The road trip through Italy gets into the last phase – riding with the car back to the North of Italy. Do I feel ready to leave the South? Not so much. I feel there’s still so much to explore. I have to schedule one more trip to discover the rest of the Italian South. But the road trip is planned, hotels are booked. Time to hit the road.
Driving from Naples to Pisa
A big driving day
Maybe it was too grandiose plan. Maybe I should have planned it differently. The driving time was around 6 hours, but it was not bad at all. Except for the 2 hour drive from Naples to Rome. The driving experience was so unique that I decided to write an entire post on how to drive in Italy, and not get crazy.
Naples was gloomy on the departure day. I didn’t manage to get a nice picture from the rooftop of the Renaissance hotel. I still blame myself for that. But once I left Naples, the sun started to make its way through the rain-soaked clouds. It was a nice panoramic ride. I made gazillion pictures of the mountains that looked like somebody sugared their tops.
Having a lunch in Civitavecchia
Travelling through Italy in the off-season means that you cannot have a swim in the Mediterranean sea. It is too cold. But, nothing prevents you from having a break by the seaside. And from having a delicious meal in one of the sea front restaurants with the catch of the day. I planned this stop to be in Civitavecchia. Partly, because it was roughly in the middle of the trip.
I arrived in the nap time period. Although this city is buzzing during summer, it was not dead in winter either. Finding a restaurant took me around 10 minutes. I had a great pasta with shrimps. I caught some Pokémon and made pictures by the seaside. It was very windy and cold, but it was a perfect stop. By the way, I lived in the myth that the beaches are sandy in Italy. Not in Civitavecchia. There they are just as I like them – with little pebbles. Surely a place that would make a great holiday spot.
Impressions of Pisa
AC Marriott Pisa
As I was staying in Pisa just for one day and had the car, I chose to stay in a hotel not directly in the city centre. It was the AC Marriott Pisa. I still had some leftover points, so this stay was for free too.
The hotel room had a great interior design. But to be frank, it was far from being clean. There was mould in the bathroom. The sink didn’t have a non-dirty way of opening the plug. The TV remote didn’t have a cover, and the TV had only Italian programs. Nothing in English.
The biggest surprise was that they offer a totally unsecured Wi-Fi. Luckily, I pay for a VPN, so I turned it on and didn’t bother so much. I believe that if you profile your hotel as a perfect business/conference spot, having a secure Wi-Fi is a must.
Upon arrival to Pisa, I went to check the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa at night. The Square of Miracles was perfectly calm and quiet. I didn’t meet almost anybody. Except for two soldiers with machine guns guarding it. I got used to seeing them by now. I was very tempted to tell them to make a picture of me holding the tower with their machine gun, but was not sure how to say it in Italian. And I was even less sure they would be up to it. So, I rather dropped the idea.
The Square of Miracles is a UNESCO site. It consists of the Baptistery, the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta with the bell tower (yes, it is the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa) and the cemetery. Altogether, it is a unique mix of birth, life and death. The square was named Piazza dei Miracoli only in 1910 in the work of Gabriele D’Anunzio. Yes, the tower is leaning from the beginning of the construction because of the soft ground its foundations were put into.
Visiting Pisa – tickets
It was quite surprising to see such crowds of people on the Miracle Square during the daylight. All of them were trying to make the best shot pretending they hold the tower. You can buy tickets to visit all the buildings including the leaning tower. But, the number of people who are allowed to enter per hour is limited. So by the time I arrived, the next open slot was in 3 hours.
This was not really fitting my travel plan. I decided to drop the visit of the monuments, hang around the square for a while, and hit the road again. I do not regret this, because I am afraid of heights anyway. Don’t forget that I was visiting in the off-season and already, the tickets were gone. If you want to prevent this, buy your tickets online from the official site.
My big Pisa rant
It would not be me if I wouldn’t rant. I think that the entrance to religious buildings should not be limited to paying for it. I believe that as this is our world heritage, the sneak peek into those should be free of charge. You can visit the Cathedral in Pisa without paying, but you can get access to only the small part for people praying.
There was a beautiful English lawn around the entire Square of Miracles in Pisa. However, it was not allowed to set your foot on it. So people were walking on tiny pavements, hitting each other because everybody wanted to grab the best shot with the tower.
Funnily enough, the page visit Tuscany says:
The square is surrounded by a beautiful green lawn where tourists and university students can lie down and relax in this amazing setting.
It was a national holiday in Italy on the 6th of January. I was supposed to return the rental car in Genoa, but I found out that the rental office is closed. I got in touch with Hertz hotline, and they told me that I paid anyway for the day, so I can return the car on Saturday, in the same office. Great! This gave me extra time flexibility to go visit Cinque Terre. A place that dominates many Instagram pictures. A place that I heard so much glory about.
