Fraggle Rock’s Uncle Traveling Matt Explores Italy

If you were a child during the 80s, you probably have a special place in your heart for the TV show, Fraggle Rock. Who could forget Mokey, Wembley, Boober, Red, Gobo and Gobo’s adventurous Uncle Traveling Matt. I’ve had a Traveling Matt doll since I was little and decided to allow him to stretch his legs during a trip to Italy last month.

I knew I had to bring him along after my experience with Nandy the Uglydoll Goes to England. Wes and I are expecting our first child, a daughter, in September, so I plan to put Traveling Matt and photos of his journey in her nursery.

Taking in the view from our apartment terrace in Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Uncle Traveling Matt in Cinque Terre

Taking the typical tourist photo near the Tower of Pisa

Uncle Traveling Matt in Pisa

Admiring the pastel marble outside the Duomo in Florence

Uncle Traveling Matt at the Duomo

They just recently allowed photos to be taken of Michelangelo’s “David” inside the Accademia

Traveling Matt and the David

The hills and grape vines of the Chianti region

Uncle Traveling Matt in Chianti

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Manarola Vineyard Walk

Beyond city centres, you’ll often find locals going about their day to day lives and discover what it’s actually like to live in the place you’re visiting. For me there is no better place to see how Italians work, live and play than in the villages of Cinque Terre along the Italian Riviera.

In one of those villages, Manarola, most of the tourist activity centers around the town square, Piazza Capellini, near the waterfront. But, if you walk uphill past the gelato shops and restaurants you’ll discover what keeps the economy of Manarola alive. Vineyards of course!

The Manarola Vineyard Walk is a narrow dirt path along terraced grape vineyards overlooking town. It is quite a peaceful and uncrowded walk as not many tourists are familiar with it. You’ll walk along a somewhat un-sturdy wooden railing as the path leads back towards the sea and curves west of town.

Manarola Vineyard Walk

Manarola

View of Manarola from the vineyard walk

The 20-minute vineyard walk leads to Punta Bonfigio cemetery and park. It is not by coincidence that the cemetery has one of the best sea views in Manarola. After Napoleon conquered Italy, he mandated the placement of cemeteries outside of town due to perceived health risks. The cemetery looks and operates differently than those I’ve seen in the United States. There are grave markers and a mausoleum. On the outside of each chamber in the mausoleum is a photo of the deceased with their name, birth date and date of death. Due to limited space, the deceased remain in the mausoleum until the next family member dies. They are then moved to a communal bone crypt.

Beyond the walls of the cemetery is a playground and flower garden that extends to the cliff’s edge. Here you’ll find a sculpture of a woman draped in grapes, the town’s lifeline as you’ll remember, and a meaningful juxtaposition of life and death.

Woman and Grapes Statue

Statue at Punta Bonfigio Park

What have you discovered when venturing beyond the city centre during your travels?

Cinque Terre by Foot

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Last month Budget Travel highlighted breathtaking treks from around the world in their article “12 Most Beautiful Paths – No Car Required.” It brought a huge smile to my face to see the walking paths of the Cinque Terre (Italy) make the list.

This distinction is truly no surprise though to me, my husband, and the family and friends that visited this Italian Riviera gem almost a year ago for my and Wes’ wedding in Vernazza. Vernazza is one of five seaside villages that make up the area known as the Cinque Terre. Each village is connected to its neighbor by cliff-side walking trails. Running east to west, the seven-mile trail begins in the village of Riomaggiore. This section of the trail, named Via dell’Amore (Pathway of Love) is the only paved section. The trail continues to Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and then Monterosso.

The trail is a must-do when visiting this area. It’s such a unique way to discover the Cinque Terre. At the end of each section of the trail appears a town with colorful buildings, inviting people and medieval churches. It’s a unique experience that can not be matched from any of my other travels. We walked among vineyards, olive groves and lemon orchards. We walked narrow sections with no railing — viewing the sea waves splashing over rocks below us. We climbed steep steps in the rocky landscape, including the 382-step staircase from Manarola to Corniglia. My sister, Danielle, even discovered a man selling limoncello through a fence in his orchard.

We also found that getting around each town by foot was no problem since it took an average of five minutes to get from the top of town to the bottom. Though there are small parking lots at the top of each town, you won’t find cars traveling up and down the narrow streets. Even deliveries are made by hand trucks.

When we preferred to give our feet a rest, or were crunched for time, we village-hopped with the local train serving the five towns. Town stations are only minutes apart on the train line. When we rode from the easternmost village, Riomaggiore, to the westernmost, Monterosso, it took about five minutes.

Today, sections of the seven-mile trail remain closed after massive flooding and mudslides on October 25, 2011 completely devastated Vernazza and Monterosso. The path from Manarola to Corniglia as well as the path from Corniglia to Vernazza are closed and undergoing repair.

Both towns are quickly recovering and opening their doors to residents and visitors. Wes and I are heading back in August to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary (June 29). It was our first trip to the Cinque Terre in 2009 and our stay in Riomaggiore that made us fall in love with this tiny part of the world. Now, it’s the people, landscape and memories that keep bringing us back.