November 12, 2019 San Remo IT

We finally had to reluctantly leave Italy behind.  We will talk more about our impressions of Italy later, but we both found it wonderful.  We had read a lot of negatives about Italy, and were prepared for a tougher experience than we had had in other places.  It turns out Italy was pretty easy to move around in and we did not experience anything that would cause us to discourage anyone from traveling there.  On the contrary we found Italy to be a wonderful country and we encourage anyone who is thinking of Europe to make sure they include Italy in the itinerary.

Arrivederci Italia.

We woke up to sunshine, so we made an early start towards Nice.  The drive over was uneventful but Nice made a bad first impression on us.  First the year round campground that we planned to stay at after much research to make sure it was open, was closed.  One warning if you are traveling in November call ahead and confirm that places that say they are open are really open.  Luckily because of our research  we had a second choice in mind and it was only 10 minutes away, and most importantly they are open year round as advertised.  The next negative to our first impression of Nice was at the train station.  We walked about a mile to the nearest station, which is a minor station.  In Italy every station no matter how small had someone working there, this one had a nice lobby with an information window, but it was closed with a sign saying they were open random hours during the week.  No problem we are serious travelers and can get tickets from any automatic machine.  The one thing that will stop intrepid travelers like us is if the only ticket machine at  the station is malfunctioning (actually completely dead, powered down).  So now we were stuck, our first temptation was to just get on the the next train and if we did run into a conductor tell him our tale, but not really speaking French this seemed risky and could end up costing us an awful lot.  At this point Ton saw an advertisement for an App the train company in France has where you can buy tickets on line so we tried that.  Surprisingly it worked, and armed with our app bought ticket on our phone we boarded the next train to Nice.  

As a quick editorial, one of the things we liked about Italy was the lack of automation, you bought tickets from people, who were able to answer questions, point you in the right direction and deliver a smile.  Maybe that is why even though things are rougher around the edges in Italy we enjoyed it so much, because we were dealing with people and not machines and apps.

The beach in Nice is this pea gravel and not sand, but it does not detract from people heading to the beach.  The gravel makes a really interesting sound as the waves recede.

Nice is much larger than I envisioned, somehow I had an overgrown Monaco in mind and not the big metropolis we found ourselves in.  But it is beautiful and the waterfront esplanade is one of the best we have ever seen anywhere in the world.  It is truly magnificent and I can see how you could fall in love with a city that goes out of it’s way to embrace the sea in the way Nice does.

The extensive waterfront esplanade of Nice, the best one we have seen in our travels.

We ended up walking more today than any day on this trip, just about exactly 10 miles. We climbed up to an overlook on one side of the city and waterfront and were rewarded with some fantastic views of both Nice, and the Alps in the background.  

City view of Nice, with Italian style Duomo in the center.

When we arrived back to our broken home train station of Villeneuve-Loubet I told Ton I thought there was a better route home.  When we were walking to the train station in the morning we had spotted three very large and striking condominium towers.  We both find them striking but neither one of us will own up to liking them.  We walked thru them on the way back and found a giant marina behind them, so they are catering to a very upscale clientele.  It was sunset and the sky and the views over the Mediterranean were eye catching.  From one beach we were able to look at the sea, and turn and look at the Alps with the pink light of the setting sun highlighting the snow caps.  It was worth the diversion for a great sunset.

The striking condos and upper middle class yachts.

November 11, 2019 San Remo IT

Italy has a hold on us.  Our plans were to head over to Nice in France today but when we woke up this morning the weather was pretty brutal, and it was supposed to stay that way all day with a couple of short breaks.  After some discussion we came to the conclusion if we were going to be trapped in François most of the day why not do it in Italy.

We spent the morning trying to get a veterans discount for our Amazon Prime service.  Amazon was struggling with us applying for a US veterans discount from Italy but after three calls we finally got it sorted.  

Finally about noon we saw a little break in the rain so we made a dash to downtown Sanremo. Ton wanted to get a picture of the Russian Orthodox Church we saw on the bus the other day, and we decided to do one more shop for Italian food in a large Coop (pronounced coupe) here in Italy.  

