Cotswolds

Looking around for some hiking to do beyond the canal footpaths around our village, I came across the National Trail site. I was excited to learn the UK (well, specifically, England and Wales) has 15 National Trails, comprising about 2500 miles of scenic trekking. The nearest to us appeared to be the northern end of the Cotswold Way… so after researching the area, printing out some trail maps, and making an Airbnb reservation in the village of Blockley, we drove down there for a weekend.

The sidewalk (pavement) was above the street here - I loved the plants growing on the wall!

The sidewalk (pavement) was above the street here – I loved the plants growing on the wall!

We left home Saturday morning about 8:00, and had an uneventful drive around Rugby and down the Fosse Way, which according to the signs is apparently one of the more dangerous roads in England. It seems it’s less expensive to put up a High Risk Crash Route sign every few miles, than to improve the intersections and shoulders 🙂  Or, maybe they can’t improve the road because it’s an ancient Roman highway – I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. We were a little surprised (though I’m not sure why) to find that Blockley was wedged tightly in a valley, with very narrow streets we could barely fit the car through. It reminded me a bit of West Virginia, actually, but more picturesque.

Blockley AirbnbOur Airbnb was down a little footpath, not on a road at all, which was pretty cool. It was a beautifully decorated former (as in a couple hundred years old) wash house for the village, situated as it was directly on a small babbling stream. It was a little one-room cottage on the property of the hosts’ home – it was nice to sit in the window nook and watch (and listen to) the brook just outside.Blockley Airbnb brook

 

 

Footpath to Broad Campden

Footpath to Broad Campden

Since it was only around lunchtime, and we’d just eaten brunch at the coffeeshop/grocery/post office, we asked our host for a suggestion of a nearby walk we could take. He suggested a footpath cross-country from Blockley to Broad Campden, and happened to mention there was a good pub there, so that sealed the deal and decided us against getting back into the car to drive to a walk. I screenshotted the local footpath map onto my phone while we were on the cottage’s wifi – not much mobile data coverage in this area – and off we tramped. It was about 3 miles, mainly across fields, partly along the “Heart of England Way”. Heart of England Way

 

 

Here the track (such as it was) ran along the edge of a field, with nice vistas.

Here the track (such as it was) ran along the edge of a field, with nice vistas.

Wishing we had Wellies...

Wishing we had Wellies…

The ideal end to a hike!

The ideal end to a hike!

We got a little off track at a couple points, but eventually made it to the cozy Bakers Arms, where we had a few pints of local ale.

To be continued…

The Village of Crick

Crick_paths

This is from a website that has footpath maps

As we’ve mentioned previously, our first stay in the UK was in the village of Crick (note that here in the UK historically a city is defined as having a cathedral, a town if it only has a market, a village if it only has a church and shops, and a hamlet if only houses), whose name comes from the celtic word for hill, cruc, and is located on the Northamptonshire Heights (see the plaque). We arrived at the beginning of November and stayed through the 30th at the Low Thatched B&B in the efficiency flat. A nice lodging with access to washer and dryer, small kitchen, and roomy bathroom with shower.

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Plaque on top of Crack’s Hill

Crick is located near to the M1 motorway, has a bus line through it, is walking distance to the Grand Canal, and is about 20 minutes drive to downtown Rugby, the nearest town where there are major stores, shopping markets, and the train. That’s where we go for groceries. So we’re in the sticks here, lots of farms and fields outside town, but an industrial park over near the M1 and only a short drive to town. Further to the west of Rugby is Birmingham (in the top three biggest cities in England), a large city with airport, trains, big industry (coal) and of course a cathedral. It’s about an hour from Crick. North of Crick up the M1 is the smaller city of Leicester (for non-Brits, that’s pronounced like “Lester”), maybe 30 minutes drive. London is south about an hour ride on the train from Rugby.

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From the top of Crack’s Hill

In Crick there are three nice pubs, one of which, The Wheatsheaf, we frequented regularly. There is also a co-op food store, small and kind of expensive, post office, hairdresser, a few other shops, two churches and plenty of foot, bridle and bicycle paths for tramping, including the canal towpath.

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One of Crick’s churches. The wreaths and crosses are for Remembrance Day. Some of the tombstones are so old they are illegible.

 

The architecture is a mix of very old to quite modern. Thatched roofs alongside tile, quite often with solar cells or hot water panels on them.

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One of my favorite examples of thatching

 

One problem we had once we were able to borrow a car was parking it. Only street parking was available, and that sort of blocked one entire lane of the road. Believe me when I say these roads were none too wide to begin with before losing half a lane. Also people parked in either direction on that side to make it more interesting. So getting through could be a headache if, for instance, the garbage truck, local delivery van, or a bus was trying to get through as well. Sometimes “reversing” was required, or use of the sidewalk. We did have an incident where our “pavement” (sidewalk) side mirror was broken off. We assume someone staggered into it, I was able to get a used assembly and some matching spray paint to replace it. Not too hard a job even with only my multi-tool but irritating. We made sure to keep the mirrors pulled in whenever we parked after that.

