).

IMG_3777

But enough of breathtaking oceans, we dump our suitcases and head out in search of Rick Steves recommended Osteria pub crawls. We are very thirsty by now. A free shuttle boat (of course),complimets of the Hotel takes us back to the mainland. There is no need for a map. Walking the alleyways of Venice is part of the experience.

I cannot compare this to anything but it does remind me somewhat of Boston Mass. North End. Fish shops, cheese shops and meat hanging on hooks. Dolores may faint if she sees any more pork chops and I may do the same soon as well. I am on overload from sighting scores of leather bags!

Its a good thing the first pub- Osteria Al Portego- is in sight and it worth the trip from Jersey! It’s jam packed with people, mostly 20 somethings inside and out. Wine is served from wooden kegs for .80 euros. Drink up! Yes, another please! And a few slices of bread, cheese, olives and whatever else is in that case- yes, we are very happy in Venice in our first pub on the tour.

The rest of the evening is spent doing more of the same, sampling sardines and red peppers and more vino, of course. But the highlight is seeing St Marks Square in a vast space against a midnight sky and listening to the most amazing orchestra with crowds of others wondering the same thing. Am I really in Venice? Someone pinch me please, but don’t wake me up.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Day 3 Venice

Day 3 Venice
Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

Its Saturday morning. We sleep too late and miss our free breakfast. Bummer. And must check out of the Hotel Bains..

But its off to the mainland once again to find our next bed for the night. The Fontana Hotel- originally built in the 18th century and restored in 1984 overlooks campo San Zacarria- smack in the middle of the Venetian canals. Due to some room confusion, we are given antoher room and even save 50 euros! This means more euros for vino!

https://www.hotelfontana.it/en/

We wander about through a labyrinth of narrow passageways called “calli” and then have lunch at a small outdoor pizza cafe, not bad. Next begins the search for the Trajhetto. This is the cheaper version of a Gondola ride.

Instead of going thru all the canals for many $$$, this just crosses the canal for 50 cents. Dolores has been talking about since her last trip to Italy! A very quick ride but we take photos and get to share the Trajhetto with amazing looking Italian men! Every turn we take is a photo op. The famous Rialto Bridge.

The rialto Bridge, Venice

And who ever thought that hanging laundry could be so breathtaking! I am in heaven and cannot believe the beauty of all that surrounds me.

bluepie

bluepie

Life is good. So, onward to explore the churches.

First is San Polo SE. Inside- the Assumption of Mary by Titan and Bellini’s Madonna and Child, among others. The Basilica’s Maria Gloriosa Del Frari is next. (I light a candle for my sweet cousin Diane who went to heaven the day before my trip- I love you and will miss you forever)

Having a hard time comprehending the massive collections of art and beatuy. We recall that our guru Rick says that the best way to view art is not in a museum but in a real church setting.

So we obey, of course.

All of this magnificent beauty is making me dizzy (stendhalized!) so a cold brew at an outdoor Blues Bar in the brillant sunshine is just what the doctor ordered.

IMG_3812

I ask Dolores again for the 6th time today. Why do we live in NJ?

More strolling amongst tall ,dark handsome men and we literally need to hold each other up so we don’t faint.

We walk back to the train station and purchase our tickets for Sundays trip to the next leg of the trip- The Eurostar and 3 connections to Cinque Terra.

But the night is still young so how could we not imbide in a few more “bacari’s” (wine bars) amongst the back alleys of Venice? A quick peak in one storefront brings us the most unusual experience. A local storekeeper who speaks no English (at a Cava or Enoteca), sells vino in large barrels. He fills up a 1.5 liter bottle for us for 3 euros! This should last us a while. Well, maybe. Stumbling along, we belly up to the bar at Cantina Vecia, a very livley Chichetti bar.

We nibble on crostini and those great tiny glasses of vino, of course. Yes, life is good. Before we call it a night- have no idea what time it is anyway- we eat dinner in a great Chinese place..seafood salad, pizza- who knew? A sambuca and gelato for dessert and finally- bed at 2am!

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Day 4 – Venice to The Italian Riviera!

