Hiking Cinque Terre

Hiking Cinque Terre was a beautiful experience that Molly and I will never forget. If you have read articles about Cinque Terre, such as this article from The New York Times, you may even be ready to buy your plane ticket right now. I can confirm that it is a tranquil and relaxing place and that you should keep it on your travel-destination radar. Read below if you want to know your show before you go. The obsession with Cinque Terre is fairly straightforward as far as travel destinations come. You have five stunning towns whose yellow, pink and blue buildings pop out of a lush mountain landscape overlooking the Mediterranean. You will quickly fill up your SD card snapping photos of just about everything you see. What you will also learn is that the best views you will get are from high up in the mountains on the many hiking trails.

Riomaggiore Cinque Terre

A view of Riomaggiore – the southernmost village in Cinque Terre and our starting point

The most famous trail to travel through is actually part of the National Park of Cinque Terre and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This trail is by the sea and has an incredible vantage point – if you get the chance to take it. The path was closed during our stay due structural weakness on the path from recent rain. Mountains help create this dramatic landscape, but have caused difficulties and dangers for residents for years. When heavy rains hit bad things can happen as we saw in 2011. The devastation from this storm can still be seen to this day. One portion of the seaside trail is still closed after the damage inflicted by the 2011 floods. When we visited, the seaside trail was entirely closed due to recent rain so we began began hiking one of the higher paths. The mountain paths are well marked and there are a number of options to choose from, but they are steeper and definitely a better workout than the seaside options. There is enough trail variety to keep you busy for several days. Midway through our hike, a portion of the trail near the edge gave way under my foot. So a word to the wise – be careful and take rain-closed trails (and the resulting landslides) seriously. Also, don’t copy me and stay clear from the edge! With this in mind you can safely enjoy the incredible views.

Cinque Terre Village

Looking down on Corniglia (the middle of the five towns) from up the mountain

Oh, and be prepared for plenty of vineyards and olive groves too.

Cinque Terre Village

A view from the walking trail

Hiking will take you off the tourist trail and allow you to experience smaller nearby towns, historic architecture and a little bit of everyday life. One of my favorite moments – seeing a gardener leaving fresh vegetables and greens on his neighbor’s doorstep. There is a slightly more leisurely feel to life than we are used to in New York. If hiking isn’t your thing, there is another great way to take in the sights of Cinque Terre. There is a ferry service that runs between the five villages. You can see the details of the ferry here. You can take the ferry to and from all of the villages except Corniglia which does not have water access, due to being located on the cliff edge. In addition to the transport, you get a great tour of the coast!

Italy Cinque Terre Dock

Leaving the dock.

Italy Cinque Terre

From the water.

Italy Cinque Terre Coast

Back on the coast.

We highly recommend the ferry. It’s functional, practical and beautiful. The train is also a fine way to get from village to village – just don’t expect it to come on time. Cinque Terre has a lot to offer. It’s a great vacation spot to relax and take in the sights, sounds and pleasures of the Mediterranean. There is plenty of hiking and exploring to do and it is also ideal for drinking wine by the water. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Cinque Terre Italy Sunset

Make sure you get down to the water around sunset!

On the practical side, you can expect to pay more for lodging and food in Cinque Terre than most other Italian destinations. There are simply fewer options to accommodate all the tourists who want to visit. It was the most expensive place we stayed on our entire trip – save for the Great Barrier Reef. You wont find many listings on AirBnB there! Vegan food options may also be limited in the restaurants. However, we found a number of great pizza places that made us vegan pizza in Riomaggiore. Just remember vegans – senza formaggio!

Naples, Italy: A vegan pizza extravaganza!

Naples, Italy is famous for one thing: Pizza. The story goes that pizza, in it’s current form, was invented in Naples and that there are only two kinds of traditional Neapolitan pizzas: Marinara and Margherita. Lucky for us vegans a true marinara pizza is just pizza dough, tomato, oregano, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Vegan and delicious.

Our first pizza in Naples from L' Antica Pizzeria da Michele, around the corner from where we were staying!

