Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Naples and Sorrento Sightseeing

Italy - Naples and Sorrento

Italy is really two countries in one with the wealthy, historic north dominating. To get a taste of the south, Naples and Sorrento are your destinations.

Naples
If ever there was a city with a reputation, it is Naples. Dirty, nasty, crime infested and fanatical are all words thrown around when describing. In this case, the descriptions are true and it is GREAT! The place is a madhouse and colorful beyond description. Crime is a problem, but you will be fine if you use common sense.

Naples is all about “real.” You will not get that odd touristy sensation you find in the cities to the north. Naples is about living now, now in the past. The people can be gruff, but are also a heck of lot more colorful than you will find elsewhere. If you get in trouble, just bring up the subject of football (soccer) and you’ll suddenly have friends for life.

The best way to experience Naples is just to explore it. The action is on the street, not in museums. If you’re hankering for picture opportunities, the glass dome over the Galleria Umberto I is a good spot. You can also climb above the city to take scenic pictures of the coast and madness of Naples.

If you are really pining for a tourist fix, Pompeii and the looming Mount Vesuvius are close by. Pompeii, of course, was buried in a Mount Vesuvius explosion, literally freezing everything in place. Ah, you already know the story.

Sorrento
If Naples overwhelms you, head around the bay to Sorrento. Sorrento is similar to Naples with one notable exception. It is all about the tourist and making them comfortable. Frankly, it is hard to see how Naples and Sorrento can co-exist, but they do. In Sorrento, you can stay at ancient resorts where service is the name of the game. The beaches aren’t so hot, but you can rent jet skis and such to invoke your inner tourist.

Southern Italy often gets a bad rap as a rough place riddled with crime. To some extent it is true, but seeing Italy without the gloss of the north is worth it.

Rick Chapo is with NomadJournals.com - makers of travel journals. Visit NomadJournalTrips.com to read more articles about Italy Travel and Adventure Travel.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Cinque Terra Sightseeing

Cinque Terra - the unknown Italy

If you take a train north from La Spezia, a city equidistant between Pisa and Genoa, you will pass through an exceptional number of tunnels along the coast line to Rapallo. As you look out the windows between tunnels you will see little villages clinging to the sides of cliffs, like barnacles on an old freighter. This is the area known as the Cinque Terre, the Five Lands.

Each village is basically pretty much like the next, built essentially in a gully above the seashore. The Five Lands are actually five of these villages, built in the Dark Ages to hide out from marauding pirates. The villages have been declared a National Park and to preserve their historic authenticity large hotels, in fact nearly all new buildings of any kind are prohibited. The only access is by the train and the sea. There is a well kept up hiking trail joining the five villages that can best be described as climbing out of a village, then descending into the next village, then climbing out of that village and so on. But the views from the hiking trail are spectacular.

Here the coastline is running east to west and the five villages in that order are: Riomaggiore where the hiking trail starts, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare (Red Mountain by the Sea) where the trail ends for our purposes. Because of the ban on building, there are few hotels, there are B&Bs, pensiones and other small places for the light traveller.

Vernazza has a very old ruined castle overlooking its small natural harbor and it is a great place from which to explore the Cinque Terre. First day, you can catch the early ferry to Riomaggiore and start hiking through the villages back to Vernazza. It's about six to seven hours, allowing time for a wine here, a lunch there, etc., along the way.

The first stretch from Riomaggiore to Manarola is fairly level, the locals call it the Via Dell'Amore and takes about 15-20 minutes. Manarola is a good place to pick up a few things for a picnic before heading on to Corniglia. This village sits above the coastline. You can walk right through the lower part of the town and head out to the next village, if you don't pause for a moment and notice that there is more of the village well above the trail, in fact 370 steps zigzagging up the hillside to the upper level. The climb is worth it though, the fantastic view enhances the wine and the food and there are quite a few private rooms for rent.

