Honeymoon Day 7: Portofino, Italy

Written September 5th, 2012 – in-flight Venice to NYC
There are three main ways to get from Santa Margharita to Portofino (assuming you don’t have a private yacht which is how the rich and famous make their entrance): bus, moped or on the water taxi. Us: we hiked. We had read that the scenic two-ish hour hike is a relaxing and unique way to link these two towns, so we went for it.

Our way out of Santa Margarita was uphill, on stairs, through houses and gardens scattered all along the hillside. We stopped climbing when we reached a hilltop church, and started making our way between lookouts over the sparking Mediterranean. You probably already guessed it: it was hot. We were both soaked practically while we were still in town! The hike was totally worth it though. We enjoyed seeing the towns from above, and watching the yachts get bigger and bigger the nearer to Portofino we got.

We stopped briefly at Paraggi Beach, but decided that the 6 foot wide strip of public beach was not what we were looking for. 100 euros for a spot on the beach? I don’t think so.

The town of Portofino was absolutely stunning. I know I took far too many pictures, but every angle was perfectly lit and everything so colorful and postcard worthy. Thank goodness for patient husbands and large memory cards!

Speaking of memory cards, this whole trip Matt and I have each been armed with our recording device of choice: me with the camera and him with our new camcorder. Between the two we have been armed with two 16G cards, two 8Gs, one 4G and three 2G cards. I am sure Portofino too up almost 2G alone. Good thing we had the iPad as our on-the-go hard drive!

When we arrived in Portofino we looked like drowned rats…quite literally. All our clothes were soaked straight through. Sweaty and disgusting did not really seem to fit in with the posh nd expensive clientele at the waterfront places (nor did we expect our budget to go with their menus) so we selected a more relaxed looking place off the main drag. We were swayed by a tasty looking pizza place…that also had…wait for it…AIR CONDITIONING! And a table right smack dab in front of it. Perfect! It was a great choice too…pizza with an arugala/shrimp/bean salad, accompanied by some ice cold sparkling wine. Perfect for two hot, tired hikers. When we told our waiter that we hiked to Portofino from Santa Margharita he was astounded…apparently people don’t hike it in the summer (which may explain why we saw no one else one the whole trail…) We felt pretty acomplished 🙂 To us, it made our time in Portofino that much more memorable.

After lunch we climbed up to the castle on the far side 0f town, and got more stunning views of Portofino. We took more pictures (big surprise), but then eventually made our way down to the waterfront again to check out ferry times. What we stumbled upon was the boat ramp…or what we called it (and realized most locals did to) the cement beach. There were locals swimming and sunning themselves so we joined in. It was glorious swimming in the crystal clear water (way cleaner than the water in Santa Margharita!) and lounging in the sun after a long day of walking and hiking. We stayed till 5 and hopped on the ferry back to Santa Margharita.

The boat ride back to Santa Margarita was very relaxing (much faster and cooler than walking too!) and beautiful. We passed by the bazillion dollar yachts (one with its own three deck waterside and fleet of 6 jet skis) and back into the cozy port where we were staying.

Our two “must haves” in Liguria were pesto and clams. Since the previous night our pesto was excellent, the latter was my mission for the night. After being turned away from an apparently “reserved” table at one place, then getting up from the empty ABBA blasting second choice we found a promising looking outdoor restaurant near the waterfront with both clams and pesto on the menu: da Emilio. This place was packed and the service was quick. The food: excellent. I ordered the spaghetti with clams and Matt had gnocchi with pesto. Both were excellent, fresh and exactly what we wanted. I would eat there again in a heartbeat!

After sweating all day and being in the sun, we figured we deserved gelato and ate our cones under the stars on the boardwalk. Perfect end to the day.

