Tuscany and Cinque Terre
February 25th to March 10th 2006
Saturday, february 25'th
KLM is a clumsy airline. Tickets were booked in very good time. Billund via Amsterdam to Florence. Then there was an e-mail from KLM. Firenze airport was shut down - had to go to Pisa instead. Some mails back and forth, before they decided that I actually needed a new ticket. I send my ticket to Amsterdam - waiting for a new one.
3 days before departure - still no ticket has arrived. Call them - oh - they haven't had the time - hello - you had a month!. Well - have to pick it up at the airport. So I leave early for the airport, and find the ticket office. No ticket here. But they manage to make me a new one within half an hour, so I'm just ready for check-in before closure.
Flight is nice. Maybe because not a single KLM-flight is involved. Sterling to Amsterdam and Meridiana to Pisa. Arrive in Pisa at 12.30 and find my train to Florence. That takes about 1½ hour.
From the railway station a short walk to Hotel Kraft booked via www.hotels.com. Nice hotel, but room 227 is a bit on the small side.
Out in town to take a look at Florence. Have been here before for a short weekend, som I'm able to get around pretty easy. Pass some of Florences' major sights - Palazzo and Ponte Vecchio, The Uffizi's, Sante Croce and the huge Duomo. It's pretty cold, but anyway much nicer than the weather I was leaving back home. All the locals wear thick jackets though, as it was freezing temperatures or something.
Pizza for dinner, at a nice place near my hotel. And the relaxing a bit with winter-olympics from Torino on the TV.
Sunday, february 26'th
Nice breakfast at the hotel, then a bus - no. 7 - to Fiesole, 8 km. outside Florence. Nice little hilly suburb, with a few sights and a great view of Firenze - the latter disturbed this morning by the misty weather.
There'a an archeological area, with a nice outdoor amphitheater and an indoor museum. They give you a little bochure at the entrence. No football or tree-climbing outside, and no drinking or touching things inside. Football inside though, seems to be ok.
Then uphill the steeo Via di San Francesco. At the top there's the great view - but not much today, due to the weather. There's also a nice little convent - San Francesco - built back in 1399. You can see some of the cells the munks used to live in. Suddenly my hotelroom seems enourmous.
No. 7 back to Florence, where I get off at the Duomo. A short stroll throght tourist Florence to Ponte Vecchio, where an exiting walk starts. First uphill throgh the small stree of Costa di San Giorgi. On the top you turn left, and then it's downhill on Via de Belvedere along the city-walls of Florence. This is slightly off the beaten track, so no tourist around.
At the end of Via de Belvedere, it's late lunchtime at a local restaurant, befor I'm going uphill again on Via del Monte Alle Groci to the fine church of San Miniato al Monte. This is an old church - build back in 1018 on the top of the grave of San Miniotos. He was a businessman from Armenia, whose head was chopped of in the 2'nd century, because he had different ideas than the Emperor Decius. From the church there's a great view of the roofs and the churches of Florence.
A short walk from here is Piazzale Michelangelo, which is more of a local place where people gather. Lot's of stalls, live-music, locals wearing thick jackets and sunglasses. This a where the locals go for a sunday afternoon.
Downhill again throgh the nice streets of Via de San Niccolo and Via del Bardi back to all the tourist swarming around Ponte Vecchio. It starts to rain now, so I follow the Arno-river back to my hotel.
Dinner at a local kebab. The language here is international - "Eat in or take away" is known everywhere in the world. I take away.
Monday, february 27'th
Daytrip to Siena. SITA's Rapid-bus takes an hour to go there.
According to the legend Siena was created by Senius, son of Remus. So a lot of places in town where you can see statues of the wolf, suckling Romulus and Remus. Can't remember the story though - but there was something with a wolf involved
First stop - Piazza del Campo. Huge - oyestershaped - with a slight fall towards Palazzo Pubblico from 1297. This is the Piazza where they have their famous horseriding-thing twice a year. Today - no horses - only some schoolclasses and some few tourists.
