Cinque Terre Devastated by Floods

Disaster Hits the Northern Coast of Italy

          After 20 inches of torrential rainfall within the span of a few days, the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera was hit by massive flooding and mud flows on October 25, 2011.  The Cinque Terre, which means ‘five lands’ is a series of five picturesque villages clinging to the rugged Ligurian Coast of Northern Italy.  Even those who have not had the pleasure of visiting the Cinque Terre have undoubtedly seen travel pictures of these famous villages.  Arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world, it has in recent years become an extremely popular destination for travelers from across the globe.  The eight mile Cinque Terre Hike between the villages is now an almost obligatory pilgrimage for any traveler worth his salt.

Monterosso, Italy on the Cinque Terre

Monterosso, Italy on the Cinque Terre

Streets Buried Under Rocks and Mud

          Monterosso and Vernazza, the two northern-most villages, were the hardest hit.  The narrow streets were buried under 12 feet of rocks and mud, cars were overturned and the harbors were filled with debris.  This natural disaster is said to have claimed ten lives and there are reports of others who are missing.  Initially, roads and rail lines were closed, making access by sea the only connection to the area.  About 500 Italian troops have been dispatched to the region to assist the local inhabitants with clean up.  Investigations into the cause of this disaster are ongoing, but over-building has been suggested as a possible culprit.

Vernazza, Italy on the Cinque Terre

Vernazza, Italy on the Cinque Terre

The Resilient Italian People

          Our hearts go out to the citizens of the Cinque Terre during this difficult time.  No strangers to natural disasters (earthquakes and volcanic eruptions come to mind), the resilient Italian people will be able to dig out from under the debris and restore the charm and beauty of the Cinque Terre to its antediluvian state.  Travelers with the Ligurian Coast of Italy on their itinerary should check with their agents for information about possible changes to their travel plans.  The trails of the Cinque Terre Hike are likely to be closed for some time, but it is our hope that visitors will soon be able to safely return to the ‘five lands’ of the Italian Riviera.

Video Footage of Vernazza Flooding Captured by a Tourist

The Dolomites, Northern Italy

A Train Ride From Bologna, Italy to Innsbruck, Austria 

          The train ride from Bologna, Italy to Innsbruck, Austria goes through the Adige River Valley, giving travelers a spectacular view of the Dolomites as you travel through the Italian Alps into Austria.  This stretch of rail line rivals some of the great train trips of Europe such as the thrilling ride ‘over the roof of Norway’ from Oslo to Bergen and the stunningly beautiful trip through the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland.  I left Bologna at 10 AM and arrived in Innsbruck, Austria at 4:30 PM, passing through Trento and Balzano with one stop in Verona.  One need only check out the brief video clip below to understand why I love train travel, especially in Europe!

Verona, Italy

Verona, Italy

A Beautiful Train Ride Through the Adige River Valley of Northern Italy


 

Washday in Bologna

Washday in Bologna, Italy

          Washing my clothes while traveling has to be one of my least favorite things to do!  Perhaps that’s why I’m willing to carry around the extra weight in my pack in order to have enough clothing to only have to find a laundromat once during a three week trip.  So it was that I happened to run out of clean underwear in Bologna, Italy around the half way point in my circuitous train trek through Europe.  After arriving from Naples in the late afternoon and settling into a very nice hotel, The Hotel Europa, I set out with my bag of dirty clothes in search of a laundromat, a jaunt that would also have to serve as my walking tour of the city of Bologna.

Bologna, Italy

Bologna, Italy

Hand Gestures

          After about an hour of looking around without any luck, I decided to ask directions of several people passing by.  Although I don’t know much Italian, I fit right in by using a lot of hand motions and sign language.  Like they say, “When in Bologna, do as the Bolognans”, or is that Rome?  Anyway, looking back, I guess I shouldn’t have opened up my bag and shown them my dirty underwear, hoping they would understand what I was looking for.  After getting a couple of funny looks, I finally found someone who knew exactly what I was after and gave me excellent directions to a nearby laundromat.  It was a clean, reasonable, state of the art facility and in the end it turned out to be another interesting travel experience mingling with some of the local folks.