The story is that a Roman farmer named the village after his mother, Cornelia. Corniglian was once so famous that urns of it were found in the ruins of Pompeii. Now you can follow the high trail through the vineyards and a few olive groves. Between Corniglia and Vernazza, you'll see a beach called Guvano with (in the summer) nude sunbathers reposing along it. It's the Italian version of counter-culture: pierced nipples (male and female), tattooed punks, hippies in dreadnoughts and plain exhibitionists. Not a family beach!

This part of the trail is the most interesting, with its terraced vineyards clinging to the mountain walls all along, wild flowers, the salt-lace aroma of the sea whenever a breeze blows it up the mountain side. There are a few spots for the daring to do high dives down into the sea and numerous refreshing waterfalls. This is a two hour hike if you don't press it. Eventually it descends into Vernazza.

If you have the time to linger awhile, then plan to stay another night in Vernazza and then you can visit Monterosso tomorrow. Vernazza has pretty much one street that stretches from the harbor up a slight grade to the train station and on into the vineyards beyond. There are a quite a number of fishermen who sail out of this little harbor early in the morning each day, you can count on some very fine fresh seafood in any café here. Evening entertainment for the locals is a few laps between the station and the harbor before retiring. They're in no hurry, just leisurely strolling along, chatting about heaven knows what. There's highway that roughly follows the outline of the coast but at least 5-10 kilometers away from the towns. Some brilliant engineer in Rome decided to help Vernazza join the 20th century by running a branch road over a mountain ridge and down towards the village. Alas, the villagers had other ideas and constructed barriers at the top of the ton and that's where the road still ends. No vehicles in Vernazza, thank you very much!

Next day, hike over to Monterosso. It boasts the only sandy beach in the entire Cinque Terre, the rest are all pebbles, well worn and round pebbles, but still not sand. This is a resort town, with all the cars, hotels, paddleboats and crowds under beach umbrellas that you'll find along any sandy beach from here to the Riviera. When you've had your fill, head back to Vernazza on the train. The trains run through the Cinqua Terre like Italian clockwork almost hourly. There's also a ferry that connects the five villages.

One lasting impression that you may take away with you are the church bells ringing at all hours. In olden times, the bells would call in the fishermen and the vineyard keepers from the mountain sides in the event of an emergency. They are still calling, sometimes in the middle of the night.

Before closing, I must mention the food. Fresh seafood of course, but this is also the home of pesto. Fresh basil from the mountain side gardens, cheese (half parmigiano from the cows and half pecorino from the sheep), garlic, local olive oil and ground pine nuts, poured over a generous plate of pasta. Ambrosia of the Gods!

The Cinqua Terre is a great place to lay back and let the world go by for a few days. The wine is cheap and very good, the food is simple but incomparable, inexpensive accommodation is available if you look around for it. Great scenery and the locals pretty much ignore you. What more could you ask for?


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Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Pisa Sightseeing

Synonymous with Pisa is the magnificent Leaning Tower, however there is far more to this western Tuscan city than just this.

From its position on the shore of the Arno, Pisa was a dominant city in the western Mediterranean from the 11th to the 13th centuries.

The sea and its powerful navy was the source of Pisa’s strength but the sea also brought with it trading links with Spain and North Africa which in turn led to cultural and scientific advances. As a result, the Pisa of today is still full of the historic monuments and buildings from this golden time, offering authentic wonders to the tourist.

No matter how you intend on exploring the city, be it by foot or by local tour bus, a good way to begin is by visiting a tourist information office. There are several throughout Pisa - outside the main railway station, not far from the Leaning Tower on Via Cammeo and throughout the centre of the city.

Situated to the northwest of the city is the Piazza dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) within which lie four imposing yet beautiful white marble Romanesque buildings. Together the Pisa Cathedral with its Baptistery, Campanile and Campo Santo form one of the worlds most famous groups of buildings and a must see on any trip to Pisa.





The most famous of the buildings is the Campanile, more commonly known as the Leaning Tower. The construction of this magnificent bell tower began in 1173 and continued for two hundred years during which time there were significant interruptions. It is known that the tower was originally intended to be vertical, however, the tower started to incline during the protracted construction. Even without the inclination that has captured the world’s attention; the tower would still be one of Europe’s most remarkable bell towers.

Find out more about Pisa Sightseeing.