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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bonjourno from Italia!

June 16, 2011

If there is a God and if he tests people, then he is certainly testing me these past few days. Looking back on this past weekend I packed up everything I owned and planned to drive it all back to my childhood home in Oregon. It was soon determined Saturday morning that not only did all but a few key items fit but that the weight was so trying on my car that there was no way it would make it to Oregon. In tears, I struggled with what to do finally deciding to leave 26 years of scrapbooks, a few choice travel photos, and a box of computer equipment at my boyfriend's mother's house in Sherman Oaks. With a weary heart I headed to Oregon.

I would later find, after 17 hours of driving, that my most prized possession, a hard drive containing memories from the last ten years of my life had been cleverly stolen from my glove box at some point during this expedition. I spent Monday mourning for the lost memories. I sincerely believe that had my house burned down, I would've been less sad as this hard drive would've been the item that I would've braved flame in order to rescue. Here I was, about to embark on a three month trip of new memories and all I could concentrate on was the utter destruction of the old. Again if God was testing me, this was hell.

Wednesday dawned bright and early (I'll have to look into some blackout blinds in the new room). I realized I was far from packed and scurried to add a few more things to my new backpack before leaving for the flight. My mother, the packing Nazi, sternly ruled over my bedspread... “No, Laura, only five tank tops!” We finally reached an agreement and my bag was packed.

Our flight from Portland to Amsterdam went smoothly. The stewardess was kind even if the TVs on the back of the seats lacked modernization. I knew I wouldn't sleep. Luckily, the woman next to me was more than willing to tell me her life story. I mean in a good way. She is a deputy sheriff who spent three months in a coma and to this day the doctors have no idea why. She, too, was headed to Italy to see an old friend who had been an exchange student in her childhood home. The two had been close ever since. She explained that her friend owned a bathing suit company called Coochee Covers because when they were thirteen she had told the friend the dirty word for..well you know. And the friend then turns around and names her company after it. Fabulous name in my opinion and fairly accurate of the product.

The layover in Amsterdam was so short by the time we arrived at a gate that my mother and I ran to our next plane. Unfortunately, bags can't run and so when we arrived in Milan our bags were conspicuously absent. We sat in the airport for three hours hoping that the next bag through the mysterious plastic curtain would be ours. No. Luck. Our train arrival approaching we quit the airport in order to make it to Monterosso.

In another life, I would've cringed at the thought of spending any amount of time without a change of clothes. But the hard drive had taught me that if memories can be erased then material things should be even easier to give up. So I can honestly sum up my feelings towards the loss of my bag into one sentence - “I don't give a fuck.”

And thanks to this attitude, after a three hour train, I arrived in Monterosso, the northern most city of the Cinque Terra in a spectacular, albeit exhausted, mood. This mood was only elevated by my magical ability to locate the hotel, La Colonnina, without the need of a map.

I was simply drawn to the place. And sitting on my private terrace, writing this entry, I can see why.

The table in front of me is covered in a simple, air-dryed white table clothe featuring a near empty bottle of red wine. The staff is excellent, the bathroom marbled, the beds tiny but adorable. I think I will like it here regardless of my lack of clean underwear.

So with that I am quitting my horrible little notebook computer (the mouse pad decided to die upon arrival) and leaving you to ponder what adventure, or mishap, might befall me tomorrow.


June 17, 2011

Bonjourno! After being lulled to sleep by the less than gentle song of my mother's snores, I awoke bright and early. The Hotel La Colonnina is amazing! We had a breakfast of strawberry jam and yogurt, nutella, and peaches and then explored the hotel until we found the rooftop veranda that looked out over all of Monterosso.

Monterosso is the northern most of the Cinque Terre which means “Five Towns.” In order from North to South they are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. We decided to begin our exploration in the South and work our way home. For unlimited access to the five towns and the train that runs between them you can buy a Cinque Terra card. A two day pass is 19 Euro. Unfortuna tely for us there isn't a three day option.

Riomaggiore is very small and narrow and from what I could tell there wasn't a vista from which to take landscape pictures of the town.

We ate lunch at La Grotta where I ordered the Cima de manzo, a local specialty. From the description I was prepared for a scrumptious meal of meat pot pie. I instead ended up with a piece of flat, dry meat (what kind I have no idea) with the center cut out and filled with carrot and egg. I had literally just seen the guy next to me eating something like this that I thought looked horrible and low and behold it is exactly what I ended up getting. Sigh. I ate about two bites before filling my gut with as much Lemon Soda as my liver could digest.

Next we walked Via Dell'Amore, or Street of Love, which is a pathway along the coast where lovers go to swear their affections to each other forever. To symbolize this pact they clasp a lock to the mesh that keeps giant rocks from falling onto the path. One couple didn't seem to have time to get a lock and had used their luggage tag instead. Genius.

Via Dell'Amore takes you along the coast for about 20 minutes on a very flat path right into the next two of Manarola. I saw four of the five towns today and Manarola so far leads the poll. The houses are tiny, tall and vibrantly-colored and nestle around a small inlet of water filled with wooden fishing boats. Looking down from a nearby hill is an old cemetery. After taking a ton of pictures from the cemetery (it has the best landscape view of the town) we walked all the way to the top of the town and then along the other side of the mountain through the vineyards until we arrived back at the cemetery. The weather was slightly overcast with beams of sunlight shining through so that we stayed cool while still getting excellent pictures.

