We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Being of limited means while I have two young men attending university, my vacations tend to be rather short or local. Four days to Florida or Bermuda, maybe bring the wife along on a business trip if it's somewhere nice such as Palm Springs, or perhaps just a staycation. Our last big vacation was Ireland in 2007, with the boys, for two weeks. During the intervening period, the wife and I both read City of Falling Angels by John Berendt, a true story of his stay in Venice shortly after the fire which destroyed La Fenice, the opera house. He detailed the story of Venice, how the city operates, and all the good and bad which goes along with it. We determined Venice was to be our next big vacation, or at least part of it. 2015 was the year when our frequent flier and hotel points had reached a point we could do this rather inexpensively, so we took advantage.
We are a week returned from two weeks in Italy, during which we visited Rome, took an overnight train to Venice, rented a car and drove to Verona, then Rappallo, stopped in the Cinque Terre, stayed at a Tuscan resort in Barga, spent a day in Lucca, spent an hour in Pisa (which is all you really need, in my opinion) and then finished up with three days in Florence. On our final drive down to Rome, we spent 3 hours in Siena, then took a 30 minute side trip to Lake Trasimeno (being a history buff, I had to see the battlefield where Hannibal decisively defeated the Romans, losing only 1 man to every 10 of the Romans).
When I returned to the office, the first question most people had was "Which city was your favorite?" Florence and Venice, obviously, were amazing. But I'd opt for the Cinque Terre.
While not technically a city, it was far and away the most beautiful and wonderful place we saw.
We spent the night prior in Rapallo, a nice town on the Ligurian coastline, known for two treaties being signed there. Beyond that, it's just a seaside town that is like most others, nothing special. We stayed in a mid-range hotel that, as we learned upon leaving, was where Ernest Hemingway stayed while he wrote The Cat In the Rain. It was nothing special, and the old hotel next door was shuttered, requiring a new owner and some TLC. But Rapallo was only a stop, and it was a nice one.
From there, we drove south to the only town which allows cars, Monterosso. There is plenty of parking, but it was upon our arrival here that we learned the error we made in choosing this route. As the picture below shows, the view from Monterosso is quite nice, but it is the most developed of the 5 towns. The hike starts wherever you park, but the trail is about a half-mile down the road. You need to pay a fee to do the hike, and that fee can (and should) include the train, unless you plan on spending a few days hiking. Yet as we started out, it became clear that going north to south was the correct direction, but spending the night in Rapallo and working our way south then coming north wasn't well considered.
The real issue, as always, is planning a day like this. It's difficult to do so by reading online forums. Everybody has their opinion, and all the ideas sound great, including the "drive to Monterosso, park and hike" one we chose. It's not hard, it's just complicated and time-consuming. The trains run very regularly, but only stop in the 3 middle towns once an hour. The hikes between towns range from about 35 minutes on the Manarola to Riomaggiore walk to 2 hours for Monterosso to Vernazza, the path we chose.
To make things more complicated, Monterosso/Vernazza was the only open hiking trail the day we were there. The trail has mudslides somewhat regularly when it rains (some severe ones in 2011), and often shuts down.
So trying to plan this using online opinion and site information? Very difficult. There is a simple way to plan and work this out, if you choose to do it. Sadly, it took me 6 hours to figure it all out.
Stay in La Spezia. Take the train north to Monterosso. Buy your hiking ticket, hike to Vernazza. From there, you can make your own plans to continue hiking (the full trail is about 5 hours). It's a long hike, but we've been told the best one (and the most reliably open one, apparently). While we ate lunch in Vernazza, I'd plan on a lunch in Manarola, where there are many excellent restaurants (which I found out from a friend after I returned). Count on trains being late. If you visit a town, know you'll be spending a full hour there before the next one. But starting in La Spezia assures a few things. First easier access to the towns themselves. Second, lower costs since you don't pay to park your car. Third, easier entry and exit from the park (the winding roads are murder and confusing). Finally, the trains are essentially included in the cost of hiking, so you're going to buy these tickets anyway.
Another, more expensive but more interesting method is by ferry - the view from the sea, of each town, is apparently quite appealing. Which is why I have to return. Well, that and the scuba diving. And the food and wine.
We walked from Monterosso to Vernazza, trained it to Riomaggiore and Manarola. We did not visit Corniglia, as that is further up the hill. Yet one more reason to return.
A view back to Monterosso, over a vineyard on the trail.
The common terraced fields along the coast.
First view of Vernazza from the trail.
Closing in on Vernazza.
Entering Vernazza, and it's not a gentle slope down to rooftop level...
A Vernazza street with my two boys eagerly heading to the train station. The Blue Marlin, on the left, was where we ate lunch.
Riomaggiore. After taking this picture, we went through a cavern underneath to a beach which was rather crowded. Plenty of beachgoers. My sons climbed the rocks.
Riomaggiore street. Apparently, the pull the fishing boats up onto the streets.
Manarola - easily the most beautiful and intriguing of the five towns. Unfortunately, the last one we visited and we had very little time to spend there. Next time.
We've been looking at the Holland - Hungary river cruise - 14 days that look really interesting.
Spent quite a bit of time in Kosice, Slovakia, when an offspring was studying there, and very much enjoyed being a "semi-tourist" with a "local" who gave us an experience we never would have found ourselves.