Cinque Terre

March 25th, 2015. Italy
Our view from Manuel's Guesthouse in Monterosso

Our view from Manuel’s Guesthouse in Monterosso

On Sunday morning at 9:57am, Nik and I took our 2nd Class seats in a compartment of 6 and rode for 3 hours from Termini Station in Rome to La Spezia Centrale. Then we transferred to a local train for the final 15 minutes of our journey to Monterosso Al Mare (Red Mountain of the Sea), which is the northern most town within the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre. The train rides were uneventful in a depressing way, I was tired from another restless night combatting an allergic reaction to laundry detergent, it was 2 hours past lunchtime, I was carrying 4 months worth of luggage, we had been warned about pick-pockets 5 times within the last 10 minutes, we were slowly walking shoulder-to-shoulder with 100s of gawking tourists and students towards an underground tunnel which nearly caused me to have a panic attack, and Nik was stopping every 10 seconds to take photos. I could not handle it so I took it out on him by whining that I just wanted to get to our hotel. He had been looking forward to visiting Cinque Terre for over a decade, and was excited to capture his first impressions. He calmly told me that he wanted to do this, and at that, I accepted that we were in one of the most incredible places I had ever been. The Mediterranean Sea was to my right, an historic town dating from the 11th century was to my left, and my husband was beside me documenting it all. Basically, I had no reason to be in a foul mood.

We checked into Manuel’s Guesthouse at the top of the hill (highly recommended…no pun intended!), set our bags in the closet, and dropped our jaws as we stepped out onto the terrace. I honestly could have sat there all day long, but Nik was ready to explore. He really wanted to walk all the way to the next town before sunset, but given my exhausted state and the fact that we could enjoy the view from our balcony, we compromised and only went to the nearby church. We tried to stop for food on our return trip around 3pm, but found that nearly everything was closed so we gave up and took a nap.

We went back out around 6:30 to the nearby Gastronomia San Martino which is a fantastic little place. The owner/chef sets a menu based on his whim for the day and either heats up prepared dishes or cooks pasta to order. The catch is that all meals are take-away only which is perfect because we could bring it back home to take advantage of our view. We ordered ravioli filled with spinach in an almond sauce, spaghetti bolognese, and grilled vegetables.

(Since the first night, we have gone back twice. We have ordered two versions of hearty lasagna, one meat and one vegetable, as well as a grilled vegetables and fettuccine that were all delicious.)

City Street

City Street, Monterosso

Details dating back to the 14th century

Details dating back to the 14th century

The Monterosso Castle - now a private residence

The Monterosso Castle – now a private residence

Piazza Garibaldi

Piazza Garibaldi, Monterosso

Piazza Colombo

Piazza Colombo, Monterosso

After a restful night of sleep, hot showers and a breakfast of breads, cheeses, fruit and cappuccino, we set out early on our second day to hike as much of the coastal trail between the 5 towns of Cinque Terre as we could. The path between Monterosso and Vernazza was through lemon trees busting at the seams with ripe fruit, olive groves full of new buds but not a single olive, and a few terraced vineyards that had been cut back for the winter. Some of the larger and steeper farms had elevated monorails that made Nik’s head spin. He has dreamed about building a miniature train in his back yard, and every time we go on a hike or spend time in a large park, he mentions his dream. Now he has seen it in person, and has done the research to know that the Swiss-made pre manufactured version will cost approximately $125,000 for 300 meters. He also knows that we have some handy family members that are good with automotives that might be able to help design and build one!!!

The path itself was narrow and made with stones set into a mud bed and lined with meticulously built stone walls where the earth had to be cut back to make way for pedestrians. During the first couple hours, we only saw 3 or 4 other hikers which made us thankful that we decided to come during the off season.

On the path between towns

On the path between Monterosso & Vernazza – freshly trimmed of overgrowth

Vernazza and the sea

Vernazza and the sea

Nik's dream locomotive

Nik’s dream locomotive

In Vernazza, we wandered through narrow streets and up and down ancient stone steps between buildings that had tilted and twisted over time. All of the town’s shutters were modern green metal contraptions, and most were closed. I am not sure if that is because most of the buildings are hotels that are only open during the summer and have been closed for winter, or if most people simply keep their shutters closed.

