last night in Cinque Terre

day 12 (9/13)
today started off raining a bit. we all had rain jackets and walked over to the old town and shopped until lunch time. we had some good food for lunch and then i took the kids to play in two parks while Paula and her parents took the train to other towns for more shopping. i got the better end of that deal. the weather cleared up enough to stop raining by lunch time. but the Sea was really wild today. the first day we came, the sea was super mild — barely a wave. today we were seeing 7 and 8 foot waves crashing against the rocky cliffs and beaches. awesome to see. we decided to have a late dinner — more like the Italians. we headed out at 7 and ate slowly all night before heading home around 9. fun times in our last night in Cinque Terre. off to Milan tomorrow. we are going to miss Cinque Terre. i asked the kids how they are hanging without television and JD said that he’d completely forgot about tv. neat, eh?

More photos here.

Cinque Terre

day 8 (9/9)
we drove to Cinque Terre today. specifically, we drove to Monterosso today, which is town #5 of the 5 villages along the coast. i have our GPS programmed to get us to locations using the shortest route. BIG MISTAKE! i should have it programmed to use the main roads even if they are a bit longer. why, you ask? because it took us on a shortcut that we’ll never forget. picture finding a shortcut down a road no bigger than bike path. our 7-seater car is hugging both sides of the road. then, we enter a tiny village on the way up the mountain (we have to go over the mountain to reach Monterosso). so i pull into this village with a few townspeople sitting out on their steps and watching in disbelief as we pull into town. the piazza (town square) is a bit wider, but the road curve and heads steeply up a hill between buildings. i put the car into first gear and head up the slope. the road narrows. we encounter a guy on a moped and there is no way the two of us can fit on this tiny road. he pulls up to a door and opens it and drives in somehow. i pass by him and he pops back out and continues on. the road narrows more and we’re still heading up. then the road turns slightly and it appears as though we’re going to hit a dead-end because there are stairs ahead. dang. i have 2 choices, the obvious is to go in reverse slowly back down this little road and hope i can make it. choice 2, which i decide to take, is to proceed ahead and hope like heck that the stairs are not the only option. sure enough, we pull ahead — very slowly because the car barely fits. and then we see it, just as we turn toward the steps, we see a little outlet to the side of the steps — the road continues. it’s really narrow here and my “too close to an object” alerts are sounding loudly on both sides of the car. the side view mirror on my side of the car even hits the wall a bit. i have no choice. there is absolutely no going back now. fortunately, this narrow path widens a few inches and continues about 50 more feet before the road opens up a bit — still, the guy we encounter on the bike has to move off of the road as we approach. we made it and emerged on a main road again. whew.

we pull into Monterosso around lunch time and park down near the beaches. the car isn’t moving for the next 5 days as cars aren’t allowed in these towns except to go straight to parking, when it’s available. this is a slower season so there was parking. i call the women to check us into our apartment. her English is very bad and the background noise is terrible. i have no clue what the address is for our apartment or how to find this woman, but she told me to head down the main road. there are many people on this road shopping and getting lunch and strolling, etc. but somehow this woman walks up to Paula’s dad and me and says, “sean?” whew (i think Dave and i were badmouthing this woman for hanging up before we knew how to find here and she probably heard us. hopefully her English was so bad she didn’t know what we were saying). we head down the road to our apartment and get checked in. i can barely understand this woman and she’s talking a hundred miles and hour. never the less, the apartment actually has 3 bedrooms; not 2. awesome! the kids have their own room and they’re excited. we also have a living area, a kitchen and two bathrooms . . . plus 2 balconies with views of the sea. it’s just a few meters from the beach as well. perfecto! we explore a bit and then hit the beach. the water is warm — this is the sea of Liguria, but it’s part of the Mediterranean sea so that’s why it’s so warm.

day 9 (9/10)
today we decide to explore. we get on a train and take it to town #1 (Riomaggiore), which is the most southern of the 5 villages. i think it cost us about $1.50/person and the ride between towns is about 4 minutes. we explore a bit and then decide to hike to town #2 (Manrola) — i have some neat photos of this town, which is very pretty on the cliffs. this hike took about 20 – 25 minutes and is pretty flat along the coast overlooking the sea. we then hike to town #3 (Corniglia). this hike takes about 35 minutes or so and is rougher and not paved. a bus takes us from the edge of town to the town center where we have lunch and gelato. we get back down to the train station and Ellie realized she’d left her sunglasses up in town. so Paula, Ellie, and JD get on a train and i run back to find the glasses. the bus driver is taking a break and i didn’t want to wait so i ran back to town. i should say, i run UP to town. there were 364 steps up and i ran up all of them. i found the glasses and ran back down 364 steps. wow. and i just missed the train. so i have to wait over an hour for another. but at least if found the glasses. back in our village, we go swimming again and then decide to head down the beach and eat at a diner on the beach. second best meal we’ve had. and then Ellie and i head over to the old town part of our village to spend some time together and find some gelato again. heh.

