Thursday, September 16, 2010

To Cinque Terre

A friend of mine apparently has a family friend who has a summer vacation home in Cinque Terre. When I asked other people (like my little sister) what Cinque Terre was, the response was always, "Oh! It's beautiful, you have to go!"

Very convincing, but not very explanatory. Cinque Terre is a group of towns (5 towns in fact) that line the northwestern coast of Italy on Ligurian Sea.

The towns are built between large striking cliffs that remind me of stretches of the California Coast between Santa Barbara and **Muir Woods**. The idea is to hike to each of the towns, swim in the beautiful Mediterranean, enjoy amazing views and eat tons of food in restaurants in an area known for its seafood, pesto and foccacia bread. Turns out, that's exactly what a group of us did, but I need to rewind for a second and talk about my adventure getting there.

My friend Elizabeth, (the one with the vacation-home friends) rented a car with 6 other people and drove up to the house on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately for me, they were all in economics, which gave them a free afternoon, while I had an Italian test in the afternoon. I google-mapped the house and saw that while it was at the top of a hill, it was only about 3 miles from a train station. After my test, I ran to catch a train out of the Bologna Centrale station, armed with only 2 weeks of Italian, some printed maps and a good sense of direction.

If you've ever traveled with me, you know that I don't stress about getting lost or being late, and things usually work out for me. This definitely came in handy for me as I missed the train I had researched but was able to find another train that arrived 15 minutes later that would have me arrive at the same time.

My first train, I was invited into a cabin by a friendly old Italian man who I was able to ask in broken Italian where I had to change trains. I was able to understand that I should switch trains in Parma, but then he kept telling me to *verb* a train conductor to get onto my next train. It took about 3 or 4 minutes for me to realize that he was using "chiudere" which means "to ask" while I had learned the verb domandare, which also means to ask. I help his wife carry her luggage of the train at Parma and bid the friendly couple farewell.

In Parma, I encountered a group of loud, giggling American undergrads who I was able to follow to the correct platform. The train ride from Parma to Spezia was beautiful - it goes through northern Italy's central mountain range, the Apennines. In between naps, I watched as the sun set over the Italian countryside and picturesque old ruins on mountaintops.

I reached La Spezie at twilight and asked a friendly looking Italian man where I might find my third and final unlabeled train, this time to a small seaside town called Vernazza. I was able to find it with minutes to spare. On the train to Vernazza, I met two American students studying music in Milan, which sounds super-awesome. Remind me to go to Milan. Anyway, they hadn't been as lucky as I had, and had missed La Spezia and were now on this train without the correct tickets. The train conductor gave them a little bit of a hassle but instead of a ticket, they just had to pay about 5 euro each.

I got off at Vernazza at 8:45pm. It was a cute little tourist town that was filled with Americans, wining and dining and enjoying the sweet life. I was able to flag down a local and ask where the beginning of the road I had mapped was. With a strange look, the local pointed in the direction, but assured me that it was "molto lontano."

The next 45 minutes was my favorite part of the trip. Under the light of the clear Italian sky, I hiked up a steep and windy mountain road toward an unfamiliar location. In all my years of being a Boy Scout, I'd never actually used the north star to orient myself until that night. It was peaceful and beautiful. Unknown to me, the house was not actually visible from the road, but off a small unlabeled dirt path that I would have never seen in the dark. My luck decided to kick in again and just as I had walked 10 meters past the house without knowing, an Italian mini-van full of my friends crested the ridge as they returned from an expedition to buy gelato.

They were pretty surprised to see me walking along the side of the road in the dark, that's for sure.