Mandy set her alarm for 8:30am and refused to get up before it went off. It’s lucky she got up at all, because it was set for the wrong weekday. She got to shower first so she could do hair things and whatnot while I showered. Once we were all ready and packed we did a once-over of the living space we had rented to make sure we didn’t forget anything. We left the keys behind and shut our last European door (for now) behind us.
We got down to the street and set out in search of food. A lot of the places we passed had some dumpy looking croissants, and that was about it. We wanted to leave on a good note, so we continued our search. We had time. Eventually, we settled on Bar Cupido, which is right near the dock our boat would leave from, so that was convenient. We got a couple cappuccinos, a couple chocolate croissants, and a table. We dropped our bags to sit down a bit and enjoy breakfast. We watched the morning rush filter through. When there was a break at the counter, we grabbed a fried potato ball and a turkey and cheese sandwich just in case we had to go a while without a food opportunity. Travel days are always susceptible. We paid up and stepped outside to the dock with about 20 minutes to go.
We were hoping to catch an 11:02am boat to the airport. The boat came and left; one woman got off, but the boat was otherwise completely full. We were reassured the next boat would take us to the airport. Okay, no problem. The next boat came, and we were told to get on the next one. And one more time. THEN, we got on a boat. We were only a few minutes behind schedule, and this boat went direct to the airport. We skipped one scheduled stop. So our arrival was as-scheduled. The water was quite rough, but the ride was otherwise boring. We followed signs toward the airport terminals.
Once inside the airport, there were queues everywhere. Once we got our bearings, we realized it was actually one really long line. And we had to get in it. We had some time, but we were somewhat concerned about getting to our plane on time. The line went all the way across the airport lobby before all the zig-zag things. We got in line and I spotted a little shop selling beers. We had 10.94 euro dollars left that we didn’t want to bring home. Figuring we’d be in line a while, we opted to make it marginally interesting, so I got two beers totalling 10.90 euro dollars, and I donated 4 euro cents to their little cup at the register. I found Mandy in line, far from where we’d parted just a few minutes prior. Crap, this line moves fast. We crushed the beers (well, one beer, and one radler) before security and recycled the bottles. We didn’t do shoes at security, but we did do belts. After security, we checked for our gate, which wasn’t listed. Our flight was delayed 11 minutes. We found another gigantic queue, and asked an airport employee if we should be in that line, because it was heading to specific gates. She assured us we did not have to, which was great. We waited patiently until we saw a gate number listed.
We headed to gate 5 downstairs and waited. We learned that we would be getting on a bus for a short ride to the airplane, which was interesting. We herded onto the bus when it arrived and rode to the plane. Here we found our seats and waited for another busload of passengers to arrive and get seated. We took off at 1:47pm, 27 minutes after the scheduled takeoff. The flight was pretty short; just enough to get us over the Alps and into Munich. Overall, it took about an hour.
So we got to see Munich airport again, which was indifferent. An airport’s an airport. Since we were on “Italian time” (read: late), we had about zero minutes until our connecting flight began boarding. No problem. We just had to wait for the bus to pull up to the airplane, load up, drive us across the tarmac to the airport building, orient ourselves, find our gate, traverse the terminal, go through three separate passport checks and get to the gate. The passport checks actually probably saved us from missing the flight, as odd as that sounds. We got to the first, which had a huge line that didn’t appear to be moving. There were 2 or 3 border security agents working and about 7 empty stalls. After several worried minutes, we noticed that some others in line were as pressed for time as we were. A few jumped out of line to do some investigating which found that there was an automated system in place with a much shorter line. The signage was nonexistent, so we suspect a lot of people didn’t realize this was an option for them. We jumped out of the huge line, and moved to the automated system. Here, you scan your passport and get a picture taken of your face. Then, you have to stop to talk to a border agent anyways. And yet, somehow it’s faster. Who knows. We were just pumped to get passport stamps. From there, we raced towards our gate. We entered a hallway full of people. More lines. There were signs here, marking various classes of plane tickets; economy, first class, business class. However, the people that were already lined up were making announcements to all newcomers. The lines were actually divided by destination. We hopped in the Boston line, somehow comforted to be surrounded by others from our flight. Surely they wouldn’t leave with so many passengers missing, right? When we got to the front, we had to show our passports again. No idea. Then, finally! we got to our gate. Another line. They were still boarding our flight, so we heaved a huge sigh of relief. We got our boarding passes ready, and saw that the agent was also requiring passengers ahead of us to show their passports, so we dug those out also. We passed the final checkpoint, and moved through the jetway to our seats. This plane was huge, 9 across in three groups of three. A350-900 for any aviation nerds reading.
We took off out of Munich at about 4:10pm, about 10 or 15 minutes late. The captain came on to announce that he was going to floor it, and that we should expect to arrive about 25 minutes early. The plane was part of the Lufthansa fleet, and very nicely outfitted. It felt and looked fairly new. The ride was very smooth as we had fair weather almost the whole way. We enjoyed a couple movies each on the in-flight entertainment systems, but the tail-mounted camera was maybe my favorite part. We chatted with our aisle-seat buddy, and postulated future travel plans. Where will we go next? We touched down at Logan at about 6:10pm local time in kind of overcast skies with light rain. Here we had to do another passport check, and then we found our way out to the street. Mandy got us an Uber, and we made our way home. We dropped our stuff off then drove to the neighbors (we were starting to feel exhausted) to pick up Loki. We got back home and crashed, our bodies feeling like it was about 3am. It was wonderful to be in our own bed.
