abroad travel

Hiking in Five Towns

Back in 2010, Wife and I took an awesome trip to Switzerland and Italy. Below is one of the days from our adventure.

After sleeping in until around 8, when Manarola begins to stir with speaker announcements, Wife and I prepared for some hiking through the national park.However, we first needed breakfast and once the bags were packed, we walked down the hill and found a little café close to the water.

The woman behind the counter took our order in perfect English (it might help to point out she grew up in New York). As learned from our friend Ricky, Italians have some bread and coffee in the morning, that is it. So Wife enjoyed the toast while I enjoyed the coffee (with some ham and eggs).

With a few calories settling in our stomachs, we began the short hike across all five towns. The first part of the hike, between Manarola and Corniglia, was quite nice until we reached the steps that took us up to the cliff-side town. I don’t remember how many steps there were, but both of us were quite winded and sweaty by the time we reached the top. Before we go next time, we are definitely working on a stairmaster!

The trails became smaller as we left Manarola and made our way to Vernazza. Once in Vernazza, we decided we wanted lunch and found a cafe near the water (you can tell the town was getting bigger with all of the cruise ship visitors). Once the pizza and beer was gone, Wife and I discussed our next move. I said we should continue while she argued that the views would be the same. Lucky for me, I won in the end.

Well, not really lucky for me. Rick Steves suggested to make the hike between Monterosso and Vernazza first and we were doing it last. The trail (if you can call it that) was large enough for one. It was difficult and the hike down the side of the hills into Monterosso went on forever. But we made it!

We arrived in Monterosso in the late afternoon and decided to take a boat back to Manarola. The cool ocean breeze felt great along with the slight spray from the boat. Once back in Manarola, we enjoyed some gelato and walked the La Via dell’Amore to Riomaggiore just so we could say we walked the entire trail in one day.

After a shower and dinner, we relaxed on our balcony, once again enjoyed the view, and fell asleep dreaming of hiking trails and our next destination, Florence.

abroad travel

Arrival in The Five Towns

After our week in Switzerland, Wife and I boarded another train and headed south to Cinque Terre. After six hours and chatting with some American Royalty (we spoke for a few hours with the daughter of the former Walmart president who brought us the bar code) we arrived in Monterosso.

Another short train ride brought us to our town for the next two days, Manarola. It was nice to finally arrive and have the ability to stretch our legs…once we climbed the huge hill to our hotel (at least it felt huge to us, the 80-year-old women we saw begged to differ). Tired and sweaty we checked into our room and passed out for a few minutes.

Once up and ready again, we explored our village, purchased our trail pass (Cinque Terre is a national park), and walked along La Via dell’Amore which led us through some beautiful views and to the next town, Riomaggiore. Wife also informed me that the thousands of padlocks along the trail were put there by young lovers in hopes of eternal love. Can someone please do a study to see how well that has worked out for most people?

We made the best of our time in Riomaggiore by searching for an ATM and a bottle of wine to enjoy on our balcony. While we did find many bottles, none of them had a screw-top so we could not open any of them, but more on that later.

Back in Manarola, we sat down for dinner (at a Rick Steve’s recommendation) and chatted it up with a couple from San Francisco at the adjoining table. They had just finished the hike we planned for the following day, so it was great to get some real world opinions. Later during the dinner, Wife thought it would be nice to spill her glass of wine on our neighbor (she did not really mean to, but still).

At the end of our dinner, on recommendation from our new friends, we ordered a bottle of wine (only 15 euros) to go. The hostess brought me the bottle and a wine opener. I decided she wanted me to open it myself and proceeded to do so. She came back telling me not to and to take the wine opener with me and bring it back the next day.

At that point we learned we could be gods in the tourism world of Italy. We now had a way to open those corked bottles of wine. Our new friends, now jealous, asked if we could escort them back to their room so they could open their bottles. Luckily, their place was only a few buildings away, and after they opened their bottles, they profusely thanked us. Wife and I then headed back to our B&B to enjoy our bottle on the balcony.

For the rest of the evening, we enjoyed our wine and the breathtaking view (and I do mean breathtaking- I could have sat there all night). The relaxation was definitely needed to prepare for the seven mile hike the next day.

abroad travel

Chateau “Duh” Chillon

Breakfast came first, and then the long wait at the bus stop (20 minutes, and this is a Swiss bus!). From the bus we rode the Metro to Ouchy and walked over to the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. Plenty of statues lined the road up to the Museum and then we walked under the highest high jump, well over our heads.

Inside, our Swiss Pass gained us free entrance (thanks Swiss Pass), so we felt no need to spend hours-on-end inside to get our money’s worth. To start, we both “really enjoyed” a Disney-like show on how the Olympics restarted. Wife loved it so much, she wanted to go back in but I had to drag her away so we could see the rest of the museum (does sarcasm transfer well on written text?)

We then wandered through and enjoyed the rest of the artifacts throughout the museum and also wondered how they updated everything every two years. The highlight of the museum was the 2002 Winter Olympic torch which I saw and took pictures of as it passed through San Luis Obispo (I have to find those when I get home).

Next up on the our list was a stop off to pick up our picnic supplies from the grocery store and then a boat ride across Lake Geneva to Chateau de Chillon (also covered by Swiss Pass). Right as we sat down on the boat to enjoy our food, the sun came out and while Wife enjoyed the warm feeling, I thanked the gods that I had finally decided to use sunscreen before we left the apartment.

An hour later, the boat pulled up to the dock next to the Chateau. Once again, Ol’ Swissy (my just made up nickname for the Swiss Pass), provided us with free entrance into the Chateau. We did however decided to spend the money on the audio tour.

