During our first two weeks in Italy, we've logged in over eight hours by car, three hours by watercraft, and at least ten hours of roaming in our new Italian Leather footwear. I'm guessing that in our final week, things will only accelerate.
La Spezia is the perfect town to call home while you're exploring parts of Northern Italy. As one of Italy's most historic naval bases, it still employs over 1,200 civilian and military personnel. It's a town with quite a history, and a busy port for luxury cruise ships. Their promenade would remind you of a stroll through Central Park, with elderly couples sitting on park benches, and seemingly the entire small dog population. A beautiful collaboration of palm trees, churches, and Pasticceria's or pastry shops.
We had but one day to explore Cinque Terre or "Five Lands", so we immediately dropped our bags and headed for the train station. I figure, if at least one thing doesn't go awry on your travels, it's really not traveling at all. It's kind of like rain on your wedding day, it's a great sign that the marriage will last. Our plan was to ride the train to the furthest village, Riomaggiore, and make our way back to the first village of Monterosso. However, our train broke down at Vernazza, so that's where we started.
The Church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia and its bell tower, overlook the town square and only natural port in Cinque Terre. Vernazza is also recognized as one of the truest fishing villages. Hard to imagine the construction process for these villages when everything in those days was done by hand. Many years were spent defending themselves from pirate attacks, so Cinque Terre suffered long periods of decline in the wine industry and other natural resources. True to the Italian spirit and tradition, Vernazza was rebuilt and the fishing, olive oil, and wine industry are all thriving once again. Thank God for the latter.
If you just feel like you haven't walked nearly enough during your stay in Italy, may I suggest climbing the 382 brick steps of the Lardarina that lead up to the town of Corniglia. If only I had known then that my first encounter with an Aperol Spritz, an Italian aperitif made with 3 parts Prosecco, 2 parts Aperol, and a splash of soda was waiting for me, I certainly would have climbed them with more enthusiasm.
Although we only made it to two of the five villages, we were transported back in time for a day. Cinque Terre really needs more time to explore the many wonders, vertical slopes, and almost doll-like villages. It's very popular to trek between villages instead of taking the train, and what a great way to meet other travelers.
Just two little words........Lake Como. I get twitterpated now just writing about it. I've seen it in movies so many times, but to see it in person is magnificent. The shoreline stretches over 100 miles, with a plethora of darling little towns along the way. Even with the rain and cloud cover inevitably obstructing some of our staggering views, you could tell that she was a beauty to behold. We opted for the peaceful town of Gravedona, far, far away from Mr. Clooney. One of the things that captivated me was the cemeteries. The gates are open daily for visitors and you get the sense that someone is always the keeper of these souls and their grave sites.
We met a fun-loving couple from New Jersey who have celebrated their wedding anniversary every year for the past 30 years in Italy. Due to our weather constraints, we were unable to take their expert advice and take a boat tour around the lake, but understand this is the only way to really capture her true beauty.
William Shakespeare had a love for Verona and its artistic scene, and although he wrote three plays set in this city, his most famous was Romeo & Juliet. Tourists from all over the world have taken to the phenomena of rubbing Juliet's right bronze breast for good luck. So much so, that the city had to commission a new statue in 2014 to replace the original that had been standing firmly since 1972. This photo was taken a year later, and as you can see, she's already a little worse for wear. The city also started handing out fines in 2012 to those lovelorn romantics who thought it a good idea to stick their love letters to the brick walls with chewing gum.
Normally we try to take refuge from too many tourist traps, but as a hopeless romantic, it was imperative that I drag my sweetie to the House of Giulietta. How can you leave Verona and not put your lock on the Love Lock wall. I mean, do you want your romance to die? Not on my watch!
Another must see is the Verona Arena. It is a Roman Amphitheatre that is still in use today and famous for its vast opera performances. You get the feeling that there are striving artists abound in this city. There is evidence of genius everywhere.
With all of the sites and stimulants Italy has to offer, I almost forgot to mention the continental breakfasts that accompany most hotel stays here. A free "anything" always excites a budget conscience traveler such as myself, but I had no idea what we were in for. Each morning we would sit down at our table while our perfect cappuccinos were being prepared by the jovial staff, followed by the fresh juice of the day, meats, cheeses, pastries, hard-boiled eggs, and steaming croissants with homemade marmalade. But wait, there's more. My husband and I kept looking around expecting to see additional travelers who might be joining us, but they never came. Course after course of artfully plated, mouthwatering goodness for a party of two.