We woke up a little before 8am to the sounds of the morning rush wafting in through our windows. We showered in a tiny shower that had 4 curtains too many. I made a coffee in the moka machine. We dressed and set out after the coffee was gone. We strolled casually with our eyes open for a good breakfast spot. Eventually, we came to Bar Aperol, which is right near the famous Ponte Rialto bridge. We got a pair of cappuccinos and a pair of chocolate croissants. The croissants were nearly as good as the ones we had at Matteo’s. Almost. We hung out a while, trying to formulate a plan. We didn’t come up with much, but I ordered a slice of margherita pizza. When it arrived, we paid up and walked out.
Our plan was just to get lost a while. To help in that regard, we found a bottle of wine in a gelateria. We shared a cone of chocolate gelato, and pushed the cork into the wine bottle. We wandered around sipping wine and looking at stuff. We came across some fabulous structures, and some totally unfabulous tourists. We meandered our way southeast-ish to the park that showed on our map. The park was great because we didn’t pay to get into the art exhibit, which everyone else seemed to be doing, so it was pretty empty. We enjoyed that. However, by the time we had gotten all the way across the city, our feet were a little tired, and we were hot from baking in the sun all morning.
We tried to figure out how to get back home so we could get off our feet and into the shade for a bit before dinnertime. We turned back the way we came, which worked for a little while. Eventually, we had to turn off the path which followed the coast, and head into the center of the city to cut through. We had a general idea of the direction we wanted to go, but formulating an exact plan is beyond the scope of this trip. So we zigged and zagged in the best approximation of home that we could come up with. We checked the map periodically to see if we were on track. Each time we checked, we couldn’t pinpoint our actual location, so that was useless. However, mission accomplished; we were completely lost. Eventually, we opted to just pick a direction and walk that way for as long as we could. Surely this would lead us to open water, which would make it much easier to figure out where we actually were. In the end, it worked out. We found ourselves by the docks at Fondamente Nove. This is where we arrived yesterday, so getting home from here was a familiar route, which took about ten minutes. Mandy got a tiramisu flavored gelato for the walk.
After we felt good and rested, and made sure it was after 7 (so we would be sure to find food anywhere), we changed and headed back out. Our first order of business was to find boat tickets for the following day. There’s only one line that goes to the airport, so we wanted to be sure we knew what stop we should get on at to get the right boat. After we confirmed that the closest stop to us services the airport, we bought tickets, and then checked the schedule to find the best option. Then we set out in search of dinner. We opted to stick near to our place, so we wouldn’t get lost again. We ended up going to a spot we had passed several times; Restaurante la Colonna. We ate outside. Of course we shared another bottle of wine, a house white. It was pretty good. To eat, I ordered penne with pesto that I liked, although it wasn’t quite as good as the trofie in Cinque Terre. I ordered spaghetti alla carbonara that was very good. The second dish was a calf steak with a creamy gorgonzola sauce that was outstanding. Of course we ordered dessert, too. I ordered tiramisu that was very good. I ordered salame con cioccolato, because I was curious. It was like vanilla and chocolate biscotti covered with chocolate. I thought it was good but I liked Rob's tiramisu better. I very much enjoyed it.
At some point during dinner, one of us had mentioned Boston, and the ladies sitting next to us chimed in. They were both from Maine. We chatted for quite a while with them about their travels, our travels, and dogs. They were quite friendly, though we never got their names. We eventually got our checks, and parted ways, wishing them well on their journey. We wound our way back home and worked on preliminary packing before bed. We left out only what we would need for the morning. Then, we fell asleep.
I slept off and on, probably anticipating an early start to the morning. I got up shortly after 7am while Rob enjoyed laying down for a few more precious moments. After we showered and packed up the majority of our gear we had coffee, tea, and breakfast. While we packed up completely, Valentina came out and started her day. She had offered to drive us to the bus stop in the morning which was extremely kind of her. Around 0910 we piled in her small car and she drove us a few minutes uphill to the bus stop that would bring us back to Rimini. We waited about 5 minutes for the bus to arrive and then hopped on and admired the scenery on our way down towards the coast.
Once we were back in Rimini, we had about an hour and 20 minutes before we needed to catch our first train of the day so we decided to sit down at a café and get a couple cappuccinos and chocolate croissants. These were satisfactory but did not compare to the croissants we had at Café Matteo in Corniglia. We settled our tab and decided to grab a bottle of wine for the train ride. Our first leg would take us to Bologna. First class for this portion! Because it’s our honeymoon. And it was only one additional euro. The ride to Bologna was only 1 hour and 15 minutes but I think we really graced the first class carriage with our backpacks and drinking wine straight out of the bottle. We did America proud with our representation.
We transferred at Bologna to another train about 20 minutes later. This train ride was pretty uneventful. It took us the rest of the way to Venice, which will be our last stop on this trip. We hopped off at the end of the line, and followed the crowd towards the waterfront. Here, we bought tickets for water taxis AKA boats AKA vaporettos. Water taxi is actually probably inaccurate, because there are specifically taxis, but what we rode was more like a city bus that floats. Anyways. We rode the 4.2 to Fondamente Nove and got off. We tried to figure out where we were supposed to be, and by now we were about 15 minutes late. We eventually got our bearings on the map on Mandy’s phone, and we devised a route to our AirBnB. We felt bad we kept our host waiting outside to hand us keys, but we got there as quickly as we could! We met with Manuela on top of a little bridge over a canal. She knew it was us when we approached, and introduced herself before leading us inside. We walked all the way up to the attic, where she showed us our room. It’s lovely, and perfect for Mandy because the ceilings are only 3 feet high in spots.
