The plan was crazy to start with, so the fact that the day turned out great (eventually) was something of a miracle. Originally, we were going to all 5 towns, then tour Pisa and climb the tower.
What was I thinking?
We picked up our rental car at 10pm on Sunday so we could get out early on Monday. Up at 5 and back in the car by 6am. Made it to Riomaggiore by 8:30 with stops for coffee and wrong turns and silly, crankiness induced arguments.
The beauty of the early start was hitting very little traffic. When we got to Town #1, the crowds had not yet descended. We bought our all day train and park tickets (The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and jumped on the next train to Town #2, Manarola.
This worked great as we got to walk through town, get some pics and back on the train before the tour groups arrived. But – it was rushed, and kind of a blur now. We did take time to find a new keychain for Jacob’s collection. (Managed to find one for each town!)
In town #3 Corniglia (pronounced Cornelia) the magic of cinque terre started to work and we slowed down. We had an early lunch (fabulous fresh pasta with pesto) in the town square, then hit a few shops. Found great hats to replace the ones we keep killing between swimming in them and crushing them while traveling. Should have brought the tilly hats, but I got that hat for my honeymoon and refuse to lose it. These are crocheted and crush-able and survived the day in the sea and sun, so we will see. Plus, teal – hello!
Town #4 Vernazza we finally agreed that the plan could go to straight hell. We swam and sat on the rocks in the tiny harbor. We sat in the square and shared a hamburger and I ate some fruit, then we drank about a gallon of water. We strolled through a tunnel in the mountain to a rocky beach and did a little rock hunting.
We considered staying all day and to hell with five towns. But. I was so CLOSE. I had to do it. Sigh.
Monterosso al Mare is a big, crowded resort town. The water was murky and full of storm trash and after a quick dip to cool off, we dozed and read on the beach under an (EXPENSIVE) umbrella for a couple of hours. Then we ate the rest of our packed snacks, found the last key chains and headed back to the train.
Romagiore was shadey as the sun was setting on the other side. We walked up to the harbour overlook and found dead a cafe. We sipped ice coffee in martini glasses and nibbled on brushcetta as the town emptied out and peace returned. Long climb up to our parking garage, but getting out of Cinque Terre was easier than getting in. 9 hours of parking was only 23 euros, so that was nice. Easy, pretty drive to Pisa. (Jacob is a great navigator when I listen!)
Got to Pisa just before sunset, walked around the Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo) with the Tower (much more beautiful in person than expected) and the Cathedral and the Baptistery. Got some fun pictures, a bonus rainbow and a million offers on fake designer handbags, sunglasses and watches as we were part of such a small crowd. Tge only tour group we saw was on its way out. It was so late we got great parking and excellent service at dinner. Got to stare at the tower all evening, then caught some sunset shots as we walked back to our car.
Easy drive back to Florence, but pumping gas and finding rental car return is hell when you are tired. With the car empty and key returned, we took a taxi back to our flat, arriving just before midnight.
Long, long, LONG day, but overall, very good. Here’s what we will do next time:
Drive to La Spezia the afternoon before. Check into a hotel or B&B and have dinner, get to bed early. Fresh, early start and take 6am (okay- 7am) train to Riomaggiore. Hike the coastal path to Manarola. (1.2 km). Have a wander, then take the train all the way to Monterosse, have a walk around without the crowds. Take the train back to Vernazza and have a swim, lunch, another swim and (maybe check into hotel). Go to Corniglia for a walk and Gelato and shopping. Hit Riomaggiore again in the late evening for seafood, drinks and (reflected) sunset views after the crowds are gone.
Do not, repeat DO NOT, book tickets to climb Leaning Tower of Pisa 90km away. That would just be crazy. <smile>
Some pictures. More on WordPress sometime.