From the Piazza del Campo to the Duomo. Probably very nice, but hard to see, because it's all covered by a scaffold for restauration. Inside it's nice though. Especially the granite-floor - or that part which is not covered by huge chip boards and ducttape. Teh Piccolomini-library is especially nice. Build by Pope Pius III, for keeping the books by his uncle Pope Pius II. Who said nepotism?. Some very nice frescoes cover the library. They are made by the famous Bernardino Pinturicchio, which we have all heard about.
I walk around Siena for a few more hours. Nice nice - exiting building - and very Tuscany
Leaving Siena in the afternoon by bus back to Florence. A short local walk in the evening, before I find a local trattoria for a good dinner.
Tuesday, february 28'th
Sometime ago a read at the Lonely Planets ThornTree-side about the most exiting places in Tuscany. 3 was mentioned. Siena, Volterra and Lucca - while a third very much visited town San Gimignano was considered a tourist-trap. Yesterday was Siena - I will return to Lucca - and today it's Volterra.
The busraid out here is slightly complicated. 2 hours with a buschange in Colle di Val d'Elsa. But it's worth the trouble.
Volterra is a very lovely and nice town up in the hills. Very old and with 2 city-walls around. One made by the Etruscans and one made by the Romans. The town was settled around 260 b.c., but most parts of the town you will find today was built ind the 12'th and 13'th century.
I walk around the town for 3 or 4 hours. Then you have seen it all. There's a huge castle, which demands a special pass to get inside. It's made into a state-prison, so if you get inside, you can't be sure to get out again. But if you get a room with a view, it might be worth the effort.
A small childres-carnival today. Nothing much - a few costumes, a bad magician, some confetti - and all the kids a happy with that.
Back in Florence at 4. Another evening-stroll here. Pass a hotel where suddenly the whole german football-times turns up. They are playing Italy tomorrow. I can hardly recognize any of the players. Michael Ballack is the only exception.
Dinner at my trattoria Il Contadino. Fixed-price menu - 2 courses - 10 Euro - pretty fair.
Wednesday, march 1'st
Florence today. I have drawn a route ont a map, that takes me past most of the sights and semi-sights in this beautiful city.
First stop i Basiliaca di Santa Maria Novelle. It's very old and located next to the Railway-station. It's from the 13th Century but has been rebuilt now and then. It's got the local stripe set-up on the front, like many churches here.
Then on to Marcato Centrale. A meat, fruit and vegatable market in an old hall from 1874. Outside there are a huge number of people selling crap to the tourists.
Then to Basilica di San Lorenzo. If it wasn't for the tower and the dome, you would expect it to be a horse-stable or something. First church was built here in 393 a.c and was rebuild in 1059. Not much left from these day. The one that is standing now was made ind the 14'th century. Michelangelo made a front for the church, but it was never really finished. That's why the entrence looks a little scrappy.
Next stop is 2 piazzas. First San Marco and then Piazza della Santissina Annunziata. At the latter you will find Spedale degli Innocenti, established in 1421 as the first orphenage in Europe. There's a small door, where you could put you small children through, if you wasn't able to raise them
On to the Duomo and lunch. Then to Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria, The Uffizi'es, crossing Arno via Ponte Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti. I have to follow the streets, and can't do as the Medici-family that owned both the Palazzo Pitti and Palazzo Vecchio. They build themself a private indoor walkway, even across the Ponte Vecchio, so they didn't have to mingle with the crowds.
Behind Palazzo Pitti the fine park of Giardino di Boboli, with nice views of the city.
On to the nice neighbourhood of San Frediano, with a few churches and piazzas. Then across the river to my hotel.
Italy wins tonights match against Germany 4-1. I watch on the TV. Maybe there's a reason why I know no german players afterall.
Thursday, march 2'nd
Exit Florence and Tuscany for now, and on to Cinque Terre and Liguria.
Cinque Terre is 5 small villages, lying out to the Mediteranean Sea. The villages are built on rocks, almost out into the sea. It takes 3 hours by train from Florence to get her, with a change of train in Pisa and La Spezia, before reaching one of the villages called Vernazza.
In Vernazza I have booked a small apartment for 3 nights. I pick up the key at Patrizia in her little shop, before I head for my apartment.
It's freezing cold, but not a cloud on the sky - and it's a very pretty little village. Slightly windy, and down by the harbour, the red flag is up. You can not go out onto the jetty - if you try you risk being washed away - and that's stupid. For the same reaon, the locals has taken their boats up onto the little square in front of the harbour.
