Saturday, June 29, 2013

A down day

We were in need of a down day after the craziness of the Cinque Terre, so we decided to stick around our little village of Carro and visit another nearby village. The other village was called Varese Ligure and had an old, old castle in the center of the city. You can't go into it because it's actually privately owned (it was a residence once upon a time, which seems crazy big). There were some shops in Varese Ligure, including a bakery that filled us up with a whole bag of cookies for about one euro.

We walked around the village and really that was about it. There was a pretty little stream running through the town with this old stone bridge.

The bridge at Varese Ligure

I thought this wrought iron and flower boxes were so pretty on this yellow house

Oh, the Italians are not afraid of color! (Varese Ligure)

We tried to find somewhere to eat around 1 o'clock, and nothing was open. Seriously. We drove and drove up windy, narrow mountainous roads looking for a specific restaurant (which didn't open until 2:30, really?) and then we stopped in Sesta Godona at the restaurant attached to the gelateria where we had already stopped several times and they weren't open. Finally, after a lot of driving around, we stopped at the supermarcato (supermarket) and bought some pesto and pasta to take home and make ourselves.

We lazed around our little house a while and decided to do a load of laundry. Oh my gosh--the washer wouldn't ring out our clothes and we left them out to drive for the next three (I'm not kidding) days and they still never fully dried. I love Europe, but I don't know if I could live there without a proper laundry room.

We decided to go walking in the nature trails in Carro later in the afternoon. We found the sweetest teeny little ripe red strawberries on the trail. We ate them as we walked. The girls kept spotting lizards along the way as well.

Here's the view of Carro from where we were hiking.

We decided to eat at the Pizzeria in Carro for dinner (which did not open until 7pm). Italian restaurants in the villages keep the oddest hours. I had the white pizza and it was absolutely amazing! 

After dinner, we visited the Carro church whose bells pealed every hour, even long into the night. It is such a beautiful church!

Speaking of church, one of the things you see a lot on the outsides of Italian homes are these little Catholic shrines with statues of Mary. We saw a lot of them (you can see them beside doors in some of my door pictures) but this was probably the most unusual one I saw our whole time in Italy. I'm pretty sure it's made out of seashells--very beautiful!

After our walk back through Carro (wishing all the villagers sitting outside their doors a buonasera), we called it a night, played a little Kings on the Corner with mom and the girls, and got to bed early. Everywhere we went, Portia found Italian cats to chase through the streets.


Friday, June 28, 2013

The Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre is a group of five coastal cities in Liguria that have retained their historic charm over the years. Sometimes people hike between the five cities of The Cinque Terre, but with a six-year-old and a sixty-something year old (whose head is much more adventurous than her body allows), we decided to take the train and get off at each city.

We missed the first train and ran through the little village searching for a swimsuit to replace the one Bianca left in France. The little girls in Italy only wear bottoms until they hit about twelve. Fortunately, the store had the tops too so we were able to find a suit for Bianca.


We decided to start from the farthest city Riomaggiore. We walked all through the hilly town. It was up and down, up and down. It was so lush. We particularly loved the poppies that grow wild as weeds.

Overlooking the coast in Riomaggiore

Everything is so lush here

Exploring the small passageways to the Centro of Riomaggiore
My kids and their pursuit of the gatti (cats) of Italy

Mom, Bianca, and Portia
Heading back to the train station


My lobster ravioli
Mom and her critters
Next we stopped in Manarole. By then, our main thing was food. We needed to eat by and found a place to sit down and have lunch. The kids didn't want seafood, so they got some foccacia pizza bread and brought it over to the seafood place. Unfortunately, they didn't believe in taking the seafood out of the shells. I ordered the Raviolis with lobster and expected the lobster chunks to be inside the ravioli, but turns out they brought me out a whole mini lobster. Mom looks pretty happy in the picture below, but she was a little bit horrified with all the antennae and legs and little beady eyes peering up at her from her plate. 

There were some really pretty cliffs by the sea where you could climb down and get close to the water, so we took some pretty pictures.


Portia resting after 365 steps up to Corniglia
Corniglia was a whopping 365 steps up from the train station trail to the center (centro) of the city. Bianca and Portia counted all the way up. Mom lagged off behind, but did finally make it.