Day 4 – Venice to The Italian Riviera!
Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy


After no sleep for me at all- (Dolores snores!)..we are up at 6 AM and amazingly out the door by 7 AM. After a quick croissant at our Hotel, we pay our bill (108 euors for the night) and RUN with luggage again to the Vaproretta- boat #42. It leaves literally within seconds and we are saying goodbye to Venice and hello to an 8:45 AM  Eurostar.(Venezia S Lucia to Firenze to Pisa Centrale to Manorola.)

And finally we are in Cinque Terra! (Rick would be proud!) The Hotel ca d’andrean in Manorola is only a short walk up a not too steep hill. A few minutes from the sea, this hotel is lovely. Outdoors, lemon trees and  olive trees sit stand tall among tables for a view from our window.

View from hotel room, Cinque Terra

View from hotel room, Cinque Terra

Inside the lobby, a firepalce and a cafe. I need to take a breath to savor the moment. Cinque Terra, famous since Roman times for their white wines , has a special charm.

https://www.cadandrean.com

The five villages that they are famous for, stretch out among eighteen kilometers of the rocky and irregular coast of eastern Ligurai. They are linked by a network of different paths, which we will be hiking for the next 3 days.

This is the place that Rick Steves found in 1978 as a college student backpacking through Europe. He decalred it a “Back Door” Region and many guide books later, the rest is history..Today it is a national park so the beauty can be preserved. We buy a Cinque Terra card for 10 euros and this gives us access to all the trails in the villages.

IMG_3923

IMG_3940

There are no big hotels here, no cars allowed, no museums. Only sea and sand. Yipeee! Since we had a long day, we decide to take the shortest hike today- its only 20 minutes to Riamaggiore (a haven for artists) and its a small pathway called the “Via dell’Amore” (the road of love) .

IMG_3824

After only a few minutes, the view is breathtaking at a gorgeous lookout. And we stop for a beer, of course, as we look down at the blue green sea. Tons of photos follow. We walk thru a tunnel into a tangle of colorful homes.

Tunnel to Rigamaggioro

Tunnel to Rigamaggioro

I am sure I must be dreaming. We walk back to Manorola and have an excellant dinner in town at Trattiora II Porticciolo. lingniue and pesto…(this region is the birthplace of pesto – made with basil, cheese, garlic olive oil and pine nuts) …yes, I am sure now I am dreaming…

Manorola, Cinque Terra

Manorola, Cinque Terra

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Day 5- Cinque Terre Dreamin’

Day 5- Cinque Terre Dreamin’
Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy


After a late start with full backpacks of fruit, cheese, salami, crackers, and our water bottles filled with homemade wine, we head out for our hike towards Vernazza. It is not as short or easy as expected. But, although it should take a couple hours, we are in no rush.

Hey, I’m in Italy, not New Jersey on the turnpike!. But first a stop in the hilltop town of Corniglia. There are 370 steps that zigag to the actual town. Dolores is a bit tired so we walk the winding road instead and it is well worth the trip. So quaint, so lovely. We stop at a wine shop, galleries, boutiques, cafes and just breathe in the clean Meditarranean air.

corniglia

corniglia

Once again, Rick does not steer us wrong! Backpacks on and we hit the trail to Vernazza. The views are indescribable. We are high above the sea and the sun is shining – the weather is perfect for a hike.

bluepie

Arriving at 4pm we stop at an outdoor cafe and I still cannot believe I am here. Color is everywhere. Vernazza’s one street connects the train station and melts into the vineyards.

Like veins on a grape leaf, paths and stairways stretch upward from Main Street to this watercolor huddle of houses. Lines of laundry are strung from one painted home to another. At 6 PM the sun glazes and sparkles in the sea. I am warm from the sun, but not hot. People are relaxing and enjoying the slow pace.

IMG_3875

 

IMG_3934

Church bells ring. I gaze at terra cotta homes and boats near the dock painted in every primary color that exisits. No one rushes in Italy. After a stroll through the town we stop at the “Il Pirata delle 5 Terre” to check out the menu…sorry they tell us…only 5 tables and need a reservation 2 weeks in advance..

We see why, the food looks amazing- of course, they knew Rick Steves too! We decide on Ristorante Incadase de Piva- a rare bit of old Vernazza off the main drag.