We found the people of Crick to be very pleasant, especially our hosts at the B&B where we stayed. Seems Brits will readily engage in conversation with little pretext. We found ourselves telling our story quite often. In between job hunting while Sandy was hard at work during the day, I made several hikes mostly along the canal towpath with excursions to the top of Crack’s Hill, a high point in the area with good views. Since the canal winds near to several towns within walking distance I used it to visit other local towns like Yelvertolf, where there was a great little Italian deli, Squisitos, that would custom make sandwiches to order. With fresh espresso! Best I’ve had since Italy.

All in all, a pleasant stay for our intro to the Midlands. Next we’re off to a rental house in Husbands Bosworth!

Some canal pics.

City of London

Last Sunday, we took the train from Rugby down to London for the day. We booked tickets on the Trainline site, for £72 total for the two of us, which wasn’t bad, but which unfortunately meant being on the slower (non-express) trains that take about an hour and a half (or more). Luckily, I had driven to and parked at the Rugby train station on the Wednesday that week, to go to the Microsoft Future Decoded conference in London, so I knew how the parking garage worked, how to pick up our tickets, etc.

Our 9:06 train didn’t arrive until about 9:50, though, due to “engineering works” delays or something. It was kind of funny, at one point along the journey, there was an announcement that if the train arrives delayed by more than half an hour, we would all get “compensation”, which I gather meant a credit toward a future ticket. But the engineer was apparently able to floor it a bit, and we arrived at London Euston station only 27 minutes late 🙂  As another passenger said: “That guy probably gets a bonus today!”

After a quick second breakfast near the station, we took the Underground (which I had also scoped out a bit on Wednesday), Northern Line to the Bank stop, and walked to the Monument. Al had found a cool website with free self-guided walking tours of London (LondonForFree.net), and we had decided the walk through the old “City of London” would be interesting. London is such a huge place that we felt we just wanted to choose one thing to focus on for this day trip, rather than spend a bunch of time going between sights and only seeing each thing for a few minutes. Just means we’ll have to go back another time or two or three!

The MonumentThe guided walk does a fair bit of zigzagging around, and some of the streets were closed due to construction (or rather, works), so we took some liberties with the route. It was a very interesting slice of London history, most of which was completely unfamiliar to us. As I said, we started at the Monument, which is a memorial (by Christopher Wren) to the Great Fire of London in 1666, which started just near there, and basically gutted the city within the walls as it was at that time.

Thames toward Tower BridgeShard from BillingsgateFrom there, we walked to the Thames and along it a bit, past the Old Billingsgate Fish Market, where there’s a nice terrace and walk along the river. What a busy river it is, too! It was chock full of boats: tour boats, cargo boats, police boats. It looked very quick, too (and rather murky).

 

Doorway of a merchant's house, circa 1703

Doorway of a merchant’s house, circa 1703

Then the walk went across King William Street and wandered around along little cobblestone alleys among some very old buildings… just the sort of thing we like. This part of the walk also took us past the Mansion House, which I see I failed to take a photo of. There was some sort of reviewing stand set up in front of it, and later we put two and two together to realize that must have been from the installation of the Lord Mayor of the City of London the day before.

Arms of the Corporation of the City of London

Arms of the Corporation of the City of London

I’d had no idea there was a separate “City of London” within the city of London. And to be honest, after reading their website, I still don’t think I quite understand the relationship with the whole city; it sounds separate, but then maybe it’s just in a similar way to how there’s a mayor of Washington DC, though most of what goes on there is related to running the country, not the city. Maybe one of my British friends can explain it to me later 🙂 . There are photos of the parade we missed on this site (Worshipful Company of Butchers??)

Dick Whittington houseAnother point of interest was the home of Richard Whittington, a medieval mayor of London – you know, the one with the cat.

 

 

Ye Olde WatlingThe next point of interest (to us, though not part of the tour) was a really lovely pub called Ye Olde Watling, which had been rebuilt after the Great Fire destroyed it, so it dated from the late 1600’s. It seems to now be part of a sort of chain of pubs (Nicholson’s), but I guess if that’s what helps to keep places like this in business, I’m for it. One of its claims to fame is that Christopher Wren made it his drawing office as he was designing St Paul’s. We drank some very good real ales (i.e. cask ales to Americans), and had a delicious late lunch. We didn’t have room for dessert, but they had a great selection of gins (being, apparently, a former gin palace), so I tried a Silent Pool gin with Fever-Tree tonic – very nice!

 

Tower of LondonTower BridgeThen we skipped ahead a bit in the walking tour, as our leisurely lunch had brought us to late afternoon, and walked back along the Thames to the Tower of London (more of a fortress than a tower) and Tower Bridge. From there we walked to the Tower Hill tube stop and took the Circle Line back to Euston Square.

