A Travellerspoint blog

From Vernazza to Lugano

The only thing they seem to share is the language


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After spending three days in Vernazza, Italy, one of the five villages of the Cinque Terre, we took the train to Lugano, Switzerland. And the contrast between the two places seemed glaring.

Vernazza is small, intimate, friendly and flirtatious. Fun loving and fun seeking, the locals seemed to live an unpretentious good life. Our flat was right on the piazza above the cafe and had no air conditioning. So our shuttered windows were always open. The smells of grilled fish and the sounds of lively Italian banter would waft into our apartment. And since the locals enjoyed eating and drinking till the wee hours of the morning, we may not fall asleep 3:30 a.m., lying in bed, feeling both amused and abused by the situation.A room with a view

A room with a view

Looking out the window

Looking out the window

Lugano, in contrast, seemed ritzy and glitzy in an understated, Swiss way. The city and the lake are jaw-droppingly beautiful. There’s not a speck of trash to be found. The ferries, the trains, and the buses all run on time. It’s a very beautiful and a very rich city. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that our bill for pizza and beer was over 82 francs.

Since eating out is expensive here, we stayed in a hotel that included breakfast. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the hotel or with the breakfast. The Hotel Walter is a gracious, old hotel. To economize, we had the family room. Actually, the family room was two bedrooms and a bath, plenty of room for the four of us. We had bought the Swiss travel pass so we spent a day touring the lake by boat and taking the funicular up to Mount Bre. It was an affordable, laid back day. Hotel Walter

Hotel Walter

Breakfast at the Hotel Walter

Breakfast at the Hotel Walter

Monte Bre Funicolari

Monte Bre Funicolari

Monte Bre

Monte Bre

Posted by davidmutticlark 20:32 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Walking the Cinque Terre

How to fall in love with Italy

81 °F
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The Cinque Terre seduces you with its fragrance, sights, and sounds. As we start our hike in Vernazza to Montorosso, it’s warm and the scent of roses is amplified by the humidity. We climb hundreds of steps through town, through a narrow corridor, a canyon of brightly hued homes. The hiking route through Vernazza

The hiking route through Vernazza

Then we keep stepping up, rising above the town and the rooftops. After sweating up the steep trail for another ten minutes, we look back at Vernazza. And she won’t let you go. Vernazza

Vernazza

She looks alluring at the moment. Why leave? But there’s another adventure ahead.

So we hike a bit more, and then as we stop to catch our breath. We look back at where we’ve been, and an old man pulls out an accordion and begins to play. At this point, I know I’ve fallen for the Cinque Terre. How could you not love this place as you hike along the coast accompanied by an accordion.

Another hour of hiking and we watch kids jettison themselves off of steep cliffs to the azure pool below. They don’t hesitate or contemplate, they just jump.

After two hours of hiking we make it to Montorosso. We stop at the first restaurant and have salads and Moretti beer. And then we walk to the beach below and swim in the bay looking back up to the ancient town.

We catch the train back to Vernazza. It’s a 5-minute ride. And although we’ve only known her for a day, it seems as if we’re going home.

Vernazza, Italy

Vernazza, Italy

Vernazza, Italy

Vernazza, Italy

View of Vernazza from the hiking path

View of Vernazza from the hiking path

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Cinque Terre National Park Hiking Trail

Cinque Terre National Park Hiking Trail

Posted by davidmutticlark 13:30 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Leaving Rome for the Cinque Terre

From the city of seven hills to the coast of the five lands


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On Wednesday morning, we say goodbye to Rome, the Villa Paganini and Nilan, the gentle Sri Lankan who brewed our coffee, made our breakfast, cleaned our rooms, and explained how to get around on the subways and buses. In just two days, Nilan had become a friend.

He showed me how to brew Italian coffee in a contraption unlike a French press or American coffee brewing machine. It looks like a pot with two compartments. The bottom part holds the water and inserted into it is a perforated cup that holds ground coffee. The top compartment remains empty until you pour. A metal tube transfers the coffee from the bottom compartment when you tip the pitcher-like thing. So you have boiling water passing through the ground coffee into your cup. It makes for a smooth, strong coffee. Delicioso!

Nilan also gave us a tour of the backyard garden before he prepared our breakfast on the patio. A lemon tree, an orange tree, lavender, herbs, and an olive tree are all tended by Nilan. He’s been with the family for over twenty years, living in a one-room apartment in the backyard.Sheri and Nilan

Sheri and Nilan

It takes about 20 minutes to wheel our bags through the Villa Paganini Park to the Bologna Metro Station and cram onto our train destined for Termini Station. I’m still paranoid about pickpockets so I wear my backpack in front of me. Within minutes we’re at Termini. I make my way to the self-service kiosk to get our tickets looking at my email that confirms our reservations. A young, pretty, and pregnant Italian woman standing next to me looks over and smiles. “Oh, you don’t need to get tickets. You just show the paper,” she says, pointing to my email. “Come with me,” I’ll show you to your train. How nice, I think. So gracious. So I follow her for a minute to the middle of the station. She points at a big board that doesn’t yet have our train listed. So she takes me to an information board that lists every departure by time and platform number. “There,” she says, “that’s your train. Platform 25.”

“Grazie, grazie,” I say. “That’s so nice of you.”

She smiles gently and says, “Could you pay me for the assistance I provided?”