Our first pizza in Naples from L’ Antica Pizzeria da Michele, around the corner from where we were staying!

While in Naples, Dan and I decided the only respectable thing for us to do would be to taste test as many marinara pizzas as our budget (and bellies) would allow. We were staying in the historical center of Naples and there were a bunch of “Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana” (“True Neapolitan Pizza Association”) pizzerias right near us. We made it to all three places. We even picked a favorite and headed back there for our last pizza in Naples.

First things first: There are no losers here. The worst pizza we had in Naples was pretty much the best pizza we have ever had. But everyone picks favorites, even us. And there was only one pizzeria we went back to during our 4 days in Naples. Lucky for us it was more or less around the corner from where we were staying.

L’ Antica Pizzeria da Michele is one of the oldest pizzerias in Naples. The crust is thin, but chewy with awesomely developed gluten (I feel so smart saying that!). It’s the kind of crust I always wish I was capable of making! The sauce was delicious, the garlic bits were delicious, the olive oil was delicious. In other words, so freaking good!

L' Antica Pizzeria da Michele pizza number 2! So good, we had it twice!

L’ Antica Pizzeria da Michele pizza number 2! So good, we had it twice!

The magic happening at L' Antica Pizzeria da Michele

The magic happening at L’ Antica Pizzeria da Michele

If this picture above looks vaguely familiar, it is because you have seen the movie Eat, Pray, Love. This is where Julia Roberts had her Naples pizza in the movie. There is (obviously) a picture of her with the pizzeria staff up on the wall.

 

L' Antica Pizzeria da Michele

L’ Antica Pizzeria da Michele

It should be noted that there is a huge line at this place most of the time! But no worries, the pizzas only take 3 minutes to cook in that kickass wood-burning pizza oven, so your pizza will be ready lickity split. Just be sure to say “marinara” to them very clearly! I’m going to guess most of their orders are for margherita pizzas. Oh yeah! There are only two options here, margherita or marinara. And the “maxi” size is only 5 euros! We shared a maxi marinara the two times we got pizza from here, but I have no doubt I could have eaten one all by myself!

Molly with pizza outside of La Pizzeria di Matteo

Molly with pizza outside of La Pizzeria di Matteo

Pizzeria number two of the three places we visited was La Pizzeria di Matteo. They open at 9AM so we had this pizza for breakfast. Also, di Matteo had the cheapest marinara that we tried. The pizza below was 2.50 Euros. Isn’t Italy wonderful?!

La Pizzeria di Matteo's margharita pizza

La Pizzeria di Matteo’s margharita pizza

I think I liked this sauce the best. It was the sweetest. It tasted like it had been cooked the longest, so the tomatoes sweetened the most. The crust was our least favorite, but like I said, still better than pretty much every pizza in America! Also, apparently Bill Clinton visited in 1994, and was a big fan. They have his picture on the wall. (I’m sensing a theme here…)

Pizzaria Sorbillo

Pizzaria Sorbillo

Finally, we went to Sorbillo’s for lunch one day. This place had the most American crust of the pizzas we tried. A bit fluffier than the others, so if you enjoy some extra crust this might be the place for you.

Inside the oven at Pizzaria Sorbillo. Our pizza is in there!

Inside the oven at Pizzaria Sorbillo. Our pizza is in there!

Pizzaria Sorbillo's margharita pizza in all its doughy glory

Pizzaria Sorbillo’s margharita pizza in all its doughy glory

This seemed the least traditional to me, so perhaps that’s why it wasn’t my favorite. Or maybe I just like more sauce than crust. Either way this beauty cost a mere 3 Euros.

There may be things to see and do in Naples (we even managed to see and do some things ourselves!), but with pizza this good, who cares? I recommend that everyone make a pizza pilgrimage to Naples at least once in his or her life. It is simply too tasty to miss out on. If you are ever headed to Italy via Rome, Naples is a short train ride south. You won’t be disappointed (by the pizza), I promise! Just be careful of the crazy car traffic. It’s madness down in southern Italy!