Then we got into a bit of confusion over the train back to Rugby. For the morning train, we had bought tickets for a specific time and reserved seat, so there was no question of what train to get on (and of course, there weren’t actually any other trains in Rugby on Sunday morning anyway). But in busy London Euston station, we were there about 2 hours ahead of the train we had originally looked up as the latest train we wanted to take home, and our tickets were good for any return train on the same day… except for the fact that for that fare we could only take a London-Midlands train (i.e. not Virgin), and we had to choose one that would stop in Rugby, which they all don’t. Unfortunately, just as we deciphered the overhead boards, we realized there was a train meeting those criteria whose doors were closing, so we had to go wait for the one we had planned on. Then, about an hour later, we just caught the PA saying something about Rugby, and on a closer look we found we hadn’t noticed Page 2 of one of the trains’ listings, which said that only the first 4 carriages of a train we thought only went to Northampton, would actually go on to Birmingham, including “calling at” Rugby. Again unfortunately, the train was just boarding, so we rushed to the platform, and hopped on, only to hear a PA announcement about this train going only as far as Northampton (not far enough) – so we hopped back off just before the doors closed, since we were too unsure about the whole dividing train thing. We asked the conductor who was hanging off the door of the last carriage, and he said yes, the first four carriages were indeed going on further, but he was just closing the doors, so it was too late to get back on the right car. If we had been more sure of ourselves, we could probably have gotten on the last car and made our way forward by the time the train divided, but we just didn’t know. So in about another hour there was the same sort of train (dividing in Northampton), so with our better understanding of the system, we allowed enough time to get on a forward car, and had an uneventful (though very long) ride to Rugby. It did seem that a lot of passengers were confused and uncertain about the train splitting, so we didn’t feel so dumb.

All in all, a very enjoyable day in London town… we’ll probably do it again at least once while we’re here.

First week in England

First week in England

Wow, we’ve been here over a week already! Time has flown, though in some other ways it feels like we’ve settled in enough that we’ve been here a while.

I’ve been going in to the Lightning Tools office each day, and am very much enjoying the new offices and the company of my colleagues. On Monday, I tried taking the bus, which seemed convenient on paper… It’s only a 5-minute walk from our flat to the #96 stop across from the Crick Post Office, and then I only had to go one stop (about 2 miles) to the first West Haddon stop, and then walk about a mile to the office. What I hadn’t realized is that it costs £2.50 to go those 2 miles, and that there’s no sidewalk (oops, “pavement”) between the bus stop and the office – so I arrived at work with soaking wet sneakers and socks, from walking in the long dewy grass along the road for a mile. Luckily, I had nice dry socks in our “England box” (the suitcase we shipped here before we left for Germany), which was stored in the office. And then I was able to get a ride home with someone from the office, since I was lugging the suitcase.

Pretty, but very wet, and not really a path.

Pretty, but very wet, and not really a path.

On Tuesday, I wised up and took dress shoes and socks with me in a bag, since I decided to try another route: I saw on the ordinance maps that there’s a footpath that cuts off having to walk along the busy main road and cuts out some of the distance, so I thought the 2-mile walk wouldn’t be bad (i.e. not bother with the bus at all). What I hadn’t realized is that this footpath was far less traveled than the ones I’d walked on around Lutterworth in January – it cut across horse pastures with long wet grass, and fields planted with some sort of kale-ish vegetable, so that by the time I reached the country lane, my sneakers were caked with mud, and I was soaked up to my knees. But at least I had dry socks and shoes to change into before entering the office door. Very luckily for me, arrangements were made that day for us to be able to borrow a friend’s car for the time we’ll be here, so I’m extremely grateful for that. The alternative would have been for us to either rent a car, or find one to buy cheaply and resell later, as my plans to live within walking/transport distance of work just didn’t work out :-/

Vauxhall AstraWe’ve found, despite my wishful thinking (and yes, I had been warned, but I’m a stubborn sort), that in this area there really isn’t a way to get around without having a car, much like rural Pennsylvania. So anyway, now we have a car to use, and that means we can look for a different (i.e. larger, and less head-bumping) place to rent at the end of November, as well as go to larger shops and more-distant points of interest. And by the end of the week, I was feeling pretty good about my left-side-of-the-road driving, though I still need lots of practice, and haven’t dared a highway yet. The villages are challenging enough for now, with their narrow streets and on-street parking.  Left-handed shifting is easier than we thought it would be, negotiating roundabouts takes concentration!

 

Here are some other things we’ve done this week:

  • At Lutterworth Golf Club

    Bonfire and fireworks at Lutterworth Golf Club

    We went to a bonfire night with friends last Sunday evening, at a local golf club… Although Guy Fawkes Night is November 5 (“Remember, remember, the 5th of November”, as I heard several times at the office this week), judging from the fireworks we saw and heard from our flat on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, it’s celebrated in various venues on various days, whenever it’s convenient. That’s different from the 4th of July, which is pretty much always celebrated on the 4th. Another difference is that since it’s November and it gets dark around 4:30, there’s none of this keeping the kids out until midnight to watch fireworks that can’t start until 10:30.

  • Al went for a 5 mile walk along the canal from Crick to Yelvertoft on Monday while I was at work.  There were a lot of canal boats moored at various points along the way.  Some obviously occupied as evidenced by the smoking chimneys. He’s also been talking to recruiters about engineering positions here in the Midlands. Seems to be some opportunities. Fingers crossed!
  • Wheatsheaf dinnerHad another delicious meal at the Wheatsheaf on Tuesday… It’s sausage week (who knew), so we each had a different type (with fried egg and “chips”), with pints of beer, in front of a roaring fire on a November evening in a village pub. It really doesn’t get much better than that!
  • Made our first real grocery shopping trip Wednesday evening… Since we now have use of a car, we were able to drive into Rugby (the nearest real town) and go to Aldi – where we bought 5 bags of groceries for the same price we paid for one bag at the Co-op store on our street (really more of a convenience store, we’ve found). So the rest of the week we cooked our own meals, which turned out pretty well, I think! It’s a little difficult cooking in this flat, though, as there’s very little worktop space in the kitchen area, and just a sort of glorified toaster-oven with two burners on top. It’s doable, though, at least for now.
  • Foxton Locks
    It's pretty here when it's not raining...

