In less than a year I made another trip back to Italy. I’m met up with my travel companion to spend 10 days together seeing some new things, have a few new experiences and also make good on my intention return to Cinque Terre and to hike the Vernazza trail. Since this is more of a 10 day long “date”, my stories are not likely to be as comical or as detailed as they are when I travel with my sisters or my children. I’m not one to “kiss and tell”, so for privacy sake, I’ll stick more to a few highlights of what I did.
The first few days were spent in Milan which was the host city for this years Expo (otherwise known as the World’s Fair). This was really exciting for me. I grew up hearing about the fair in St. Louis and Seattle but I could never quite get a grasp on what it was all about. Granted…2015 is not 1904 or 1962 but still…it’s was on the bucket list of experiences to have.
We both arrived early afternoon in Milan. Since I came from the US and he was still in the same European time zone, I did my best to regulate my sleep on the plane so I could stay awake the rest of the day. I was so pumped to be in by beloved Italy again that there was really no jet lag. For accommodations, I booked through Airbnb for the first time. It was the cutest apartment around the corner from the Express airport train, on a sweet tree lined residential street with cafes and shops. Of course, perfect environment for the café hack, eh?
We settled in quick and got back outside just as quick. We only had 3 days in Milan and 2 of them would be spent at the Expo. It would be unfortunate to come all the way to Milan and not see the Duemo so off we went. I was amazingly hot and this palazzo was crowed with tourists and foreign hawkers who would tie “free” string bracelets on your wrist and then ask for a donation. Because they caught me off guard I paid $1.17 for what amounted to 8 inches of kitchen twine on my wrist. Live and learn…
Duemo was really beautiful like most Italian churches tend to be. The view from the rooftop was worth the climb.
(check out the dude photobombing my pano pic)
Near our flat was Castello Sforzesco. It became the location of our evening strolls
The next two days were at the Expo. I’m not sure how to put it into words; I’ll leave it to Wikipedia . I will say that they had some architecturally beautiful exhibits and delicious foods. It was really hot during the day and around 8pm on the dot the mosquitoes woke up and were swarming. It was so bad that I took my scarf and waved it as if I was a rhythmic gymnast going for the gold I suppose that it is what one expects in June. It was still worth the visit.
Cooling off at the pool at the Czech Republic was one of my favorites. It was only about 18 inches deep and everyone was allowed to wade in it. It was flooded with kids in the afternoons. This would scream insurance liability in the US. I love that they don’t live in such an alarmist society.
Some countries went very small with their exhibits. Cuba was basically just this mojito bar.
After a few days, we left Milan, rented a car at the airport and head west to spend four days in Cinque Terre. We made a quick stop in La Spiezia. Our flat was in the village of Montorosso al Mare, one of the few cities were one could park a car. When I say park, I mean park a 20 minute walk up the hillside v. parking in a lot at 18E a day. The flat we came to by luck. When looking for a hotel/flat one month before a trip, every location we wanted was sold out. Because of the car, Montorosso was really our only reasonable option. I happen to receive an email from a hotel clerk who knew of a local who rented out 2bed 1 bath flat. At a 100E a day, I grabbed it. It was not at all fancy but it felt like visiting the seaside flat of a great aunt and experiencing it as a local. It had a small balcony that faced another row of apartment buildings. It was entertaining to watch the elder ladies talking from street to balcony or listening to the grandchildren they watch during the day call out to their other little friend on a balcony across the way.
For the next 4 days I was in heaven. Days we lounged at the sea, hiked, explored the other villages such as Manarola and Vernazza, at night we sat outside in the plaza drinking Aperol, going out to dinner and just pretending to being Italian. I’m a traveler and there is just no place like Cinque Terre. It affected me greatly…every night we would go to the plaza and there were so many children running around, young adults gathered in groups at a café and bars, old people sitting in small groups and the only time I saw people with their face in the phone was a group of about a dozen teenagers sitting on the stairs by the sea. It really is my happy place. Sometimes it feels so untouched by the modern world (perhaps thanks in part to being a UNESCO World Heritage site) that it feels a bit like time travel.
