While in Europe on family business, I took the opportunity to take a week detour through Italy. I didn’t have much of a plan, other than a couple of spots I wanted to see: Manarola, Venice, Florence, and anything interesting along the way. Couple of my friends were going to be near Lago di Garda in the right timeframe, so I threw Lago into the mix. It was along the way, so why not.
After a quick research couple of days before the trip, the list of interesting places grew to more than what could be covered in the time I had – a good sign of being “ready” for the trip. Transportation? After lengthy debate and comparison, I settled on trains and busses. Car may have been more convenient, but this way I could enjoy the scenery, and catch up on sleep.
Lago di Garda
My first stop was Lago di Garda, where I was meeting up with friends for a few days. From Bratislava I took an express train to Rovereto, and then a bus to Torbole, a town on Lago di Garda where my friends were staying. While I planned everything ahead, coming to Rovereto I quickly realized things would not be as simple. The online bus schedule didn’t match the ones posted at the station, and those in turn didn’t match how the busses ran. This was a good sign to relax and start taking things easy; La dolce vita, as they say. So between all the different schedules, I ended up taking a evening bus. It’s a good adventure guessing where I am and where to get off at night, in a bus I can’t see much from. But I got there, albeit a little late, but right on time for a late dinner with friends.
I stayed in the area exploring on bikes with my friends. There are endless opportunities for biking here, from road to technical downhill.
After a few days at Lago, it was time to move on. My friends were planning a point to point bike trip, so I dropped them off at their start location, said my goodbyes, and drove the car back to their destination. Then, it was time to repeat my bus trip to Rovereto.
I planned to spend a night in Milano, but after a bit of delays leaving Torbole (ooh, the bus schedules), I arrived at Milano late in the afternoon. I walked around a bit checking the city out and looking for hostels. I didn’t really feel the vibe and couldn’t find any free hostels, so I decided to do more exploring in Milano and move to my next destination at night. After couple of long hours sleeping at the station, I got on the first train from Milano to Manarola.
Manarola / Cinque Terre
First order of business was to stretch out and relax a bit after the long night and train ride. Next, time to find a place to stay, which seems easier said than done even in a place as small as Manarola.
Manarola is a popular destination, but there is only one hostel here, and rest are family owned units that prefer parties of at least four people. I managed to find a place and after a bit of haggling, got a decent price, all things considered. Oh, did I mention most of Italy doesn’t seem to believe in plastic? Make sure you have cash, even for government institutions like the post office.
It was a nice sunny day, and I went exploring the town and area. The typical Italian narrow streets are even smaller in a town like this. Quick lunch and after being exhausted by the previous night and the heat, quick afternoon nap. Then off exploring again.
The wind picked up in the evening and a storm rolled in over night. I woke up to a rainy morning, but had places to go. TOday’s plan was to walk along the cost to the next town – Riomaggiore.
Both Riomaggiore and Manarola are part of the five towns known as Cinque Terre, a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Life in these towns is definitely interesting. The mountains and streets are steep, to a point where specialized equipment has to be used for farming.
On the way back from Riomaggiore, I went further up the mountain to explore the area. The weather was starting to clear, but it was still windy with occasional showers.
The next morning I slept in and woke up to a sunny day, but still little windy. I’m moving on today, but have hard time leaving and go on to explore the town a little more.
While Florence was one of the spots I really wanted to see, I ended up spending more time in Lago and Manarola than planned. On top of that, I left Manarola late, so I’ve arrived in Florence in the afternoon. I found a hostel relatively quickly, but I made the tough call to leave earlier next morning to have enough time in Venice before I had to head back home.
I left Firenze relatively early, so I had full day ahead of me when I got to Venice. I had a hostel booked, so there was no rush to look for one. It would have been impossible anyway.
My plan was to walk around and explore slowly making it towards the hostel by early afternoon. Navigation around here is hard, even with a map. Just when you think you are where you want to be, you need to cross a channel and there is no bridge in sight.
I find most of the hostels I’ve seen in Venice of a very questionable nature. This one was no exception, but it will do, I’m there just to crash for the night. I dropped off my stuff, and off to explore again.
Things quiet down on the streets in the evening, as people settle for dinners and eventually turn in. Venice is especially beautiful in the evening. The sun makes all the pastel colours of the buildings pop, and the channels start shimmering in the reflected colours of buildings and lights.
I checked out of the hostel early in time to catch the sunrise. This is my last day here, so I take it easy and enjoy the morning. There aren’t many people in the streets yet, most people are still in.
Like the sunset, sunrise and early morning are beautiful here. All the colours are playing off the cooler of the sky and everything is just a bit brighter. In contrast with the busy day, the morning streets are empty and quiet, and a occasional squeak of laundry lines can be heard as fresh laundry is being hung to dry in the morning sun.
I explored what I could in the two days I had here. I enjoyed the day as long as I could, and I’m off to the train station as the sun starts to set.