    It’s pretty here when it’s not raining…

    Visited Foxton Locks yesterday… I had been there when I was here in January, and thought Al would also like it, so after the rain cleared up a bit, we drove there (about 20 miles from Crick) after a stop at Husbands Bosworth for a pint at The Bell. Foxton Locks is a “stairway” of 10 locks on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal, very cool. We watched a boat (apparently the last boat of the day, as the sign said at this time of year the last boat may enter the bottom lock at 2:45) negotiate the top lock, and then wandered down the locks and walked for about a mile along the canal, as it had turned into a lovely autumn day.

  • Today we drove up the A5 to a gas (oops, sorry, “petrol”) station we knew was there, and figured out how to fill up the car – not difficult, just different as we’re used to just sticking our credit card into the pump. And also we’re of course used to lower prices. Then we got the car hand-washed there, inside and out – they did a really nice job for £12.

Italy to the UK

On Thursday we packed up and hopped the local 5Terre Trenitalia up to Sestri Levante (about 40 minutes).  There we switched to the intercity train which would take us to Milano Centrale (Milan’s main downtown rail station). We had e-tickets for a 2nd class cabin and reserved seats on this train.  BTW, the Trenitalia website is easy to use for planning routes and purchasing tickets online.  The views along the coast especially near Genoa are spectacular along this section of rail, though it’s hard to get a good pic since there are so many tunnels.  Just as you line up a shot you’re into a tunnel!   As the train turned north away from the sea we passed through even more tunnels, seemed at times there were more tunnels than open rail.  Once at Milan Centrale (about 2 hrs from Sestri Levante) we purchased tickets for the Malpensa Express out to the airport.  We had reserved a room at the airport Sheraton (on points) for the night.  All in all, smooth trip, no issues, even managed to avoid the pickpockets this time!

5Terre Train

5Terre Train

The train comes into Terminal 1.  From there we had a very short indoor walk to the airport hotel.

Sheraton Hotel, spiffy!

The alps from the Milan Malpensa Airport

The alps from the Milan Malpensa Airport

Next morning we caught our flight on Flybe Airlines to Birmingham, UK. This is one of those small airlines where you board a bus and traipse out to the plane, then walk up a stairway (or ramp) to get on.  Turns out my carry on bag was at the limits size-wise for this plane, had some trouble getting it in the overhead. After clearing the alps, two hours later we were landing in Birmingham.  Sandy had been through this airport once before, but it was a bit of a challenge figuring out which train we needed to take to get to Rugby.  We actually ended up on the wrong train but a very nice Brit helped us out and also showed me the phone app for the train schedules and e-tickets.  That helped a lot as we were better able to determine which trains went where.  Just a side note, I’m very glad I took Nomadic Matt’s suggestion about T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan when I switched phone carriers.  I have free 3G data and texting in 140 countries outside the US.  Sweet!  So doing things like searching google maps or loading a helpful app is no cost, though sometimes a little slow.

Once we had the right train it was a short ride to the Rugby train station, then a taxi to our hotel.  We were staying at a Holiday Inn for two nights (one on my points) since our “flat” wasn’t available until Nov 1. We had a nice British breakfast next morning (sigh, no espresso, going to miss that), roamed around Crick (15 minute walk), walked along the Union Canal (This area has more miles of canals than Venice, dating back to the Roman times.  You can rent these narrow canal boats to cruise them. Just upstream of here are 21 locks in series all manually operated.), had a beer at the local pub, and relaxed again.  Brits are very friendly!

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Along the Union Canal coming to a tunnel. The sign says it’s 1500+ yards or nearly a mile!

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At one of the three local pubs in Crick, The Wheatsheaf Inn

First British Real Ale, well some of it anyway..

In the UK! Canal boat in the background.

So on Sunday our host, Mark, picked us up and delivered us to our next home-for-awhile place, The Low Thatched Cottage,  located a few miles away in the village of Crick.  More on that later….  Ta!

Vernazza

Vernazza

After leaving Manarola, we took the train to Vernazza, a town to which we hadn’t been yet. We were to meet our apartment’s host around 1:00, but we’d had to leave Manarola at 10:00, so even after coffees and pastries at Aristide, the 8-minute train ride left us with some time to kill. So we walked down Vernazza’s main street (much less steep than Manarola’s or Riomaggiore’s) to the harbor, and watched people in the piazza…

The piazza in Vernazza :-)

The piazza in Vernazza 🙂

 

We also explored a bit to try to locate the door of our apartment, which was not so easy, given the usual Cinque Terre network of stairs and alleys that are named streets. We did find our house, though, and met with the genial Luca (from Genoa), who showed us around the flat (after climbing the 30-some steps to the top floor). It seemed more spacious than the previous apartment, I think mainly because there was a sofa, so we had somewhere to relax. There was also a nice rooftop terrace, though not as private as the balcony in Manarola – here in the middle of town the houses are really all on top of each other.