day 10 (9/11)
we got out and about and bought boat tickets. we took a boat to town #4 (Vernazza). this is a cool town that we explore before taking a boat to Corniglia and then another boat to Manarola (town #2) where we have lunch and explore. we decide to just take a quick train back to Monterosso and hit the beach. the waves are much bigger today and that adds to the kids’ fun. instead of going out for dinner, Dave, Paula, and i head out and buy a bunch of pizzas and some other stuff and we eat back at our apartment. pizza is really cheap over here. the 6 of us eat for about $25 and we have enough left over for lunch tomorrow. today was a leisurely day and that was quite alright. i think Paula and i will do some serious hiking tomorrow.

day 11 (9/12)

Paula and i decided to hike to the next town. wow! wow! this took us over 2 mountains and the hike had no paved paths — all dirt and rock and a few bridges. up and down and up and down. we were drenched after the few hours it took. but it was incredible fun with amazing views. JD and Ellie stayed with Paula’s parents having fun and then we all hit the beach for the afternoon. a guy at the beach waded out and reached down and caught a fish that was as tall as Paula. it was a skinny and long fish but he caught it bare handed and walked away with it. incredible. the kids just love the beach. they love the waves and using their snorkel goggles and seeing the fish under the water — the water is already very, very clear here. JD and i swam out to a rock formation that sticks up out of the sea and we could dive off. neato stuff.

day 7 (9/8)

today we jumped on a bus to the train station. i bought tickets and we rode a train for an hour to emerge in Pisa. jumped on a bus and 10 minutes later we were viewing the Leaning Tower of Pisa. wow! i took many photos, which are available here. we had lunch near the tower with a view of the tower and then it was time for us to go up. Paula’s dad, Paula, Ellie and i all climbed the tower — over 250 steps. JD and paula’s mom stayed down to take photos of us from the ground (JD wasn’t old enough). i shot much video of the kids around the tower and then of Ellie narrating things going up and on top. i’ll get that edited and posted soon as well. but let me tell you . . . being on top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa is breathtaking. it leans much more than you can believe when looking at it. and climbing stairs away from the lean turns really steep. it’s got the most beautiful views of Pisa and the Tuscan region beyond. wow!

we finished up and got back to the train station. just before our train was to leave, it was canceled. we finally got on one and made it back to Florence in time for dinner. it was a sidewalk cafe and i think most of us agreed that it was our second best meal of this trip. mmmmm. JD was the most hungry person in our group and his pizza took the longest to cook and came out very last. heh. the look on his face was priceless. after dinner, we hit up the vendors. Ellie and Paula bought scarves and a little purse for Ellie. i bought 2 ties (why, because i got 2 silk Italian ties for $8 total). i also grabbed a new hat. JD bought a famous Italian Futball player (soccer) jersey. i made JD talk the vendor down from $10 to $8 and it worked. we grabbed some gelato and called it a night. can’t wait to head to Cinque Terre for a week starting tomorrow. i think we all need some rest and relaxation on the beach.

finally online — EUROPE Edition

today is our first connection to the internet. ooh, how tough it’s been — NOT!!!

i should have photos available later tonight at this link: http://flickr.com/photos/jayhawk

day 1 (sept 1 & 2)
we arrived in Frankfurt, Germany at what would have been close to midnight our time . . . i had zero sleep and it was already nearly 7 AM — ouch. plus, the place was quite confusing. it took Paula and me about 45 minutes to figure out the pay phone to dial the person we called to get our car. finally we were off and right onto the Autobahn. zoooom! as we neared Austria, we stopped in a fairly small German village for lunch. it was quite cute. i found parking and some young 20-something guys tried to explain to me that parking wasn’t free; you needed a paper clock thingy on your dashboard. eventually, we figured things out and the guys gave me their paper clock for our car. when we finished, i set the clock back on their car along with a few Euro dollars. off to Austria . . . the Alps. we drove through tunnels and meandering mountain roads until we reached Innsbruck. what a beautiful town in the Alps. this community hosted the Olympics back in the 60s, i believe and is about 130,000 people. we had a nice hotel just across the river from the main old town area. 2 minutes from our hotel, we found an Italian eatery with an Italian owner and his son. the son spoke 5 languages and was our waiter. i think we all agreed that it was one of the better meals we’d ever had. what a way to start our trip.

