After I finished my exams at the end of May, I started on a 23 day, 4 country tour that I had been planning for a month or more. My first stop was Pisa, mostly because of the cheap flight in. My hostel directions were pretty poor, directing me toward unmarked roads and not specifying exactly which direction to turn at each intersection, but I didnâ€™t mind hiking through this city, which was larger than I expected. Since I was only there for a single night, I checked in, dumped my big backpack, and set off toward the tower.
I think I started on one side of the city center and walked to the other for the tower, and it was probably a 20-30 minute hike at a slow pace. There was plenty of gelato to be had at 2 Euros per scoop. I was surprised at the number of other artifacts and sites in the city on the way to the tower, including a very long, high, and old wall that I never got the back-story on. I donâ€™t need to elaborate much on the tower, except that it is expensive to go up into and my greatest entertainment came from watching all of the other tourists do their pose to get the tower pushing picture.
I did get a great dinner of pizza, wine, and dessert for 6.50 on a street that was directly east (I think) of the tower and could see the tower leaning from my outdoor table- the highlight of my evening. I crashed early so that I could get on the train to the Cinque Terre region as early as possible in the morning.
The first thing worth mentioning about the Cinque Terre is that it is no longer the hidden gem of the Italian coast that I and many people I know thought that it was. Of course, if the place is widely known among exchange students in Holland, I should have expected that. My first stop was at Manarola, which is the northernmost village of the 5 cities that make up this region. The hiking between the village is the â€œmust-doâ€ activity in the area, so that was the itinerary that I planned to follow. All of the cities are along the rocky coast and terraces with some areas to get down to the water in each city. The hiking was nice, but it wasnâ€™t hiking in the same sense of my Switzerland experience. The entire distance was, according to many sites I looked at, hikable in 5 hours. However, one section of the trail that was marked as 30 minutes or something was closed, and the detour trail was about 2 hours or something. All in all, it would have made a long single day of hiking, or in my case, 2 easy ones.
As far as how strenuous the hike was, I read many accounts that rated it differently. I didnâ€™t find the hike particularly difficult- the trails were pretty well beaten down and had steps carved into it rather than pure incline. Of course, there was some elevation change, so that will always get your heart beating. On the shorter hikes, there are more people who are just out on leisure, so it can get crowded on a narrow path.
The hostel I stayed in first was in Corniglia, then I moved to Riomaggiore after one night, as planned. The Riomaggiore hostel was more like a tiny flat that a man had bought and equipped with bunks. I actually really liked that he just gave me the key to an apartment and then disappeared, leaving me to do as I pleased. The place was called â€œCinque Terre Holidaysâ€ if you happen to be going there. It was 25 euros per night for me, but the location couldnâ€™t have been better, there were only 4 beds, and a kitchen and shower for maybe 6 or 8 people to share.
Cinque Terre region is beautiful, but there isnâ€™t much to do there besides the hiking and the views. I would give the place 2 days if you want to do the hiking and get traveling on, or 3 days if you really want to take it easy. There arenâ€™t any great beaches there for laying around, and the things can be a little pricey because of the secluded location of the towns.
My entire trip to Florence was built around its history and museums. Iâ€™m a fan of the Renaissance era and the Medici, so after I took the 3 hour train ride or so from Pisa, I bought a 72 hour pass for all of the museums and ended up doing 9 or 10 over that time. If you are interested in that time period, I can highly recommend Florence.
The city itself was quite large and very beautiful and historic, but not quite as nice to walk around as Rome. For some reason, there were large dumpsters on the streetside that left a stench in the air. Also, Florence was very hot when I was there, I would guess the upper 80s at the beginning of June. In fact, it was a little bit like Kentucky- hot, humid, with frequent thunderstorms in the afternoon. It was the perfect place to learn the Mediterranean art of the afternoon siesta.
The Statue of David, unlike many famous art works Iâ€™ve seen, was actually worth the entrance fee. I think it stands between 16 and 17 feet high, so it is incredibly imposing. Add to that the fine detail of the work and it was my favorite work of the city. Florence is worth a visit if you like the Renaissance and art, but overall it doesnâ€™t quite match Rome.
I had a cheap flight to Berlin out of Milan, so I stayed one night in the city and had maybe 10 waking hours there. That was about all that I needed. The Duomo is a very large church and the Golden Rectangle is a very expensive shopping district. It is a much more modern place than some of the other Italian cities and not bad for a layover night, but nothing too special for me. A caveat for anyone traveling from Milan Malpensa- it was a 1.5 hour bus ride from the city to the airport for me, so plan accordingly.