The waterfront promenade in Sanremo on our way to the Coop for groceries.

We got off the bus near the casino in Sanremo (about the same size as the famous one in Monaco but not as famous.)   After getting some shots of the only Orthodox Church we have seen in Italy, we took one final walk down the main shopping street, confirming that Sanremo was much more alive for us than Monaco before heading to Coop.

The dome of the Orthodox Church in Sanremo.

One of the pleasures we have had in Italy is the quality of the food in the groceries.  We have each found and enjoyed a bunch of food that we have not seen anywhere else.  Our main motivation was to get one more chance to stock François up with some our favorite new staples such as Blood Orange Juice, fresh pasta (not dried like we are used to in the US), pocket coffee (a chocolate coffee confection that can be eaten as candy, or added to a shot of espresso to make a drink), and the varied pasta sauces.  We also broke our €2.99 limit on a bottle of Primitivo wine as we both wanted to try this particular wine and had not been able to find one within our budget.  So we picked out the cheapest bottle and are now indulging in our expensive €3.69 bottle which is superb!

Italy rewarded us for our loyalty for the two and a half hours we were out the rain held off.  Five minutes after we returned to François the skies opened up again.

November 10, 2019 Monaco/San Remo IT

We decided to take the train into Monaco from Sanremo.  Some places exceed your expectations and some just miss.  I had been looking forward to Monaco with visions of the Grand Prix, and James Bond playing baccarat at the casino.  It is an independent country surrounded by France, and after the Vatican the smallest country in Europe so I had some romantic vision of the place.

The train station in Monaco.

When we arrived at the train station we could tell there was money in Monaco.  It is also the richest country in Europe, of its population of roughly 40,000, 30% of them are millionaires due to its status as one of the worlds biggest tax havens.  It is also one of the most densely populated places on Earth as it does not have much land to cram the millionaires into.

A view of the densely packed Principality of Monaco, the empty hills above the town are in France.

We walked along the waterfront admiring the harbor, and looking at all of the yachts.  One particular ostentatious one stood out to me, and I wondered what billionaire owned it.  The views of the harbor were nice and Ton took a lot of pictures as we strolled along.  

Some of the yachts in the harbor at Monaco.

After getting our fill of the harbor we decided to head over to one of the famous landmarks of Monaco the casino in the Monte Carlo district.  We had read that it was difficult to get access to the building and we thought we would have to pay an admission fee to get inside.  We were surprised when we got there to see that we could walk in and look at the main foyer and the slot room.  Maybe because it was off season they were a little more lax with letting the plebeians in.  In addition to taking some photos we took advantage of their very upscale toilets and they were free.

The lobby in the casino at Monte Carlo in Monaco.

As we walked out of the casino Ton said lets find a real neighborhood with coffee shops and food stores for a light lunch.  So for the next hour we wandered the streets looking for a real neighborhood with coffee shops and normal stuff and failed.  Partly it might have been because it was Sunday and Monaco like France rolls the sidewalks up on Sunday, but we think at least partly it is because there are less of the cafe’s and little shops that we really enjoy in cities here. We ended up having a box of french fries at McDonalds for lunch (they still will not take our American Credit Cards!), not at all what we were looking for.

A typical quiet and empty street in Monaco.  I guess all of the millionaires were out of town.

We did find the carnival that was in town and walked thru that for a few minutes.  It was a big carnival and occupied a good piece of land on the harbor.  The families were behaving just as they do everywhere in the world when they are in a carnival which is fun to watch. 

The carnival along the waterfront, the most exciting place in town today.

Overall Monaco was a miss for us, and if I had to pick between Monaco and Sanremo to spend a week, I would pick Sanremo without hesitation.  It feels like a real town with real people and has a much more interesting atmosphere than the cold richness of Monaco.