By the time we made it back to the main part of town we were ready for the next stop. I snagged a Nutella gelato (1.50 Euro) just in case I got hungry on the 3 minute train ride to the next town. Usually you can walk to Corniglia from Manarola but the rain washed out part of the trail so it was closed. Corniglia is the highest of the five towns and juts out over the ocean atop a cliff.

To reach the city you must climb a wall of steep stairs (or cheat and take the green bus). You can then wander down to the ocean on equally steep stairs which is NOT worth it. The “Marina” of the town is a small pier covered in speedoed old men. Not worth the climb back up. The town itself is the oldest of the five with narrow streets swallowed up by tall buildings on either side.

We stopped for beer and internet since no one at home knew we were alive. An email from the airport informed us that our bags had been “collected” but then gave no indication of what that means. Helpful. It was closing in on 6:30pm so we stopped at an adorable outdoor enoteca for some wine and tapas. There we met a girl named Lara who was born in the Ukraine but had lived in Australia for most of her life. Two hours later we pulled ourselves from a rousing conversation about the entertainment industry, Sydney's outrageous real estate prices, travel, and her obsession with finding a gay American man to marry so that she could live in the U.S. My mom promised to find her a viable candidate.

My mother and I dragged ourselves to the train station on last time to head back to Monterosso. We arrived around 8:45pm and got sucked into a restaurant that overlooks the water. Damnit, I can't seem to stop eating pasta and in two weeks I'm going to have to fit into a Grecian swimsuit! We took the long way back to the hotel in order to snag a few nighttime photos of the town. We were greeted by a room empty of our bags (apparently “collected” doesn't mean what we thought). A steaming hot shower would have to do. I'll be dreaming about walking through lemon orchards thanks to the intense smell of the body lotion my mom purchased from the market today.

Bona Serra.

June 18, 2011

So apparently my jetlag is getting better because I woke up at 5am today instead of 3am. put on yesterday's clothes, we grabbed hotel breakfast, and then explored the castle and convent of Monterosso which was worth the hike but I wouldn't have paid for it if it cost money.

Then we set down to business and began the oceanside hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, the final town. This hike takes the average person about 1.5 hours and has a rise in altitude of 330 meters. No one tells you that that 330 meters is all at once. After climbing an endless number of uneven stairs we came around a corner and were shocked by the amazing coastal view of Monterosso nestled against the mountains. A word to the wise - wear hardy shoes and bring water because this hike is no joke.

Caked in sweat, we finished traversing a jungle of trees to come upon a view of Vernazza, arguably the most beautiful of the five towns. Vernazza juts out onto a small curved peninsula that cradles numerous brightly colored fishing boats and a piazza complete with flamboyant umbrellas, noisy restaurants and a stately church tower. Above the town, a mighty fortress solemnly guards over the inhabitants. I later discovered that until a century ago this trail was the only thing that connected Monterosso to Vernazza. Bitch of a hike to take if you need to transport your boat or your family.

As you come down from the hike and enter the city, there is a pizza place just to the right of the trail "end." The line is enormous but the pizza is well worth the wait. We guzzled down two pizzas and some Lemon Soda before meandering down to the water. There we met Jack, a retired teacher from Santa Barbara, who takes excellent photos and quizzed me on the trials and tribulations of the entertainment industry.

The wind was picking up and storm clouds were approaching so we scurried to the train where a small Italian woman boxed my mom in the chest to board the train before us. We got back to the hotel eager to change into new clothes because our bags should've arrived. That's when the girl at the front desk told us the story. Apparently earlier in the day the courier had come to Monterosso with our bags to drop off. He called the hotel and informed them that they needed to send someone to pick up the bags as he refused to come into the city. The girl couldn't come get them because she was the only person at the hotel. So the man threatened to leave our bags at the train station unattended, refused to give his name and then left without any indication of what he planned to do with the bags. I'll admit it; I flipped out.

After yelling obsenities in the shower for 30 minutes, I yelled obsenities to Alitalia, the Milan Linate airport and anyone else that answered a phone. The result? Milan Linate airport literally said "It's not our problem" and the courier company's THREE phone numbers all returned a busy signal. The lost and found department only had an automated messaging system with an infuriatingly nice sounding woman's voice that I wanted to throw the phone off the second floor balcony.

After wiping away furious tears, my mother suggested we go find me some clothes. We found a pair of pants and some flipflops. My feet were happy at least. We stopped at Wine & Food, a little bar in Monterosso, for a dinner of salad, bruschetta, prosciutto and melon and wine.

It was one of the better meals we've had here. We spent the remainder of the night reprinting confirmations and emailing relatives at the Internet cafe. The guy behind the desk was a massive bronzed body builder who spoke near perfect English. He told me that he had "picked it up" from visiting tourists. Appearances are clearly deceiving!

Back at the hotel, we drowned our sorrows in a 2006 Amarone that was fabulous and then regaled each other with stories of past travel mishaps, crazy relatives, and old friends. To tomorrow - may it bring sunshine and clean clothes.

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