We people-watched out the windows for few minutes, and then headed back out in search of food because we were both getting hungry. We were in that sweet spot of the Italian afternoon where you can only purchase the morning’s leftover pastries, or get “real” food at certain places that remain open. You just have to know where they are apparently, because a restaurant with its doors open and employees milling about inside between 2pm and 7pm is more than likely closed. You may walk right in, and even take a seat. If you are lucky, they will tell you to leave, or that they’re closed. More likely, they will just ignore you, which is fine, it’s just disorienting if you don’t know. Anyways, we found a bread with a slice of prosciutto and a thick layer of cheese that I devoured quickly, to take the edge off. It was one of the better quick-afternoon-bites I’ve had. We forged ahead, and found a restaurant at random that had several guests eating outside, so we joined them. We ordered a couple drinks before inquiring about the food status. We got lucky; Osteria Da Nico doesn’t close the kitchen for the afternoon. We perused the menu, and opted to just get a plate of meats and cheese to share. It was delicious, the smoked prosciutto was a favorite. We might have stuck around, but it was starting to get a little chilly, so we wanted to put on warmer clothes before dinner.
We went back to our room real quick to change, and set back out right around 7, with confidence that most places would be operational. We picked the first place which was literally the first floor of the building we were staying in, so we would have a short drive home after. We opted to split a gorgospeck pizza (gorgonzola and speck, which is bacon). And we had a couple of adult beverages; a Long Island and a mojito. The pizza was really good, but afterwards we were stuffed. We asked for the check, and we were instead brought a couple shots of limoncello. We drank them, obviously, not sure if we were supposed to sip or shoot them. Next, a waiter asked if we’d like to see a dessert menu, which we accepted, although we had no intention of getting any. We were simply curious. When the waiter returned, we requested the check, which he seemed reluctant to provide. After another 10 minutes or so, it finally arrived. We suspect they tried to liquor us up to get us to buy more stuff. It almost worked, but not quite. We paid our tab, and climbed back upstairs to our room so we could relax. Eventually, we fell asleep.
We woke up at about 8am. We took a shower and put together a breakfast which Valentina left out for us. There was juice, tea, espresso, croissants, and eggs. It was great. Once we were all set, we hopped outside and started walking. We knew we were headed the right way because we were going uphill. The whole way. Also, it was mostly familiar from the night before, except as we got approximately halfway up, we took a path through the woods. Valentina had mentioned one, but not very specifically. So we thought it might be the shortcut she had referenced. It probably wasn’t. But it took us uphill, so it wasn’t necessarily wrong. We got back out onto pavement and walked past the radio station building, and found a path in the back of the parking lot.
We started up the path through the woods and soon found an old stone tower on the edge of the cliff. It was under construction, so we couldn’t enter it. But the views around it were great. We continued along the path, and found another old stone structure. This one was a tower and fortress combined. Inside the fortress, we found a small museum of old weapons and tools. There were hundreds of extremely intricate firearms and swords, all well preserved and documented. We moved upward through the museum, and came out on the roof. We went up the stairs to the top of the tower, and came out on a tiny catwalk with amazing views all around. We imagined what it would have been like to be stationed here several hundred years ago. Or, before that, what it would have been like to have to stack those stones on top of the cliff with probably no support or safety equipment.
We climbed back down and continued along the ridgeline trail towards the largest of the structures. Suddenly, we were surrounded by tourists and little shops selling all manner of goods; fidget spinners, jeans-made-into-handbags, swords, airsoft pistols, emoji coffee mugs, etc. It was really awkward. We tried our best to ignore it. There were restaurants, too. They seemed to really push hot dogs and hamburgers, which we found really odd as well. It was all in the midst of these medieval ruins. We read about the history and restoration of the fortress. We wondered if in another hundred years they might document all the tourist traps that moved in in the 2000s.
We were pretty hungry, so we grabbed a table at a nearby restaurant that actually offered real Italian food. We split a pizza and I got strozzapreti with shrimps. It was all good, and filled our bellies. Contented for the time, we continued back down towards the center, somewhat aimlessly. We saw signs for a museum of curiosities, which seemed awkward, so we skipped it. We saw the staturo di tortura, which didn’t take a card, so we skipped it. We gave the signs a closer look afterward, an it seems like a sort of wax museum maybe? Perhaps we’re crappy tourists. We continued strolling and saw signs for the office of tourism, where we popped in to get visa stamps in our passports. Next, we wanted to find a spot to relax a while, rather than walk all the way “home” just to have to walk back for dinner later. So we found this awesome little spot, Bar Centrale. We split a piadina with Nutella, and we each got a capuccino. The piadina is a local sandwich, I think? It’s essentially a flour tortilla with stuff in it. It’s wicked good with Nutella. We posted a blog for you from their free WiFi. You’re welcome.
Eventually we felt well rested and decided to continue on with our day. We wandered down a few streets and found an empty piazza where we decided to play frisbee. It was somewhat risky as most of San Marino is on a giant cliff but we tried to contain ourselves within the piazza. I had to try a bit harder than Rob as I was never quite sure where the frisbee would wind up after my throw. The piazza remained empty except for us for about a half hour. There was a large group of elderly people that showed up and wandered around where we were playing so we decided to end the game and wander around more. It was about 6pm and we figured we should get some dinner soon. Apparently Europeans really like late dinners. We struggled to find anything that was open. Ristorante Caesar caught our eye and we decided to eat there when they reopened at 7pm.
