Italy's Riviera - the Cinque Terre

Yesterday, we traveled from Venice to Monterosso, from Italy's eastern coast to the west coast on the Ligurian Sea. Including a brief train switch in Milan, the entire trip took a little over six hours. This allowed us to catch up on some rest and have a friendly chat with a mother and daughter from Sydney, Australia. Did you know the Aussies refer to what we call Sprite as "lemonade"?

We are staying at a great little place in Monterosso called Il Timone. It's been the cleanest and brightest room(s) yet. The owner, Francesco, is a young hard-working entrepreneur with great customer service skills. 

Monterosso Al Mare is the northernmost of the five villages that constitute the Cinque Terre, or "five lands".  The walk from the train station here to our room was a bit of a hike and I felt the effects of that last night with a raging headache from carrying Sydney's slightly overloaded backpack.

We spent day one here getting acquainted with this fishing village and enjoying a snacky-type dinner overlooking the water. Of course, we left room for gelato at Eden's, Monterosso's best according to our new friend Francesco. And this small town is safe enough to leave two teenagers back at the room so mom and dad could enjoy an adult beverage at Enotica de Eliseo, a very good spot from which to people-watch.

On Friday, I got up a little earlier than the rest of the family and went exploring Monterosso on my own for a couple hours. First stop was the town's church near the main piazza, San Giovani Battista. The black and white striped columns and exterior drew my attention. I then blindly followed an alley and found myself ascending higher and higher through the town and then quickly into an area of lemon trees and then a vineyard. The views were becoming increasingly better with each asthma-inducing step. Taking a hairpin left turn, I continued the climb to the town's cemetery, where the dead are entombed in above-ground vaults. Just beyond the cemetery was the Church of San Francesco - Capuchin Friars Monastery. Another church! Everywhere you turn in Italy, you are blessed with the surprise of a new one. And each church offers something unique and interesting.

Arriving back at Il Timone, I found the troops showered and ready to roll. After a quick breakfast of pastries and coffee, we headed back to the train station and bought hop-on-hop-off tickets to visit the other four villages of the Cinque Terre. And that's what we did. We spent time in each in order of north to south: Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomagiorre. Ultimately, it was a little grueling to do these in rapid succession, but it gave us a chance to quickly compare each to one another. We barely skirted a major fine when we accidentally took the wrong train from Corniglia to Manarola. The ticket-taker stared at us and for some reason granted us clemency. We were grateful to jump off at Manarola with no hit to the money belt.

We collectively agreed that Manarola was our favorite of the remaining four towns (excluding Monterosso), offering the greatest diversity of views and activities. We bought some focaccia here for a quick snack, watched brave/crazy divers leap from steep and high rocks into the water and reciprocated photo-taking with a nice gentleman from Beijing.

After Riomaggiore, it was time to take the direct train back to Monterosso and hit the beach.  Forgetting my Speedo in Minnesota, I opted to stay fully clothed and take photos instead. It was relaxing and cool seaside. The beach here is not fine grain sand. It's a mixture of pebbles and rocks. The kids had fun in and/or near the water while Kristin read one of her Kindle mysteries.

We ended the day with dinner at San Martino and more gelato, followed by some live jazz in the town piazza. 

One of the charms of this place is how even amongst all the tourists, you can spot the local residents and observe some of their traditions. The older women walking arm-in-arm during evening stroll or socializing on benches and the local teens preening and acting no different than what we see back home -- a little crazy in a good way.

The Cinque Terre is like Venice in that I could use one more day here to begin to feel like we are doing it justice as visitors.

At Milan Central train terminal

I asked this woman if I could take a photo and she was proud to show off her pooch

On the rails to Monterosso

Did some much-needed laundry upon arrival

Lovers' locks high above the Ligurian Sea

View from our balcony

Exploring Monterosso

Triple threat beverages

Church of San Giovani Battista

Monterosso Al Mare

Monterosso cemetery

Cemetery photo 2

Local women talk Friday morning

Sam meets Francesco's dog Billia


Family photo (missing: Jenny Craig) 

Beach time

Beach pebbles of Monterosso

Monterosso resident

Kid running with innertube

Couldn't resist. One more of the local ladies