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  1. We didn't get woken up by church bells this morning, but once we were awake we could hear a loud noise in the distance. Could it be the sound of waves crashing on the cliffs? We opened the shutters, and sure enough the weather outside had definitely taken a turn for the worse overnight. The water was completely white and there were some enormous waves in the sea! Although the sky looked dark, it didn't actually appear to be raining though. We went to the viewpoint around the corner from where we were staying. The sky wasn't clear, but we could just make out one of the other Cinque Terre villages (Manarola) in the distance. Time for breakfast! As our room is quite basic, it's not even possible to make coffee there so we needed to find a cafe. Luckily in Italy that isn't normally too difficult, and we were soon eating warm pain au chocolat and drinking americanos Our plan for today was to visit all five of the Cinque Terre villages. Obviously we were starting off in Corniglia, which is the middle village. That meant we needed to decide whether to first travel south, towards Manarola and Riomaggiore, or north towards Vernazza and Monterosso. But before we could go anywhere, we needed to climb down the steps to Corniglia's train station. It was a long way down! There were some beautiful views on the way, though And with time, the train tracks became a little closer. As you can see from this picture, the villages are perched so precariously above the sea that they are completely inaccessible by road. Instead, they are linked by the train line and by a series of footpaths. Today didn't feel like weather for a hike though, so we were definitely taking the train We found it rather amusing that at the bottom of the steps, there is a sign advertising a pharmacy at the top I suspect some people might well be in need of it when they get to the top! We'd pretty much decided that we were going to travel south, when we got to the train station and found there was a train about to arrive heading north. We made a quick change of plan, and within a couple of minutes we were exiting the train in Vernazza. First impressions were that it immediately seemed bigger (and flatter!) than Corniglia. We strolled down the main street, where there were some beautifully colourful houses... ...and we soon found a tiny archway in the rock, through which we could see the sea. Vernazza is one of the villages that is right down at sea level, which means it has suffered with flooding in the past. When we got down to the harbour, it wasn't hard to see why! We stood and watched some truly enormous waves in the harbour. Tim got a little bit over-excited about the waves and decided to go nearer for a better view. That was a decision which he soon came to regret Let's just say he ended up rather damp! It wasn't really surprising with waves like this! We turned around and walked back towards the centre of the village. It was really pretty, with lots of brightly coloured houses... and narrow alleyways. It was starting to drizzle by this point, so we decided to go back to the station and get on the train to the most northerly village, Monterosso. We had bought Cinque Terre cards for today which enabled us to jump on and off the trains as many times as we wanted, which was good. Less good was the weather, which had deteriorated into proper rain by the time we got to Monterosso. As we left the station, we had a wonderful view back down the coast in the direction we'd just come. Unfortunately it's not very clear in the photo, but if you look carefully you might be able to see a blob which is Vernazza at the foot of one of the hills. And if you look even more carefully, you might see a faint blob on the top of a smaller hill towards the right of this photo, which is Corniglia. The coastline in the opposite direction looked beautiful too. It must be amazing on a sunny day Today was still decidedly damp, though. Monterosso is one of the bigger villages, and I think the only one which has a proper beach. The guidebook had described it as "tacky", but that didn't really seem to be the case. There was a large central square, with a big clock tower. We explored for a while but it really was quite wet, so we decided to head back towards the train station. Sitting on a warm, dry train felt like quite an attractive prospect, so we decided to stay on until we reached the southernmost Cinque Terre village: Riomaggiore. Riomaggiore was a bit wet too! There were some lovely buildings though And a steep main street, with views up towards a tower on the hill behind. Again, on a sunny day it must be amazing We thought about getting lunch here in the hope of having some time to dry off, but we were a bit too early for Italian standards. So we got back on the train to travel to the fifth village: Manarola. Manarola wasn't any drier! We climbed upwards towards a church tower on the hill... ...with views up towards brightly coloured houses as we went. The church itself wasn't particularly photogenic... ...but from the far side of the church tower, there were some fantastic views of Manarola. I could see why this one is described as being one of the prettiest Cinque Terre villages After we'd enjoyed the views, we climbed back down into the main village. This time we managed to find a restaurant with indoor seating and enjoyed some amazing lasagne (which we forgot to take a photo of!) and half a litre of some local wine I had hoped it might magically dry up while we were eating, but it didn't! So all that remained was for us to get a train back along the coast to our home village of Corniglia This time we chickened out of the steps and took the little local shuttle bus up the hill towards our accommodation, where we began the much-needed process of drying out Today hasn't quite been the weather I'd hoped for in Cinque Terre, but it is a really beautiful part of the world regardless
