Eating, Living, Traveling

Italian Vacation Part 3 – Cinque Terre

April 17, 2015

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Yes, Cinque Terre is as gorgeous as everyone says.

We arrived in Vernazza on Easter Sunday, getting off the train from La Spezia onto a very crowded platform. We’d been told by the hotel to meet someone at the “gadget shop” but we had no idea what that meant.

“Baggage spot?” I suggested.

We walked from the small information center to the souvenir shop and asked about checking into our hotel. The guy behind the register made a phone call and then another guy showed up, looking like maybe we’d woken him from a nap or that he’d drank too much the night before. He wore Chucks without socks, thin pants rolled up at the ankle, and a polo with the hotel’s name, Casa Cato.

“It’s the yellow one,” he said, pointing up the steep hill.

It took us a while to funnel down the train station stairs with the rest of the Italian vacationers. Just like Florence, Vernazza was full of people on Easter holiday.

Up, up, up we climbed, stairs to ramp to path to more stairs. Cinque Terre is built into the side of the rocky mountainside. If Rome has roundabouts of traffic and Florence has narrow sidewalks, Cinque Terre is a set of stone terraces between buildings. It felt like a castle, a maze.

The view from the hotel was spectacular (top photo), the church bells rang on the top and half of the hour, and the ocean breeze was continuous. After a full week of travel and staying in Airbnbs we were thrown by the luxury of the room… and immediately took the only nap of our entire vacation.

That night we visited their castle then ate at Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre where we had perfect lasagne and gnocchi with pesto. During our dessert of panna cotta with fruit and a cannoli we chatted with two American girls studying abroad in Sienna, but visiting Vernazza for the weekend. They were smart, mature and really fun to talk to. I told H that I hope our kids turn out like that.

It was one of the best dinners of the trip.

We spent our full day there hiking from Vernazza to Monterosso. The hike was easy to follow with gorgeous views. There are hardly any cars or motorbikes in Cinque Terre – most people either hike the paths of the park or take the train between villages.

It took about 2 hours to make the whole trek – there were a lot of people on the trail, so it was slow going in some parts. Once we walked down into Monterosso, we contemplated renting a kayak, but it seemed there was only one kayak for rent, and it was already being paddled around the bay by another couple.

We walked around and around looking for a place for lunch. We couldn’t decide – everything seemed elaborate and expensive or cheap and void of customers. Eventually we settled on a place called Fast Bar that named their sandwiches after American rock bands. H ordered the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and I got the Primus. We split a pesto and tomato bruschetta and raved about the food to each other as we ate it. Total win.

After lunch we sat outside on a bench in the sun, people watching. We went to a bar and ordered cappuccinos. We felt sleepy, and since I wanted to go back via the hiking path, not the train, we decided to set out. It wasn’t until about 40 minutes up the trail that we turned and saw an entire other section of the village beyond the buildings we wandered through for lunch. Whoops.

Dinner was at Ristorante Belforte with reservations for a table on the terrace at 19:00. The view did not disappoint. We were on a stone patio overlooking the ocean while the sun set. The food wasn’t bad either.

Cinque Terre was the relaxing “beach” part of our vacation, and it went way too fast. I wish we planned to spend more time there, not because there was more to do, but because there wasn’t. I could’ve used an extra day to hike or sit in a cafe. Because I’m an ocean girl, this part of the trip felt healing – we’d accomplished so much traveling through Rome and Florence on our own for 8 days.

And wouldn’t you know it – on the way out of the city, waiting for our train, I finally saw the sign for gadgets. H had heard the women from the hotel correctly after all.

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