Beer in the sunshine!

Beer in the sunshine!

After doing paperwork with Luca, we grabbed some focacce and beer and went down to sit in the sun by the harbor… just lovely! Then we took a short hike out toward Corniglia (see our hike post), came back and bought some groceries for the next few days, figured out the washing machine, and hung clothes all over the apartment, since by then it was too dark to hang them out on the clothesline we finally located below the windows. Then later we had a great dinner at Il Baretto, where we had a nice conversation with a self-described “itinerant dentist” and his wife, from Colorado.

On Sunday, we hiked to Monterosso, which is the most beach-resort-y of the 5terre towns. It was fun to see the different vibe there: rollerbladers, parasailers, beachfront pizza and beachwear shops, etc. Still on a small scale, though, nothing like a beach resort town in the US. I finally broke down and bought a pair of shorts, which was something I’d wished I had packed for this leg of the trip. I had figured jeans would be fine because the temps were supposed to be in the 60s, but in the sun, it’s felt really quite hot – the weather reminds us of Santa Cruz CA: mid to upper 60’s, so cool in the shade but hot in the sun. Then we took the train back to Vernazza, and cooked dinner ourselves that night, using the rest of the uncooked linguine nero and some melanzane (eggplant) caponata we bought at the store… yum! Of course with vino, and we had ventaglini from the store for dessert.

Beginning Monday, I was back to work – thankfully this apartment had its own wifi, so it was MUCH better than the apartment in Manarola. So Al did some exploring during the days, and we popped out for lunches and dinners (and breakfast one day). We really loved how we could just go out the door and walk a bit through the old narrow alleys to come out onto the main street with all the shops and restaurants. I made a video one day…

We had a couple more very good meals, surprise surprise, which we’ll mention in a ‘Food & Drink’ post. The weather turned rainy Tuesday night during dinner at Gianni Franzi (so we had to move our meal inside), when it really stormed all night long. We especially enjoyed talking to Massimo at Il Pirata, which we would not have found (it being way above the train station, so not in the main part of town), were it not for Rick Steves’ recommendation – we had lunch there one day, and breakfast another, and took home pastries for two more breakfasts.

On Thursday around 11 we left by train for the next phase of our journey, on our way to England! Ciao, Cinque Terre!

Vernazza

I Sentieri

I Sentieri

Ever since our daughter told us about the Cinque Terre trails (sentieri) after her visit here about 10 years ago, we’ve been wanting to hike them ourselves, so this was a big reason for our choosing to come here. In this post, we’ll write about each of the hikes we’ve taken, to give you a flavor for what they’re like…

Trails highlighted which we hiked

Trails highlighted which we hiked

We picked up a trail map at the Park Office in Manarola, which we used as our reference all week. I’ve highlighted the trails we hiked, so as you can see, we barely scratched the surface, but we still very much enjoyed it! The entire 5 villages of Cinque Terre are contained within a national park, so all the trails are maintained (quite well, considering the conditions) by the park service and volunteers. They’re very well marked, and it’s fairly easy to find the trailhead in each town. As the website says, they really are all mountain-type trails, not to be ventured in flip-flops – though we did see that, and little pet dogs, too. But I would have to say they shouldn’t be 🙂

 

 

Manarola to Corniglia (Trail #s 506, 586, 587 – approx. 4 mi – hiked Oct 19): The coastal trail between Manarola and Corniglia (the blue line) is currently closed due to landslides, so this is the next nearest route. It’s actually quite a nice hike, which took us about 3 hours including a lunch stop. It starts near the switchback in Manarola (about 100 ft from our apartment), and quickly climbs stone stairs through terraced vineyards. These aren’t vineyards like we’ve seen in the US and other countries, but rather are very small, individually tended grape arbors, whose grapes (as I understand it) are generally sold to a local co-operative at a very subsidized rate. The idea of the subsidy is that tending and harvesting grapes grown this way can only be done with an enormous amount of manual labor, but the government wants to keep these vineyards maintained as the miles upon miles of dry-laid stone terraces are one of the main draws for tourism to Cinque Terre. Unfortunately, I can’t find now where I was reading about that… At a higher altitude than the vineyards are the groves of olive trees, particularly around Volastra, whose name is derived from “Village of olives”. We stopped at Gli Ulivi for cold beer and focaccia, yum! From there we got on trail 586, which ran along the hillside with beautiful sea views, sometimes pretty close to the edge. There was a very cool (literally) part which went up a river valley into a wooded area which was quite different than the exposed vineyards. Then we switched to trail 587 at a T, and headed down the hill to Corniglia.

