Pisa’s iconic Leaning Tower is our stop in Day 8 of our European Vacation! In today’s episode of our on-going series me, my wife Erika and our three kids aged seven, five and one, spend the day learning history and snapping pictures of the leaning tower of Pisa. Despite a horrible start to the day, we managed to make it to our destination on-time and make the most of the time we had in Pisa’s Cathedral Square.

For more iconic European landmarks check out our previous blog posts on our stops at Paris and Venice.

Worst Possible Start – Wrong Trains and Heavy Rains

train to pisa1
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pisa central station
pisa taxi

Our Pisa adventure kicked off with what could be best described as a series of unfortunate events. We woke up early in our hotel room in Monterosso, packed our bags, had breakfast and rushed to the train station. The sky, which was overcast and cloudy the previous day, opened up with heavy rain. And to top it all off we boarded the wrong train.

Pisa Travel Tip – When Life Gives you Lemons…

Travel mishaps such as lost connections, departure delays or flight cancellations can be stressful and overwhelming (especially when you’re in a new and unfamiliar city), but it’s important to stay calm and improvise. Possible solutions include arranging alternative transportation, rescheduling, or exploring new destinations. View travel setbacks as opportunities for unexpected adventures and personal growth.

We improvised raincoats by paying the cook on the train 5 Euros for some plastic bags which we fashioned into makeshift raincoats. We then proceeded to get off at the next station and catch the correct train to Pisa. Not the greatest start to the day, but we made the best of it. No adventure is without with a few hiccups!

Pisa Travel Tip – Explore Florence and Pisa in One Day

Many cruise ships in Italy dock at the port city of Livorno and offer passengers 10-12 hours to explore the area. From personal experience, it is entirely possible to explore not just Livorno, but also Florence and Pisa during that brief time – you just have to plan properly and be prepared for contingencies.

Here’s what we did during our last cruise ship trip to Italy: Start in Florence: Take the train to Florence from Livorno and spend 3-4 hours exploring the city’s rich history and culture. Take the train to Pisa: From Florence take a train to Pisa for a relaxed afternoon, safe in the knowledge you are closer to your cruise ship in case of unexpected delays. Check train schedules and have a backup plan for returning to your cruise ship, such as taking an Uber/taxi in case you are late or miss the last train back to Livorno.

Finally Reaching Pisa


Much to the relief of everyone, we finally made it to Pisa with no further delays or drama. After stowing our luggage at the Pisa Train Station, we hopped on a taxi to Cathedral Square, the site of the world-famous leaning tower. A bus would have been much cheaper, but we opted for a taxi since it is quicker and we were willing to pay a little extra to be able to spend more time exploring Pisa.

Pisa Travel Tip – Stow Your Bags!

Stow Your Bags offers convenient and easy luggage storage in many cities across Europe. Simply book online and pay in advance. Pisa train station also has a luggage storage service, but it’s often busy and doesn’t offer advance booking. Both options are convenient for travelers who want to explore the city without checking into a hotel.

Exploring Pisa Cathedral Square


I don’t need to write endless paragraphs about our time at Pisa Cathedral Square – the pictures speak for themselves. It lives up to the hype and we had a great time exploring the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa Cathedral and Pisa Baptistery (even though we were a little rushed trying to see everything in the time available). The only place we didn’t go to in Cathedral Square was inside he Leaning Tower itself, since the climb wasn’t feasible with two young boys and a baby in a stroller. Pisa Cathedral Square something everyone should experience at least one time in their lives – Erika and I count ourselves extremely lucky to have visited more than once.

Leaving Pisa & Conclusion

The kids were getting tired and a little cranky so we took that as our cue to head back to the station to take the train to Rome. Before leaving we browsed the souvenir stands – the kids, as usual, wanted to buy everything so I had to remind them that we had limited luggage space which was already bursting at the seams with all the purchases we have made in our trip so far. Our Pisa adventure ended with us on the bus heading to the train station, tired but happy.

Stay tuned for the next entry in our European Trip series, where we explore Rome and board a cruise ship!

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Last Two Stops in Cinque Terre: Vernazza & Monterosso

Welcome to the Cinque Terre stop of our ongoing European adventure, where myself, my wife Erika and our three kids aged seven, five and one explore Europe on planes, trains and cruise-ship. In today’s entry we wrap up our tour of the five picturesque seaside towns that make up the Cinque Terre region of Italy. We just finished visiting Manarola, Riomaggiore and Corniglia – our next stop on our whirlwind Cinque Terre tour: Vernazza

Cinque Terre Stop #4 – Vivid Vernazza


After our downhill hike in Corniglia (our previous stop in the “Five Lands“), we boarded the train for Vernazza. The train station, conveniently located in the town center, spared us the uphill climbs that we had to endure in our previous stops. If you are here after reading our previous entry, you won’t be surprise to find out that Vernazza is yet another “charming coastal town in Cinque Terre”.