The best mussels I’ve ever had! Take the train back to our hotel, hit a local pub for a nitecap, buy t- shirts for the guys at home and chat with some folks from Engalnd. Fun time..Hit the sack at 1:30 am….hope D does not snore tonite!

SaveSave

SaveSave

Day 6- more hiking!

Day 6- more hiking!
Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy


Given that the skies are a bit gray today and it is somewhat drizzling, we purchase a train ticket ( remember to get them stamped!) from our town of Manorola to Monterosso al Mare for the last days hike. This is the biggest resort town and the only one with a sandy beach. And also cars, hotels, paddleboats and crowds under umbrellas.

IMG_3874

There are coves, refreshing waterfalls, and natural and dangerous high dives tucked in along the coast. It is breathtaking. (so far we haven’t seen one ugly thing on this trip!)

IMG_3897

Some folks don’t care for the bigger towns as much but, we think we’d stay here next time( if we are lucky enough to return!)..

There is alot to do and see. After more strolling we have lunch (more mussels for me of course!) – some great minestrone soup too.

We stop for wine tastings and I buy my son Brian a bottle of Limonicino liqeur, which Italy is known for. With our stomachs full, it’s time to hit the trail. .

the trail to Vernazza

the trail to Vernazza

A bit late at 4:30 but darkness also arrives late..Ahhhh…bella vista! The remains of a castle are first on the route and then it goes up to the top of the promontory to its decent on the other side of Vernazza.

Some parts of the trail are still wet from the morning rain. There are terraces created on step slopes with dry stone walls built in the old times. The hills are covered by a mix of spontaneous vegetation, the typical “macchia mediterranea”, small vineyards, olive trees, and bright lemon plants- the renowned lemons of Monterosso.

Speaking of which, I spot some lemons ahead on the path (we’ve been trying to snatch one for days!) and scream back to D that we may be able to grab it. But lo and behold, as we turn the corner, it is a lemonade stand in the middle of the trail!

An old Italian man, lemon trees framing his face, inquires in broken English ” would we like some lemonade or better yet Lemoncello!

Of course, this is worthy of a stop to chat. He dips the rims of glasses with sugar and for 2 euros, we are drinking lemonade in Italy on top of a mountaintop.

Lemonade man- on the trail from Monterroso to Corniglia, Italy

Lemonade man- on the trail from Monterroso to Corniglia, Italy

Gee , I really miss New Jersey now! And he has stories to tell. Turns out he likes the good ole USA and even George Bush. (this part I don’t get).

Regardless, he gives us his address and wants us to send him a postcard from the Empire State building..of course we will comply. I finally drag Dolores away and its On Di ah mo!..After so many twists and turns of stunning cliffs and Meditarrean blues, we stop for a picnic lunch and are the envy of passing hikers.

No one else has bread, cheese, salami and homemade wine! We’ve been hiking for about 2 hours now not including our time stopped for lunch and breaks… and the upcoming vision of Vernazza cannot be descibed in words, only ahhhhs..

A day to remember and the best hike of all the villages. We catch the train back to Manorola, eat an awesome dinner in town and chat with some folks from North Carolina…a professor at Wake Forest.

Turns out he is crazy about the New York Times and spends 20 miutes telling me how much he likes it..he reads it every day and adores the Op-Ed page..Gee, how about that?

IMG_3938

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Day 7 -The fashion capital – Milan!

The fashion capital – Milan!
Milan, Italy

Milan, Italy

Day 7

IMG_3947Wednesday already? We are up early for a change- have to be to catch the 10:20 am train from Riomaggiore and the 10:55 am to Milan. A quick “stand up” cappicino and fresh pastry right from the oven at a cafe near our hotel smells as good as it tastes.

Now we are old pros at trains, so we go for 2nd class- no different from first- for 33 euros. Get lucky too- great seats and a handsome young Canadian gent, Paul, to share our compartment with. Have some good conversation and he’s fun to chat with.

We arrive in Milan at 2:00pm and our hotel, the Westin- (yes, staying in style!) is right down the street, which is a good thing since D’s suitcase is now close to 50 lbs. (and are backpacks are growing in weight too).

