For the second part of our Italian adventure we were somewhat rehashing some of the places that we visited in 2009. As I mentioned in the last post, we visited Rome and Cinque Terre last time. However, our trip to Cinque Terre was under 24 hours and we only got to see one of the towns, Riomaggiore. This time around we would be spending less than 24 hours in Rome, making a quick pit stop in Pisa, and spending a few days in Cinque Terre to make sure we see everything.
Rome really needs no introduction. It is easily one of my favorite cities. It is thousands of years old and has played a central role in much of European history. You really feel like you’re walking through the past as you stroll through its streets and spot ancient Roman ruins along the way. It is especially great for history buffs, fans of the show “Rome” or the movie “Gladiator” and countless other films, or if you just like great food, wine, or architecture. Additionally, the Vatican and Sistine Chapel are really spectacular and you could spend days exploring the different neighborhoods of Rome.
We did most of our sightseeing last time so we were only going to go to a few spots while we were in Rome this time. We took a ferry from Capri to Naples and then a train from Naples to Rome. We got to Rome around 4 PM and wanted to go back to the Trevi Fountain and make a wish like we did back in 2009. (If you were at our wedding you know that Diem’s previous wish came true!) After the Trevi Fountain, we went to the Pantheon and went inside. It’s a beautiful building with its classic Roman exterior, but the interior is even better with its amazing dome roof and its number of spectacular sculptures. Next we went to the Spanish Steps. While we were there we heard a bagpipe playing and saw a wedding party and family coming up the steps. It was a pretty nice wedding but the steps were pretty crowded with tourists so it took a while for the family to come up. We took some pictures and decided to head back to our Airbnb. It was pretty cold out and Diem’s phone, which had the directions, died after on the way back (I still didn’t have a phone since Bordeaux). We kind of wandered around a bit trying to find our way home and ran into some more beautiful buildings and sculptures before her phone eventually came back on. One our way back, we stopped by the Coliseum to take some pictures at night with the arena lit up. Our place was in a great location about a two minute walk to the Coliseum and a number of other sites. I wish we could have stayed longer to see enjoy our place a little more but it was still great for a night We had dinner at a plaza nearby which wasn’t very good. I had a salmon salad and Diem had a seafood soup with beans and pasta but it was such a good day strolling through Rome that we didn’t mind much.
The next day, I got up to run and to see some sites of Rome. I love running in Rome. If you go before 8 AM there are very few people and cars on the streets. I ran by the Vatican, Castel Sant'Angelo, Piazza de Venice, and the Coliseum. We packed up and caught a train headed for Pisa. Diem really wanted to go to Pisa last time we were in Italy but we were coming from Florence and it was in the opposite direction of where we were going (Bologna) and we didn’t have time. Plus, I had been there before and told her that it wasn't worth the detour because you only need 15 minutes to see the Tower and there isn't that much else to do in Pisa, so eventually she relented. When we got to the Pisa train station from Rome it was super rainy so we called an audible on the trip to Pisa and decided we would try again tomorrow. After stopping for a few minutes, we just took the train to La Spieza Central.
The next day we decided to take a day trip to Pisa to see the tower. Pisa is just a little over an hour train ride from La Spieza and costs 7.50 euro each way. The sun came out and we got some of the obligatory pictures of pushing or holding up the Leaning Tower but the buildings in the Square of Miracles (Piazza dei Miracoli) were actually more beautiful than I remembered.
The construction of the Tower of Pisa began on August 9, 1173. Originally designed to be a bell tower, the tower actually stood upright for over 5 years, but just after the completion of the third floor (1178) it began to lean. The foundation of the tower, only 3 meters deep, was built on a dense clay mixture and impacted the soil. As it turned out, the clay was not nearly strong enough to hold the tower upright, and so the weight of the tower began to diffuse downward until it had found the weakest point. After this, construction halted on the Tower for 100 years. The government hoped that the soil would settle, giving it enough strength to hold the weight of the tower. After the 100 year hiatus, Giovanni di Simone stepped forward in 1272 and began to add four more floors to the tower. He actually managed to cause the tower to lean over more when he tried to compensate for the original lean by making one side of the upper floors taller than the other. The Tower was eventually completed in 1372, but with its signature lean. The Tower was closed in 1990, bells were removed and the tower was anchored. In 2001, right before I visited, the Tower opened to the public and people were able to walk to the top of Tower. It feels very strange walking up the Tower and the lean is very noticeable. The tickets are a bit pricey but I guess if you're only going once it can be worthwhile.
The Cathedral and the Baptistery are really gorgeous and all the buildings are right next to each other. You probably need more than 15 minutes to enjoy the entire plaza but probably not more than 2 hours if you're buying entrance tickets to all the sites. Tickets to walk up the tower are 18 euros at the gate and less if you book in advance. Tickets for the Cathedral and Baptistery are separate but I'm not sure how much they are and couldn't find a price online. We spent a little less than an hour in Pisa and I'm glad Diem got to see it and I was able rehash some memories of my trip there in 2001.