day 2 (9/3)
we allĀ  woke up around 4:30 in the morning and had trouble staying in our rooms until the hotel started breakfast at 7. off to Italy. it only took us less than 2 hours to get to Italy through the Alps. the mountains in Italy were large as well. we emerged near Verona and that’s where the GPS got confusing. it tells us street names, but the pronunciation is not very good, to say the least. off to Padova for a few days. our hotel in Padova was right across the street from the Basilica of Saint Anthony. big tourist attraction. it’s also in the old town. i had to drive on road after road that was barely wide enough for a car and i had guys on mopeds speeding on by me — and bikes as well. needless-to-say, i couldn’t find parking and then the GPS would have to steer me all around to find the hotel again. extremely confusing. i even ended up on a dead-end . . . and it took me a long time to turn around because of so little room. i was blocking bikers and pedestrians and it was highly stressful. come to find out, our hotel had parking. doh. we walked around the old town and into the Basilica tour. we also had our first gelato . . . we’re hooked. mmmmm.

day 3 (9/4)
Venice! we took a bus to the train station. 6 of us cost $14 to ride the train to Venice — about 1/2 hour ride. Venice is an experience. i cannot imagine a more touristy place in the world that isn’t Disney World. we took a boat ride from the station to the bridge Rialto. walked the rest of the day . . . i even managed to learn to navigate Venice quite well. fun to walk. we hit Saint Marks Square, but this place is shop after shop after shop after shop. and people, people, people from everywhere. i noticed so many cultures and different kinds of “cool” that nothing was really cool in Venice; you just were. we all decided that 1 day was enough and that we probably wouldn’t do Venice again in our lives. but to experience once was worth it.

day 4 (9/5)
woke up in Padova and had coffee. i thought i was ordering coffee . . . it came out as espresso — a small cup with super strong coffee. almost like liquid coffee beans, straight. YUCK. i can’t figure out how to get a coffee but i have now figured out that they know cappuccino, so that’s what i’ll have from here on out. jumped on the highway to head to Fanano. Fanano is in the central/west part of Italy and is located in another Alps area. beautiful. this is where Paula’s great grandparents came from. Paula’s mom is near tears as we arrive in the small mountain community (talk about meandering roads — sheesh!). folks here drive fast on these tiny roads. i had to pull over and let many folks pass me. i am having great difficulty with road signs as i don’t know what they mean. i am scared to drive faster many times because i have no clue what the speed limit is. so i let someone pass me then i keep up with them a safe distance behind. i am starting to speak Italian enough to say basic conversational things — Paula has a bit more and the kids are even using Italian these days. we walk from our hotel about 10 minutes to the town center. mucho activity. Paula’s mom meets people who speak enough English to converse and they know her family name and soon another guy is called in. he lives in Chicago and spoke with Donna on the phone last month. he also has a house here in Fanano and fills us in with all of the details, etc. The kids found Monkey park — a giant park of ropes and obstacles for climbing. very neat. they enjoyed it a bunch. they even met a boy who spoke perfect English. he had lived in the USA but his parents recently divorced and he was now in Italy.

day 5 (9/6)
still in Fanano. today we drove to the cemetery to look for distant ancestors. not much luck, but we found a lot of names that were known. the views from this area are just spectacular down into the valley. we also drove to a super small town where Paula’s great grandparents actually lived (about 3 km away). it was up even higher and had even better views of Fanano. we switched to a bed and breakfast in the town center today. great move and everything is happening right outside. in fact, today was the huge Festival for the Immigrants. we joined the town in the festival. we even sat at the head table with the mayor and his family. they all spoke English as did a number of other people, so we were able to have many conversations. i even spoke with an older Italian man for about 20 minutes — he spoke no English, but we managed to say much to each other. the kids went back to Monkey park and played again. we also had 2 big scoops of gelato to end the evening.

day 6 (9/7)we left Fanono and drove through the mountains for a few hours. skinny roads and high elevations. we had to pull over twice for Ellie as she just couldn’t handle the hairpin turns over and over and over and over. but we emerged and found a hotel in Florence. wow! this place is a 4-star hotel, which is incredible and it’s cheap. it’s on the outskirts of Florence, but right on the bus path. we hoped on a bus and were in Florence in time for lunch (20 minute ride). Florence was awesome. this is the city to visit if you’re coming to Italy. everything is great. it’s got some of the tourism stuff like Venice, but it’s actually got stuff to see and do and not just mostly shops. today was very, very slow with regard to tourists. we ate lunch and headed over to the museum to see the statue of David. Paula was scared it would be hours of standing in line . . . and most days it requires a reservation in advance. well, we showed up and walked right in. i mean, we walked right in. amazing. David was incredible. even Ellie noticed how detailed the the veins on David’s hands were. the statue is just huge. i’d guess it was 20′ tall and 30′ on the stand it was on. amazing!!! we looked around the museum more and then headed to the Cathedral. wow again! amazing art everywhere. statues, painting, and everything. we headed over to the river and the famous bridge before heading back to the Piazza (plaza) center for dinner. i love this city! we all enjoyed it.