The good thing about the castle is that it is still in use and well maintained (and can be rented out for birthday parties). As we enjoyed the audio tour (as others without it blew by us), we toured the great halls, enjoyed the Lord’s view over his lands, played soldiers on the ramparts, and climbed to the tallest point inside the castle’s keep.

After a few hours of walking and more stair-climbing, Wife and I walked along the river to a small (and I mean small) train station to wait for the local train home. While we waited, we played with the camera’s gorilla pod to try and take a few pictures of the two of us. I think we did get at least one. After play time, Wife enjoyed the local train home which stopped about every 10 seconds. (sarcasm again?)

Once home, we prepared a stir-fry meal for our gracious hosts and enjoyed the night with food, drink, and vegging out in front of the television.

Savvy Traveler Moment of the Day: It may be an upsell, but sometimes the audio guide is worth it. We enjoyed the Chateau that much more and learned a lot. I would recommend purchasing one at the site or seeing if there are free ones to be used on your iPods (Rick Steves has several you can download for free).

Travel Lesson Learned: Just because you have to take a bus to the major train station doesn’t mean that won’t be faster than going to a close by regional station and taking the train that stops literally every 2-3 minutes.

abroad travel

Lazy Sunday

Sunday I popped out of bed to check the conditions up on Jungfraujoch, and nearly fell over. I knew we had hiked quite a ways the day before, but my tight calves told me just how far as they knotted up and I sucked in my breath at their protest as I got up. Yeouch!

A quick check of the webcams both of Jungfraujoch and the Schilthorn peaks confirmed the visibility up there was “cloudy with chance of seeing your hand in front of you if you were lucky” so that was that. We’ll have to save our journey to the top of Europe for another time. Check out this link if you want to see if the weather has gotten better since we left and perhaps you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views:

Anxious to spend some quality time with V and Mark, Husband and I packed up and headed down to breakfast. An interesting thing about eggs in Switzerland-don’t be alarmed if they are red, green, or purple. They dye eggs so they can tell which ones are hard-boiled, even in the grocery stores. Pretty clever actually, but a bit alarming if you didn’t know that. After a simple, but hearty breakfast, of croissants, hard-boiled eggs, oranges, bread and jam, and hot tea, we were checked out and strolling down Lauterbrunnen’s main drag as the church bells chiming on Sunday morning sent us off.

Back at the train station, we realized we are now expert train trekkers. We scoff at a connection that gives us six minutes to get from one train and platform to another-no problem; welcome to the land of Swatch. These trains are on time and as efficient and organized as they could be. There are clear screens and giant boards with all the information you need to know up the minute, the platforms have the same clear signage, heck even the trains have little screens on the cars telling you where they are going. And if that isn’t enough for you, just turn to the person next to you who surely speaks English and off you go. Embracing the drizzly day, Husband and I grabbed a couple of hot chocolates and settled in for the ride back to Lausanne.

The rest of the afternoon felt just like home. Off to the grocery store we went (we love the Co-op!) with Mark and V, and then just relaxed with an evening of Formula 1 racing, Wii Sports, pizza, and a bit of webcaming with Michelle. Good times with good friends was a great end to our first weekend abroad.

abroad travel

Yodeling in the Alps

While the good weather decided to stay in greener pastures, both Wife and I did finally sleep in until a decent hour, until the cows came parading down the main street. After a frantic scramble for the camera, we got up and got dressed. Wife checked the interwebs (free wi-fi!) for the conditions at Jungfrau peak. The cloud cover meant all you could see was the railing and nothing more.

Wife also checked her e-mail to learn that V was still too sick to travel and had decided to stay home. We then walked downstairs and enjoyed a much appreciated breakfast while starring out the window at Stabbauch Falls. After a quick stop back up in the room to collect our day pack, we ventured out into the drizzle to hike the alps.

In town we boarded a cable car that would take us up the mountain to a small town called Murren. A half-an-hour later we arrived in Murren and walked through the town enjoying the sounds of a group practicing their alphorns. When we found the next station, a funicular (whatever that is) which would take us to an even higher starting point for our hike, we unfortunately learned it was closed for maintenance.

So instead of heading up the mountain, Wife and I decided to head down to a small town called Gimmelwald (a Rick Steves favorite). However, we first had to stop at the Co-op and ask for water without gas, which they only had two bottles of compared to the 100 or so with bubbles.

Down the windy and wet road we encountered few tourists but many cows and other livestock that Wife dutifully photographed. The green hills and views of the opposite mountains through the clouds were breathtaking. Once in Gimmelwald, we took a very crowded tram down a steep (and I mean steep) descent to the valley floor.

Next up on the just made up agenda was a visit to Trummelbach Falls. An elevator took us close to the top, with stairs to take us the rest of the way. We enjoyed the dramatic falls within the mountain and the natural air conditioning they provided, however, we would later curse the stairs.

Afterward we walked back to our hotel room, showered and took the train down to the crowded Interlaken. An hour later, we found our Rick Steve’s recommended restaurant, but found all the tables reserved. We had a bit of a breakdown since we were both so hungry, but experiencing a bit of sticker shock ($20 for an individual pizza?!) and couldn’t seem to settle on a restaurant. So we decided to head back up the mountain and sit down at Pub Horner as we had originally planned. There, we enjoyed a sausage like hamburger and Wife’s favorite new cider “Swizly.”

Full and tired we then headed off to bed to enjoy another full night of sleep.

Savvy Traveler Moment of the Day: Checking the Jungfrau website for visibility conditions before spending close to 200 francs to make our way to the top of the mountain. I love you interwebs!

Lesson Learned of the Day: When deciding on dinner, pick a restaurant before you head out and stick to it unless it looks like a health hazard. Do not spend hours trying to find another one when you and your travel mates feel tired and hungry. Eat something, already!