By now we were all a little tired and starting to feel a little loopy. I kept calling Vernazza “Monterosso” and Erika thought she lost our baby (our baby, Emma, was safe with me the whole time). We decided to make a beeline to the Vernazza Seafront since it was so close to the town center where we were.

The vibrant colors of the buildings against the sea were a feast for the eyes and the waves rolling crashing against the rugged cliffs created a mesmerizing spectacle. No matter how tired we were and how many times we had seen this seafront view in our Cinque Terre tour, it never failed to amaze.

As we strolled along the promenade, our boys couldn’t help but be captivated by the fishermen casting their nets into the choppy waters. Even our baby, Emma, seemed excited. We topped off our visit to Vernazza by getting some gelato and headed back to the train station.

Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Use Google Maps for Public Transport Schedules in Europe

Technology has simplified travel a great deal – even compared to when Erika and I made the same trip 10 years ago. Roaming data plans for cell phones across Europe are much more affordable now then they were back then. Thanks to online services like Google Maps, the days of poring over train schedules and worrying about missed connections are long gone. We used Google Maps to check train schedules and platforms in real-time, ensuring a seamless journey to our next destination.

Cinque Terre Stop #5 – Mesmerizing Monterosso al Mare


After a day filled with exploration and gelato, we boarded a train back to Monterosso. Monterosso is divided into two separate parts: an old town and a new town. They are connected by a pedestrian tunnel, which is a fun to walk across since it has various window cutouts built into it with exhibits highlighting the local history. For more on our explorations of Monterosso, check out our Day 5 in Europe blog post.

The day was coming to an end, as was our time in Cinque Terre. The plan for our last day in Monterosso was for dinner and then back to the hotel. Unfortunately, the restaurant I had in mind, which got great reviews, was booked solid so we had to scramble for an alternative. Thankfully we had a great meal at La Cantina Del Pescatore Bar Enoteca, which was also busy, but managed to accommodate us.

On the walk back to the hotel from the restaurant I couldn’t help marvel at how enchanting Monterosso was in the evening when the day-trippers and cruise ship crowds departed. A peaceful evening walk was a fitting end to our busy day.

Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Baby strollers

It’s entirely possible to explore this stunning region with your little one in tow. Go for a lightweight, easily maneuverable stroller that can handle uneven terrain. Be prepared for staircases and steep inclines. As you can see it can be a challenge to carry the stroller (with baby!) up the stairs in some of the hilly Cinque Terre towns.

The End of Our Time in Cinque Terre

Back at our cozy hotel in Monterosso, Erika was at the bar getting drinks and I was in bed reflecting on our day’s adventures. Emma was toddling around the room and our two boys were having the time of their lives creating mayhem in their bunk beds. As the night settled in, we sipped cocktails and were recharging our batteries for the next leg of our journey — Pisa.

Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Family Friendly Hotels

Cinque Terre is an ideal destination for a family vacation. Fortunately, there are several family-friendly hotels in the region that cater to the needs of both parents and children. The hotel we stayed at, Hotel Souvenir, is a great option for families. It’s located in Monterosso al Mare and makes for a great base to explore the rest of Cinque Terre.

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The Trip So Far – Day 1 In Cinque Terre, Italy with My Wife and Three Kids

Welcome to the latest installment of our European travel series! In this blog post, we’ll take you on a whirlwind journey through Cinque Terre, Italy. Join me, my wife Erika, and our three kids as we navigate the picturesque villages, enjoy the stunning coastline, and provide you with some valuable tips and insights for your own adventure. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our Previous blog posts on Paris, Venice and the high-speed train journey from Venice to Cinque Terre.

Located in the Ligurian coast of northwest, Cinque Terre (Italian for “Five Lands”) is made up of five picturesque coastal villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. This region is known for its stunning cliffside landscapes, hiking trails, fresh seafood, and is a must visit if you’re ever touring Italy.

Starting Our Day in Monterosso

cinque terra day pass

We started our day bright and early in our hotel room in Monterosso, one of the five towns that make up Cinque Terre. We resolved to have an early breakfast and leave our hotel to explore as much of Cinque Terre as we could in a single day.

Travel by car in the winding narrow roads connecting the five towns of Cinque Terre is difficult – the best way to explore the area is by train. Initially my plan was to travel between each town by water-taxi, unfortunately the waters on the day we arrived were too choppy to allow for safe travel by boat. We bought a family travel pass for the entire day which let us board all the local trains that stop in each town. It also let us use the local shuttle buses and even offered free access to the paid public restrooms at the train stops.

