Three-Country Europass '95
Cinque Terre to Carcassone

It was in the Rick Steves books that we first read about the Cinque Terre, Italy's "Five Lands" that lie along the rocky coast a little north of La Spezia. At the time that Rick Steves first wrote about this region, it was relatively uncrowded and really qualifies as a part of his "Back Door" adventures. Today, it is much more popular and can become really crowded at certain times of the year. In most of the villages, accommodations are severely limited. We managed to spend one night in Vernazza at Gianni's, but on the first night, everything was full, and we stayed in La Spezia. Vernazza Harbor
Vernazza It is easy to travel up and down the route of all the villages by using the local trains and by walking. We really liked Vernazza most of all and after taking a quick look at the other villages spent most of our time relaxing by the harbor, watching the boats, and reading. In Rick Steves' books, he recommends the Cinque Terre for taking a vacation from your vacation. It's a place where you don't feel compelled to look for a museum or a famous sight; just have a bottle of the local wine and let all worries disappear.
Manarola is one of the other villages of the Cinque Terre. We took the train from Vernazza down to Riamaggiore and then walked along the Via Amour (the cliffside path) back to Manarola. The views along the Via Amour are among the most memorable that we have had in all our years of travel. The sounds of the waves splashing on the rocks far below and of the birds calling cannot be soon forgotten. At the time of our visit, the Via Amour had been recently repaired after some damage that had been done by landslides. The walk between Riamaggiore and Manarola probably wouldn't take more than twenty minutes or so if you weren't constantly stopped by the awesome sights. Manarola
Carcasonne's Wall After leaving the Cinque Terre, we took the night train across the south of France to Carcassone. This was the first time we had ever had the opportunity to travel in first class couchettes. First class couchettes are ten times better than second class couchettes. The compartment had only four nicely-padded bunks, and no one else was put in with the two of us. We arrived at Carcassone at some ungodly time in the morning (about 5:00), and we sat in the station until we thought our hotel might let us stash the bags. We stayed at the Hotel Donjon in the heart of the old walled city. When we arrived at the hotel about 6:30, we were (unbelievably) allowed to put our bags in what would be our room and were able to have the huge buffet breakfast. The sight of the walls of Carcassone made all the trouble of getting there worth the effort.
The old walled city itself is pretty small and can be easily covered in about an hour. Like Mont St. Michel, Rothenburg, and other stops on the tour bus circuit, Carcassone is very crowded from about 9:00 to 5:00 every day, but late in the afternoon, it becomes very pleasant. Carcassone's biggest weakness lies in its souvenir shops; unlike other tourist stops that we have seen which have some tasteful shops mixed in with the junk, Carcassone is dominated by the junk. I don't believe I've ever seen so many plastic swords in all my life. In Carcassone's old city

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