So I head for the hills aroud town, to take a look from the top. There's a nice little ruin from a 11'th century castle with a nice view of the city and the sea. And a great sunset from another place up in the hills as well.
Dinner at one of the few restaurants that are open tonight. It's still off-season, so most of them are closed.
Friday, march 3'rd
Weather has changed since yesterday. Yesterday there were no clouds, and it was freezing. Today it's cloudy, windy, but not that cold. Most of the walkways between the 5 cities are closed due to the windy condition. But fortunately there's a train connecting the towns as well.
So I start of with the train to Riomaggiore, the southernmost of the 5 cities. It's awsome. Build so it almost climbs up from the sea and up the cliffs. It's hard to imagine how this is done - and why.
From Riomaggiore I walk to Manarolo. This is the most touristfriendly part of the paths connecting the city, so it's still open. It's not a long walk, and it's very easy. But nevertheless very impressive when you walk along the cliffs, just above the sea.
Manarola is sligthly smaller than Riomaggiore. As is the case in the other towns, cars are not allowed, som the few tourists and locals has got a very peaceful little town to walk around.
From Manarola I take the train to the northernmost of the 5 cities. Monterosso al Mare is different from the others. It's more like a small seaside-village, with a nice little beach. You are not allowed on the beach today. Red flag - to windy - and the waves are to hight. On the path from the railway-station to the city of Monterosso, the smart guys walk on the left, the side turning away from the sea. The waves are so high. that if you walk on the right side, you will be terrible wet.
Enough sightseeing for this day, so the final trip on the train is back to Vernazza. Sunset is very nice down at the harbour, with huge waves banging across the jetty.
Pizza from a local shop is brought back home to my apartment. There's no tv in the room, so I have to settle with my John Irving book and Radio Monte Carlo for some music.
Saturday, march 4'th
It's even more windy today - like a true storm. And I thought I was going south for the sun on this trip.
Still one of the 5 villages to visit. That's the closest one Corniglia. I take the train there - the footpaths are still closed. It's different from the others because it's not down at the sea, but up in the hill. So there's a good uphill-walk from the train-station. That's probably why it seems less tourist-attracted than the other 4. Not nice if you have to carry all your luggage up here.
So there's very few souvenir-shops, but that's fine for me. Great view across the ocean toward the other villages. But it's a pretty small place, so it doesn't take much more than an hour, before I have seen it all.
So I head back for Vernazza again. The rest of the day is spent at my local cafe Marlin Bar, drinking cappucino and eating chocolate-cake - and of course, a walk up the hills around Vernazza. Ther are severel examples of the local "monorail". That's a homemade thing used for climbing up and down the hills, with fields of wine, lemons and olives.
There's also a very fine cemetary, vith a great view of the ocean. Not that the inhabitants care.
Pizza from my local place. It's getting a little to local - I don't have to say my number, before the start making my peperoni-pizza.
Last duty of the day is taking my garbage from my apartment to a small place down beside the railway-station. When you have your own apartment, you've got to do this by yourself.
Sunday, march 5'th
Leaving windy Vennazza early in the morning. Train to La Spezia and another one to Viareggio and another one to Lucca. It's raining here, so I hurry to my hotel Affittacamere Centro Storico, right in the citycentre.
At 1 the rain has almost stopped. The rain has it advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that most tourist stay inside - the disadvantage is that you're getting wet.
Lucca is a cozy little town with 87.000 inhabitants. My first walk takes me past Chiesa di San Michele in Foro. It's an old thing from the 11'the century build like a wedding-cake. On to Piazza Anfiteatro, that used to be an old roman amphitheater, but now made in to a very nice piazza with cafe's and nice houses around.
Time for a walk around Lucca on the city wall surrounding the old part of the town. Such a wall is a great thing. It keeps most car outside of the city-center and it makes for a great walk. It's 4 km. long, and since the rain has stopped, more people are out here. This is the place to meet your neighbours, lift your hat, say "Buena Sera", have a chat - while listening to the football matches this sunday on you pocketradio.