On the way back we went to Riomaggiore and tried to go on the Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Walk) that we did back in 2009. We couldn’t find it right away and the sun was setting so we just went down by the marina and the rocks and took some pictures there and watched the sunset. It was really beautiful and brought us back to our last trip where we shared a bottle of wine of the cliffs and watched the sunset. We then went back to the town center and had dinner back at the same place we ate at 7 years ago. I had the stuffed mussels and Diem had the seafood spaghetti. Both were really good. As we were leaving we found the entrance to the Via dell’Amore but it was closed down and has been since September 24, 2012. On that date, a rockslide injured four Australian tourists, one of which is seriously injured and it has been closed ever since. The portion of the Via dell’Amore between the Manarola railway station and the Bar Via dell’Amore is open but it doesn’t go very far. Locals told us that the wait for getting the entire path open is expected to continue for the foreseeable future because the government can’t get its act together to fix it. Luckily we got to see it last time but I would think with all the fees they are collecting from the hikes of Cinque Terre now that they’d be able to fix this relatively short walkway along the cliffs.
The next day we planned a full day of exploring Cinque Terre. We bought the one day Cinque Terre Card which is 16 euro and gets you unlimited rides on the trains and buses in Cinque Terre (buses in La Spieza not included), free Wi-Fi at the train stations, and free access to the Cinque Terre hiking paths. If you’re going to more than 2 cities in Cinque Terre for the day, the pass is worth it. We were worried because it was raining the last couple of days and the hiking paths had been closed, but the path we wanted to hike from Monterosso to Vernazza was open. We decided to see the five towns in order from North to South. We started the day in Levanto which is just north of Monterosso. Pictures we saw of Levanto during our research looked pretty nice but in person it was a bit underwhelming. Maybe in the peak season it is more impressive but we just walked to the beach and then made our way back to the train station. The beach was pretty nice and a decent size but no one was around and the city was dead.
Next, we went to Monterosso and headed to the northern part of the beach where the Giant of Monterosso is carved into the cliffs over the ocean. It’s a pretty impressive sculpture and there’s a nice beach right next it. We took a couple of pictures and then made our way south to the entrance of the Blue Path which leads to Vernassa. Monterosso has a very nice beach of its own and a fortress that overlooks the coastline. As you make your way up the Blue Path you also get some great views of the beach and city. The first part of the hike is the toughest because you’re going up some pretty steep portions of steps for a while. After about 30 minutes the elevation pretty much evens out and the rest of the hike has some moderate ups and downs. The book that comes with the Cinque Terre Card says it takes 2 hours to do the 3.6 km hike but we did it in about 1 hr and 15 minutes (no big deal). The best part of the hike is in the last 15 minutes as you approach Vernazza. If you’re crunched for time you might just go up the first part of the hike from Vernazza and then turnaround and head back. It was getting pretty hot so we stopped for lunch along the Vernazza Marina. I had pizza and Diem had seafood spaghetti both were decent but not great. The real attraction of the restaurant was the view. We also got some gelato nearby and then made our way to the train station to go to the next city, Corniglia.
Compared to the other towns of Cinque Terre, Corniglia probably isn’t worth stopping long at. The train station is pretty far away from the city center and you have to hike up a pretty high hill, although the hike itself isn’t too steep. There really isn’t a great view from the top of the city but it may be better if you’re hiking from Vernazza or Manarola. The part we saw hiking up to the highest point of the town wasn’t too special. We walked back to the train station after taking some pictures. We took the train to Manarola and headed through the tunnel to the city center and then down to the beach/marina area. Manarola reminded us of Riomaggiore but slightly bigger. There was a nice path off to the north of marina that had some great views of the city and the coastline. We took some pictures and headed back to the train station when we saw a sign saying that the Via del Amore was open to the bar Panorama. We wanted to re-create the pictures we took in 2009 but yesterday we found out that the entrance from the Riomaggiore side was closed. We went a couple hundred meters until we got to the café and the closed off portion of the path. Unfortunately, the open portion didn’t go far enough and we weren’t able to go back on and relive our last trip. We were getting tired so we decided to skip Riomaggiore went back to our Airbnb. The next day would be a long overnight trip to Barcelona.
Diem and I disagree over which is better, Cinque Terre or the Amalfi Coast. Diem says the Amalfi Coast and I say Cinque Terre. I believe that Cinque Terre is so much more accessible because the towns are closer together and because trains run from town to town very frequently. In contrast, you either need to rent a car or take a bus to the different towns of the Amalfi coast. Hiking is a lot easier to do in Cinque Terre but those really hardcore hikers might prefer the Amalfi coast because the hikes are a lot longer and higher up. The coastal views of both are really close and tough to decide which is more beautiful but I probably give the edge to the Amalfi Coast because the towns are bigger and the cliffs and mountains along the coast are larger. You can’t go wrong with either and we were really happy we got to visit both on this trip.
See the pictures from the second part of our Italy trip here: Rome-Pisa-Cinque Terre.