We registered with honeyfund.com (highly recommended) to help finance our honeymoon to Italy in September of 2008.  While in Italy, we wrote our thank you notes on postcards and mailed them via Italian post.  We visited Venice, Florence, and the Cinque Terre.

 

We arrived in Venice via Marco Polo airport and took the Alilaguna water taxis to our bed and breakfast, Corte Gherardi.  It was beautiful seeing Venice wake up with stores getting deliveries by boat, produce and fish markets setting up for the day, shop keepers sweeping their streets, and kids going to school.  We read somewhere that one of the best ways to experience Venice was to wander around and just get lost.  Even with a map, that was not a hard thing to do.  We wandered around the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge and saw alleys full of stores, bakeries, restaurants, tabacchi (smoke shops), and churches. 


We walked to San Barnaba Church where the second grail marker was buried with Sir Richard in Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail.  We ended up having dinner in a pizzeria/pasta shop south of San Marco square where we met a sweet couple from Brazil who had been married for over 47 years!  We asked them their secret to a long marriage and they said "fighting a lot!"  

On our second day in Venice, we walked north from Rialto Bridge to browse the shops.  We wanted to visit the Natural History Museum but it was closed.  Back to San Barnaba square, Ryan had a hot chocolate in the plaza and people watched while Beth wandered around at the little shops.  Beth found a great little lace store with some amazing (and incredibly expensive!) lace.  She also found a great little restaurant recommended in Rick Steve's called "Ai 4 Ferri" and made reservations for dinner that night.    We had a great dinner with lots of seafood (steamed mussels, grilled tuna) and grilled veggies.  The best had to be the dessert:  the panna cotta was to die for!

The train to Florence was lovely.  We had second class tickets but you couldn't really tell the difference.  The seats were spacious with a big table in between and plenty of outlets for laptops and such.  We travelled through mountains covered in fog and had a scenic view of Italy.  On the train, we met a group of women from the US visiting their friend, a US expat who worked in Rome as an art history editor.  She recommended the restaurant "Trattoria 4 Leoni" in Florence.  We arrived in Florence and it was drizzling.

Relais Grand Tour (our B&B) was pretty close to the train station so we walked over.  Our proprietors, Cristina and Giuseppe were both very nice and helpful, especially helping to track Ryan's lost luggage to the B&B.  After a nap, we wandered for a little bit in downtown Florence to the restaurant that was recommended to us, "Trattoria 4 Leoni".  One of their specialties is a pear-stuffed pasta with asparagus.  Amazing.  We also ordered a steak dish, grilled veggies and of course dessert: tiramisu and cheesecake.  We met a nice couple from Walnut Creek, CA who recommended we see the lakes of Northern Italy on our next trip out.  We will have to do that next time.  We wandered around downtown Florence where there was an outdoor orchestra playing music and all the statues were lit up.  The scale of the buildings and churches was unbelievable.  We couldn't believe that all of these marble statues were just outside unprotected from the elements.

On our second day in Florence, we were up early and had our B&B package breakfast at a local coffee/wine shop.  We wandered around downtown Florence briefly before heading to our 9:30 reservation for the Uffizi museum.  In the courtyard of the Uffizi were statues of famous citizens of Florence: Michelangelo, Dante, da Vinci to name a few.  Inside were a lot of paintings, busts, and statues displaying techniques developed throughout the renaissance.  When in Florence, try the gelato every chance you get!  Ryan had gelato at "Grom" which was highly recommended; caramel and vanilla were delicious!


We decided to wander over the Ponte Vecchio bridge and enjoyed the views from the bridge as well as all the jewelry shops that lined it.  There was a crowd of people listening to a street performer who had the most beautiful voice.

Our big activity for our third day in Florence was to see the David (magnificent!) in the Accademia.  Ryan and I spent a great deal of time amazed at how life-like the David was.  It looked so real, it was difficult to believe that it was made out of marble centuries ago.  We also enjoyed the musical collection which contained the earliest pianos and violins constructed.  We hired a carriage ride to take us from the Piazza della Signoria to the Boboli Gardens.  It was lovely riding through the crowds of people and hearing the clippity-clop of the horse's hooves on the cobblestones.  We passed by a church with a bride and groom just coming out.  We were getting a little tired of italian fare and bumped into an indian/italian restaurant.  Most of the patrons ordered italian food so it was a surprise to the waiter when we requested naan, tandoori chicken, palak paneer and rice.  They had to cook it from scratch and it took them about 45 minutes to bring us food.  It was the best indian food we have ever had!