Ahhhhh….heated towel racks and chocolates on the bed! Heaven….No time to linger thou- we are off to see the fashion and finance capitol of the world…

First stop- the famous shopping Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in the Piazza Duomo with designer stores- Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuttion, even Mercedes (I snap a photo for my son Greg.)

IMG_3985

This galleria is magnificent! It looks like a museum. Domed ceilings and works of art and stained glass everywhere. Right smack in the middle, of course- a McDonalds McCafe!

Mc Donalds Mc Cafe!

Mc Donalds Mc Cafe!

It’s mobbed too. Where else can you get a cappicino in Milan for 1.40 euros? And the pastries are to die for! Milan is after all about wordly pleasures! It’s not about looks, it’s about lifestyle.

The rest of the day is spent mastering the subways and looking for the hot night spots. We finally find the area along the canal where D had read all about the happy hours pubs and wine bars. Some are barges that are restaurants. We stop at a jazz bar too with great music and lots of lively college kids.

Later, close to our hotel, we make our final stop of the nite at a very expensive indoor/outdoor bar brimming with Milan fashionitas!..young yuppies dressed to the nines sipping on margaritas or whatever. Me and D have on raincoats and waistbags..Don’t fit in at all but who cares! Not I…it’s fun people watching and I’m in Milan for God” sake!

After we pay 10 euros for one glass of wine (ouch) the bartender gives us a free Limonichino! Time for bed- its 2 am…tomorrow is another day…and our last!

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Day 8 -The last dance…May Day

The last dance…May Day
Milan, Italy

Milan, Italy

Day 8

May Day! Oh no…empty streets? We did not realize that it’s a major holiday here today and lots of things are closed, like the LaScala opera house that we had planned on seeing..( never did get to see the “Last Supper” either- need to get tickets months in advance) but we will trudge on anyway and we do get to enter the 3th largest cathedreal in the world- The Duomo.

The Duomo- Milan

The Duomo- Milan

Awe inspiring with doorways from the 17th centruy, the central balcony from the 18th. We are glad we took the audio tour (4 euros) . The vast interior overwhelms the senses. Impressive pillars, vaults and streamlined arches enhanced by light that floods the splendid stain glass windows.. I am really stendhalized now!

IMG_3947

Well, it’s hard to top the Duomo experience but while strolling empty streets we wander into a massive street fair for May day!

IMG_4028

IMG_4026

IMG_4025

IMG_4022

Vendors, music, homemade foods of every type..D enjoys the sausage sandwiches as much as we both enjoy the small cups of homemade wine for one euro.

People are everywhere dressed in costumes and singing in the streets: International Workers’ Day (a name used interchangeably with May Day) is a celebration of the social and economic achievements of the international labour movement.

May Day commonly sees organized street demonstrations by millions of working people and their labour unions throughout most of the countries of the world – though, as noted below, rarely in the United States and Canada. Communist and anarchist organizations and their affiliated unions universally conduct street marches on this day.

But there’s more- next stop: we luck upon the Castello Sforzesco- the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. A castle!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Maria_delle_Grazie_%28Milan%29

Amazing!

They don’t have these in NJ!

The rest of the night is spent wandering the streets and the metro and visiting happy hours. Part of the time we are lost but hey, we are lost in Milan!

We pass Leonardo DaVinci’s home and many churches in the dark. A final walk back to out hotel at a very late hour- yikess- in bed about 3am! Six AM will come very shortly…

IMG_4004

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Day 9 – more buses and planes!

Day 9 – more buses and planes!
Newark, NJ

Newark, NJ


Arrivederci to bella Italy! Goodbye lemon trees! The adventure of a lifetime is nearly over. We stumble to the Milano Central bus station at 7AM, which is thankfully only a ten minute walk with our 1200 lbs of luggage and backpacks. (should have packed the cute Italian men in there too)

The 7:30AM to Malpensa airpot is an hours ride. Hoping we get to the terminal on time to check in…but alas..we make it!

After some duty free shopping we are off to Newark NJ and back to the real world.

I ask Dolores one more time- Why do we live in New Jersey? She doesn’t anwer. She’s snoring on the plane.

ps…Thanks Rick! We’ll be back….:)

IMG_3766

SaveSave

SaveSave