Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 19: Cinque Terre and Pisa

I hope everyone reading this had a lovely Thanksgiving and weekend. Being my first Thanksgiving away from home, I had a lot to be thankful for. Joking aside, talking to y'all on the phone was almost as good as Aunt Jo's sour cherry pie. If missing my family's Thanksgiving isn't bad enough, I also missed the CouchSurfing Thanksgiving. I can only imagine what sorts of delicious mystery dishes ended up there. Thankfully, I was having an death defying adventure in a small Italian group of towns called Cinque Terre.

"The Cinque Terre is a rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera. It is in the Liguria region of Italy, to the west of the city of La Spezia. "The Five Lands" comprises five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. (Wikipedia)" Until a few days ago, I hadn't ever heard of Cinque Terre. When two of my hostel mates said they were going to Cinque Terre, the name alone grabbed my attention. After they told me more I was interested, after looking at a few pictures, I knew I would be missing the CouchSurfing Thanksgiving.

Bas and Eva are lively 18 year old cousins from Holland and California. We've been hanging out for the past few days, having a blast. I was excited to explore Cinque Terre with them and enjoy some local food, wine, and architecture.

Getting up at 9 yesterday morning nearly killed me. After a quick grocery store breakfast, the three of us got to Firenze SMN Station. We got on our first train, headed to La Speiza.

Eva writing in her journal alongside my "Free Tarot Reading" sign.

When we arrived at La Speiza, Bas was as disgusted as he was surprised when a drunk dropped his pants in the bathroom and started peeing next to him. Luckily we were shortly underway on the final train to Cinque Terre.

Can you tell Bas is from Holland?
Quite the pair.

We entered into a tunnel where the ocean teased us through holes. It was blue and magnificent. As soon as we arrived in Riomaggorie we were immediately held captive by the scenery around us.

My first Mediterranean encounter!

We hopped off the train, psyched and full of life. Ready to explore. Beautiful. Awesome. Let's go! The towns of Cinque Terre are built into the cliffs so the paths extraordinarily steep and include a lot of stairs. I felt like I was climbing the hills around Florence (only with full pack). The fun started when we got to the hostel only to realize that it wasn't open. In true Italian fashion, no one cared to post on the website and no hours were posted on the door. Thankfully I found another hostel while on Wikipedia, in the next town over, Manarola.

Under the street there was waterfall.

Manarola's hostel is all the way (or so we thought) at the top of the hill. After a climb through the town's windy streets, we found the hostel. "Chiuso"… Closed… Sweet. Every place we went was either closed or wanted an exorbitant amount of money. Feeling uneasy about our sleeping situation, I start joking about sleeping in my tent.

The town of Manarola at sunrise (the next morning).

They decorated the hills above the town for Christmas.
No wonder Italians only need a small breakfast to start the day.

Don't you love it when something you've joked about happens? While Eva and Bas went to look at more rooms, I pursued my own agenda. I started up a flight of steps that lead straight up the hill. As I got higher and higher the steps got narrower and more crooked. Once they began looking like an ogre's teeth I found the perfect spot for my tent. When I met back up with them, we went to check out one last room. €80 for one bed? No thanks. My mind was made up – I had a date with Mrs. Mountain.

Bas and Ross.
You do the math.

Setting up camp devolved into a dangerous collision of treacherous climbs, bruising falls, and expeditions to find the ultimate spot. Carrying a 35 lb pack up and down slippery stone steps with worn moccasins along a cliff's edge is exhilarating to say the least. This land is used for growing grape vines and most of it wasn't tent (or backpacker) friendly. After a thorough search, we settled for a nice patch of grass, further up the cliff.

Sunset over Manarola.
You could totaly get blown off the path into the ocean.
Snug as three goons in a one man tent...

Setting up the tent went smoothly, despite the darkness and a chilly breeze that was picking up. We squeezed into the tent like clowns in a tiny car and enjoyed some downtime. For dinner we savored a hobo hodgepodge of a cold can of lentils, slices of bread, basil, apples, and oranges. We laughed and carried on, blissfully unaware of events to come.

Take it from me, three backpackers, one sleeping bag, and a one man tent have unfavorable odds against howling sea winds, Italian rain, and 4Âșc weather. Despite sleeping in our jackets and huddling together, mother nature taught us a lesson. Poor Bas nearly froze to death, and Eva and I didn't fare much better. In my tent's defense, we would have been fine if we each had a sleeping bag. Between waking up and constant shivering, the three of us collectively managed a normal night's rest.

The morning sun illuminated the side of our tent, along with our weary spirits. As we emerged from the tent, we were greeted with a view so spectacular it made our night not seem so bad. In fear of getting busted we packed up the tent in a jiffy and started our descent. This path was terrifying! I wish the picture showed it better. There was a totally deadly drop off here. Thankfully we all made it down so I can finish writing this blog entry.

Holy Moly! Good morning!
At least our room had a view.
Taking down the tent.

After a night of elemental abuse and spiritual growth we headed back to Florence.

Happy to be warm on the train.

Along the way we stopped in Pisa. There wasn't much to see there other than the tower. Failing to be original, we took pictures with the tower "come si deve." I empathize with everyone that has laid in the road gutter to get these shots. Pisa was beautiful. We saw a group of college students protesting higher tuition. Go get 'em!

The Pisa church compound.
If I was taller I'd have better leverage.
Now kids, play nice.
Weird ninja moves.

When we got on the final train back to Florence, we all breathed a sigh of relief and had a good laugh. We feel like we've been kicked all over. I can't wait to return to Cinque Terre when it's summer and the hostels are open!

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  1. oh too funny! Reading this brings me right back! I camped outside Cinque Terra at a campground. Like 20euro/night for 2 people and they have a free shuttle to take you to the train station so you can go to the villages. if you want more info let me know, if you go back. Wow, I can't believe you camped right in there - that is bad ass! Good for you, the hostel prices there are insane anyway. REally i would love to go back and rent a place for a month if I could. The hike is insane and some of the villages are awesome - did you go to the last village? oh, it's nice, w/ great beaches. it wasn't my favorite but it definitely stands out as one of the best and also was the first place I went swimming in the ocean so i really loved it. Anyway, this was a great post - Are you still in Firenze? I loved that city but was hardly able to spend anytime there. If you're looking for cheap travel I know there are some organic farms in the area looking for help with the olive harvest. I wwoofed 20 mins from firenze and it was amazing. just a thought if you are on a budget.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Bethany :). I can't wait to return to Cinque Terre when it's warmer. Even though the city was a bit of a ghost town, I can tell how special it is. The views, buildings, people are a photographic paradise.

    What's the name of the camp ground? I would rather pay €20 than risk dying on that trail again.

    We didn't get to explore much at all. We only saw the first two villages. I was so psyched to hike but the trails are closed during the winter.

    Where did you WWOOF around Florence? Eva and Bas just finished working on an olive farm. Eva had the most amazing olives. Count me in!

  3. amazing stuff, gotta say! sleeping on a mountain on the coast of tuscany, even if you did freeze like crazy all night? pretty damn priceless. keep the blog coming, looks like an amazing time!

  4. Thanks for posting, Chris! It's great to hear from you.

    You're absolutely right. Freezing is totally worth its weight in stories.


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