It was a rather classy establishment. We decided to split a bottle of white wine from Valdragone, San Marino which was quite tasty. I ordered the handmade cheese tortellini with mushrooms, tomatoes, and pork, which was delicious. I got a classic four-course dinner which was listed as consisting of typical local style foods. The first plate was a meat and cheese plate, with piadina and arugula. Fun fact – most menus translate arugula to “rocket” in English, for unknown reasons. Before the first dishes came, our waiter brought out a small bowl of something, and said a bunch of words in Italian. It had baked kale and small bits of bread in it, and a sort of brown gravy. It had a sort of fishy flavor, but it was okay. We used it to dip our breads into, and wondered if we were being judged for our terrible etiquette. Or maybe it was an acceptable practice, we have no idea. My second plate arrived while Mandy was still working on hers. It was tagliatelli bolognese and it was quite good. Next, I got a skewer of meats; pork, sausage, chicken, and beef, with some veggies mixed in. This was cooked in the fire that was in the center of the dining room, which was way cool. The flavors were great, although the meats were all cooked the same amount, which meant some were slightly overdone, but it was fine. I shared some with Mandy. The final dish was dessert, which was called “Grandma’s pie, decomposed”, which we obviously reworded to “decomposed grandma pie” because we’re so mature. We laughed a bit too loud in the quiet restaurant. I ordered a chocolate lava cake with salted vanilla gelato that was amazing. Decomposed grandma pie tasted a little better than the name implies, but I wasn’t in love with it. After we polished off the bottle of wine and all our food, we hung out a while longer, as is the tradition, before we paid our bill and left.
We began our walk home. We opted to take a few staircases, in hopes of saving some zigzags on the way down the mountain. Or immediate thought was that we screwed up and went too far, but we plodded on a bit first. We checked the map when we came to a recognizable intersection, and found that we were back on track, and we had saved a bunch of walking. Bonus. We went the rest of the way home, only missing one turn, which we corrected shortly thereafter. When we got in, Valentina was up, and quite chatty. We got comfy on her couch and talked into the morning about all sorts of things. It was awesome to have a real conversation with a real local. We felt like we got a bit better understanding of life in San Marino, which was great. And we covered all sorts of topics from life, love, immigration laws to elephants and everything in between. A bit before 1am, we figured we should probably head to bed because we wanted to get up somewhat early in order to begin our next travel day. Mandy set the alarm for 7am, and we passed out.
We woke up around 7:45 and showered. We had breakfast at the farm again. Again, it was delicious. We packed up all our stuff, and took up Eugenio on his offer to call a taxi for us. It was to arrive in about 15 minutes, so we waited in the chairs on the patio area, baking in the hot morning sun for a bit. When the taxi rolled up, we tossed our bags into the VW minivan and climbed in. We asked the driver to get us to the 23 bus, so he dropped us off at the nearest stop. It was a multi-route stop, fortunately, because we surmised that the 23 was not running that day, after 2 of the scheduled departure times listed came and went with no sign of a 23 bus. So we did a matching game, and saw that the 8 bus hits two stops with similar words as stops on the 23 route. So we hopped on the next 8 bus, and hoped for the best. When we saw a familiar intersection, we hopped off. This was at Sorgane, where we had gotten off a 23 bus the day before. We waited just a few minutes and a 23 bus arrived, continued to the end of the line, and turned around to head back towards the center of Florence. Perfect.
We rode until we felt like we were pretty close to the train station, with the intent to find some lunch before heading to the station. We skipped by a few places, struck out at one (no credito!), and finally decided to order sandwiches to go at a little shop. We got a chocolate croissant also, because why not? The total came in under the minimum for credit, so we got a beer as well. We took our stuff and started walking again, aware of our looming deadline for our train. It was not yet an emergency, but we weren’t totally clear on which way we should be heading. We tried to orient ourselves relative to the Duomo, and the maps on Mandy’s phone (which weren’t loading street names), but couldn’t be certain. We walked a block or two, checked the map, walked again, confused, and repeated this process until we felt like we were legitimately lost. Finally, we came to a large plaza, which Mandy smartly identified as Santa Maria Novella. This allowed us to get a handle on our location on the map, and to walk in a straight line towards the train station instead of wandering hopefully.
We got into the train station with plenty of time. In fact, our train’s platform wasn’t even listed yet. So we relaxed for a few. A woman approached and asked for a Euro, but we had none, so we apologized. She wandered towards a man with the worst bowl cut ever, who appeared somewhat suspect, but I don’t know why, exactly. Perhaps five minutes later, she approached again, and asked for a Euro. Again, we declined. The bow cut man stood awkwardly close to us, staring at a wall intently. We watched the woman continue through the crowd asking for money, even after she had collected from others. Thoroughly uncomfortable, we left the area until our platform was listed. We were to leave from 17, which is far away from the main platform area. So we walked way down the station, and got seats on the train, and waited.
The train rolled out of the station at Firenze S.M.N. and we headed to Faenza. At Faenza, we moved over one rail and waited about a half hour for our next train to arrive. The train arrived, we hopped on, and waited again. The conductor had to take a smoke break, which is fine, but would become a factor for the rest of our day. The train rolled out about 10 minutes behind schedule. A few stops later, two men moved through our car to the rear of the train, where there is a bicycle storage car. A minute or two later, two police officers moved through in the same direction. We could see them checking IDs and taking notes. At the next stop, the officers removed the men from the train, then sat beside us for the remainder of the ride. Not sure what that was all about. The rest of the ride to Rimini was uneventful.
Once in Rimini, we had to find a bus. Unfortunately, one had just left. We missed it because we were late. So we had about an hour to kill until the next one. We knew we were near the east coast of Italy, so we figured we’d go to the ocean. We walked about 20 minutes until we found the beach. We snapped a couple pictures and then hightailed it back to the bus station to catch our bus. We didn’t want to be late, because it was about an hour and a half until the next one! We arrived with plenty of time to spare, and began to get slightly anxious that we were at the right stop when the scheduled departure time came and went. A few minutes later, however, our bus arrived and we hopped on. We scrambled to connect to WiFi on the bus, in order to figure out which stop we should get off at. When we couldn’t connect, we decided to just make an educated guess. All of the bus stop signs we were stopping at looked identical, so Mandy asked the driver to notify us when we were at Borgo Portici. We hopped off when he called it out.