I guess Corniglia is the famous for its honey-sweetened gelato, so we did reward ourselves with gelato after our long hike up. And yes, we had a "piccolo" gelato every day we were in Italy. I think my kids (and I) have gotten spoiled! At least we're walking around so much we work it off.

Corniglia is a pretty little village; they all are. But this one is definitely most memorable for its steps.

We walked around, eating our gelato, and then headed back down the 365 steps to the train station.

The tiered land is a big part of the Cinque Terre and how the Italians who
lived here worked their hilly land

Waiting for gelato

Pretty, gritty Italy

Ah the view on the steps down from Corniglia

My silly girls at the train station


When we got off the train for Vernazza, I realized this was the place for shopping. There were little shops all along the way to the centro, and the coolest thing was the way the shops were build against the rock and the rock was exposed on the inside of the buildings. I found a green skirt I just had to have. Unfortunately, these shops were the negotiating sort so the monster in Eric came out. We ended up walking out. I don't know why we have to play that game. The kids put their feet in the water and picked around a little while I pined for the skirt. Finally, I grabbed some Euros and went back to the store. I offered the 40 Euros the woman had initially asked for the skirt (down from the 45 she said at first). She pressed a one-Euro piece into my hand as I was leaving and said, "For your husband." I was then able to tell Eric how I whittled her down an extra Euro. 

Getting their feet wet and searching the sand for treasures

My girls are always looking for something interesting



Finally, the girls go swimming. They were VERY patient.
Our last stop was in Monterosso and the kids were so anxious by now because this is where they got to go swimming. Finally, a sandy beach! It was after five by now but at least the beach was nearly empty. 

We were pretty tired by now, so I just sat on the sand and let my feet rest. And enjoyed the beautiful view of the Italian coast. I can't imagine hiking the Cinque Terre. Just taking the train and walking through the cities was plenty of exercise!

The beautiful coast of Italy


A door in Riomaggiore

A turquoise door in Vernazza. Not sure where the door leads to, but it was enchanting!

I love that this door actually says Vernazza on it. This is one of my very favorites!

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Pisa was an hour car trip from our village. When we walked through the old city gates, I was a little surprised by the sheer amount of tourists there. There were shops lined up all along the right-side and the buildings--a cathedral, a baptistry, and the leaning tower, of course--were scattered on the left.

The Baptistry in Pisa

The Baptistry is quite beautiful too, just not quite as remarkable as a building that may or may not fall over
It is amazing just how very much the tower is leaning. All the tourists stand around taking their pictures, acting like they're keeping the tower from falling, so we thought we'd do one too.

Pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa

The tower really is beautiful

I love the detail in the stone work
Seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa was Portia's favorite of the whole trip!
It began to rain after a couple of hours, which worked out perfectly for us to go into the cathedral and look around. My feet hurt by then so I sat in a pew with the girls while Eric and mom walked around. It was a chance to teach Bianca and Portia some important architectural terms about columns--like Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite. It was a good place to learn about columns and they were pros by the end of day.

Inside the cathedral
We did want to do a little souvenir shopping as well. I got a cute cup and saucer that leans (of course) and I think Mom got a similar one in a different color. Bianca picked a bracelet that's twisted from a fork. Portia chose this cat mask. 

We finally got around to sitting down for lunch mid-afternoon. There were restaurants up and down the streets and we stopped for pasta. (Really, besides McDonald's, in Italy, there's only pasta restaurants, pizzerias, and panini [filled with Italian meats, of course] shops. Good luck finding anything else!) We sat down in outdoor seating (rain was gone by then, thank goodness). Bianca had a caprese (tomatoes and buffalo mozzerella) pasta and she was in heaven. I ordered tortellinis with the pesto, as pesto is the signature food coming out of this part of Italy where we stayed. 

Dining on the street
Our lunch in Pisa
We enjoyed our time in Pisa. A little touristy, but what can you expect when you go to see the most lopsided building in the world? 


A door in Pisa (may have been one of the doors to the Baptistry but I can't remember for sure)
Was Portia leaning over on purpose? Maybe it was catching on--we were in Pisa after all!
It's probably less of a door and more of a gate, but cool nonetheless.
Maybe it was one of the original gates to get into the city of Pisa many years ago...