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Honeymoon Day 6: Santa Margharita Ligure, Italy

Written September 5th, 2012 – in-flight Venice to NYC
We caught the 9 am bus from Volterra to Cecina (there were no tickets to be found so the driver let us ride for free), and then took the train up the Western Italian coast to Santa Margharita Ligure. This is a beautiful seaside resort town north of the famous Cinque Terre (Matt and I had already been or we would probably have stopped there too! It’s just lovely!) and we picked it as a good coastal place to stay and still give us access to Portofino.

When the train doors opened we were greeted by a humid, hot wave of Italian heat. It literally felt like a wall. This beach had better be close! We trekked our luggage (all of it now) down the road to find our hotel, Nuova Riviera Hotel.

Our room was on the third floor, and by the time we got there, confirmed that there was no air conditioner, and were soaked through with sweat, we decided we had better hit the beach.

It was a good choice. This town was built around the beach, so we made our way easily through town to the waterfront. It was much cooler by the water, so we took some time to snap photos and admire the painted buildings. That was probably one of the most beautiful parts of the city: every building was embellished with detailed paintings of painted on facades, windows, statues and other architectural features. It was so colorful!

The beach itself was rocky, as most in this area are, but we found a patch of rock and laid out on it all afternoon. We were by far some of the whitest people on the beach. Man those Italians can sure get tan. Matt’s speedo fit right in.

After soaking in some vitamin D we walked back to the hotel and got cleaned up for dinner. We were relieved to find that our room was finally cooling down, and that cold showers really helped. Now one thing about this hotel that we were not such a fan of were all the rules. My confirmation email had a list of rules, the bathroom had its own list, as did the back of the door. It was pretty excessive and made it sound like the guests would not know how to act in a hotel. I should have taken a picture of the signs.

Anyway, we got cleaned up and went for dinner in town. We found a little cafeteria style place that had wonderful food. We shared a very simple meal in the room behind to storefront, selecting delectable items off their daily fresh menu. Cold pressed veal loaf, eggplant parmigiana, spaghetti with fresh pesto, and red wine. So good. None of the food was complicated, it was just good fresh simple cuisine.

Honeymoon Days 4 & 5: Cecina and Volterra, Italy

We easily found our hotel, Hotel San Lino, in the quaint Medieval city. We were happy to find it with a great AC, and a fridge…and a very helpful front desk woman willing to call the airline and explain where to deliver luggage in Italian-to-Italian. Much more reassuring to know they had reconfirmed the hotel location! After our sweaty adventures around Cecina the pool looked awfully inviting, so we changed into suits and took our late lunch picnic to eat on the patio. It felt good to relax, and soak in some sun. We scheduled Volterra as our relaxing stop on the trip, and it felt so good to just chill out for the afternoon by the pool.

In the evening we decided to go to town, and were wandering through shops when we heard drums beating in the street. We had discovered the Medieval Volterra fair kickoff in the center piazza! Totally not in our plan but we decided to check it out. There was a flag throwing display, marching brigades of drummers, trumpets and men yielding crossbows. We watched 4 different groups parade into the square in full Medieval costume, the mayor make a speech, and them all file out again. It was pretty cool.

From the fair we wandered town to get our bearings, then feasted on some amazing gelato. We went back to the hotel to relax before dinner, which ultimately led to us deciding to skip dinner all together and go to bed early.

The next morning we ate breakfast at the hotel, then headed out to explore Volterra. On the way downstairs we got great news: our luggage had arrived! Woohoo!

The usually sleepy town was bustling with visitors for the medieval festival. We decided not to pay admission to see the booths and displays, which sadly kept us from exploring the archeological site where it was all being held. We had a great tour of town though, and spent a good chunk of time exploring the Etruscan museum. It was really well done, and fascinating, but my attention span for absorbing history (especially when getting hungry) is more limited than Matt’s. By the time we moved on to lunch I was turning into a grumpy mess and so we get food pronto. It was a great lunch too…cured meats and different spreads with a small carafe of chilled house white.