Driving to Cinque Terre
If you are coming from Pisa to Cinque Terre, ride in the direction of La Spezia. Then, follow the signs with Cinque Terre. It is a nice ride with a view of the Mediterranean sea. The road is quite wide at the beginning but as you start to descend to any of these 5 villages on cliffs, it will essentially get narrower and windier.
As I wrote in the Instagram post, I am not sure what is so special about these five villages. I believe that many places on the Italian coast are having a similar vibe. Cinque Terre is a UNESCO site. Because it was off-season, they were fixing some roads between the villages, so I didn’t get to see all of them. Also, it was getting dark again.
Corniglia, Cinque Terre
The village of Corniglia is not directly on the seaside, but on a cliff some 100 m above the sea level. It is surrounded by vineyards and terraces. There is a hiking trail to descend to the sea. It was mentioned already in Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron. Like many other places in Italy, its history dates back to the Roman age.
I will never stop being impressed by the power of the sea. I love the blue, and the houses in this village were making a great contrast to the water under it. As I arrived during the golden hour, I realized that Cinque Terre (and this part of Italy) is quite lucky. Why? Because the sun goes down into the sea. Which is very hard to see in Croatia with all its islands and orientation.
Food for thought – I was wondering, how does it feel to live so close to the sea with such a bad access to the rest of the world. I assume that they have a primary school for the entire Cinque Terre. But how do they go see the doctors? Or how about high school? Or hobbies? I believe your life is just different if you live in a badly accessible place. Let me know your opinion in the comments below. I am curious. Do you know somebody living in such a place?
Parking in Corniglia
The village of Corniglia was incredibly tiny, and by itself it didn’t offer a lot of parking lots. There is some on the way to the village. The season starts in March, but if you arrive in January like me, the parking meters are off and you can enjoy a free parking right before the village. It is still 15 minutes walk. If you come during the tourist season, make sure to have enough coins on you. Parking in Corniglia is 2 EUR for 1 hour.
Minibuses around Cinque Terre and full insurance coverage
If you are a scare crow to drive in these narrow windy roads, then it would be better for you to grab a minibus that is driving between these villages. There’s also a train option from La Spezia that connects through all the Cinque Terre villages.
The strangest encounter I had during my ride to Corniglia was to meet a minibus who was just going down the hill. I had to stop and reverse, but there was another minibus behind me already! Luckily, these drivers are really pros (and have good nerves), so it did not end up in any scratch. However, it is reassuring to have a full insurance coverage. It costs more, but is definitely worth it.
I planned a stopover in Genoa just to get rid of the rental car, and to see the port. Because I love ports. They are so busy and since I am a girl from a land locked country, they are magical for me.
I was surprised how cold it was! The temperature was well below zero. Something that I was not ready after being in the South. It took me some time to find a place to park my car. Originally, I didn’t plan on needing a parking lot for it, as I was already supposed to return it to the rental company. But, plans change, that’s life.
Heating with air-conditioning
I stayed in a Nologo Hotel. It was the first time in my life that a hotel room would have augmented reality elements. I had a lot of fun trying it out. The place was neat and tidy, it was a good change after all those posh places I was staying before. The only drawback was that you could heat only with the air-conditioning, which was not heating a lot. This is so far the biggest disadvantage of touring a southern country in the off-season. I understand that they don’t need so much heating as it is very hot during the year. Yet, when you are freezing out, it’s hard to get.
Impressions of Genoa
Genoa’s alleys are worth exploring. Parts of this city is on a UNESCO World Heritage list since 2006. The port in the Gulf of Genoa is the biggest port in the Mediterranean sea. Sadly, I didn’t have a lot of time to explore more of the city. Compared to the South, everything has been very orderly and meticulously clean. I liked that the buses seemed to be running in regular intervals.
Foodie moments in Genoa
Genoa is also popular for the typical green pesto. I had to give it a try! It was a Friday, but it was incredibly hard to get to find some good open places. I ended up walking through the city for some time, but I finished the day in a local restaurant where nobody really spoke decent English, but that didn’t matter. Because the food was divine! Do you know how you recognize a good local Italian restaurant? They don’t have a menu in 15 languages with pictures, but a handwritten one!
Hertz rental story is not over!
Returning the rental car to a closed shop
I woke up in the morning, and had one more quest to do: return the car. I loaded the rental office into the built-in navigation in the car, and went to fill up the tank. I bought some coffee, and everything seemed ideal. I have a good time reserve, the office is just a block away….oh man, I was wrong! I arrived to the office, but it was closed. Again? The person on Hertz line told me the day before that although this office is closed for the bank holiday on Friday, it will resume working on Saturday as usual. But the pulled down blind meant only one thing – I have to call Hertz again.
Hertz in the airport
The woman on the phone was a bit annoyed that there’s such a problem (not me causing it, heh!). She asked me to bring the car to the airport, where the office is open 24/7. This meant extra 30 minutes driving and extra expenditures for getting from the airport back to the train station in Genoa, from which I had a train around noon leaving for Milano. But there was not much I could do. I just had to go to the airport.
