Friday, June 3, 2011

Italy: Rome, Florence, and Cinque Terre

By Melissa at 12:23 PM
We'll be back in Italy for an extended stay later on in the summer to take a break from traveling, but for now we just planned a week in Italy to meet up with some friends. Since this was my fourth and Brian's third visit to Italy, it was a nice change to arrive in a foreign country, but feel very comfortable in our environment.

We flew into Rome early in the morning and only stayed for one night, leaving early the next morning for Florence to meet up with some friends from San Francisco who were vacationing in Italy. We didn't manage to get to revisit any major sights this time, but we did walk around the city a bit, fill a craving for Ethiopian food I had been having since finishing the book Cutting for Stone and have a lovely dinner with my cousin Evelyne who lives in Rome.

Our delicious Ethiopian meal in Rome
From Rome and Florence, Italy

Next was Florence to meet up with Brandon, Ali, and Ali's father Roger. After a very hot, four-hour train ride on the slow train we arrived in Florence, just in time for the temperatures which had been in the 70s and 80s the previous week to reach 90 degrees. But that's Italy in the summer, and besides, Brian needs to get a protective tan before we start our tour of countries bordering the Adriatic. Florence, jam-packed with art, tourists and supposedly the cast of The Jersey Shore--though we thankfully did not see them, had of course changed since the last time we had visited the city eleven years ago. We stayed in the same part of the city as we had before, but we were sad to see that many of the cute, local restaurants in that area had been replaced by fixed-price tourist restaurants. But it's Florence so I can hardly complain.

We spent two days in Florence, touring the main sights; the Duomo, Santa Maria Novella, the Ufizzi, the Galleria Accademia and the Ponte Vecchio. We were also extremely lucky to stumble upon the Florence Gelato Festival! Yummm. For 7 euro we got five servings of gelato from the participating shops that had set up in booths in front of the Palazzo Pitti. They even had a booth that served gelato for dogs!

Palazzo Vecchio
From Rome and Florence, Italy

The duomo
From Rome and Florence, Italy

The top of the Duomo
From Rome and Florence, Italy

Flowers in front of the Arno river
From Rome and Florence, Italy

After two sweltering days in Florence we boarded a train to cooler temperatures in the Cinque Terre, a grouping of five, mostly car-free towns on the Ligurian coast. There we met up with more friends (Danny, Julie, and their daughter Elle) from San Francisco for an international reunion. We hiked the challenging Sentiero Azzurro (Azure Trail) that connects all five towns and were rewarded for our effort by breathtaking scenery of the idyllic towns and the crystal clear, blue water.

The beach in Monterosso al Mare
From Cinque Terre, Italy

Brian, Melissa, Ali, and Brandon on the trail
From Cinque Terre, Italy

Vernazza from the south
From Cinque Terre, Italy

Along the coast looking south
From Cinque Terre, Italy

Julie, Danny, and Elle in Riomaggiore
From Cinque Terre, Italy

We capped off the weekend by cooking a meal with fresh ingredients we bought at local markets in different towns. It's always a treat to be able to eat really fresh, local produce when we're traveling, but Italy has such delicious food, it's hard not to rave about it. I can't decide what part of the meal was my favorite. I can still taste the cantaloupe wrapped in proscuitto, which is tied for first with the homemade pesto and gnocchi we picked up from a market run by an elderly italian woman and her son. At the end of the two days all three couples went their separate ways.

Leaving the world of Romance languages, we're off to spend the next 11 days in German-speaking areas (Zurich, Luzern and Munich) which is going to be challenging for Brian and I as neither of us speak more than a word or two of German. But immersion is the best way to learn a language so we're going to learn some quickly, Ich hoffe.

Brian and Melissa in Monterosso al Mare
From Cinque Terre, Italy