Riomaggiore to Manarola (Trail #531 – approx. 1 mi in about 1 hour – hiked Oct 20): The coastal trail here (the famed Via dell’Amore) between Riomaggiore and Manarola (the blue line) is also currently closed due to landslides, so this is the next nearest route. Apparently there have been proposals and funding to reconstruct the via dell’Amore over the past few years, but they’ve only gotten as far as what appears to be preventive maintenance on the first 200 yards from the Manarola end, so who knows if it’ll ever re-open. Meanwhile, you can hike, if you dare, the half mile straight up and half mile straight down. Seriously… this is not a trail for the faint of heart, either figuratively or physically. But there were a lot of people hiking it the day we were there, which meant a good bit of allowing people to go by, as the trail is pretty narrow in a lot of places. Up up up through vineyards, then down down down into Manarola. There are a few nods to safety in the form of handrails now and then, but also often not. But still, it was a great hike, worth the effort for the breathtaking views and the ability to say “I did that”…

Manarola loop (Trail #s 506, 502, 585, 506 again – approx. 5 mi in about 3 hours – hiked Oct 22): This hike took us up into the mountain above Manarola, which gave us some really different terrain and views. We started by picking up trail 506 eastward about where the pedestrian-only part of the main street ends at the top of Manarola. The trail ran along the road a while, through people’s gardens almost, but then took off up the hill on trail 502. And up the hill, and up some more. Not as steep as some of the other trails, but really quite steadily up, until we were at a higher elevation than we’d been so far. After crossing a road, the path entered a forest of pine and chestnut trees. Ripe chestnuts littered the path, and Al gathered a pocketful for roasting later. We saw a number of game trails, which we guessed to be maybe wild boars, so we kept a wary eye open. We also heard a good bit of shooting around the intersection with trail 585, so we tried hard not to come upon a hunter by surprise. We didn’t see any other hikers on this whole trail, until we got near Volastra. We turned left at the T with trail 506, and started down the hill toward Volastra, where we again stopped at Gli Ulivi for beers (and a caprese platter this time). If I owned a restaurant called Gli Ulivi in the middle of a bunch of olive groves, I think I would have a few olive-based dishes on the menu – just saying 😉  Then we took what seemed by then to be an easy descent down into Manarola, the same trail we’d come up a few days before.

Vernazza to Corniglia (Trail #592 – approx. 1.75 mi round trip – hiked Oct 24): We only did a portion of this trail before turning around, as it was already afternoon when we started (after settling into new digs in Vernazza), and also we got a little impatient with the crowds. Not sure if it’s just such a more popular trail, or if it was because it’s the weekend. This trail begins just up the hill from the train station, to the right. We got some decent views of Vernazza, but otherwise not terribly exciting. But it’s likely that there are some great views and interesting stretches of trail that we missed out on 🙂 This was the first trail we were on which required all hikers to have a Cinque Terre card (pass), and there was a little pass control hut at the beginning where they were checking. We knew of this, though, so we had purchased a 2-day pass (€14.50 each) at the Vernazza train station’s park office.

Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare (Trail #592 – approx. 2.5 mi in about 2 hours – hiked Oct 25): Here’s where you get the best view of Vernazza, from the hillside just outside of town. This trail begins by entering one of the back stair/alley streets in the northwestern corner of the main piazza, and takes you up the hillside pretty quickly, but without the steep stairs of some of the other trails. There’s a pass control hut on either end of this trail. There are lots of pretty stretches and great views back toward the Cinque Terre towns. This trail was also quite crowded, full of people speaking Italian, English, French, German, and Chinese – so there were a lot of pauses to let others pass, as there are a lot of narrow spots. After the high point of the trail, it went up a couple of cool stream valleys before truly turning downhill. Coming down into Monterosso, the stairs became quite substantial, but then turned back into a narrow stony path, sort of odd.

 

Vacanza

Vacanza

I think what I’ll do is give here a general outline of our week’s vacation in Manarola, and then fill in with other posts about different aspects of our time here in the Cinque Terre…

Upon arriving in a grey drizzly Manarola around 4pm on Sunday via the regional train, which was full of tourists and trekkers, we made our way up the steep main street to our apartment, Casa Capellini. We knew from a map our hosts had emailed to us, that the apartment was somewhere above the switchback, near the church. But we hadn’t yet realized that a via (street) in Cinque Terre villages can be anything from a roadway navigable by small Italian delivery vans, to a narrow set of stairs between 4-story houses, so it took a bit of searching to find that we needed to turn down an alley from the church piazza to find the correct door.

Outside our apartment

Outside our apartment

We rang the bell, and were greeted by a “Ciao” from our hostess Franca up on a balcony above our heads. After introductions, she came down and let us in, and led us up the 36 narrow marble steps to our fourth floor apartment, where we were able to communicate with each other in Ital-English about keys, WiFi, and whatnot.

Beautiful even when rainy!

Beautiful even when rainy!

We decided this view from our balcony was well worth all the climbing…

After settling in a bit, we trekked back down the hill for a nice dinner at Il Porticciolo (we’ll do another post about eating and drinking here), and then stopped for some breakfast groceries on the way back up the hill. There was a lot of going up and down the hill all week…

Monday promised to be a beautiful day, weather-wise, so we set out on our first hike on one of the many sentieri (paths) in the 5terre (as it’s often referred to on signs etc).

Typical section of a sentiero

Typical section of a sentiero

This had been one of the main reasons we chose to come here: the paths between the villages, through terraced vineyards and olive groves, and along seaside cliffs. We also posted about all the hikes we took.