Also, be sure to check out the new page we added to the website: Molly’s Long-Term Travel Tips. This page will be updated as we travel to new destinations and learn new tricks!

The Roman Forum and the Colosseum: A Visitor’s Guide

You may have heard: Rome is filled with old things.

Pretty much every street has at least one old thing on it, and it can be hard to appreciate the old things after a while since they are everywhere! But Rome’s golden age really shines at the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. If you want to understand what Rome used to be like, those are the two places to go. And clearly I’m not the only one who thinks so. A ticket to one of these sights includes the other (12 Euro combined ticket as of November 2013). They are linked. But I’m here to tell you how to spend the least amount of money and time and get the most out of your experience. This is going to be a fun game of “learn from Molly and Dan’s mistakes!” in the order that they happened.

Things you should do:

Go to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill (they are one big excavation site, usually just called the Roman Forum) first. Once you have your ticket you can use it later that day or even the next day for the Colosseum and skip the line there. The line to get into the Colosseum is always long, so that is a big win.

Also, take the metro line B to the Circo Massimo stop, not Colosseo, then walk up Via di San Gregorio (past the Circus Maximus, which will be on your left) and enter the Roman Forum at the entrance on your left which will likely have no line. Most people enter near the Colosseum, so going this way will save you valuable time.

Things you should NOT do:

Get the audio guide at the Roman Forum. I repeat: DO NOT get the audio guide at the Roman Forum. What a waste of 5.00 Euros that was. And I hate waste. It was so bad and made me so angry that I actually filed an official complaint (and asked for my money back, which they obviously do not do).

This dramatic picture captures our dramatic morning in the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.

This dramatic picture captures our dramatic morning in the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.

You are supposed to follow the little numbers they give you on the paper map to different locations, and then punch in the number into the audio guide which then tells you to look right and left, but gives you no frame of reference! I spent the entire time, when I should have been listening to what the audio was saying, trying to figure out if I was looking at the right ruined thing! What a waste. Dan and I returned it after struggling with it for almost 3 hours and then walked around and just read the posted signs and looked at our surroundings and we felt that we got a heck of a lot more out of that.

Molly with audio guide in the Roman Forum. Look how happy I am!

Molly with audio guide in the Roman Forum. Look how happy I am!

Things you should do:

Bring a set of headphones if you are there with someone. Though the audio guide royally stunk, we did manage to share (and thus only pay for) one. The audio guide has a headphone jack. Dan smartly brought his headphones. Now you don’t both have to huddle close to the audio guide and try to hear over that tour group walking by!

Read the posted signs at the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill! They are included in your ticket price and more informative than the audio guide (can you tell I didn’t like it??).

Sans-audio guide, in the Roman Forum overlooking the Colosseum.

Sans-audio guide, in the Roman Forum overlooking the Colosseum.

After you are done with the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill (or the next day), head over to the Colosseum. Now I’m going to really shock you. Go get an audio guide! The audio guide at the Colosseum is 5.50 Euros, but this time it doesn’t suck! They have posted audio guide numbers within the Colosseum and a clear route for you to take. The guide is informative without being excessive. You can feel like you got everything out of the Colosseum and audio guide and be in and out of there in an hour or so. (An hour and a half if you are there with someone like Dan, who takes a million pictures!)

Much happier Molly with the Colosseum audio guide. Learn from our mistakes!

Much happier Molly with the Colosseum audio guide. Learn from our mistakes!

So there you have it. My insider’s guide to the Roman Forum and Colosseum! Here is the abridged version: Enter at the southern-most entrance to the Palatine Hill, near the Circo Massimo metro stop. DO NOT get the audio guide at the Roman Forum, but DO get it at the Colosseum. Wander the Roman Forum first, so you can use your ticket to skip the line at the Colosseum later or the next day. Have fun!

Museums of Florence – A guided tour

Florence is a small and very scenic Italian city in the heart of Tuscany. I will direct you to the picture below rather than trying to put it into words.