November 9, 2019 San Remo IT

We have made our way over to the Mediterranean Sea again at Sanremo.  This is the last city we plan to stay at in Italy before heading back into France.  We woke up early when the electricity we were plugged into decided to stop working, this causes the refrigerator to sound an alarm.  I got up and switched over to propane but the damage was done and we were both wide awake at 6am.  After laying around for a few minutes we decided to get up and get an early start for our drive.

This is an Ape on the dock in Sanremo, a three wheel utility vehicle that reminds Ton of a common Thai vehicle called a  Tuk Tuk.  

We started the day with bright sunshine around Turin, but as we headed towards the coast we passed over a pretty high mountain pass and it got dark and rained a bit, even more concerning the temperature had fallen to the high 30’s.  Fortunately as we headed down to the coast the sun popped out and the temperature climbed into the high 50’s.

Sanremo is a pretty coastal town.  The drive down into Sanremo was a bit of an adventure as Greta got us off of the main road and we had to squeeze down some narrow roads until we got to downtown.  I am getting better at realizing when Greta is picking a bad route and ignoring her, but she got me this time.

A women ocean going rowing team exiting the harbor in Sanremo.

After getting settled in we headed into town to check out the city and to get our experience of the Italian Riviera.  The city is pretty, we decided to check out the casino that Sanremo is famous for, but when we were told we had to check our back packs we decided it was not worth the effort.

The Casino in Sanremo.

The next stop was the waterfront where we ambled along the breakwater looking at the yachts and the working boats.  There was an impressive array of yachts ranging from upper middle class to billionaire.  Ton was most impressed with the fishing boats.

This is a two or three hundred foot yacht belonging to some billionaire, Ton thought it was ugly.

Our last walk was up the hill thru the old Sanremo to the church which had a great view of the town and the sea.  The interior of the church was prettier than the exterior indicated it would be.  Just as we emerged from the church a big thunderstorm broke over the town.  We were not prepared for rain because I convinced Ton it was not going to rain!  We dashed from shelter to shelter until we got down to the main road.  I saw the bus back to the campground just down the street stuck in traffic, we were able to jog down the sidewalk and get to the bus stop before the bus.  The rain was pretty intense on the drive back and we got off the bus we dived into a grocery store to wait out the storm before finally heading back to François for the night.

A rainbow to reward us for our unexpected soaking in Sanremo.

October 28, 2019 Cinque Terre IT

We had another great day on the Cinque Terre.  We are staying at a basic Sosta run by one of the local ambulance services, so in addition to a bunch of motorhomes we are sharing our space with a couple of ambulances.  When the drivers are not out on runs they man the front gate and take payment.  When I went to buy bus tickets into town I tried to do the ordering in Italian (due persona biglietta a autobus retorno) for anyone who speaks Italian you will know that is terrible, but the guy understood and thanked me for trying and then switched to perfect English for the rest of the transaction.

Yesterday we covered the most popular of the three cities on the Cinque Terre, today we planned on covering the last two towns.  After our twenty minute bus ride to the train station in La Spezia we headed out to Corniglia.  It is the least visited town because it does not connect to the ocean, and you have to climb 365 steps to get to the town.  The town is really perched on a promontory overlooking the ocean with great views up and down the coast.  It is also has good views up to the mountains above the coast.  In addition to climbing the steps to town we climbed up above the town into the vineyards that were the primary source of income before tourism took over.  

Corniglia with vineyards terraced on the hills above town.

Our next stop was the town of Manarola.  It is considered by the people who write about the Cinque Terre as the most romantic of the towns.  It consists of one main street running down to a small harbor.  But what makes it romantic are the trails around the town which after a pretty good climb take you thru the vineyards that cascade down the mountainside into the town.  The trail is quite spectacular and you are rewarded for your effort by some great views.

Looking down on Manarola from the vineyards above town.