We had to rush to catch the train and luckily, we made it just in time. It can be difficult to explore all five towns in a single day, but possible with some planning. Be aware of train schedules and budget yourself enough time to explore each town before moving on to the next.

Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Prepare for Contingencies

Prepare for contingencies and be flexible with your planning. When travelling, circumstances beyond your control can change at any time – flight delays, bad weather, local holidays, etc. If something you had planned doesn’t work out, don’t let it ruin your holiday! Be adaptable and come up with alternative plans to make the most of your day.

Cinque Terre Stop #1 – Magnificent Manarola


Our first stop was Manarola, where we explored the narrow cobbled streets and marveled at the quaint painted buildings. We made our way to the coast and were rewarded by breathtaking views of the village, the sea, and the rugged coastline. The choppy waters of the sea did not diminish our enjoyment of the amazing cliffside views.

After a quick stop at a roadside cafe (Erika and the kids got some fried calamari) we headed back to the station to board the train for our next stop. I was a little surprised by the appearance of a freight train, which zoomed through our platform at full speed – scary when you’re waiting for your train with two hyperactive boys.

Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Mind the Gap!

When travelling to bustling places like train stations, roads and docks – keep an eye on your kids! Especially if they are younger children who are full of energy and can’t stand still. Not every tourist hotspot, not matter how picturesque, has the same safety health and safety standards you may be used to in your home country. Keep well within the safety lines and make sure your kids don’t get too close to the road/railroad tracks/water.

Cinque Terre Stop #2 – Rugged Riomaggiore


We boarded the first train that came along and got off at the next stop. Initially I wasn’t even sure where we were, but the street signs outside the train station helpfully informed we were in Riomaggiore, the last of the sequence of towns that make up the “five lands”.

Much like our whirlwind tour of Manarola, we walked through the charming old buildings and cobblestone streets and made a beeline for the coast, where once again we were greeted by enchanting views. The village’s colorful buildings nestled along the cliffs were picture-postcard perfect. Even the kids were impressed!

I should point out that we’re doing our tour of the five lands in reverse. We started off in Monterosso, which is the first of the five towns that make up Cinque Terre, but instead of working our way down, each town, we started off at the very end and made our way up back to Monterosso. Why do this? We wanted to avoid the cruise ship crowds who would be taking the more tradition route down the five towns. Were we successful? I’d like to think so – my wife Erika would probably disagree!

Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Be Spontaneous!

Sometimes the best part of travelling is to wing it! Board the first bus or train that comes by and see where it takes you. Have a vague plan and outline of what you want to do and where you want to go, but don’t be a slave to your itinerary! Explore, get lost, find your way again. The best travel memories come from unexpected stops and unplanned events.

Cinque Terre Stop #3 – Craggy Corniglia


We rushed back to the station and took the local train to the next stop in our whirlwind Cinque Terre tour: Corniglia. Unlike the other “five land” towns, Corniglia does not directly face the sea, but is built on a hill some ways up the train station. The two options to reach Corniglia is to hike up winding trails or take the shuttle bus. Since our day pass gave us access to the shuttle bus we opted for the latter – unfortunately so did everyone else who were visiting the town with us. The bus ride up the hill was picturesque, but crowded – we had about 40 people crammed into the tiny shuttle bus.

Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Buy the Day Pass

The Cinque Terre Card is a must when travelling across the Five Lands. It gives a family of four access to a variety of public transport options without having to buy tickets each time, saving time and money. With one pass you get access to the trains, shuttle buses, hiking walkways and even get free use of the train station restrooms. Prices vary by season, be sure to check the website for current pricing.

We explored the tiny town and took in the sea views – which were nice but not as spectacular as the ones in Manarola and Riomaggiore. I’m reluctant to say this but if you are short on time I would consider passing on Corniglia. It’s a charming little town and we are happy we visited but if you are on a cruise or have a limited amount of time I would consider other villages in Cinque Terre over Corniglia.

I say this based on our situation with kids and the limited time we had to see and experience everything. If you have the time and ability to hike there are some really cool trails to check out and explore around Corniglia.

Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Careful on the Hills!

The towns of Cinque Terre, while lovely, are built on hills and can be quite steep in places. A lot of the streets are on an incline and the narrow streets have steps built in for foot traffic – you don’t want to fall down any of them!

Hiking Downhill to the Corniglia Train Station

Cinque Terre Train Station
Cinque Terre Local Train

We decided to skip the bus to skip the bus and ended up walking back down to the train station. The line for the bus was huge and the entire walk down the hills was only about 15 minutes. One nice thing about hiking back to the station was that we were able to enjoy the countryside a lot more. The hills around Corniglia are covered in greenery and vineyards. We saw an old (presumably abandoned?) rail tracks used for hauling good up the hills.

We made our way back to the train station, tired but happy. Our Cinque Terre adventure continues in the next blog post – be sure to check it out! For more of our travel vlogs, click here.

