ITALY - Cinque Terre and Milan

Trip Start Aug 15, 2012
Trip End Jan 10, 2013

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Flag of Italy  , Lombardy,
Friday, September 14, 2012

Arriving in Italy was by far our worst travel experience on this trip so far… we caught a six hour train from Monaco not realizing we booked an all stops affair. It was our only choice. It wouldn't have been too bad except it was also around 28 degrees outside and we were sitting in a tin can so we estimated the temperature to be about 32-35 degrees inside for most of the way. No air conditioning. Well, it wasn’t crowded, we need to be thankful for that! The train was pretty old and we could barely open most of the windows they were so sticky but the ones that we could didn’t help much anyway. Thankfully we packed some supplies and had some snacks but our water stocks needed to metered out with careful precision.

I should spare a moment to say that despite the awful, awful comfort level of our journey the scenery we passed was mostly interesting with some absolute magnificent views off the French/Italian coast. We felt fortunate to be able to have this experience.

We arrived in the lovely town of Monterosso, the first town on the famous Cinque Terre on the west side of Italy along the Mediterranean coast. The Cinque Terre is another one of the places I wanted to go to when we were living in London but we never quite made it so we were pretty excited. All the travel literature about it shows an amazing amount of beautiful picturesque coastal towns and it did not disappoint.  

Monterosso is supposed to be the least picturesque of the towns and the one with the most hotels and restaurants. We chose it as a base because it is the place to where our train here would commence and end so it made sense. As we arrived and had our first proper view of the coast we were so amazed by the view and wondered what could possibly be in store for us as we went discovering the other four towns.

Rehydration was the first port of call for us as we guzzled down a bottle of water. We had a 45 minutes wait for the shuttle bus to take us to our hotel up in the mountains so we also had a gelato to aid the hydration process!

Our hotel was only a five minute drive away but uphill around a winding road and remember it is still sitting at around 28 degrees and we had two 16 kg suitcases so we were happy to wait. Over the next couple of days we did walk home a few times up the very steep roads and it ended up being about a half hour walk with a few breaks to take in the amazing views.

We bravely boarded the train once again the next day, hesitantly, to head down to see the other four towns with plans of exploring them all. We started with the last one Riomaggiore and while it was very beautiful with the colourful buildings climbing the steep terrain and the coast line our plans changed!

There were soooo many tourists it took us about 10 minutes to get out of the train station hoarding like cows to the slaughter in 28 degree heat in the blaring sun. A wise man once told us that the only difference between a tourist and a terrorist - is the spelling. After being part of this crowd, we believed it!

We took off on a big walk around town which was adorable and then headed of the ferry boat to take us back to Monterosso stopping at all of the other towns. We could have disembarked and played with the other tourists but we didn’t. Instead, we popped around to the other part of Monterosso and had a delightful long lunch in a very homely Italian café. It was nice and cool too.

Cinque Terre is in the Ligurian region of Italy where pesto was invented and is commonly served with trofie pasta. Of course I had to try the dish called Trofie al Pesto (Ligurian Gnocchi with Pesto) and Mamma Mia it was divine! It made me realize I’ve been doing pesto all wrong. My love of garlic has always urged me to over do it.  I found this recipe online but when I have a kitchen again I am going to prefect it to taste just like the one I found in Monterosso. 

Official recipe by the Consorzio del Pesto Genovese
Ingredients: (Makes: Sauce for 600 g of pasta)

Genoese basil - 50 grams, preferably young and fresh.

Ligurian Extra Virgin Olive Oil - 1/2 cup

Grated Cheese - 6 tablespoons of Parmigiano Reggiano DOP or Grana Padano DOP and 2 tablespoons of Pecorino

Garlic - 2 cloves

Pine nuts - 1 tablespoon of nuts from the Mediterranean

Walnuts - (optional) 1 tablespoon may be substituted for pine nuts

Coarse Sea Salt - a few grains


Wash the basil in cold water and set aside to dry on a towel.

In the mortar, crush the cloves of garlic with a few grains of salt until the garlic has softened. Begin adding basil leaves (but don't add all at once!)

The essential oils of basil are stored in the veins of the leaves. For the best taste, you must be careful not to tear or shear the leaves. Use a gentle circular motion, slowly crush the basil by moving the pestle around the edges of the mortar.

When you notice a bright green liquid being drawn from the leaves, it is time to add the pine nuts.

Once softened, add the cheeses, and finally the olive oil in a very thin stream.

Preparation should take place at room temperature and the sauce should be served immediately to avoid oxidation. So pour it over the pasta, possibly linguine or strozza preti, and enjoy!

I can’t remember what Leigh had, I was too busy with my Trofie al Pesto. I just asked if he remembered it was Beef Ravioli.

For our three hour train ride to Milan we paid extra to go first class, we were not going to risk another non air conditioned tin can train! Nope, no way. It wasn’t too much more but definitely worth it. We ended up sitting next to a couple from Colorado in the US and they too had spent an uncomfortable train ride down to the Cinque Terre and opted for first class on the way home. I could hear a lady with an Aussie accent behind me and she was telling someone she was from Murwillumbah (a small town of 7,500 people in northern NSW, where some of the Claydon clan live. I have many fond memories of visiting Auntie Iris, Uncle Jack and co there). Anyway, I made sure I had time to check her out in case I recognised her but I didn’t.

Milan is the last of the Italian big cities we have been to and we were very much looking forward to seeing it and crossing it off our list of places we wanted to go. Milan is the second largest city in Italy, the main industrial, commercial and financial centre. It was quite similar to Rome we thought but… much, much cleaner. I guess you’d expect that from the major world fashion and design capital.

This was our first experience in staying at an apartment through and we fortunately struck it lucky. It is like a B&B but there is the option to share a room, have a private room or the entire place for yourself. We chose the latter of course. The apartment was in China Town and three stories high. It was the kind of apartment you see in movies set in Italy, clothes lines filled with clothes drying, flower pots and small gardens of herbs & veges, Mediterranean yellow coloured and people hanging around chatting. The only difference was the shops along the street side at the ground level were cheap Chinese clothes shops and food markets.

Now, I am going to sound silly here but I thought the term "Mamma Mia" was something we Aussies made up but alas an old lady muttered it to us as she came in from the teaming rain one day. Looks like it is a dinky di Italian term. Sorry Laura C, I know you are cringing at me right now.

We joined the tourists in Milan (you have to sometimes) to check out the mighty Doumo, a cathedral church which began construction in 1386 and took nearly six centuries to complete. After climbing the 200 odd steps to the top we were rewarded with a lovely view of the city and a close up look at the stone work.

Off to Poland now...
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