Having climbed about 770 feet in total between the two towns (if my fitbit is to be believed) we decided to reward ourselves with a nice lunch.  We walked up the road in Manarola scouting for lunch.  Ton would walk up to each restaurant and look at the menu and inspect the food on the tables that the customers were eating.  After a while she pointed at a restaurant and said that is the one.  I noticed that there was a table for two on the second floor balcony and asked one of the waitresses in terrible Italian if we could sit there.  She said of course; and informed the manager/husband that we were going to get those seats, clearly to his frustration.  It turned into a wonderful meal as we both had great fresh seafood on a balcony overlooking the town.  We shared the balcony with a nice German couple, and inside there was a French tour group who had quite a bit of wine with their lunch, and in the end their Italian tour guide broke into song and the group joined in.  All in all a very memorable lunch.

The rail station at Corniglia looking down from the top of the 365 steps.  The rail line connecting the 5 towns is more or less continuous tunnel, with the tracks only emerging at each town.  Manarola is the town you can see in the upper right of the picture.

Our final plan for the day was to walk from Manarola to Riomagiore but unfortunately the trail was closed.  So instead we headed back to La Spezia.  Ton says I owe her a massage for making her climb 770 feet today, but I think most of the climbing was her idea.

October 27, 2019 Cinque Terre IT

Todays trip was driven by the weather.  So far the weather has been spectacular, the one day it did rain it was nice enough to do it during the night and by morning the sun was out again.  But our good luck is changing and we are supposed to get a week of rain, starting tomorrow night.

One of Ton’s bucket list items on this trip was the Cinque Terre.  This location is really weather dependent, and since today was the last guaranteed good day for a while we decided to head over from Florence.  We will end up heading back into Tuscany for a more extended visit once we are done here.

One of the pastel colored villages in the Cinque Terre.

We were up bright and early, and it turns out today was the day Europe Falls Back from Daylight savings time.  With our early start we covered the 140km’s to La Spezia quickly and arrived at the Sosta on the outskirts of La Spezia at 9am.  After a quick breakfast it was off to the train station to buy our two day Cinque Terre pass.

The Cinque Terre is a series of 5 coastal villages carved into the sides of cliffs along the Ligurian Sea.  They are part of an Italian National Park as well as UNESCO Heritage sites.  While they are difficult to reach by road, the Italian Railway has carved tracks that connect them all.  This is by far the best way to explore the Cinque Terre.  A two day pass is only €27 per person and allows unlimited trips on the line between La Spezia and the five towns (it also includes free access to the walking trails between the towns, and the bathrooms in the train stations!).

One of the UNESCO listed villages on the Cinque Terre.

s today was the only guaranteed good day we picked the three largest villages, Riomagiorre, Vernazza, and Monterosso.  They are all in spectacular settings with small harbors at the bottom of steep roads leading to the ocean.  

We started the day in Riomagiorre and as we got off the train we heard a lot of Thai being spoken all around us.  It turns out we had stumbled into a tour of about 25 Thai.  We listened into the guide for a while until he caught on and we introduced ourselves.  He thought it was funny.

The harbor in Riomagiorre.

Monterosso is the largest of the towns and has the largest of the harbors but probably the least spectacular setting.  I was a little disappointed when I saw a big parking lot on the edge of town with about 20 RV’s parked in it.  It turns out this is the one place you can camp in the Cinque Terre.  I missed it in my app because it was listed as parking and not a Sosta.  In Italy I am not looking at parking areas like I have in France and Germany as places to stay only Sostas and Campgrounds.

The beach at Monterosso.

Vernazza is the smallest of the towns we visited today and is considered by most people to be the prettiest of the towns.  It only has one main road that leads down to a small harbor.  As you walk down to the harbor you see pictures of a massive flash flood that shot down the road in 2011.  After walking around town we headed up on to one of the trails that connect all of the towns on the Cinque Terre.  We wandered up there by accident but the view was so good we kept going.  At one point Ton was shooting some pictures when she overheard 4 Thai taking turns taking pictures of each other, she could not resist and asked if they wanted a picture of all 4 of them.  They reciprocated by taking pictures of us.

The hiking trail between Vernazza and Monterosso, it is steep in this stretch, there are vineyards on the right behind the fence.