My return to the land of Pesto and Sciachetra.....

Trip Start Aug 22, 2011
Trip End Sep 29, 2011

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Flag of Italy  , Italian Riviera,
Sunday, September 18, 2011

11 Sept. 20 – Tuesday

I set the alarm for 06:45 this morning, as I wanted to make sure I'd be ready for my Shuttle to the airport, and was in the breakfast room by 07:55. I was already anticipating the usual "procedures" at the airport, and wanted to get on with it. After breakfast I went back to the room and collected my gear.

The Shuttle arrived a bit early, as I suspected it would.  I said "goodbye" and started my trip to the airport.  There was a couple from Mexico City already seated in the Van, but they were only going to another location in the city, and not to the airport.  Traffic was somewhat "busy" this morning, but it didn't take long to get out of the downtown area.  As the Shuttle climbed the hill, I took a last look at yet anoher gray and cloudy day in Prague before trees obscured the view.

The route to the airport passed through suburbs with small strip malls and many different styles of apartment buildings.  Some buildings appeared to be more modern, while others were the "blocky" Soviet-style apartments.  I was surprised that the Trams operated this far from the city centre, but eventually the tracks stopped.  The ride to the airport lasted about half an hour, and I was dropped in front of Terminal 2.

When I first entered, I couldn't locate any EasyJet check-in terminals, so asked at the Information desk and was told the desks wouldn’t be open until 10:45.  While I was waiting, I visited with a nice older couple from a small town near Milan.  The husband could speak good English as he used to work for an American company, but the wife could only speak a few words.  I was first in line for check-in and I asked the girl about my second carry-on bag and she said "ask at the gate".

There was a bit of a queue to go through security, but it seemed to move quickly.  I had just about everything loaded into my ScottEVest so all I had to do was place the jacket into a bin ad walk through.  Once through security it was just a matter of waiting until the Gate number was revealed and the flight was called.

The flight wasn’t completely full, so there was an empty seat between my aisle seat and the window seat.  I was pleased about that as the seats were somewhat "narrow" and I was squeezed between the arm rests.  Flying time was about 1.25 hours and the plane arrived in brilliant sunshine in Milan.  The Flight Attendants sold tickets for the Malpensa Shuttle on board, so I decided to buy one during the flight.  Rather than using a "sky walk" to reach the Terminal, the plane parked on an apron and passengers walked down stairs to a waiting Bus which took us to the Terminal.

There was a short wait for baggage, but thankfully my Pack was one of the first to come through the window.  I found the Malpensa Shuttle just outside the door of the Terminal, but unfortunately the first Bus filled-up quickly so I had to wait for the next one.  I had already loaded my main pack on the first Bus so the Driver had to open the hatch to allow me to retrieve it.

The trip into Milan was quiet but the traffic was fairly thick (not surprising given the time of day).  The trip took about 45 minutes so the Bus didn’t arrive at Milano Centrale until about 15:40.  I hustled inside as quickly as possible and made my way upstairs to track level.  I found an automated Kiosk and bought a ticket and reservation for the train to Monterosso.  Fortunately it was still possible to buy tickets, as the train would be departing in about 15-minutes!

I found my Compartment and assigned seat easily and placed my Packs on the rack above the seat.  Prior to departure, I chatted with a couple in the hallway who were looking for a place to sit.  I suggested they sit in my compartment until they got sorted, since there was no one else there, and the gladly agreed.  They were from Sidney, Australia, and were heading for a medical  conference in a town on Lago Maggiore (across from Stresa) for a week.

I was a bit concerned that they didn’t have the compulsory reservation, but they insisted the sheaf of tickets they had (which they bought from Rail Europe) would cover the situation.  As it turned out, the female Conductor was very understanding and allowed them to buy reservations on the spot, rather than fining them.  She worked out the amounts on a small device that looked like a cellphone, but apparently was a portable data terminal from the Railway.  She also had a portable Debit / Credit Card terminal hanging on her belt so it would have been easy to collect a fine also.

We had a nice visit during the three hour trip, and it turned out they were getting off at Monterosso as well, but would be continuing to Riomaggiore, which is where they’d be staying.  I left them in the bustle of the station.  As I exited the station, I noticed what appeared to be the same Gypsy woman begging as during my previous visit to this area in 2006.

The town where I'm staying is the most northerly of the five small villages in the Cinque Terre, which is located in the region of Liguria in north western Italy.  These villages are built in terraces on the hillsides, and are part of a National Park which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.  There is a small amount of local industry including anchovies, olives, fishing and of course Pesto which was invented in this area, but the main source of income is tourism.  Accommodations in the area consist mostly of small Pensions or B&B's, although Monterosso has a few more "conventional" Hotels.