Today’s hike was from Manarola to Corniglia, which took about 3 hours with stops. The coastal trail has been closed for a few years due to a landslide, so we had to take the hillier route through Volastra, where luckily there was a cold beer with our name on it. We wandered around Corniglia a bit, which is a very small and stony village – again, there’ll be more on the individual villages in a later post – and then took the short train ride back to Manarola. After an afternoon riposo in the sunshine on our balcony (which became a daily habit), we had dinner down by the waterfront at Marina Piccola.

On Tuesday, we went the other direction and took the train to Riomaggiore, which takes all of about  60 seconds after waiting for half an hour 🙂

View at and from A Pie' de Ma'

View at and from A Pie’ de Ma’

We had coffees and pastries on the main street, and then after finally finding a Bancomat (ATM) that would work with our card, we did a bit of exploring, and found a wonderful lunch spot (A Pie’ de Ma’) right near the entrance to the now-closed Via dell’Amore (another landslide victim).

Don't look down!

Don’t look down!

After lunch, we hiked back to Manarola via the fairly heart-stopping trail over the hill, which really did take about an hour as the sign said, though it felt longer. After a post-hike rest, we had a delicious sunset dinner at Trattoria dal Billy, in one of the back alleyways of Manarola.

Wednesday was Al’s birthday, another reason for this particular week and location for our vacation. We spent the day just exploring Manarola more thoroughly, including the harbor and another cliff-side restaurant, before having a home-cooked (by Sandy) birthday pasta dinner on our balcony.

 

On Thursday, we decided to hike up into the mountains on a 6-mile loop, which took us into a completely different microclimate, with pine and chestnut forests.  Apparently it was hunting season for something as we saw and heard some cacciatori (hunters) blasting away around us.

Volastra and Groppo

Volastra and Groppo

Somehow we ended up back in Volastra for beers again before heading back down the hill into Manarola – funny how that happens…  Dinner was fried seafood from a take-away stand in the middle of Manarola, and gelato for dessert.

We watched the ferry coming in, and wondered how the pilot would land it in the crashing waves, and then it pulled back away and went on to the next town instead

We watched the ferry coming in, and wondered how the pilot would land it in the crashing waves, and then it pulled back away and went on to the next town instead

Friday we decided to go back to Riomaggiore (by train both ways this time), and explored a bit more, including the harbor and waterfront area, which we hadn’t even spotted our first time there. The seas were pretty rough, so while it was cool for us to watch the waves crashing against the rocks, it wasn’t so cool for the people who’d bought ferry tickets, since the ferry was unable to stop in Riomaggiore at all that day. We had lunch again at A Pie’ de Ma’, which was much more crowded this time (apparently a lot of tourists coming in for the weekend).

Friday evening was our last night in Manarola before leaving for an apartment in Vernazza on Saturday. From Nessun Dorma we watched a gorgeous sunset over il mare and then a beautiful moonrise over Manarola… Arrivederci!

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Germany to Italy

Germany to Italy

Although it was truly wonderful spending time with my sister C and her family, after 6 days in chilly and rainy Bad Oldesloe, it was time to head to warmer climes for a week’s vacation!

We’d fallen into a daily routine this past week in Bad Oldesloe… Because the hotel’s internet wasn’t working, I needed to work from my sister’s house. So each morning we would get up around 6:45, go downstairs for breakfast at 7 (their earliest time), the Afghan boys would filter in starting around 7:15 and we would all greet each other, we’d go back upstairs and get ready, then walk the mile or so past the school complex (a couple times we saw my nieces arriving on their bicycles among herds of other teenagers), and to C & K’s house in a nice little housing plan outside of town, where we would settle in for the day. After realizing the hotel internet wasn’t likely to be fixed, and that we weren’t too much of a nuisance to C and her family, I just left my laptop there each day rather than lug it back and forth. I’d work at their dining table, have second-coffee (with some sort of German treat), join them for lunch after the girls got home from school (it happened to be their “project week”, so they’d get home around 1 or 1:30), maybe do something with the family for a bit, and then work and have meetings some more before and after dinner (since many of our customers are in the US), while joining in with general family time. It worked out really well, so I’m actually kind of glad the hotel internet didn’t work, as otherwise I probably wouldn’t have spent so much time with family, even if it was often just peripherally.

But on Saturday, it was time to leave, so we moved our breakfast routine about an hour and a half later (as did the Afghan boys it turned out), and C picked up us and our bags a little after 9 to spend a bit more time at their house before she & K drove us to the Hamburg Flughafen for our 1:10pm flight. They walked us as far as the security checkpoint, which wasn’t too crowded, as we chose the body-scan line. We had no problems – including the Leatherman tools K had just given us, which was good as they’re supposed to be TSA-approved (no knife). We just had to show our boarding passes, not our IDs, which we thought odd; otherwise, fairly standard: laptops out, jackets off, but shoes could stay on. We found at the EasyJet gate that we really could only have 1 hand bag each (i.e. our laptop bags), so we had to gate-check our normal carry-ons – luckily they didn’t charge us, though I see the website says it might cost £50 to gate-check a bag. During boarding at the EasyJet gate they said to have IDs out, but they really only looked at our boarding passes. We boarded the plane via stairs, so we had to leave our poor lonely bags on the tarmac where a guy said to put them; we hoped they would get put on the plane 🙂

The flight was delayed just a little, but otherwise fine, and pretty quick, about an hour and a half.

