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I am baffled about traveling from Florence to the Cinqua Terre. Also having similar issues from Ephesus, Turkey to Izmir, Turkey to catch a flight to Istanbul. Help!

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You travel from Florence to the Cinque Terre by train. It's not mystifying at all. There are no direct trains so you will need to change trains in Pisa or La Spezia and on some runs, both cities. It's just the way it works to the CT. Check out this SAMPLE TRAIN SCHEDULE. You can see the times and train changes.

It takes about 2hrs 40min to get to Riomaggiore from Florence. Trains run hourly out of Florence during the daytime.