Italy

Moon of Honey—Cinque Terre

You’ve heard of the French Riviera. But have you heard of the Italian Riviera?

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I recommend it. I had seen pictures of the Cinque Terre (“the Five Lands”), but pictures alone are just that. They can create a false image, a mirage. But in this case, pictures were just the beginning. Cinque Terre is much more beautiful than I had imagined.

The five villages of the Cinque Terre are scattered along a coastline approximately eleven miles long. Each village is separated from the others by high cliffs that once impeded travel by anything but boat. Last year, a freak rainstorm hit the Cinque Terre, flooding the towns with upwards of twenty-two inches of rain. Two of the five towns, Monterosso and Vernazza, were virtually buried, and the townspeople were stranded, without water or electricity. Today, you can barely tell anything happened—in fact, I did not learn of the flooding until after the fact.

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We started in Manarola and walked to Corniglia in the suffocating heat. But at least there was an ocean breeze as we climbed the 382 steps to arrive in Corniglia.

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Along the way, we had some great views

In Corniglia, we meandered through the streets, stopping to glance over the local products, prodotti tipici.

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After pausing just long enough to realize we were hungry, we set off for the restaurant, where we had been promised a delicious local lunch—octopus was on the menu, much to Mario’s chagrin! The restaurant was perched on a cliff with a perfect view of the blue Mediterranean. Indeed, there was much seafood. I tried it all, even though I tend to stick to shrimp for my seafood choices. I actually enjoyed one of the octopus dishes, but was unpleasantly surprised by a dead bee on my plate, which effectively took away any appetite I had. I settled for the second course, a simple but elegant combination of fresh pasta and pesto. I can’t say no to pesto!

After our carbo-loading session, it was time for the big hike to Vernazza. The hike took us along a steep path, and we climbed up high through terraced olive groves toward Vernazza, stopping periodically to take pictures and exclaim, “¡Dios mío! ¡Qué calor!” like all good Spaniards do.

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Vernazza

In Vernazza, we sat along the pier (which you can see to the right of the village) and watched the waves crash against the rocks. We weren’t exactly cool, but close enough.

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After a brief rest, we hopped on a train to Monterosso, where Mario took a dip in the sea, and I sampled the local white wine in a café nearby. Different strokes for different folks.

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My view

After our relaxation sessions, we boarded a boat to Riomaggiore, where the famous Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane) begins. According to Smithsonian Magazine, until the twentieth century, the villagers in the Cinque Terre were quite isolated and very rarely married outside their own village. When a trail was made between Riomaggiore and Manarola, villagers saw an opportunity, even though there were frequent landslides that closed down the trail. “

After World War II, the trail was reopened, and became established as a lovers’ meeting point for boys and girls from the two towns.

As you travel along the pathway, you’ll see many padlocks, which lovers would close together, thus symbolizing their eternal nature of their love. Or so they say. I just think it’s a lovely spot to dar un paseo, if you will.

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And it doesn’t hurt to have your favorite person with you either.

Honeymoon series: Venice, Florence

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Moon of Honey—Florence

Florence, once considered the most important city in Europe, had its fling with fame—from 1865 to 1870, for one brief (shining) moment, it replaced Turin as the capital of the newly formed Kingdom of Italy. Alas, it was replaced six years later by Rome, even though the Florentines had taken pains to modernize the city by tearing down medieval houses and replacing old markets.

Don’t worry Florence, Mario still thinks you’re the prettiest. Of the three cities we visited on our honeymoon, the one that most impressed Mario was Florence, with il Duomo, broad avenues that encircle the old city, and plethora of Renaissance art. (It’s known as la culla del Rinascimento, or the “cradle of the Renaissance,” after all.) This explains why we have a separate folder for all the pictures of il Duomo, too.

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Florence is the city for Renaissance art. Here you’ll find Michelangelo’s David, the Uffizi Gallery, the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), the Pitti Palace, and much more. Some notable residents include Dante Alighieri, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Niccolò Machiavelli, the Medici Family, Galileo, Amerigo Vespucci, and Florence Nightingale.

We took full advantage, of course.

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Il Duomo

Il Duomo, or the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, is Florence’s main church. Its exterior is marble—shades of pink, green, and white, to be precise. During a certain part of Italy’s history, the churches were made up of three separate buildings: the baptistery, the belfry, and the church itself. We climbed up to the top of the cathedral’s dome.

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Don’t you wish this were you?

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We also visited theBasilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross), where some of Florence’s most famous citizens are buried, people like Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo.