Everything went smoothly after, I even managed to arrive to the train station earlier than planned. Luckily, I spent the left over time drinking Lavazza and buying books. By the way, I believe that all the train stations should be prescribed by law to have a book shop! And then I boarded the train with a magical code 666 and left for the last stop of the road trip – Milan.
When I started planning this road trip through Italy, I was quite sure that I want to visit the South. However, I didn’t manage to find any matching flight from the South back to Budapest, so I ended up planning this grand tour that included Milan as well – because my return flight was from there. Originally, I wanted to skip being in the North for a lot of time, because….it’s winter. If I wanted to freeze, I could have stayed in Budapest, where the temperatures were around -10C for most of my road trip.
In love with Milano Centrale train station
I love travelling by train. Taking the train in Italy was a huge adventure. One thing that I enjoyed the most was getting off and seeing the beautiful train stations. I liked the one in Florence and in Genoa, but Milan – Milan Centrale just took my breath away! I have never seen a nicer train station! Really! Upon arrival, I spent good 40 minutes exploring this astonishing piece of architecture.
Milan is the capital of fashion. As much as I am not really a big fashionista, I couldn’t help it, but I noticed how people dress differently in Milan. I immediately wanted to meet some model. Like a real person model, not on the omnipresent billboards surrounding me.
And I got lucky already during my first hour in Milan. I went to buy a daily ticket for the public transport, and was standing in a queue behind a girl and an older woman. They seemed not to be related, but they were there together without a doubt as they were keeping a mild conversation. The girl had a heavy make up and super trendy clothes, but you could see how timid her looks were. It seemed that the woman is helping her get a monthly pass for the public transport – so indeed, this teenager (despite the tons of make up on her face, you could see that she is very young – 13 or 14 years old at most) was a new arriving model coming to Milan to make her big modelling career. It was an interesting encounter.
Public transport in Milan
Milan is the biggest city of Italy with population around 7 million people. The city seemed to be very vibrant, and full of people! I went to the hotel by public transport, which was a very old tram with wooden seats and funny handles. There’s also a metro in Milan, and the public transport seemed to be very well-organized.
Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II, La Scala and the Last Supper
After leaving my carry-on luggage in the hotel Leonardo in the heart of Chinatown, I went to discover the famous Duomo. I was again super lucky with light, because I arrived just in time when the sky turned pink. It created such a nice contrast to the white marble of the Duomo, and the blue sky above it! I didn’t get so lucky with the temperatures…But, if you are in Milan, what else can you do than shopping! That’s almost obligatory. So, I went around the Duomo, explored the queue to go inside. Made a gazillion pictures, spent some time exploring the details of this gigantic church, and decided to hit the stores to warm up a bit.
Shopping in Milan
Don’t take me too seriously! I am a non-consumerist and I don’t like buying clothes. But I love spending time in bookshops. So I did. There was a huge bookshop in the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II. I would have bought more books, but my carry-on luggage had only a limited allowance, so I had to leave them in the shop. I still left with the Secret sketchbook of Leonardo da Vinci, and a Guidebook for publishing your first book (did I ever tell you that I would want to write a book myself?). I was really surprised how big the bookshop was, and how many various writers they were covering (in the English section).
Last Supper in La Scala
Don’t get too excited! I searched for La Scala and was a bit disappointed how normal the building looks from the outside. It was just another classical building in the centre of Milan, but I believe that it looks marvellous! What looked gigantic again, was the queue to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper. Being a painter myself, I always like going to museums. But after standing the queue for 1.5 hours to enter the Galleria D’Accademia in Florence, I promised to myself that my health is more important than seeing the original painting from a huge distance. The temperatures were quite low -3C, so I grabbed my Last Supper in the form of a tasty panini and Aperol Spritz, bought some wine and olives in a store, and headed to the hotel to enjoy my last night in Italy.
Arrivederci, bella Italia!
This concludes my 12-day long wandering through Italy. I have travelled 2,000 kilometres with all possible means of transportation including a plane, a boat, a train, a car, a tram, a bus, and a metro! I discovered the roots of European civilisation at the places where the history was written. I spent some time breathing the sea breeze. I went on this trip to find out if I like the seaside during winter – I do! I met a lot of people on the road, saw so many things, and tasted even more!
One last thought
I am so grateful I can travel, special thanks go to the generation of my parents, who fought for the freedom. Your courage will never be forgotten! Thank you that I can (travel and much more than that). And a little message to all of you, who read all those articles about my Italy road trip – “travel, please!” Only travelling broadens our horizons and makes us less scared of unknown and undiscovered. Travelling is the best medicine for being tolerant. Like it or not, we are all global citizens, and we should get to know the planet we live on.