After an exhausting 10 days through England and France fleeting from sight to sight, we decided to trim out French/Swiss Alps portion of our trip and train it all the way into Italy from Paris. We left Paris at our usual crazy-early-morning and arrived in Monterosso, Italy, one of the biggest of the 5 Cinque Terre towns on the coast, 12 hours later, just in time to see the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea!
After some oohing and aahing, we set out to look for a place to stay for the night where a little Filipino lady found us an apartment on a hill (with a sea view) for a song and we were glad to be able to wash up, do laundry and sleep on a comfy bed. Set out for town for our first Italian meal and found a place tucked on a narrow street in the old part of town where we had local anchovy delights and pasta in octopus sauce!
We had a blissful next 2 days as we settled in the quietest and prettiest town in Cinque Terre: Manorola, where we felt a little less like holidaying in Disneyland. Henry found us an AMAZING apartment perched on top of the hill with a fabulous balcony overlooking the old town center and much of the Mediterranean Sea. Henry spent most of his time swimming in the sea, hiking and cooking us delicious Italian meals while I mostly tried to sleep off my sore throat and mild fever. While we had a wonderful time, we would probably think twice next time about visiting Cinque Terre as it was VERY crowded with enthusiastic middle-aged Americans and Germans with sporty backpacks.
Henry and I reluctantly left Manorola for Florence and got into the city in time to grab an authentic private room run by a super nice Florentine mama, see the Duomo, the Uffizi Gallery and the piazzas before the sun disappeared on us. I had what Henry called another one of my Asian Food Panics and we dined on cheap Chinese food and spent the night at an internet cafe researching the perfect non-touristy Tuscan hilltown to explore next.
We left Florence again at the break of dawn by train, to pick up our car in the next town over where we spent the day driving through picture-perfect Tuscan countryside and incredible medieval hilltowns and finally settled into an agriturismo stay (a farm holiday) where we washed up, snacked and siesta-ed and set out for dinner at Pitigliano, a nearby hilltown. We wandered around town, bought some local boar jerky and had a lousy Italian meal at a fancy restaurant I insisted on trying. The next day found us traveling up north into the province of Siena where we stopped for the night at Montalcino a bustling hilltown.
Rome was our next stop and we had another frenzied early morning trip of returning the car and train-ing it into Rome. Found a cute hostel near the train station to base for the night and then it was off for a crazy day of Ancient Rome where we saw the Colosseum, the Forum, Palantine, Pantheon and St Peter's Basilica all before nightfall! Too exhausted to head out for the night, we went to bed early to prepare for our early morning bus trip to the airport for our flight home.
Italy was the most contradicting part of our trip, having some soaring sights and some truly gritty ones. We also felt that we would enjoy it more if the people was as friendly as the first two countries we visited.
For us, Italy is unbeatable in its history and antiquated offerings of the monumental built kind with its precariously perched medieval hilltowns (Tuscany) and Ancient Roman ruins. The best value hotel of our stay was in Italy at Manorola, one of the Cinque Terre towns, a well-appointed full service apartment on top of a hill facing the town center and the Mediterranean-absolutely amazing. Of the three countries, the arts and crafts were clearly superior as shops with quality hand-crafted and locally designed goods were aplenty. However we were shocked at how much of the country is in disrepair with abandoned construction projects, graffiti, littering, grime and inefficient public transportation. The overall experience in both countryside and in the cities were the most rustic, brutal and gritty of the three countries and I think we were a little unprepared at how much more so.
Stereotypes: It was disheartening for us to find that the locals we encountered in Italy were unfriendly, even hostile, and occasionally dishonest (we were cheated twice at two dining places ) after hearing and reading about friendly and open Italians. This unfortunately, colored much of our experience in some otherwise excellent locales. Also in contrast to the luxury goods, cars and designer clothing that Italy is known for, the big cities we visited were shockingly run down, grimy and ill-maintained.
© Amy Tan