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Unfortunately, it was under construction, as happens a lot in Europe

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We enjoyed the courtyard

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Dante’s tomb

IMG_2215Michelangelo’s tomb

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Galileo’s tomb

The Ponte Vecchio, or “Old Bridge,” was and is a site of commerce, of jewelers. In the 16th century, Ferdinando I de’ Medici ordered that the jewelry shops replace the butchers, whose shops didn’t exactly smell like roses and who sometimes tossed their unsold goods into the Arno River below. It is also the only surviving bridge from the German retreat in 1944.

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Another beautiful site, that perhaps many do not know about, is San Miniato al Monte (St. Minias on the Mountain), a church located at one of Florence’s highest points. It has great views as well.

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You can see the church just barely; it’s the white building blocked by the rather wispy tree

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We stayed a while and watched the sun set.

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It was a perfect ending to our stint in Florence. The next day we began our journeys around Tuscany and Liguria!

Stay tuned for more …

Moon of Honey (Luna de Miel)—Venice

In Spanish, honeymoon is luna de miel; literally “moon of honey.” If you’re my husband (ohhh, doesn’t that sound weird and oh so nice at the same time!), a moon made of honey would be welcome. Mario and Winnie the Pooh love honey about the same amount. If you are what you eat, Mario would be bread, olive oil, and honey. Probably in that order. (I would be tomatoes. Boring.)

Thank you for letting me completely off track. We spent our honeymoon in Italy. Italy! To Spaniards, Italy is a short plane ride away; to me, Italy is a dream honeymoon. I imagined Venice, its canals snaking quietly through the city, Florence with its marble-covered cathedral and Renaissance art invading every church, Rome with its quiet ruins … we got all that. I forgot to imagine the heat.

We arrived in Venice at 10 p.m. and stepped out of the airport in search of a bus. I had forgotten how humidity envelops you, invades your lungs and your pores, causes the air itself to feel heavy and dense. We nearly gasped. Oh yes, the heat was already upon us. Sweat, we would.IMG_1390

Luckily, our hotel, located right on the Grand Canal, had air conditioning. Sweet, sweet, environment-destroying air conditioning. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

We set off to explore the city immediately after breakfast, winding our way down alleys and stopping at numerous dead ends, consulting the map every two minutes. Venice was a maze, but we were determined to conquer it.

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We found our way to Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Square, where the Basilica of San Marco overlooks one of the most beautiful piazzas of Europe, the heart of Venice. To the right of the Basilica is the sea, the bay of San Marco, which was the way the people arrived—by boat. Also in this square is the Doge’s Palace (try not to read that as the dog’s palace). The Doges were the rulers of Venice for over a thousand years.

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There are more pictures of me because Mario is very camera happy

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If you lived in Ancient Venice, you had to be wary of your neighbors. Around the palace we saw these mail slots, which were for nontie serete (secret denouncements), if you wished to snitch on your neighbor for their wrongdoings. And there were no appeals for death sentences. Good luck!

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Afterwards, we wandered around a bit more and tried not to get lost

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Mario’s new boat

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Venice in the afternoon

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Everybody was hot that day

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Next we splurged on a gondola ride. Sure, they’re totally a tourist trap, and they definitely overcharge. But still, you’re only in Venice on your honeymoon once, so live it up. Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, this was a major form of transportation, and there were upwards of eight to ten thousand gondolas in that time period, whereas today there are only about four hundred, mainly used by tourists.

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Our gondolier talked to Mario about Italy’s defeat in the Eurocup and then took a few phone calls

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We came back to a big leak in our room, so we headed downstairs to reception to ask for help. They changed our room … to a suite overlooking the Grand Canal, which normally costs approximately a gazillion dollars per night. Score! They told us we would have to change the next day, but in the end we got this amazing room for two whole nights. Needless to say, we didn’t complain.

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We also couldn’t complain about our breakfast setting. The breakfast itself was superb, with everything from tomato juice to yogurt with toppings to scrambled eggs to meats and cheeses. And, of course, lots of cappucino.

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Back in Piazza de San Marco

We spent a lot of time in Venice exploring. Besides the Piazza de San Marco and the Doge’s Palace, there’s not a whole lot of “sights” to see, but there are a lot of places to be explored. Including a very interesting bookshop that I thoroughly enjoyed. But don’t ask me how to get there.

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Venice is not made for the busy tourist. Instead, it’s for the tourist with time and patience, the one who wishes to be and not do. It’s hard to accept for some, but once you do, Venice grabs hold of you and stays with you.

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Photo by Mario

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Photo by Mario

Just Married

We’re leaving for Italy today, a honeymoon I’d only imagined in my dreams.

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First stop: Venice

The wedding was also a dream: chaotic, beautiful, loud, and full of laughter and dancing, which are the same things, really.

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I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day, a better man, a more loving family (Spanish or American).

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See you after Italy! Blogging and honeymoons that involve Venice, Florence, and Rome don’t really mix …