Thank you to Jesus for doing his thing and to the Italians for having an extra holiday the day after Easter because it meant I got a three-day weekend! I spent a long time sifting through my destination options and travel logistics. I finally settled on a trip that would allow me to see multiple cities in my short time frame. I’ve wanted to see Pisa for a long time, but people told me that there wasn’t much there besides the Leaning Tower. So I had always been apprehensive about taking a trip JUST for Pisa until I found that a lot of cities are just a short train ride away from the main station. With this option, I was able to finally see Pisa, return to Siena for a day trip, and explore one of the most beautiful clusters of towns in Europe: the Cinque Terre.
I arrived in Pisa just after noon on Saturday (of course it was raining) and dropped my bag off at my hostel so that I could start exploring. My hostel, Hostel Pisa Tower, was only two minutes from Piazza dei Miracoli, which is the location of the Leaning Tower, the Cathedral, and the Baptistery – I could literally see the Tower from my room. The staff is so nice and helpful and the atmosphere in the hostel is great; I definitely recommend it. My first stop was to go get my ticket to climb up the Tower, because my research informed me that you have to reserve a time to go up. I filled my time before the Tower by going into the Cathedral, which is free to see but you need a ticket anyway, and looking at the tourist stalls nearby. The climb up the Tower was no joke. You can always tell which side of the Tower you are on, because the stairs will get more difficult, then a little easier, then more difficult, etc. Also, they are not that wide so beware of the people coming back down from the top. The view is spectacular and there are plenty of seats to just sit and enjoy it for a little bit. When I got back down, I chose to just wander the city for a little bit until dinnertime.
The Leaning Tower
Easter Sunday was probably the most interesting Easter of my life. I VOLUNTARILY went on a hike. Please take the appropriate amount of time to go into shock. I mean, I’ve hiked before, but it was usually a required family vacation situation. This time was all me and I picked the most beautiful place, the Cinque Terre. Thankfully, the rain let up for the day. For those of you who don’t know, the Cinque Terre is a group of five gorgeous towns along the Italian Riviera: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. There is a popular trail, the Blue Trail, that connects all five towns through the mountains. Unfortunately there was a rock-slide situation a couple years ago so some of the sections are closed to the public [It DOES cost money to hike on the Blue Trail, but all proceeds go towards the trail upkeep and rebuilding so it’s worth it]. I wasn’t sure just how much time it would take for me to go through the towns, so I skipped the north-most town, Monterosso. Mostly because seeing a real beach would’ve made me sad it’s not summer yet. So I began my journey in the town of Vernazza and when I got there it was already teeming with tourists. The town isn’t very big and I was able to get started on my hike pretty soon after I arrived.
I had read online that the easier trails start at Riomaggiore and get increasingly more difficult as you head north. But I know myself well enough that I chose to do the difficult trail first, otherwise chances are good that I would’ve chickened before getting that far so I went south. The section of the trail between Vernazza and Corniglia was definitely challenging for me, especially the first half, but the sea and town views were worth the sweat. Corniglia is a tiny town on a cliff and its beautiful, although there is not much to see. But I had the best focaccia bread of my life there. To leave the town towards Manarola and to continue on the trail, you have to go down 300+ steps to the train station. “Technically” the next section of the trail, from Corniglia to Manarola, is closed because of the rock-slide damage, but… In other news I made friends with a rebellious elderly couple from Canada and I dedicate this blog post to them for helping me leave my comfort zone.
Manarola is the town that people usually think of when they hear Cinque Terre. It is hands down my favorite. The buildings are all colorful, the water is the prettiest shade of blue-green, and the energy about it was just fun. When the couple and I got there, we saw people swimming and jumping off some of the lower cliffs into the water. Not exactly the best time of year for that, but kudos to them for braving the cold water. Going to the train station also leads to the last section of the trail, and also the most famous: Via dell’amore. Unfortunately, this section of the trail is ACTUALLY closed, so I had to give up the hike there and take the train to the next town, Riomaggiore. Riomaggiore is a cute town, minus the fact that you’re always walking uphill. At that point I was sunburnt (pale girl problems) and tired from the hike so I caught the next train back to Pisa, arriving just in time for dinner. Overall, I’d say it was the best day of my weekend… And quite possibly the best day of 2014 so far.
My last day of vacation, I planned specifically to be chill. I slept in a little bit and went to revisit the city of Siena. Siena is one of my favorite places in Italy, it’s difficult for me to say why, but I think a big reason is its understated beauty. Quite a few places and shops were closed within the city because of the holiday Pasquetta (“little Easter”), but I didn’t mind, I was just glad to be back there. I did manage to find the perfect Mother’s Day gift, though, so get excited Mom! Sidenote: leaving and entering the train station is an interesting experience. You have to go through a mall and take multiple escalators and inclining moving sidewalks, as the actual city sits on a hill. My timing was perfect, because the rain held off until I got back to Pisa.
Piazza del Campo
It doesn’t seem real that my time here is almost at an end. THERE ARE STILL SO MANY PLACES TO SEE AND THINGS TO DO. Five weeks is really not a lot of time when you look at a calendar.