I phoned the Hotel about 20 minutes before arrival to confirm that I would indeed be arriving, and they arranged a Taxi.  It took me several times to get the correct number sequence, but eventually I got through to the Hotel.  The Taxi was waiting but the Driver seemed to be in a foul mood, yelling loudly into his Cell headset, and throwing things at the dash.

I was so pleased to finally arrive at Villa Steno and was greeted at the door.  I presented my Passport and was shown to my room.  It’s a small single but the décor is fantastic and somewhat characteristic for this area.  I was enormously happy to once again have a TV available, even if the only two channels I could understand were BBC and CNN.  The balcony provides an incredible view of the town, which I know I'm going to enjoy!  I spent a few minutes getting organized, and then went back to the desk to get dining recommendations.  I haven’t had lunch (except for a Solo Bar), so I’m really getting hungry.  I spoke with a few of the other guests, and it appears that some of them are here with a Rick Steves “Best of Italy” tour.

The Hotel owner recommended L’Alta Marea which is just below the Hotel.  He provided instructions on taking the paths down to town, and using the electrically controlled gate on the way back (this is a very high-tech Hotel).  I walked down and found the restaurant without any trouble.  It was fairly busy but I found a table outside.  I ordered Trofie al Pesto, grilled vegetables, Wine and Coffee.  It was great and it sure felt better to have a nice hot meal!  I wanted to have Pesto on my first night in the Cinque Terre, as it's somewhat of a "tradition".  Trofie is a locally specialty that's made for use with Pesto.

While dining I visited with a couple from Holland next to me, a young couple from Seattle (this is the husband’s first trip outside the U.S.) and eventually a couple from Ottawa that sat down next to me.  After dinner I made my way back to the room to update my records and get ready for my first day in the Cinque Terre.  I’m looking forward to exploring again and hiking the trails (without Plantar Fasciitis) but I hope my back doesn’t cause too much trouble.

11 Sept. 21 – Wednesday

Although I could have slept in this morning, I wanted to be in the breakfast room in time to have a visit with the Rick Steves tour group.  Even at 07:50, there were already a few of the group starting to "trickle in" for breakfast.

The breakfast selection this morning was quite elaborate, and even included scrambled eggs, which is uncharacteristic for Italy.  There were also the usual cold meats, cheeses, bread, yogurt, juices and Croissants, so it was easy to fill up.

After breakfast I stayed in the Lobby as I didn’t want to miss the Guide and she eventually showed up.  I had a quick visit, but she needed to do some work on her iPad and also have breakfast so I didn’t bother her.  A small truck eventually arrived to haul the luggage for the group down to Hotel Pasquale, and the group followed soon after.  I waited a few minutes and walked down with the Guide.  I tagged along with the group as far as the station and then parted company.

This morning I wanted to do a “walkabout” in Monterosso and re-familiarize myself with the town.  When I arrived yesterday I found that my memory wasn’t correct on a few details, so I wanted to correct that.  It was also a good time to get photos, as the light and shadows were still reasonably good.  I walked down to the end of the “New Town” and then back towards the “Old Town” or "Centro Storico" where my Hotel is located.

Along the way I spoke with several other tourists and eventually ran into a small group from Montana & Oregon.  The two women were planning to hike the trails but weren’t sure where the entrance was, so I walked with them as far as the small Hut where Park Passes are checked.  I had forgotten how much effort was required to make even part of the climb, and by the time I got to the Hut I was a bit “winded” and definitely hot!  After they started their hike, I went back towards town.  At one point I stopped in the shade near a small cave, as it was funneling a wonderful ocean breeze upward and it was a great place to cool off.  At that point, I got talking to a young couple from Edmonton, who had just hiked the trail from Vernazza.  They stopped at the first restaurant for some much needed nourishment.

I continued back into the Old Town and got a few more photos in Piazza Garibaldi.  By this time I was beginning to think about lunch also, and started to check out the various restaurants in that area.  Some seemed to have lots of locals dining there, which was probably a good sign.  At one point, a bunch of local school children ambled by, sporting their small Backpacks and a few with books in hand.  Some stopped in the park to meet parents or other relatives, and although I couldn’t understand all the conversations, I imagined the kids were being asked “so how was school today”.  Many of the locals were wandering by and greeting each other, and it provided somewhat of a glimpse of the life in a small Italian town.  There seemed to be a degree of tranquility and order to life here, which is a huge contrast to the high paced bustle of life at home, where people often seem to be in a rush to get to work, to the mall or whatever.