Vernazza looking towards the Apennine Mountains

Vernazza looking towards the Apennine Mountains

Infill

Infill, Vernazza

On the path between Vernazza towards Corniglia, we passed more and more hikers. Each time I did a quick evaluation of their clothing and their conversational style to decide if they should be greeted with the native “Buongiorno” or “Hello”. I used Italian most of the time so that our nationality was ambiguous, but occasionally it was nice to connect with fellow Americans with a familiar greeting.

Corniglia

Corniglia

San Pietro Church, Corniglia

San Pietro Church, Corniglia

Corniglia was supposed to be our final stop for the day, but the day was still young and the weather incredible. We decided to take the train on to the fourth town, Manarola, because we could and because this was the town that Nik REALLY wanted to see. He claimed that it was the most photogenic and that if he was to have a dusk photo of any town, Manarola was the town he wanted.

We arrived at the Manarola train platform around 4:30pm to find the perfect viewpoint. First we went south along the base of the town and quickly realized that we could not see the city from there. We could see the sea, so we lingered for a while as clouds moved in and out. Next we went north and found our spot on an elevated walkway about 30 feet above the water where we could see the city open towards the Sea and nestle into the mountains. We sat there for well over an hour watching tourists take selfies with the town as their background.

The sun eventually set and Nik captured his perfect moment even though very few the town’s residents came home to open their shutters for him. As the sky turned black, we consulted my phone for dinner recommendations and settled on Nessun Dorma, a bar perched at the top of a hill opposite the town with the view above. We were one of three couples at the outdoor bar, and once again, we were thankful we had come during the off season. Our drinks, bruschetta and panini were perfect after a day walking by the sea.

The Mediterranean

The Mediterranean

Manarola from the south

Manarola from the south

Our third day began with another great breakfast with Manuel (the guest house namesake) and a hike up to the cemetery at the top of the mountain between the new and old areas of Monterosso. The grounds were well maintained and the memorials dated back as far as the early 1900s with clergy members situated on the western edge facing the sea.

Monterosso Cemetery looking towards the Ligurian Sea

Monterosso Cemetery looking towards the Ligurian Sea

Memorial

Memorial

After the local jaunt, we took the train to the fifth and final town of Riomaggiore. The literal translation of the town name is “Grand River” because a river once ran through the center of town with only bridges connecting the northern and southern slopes. Nik and I tried to imagine what it must have been like to have  water rushing beneath our paths, and wished we had seen the town then. But we were also grateful that the town had continued to prosper, so if covering the river was necessary for progress and stability, I understand it.

Riomaggiore, where the Great River once ran

Riomaggiore, where the Great River once ran

We knew it would be raining for most of our fourth and final day, so when it was barely sprinkling after breakfast, we took advantage of the decent weather to go further uphill to the car road that services all five towns. It is positioned about half way up the side of the mountain and has hairpin turns every 1000 meters or so. As we walked on the shoulderless narrow road, Vespa Apes (pronounced app-ee), delivery trucks, Fiat hatchbacks and construction vehicles passed going both directions. It was not the most relaxing walk we have had here, but it’s always good to see how the locals get around! We ended the walk at the private club located at the northern edge of the public Monterosso beach. It was an unremarkable building with a small “marina” filled with small boats.

Rainy Day

Rainy Day

On the way back we had lunch at Trattoria da Oscar which came highly recommended by our host. It is a 14 seat restaurant nicely designed with a well-lit arched stone ceiling and simply painted steel blue tables with pumpkin orange chairs. When we sat down, it was empty and the hostess (that I assume was an owner?) took our order of a caprese salad, marinated mussels and gnocchi with pesto. It was all amazing, especially the mussels.

The meal was followed by piccolo (small) gelati (pl. gelato), and then we confined ourselves to our room as it rained outside to edit photos and write our blog posts.

The Sinz/Daums

The Sinz/Daums*

*Photo taken by the daughter of a lemon-eating American on our first day in Cinque Terre and edited by Nik.

Nik’s Blog: Four Amazing Days in Cinque Terre, Italy

Rome Architecture

March 21st, 2015. Italy
Rome

Rome, a birthplace of Western Civilization

Many people think that architects travel only to see buildings. They imagine that we drag our friends and families around the globe in search of every building by every notable architect that has ever lived just so that we can take the exact same photos of said buildings that we saw in our history books and monographs. This may be true of some architects, but not this one…most of the time. As I plan for a trip, if there is a building I know is important to the history of our civilization or to modern architecture, I definitely seek it out. Unfortunately, I am not the best student of ancient or modern architectural history or of current architecture. It is more likely that I will turn a corner and see something vaguely familiar only to find out two days later that it was designed by last year’s Pritzker Prize winning architect (currently the highest honor an architect can receive) or Michelangelo. Or I won’t turn a corner only to find out that I missed one of the masterpieces of our time. When this happens, I feel as though I am letting my profession down because I should have known better.

This happened two days ago…we had already walked 12 miles and were basically forced to go to the steps of the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument by the waves of tourists going in that direction. It was great to see up close because it is obviously a significant architectural monument that we had seen from a distance all week. Then when I was back at our apartment doing more research, I discovered that in our exhausted herding towards Vittorio, we completely missed one of the most important architectural and urban design sites of our time. Not 100 feet away is the Michelangelo designed piazza on Capitoline Hill, also known as Capidoglio. The piazza took centuries to finish, but the design has had an impact on nearly every city in the western world since the 1500s. I had been to the there in college, but I’m sad we missed it on this trip. Next time.

The Quintessential photo of the Colosseum

The Colosseum

The Vatican Museum animal room

The Vatican Museum animal room

Painted floor tile at the Vatican Museum

Painted floor tile at the Vatican Museum

Dusk from Ponte Sant'Angelo

Saint Peter’s Basilica at dusk from Ponte Sant’Angelo

The main dome at Saint Peter's Basilica

The main dome at Saint Peter’s Basilica

Altar mosaic at Saint Peters Basilica

Altar mosaic at Saint Peters Basilica

One of the Three venues at Auditorium Parco Del Musica by Renzo Piano

One of the Three venues at Auditorium Parco Del Musica by Renzo Piano

Old School & New School Meet - The MAXXI by Zaha Hadid

Old School & New School Meet – The MAXXI by Zaha Hadid

MAXXI Interior

MAXXI Interior

Nik on the steps in front of the Supreme Court building

Nik on the steps in front of the Supreme Court building

Nik’s Blog: The Last Three Days in Rome

Roman Meandering

March 20th, 2015. Italy
Vintage Fiat

Vintage Renault

Nik and I arrived in Rome at 7:45am on Monday morning after a pleasant overnight flight from Atlanta. We met our host, dropped off our bags and immediately began meandering around Piazza Navona. The cobblestone streets glistened with new rainfall as shop owners prepared for their day, and we were immediately smitten with the place.

Understanding that we would fall asleep walking if we stayed out too long, we went back to the apartment for a nap. 5 hours later, we hit the streets again for dinner and an evening stroll. The rain had stopped and we lost our way a couple times, but it was magical.

The spire of the Palace of Wisdom

The spire of the Palace of Wisdom

Inside the Palace of Wisdom

Inside the Palace of Wisdom

On the second day, Via Appia Antica was our destination. On the way there, we found the Palace of Wisdom, walked into Nik’s childhood dream building – The Pantheon, happened upon an open plaza filled with the ruins of three temples that was also home to the cities rescue cat population, crossed the Tiber River onto Isola Tiberina, climbed Aventine Hill to peak through the keyhole to see the dome of St. Peters framed through topiaries, stopped into a few churches, shared slices of pizza in a park with joggers, and still barely believed we were actually here.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon

Coffers

Coffers

Ancient Ruins/Cat Sactuary

Ancient Ruins/Cat Sactuary

The mighty Tiber

The mighty Tiber

One of 7 Hills

One of 7 Hills

Peeking

Peeking

A convent's courtyard

A convent’s courtyard

Once we made it to our destination, we dodged cars and motorbikes for a few kilometers before the city faded away and the road opened up to a preserved farmland that maintains the scale and beauty of the original road. We daydreamed of living in the small stone farm houses off to the left and right, and smiled at our fellow walkers as we navigated the uneven terrain.

We turned left at Via del Casale Rotondo and made our way to the Capannelle train station past the horse racing tracks and ruins of the Roman Aqueducts even though I was tempted to continue along Via Appia all the way to Castel Gandolfo!

Via Appia Antica

Via Appia Antica

Our daydream home

Our daydream home

Two stops later, we disembarked into the hustle and bustle of Termini Station. We found automated kiosks and purchased train tickets for the next leg of our trip. From there, we meandered back to the apartment and somehow ended up at the Spanish Steps just in time to watch the sun fade off to the west.

From the Spanish Steps

From the Spanish Steps

Nik’s Blog (50+ Amazing Photos): Our First Two Days in Rome