Monday, July 15, 2013

Italia, arriviamo!

We returned to the Munich airport just 4 days after arriving to catch a flight to Italy, to meet up with my parents and some family friends who were staying in a Tuscan farmhouse in the hills outside of Pisa.  It's just a hop, skip and jump over the Alps down to northern Italy, so the flight was quite quick.  Our takeoff was delayed, however, in the Munich airport when announced that all departing flights were being temporarily shut down and the police began walking around with a photograph, scrutinizing people's faces!  We were convinced the dapper elderly couple next to us were undercover (no old people are that good at maneuvering the iPad), but they kept their heads down and nobody spoke to them.  Finally, they began allowing flights to depart once again, and we were driven out onto the tarmac to board our tiny plane.

First glimpse of Pisa!

The full entourage (Stephenson + Tuculets) was there to meet us at the airport, then we immediately hopped into the rental cars and began driving toward Cinque Terre.  It was estimated to be about an hour long drive, but we unexpectedly took the scenic route and did some exploring along the way.  The hilly Italian countryside near the coast is gorgeous and the drive was quite pleasant, if longer than we originally intended.  At one point, we stopped at an adorable town square in a tiny mountain village to ask for directions, and were greeted warmly by the locals.  I don't think it was a place that too many tourists passed through, as we had ventured far from the main highway at that point.

They served us a hearty espresso and enthusiastically gave us directions to continue along the windy, narrow road through the mountains heading west, and eventually we would reach the ocean.  It sure felt like we were headed into the middle of nowhere, but then we suddenly reached the crest and began our downward descent, the views nothing short of spectacular. 

Exploring the waterfront with Miss Kaitlin.

Five colorful seaside villages clinging to the steep coastline of the southernmost Italian Riviera make up the Cinque Terre (literally translated as "Five Lands"). There are hiking trails connecting all of the villages, which span approximately __ kilometers along the coast, and many people come here to make their way by foot between and through all of the towns.  There is also a train that runs frequently between the villages, and most people access the area by train.  The villages are all built directly into the cliffs, and look like a jumble of colorful dollhouses from afar.  It's amazing how untouched this portion of land is by modern architecture.

We stayed in Monterosso del Mare, the northernmost and largest of the five cities. It has a more modern "resorty" feel than the other towns, and boasts the only sand beaches (complete billions of colorful umbrellas lining the shore as well as unabashed nude sunbathers, standard for European beaches).  The town itself is split into two parts - the old town and the new town - which are split by a bit of land jutting out into the water (right side of picture below) that you can either climb over or take a tunnel straight through!  It's really quite cool.  We stayed in the old town, which is full of winding staircases connecting little streets, colorful apartments and outdoor restaurants.
Hanging with pops. 
The gang's all here!

Toes in the Mediterranean!

After checking into our hotels (we stayed at this adorable place), we spent the afternoon exploring both sides of Monterosso. Knowing we'd come back to old town for dinner, we headed for the new town to check it out before the sun went down. We made our way up and over the hill and were dazzled by the view upon exiting the tunnel (picture above). The city was packed, but still somehow maintained an heir of intimacy. Naturally, we stopped for samples at every gelateria we passed. My favorite was always stracciatella, while mom was partial to amarena and dad favors banana (ugh).

Can you spot the kitty?

The dads stop for a late afternoon cocktail.

More Monterossa del Mare photos to come...

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