Laundromat in Bologna, Italy

Laundromat in Bologna, Italy

Fat, Learned and Red City

          Bologna is best known for its cuisine, its universities and its red rooftops and communist leanings, thus its nickname as the ‘fat, learned and red city’.  Europe’s oldest university dating back to 1088 is located in Bologna and the city is also home to a world class medical school which has trained many talented physicians.  Bologna has enough beautiful plazas, palaces and basilicas to give Rome a good run for its money and its friendly, industrious citizens make it a worthwhile stop on your visit to Italy.  After a wonderful breakfast in the hotel’s elegant dining room the next morning, I was off to catch the train for a beautiful ride through the Adige River Valley with its stunning views of the Dolomites, on my way to Innsbruck, Austria.

Breakfast in the Elegant Dining Room of the Hotel Europa

Breakfast in the Elegant Dining Room of the Hotel Europa

Naples, Positano and the Amalfi Coast

Naples, Positano and the Amalfi Coast of Italy

          Naples is not usually at the top of the list of destinations for most visitors to Italy.  Lying farther south than its more famous sister cities, Rome (118 miles), Florence and Venice, it is a bit off the beaten path, but a path well worth taking in my opinion.  Of course Napoli is famous for food (pizza, spaghetti and ice cream come to mind), but it also has many beautiful plazas, great shopping and a number of interesting sights, including museums, catacombs and architecturally significant buildings.  Perched on a hillside overlooking its namesake bay, Naples is not only a beautiful city in its own right, but it is a jumping off place for several nearby ‘must see’ locations.

Naples at Night

Naples at Night

Mt. Vesuvius

          Just across the Bay of Naples the eerie silhouette of Mt. Vesuvius looms over the scene like a sleeping giant.  The only active volcano on the European mainland, it makes its presence known from time to time by blowing off steam or actually erupting, the last major occurrence having been in 1944.  In days gone by, visitors could take a funicular (1880 to 1944) or chair lift (1953 to 1984) to the top and peer down into the smoking cone.  Eruptions or the threat thereof have permanently closed both modes of ascent and now adventurous visitors must hike to the top.  It is interesting to note that the well known song “Funiculi-funicula” was inspired by the opening of the Vesuvius funicular in 1880.  Some years ago, I had the opportunity to take the chair lift to the top while it was still in operation and that is an experience I will never forget!

Mt. Vesuvius Across the Bay of Naples

Mt. Vesuvius Across the Bay of Naples

Pompeii 

          The nearby ruins of Pompeii serve as a reminder of the destructive power of volcanoes and the danger they pose to those in their path.  It was a two day siege in 79 AD that killed 2000 people and buried Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum until they were accidentally rediscovered in 1599.  Victims of this horrific eruption were engulfed by ash and pumice and as the years passed their decomposed bodies left hollowed out spaces.  By injecting plaster into these voids, archeologists were able to produce lifelike recreations of some of the citizens of Pompeii in their final moments.  Strolling through this ancient city gives one a glimpse into life at the height of the Roman Empire through an instant ‘frozen’ in time and is another reason why Naples should be on your itinerary.

Seaside Village of Positano on the Amalfi Coast of Italy

Seaside Village of Positano on the Amalfi Coast of Italy

Capri, Positano and the Amalfi Drive

          A short 80 minute ferry ride will take you to the fabulously beautiful Isle of Capri with its Blue Grotto and stunning Mediterranean views.  If all that isn’t enough to get you to Naples, there’s the beautiful drive along the Amalfi Coast, covering about 30 miles of the world’s most beautiful scenery and an equal distance of the world’s most harrowing roads.  Your end point should be the picturesque village of Positano, literally clinging to the side of the steep, rugged hillsides overlooking the water.  It is best reached by taking the local commuter train leaving from the Circumvesuviana Train Station in Naples and arriving about an hour later in Sorrento.  You can then board a bus right outside the train station for the rest of the trip.  Thrill seekers will definitely find their thirst for excitement satiated after this bus ride and I definitely do not recommend that visitors attempt this drive in their own cars.  My enthusiasm for Naples and the surrounding points of interest must be pretty obvious and I hope I have convinced you to include this exciting region on your next visit to Italy.  After all, you wouldn’t want to miss the birthplace of pizza now, would you!

Check Out This Wild Ride!