Monday, march 6'th
Lovely morning this one. The hotel has a special feature - breakfast in the room. At 9 they knock on the door, and a great breakfast-table is placed outside the door.
Today is the day for a visit you have to do. It's called Pisa, and the train takes about 30 minutes.
There's supposed to be some kind of famous tower in Pisa. Famous because it's leaning. But they are cheating. The tower is not leaning at all. The streets around - and the cathedral is leaning - but the tower is definately straight. But noone dares to tell, because it's such a huge sigth, and the tourist-industry in Pisa would suffer deeply if people found out.
I don't want to spend 15 Euro and 1½ hour of waiting for getting up a straight tower. So instead I spend 2 Euro and no waiting for the slightly leaning cathedral.
After that I talk a walk around Pisa. Nice town - lots of students - and really no sights beside the tower. In the afternoon I return to Lucca.
Later another walk in Lucca outside the wall this time, to see some other neighbourhoods. There are lot of strange small shops in Lucca - very specialised. For instance a shop only selling cleaningthings and toiletarticles.
Dinner at a local restaurant. Their local Minestrone-soup is good on a cold night in Lucca.
Tuesday, march 7'th
Another Lucca-day today, with visits to major and minor sights in the city.
First it's time to see the city from the top. That is the top of Torre Guinigi with a nice city-view. There's even a huge oak-tree on the top of the tower.
Later it's time for the Cathedral in Lucca. Very old - 11. century. The style is also wedding-cake-style.
Outside lunch today. A nice panini in the park of Villa Bottini. On to Piazza Anfiteatro and through the shopping-streets of Lucca and back to a break at the hotel.
Tour 2 takes me to Chiesa di San Michele, just opposite my hotel. Inside it's almost just a dark room - nothing special - and under renovation as most churches seem to be all the time. On to Piazza Napoleone and Piazzale G. Verdi, and a visit to Palazzo Mansi. That's a fine building with some old furnitures, paintings and more things. I'm the only one visiting this late afternoon.
Dinner - and back to the hotel for the evening.
Wednesday, march 8'th
Today I'm off into the countryside. A small village Bagni di Lucca. Lazzi bus takes me there at 11 am, and the trip takes an hour on the bus. Bagni di Lucca is in the Garfagnana-area, north of Lucca places in a valley between the Apunian Alps. There's still snow on the mountain-tops.
Bagni de Lucca is actually 2 small villages. Ponte (bridge) and Villa (city). There's a few km. between the 2 cities. I get off the bus at Villa and walk to Ponte. It's very nice out here, with hills and a good fresh air from the mountains. The rive Lima runs just beside the road connecting the two villages.
Down in Ponte I find a nice bar, with a good lasagne and a nice cup of coffee, before returning with the bus back to Lucca.
In Lucca it's time for another walk - this time without nothing that I have to see. It's a nice city just walking around. Dinner at my favourite minestrone-place.
Thursday, march 9'th
Wake-up call at 7.30. A special one. It's the bells on the San Michele church. 12 strokes. First 3 - then 4 - then 5.
After breakfast a last walk around Lucca, before departure by train to Pisa Airport at 1 pm. As usual I'm at the airport in very good time for my 4.30 departure to Amsterdam. That's not necessary, since you obviously can't trust italian airlines. When we get's closer to 4.30 they suddenly say 6 - and getting close to 6 they change it to 7.20.
At 7.30 we finally leave on a plane bound for Londan, that will take a stop in Amsterdam. Explenation - Pisa Airport was closed this morning because they had to detonate an old WW2-bomb. That's probably a lie.
But my Billund-plane from Amsterdam is long gone as we arrive at Schiphol. So KLM has to put me into the Van der Valk-hotel close to the airport. It's a huge sleeping-factory beside the motorway to Schiphol. It's almost midnight before I reach it, and im tired, hungry and angry. So it takes a while before I can go to sleep.
Friday, march 10'th
A shuttle-bus to the airport at 8. The rest of the trip turns out ok.
In Billund at 11, and to my great surprise my luggage is on the plane as well. I'm only 14 hours late. Would it have been faster to walk back home?
They've put some stickers on my luggage saying "rush". I just wonder when I would have been back home, if they hadn't done that.