We wandered town a while longer, then retired to the pool until the sun went behind the building. Time to get ready for dinner! Since we skipped dinner the previous night we were ready to go out and really find some good Tuscan fare. After not finding our first recommended restaurant, and no space at the second, we ended up at the last table at a classy little place off of one of the main streets: Ombra Della Sera.

It first caught our eye because it was a) packed, b) had house wine, and c) a good looking menu (although that was through piecing together Italian key words…we took no translations as a good sign). Dinner was excellent. The long menu was almost too much to deal with, and we started asking questions when they pulled out an English version. Oh so much better! And interesting! A big part of this trip was trying regional dishes, and we wanted something really Tuscan, not just Italian. We were also big into eating light lunches so that at dinner we could enjoy all the italian courses. We immediately knew what to get when we saw it.

Antipasti: prosciutto and melon (I had been eyeing this the whole trip)
Soup: traditional Volterra bean soup
Primi: pappardelle with hare sauce
Secondi: braised wild boar

Wow what a meal! Every single course was amazing. Plus, it was some of the best service we had on the whole trip. Great dinner. Then I am pretty sure we got more gelato.

Honeymoon Days 1 – 3: Seattle to Rome, Italy

Written September 4th, 2012 in Venice, Italy

First of all, flying out after work around 6’oclock was totally perfect for avoiding jet lag. Matt and I slept the whole way to Amsterdam, then again on the flight to Rome. Perhaps the sleeping to Rome had something to do with our exhaustion after sprinting through our connection in Amsterdam. We made it to the gate just as it was closing. We arrived in Rome the late afternoon. And when I say “we” I just mean Matt and I. Our luggage was somewhere still in Amsterdam. Luckily we planned for this and had a weeks worth of clothes and critical things in our carry on, so we gave our travel information to the barely-speaking-English desk attendant and left praying that we would be reunited with our luggage at some point.

We found a bus to take us to Rome, and then trekked to our B&B that was 2 blocks from the Colosseum. Awesome location! We had made hotel reservations for all our italy stops early and it helped us just get to the sites rather than search upon arrival. Someday I hope we do an unplanned trip, but this was not going to be that one.

B&B Aleskia was a beautiful, small place, with only three rooms, but it had a view of the Colosseum, air conditioning and a fridge. (the latter two we learned over the course of the trip are pretty high on our future criteria list). It was so hot in Rome. Well, it was pretty much hot the whole trip, but this was the first taste of it for our poor Pacific Northwest skin.

We rinsed off the sweat and took an evening walk around the Colosseum at sunset on our way to find dinner. We ate at a little place called Il Clemintina. We were so excited to finally get some legitimate Italian food in our bellies. We shared a carafe of house red, bruschetta, fried zucchini flowers, a prosciutto pasta, and saltimbocca. Oh yum. It was great.

The next morning we DID Rome. Rome is big, and there is a lot to see, so we headed out early with a rough plan of attack. And we did it. A few priorities: we did not want to pay entrance admission to things, we wanted to maximize good photography light on things if possible, and we planned to walk all of it. Mission accomplished. Trevi Fountain was amazing. The Vatican was very impressive (with an equally impressive line to go into St. Peter’s so we will do that next time). Rome’s abundance of free, cold water meant our Nalgene was always full. We ate pizza for lunch near the Vatican, then continued on with ever tiring feet. Uneven cobbled streets really wear on feet waking all day! Gelato in the afternoon was a well deserved treat.

After coming back with sore feet and drenched with sweat, we showered then waiting till sunset to venture out for dinner. The heat of the day was waning, and we enjoyed a long stroll along the Colosseum before a somewhat odd dinner at a random restaurant we stumbled upon. Good food, very bizarre atmosphere and even more bizarre service. At least Matt could check carbonara off his list of things to eat in Rome!

Rome was beautiful, but after such a long hot day in a city, the next morning we were ready to get to the Tuscan countryside.