Who: My friend and roommate Annie.
When: Midday 10/13 to SURPRISE! Midday 10/14 (more on this later)
Where: Hostel 5 Terre, Manarola, Italy
Most used phrases:
Chocolate chip gelato: stracciatella (strat-ti-ah-chelli)
Excuse me: scusi (skoo-zi)
Train: treno (treh-no)
Hiking trails: Cinque Terre is mainly known for its hiking trails – there are a few levels of difficulty and they wrap all the way around the coast. If you’re productive, you can trek the whole way in just five hours! Sadly, the easy coastal path was currently closed when we were there. But, with just a train ride you can still visit neighboring villages. We didn’t have the time but we still walked up where the path was to get a few great views of the next town over. Literally the prettiest landscapes I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
Foccacia: I like me some good bread. However, in Italy it’s more of a religion. They sold foccacia in every single store we went into in Cinque Terre and there were always a ton of interesting types to choose from. In my short time there I managed to try tomato, herb, and spinach/cheese, all as separate toppings and MY does Italian food live up to the hype. I also loved how they got served “to go” all wrapped up and you could eat it as you walked!
Inner town: Since we didn’t have the time to venture outside of Manarola itself, we did a fair amount of nosing around exploring. All the houses are built straight into the cliff so every alleyway and staircase became an adventure. Spetacular views were everywhere we looked – even the view out of our hostel window was incredible! Plus, there were a great couple of shops right in the “downtown” of the village – I got a wallet with a monster face! The little things.
Bruschetta: I got a little sentimental when I saw bruschetta on the menu at the first place we ate. I don’t exactly remember how bruschetta became a family tradition when we go out to eat, but it’s our general favorite appetizer. Usually it’s a chopped tomato mixture served on slices of french bread. Annie and I tried to calculate European sizes, so when ordering at the little bistro down the hill, we figured we would each get a serving of bruschetta and then split a pizza. Well, about fifteen minutes after ordering our waitress lugged over two plates that were, allegedly, bruschetta. We were presented with two ENORMOUS slices of bread, uncut, with the equivalent of two tomatoes loosely chopped and topped with either pesto (Annie) or sweet peppers (me). We began to saw off hunks to eat like our American bruschetta but just as soon as she wandered off our waitress reappeared with our pizza, literally laughing at us with being so ambitious with food. Between the two of us we managed to eat it all! Seriously delicious, as you can tell by my face.
Trains: Ah, now to the exciting part. So, when we were coming from the airport we quickly learned that Italians are big on trains. And soon, we were too! Easy to navigate, simple to order tickets – very sold. It was a four minute train from the airport to the central Piza station, then an hour train into a town called La Speciza, then a ten minute ride on a regional train to our specific village called Manarola. We conquered it all like pros and exchanged a high five once we got to our destination in about two hours. Then the other shoe dropped. We were in the information center in Manarola attempting to figure out which other hiking trails were open when I noticed a small, plain piece of paper with writing on it in the entryway. “Warning!” it read, “There is a national train strike from 9pm 10/13 to 9pm 10/14!” Trying to still breathe, we raced to the counter to talk to the secretary. “Ah, yes, the train strike,” she said. “It is tomorrow. No trains.” “But we have to get to the airport,” we explained. “Then yes, you should leave tonight,” she replied. “But our flight is tomorrow. Tomorrow at five in the afternoon.” She looked at us, shuffled her papers, and adjusted her glasses. “Oh. Well that is big problem for you.” After a minor bout of full fledged panicking, we managed to book a hostel in Pisa, buy train tickets for that evening, and cut our trip short. Not ideal, but I’m hoping the conductors get their rights. All in all, I think we handled it like nearly seasoned travelers. Plus, it makes one hell of a story.
Ingrid the cat: There are few cats like Ingrid. There Annie and I were, enjoying a glass of wine on the ground floor terrace of our hostel, when a calico wandered over. We clicked our tongues and invited her to come and be petted. She obliged and eventually made her way on to the table and eventually each of our laps. I gave her the name ‘Ingrid’ and we were ready to take her home with us. Then, she got clingy. Her claws dug into both of our legs when she stretched, she kept trying to bite my iPhone, and meowed obnoxiously whenever we stopped petting her. Eventually, I shooed her away with annoyance. The next morning after rebooking our entire trip, the poor thing sulked by us again. Tired and stressed, I let her up on the table and she flopped down and let me pet her. Before I knew it she was lying on her back like a dog, having me scratch her belly. Annie and I were nearly in hysterics until we noticed the entire kitchen staff come out and laugh too. Oh, Ingrid. We hope you find some good mice somewhere.
Other favorites: little open-air markets in town center, “tap wine” from our hostel, putting our feet in the Mediterranean.
End results: Our short stay in Cinque Terre was absolutely gorgeous and one of the most romantic places in the whole world (and this is coming from ME). The train situation soured our trip a little but if you get the chance COME TO MANAROLA. Simply wonderful.