I eventually wandered into a small, narrow passageway between buildings (which was also a cool place to find some refuge from the heat) and disovered a restaurant named Ristorante al Carugio.  The few people outside seemed to be “locals” so I decided to stop there.  As a single traveler, they seated me inside rather than at the limited number of tables in the alley.  I decided to order the Spaghetti al Ragu, Insalata Mista, Wine and Coffee.  The quality of the food was great and I quite enjoyed the meal.  The salad contained corn, which is something I keep forgetting about Italy.  At one point, the Waiter volunteered to take a photo for a memento of my dining experience, and I accepted his offer.

By the time I was finishing lunch, the restaurant was starting to fill-up, and it got really busy when an Italian tour group arrived.  I spoke to the Guide briefly, but she didn’t seem to speak English.  A group of four Australians were seated across from me, and a young couple from Milan were beside me.  The Waiter provided the bill fairly promptly when I asked for it, but then didn’t return to collect the money.  After a few minutes, I finally asked one of the other Servers to take the bill, which was about €20.  I gave her €50 and waited for my change.  After about 20 minutes, my change still hadn’t been delivered so I eventually asked my original Waiter for it.  There was another slight delay, but eventually he returned with the money.  I thought the entire episode with the payment and change was a bit “strange” to say the least!

I made the uphill walk back to the Hotel in the hot afternoon Ligurian sun, and spoke briefly with owner, who was at the front desk.  I asked him about the “change” episode, as it occurred to me that perhaps that's a normal procedure here, but he didn’t have any idea why this might have occurred.  I went back to the air conditioned comfort of my room to cool off and have a short rest.  I also took the opportunity to do some laundry in the sink.  Although the Hotel provides laundry facilities, I only had a few items and didn’t think it was worth paying €8 for a wash, especially considering I have a nice balcony and sunshine.

After my rest, I decided this would be a good time to update my records.  The balcony area was now in the shade, with a light breeze blowing, so that was a perfect location for computer work.  Except for the sounds of construction work from the large construction project that’s underway above the Hotel (apparently a new parking lot), it was a wonderfully relaxing and “perfect” setting. My view of the multi-coloured buildings of the town was punctuated by the occasional blur of a train passing, and various types of boats crossing my vista in the beautiful azure waters of the Ligurian Sea, which seemed to stretch forever.  With a glass of Vino and this scene, my thoughts at the time were “life doesn’t get any better than this”.

I spent several hours on the computer and at one point I took a brreak and went up to the desk to get my complimentary glass of Sciachetra, which is a locally produced wine.  It was a bit sweet, but very good.  I also had a nice visit with the afternoon receptionist, a Clinical Psychologist from Australia and an Australian Air Force Pilot and his family.

I continued with my Internet work, although the connection from the Router to the net was very sporadic.  It would work for awhile and then quit suddenly.  At periodic intervals, numerous neighborhood dogs would start barking and the cacophony from the streets and alleys below the Hotel would last for several minutes.

I didn’t decide to go for dinner until about 20:00 and decided to try Ristorante Belvedere tonight, which had been recommended by the Hotel staff.  I found it easily enough and it was VERY busy.  I found an open table and sat down and within a few minutes the Waitress took my order.  I decided on Linguine Pesto, mixed salad, wine and coffee.  The order took a while to arrive, so I eventually ordered a second small bottle of wine.

The food was excellent but the portions were large so it was a very filling meal.  With the meal and the amount of wine, I was a bit “uncomfortable” by the time I left the restaurantl.  After I had finished my coffee, I waited a LONG time for someone to come with the bill.  After about 20 minutes I finally caught the attention of one of the Servers that was walking by, and asked for the bill, but there was another 15 minute wait before it actually appeared.  I found it puzzling that they wouldn’t be interested in getting paid?  Ther restaurant had emptied considerably by that time, so it's not as if they were still busy.

After my fine but lengthy dinner, I walked back to the Hotel in somewhat of an inebriated state, and that was the end of another enjoyable day in the Cinque Terre.

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wayne on

Trofie Al Pesto.. you can't get a better memory to take back with you... Trofie is hand made pasta ( without egg ) and the Pesto; as you say Ken; originated from there ( Pesto coming from the Roman word Pestle.."to grind the ingedients "). Such a meal probably can't be had in North America.

wayne on

one of the five towns at Cinque Terrre , has a local made gelato ; made with local honey. The town is Corniglia; and the dish is Miele Di Corniglia.. somehow, I feel you will be trying it out

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