  2. Over the years we've been booking overseas trips for bank holidays, the concept of a cheap flight seems to have disappeared. We started looking at the May 2019 bank holiday weekends back in October 2018 when flights first came on sale, but even then we were struggling to find anything that truly looked like a bargain. The best we could find for this weekend turned out to be a British Airways flight from Gatwick to Genoa. We didn't know a lot about Genoa, except that it was in the Liguria region of Italy which we'd never been to before. After a bit of online research, I established that going to Genoa would enable us to explore some of the Cinque Terre villages, which I'd seen amazing pictures of online. We decided to give it a go The flight this morning was at 08.45 which doesn't sound too early, but still necessitated us setting our alarms for 03.30 this morning. Happily there isn't much traffic on the roads at that time of the morning, so we got to Gatwick without any difficulties and with plenty of time to get breakfast before our flight. I can't say a lot about the flight, because I fell asleep over the Channel and only woke up on time to see the tail end of the Alps We landed in Genoa shortly after that, disappointed to see that everywhere looked just as cloudy as the weather forecast had predicted. Our airport bus wasn't until 12.30, so we had a bit of time waiting around. The airport isn't very far outside Genoa, but it had been a bit confusing trying to research the best way to get into the town centre, as the dreadful bridge collapse last year means that there's still a fair amount of traffic disruption. The congestion today didn't seem as bad as the internet had suggested though and when it eventually arrived, the airport bus got us into the town centre quite efficiently, dropping us off outside the main train station, Piazza Principe. We didn't know a lot about Genoa except that it's a large port, and first impressions were not very scenic. The route from the airport to the station seemed quite industrial, and we could see several large cruise ships sitting in the port. Of course, one of the other things which Genoa is famous for is being the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, and it didn't take long to find a huge monument to him outside the station. We didn't have a lot of time to spend in Genoa because of a complication with our accommodation. I'd booked a room for us to stay in Corniglia, one of the Cinque Terre villages, and after I'd paid for it I got an email from the owner explaining that we would have to check in before 5pm, because she couldn't stay any later than that to give us the key. As we needed to catch a couple of trains to get from Genoa to Corniglia, the train timetables meant that we'd have to leave Genoa at 14.45 in order to get there on time. I booked the train tickets in advance on the Trenitalia website, to save time buying them today... and then I got another email from the owner saying that she couldn't meet us for check-in after all, but that she would leave the keys in a key safe. So we actually could have spent longer in Genoa! But as I'd already bought the tickets, we figured we'd stick with the original plan and do a bit of a whistle-stop tour. As we followed signs from the station to the historic centre, we were glad to find some places that looked more picturesque than the port We walked through an enormous gate into the old town. Inside the gate we followed a series of tiny little streets... ...which became increasingly dark and narrow. It actually felt a bit claustrophic at times; a real rabbit warren. I don't think you would want to get lost down here on a dark night! Every so often we got a glimpses of interesting churches. And sometimes we emerged into pretty little squares. Eventually we came to the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, Genoa's cathedral. It was enormous, and made of beautiful stripy stone. After that we seemed to be on a roll for finding beautiful churches There was this yellow one with a big dome... ...this one with a very unusual tiled roof... ...and this one, which looks like it has seen better days, but does at least demonstrate that the day had brightened up and it was now properly sunny At least, it was sunny in that direction; it was still a bit cloudy the other way. We were trying to plan our route through the centre so that we ended up near Genoa's second train station, Brignole. We'd done reasonably well following street signs and the map in our guidebook, but by the time we got to this church we couldn't figure out exactly where we were on the map, so had to resort to Google maps for the final part of the journey. We passed through another enormous gate to exit the old town. From here we were right outside Christopher Columbus's house. Or at least, a house which Christopher Columbus allegedly lived in; the guidebook doesn't seem convinced that he actually ever lived in it. We were now in the more modern part of Genoa. We found ourselves in a really pretty square with a fountain. This is Genoa's main square, Piazza De Ferrari. It definitely felt brighter and airier here than in the cramped little streets of the old town We were getting close to the Brignole station now, which was good because it was nearly time for our train. Our first journey, of just over an hour, took us to the small town of Levanto. The route was really scenic, with amazing views of the sea for lots of the journey. And when we arrived in Levanto, it looked like a really pretty place too. We had 15 minutes or so to wait in Levanto, before getting our second train towards Corniglia. This was only a short journey on a small regional train which stops at each of the villages in the Cinque Terre national park. This was the point at which we started getting a feel for how much tourism there is in this region; there were groups of cruise ship passengers being herded on and off the train at each stop. The journey itself was mostly within tunnels, but when we emerged from the station in Corniglia we immediately had a beautiful view of the coast Corniglia is supposed to be the least touristy settlement in the region, because the village itself is set on a hill up above the train station. That means that you have to climb a staircase of 382 steps to get from the station to Corniglia itself and I'm guessing that puts a lot of people off staying here, because this was definitely the only village in which we could afford accommodation The climb was rather tiring but when we stopped for breath there were some wonderful views out over the coast. We could see one of the other Cinque Terre villages in the distance Eventually we made it and followed the instructions we'd been given to track down our accommodation and retrieve the keys from the safe. The room is small, but it does have air-conditioning and allegedly Wi-Fi (we haven't been able to get it to work yet!). The best thing about the room is definitely the view, which is really spectacular Unfortunately the weather doesn't look great for tomorrow, but I'm really pleased that we've been able to see the view with blue sky today After we'd relaxed in the room for a bit, we went out for a stroll to see the village and to get some food. Just a few metres away from where we're staying there's a viewpoint out over the sea. We were able to see down the coast... ...and up towards another little hill-top village. Corniglia itself is really lovely. The streets are narrow, but they lack the ever-so-slightly threatening feel of Genoa There's a small church off the main square which has very loud bells. I'm hoping it doesn't start ringing them early tomorrow morning! We found a restaurant to get pizza, then made the most of the remaining daylight to admire the views again. We think our room must be in one of these buildings clinging to the hillside, but couldn't work out which one. We're looking forward to exploring more of Cinque Terre tomorrow
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