At this hotel, guests had to be out of their rooms a hour each morning. Then the staff would hang the bedding out the windows for fresh air. How fabulous!
The start of the Vernazza trail (below) which starts to the very right of the picture above.
The elevation going up (stairs..lots and lots of stairs) seems never ending. Some parts of the trial are so narrow and there is traffic in both directions. BRING WATER!
Along the way, there is this guy. I assume he either lives in one of the village houses on cliff above or comes down from the road above (very, very steep). Just when you are feeling hot and exhausted from the climb, there he is this older bearded Italian man selling water and oranges. He even pulls out his pen knife, carves groove around the fruit and peels them for you. What? Are you kidding? Of course I’m going to spend a Euro on your juicy citrus which I’m sure you picked yourself from your tree! I’m not paying a Euro for the fruit, I’m paying for the amazing encounter! It’s one of those things you read about in novels but you think is just made up.
Just before the end and final decent, there is this view of Vernazza. Not only is it breathtaking, I think to myself that I can’t want to take a break and cool off with a quick swim in that water below.
2 hours later, the end of the trail as it leads through the narrow residential alley to the streets of Vernazza.
This is another day when we went to swim in the pools of Manarola. The water was so cool and refreshing. In this cove you could hear the echo of Italian and tourist voices and children’s feet scampering on the concrete. Again, paddling around out there was like an ethereal dream.
And of course, ending our nights sitting out in the piazza. For me, Cinque Terre is not a place to just cross off my travel destination list. It’s a place for me to return time and time again.
For our last few days we headed up northeast and stayed near Lake Guarda. This was another new experience for me as I had yet to see the lakes. We stayed at the Hotel Villa Maria . It was a nice property with a gigantic pool. There are also little villas with kitchens that many tourist rent for the summer holiday. We just stayed in a regular hotel room which was really quite large and included a sitting area. The Décor was a bit kitschy but I think they were just trying to fit in with the theme of being a “villa.” It was very European in that breakfast was provided…but you must bring your own pool towel or “rent” one for 5 Euros.
Scaliger Castle in Sirmione and strolling about.
Scaliger Castle, Sirmione
We even spent a day driving around the entire lake including at stop at Monte Baldo for a hike. We approached from the back end to the east and to a chairlift to the top.
This felt very surreal to me. There is no equivalent in the US to walking among sheep in the Alps. I felt the urge to twirl like the Sound of Music…but I didn’t.
…and these two. One sleeping in the grass as the other read scripture. It was like a page out of a modern day Room with a View. Who are these people? Do they realize the awesomeness of the small act they participated in which I watched? Sometimes I wonder, is it just me who thinks these things?
The picture below was at the very north end of the lake. My companion, who had been here before, informed me that it is quite popular with the sportif German and Swiss for camping, mountain biking and windsurfing. Again, NOTHING at home feels like this. Seriously, I would get this tightness in my chest..this feeling of never wanting to leave…of being given a bite of the most delicious cookie that you are not allowed to take with you. I love a lot of places…but only Italy does this to me.
On our last day, we checked out and headed out to Lake Iseo to spend our last day relaxing in the sun. I think I was mentally so bummed out that the holiday was over that I didn’t take pictures. I laid there for hours withdrawn in a heedful of thoughts. I didn’t swim either. I should have.
Due to early morning flights the next day, our last night was at a hotel at the airport. The Moxy is owned by Marriott and designed as a traveler’s hotel, likely those who just needed an overnight stay and/or traveling along. It was very modern and had a very nice social atmosphere. We covered a lot of territory in our 10 days and it ended very melancholic as the next morning, my travel companion had to say good-bye and return to our respective countries. I missed my kids, time to get back to mom life and plan my next one as a vagabond.