Now what? We had been instructed by our host to catch an ATI bus, which we think is approximately a city bus for San Marino. Well, since we had been running behind schedule since the train conductor’s butt break, we missed the last ATI bus. We tried asking in a few shops for a taxi number, an to see if they could make the call for us. After striking out there, and unable to access WiFi, we gave up and Mandy activated her cell phone for another 24 hour period (which costs $10USD each time) so we could message our host and see what options we had. While we awaited her response, we tried to get some cash for a taxi from an ATM, which was apparently malfunctioning. We were so ecstatic when Valentina responded to say that it was no problem for her to come pick us up at the bus station. What a relief! She arrived about 5 minutes later; just in time as an old man was approaching us, yelling in a foreign language at apparently nothing. We tossed our bag in and thanked our awesome host a hundred times. We chatted along the ride to her house, and she showed us around.
We promptly dropped our bags and kicked our shoes off. After a quick shower, we asked where we should look for dinner, hoping against hope to actually get to eat, because it was past 8pm. She jumped up and grabbed her keys, and drove us up the hill to the old fortress to drop us off. She said that we’d find plenty of places still open, and just message her when we’re ready to come home. We wandered around the eerily silent streets a while, past door after door, all closed. Eventually, we came across a street that had several open restaurants. Score! We picked La Osteria, and were promptly seated inside. I ordered an Illecita by Birrificio Abusivo, a local brewery. It was pretty tasty! I ordered a rose wine that I liked. I ordered a plate of hand-rolled pasta in a pesto sauce, and a dish of thin-sliced beef with salt and rosemary seasoning. All of it was delicious. I ate handmade ravioli with bacon and tomato. It was really good! After dinner, we figured we’d relied on Valentina enough already, and that we could walk home on our own. The weather was pretty good, and the town was quiet. We set out in the direction we had come by car, as best we could from memory. When we were pretty sure we hadn’t been here before, we used Mandy’s phone to navigate us home. We arrived about 40 minutes later, quite sick of walking. We got into bed after a quick chat with Valentina, and passed out not long after.
We woke up around 7am, and got up when we were good and ready. We showered quickly and got dressed. We had to spend a little time unpacking and reorganizing all our clothes. We planned to wash laundry in Cinque Terre, but it didn’t work out, so we updated the plan to Florence. We packed all our dirty-needs-washing clothes (which isn’t all our clothes) into a bag to bring to the laundromat. Then we headed into the cucina where Eugenio had laid out a fantastic breakfast spread for us and the other guests (who we haven’t seen yet). We broke our fast on croissants, yogurt with cereal, coffee, tea, and lemon and apple pies. It was all tasty! We washed our dishes and set out to explore the farm on foot. We had about 20 minutes to wander the fields and leave our prints in the morning dew. Afterward, we hopped into Eugenio’s car, and he drove us into Florence proper. We chatted with him about the family farm on the way in, and all sorts of things about life in Italy. We thanked him profusely when we reached our destination, and hopped out.
Next we set a loose goal of finding a laundromat, while we wandered aimlessly about the city. It actually didn’t take very long to find, which surprised us. We tried to do laundry, but neither of us has used a public washing machine in years, and it was all foreign. Literally. There was a man mopping the floors there, and he helped us out, even though he couldn’t really speak English. We were so grateful. He probably thinks we are just dumb Americans, but he got a good laugh, so it’s worth it. We got the wash cycle running, which said it would take a half hour, so we wandered around some more, but stuck fairly close by. We awed at the fantastic old architecture of the city, and did the typical tourist walk; looking up, not paying attention, taking pictures of everything, taking pictures in front of everything. You know.
We circled back around to the laundry a few minutes before our cycle was completed. Then, we moved everything over to the dryer. The only available one. Mandy went to pay to run the machine, and that’s when we realized that that was the only broken machine. So we had to wait 21 minutes for the first dryer to finish. We took another short walk, and circled back again, just in time for no one to come and remove their laundry. So frustrating. We waited “patiently”. Eventually someone emptied a dryer out, and we threw our stuff in to dry. We were hungry, so we took a seat on the sidewalk immediately outside, with line of sight to our dryer, and we ordered lunch at Gallery. Before the food came, Mandy folded the laundry from the dryer. I got spaghetti carbonara which was great. I got vegetarian risotto which was delicious. We shared a bottle of white wine. Of course, we also shard a tiramisu, which was outstanding as well. After we paid up, we walked some more.
We eventually wound our way to Il Duomo di Firenzi. We were stunned. What do you even say about it? The scale and detail of this structure blew our minds. There’s just so much effort clearly involved in its design and construction. It’s amazing. We wandered around it in awe for a while. We opted not to stand in the massive line to get inside. Then we wondered if maybe we’re crappy tourists? We were feeling a bit claustrophobic in the area immediately surrounding the cathedral. There were so many tourists. So many shops selling touristy items. We felt an urge to get away from there, so we walked south. We approached and crossed the Arno river, and started hiking uphill. At the top, the path opened onto the Piazzale Michelangelo. We were afforded amazing views of the whole of Florence, with the Duomo quite prominent. To see how far and how dense the city is was mind blowing. We wandered around the piazza to take in views from each direction before heading back downhill.