Oh, now I get it, I think. I’m getting robbed. But I don’t protest. I dig in my pocket and find the smallest Euro bill I have. It’s a five. She beams as she picks it from my hand and scurries away.

Italy steals your heart. It seduces you with beauty, charm, and grace. We find that out again, four hours later, in the Cinque Terre. We take the high-speed train, TrenItalia’s FrecciaBianca, to La Spezia where we switch to a regional line along the Italian Riviera. And in 20 minutes we arrive in Vernazza. Cliffs plunge into the translucent Ligurian Sea. The town’s colorful homes climb up the cliffs and wave laundry at you—sheets and shorts strung from lines in front of shuttered windows.

The town’s piazza is a meeting place, an eating place, a drinking place, and has a boat ramp where locals heave in their dinghies. Charm like this seems larcenous. It takes your breath away. And you are happy for it. Bonjourno, Vernazza.
Vernazza, Italy

Vernazza, Italy

Vernazza, Italy

Vernazza, Italy


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Posted by davidmutticlark 07:57 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Rome in a day without any (clean) clothes

Touring the Eternal City despite lost luggage

78 °F
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No word on Tuesday morning from Swiss Air regarding my lost suitcase so we decide to tour Roma anyway. Jake, my grandson, loans me a skate boarder tee-shirt, so I'm ready to roll. We start by taking the Metro from the Bologna station to the Coliseum.
Roma Metro, Bologna Station

Roma Metro, Bologna Station

We’ve been warned about Rome’s pickpockets. A flight attendant on United told us horror stories about Americans being picked clean as a whistle. So we're a bit paranoid, and I’ve got my money tucked in my pants in a money belt. We make it to the Coliseum without being robbed. A victory for the luggage-less.

As we walk out of the station, swarms of solicitors for tour companies surround us. But what one young man offers sounds pretty good—a guided tour of the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill for a reasonable price so we follow him to a group of tourists he’s collected thus far. The guide and his assistants welcome us and ask for money. I offer them a credit card, and they say cash only. I'm still paranoid about getting ripped off, so I ponder the situation. The tour guide has an official-looking ID hanging from his neck. We banter. He even laughs at one of my jokes. So I hand over the Euros.

And the tour turns out well despite my paranoia. Our guides are knowledgeable and friendly. We have two: one for the Coliseum and another for the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. The first one has an academic slant; he has a book with illustrations that show us what whatever we're looking at may have appeared thousands of years ago. The second guide is dramatically different in style and appearance. He's thirtyish, wears a ponytail and has an irreverent sense of humor. His stories weave an intricate knowledge of the history with offbeat stories and humor. Excellent, I think. Maybe he should create a comedy show for the History Channel. His accent is British. But then he explains: He was born in Rome, in that hospital, pointing to a place behind us, to an Italian father and a UK mother. He seems to have a band of merry men, young groupies who accompany him on the tour. They interrupt him, their leader, relentlessly with jokes that fall flat or are obnoxious or are just crude. The guide doesn't appear to mind these interruptions. And all the tourists in our group don’t seem bothered.
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the Arch of Constantine

the Arch of Constantine

Posted by davidmutticlark 16:26 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Roamin' Rome

How not to start your visit to the Eternal City

Our trip from Chicago to Rome went well. Mr. Najimi, our favorite chauffeur, picked us up at the Sheraton Towers Hotel in his black Chevy Suburban.

We've known Mr. Najimi for just two days. The day before, he met us at O'Hare on our arrival from Idaho, and during our brief drive downtown to our hotel, we had the opportunity to talk. He's an enterprising young man who grew up in Nigeria. He owns his own SUV, and he studies accounting at night. He lived in London before immigrating to Chicago eight years ago. He's the only one in his family who has left home-who's left his country-so he talks every week with family back home—nephews, nieces, and mother. His father died at 60.

Mr. Najimi tells us that when he first immigrates to a country, he seems to always get in a job in the “food service industry.” And then he gives us an example: Burger King in London. He was perplexed when one of his first customers asked, “Can I have a Whopper without the Whopper?” He wanted the sandwich without the meat.

Mr. Najimi got us to O'Hare on time safely and soundly. Along the way he pointed out the ditch off the Dan Ryan Expressway where he had landed on a treacherous Chicago winter day. The road was icy and the tires on his town care were close to bald. He hit a patch of ice, did a 360-degree spin, slid across three lanes of traffic, and careened into a ditch. That’s when he decided to buy his own vehicle—with decent tires.

We say goodbye to Mr Najimi and make our way to our Swiss Air gate. With stereotypical Swiss efficiency our flight from Chicago to Zurich to Rome goes well. But when we disembark and eventually find our way to baggage claim at FCO, Roma—after struggling to get some Euros out of an ATM machine—my suitcase is not to be found.

This is not the way to start our first-ever visit to Rome: without any clothes. Although Michelangelo’s David appears nude all about the Eternal City, I doubt the Romans would want to see a naked 62-old David from Idaho. No redeeming artistic value.

The story has a good ending: They finding my luggage and deliver it to the Villa Paganini B&B the evening before our departure for the Cinque Terra. And the story had a good middle. Our experience at the B&B and in Rome could not have been better. Villa Paganini B&B

Villa Paganini B&B


Villa Paganini B&B

Villa Paganini B&B

Villa Paganini B&B

Villa Paganini B&B

Posted by davidmutticlark 17:29 Comments (0)

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