Florence Italy Bridge

View of the Arno and the bridges in Florence.

What I can say is that Florence has a little something for everyone. When it comes to tourism, they are going for the high score. You could easily spend days just taking in the sights, sounds and food. If you can tear yourself way from the views, I would highly recommend taking a day or two to experience the incredible museum collections. There are some unique museum offerings that you would have trouble finding anywhere else.

The most popular museum choice is the Uffizi Gallery. Travelers come and wait in long queues to glimpse the treasures inside. Admission is €11 (€6.50 if there is no special exhibit, but there usually is a special exhibit.) and you can reserve a time for €4 extra and skip the line entirely if you wish. As budget travelers, we did not pay extra and spent an hour waiting in line despite being there before 9AM. There really are some outstanding pieces of art. Di Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael are all present. They are incredible to see if you successfully fight your way past the tour groups and get an unobstructed view. The museum is, in a word, busy.

If you are in Florence and are interested in a more relaxed alternative to the Uffizi Gallery; I have a secret for you. Museo Galileo is located directly next to the Uffizi Gallery. Find the hour long line at the Uffizi and go around the corner; you can’t miss it.

Galileo Museum and Uffizi Museum Florence Italy

Uffizi (left) and Galileo Museum (right). I told you that you can’t miss it.

If you love science and technology as much a Molly and I do, you wont be disappointed. You may feel like enrolling in a physics class, however. It is incredible to speed through over 500 years of scientific history in just a few museum floors. The collection houses historically significant globes, sextants, original Galileo telescopes, orreries, and Armillary Spheres!

Galileo's Telescopes, Galileo Museum, Florence, Italy

Original Galileo telescopes!

Armillary Sphere Galileo Museum, Florence, Italy

Giant Amillary Sphere! Just like in your living room, right?

Some pieces are historically significant, others intriguing and some true head-scratchers. If you don’t like scientific equipment – how about Galileo’s middle finger? It’s there too.

Galileo Museum Interior, Florence, Italy

Interior of Galileo Museum. Don’t touch those metal objects, by the way.

We spent over four hours walking the Galileo Museum but you may be able to see it all in about two. There were no lines and no groups fighting to see the educational videos. Admission to Museo Galileo: €9. Pro tip: Save your ticket stub from the Uffizi gallery and get a €2 discount at the Galileo museum!

As wonderful as Museo Galileo was, it still wasn’t the best value in Florence. For only €10 per person you can get a ‘combo-ticket’ that will get you to the top to the Duomo (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore), the crypt of the Duomo, the top of Giotto’s bell tower, the Baptistery and to the Gallery Opera di Santa Santa Maria del Fiore. The views are tremendous from the Duomo and the Giotto’s bell tower. You can practice taking ‘selfies’ in all 360° of the Duomo’s roof if you like.

View from middle of Giotto's bell tower Florence Italy

View from the middle of Giotto’s bell tower.

Roof of Duomo, Florence, Italy

On top of the Duomo.

Best part? The combo-ticket is valid for 24 hours from when you first use it. We used part of the combo ticket in the morning and completed the rest of the activities after a break for lunch at Dolce Vegan (So good! Go there and get the lasagna. You’re welcome).

If you get the combo ticket, be sure the visit The Galleria dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. It has some incredible pieces which compliment those highlighted at the Uffizi in addition to ‘The Gates of Paradise.’ I’m not sure which was more interesting to me; the gates or the immense environmentally-controlled preservation chamber.

The Gates of Paradise Florence Italy Galleria dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore

The gates of Paradise in Galleria dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. They look the part.

Get your combo ticket and take your time visiting any or all of the five attractions situated in or around the Duomo. Oh, and be prepared for some stairs.

Florence, in my estimation, is the perfect storm of Italy. Pizza, pasta, (vegan) gelato, amazing views and incredible museums. Go and make Galileo proud. If you want to make us proud, please like us on Facebook!

For more Italy information, check out Molly’s post about Venice.