Rome in a Day

A Walking Tour of Rome and the Vatican

          While I was reluctant to leave the seaside splendor of the Cinque Terre, it was time to move on.  There is so much to see in Italy and I wanted to squeeze in as much as I could.  I boarded the train in Monterosso on the morning of June 4 and several hours later arrived in Rome.  The contrast couldn’t have been more striking.  From the colorful villages and picturesque vineyard terraces clinging to the rugged hills over the Mediterranean Sea to the sprawling mega-metropolis of modern Rome!  In short order I found a good hotel (The Hotel California, of all things!) for the equivalent of $83.00, including breakfast, and it was close to many of the historic destinations that I wanted to see.

Swiss Guards at the Vatican

Swiss Guards at the Vatican

Ancient Rome

          For the rest of the day I took a walking tour of Rome and the Vatican, visiting a good number of the ‘must see’ sights that the capital of Italy and one time capital of the Roman Empire has to offer.  After starting at perhaps the most recognized symbol of Italy, the Colosseum, I then found the other nearby monuments of the ancient city, including Palatine Hill, the Circus Maximus, and the Roman Forum.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

The Vatican

          From there I walked along the Tiber River to the Vatican, taking in the many tree-lined boulevards and architecturally beautiful bridges that bisected it along the way.  Unfortunately, the Vatican was closed by the time I got there, but I had already seen the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica on previous visits.  After spending an hour or so checking out the Piazza San Pietro and the outside grounds of Vatican City it was getting on towards the end of the day.

St. Peter's Basilica Across the Tiber River

St. Peter’s Basilica Across the Tiber River

Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps

          As the sun went down, I explored the labyrinthine streets and alleys of Rome, and came to realize just what a huge city it is!  With some difficulty, I found the Pantheon with its 2000 year old dome and then the Victor Emmanuel II Monument, a tribute to the first king of a united Italy.  As darkness was setting in I made it to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, where I could finally rest my tired feet and just enjoy mingling with the locals and other tourists who were out on a beautiful evening.  For the first time visitor, Rome deserves several full days, at a minimum, to do it justice, but for a returning visitor, hitting the highlights was a perfect way to reconnect with one of the most important ancient capitals of the world.

The Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain

 The Highlights of Rome

Hotel Cinque Terre, Monterosso, Italy

Hotel Cinque Terre

          On the morning of Wednesday, June 3, 2009 I left Genoa, Italy, hoping to get any early start on the Cinque Terre hike.  The train packed with other tourists arrived at Monterosso, the first of the five villages on the Cinque Terre, at 10:30 AM and by 11:30 I had found a hotel, unpacked, prepared my day pack and hit the trail.  After checking several overpriced hotels right on the beach, I headed up the street and a short block inland where I found the aptly named Hotel Cinque Terre.  They had a very nice room available with private bath and a window looking out to their courtyard for the equivalent of about $98.00, which included breakfast.  I consider this a good price for a great hotel at one of the premier destinations of the world!  The members of the staff were very accommodating to let me check in at that hour of the morning and went out of their way to clean the room early so that it would be all ready for me.  It was a great feeling to know that I could leave my pack in a safe place while I spent the rest of the day hiking the eight mile trail to the other villages and that I would have a nice hot shower and clean bed to return to at the end of the day.

The Hotel Cinque Terre

The Hotel Cinque Terre

My Room at the Hotel Cinque Terre

My Room at the Hotel Cinque Terre

An Awesome Accommodation!

          The Hotel Cinque Terre, or Hotel ‘5’ Terre as they sometimes refer to it, has 54 rooms with private baths and a limited amount of car parking available.  It is just a short walk to the beautiful, sandy beach of Monterosso on the Mediterranean Sea.  The large lobby had the feel of a first class hotel, yet was warm and inviting.  The front desk was manned by a friendly, helpful, multilingual staff who helped point me in the direction of the beginning of the trail.  The Hotel Cinque Terre was very clean and well maintained and met all the standards I look for in accommodations while I travel, namely sanitation, safety, friendly staff, available breakfast, good location and good value.  I must say, the breakfast the next morning was fabulous and I actually had to nudge myself to get back on the train heading for my next destination, Rome.

My Room at the Hotel Cinque Terre

My Room at the Hotel Cinque Terre

Dining Room at the Hotel Cinque Terre

Dining Room at the Hotel Cinque Terre

http://www.hotel5terre.com