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Our Journey Continues – Leaving Venice for Monterosso on the Italian Riviera

We’re on Day 4 of our trip through Europe. By now Erika, myself, our two young boys and baby girl are seasoned travelers, ready to take anything that comes our way! This time we leave Venice and head to Monterosso, on the rugged coastal region of Italy called Cinque Terre, or Five Lands (also known in many places as the Italian Riviera). Check out the previous entries on our Europe trip, including Day 1 and Day 2 in Venice. You can find the entire series of travel vlogs here.

Leaving a Rainy Venice by High-Speed Train

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Train to Monterosso3

Walking back to the hotel on our final night in Venice we were hit by rain and thunderstorms – but that didn’t dampen our spirits. Our two boys, drenched but enthusiastic, marveled at the lightning in the sky. We had just enjoyed a fantastic dinner at a local restaurant, where we were treated like family and were in high spirits. We went to bed early since we had to wake at the crack of dawn to catch the high-speed train to our next destination: Moterosso in Cinque Terre.

Monterosso, Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Buy Your Train Tickets in Advance!

Buying train tickets in advance when traveling in Italy offers several advantages. Firstly, you can usually pick your seat location with advance tickets. We always select seats near the exit so we can keep an eye on our luggage. Also consider the direction the train is travelling when you pick your seats, to ensure a better view of the countryside on your train trip.

We woke at 5:30am and made it to the train station with time to spare. After taking our seats, the first thing I did was visit the dining car to buy some snacks for the kids. After the kids fell asleep on the long train journey, Erika and I took the time to discuss our plans for each of the five towns in we would visit in Cinque Terre. I was in favor of following my Rick Steves’ Travel Guide, while Erika thought we should just head out and wing it.

Switching Trains in Florence2
Switching Trains in Florence4
Switching Trains in Florence3
Switching Trains in Florence1

Half way through our trip we had to switch trains in Florence. The train switch in Florence was seamless, and we were eager to continue our adventure. I could tell our boys were getting more and more excited for the trip as the train sped towards Monterosso and they could see the Ligurian Sea from the windows.

Monterosso, Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Use Travel Guides

Travel Guides, such the Rick Steves’ Italy or other similar books, are a great way to do your research prior to visiting a place. They provide useful information from seasoned travelers that can help make your journey a lot smoother.

Arriving in Monterosso, – A Quaint Seaside Paradise


Upon reaching Monterosso, we were captivated by its charm. We still had half a day left and were eager to explore the charms of this sleepy coastal town – but first had to check in to our hotel room. Our hotel room was nicer than we expected and offered lovely views of the town. The kids were thrilled about their bunk beds, Erika and I were thrilled by the electronic shutters on the windows. We had two days to explore Cinque Terre, and we wasted no time in hitting the streets of Monterosso.

Our exploration started with a visit to the beautiful church in the old town area. We then took the winding streets down to the beach, where the kids had a blast running around – although the water was rough and the tide high, so I had to pull them away from the edge of the pier. We did a bit of shopping (no matter where we end up in Europe Erika and the kids always find a place to shop), and took some pictures on the cliffs overlooking the sea. Monterosso is the first of the five towns along the coast that make up Cinque Terre – each town offers spectacular views of the sea and Monterosso is no exception.

Monterosso, Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Google Maps

When travelling by train in Italy, check Google Maps for up-to-date schedules. Or the train company websites also work for news on schedules, route closures and ticket prices – although I prefer Google Maps for ease of use.

Dinner at the San Martino Gastronomia

Monterosso Dinner1
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Monterosso Dinner4

We had a truly excellent dining experience the night before in Venice, and I wanted to keep the streak going in Monterosso. I had heard about an excellent local restaurant that offered authentic Italian cuisine in an intimate setting. Problem was, the venue was tiny and they always had more guests than available seats, so we had to queue to get in. Luckily, we were the first in line and were the first to be seated.

The meal was great! Afterwards Erika and I were comparing dining experiences between Monterosso and Venice. We concluded that each night brought its own unique charm (although Erika preferred the relaxed atmosphere and superlative service at the Venice restaurant). From the small, intimate restaurant in Monterosso to the warm hospitality in Venice, our hearts (and stomachs) were full.

The End of Our First Day in Monterosso

As the day came to a close, we meandered back to our hotel room through Monterosso’s cobbled streets, I noticed how much quieter the town was in the evening after the cruise ship tourists had left for the day. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cruise and will continue doing them, but sometimes it’s nice to explore a spot on your own, at your leisure, away from the relentless timetable of cruise ship arrival and departure times.

That’s it for our first night in Cinque Terre. Stay tuned for our next blog post as we continue our journey through the Italian Riviera with our three kids. Until then, ciao!

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