Tuesday, October 23, 2012

That Place You've Read About

When you read about Italy, you read of Rome, of Venice, of Florence, of Capri, and of that elusive cluster of coastal towns - Cinque Terre. Literally meaning the five lands. I'd always heard that these five seaside villages were cuter than cute and ideal for backpacking students to hike their connecting trails with primo vistas. Of course I thought these places couldn't be nearly as idyllic as everyone said, but I was so wrong. They were downright adorable. We caught an early train out of Rome on Friday and arrived in Vernazza, the town where we would be staying, by noon. Since we couldn't check into our room until 2, we spent some time lounging on the jetties of the harbor and soaking up the sun.

so happy to be in Vernazza


When 2 o'clock arrived, we found our little apartment on a back street of Vernazza, but there was no official hotel/hostel sign in sight. But the door was open. So we walked in and there was our key along with a note from the owner! How cute is that! It was a little one room apartment with a double bed and a single bed along with a kitchen sink, some cups, and our own little bathroom. It was absolutely perfect for our two nights there. (Oh, and did I mention it was cheap? I just love it when that happens.) After settling, we set out to explore for the day. Before leaving Vernazza, we climbed up an old Castle with a tower overlooking the sea and the view was so beautiful. Something we certainly were not short of on this trip was magnificent views. After the castle, we took a train to Monterosso al Mare (the only other Cinque Terre town that is to the north of Vernazza). Walking around and exploring the city, we found a local wine/pesto/marmalade/sauce shop that was recommended by a student-geared travel book. And it was recommended for a very good reason. Two words. Free. Samples. And the man who worked there was so nice. I tasted some magnificent lemon marmalade, local pesto (what the Genova region is famous for), red pesto, and so many other delicious things. The proprietor was so generous, he asked us if we wanted to try any wine and we said sure, so he opens three (yes three) new bottles of wine to give us samples. It was just so unexpectedly generous! And the man really knows what he's doing, each of us ended up buying something small, and we only did so because we had the opportunity to taste it! I walked away happily with two small jars of the aaaaaaahmazing pesto (one to eat here, and one to take back to the states). Because it was just. that. good. Once we had covered the town, we grabbed dinner at a good local restaurant then hopped the train back to Vernazza to get some sleep before our busy Saturday. 

on top of the tower

view of Vernazza from the tower

Monterosso al Mare

Saturday morning we hit the ground running: grabbed a cappuccino to power up, then struck out onto the hiking trail from Vernazza to Corniglia, it's southern neighbor. Now before I go any further, let me note, due to maintenance/safety, the primary hiking trails that are always raved about that connect the five towns and run right along the coast were unfortunately closed. But no worries: there are secondary trails that are just slightly further inland, but still have marvelous views. So that's what we took! Now, the hike between the these two towns is supposedly one of the hardest. And let me just say, it was beautiful, but it was rough. It was steps and steps and steps. They were steep and they were numerous. Essentially it was the best and most beautiful workout I think I've ever had. We hiked up the mountain that is on the south side of Vernazza, then connected with the car road that winds back down the other side to land in Corniglia. I think in total the hike took us about 2 hours.

looking back on Vernazza from the hike

on the hike

on the hike

Once arriving in Corniglia, we toured the town and found a place to picnic. We had made sandwiches that morning and bought some fruit at a stand in Monterosso and it all made for a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing lunch.


After lunch, we took a train to Riomaggiore, the southernmost town. We roamed it streets, got the lay of the land, and then spent some time by the harbor. Sitting harborside, we enjoyed some good gelato and essentially just wasted time. We had thought earlier in the day that we would continue to hike from town to town, but the first hike was so exhausting that we ruled that out early on. Before heading out of Riomaggiore, we wandered around the sea front a bit more and discovered a little beach that we didn't know was there and it was supurb. Since we didn't have our suits, we just sat on some rocks on the edge and stuck our feet in. The water was impressively clear in that little beach. The water in all of Cinque Terre was lovely, but not particularly clear. But somehow, the water in this little beach was as clear as glass. 


beach at Riomaggiore

Finally, as late afternoon was upon us, we took the train back north by one town from Riomaggiore to Manarola. Manarola was precious, but the real gold nugget was dinner. Two of our guide books recommended Trattoria del Billy, a hidden gem high up in the mountains of the town. We had read that we needed a reservation...which of course we didn't, so we hoped that by showing up at 6 (2 hours before the traditional Italian dinner time) we could snag a reserved table and vacate it before the rightful occupants arrived. And we did just that! The staff was hilarious when we showed up worn out and clad in hiking attire asking for a table at a reservation-only restaurant. As a joke, the proprietor told us that for 50 cents we could just have the cook himself! SO FUNNY. Quite the comical group. In the end, they did give us a table. The restaurant was adorable. It had primarily outdoor seating, arranged on a variety of four different balconies/terraces that branched off one very narrow and very steep staircase. One landing only had room for a table of two, another had two four person tables, two lounge chairs with a table in between, and a porch swing. And the lowest and furthest out terrace where we sat, had multiple tables, but still only sat about 20 people total. Our table was pushed up against the railing, and quite literally looking straight down on Manarola, and straight across the valley to the rows and rows of vineyards. As if that wasn't enough, the food was magnificent. This might sound silly, but specifically, the basalmic was UNBELIEVABLE. It was as thick as molasses and surprisingly sweet. So before we even got our food, the bread with the oil and that nectar-of-heaven basalmic was bliss. For dinner I had a dish of pasta with that splendidly signature Genova pesto. Abbie and Lindsey shared a bowl of seafood with squid's ink pasta. Yes. Squid's ink. As in the pasta was black. And guess what? I tried it! Aaaaaand it just tasted like pasta. Finally, once dinner was done, we rode the train back to Vernazza and turned in for the night since we had an early train the next morning. 


We caught our train bright (or rather dark) and early the next morning and were back in Rome by noon! Now all that's between me and 10 straight days of marvelous travel are three midterms. I can not wait for Fall Break! 


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