Afterwards, we met Fadi, our Florence bike tour guide.  Between the cobblestone paths, the numerous pedestrians, and a Tuscany bike race, it was a challenge to navigate through the city on bikes.  Fadi was a student of architecture so he knew a lot about Florentine history and the buildings. We saw the oldest functioning pharmacy in the world which isn’t really pointed out in any of our tourist literature.  We crossed a bridge, had gelato and saw a shop where granite mosaic "paintings" were made.  Amazing!  He brought us into Dante Alligheri's neighborhood and finished at the Duomo.  The bike tour was definitely worth it. 

On our last day in Florence, we decided to split up so Beth could check out her knitting stores and Ryan could go to Boboli garden before heading to Cinque Terre.  After breakfast, Ryan dropped Beth off at the yarn manufacturer, Roberto Filati and they were finally open!  Beth was in yarn heaven.  Rows and shelves of yarn and fibers in a myriad of colors and weights filled the store.  Too many choices!   In the end, Beth bought a bunch of lace yarn and a kilo of undyed fiber for Adrienne's birthday.  In the Boboli gardens, Ryan wandered around taking pictures of the beautiful landscaping, fountains, sculptures and beautiful wide vistas of Tuscany countryside.

We caught the train to Monterosso via Pisa.  The view was amazing as we passed mountains on our right including the white mountains of Carrara Italy where Carrara marble comes from.  If you travel to La Spezia, be warned that the station ‘La Spezia’ is not the same as ‘La Spezia Centrale’.

Florence

Cinque Terre

We arrived in Monterosso which is one of the five towns of the Cinque Terre national park.  We purchased a map of the hiking trails and on the walk to La Poesia (our B&B) made a reservation with Ciak's restaurant for seafood later that night.

Before the sun went down, we wandered out to take some pictures and bought a few postcards.  Ciak was a cute restaurant and apparently a legendary place for seafood in the area.  Beth’s seafood spaghetti was amazing!  Huge portions of clams, mussels, prawns, and squid in a yummy sauce served in a huge sizzling earthware bowl.  Ryan’s dessert was gelato with honey and whiskey.  Yum.  After dinner we wandered around the town at night and walked into a little market owned by Renalyn and her Filipino family.  They have been living in Monterosso since 1986 and had moved a lot of their family there.   Being the industrious Filipina, Renalyn also worked part time cleaning the B&B we were staying at.

Breakfast on the terrace was juice, yogurt, cappuccino, an Italian-style donut, fruit; one of the most generous breakfasts we'd had.  The five towns are only interconnected by trains and trails so we took the train to Riomaggiore where we began the hike along the coastal trail to the next town, Manarola and then on to Corniglia

The trail to Corniglia was relatively flat followed by 400 steps to get up to the town.  We ate lunch at La Posada on a veranda with a beautiful view overlooking the coast.  For a small town, Corniglia had a lot of charm and personality.  Back at Monterosso at night for dinner, Renalyn and Jerry recommended Ristorante Pizzaria di Ely (a pesto pizza place) that was terrific.  Pesto was perfected around these parts of Italy.

At breakfast we finished up our post/thank you cards and then checked out of La Poesia to head to La Mala, our B&B next door in Vernazza.  Our room at La Mala was many stairs up from the square and the B&B has a beautiful cliff terrace overlooking the coast.  We grabbed an all-day boat ticket and sailed to Riomaggiore to see the cities from the water.  The weather was beautiful, sunny and clear; perfect for viewing the towns from the water. 


Back in Vernazza after our nap, Beth shopped for souvenirs while Ryan took pictures from the tower as the sun was going down. Every hour the church bells chime so that you have a faint idea that time is passing although that is not crucial here.  All that matters is the scenery, the serenity and where you’ll have your next meal.


At dinner we met Ron and Kim, a wonderful couple from Yorkshire, and traded email addresses.  We talked about George Bush and UFOs.  Dessert was panna cotta and the best tiramisu we had had yet.

Venice

The next morning after missing a connecting train to Milano Centrale, we had 2 minutes to switch trains to Venice.  It was a mad rush with strapless backpacks and large quantities of wool and shouts of encouraging movement for slower folks.  We made it... onward to Venice through a thunder storm.


We arrive in Venice pretty late.  We check in, head out to dinner and shop for those crucially needed final souvenirs.

Venice