We were hungry again. Okay, I was hungry again. But it wasn’t yet a food emergency, so we had time to be picky. We walked a while, trying to get away from people, to find somewhere quiet. Relatively quiet. We were a little excited when we finally found a quiet street, and figured maybe the next intersection might have a restaurant. Suddenly, a giant plaza opened up in front of us, and there was the Palazzo Pitti. And a whole boatload of people. Crap. We were getting sick of hauling our laundry around, so we finally gave up and picked a place that had no one in it. Unfortunately, they didn’t accept a card, so we got back onto the street, and popped into the next place we found, which was Café Bellini. I ordered tagliatelli Bolognese, and it was okay. I ordered tagliatelli with truffles. We got a couple glasses of wine, a white and a rosé. After the meal, I got an espresso, which was pretty good.
After dinner, we started making our way towards the bus station. Our feet were sore and our bodies tired from all the walking. It was relatively early, and again we wondered if we’re crappy tourists. We hopped on a 23A, and rode it to the end. At Sorgane, we got out and began looking for a taxi. We watched a couple drive by as we waved to them. We were unable to find any signs indicating a taxi stand, a number to call; really anything taxi-related at all. Mandy had the brilliant idea to look for signs for a hotel, to see if reception could give us a number to call or perhaps even call one for us. We followed signs to Together Florence Inn for a few blocks, and wandered into the lobby. The receptionist called a taxi, no questions asked, and it arrived shortly thereafter. We gave our address and made the ride home, enjoying the sunset over the beautiful Tuscan landscape out the windows. We relaxed a while in our room and then went to sleep.
I woke up around 5, 5:30, 6:30. Each time I fell back asleep, because I could, until I woke up for real around 7am. Mandy woke up soon after that. We made espresso and tea, and relaxed in the front yard a while. Eventually, not a moment early, we began showering and packing our things. We said goodbye to our new friends, Tom and Sigrid, as they set out on foot toward town. We left not long after them, opting to hitch a ride from our awesome host, Paolo, to the center of Corniglia. We asked him where we should head for breakfast, but he said his top pick for best food in Corniglia was closed. We’re not sure if it was closed until a later point in the day, closed for the day, or closed for business altogether. He suggested we head towards the square, and that any place we could find would be great. He was not wrong.
We picked a place at random that appealed to us, Caffe Matteo. We ordered a couple of sandwiches. Mine had ham and cheese, I think mozzarella. It was quite good. Mine had prosciutto, arugula, and cheese. It was delicious! Just before we sat down, a chocolate croissant caught our eye, so we snagged one of those on a whim. Why not? Oh my god it was amazing! It was still warm, and coated with cacao crumbs. Absolutely phenomenal. So good we ordered another. I ordered a cappuccino that was really good. Matteo told us that they had free WiFi, and how to log on, so we set up shop in the corner and posted a couple blogs for you. You’re welcome. After our work was done, we started thinking of the day ahead, and timing of food. We have dinner plans, but we may not have food access until then. At about noon, we decided we should probably get some more food, because we didn’t want to go hungry. And because it was so good. We ordered Mondo pizza, which is basically everything, split into quarters. One quarter was pesto, one was prosciutto, one was veggies, and one was ham. We split it into eighths and went on a flavor tour. It was amazing. I got a local IPA by Birrificio del Golfo that was the best beer I’ve had yet in Italy. The prices were good, the food was amazing. If you find yourself hungry in Corniglia, check out Caffe Matteo. We highly recommend it.
After we cashed out, we made our way slowly toward the train station down the hill. We opted to take the road over the stairs, because there were so many people on the stairs. The road was nearly completely empty. We found some shade in the station to get out of the blazing sun, and waited for our train. We hopped on to take the ride to La Spezia, where we transferred to the next train, which was headed to Viareggio. There we made another transfer to a train which took us to Firenze Santa Maria Novella, which was the end of the line. We hopped off there around 4:50pm, and searched for a 23A bus. We walked all around the outside of the train station, and asked several people, with no luck. So instead, we broke down and hailed a taxi. We gave the driver our destination address and he took us on about a half hour ride.
When we got out, we were well away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Florence, in rolling hills of farmland with a fantastic view of the land all around us. We walked up the driveway toward the Villa Dauphine farmhouse in which we were staying, to be greeted by the owner’s son, Eugenio. He offered us a warm welcome, and showed us around the facility, and to our room. He confirmed a 7pm dinnertime was acceptable to us, and left us to settle in. We showered off the stink of travelling, which also served to wake us up a little bit. Then we headed out onto the front porch of the farmhouse to find a table set for two. Eugenio and his father, Pietro, cooked and served us a fantastic 3-course dinner in typical Tuscan style. We had a small charcuterie board with salamis and cheese, as well as home-cooked bread. Next, we were served a pasta Bolognese with pork. The entrée was thin sliced pork loin roasted with spiced potatoes. Eugenio asked if we wanted any dessert. Everything was so delicious that we couldn’t say no to more. So we opted to split a slice of homemade blackberry pie. He also suggested a sweet wine to go with it, which he brought us to have in a couple shot-sized glasses. We can’t remember what it was called, or what type it was. I remember reading the alcohol volume, which was 16.5%. It almost tasted like a liquor at first, Mandy made a face, but the finish was completely different, and really tasty. The highlight of the whole meal, though, was the red wine and the olive oil which were served with it. Both are made entirely on site at the farm, from grapes and olives which are all grown on the farm. The whole experience of going to the farm where the products are made, to have a meal prepared and served by locals who run the farm, and to stay the night in their home was really amazing. We loved it. After dinner, we went back to our room to relax with a movie before falling asleep.