How can you blame a young Giovanni Casanova for being such a womanizer when he was born in the "City of Romance". It was his right of passage. Plus, I imagine with 400 foot bridges and 170 boat canals, it's easy to find 50 ways to leave your lover.
No cars are allowed in Venice, it's only accessible by boat. This creates not only a quieter atmosphere, but an intimate one as well. There is really no need for a map, just get lost for awhile. I'm mean, how lost can you get? You're on an island.
Over every bridge a new surprise. The smell of leather is like a sweet perfume in the air. There are shops on almost every corner, each selling their own unique style of hand bags, gloves, and shoes. As soon as you touch the leather, you know it's Italian made. The prices are so reasonable, I'm still kicking myself for not buying more.
We always try to bring back a cool souvenir for our "travel room" back home, and a Venetian mask is a great option. The Venice Carnival still takes place every winter, and the masquerade balls are alive and well. These masks are synonymous with Venice and were often worn to protect ones identity during risqué acts or to hide one's social status. The bird-like beak masks were worn by doctors during the Black Plague. Its purpose was the keep away bad smells, and allowed for flowers and herbs to be placed inside the beak.
I know there are many conflicting stories regarding "The Floating City" and how quickly it is sinking. According to Venetians, it's not so much that Venice is sinking, but that the sea is rising. Presently, it is only sinking 2 to 3 mm a year. That gives you plenty of time to visit this magical city. The other good news is that the MOSE project, Italian for Moses, is currently underway and due to be finished in 2020. Undersea gates are being built to separate the Venetian Lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. These gates inflate with air and rise once the sea level gets too high, and will protect Venice from future flooding.
Piazza San Marco and Saint Mark's Basilica will take your breath away. The cathedral's wall to ceiling mosaics span the length of 1.5 football fields. Most were made of gold. A tour is highly recommended. It began construction in the 9th Century, completed in 1092 AD. My city back home just had its 166th birthday. Go Seattle!
The Piazza during the day is bustling with tourists window shopping for fine jewelry and artwork, sipping a cappuccino in an outdoor cafe, feeding the local pigeons, and trying to capture the perfect photograph to take back home. At night, all of your senses are engaged. Italian quartets surround the perimeter of the square, each with their own unique tone. As one takes a short break, another picks up where they left off. You are never without music on your evening stroll. And Gelato is always a great finale to a fabulous day in Venice.
Due to Venice's location to the sea, there is an abundance of fish dishes. I've had traditional calamari many times in the states, but there's no comparison to the tender body of a whole steamed squid delicately placed on a bed of squid ink pasta. The best $6 meal I've ever had. There are many places like this in Venice. As you walk the canals, you will happily stumble on these hidden restaurants and cafes with daily specials, homemade limoncello tastings, and conversations with local chefs. Italians are known for their gift of gab, passion for life, and sense of humor. We just wanted to be a part of whatever they were serving up.
We opted for a trip to one of the neighboring islands of Murano. Just a short boat ride away, and you're in the land of Murano Glass, revered worldwide. I've long been a fan of the art of glass blowing, and many workshops allow you to be a witness to these artisans perfecting their craft. They make it look so easy, when in fact there are many factors that go into making each piece perfect. Anything less gets dumped and recycled.
Murano is also lively with Cathedrals, colorful houses, and the classic wooden boats that you surely expect to see in these famous canals. Think 007.
I think it's fair to say that Italy is for lovers. Although you would be hard-pressed to find a child who wouldn't adore eating pizza every day, I recommend waiting until they're a little older, or just making this an adults-only getaway.
17 days ago, we stepped into your beautiful country. We ate, we drank, we walked your streets, sailed your waters, photographed your exquisite backdrops, tried our best to speak your language, and surrendered to all that is Italia.
We are forever changed and indebted to you for it.
One last thing before you go, do indulge in a Gondola ride. It's $80-$100 for a 30 minute ride, and worth every penny.
They only give out 3 or 4 Gondolier licenses a year, so they take pride in being in an elite group. Don't expect them to break out "O Solo Mio" or "That's Amore" while floating the canals. As our Gondolier Giuseppe informed us, "you want singing, you go to Vegas."
My husband and I have said many times that we fell in love all over again in Italy. I strongly encourage you to do the same.
For more information on our hotel stays and Cinque Terre train information visit: