Given the size of our group (15 total), for some of our excursions, Rosemary booked private tours. This also meant we got to customize our tours and do precisely what we wanted. That was the case on our third port of call, La Spezia. Rosemary arranged for a minibus and our own tour guide.

The bus picked us up early and drove us straight to Pisa so we could see the famed Leaning Tower of Pisa. I remember seeing pictures of the tower when I was a kid and thinking it was funny. But seeing it in person is different. It really is a very large tower and the angle at which it is leaning forces a double-take.

The obligatory “holding up the tower” photo.

The guide company had arranged tickets for us to climb the tower. The two youngest grandkids were not able to climb the tower due to their age, so Rosemary stayed with them while the rest of us climbed the tower. You actually climb inside the walls. It’s over 200 steps but didn’t seem particularly challenging.

We got to spend a good 30 minutes on top of the tower. Here’s a photosphere from the top:

Toren on the Leaning Tower of Pisa

I did find it interesting that where the steps are worn varies based on the lean of the tower – people move closer to one side or the other depending on how the tower is leaning and that has resulted in deep grooves in the steps as a result. If you look closely, you can see the grooves in this short video of Debi going down the stairs.

We spent another 20 to 30 minutes at Pisa, walking around the church and taking photos. We then got back in the minibus and headed back toward La Spezia for the second part of our tour.

Apparently, the place to go right now in Italy is Cinque Terre, a national park with some villages that are right on the ocean. Not being up on the latest things to do, this was news to me. Our guide had arranged for us to stop in three towns in Cinque Terre: Riomaggiore, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. We got on the train in La Spezia and arrived in Riomaggiore in short order.

In order to make it to all three towns and get back in time to catch the cruise ship, we didn’t have a lot of time in each town. Since we hadn’t stopped for lunch at any point, in Riomaggiore, everyone decided to get food. I can go for quite a while without food and had some snacks with me anyway, so I opted instead to hike quickly to the top of Riomaggiore to see the view. I took a photosphere there:

I had to take a selfie, too:

Once everyone had food, we quickly headed down to the water and spent a few minutes there before having to head to the train station. While waiting for everyone to ascend the stairs, I bought some grapes that were amazing given how hot it was.

In Vernazza, a similar situation unfolded. Most everyone wanted gelato/ice cream. I was more interested in seeing the town. I, again, took off and climbed to the top of the town while they were getting ice cream, then headed down to the waterfront where I took this photosphere:

Once everyone else had their ice cream, they all headed down to the waterfront where we spent a little time enjoying the views and climbing on the rocks. We then boarded a ferry that took us to our last stop, Monterosso al Mare.

We had about 45 minutes in Monterosso al Mare. Debi, Toren, and I took advantage of the time to walk through the town, visit another Byzantine style church that matched Debi’s outfit, and stop by a few shops.

Debi and Toren matched this striped church in Monterosso al Mare.

We then took an alternate route to meet up with the guide that took us out and around a large outcropping that was quite scenic:

Toren with two of his cousins in Monterosso al Mare.

We ended up getting to the meeting place 10 minutes early. As we had made our way around the outcropping, I saw some stairs headed up and decided that I’d go as far up as I could in 5 minutes, then head back down so I wasn’t late. I tracked the hike back down on my watch:

As it turns out, 5 minutes was enough time to make it to the top where I found a monastery and graveyard. I didn’t have time to explore it all, but the first crypt I saw belonged to the Ferrari family, who own a large estate not far from Monterosso al Mare.

The Ferrari Family crypt in Monterosso al Mare.

From Monterosso al Mare, we took the train one last time and then met our minibus, which took us back to the cruise ship. We went to an ice skating show that night on the cruise ship. Yes, the ship has an ice rink.

One final note… I took my favorite picture of Toren and Debi on this trip in Vernazza:

Debi and Toren in Vernazza.

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