A bit of the Alps, with a glacier to the right.

A bit of the Alps, with a glacier to the right.

When we arrived at Malpensa airport outside of Milan, we had to collect our bags [which did make it into the hold – yay!] from baggage claim, something we rarely need to do! Again, no customs, and no passport check, since we were arriving from another EU country – it just seems odd for us as Americans, who are normally flying from or to the US. We had booked a room at the First Hotel Malpensa  after our Booking.com reservation in the city had not gone through. I tried calling the hotel for shuttle service, but unfortunately I couldn’t make out the Italian phone message, to understand what number to press for what. So after some discussion, we decided to walk there, as it was only 2.5km, but I wouldn’t recommend that – we lost our sidewalk pretty quickly, and had to walk on the berm of a busy airport access road. So we were definitely ready for drinks at the hotel bar after checking in, and then had a delicious dinner in the hotel restaurant – our first meal in Italy in nearly 10 years!
This was between Malpensa airport and the train station... Not sure if it's always like that, or something special for the Expo Milano, which is going on now.

This was between Malpensa airport and the train station… Not sure if it’s always like that, or something special for the Expo Milano, which is going on now.

Sunday morning we had breakfast at the hotel, which I had prepaid when I booked. We took the hotel shuttle to the airport and caught a train around 8:30 from Malpensa to Milano Centrale (Milan Central Station), which takes about an hour.

Milano Centrale

Milano Centrale

We had to hang around the train station for a few hours, and found that there really isn’t much to do without going back out through a security gate, and we were too uncertain about getting back in, so we didn’t try that. Nowhere to sit, either :-/ The only thing to do really was watch people and pigeons. We boarded the InterCity train around noon, and had a bit of trouble with a couple of young women who were trying to get into my purse, but luckily it’s a pretty secure travel purse, so they didn’t have any luck. The train to Sestri Levante on the coast took about 2 hours, going through a lot of tunnels, and past Genova. Note that this was NOT a high speed train by German standards, but scenic. We were in a 6 seat compartment. We just made our connection to the regional train to Manarola, which took about another hour. Next stop: Cinque Terre, the five lands!

First stop Germany…

We’ve traveled regularly to Germany over the years so this is actually a good place for us to start.  Sandy studied German and can speak and understand the language quite well.  Al nods his head and smiles 😉 We get by.  Many Germans speak at least a little English, especially in the bigger cities  so getting around is not too hard.

We’re starting in Munich because Sandy has a two day conference downtown in a hotel near the main train station (hauptbahnhof).  It’s very close to Marienplatz, a pedestrian only shopping area, full of shops, open plazas, and restaurants, with no cars to dodge around! It covers several city blocks.  Sandy was mostly working during the day, Al spent time walking around the Marienplatz between raindrops.  This is Bavaria so there was plenty of meat for dinner, great shanks of roasted delicious meat; along with beer, mostly pilsners and Weiss beers, but also some dunkels, oktoberfests, and other assorted German lager styles. Good thing there was plenty of walking.

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The entrance to Marienplatz. It was lite up pink for world girl’s day.

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On Sunday we had breakfast with Sandy’s co-workers and packed up for the train ride to Bad Oldesloe, a little town near Hamburg.  We were visiting Sandy’s sister and family there for the next week.  Sandy had made the reservations and had an e-ticket on her phone, which the conductor scanned.  This was a high speed train and we didn’t appreciate what that meant until we noticed we were passing cars on the autobahn like they were standing still!  Al found this speed indicator, 248 kph translates to 154 MPH or so.  And it was smooth, quiet, and on time.  We did screw up a bit on reserving seats, had to stand for a while until some “frei” (free) seats opened up, but all-in-all a very pleasant experience.

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The high speed train took us to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof where our niece met us to help with the transfer to the local train to Bad Oldesloe.  Again, pretty painless and efficient.  We stayed in a quaint hotel downtown within walking distance of Sandy’s sister’s house.  We visited with them during the week.

Turns out there were 22 Afghan refugee teenage boys staying at the hotel as well, learning German.  They spoke some English and were very friendly to us, though a bit noisy at times!  We had seen other groups of newer refugees at the train station as well. (Note from Sandy: The difference between the English and German words for ‘refugee’ struck me… While the English is based on the “refuge”, the German (Flüchtling) is based on the “flight” part of the experience. Language is interesting…)

 

Here are some pics in and around Bad Oldesloe.

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Our hosts prepared some samples!

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At a ratskeller in town

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In the pedestrian area, mugging

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Walking along the Trave River

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Part of our nieces’ school complex. They bike a mile every day to get there, rain or shine!

Our day with the nieces in Hamburg.

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At an art gallery that our nieces like

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Also at the gallery. It’s a wire mesh sculpture.

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Shopping

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Tesla electric cars are popular here.

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Hamburg is along the Elbe and Alster Rivers

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Sculpture hanging in a mall

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Vietnamese for dinner! Quite good.

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Pretty architecture.

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Chocolate!

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Our nieces

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Not a Starbucks!

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Al strikes gold (Cubans!)

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So it’s time to go.  Next stop Manarola in Cinque Terre, Italy for a big birthday celebration!