We woke up around 7am today. We leisurely got ready for the day and decided to hike into town for breakfast. Since our AirBnB was in the middle of two villages we had to pick one to walk out to for breakfast. Vernazza was in the direction of our destination for the day which was Monterosso. We made the hike into Vernazza in about 40 minutes. The hike was mostly downhill/downstairs which was a nice change from the hike in the previous night. Once in Vernazza, we found a small shop where we got some sandwiches for breakfast and a large beer to split. Because we are on vacation! After a bit to eat we hopped on a train to Monterosso. Here we wandered around the town aimlessly until we decided to stop and ask for directions on how to get to Angelo’s Boat Tours. A kind man at a pizzeria gave us instructions to go to the opposite side of town and through the walking tunnel and then the boats would be on our right. We followed his instructions and quickly found the harbor. We located the boat we needed to be on and met Alessandro and Matteo, our guide and our captain, respectively. Soon we began our tour.
We started in Monterosso and made our way down the coast to the last village in Cinque Terre (Maggiore). We sipped on champagne and made conversation with our fellow tour mates. After we toured the coast we made our way back north and stopped in Vernazza for lunch. Here we enjoyed a multi-course meal complete with caprese salad, octopus salad, smoked swordfish, fried shrimp, calamari, anchovies, sardines, trofie with pesto, spaghetti with mussels and a delicious frozen mousse dessert. Oh and lots of wine. Spirits were high as we hopped back on the boat to head toward Monterosso. When we were in the little cove, the captain dropped anchor so those that wanted to could swim. We hopped in straight away, even though the weather wasn’t ideal. We’d waited so long to swim in the Med! After some coaxing, we convinced a few others to hop in as well. The water was much warmer than we anticipated, almost the same temperature as the air. After we’d had our share of swimming, we climbed back into the boat and headed to the dock. On the way, a light rain began to fall, but luckily we were only a few minutes away. Once we were on land, we looked for shelter.
We wanted to formulate a plan, but first we looked around. We realized we were in a pizza shop, and the pizzas all looked amazing. We took a slice to go, and while they heated it up, we decided to head straight towards the train station. When we got there, we waited for a train to Corniglia and got more wet as the large crowd forced us out from under shelter in the station. We got off the train in Corniglia and made the same hike as the day before. It wasn’t quite as scenic because of the cloud cover, but it was much easier going without carrying all our gear. We made quick time, and took showers to wash off all the salt right when we got in. We wanted to make it to the bar downstairs for dinner, and we knew it closed at 6:30pm
We walked down at about 5:00, and they were already closed. So no dinner. Defeated, we walked back up to our patio area, and chatted with our new neighbors. They were a pair of very friendly Australians and we had lots of laughs with them. They overheard our strikeout at the bar, and kindly offered us to share their food. We declined, at first, because we weren’t very hungry due to the big lunch. We mainly just wanted to eat because that’s what you do at dinner time, and because all the food here is amazing. They wouldn’t take no for an answer, so we shared bread, prosciutto, and buffalo mozzarella and some coffee. It was all delicious. We watched the sun set over the water and hopefully waited for the stars to come out. The clouds mostly prevented that. Eventually, tired, we all went off to bed.
We woke up unwillingly at about 6am. We showered and ate breakfast at the hotel again. We grabbed our stuff after breakfast and checked out of the hotel. We walked a few minutes to the bus station a couple blocks over, and waited. There were several buses already there, but none of them were the one we needed, which was a Flixbus. When one eventually arrived, everyone crowded over to it, and they all turned away at the door. Before we could get there, a woman asked us where we were headed, and then informed us it was not the bus we wanted. Okay then. We waited a while longer while chatting with the woman who introduced herself as Soraya. One minute before the scheduled takeoff, another Flixbus rolled in. The right one. So we piled all our gear in and hopped in line. Just before we got on, a woman threw a water bottle at a man she seemed to be there with, and started shouting at him in French. Luckily for us, they both decided to get on and sit right behind us. Soraya had grabbed a seat across the aisle from us and informed us that the man of the fighting couple had forgotten his passport and the woman of the duo was very angry about it and was not being very nice to him.
The bus finally rolled out of the station at 0800. It was due to leave at 0745. We had been told at the bus stop that these buses were notoriously late and that Italians “like to move at their own pace.” So we figured a departure 15 minutes later than expected was satisfactory for us. Rob fell asleep shortly into the bus adventure. While I probably also could have slept I forced myself to stay awake as I was enamored with the scenery. We travelled out of Geneva through the Swiss countryside and into France, winding our way through the towering French Alps. We drove right next to Mont Blanc which is the tallest mountain in Western Europe. The sheer size of these mountains was mind boggling and most still had piles of snow on the peaks. The lady at the chocolate shop yesterday said that there is skiing year round in the French Alps.
We started to make switch backs up the side of the mountain and entered Tunnel du Mont Blanc. So I guess we drove through the mountain. We exited the darkness 9 minutes later, travelling approximately 30mph. Do the math, it was long. At the tunnel exit, we stopped for Italian customs. Two polizei entered the bus and collected all our passports, then left. We were mildly uncomfortable, but they were carrying firearms, so we weren’t about to make a scene about it. Soraya shared the story of her ordeals getting her new passport which sounded exceedingly complicated. She was much more anxious about watching her passport leave her possession, understandably. Eventually, the officers returned and handed back all the passports, one by one. We were back underway shortly thereafter. Side note – the man without a passport presented a card of some sorts, I presume another ID. This must have been satisfactory for the border officers because he was not thrown off the bus.
The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful. We made a few stops along the way and fell increasingly behind schedule. We finally reached our destination in Milan, Lampugnano, and disembarked. Soraya was going the same way as us for a while longer, so she graciously lead the way since we had no idea what we were doing. We got subway tickets and got onto the platform as the doors of our train were closing. We stepped into the train just as the doors closed. Perfect. From there, we went to Cardona to switch lines. We said a very quick goodbye and thank you very much to our new friend Soraya, and bolted out the door. We found the next train we needed, which was headed to Milano Centrale. At the central station, we hopped on a longer-distance train which would take us to Levanto. We got off in Levanto to make another transfer onto the last train, which took us to Corniglia. Once we got into Corniglia, we just had a short hike up the longest staircase ever (perhaps – I also thought the Indian Nose hike in Guatemala was the longest staircase ever). At the top of the stairs, it was really unclear which way we had to go. Mandy asked at the pharmacy, but they couldn’t offer much help. We walked into Corniglia proper in search of tourist info. Unable to find any, we searched instead for the elusive “blue path”. We didn’t find the blue path, but we did find one with red and white blazes that appeared to go to where we wanted to be, according to maps Mandy downloaded for offline use. So we located the trailhead and started walking. The trail follows the coastline, more or less and it was approaching sunset, so the views were stunning. We had flashbacks to hiking in Guatemala although the terrain was somewhat different. The sun went down behind the mountain ahead of us, and we plodded on through the light of dusk. When we couldn’t go even one more step without dying (literally), we realized that we had actually overshot our destination by about 100 feet. Suddenly we had the energy to make it the last little bit, with the house in sight.
We arrived just as the host, Paolo, was walking up the path to meet us. We greeted him and the couple of other guests, and tossed our bags down. After a very brief orientation, we took a quick shower and changed out of our sweaty hiking clothes. Then we breathed a sigh, and began to actually relax. Holy crap, the views. So amazing here. The AirBnB Mandy found is a tiny bedroom built into the side of a mountain. It opens up to a small yard, just big enough for a table and a few chairs. In front of the yard, the land falls off sharply down to the Mediterranean Sea. We have a completely unobstructed view west out over the water. We watched the sun dip down into the water in a blaze of red while we chatted with our neighbors for the night, Jason and Liana. We went down a flight of stairs to the restaurant, to find that it was closed, so we opted for more German trail mix and Swiss chocolate for dinner.
We woke up at like 8:30. Mandy showered while Rob continued to not move a while longer. When we were finally up, dressed, showered, and all that, we left the room to grab breakfast, which was included with the room, at the hotel. With no proper training on how we were supposed to do breakfast in this country, we winged it. I had a piece of toast with chocolate frosting (I believe this was actually something similar to Nutella) and strawberry jam, a stick of Gruyere cheese, and a hot chocolate. I had a kiwi, toast, a cheese stick, and orange juice. No idea if this was the “right” way to do it, but the flavors were delicious!
After breakfast, we brushed our teeth and packed some snacks into Mandy’s purse, then set out for the tram. It was just up the street, around the side of the main train station. We waited just a few minutes for the #18 to arrive, and we hopped on. This is where we need to rewind a moment, to something we left out as insignificant last night. See, when we were at dinner last night out on the sidewalk, a man approached our table playing acoustic guitar and singing in like…Franish? Half French/half Spanish. Anyways, we remember it very vividly – it was Canción del Mariachi by Antonio Banderas and Los Lobos. He (presumably) was begging for change after the terrible rendition. I don’t know, he was speaking French, I think. Anyways, back to today; we were minding our own business on the train when suddenly “AYE AYE MI AMOR” out of nowhere. Same guy, same song. He played for a couple stops, and then got off, just as we were debating getting off to wait for the next train. So we stayed on, and rode all the way to the end.
We hopped off the last stop, and wandered around a while to take a few pictures outside. When we went into CERN reception, we still had about an hour to kill before the tour began. We- okay, MANDY worked hard to get us tickets, so we wanted to be sure we weren’t late. We wandered around the permanent exhibit inside, Microcosm, while we waited. We soaked up as much information as we could about the particle accelerators at CERN before, and during the tour. The tour took us to a decommissioned particle accelerator, the synchrocyclotron, from CERN’s early years. To stand in front of it, it seemed gigantic. To compare it to the current accelerators in use, it is tiny. Although the large hadron collider had no active beams today, we were unable to go underground to the tunnels. We think this is because they were doing maintenance of some sort. After checking out the synchrocyclotron, we went over to ATLAS control room. The control room is ultimately uninteresting to look at; it is just a bunch of computers in an office. But it was way cool to be in the same place where so much cutting edge science happens. Our guide, Alexandro, was a wealth of information about the facility, experiments, equipment, and history. We had a great time soaking up all the information through the tour, and checking out all the equipment on display, and the Universe of Particles exhibit. By the end of it, we were quite hungry and in need of a sit down, so we hopped on over to the tram, and headed back towards the city.
After a little R & R in the hotel room for a bit, we set back out to explore the city some more. We popped into a chocolate shop just to see. We got to talking with the shop owner a while, about chocolate, life and climate in Geneva, snow skiing, and all sorts of things. She was very pleasant, and in the end she gave us a couple truffles for free, and a couple small samples of chocolates. We walked out with a few solid bars of Swiss chocolate, too. We’re pumped to try them out tomorrow. We continued back down towards the waterfront, but this time we headed further east, to a park that we spotted on the map. Once we got there, we threw around our frisbee for a little while, until we’d worked up a thirst.
We were not as hungry as we anticipated around dinner time, but set out in search of food nonetheless. We decided to split a pizza at La Rotonde, a pizzeria. We sat out on the sidewalk again, because the weather was good. I ordered a Lowenbrau beer. I drank water. The pizza we ordered was chorizo, and it came out split 50/50 on two plates. How convenient. We took a few bites and then “AYE AYE MI AMOR”. Same guy, same song, again. What the heck. Eventually, he left, and we finished our meal in relative peace. We enjoyed people watching as we worked on a chocolate mousse for dessert which was amazing. We paid the tab after we finished, and returned to our hotel. We packed up our bags so we’d be ready for an early start tomorrow and then we went to bed.