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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 21, 2011

It's our first morning in Istanbul and we started it off with fresh squeezed orange juice (literally they squeeze it in front of you) and Turkish coffee. They also love cherry jam here so I tried that too. We are staying at the Esans Hotel (I think I mentioned that) and the staff here is lovely. Each room has a name and ours is the "Dervish Odour Room." The sign says "It is known as 'musk odor' obtained from a gland of the male musk deer. It is used to take out negative energy and brings a feeling of getting away from troubles. Mostly Dervishes and wise people used in Ottoman times." This is hilarious not only because we get the "stinky" room but because it is must to take out negative energy and solve lost bags? Let's put this shit to work!

Full from breakfast we headed out to the first site on our list was the Hague Sofia or "Ayasofya" which started off as a Roman church that was then changed to a mosque. They plastered over beautiful mosaics of gold and tile. But since then it has become a museum so parts of the plaster were removed so you can see the Christian tile. It is a little strange walking into a religious center and seeing writing in Turkish with a picture of Madonna and child. Very confusing. It costs 20 Turkish lira per person for entry and it was worth seeing but not my favorite. Also disconcerting was two Turkish girls in full Muslim garb asking to take pictures with me. I guess I do look like a blonde, blue-eyed giant to them.

As we came out I saw a line of ATMs and walked over to get money out. Low and behold my Bank of America debit card didn't work because of "irregular activity" on my account. I wanted to pull my hair out - I'd called and double confirmed with them before leaving yet what do you know.

Next we wandered towards the Blue Mosque which I was really excited about, but of course Mom passes her first carpet shop and is hooked. Two and a half hours later she's bought two Turkish rugs and the owner, Hamit, (the store is called Motif Collection) had told us about as much as you can possibly know about carpets. We drank Turkish tea (it comes in an awesome hour glass cup with two cubes of sugar) and learned that the different emblems on the rugs have meaning. For example, a spider design means protection, the tree of life or river of life means fertility, and the evil eye protects against, you guessed it, evil. The colors of the carpets never fade because they are made from vegetable dyes. Pistachio for green, walnut/saffron/onion for oranges and tans, indigo for blue, and a red bug I can't pronounce for the deep blood reds. We also found out that a carpet selling in Turkey for about $3,000 is worth about $17,000 in the U.S. I am in the WRONG business! After spending more than she planned, Hamit shook our hands and I extricated her from the store.

The Blue Mosque was conveniently located around the corner and there I donned a scarf (because I was wearing a tank top and you must be covered from wrist to ankle in the mosque). On a note here I should add that as a woman I feel fine walking around in a tank top. It was a little bit see through (accidentally) though which wasn't as good but yeah if I had more than two outfits I'd change it up! The Blue Mosque had amazing hand-painted tile though it was very similar to the mosques in Egypt so I wasn't terribly interested. It is free though so you might as well! Just don't forgot to take off your shoes and stay quiet inside.

From there we set out for the Grand Bazaar which is like the Walmart of Istanbul - get it for a bargain. It was really overwhelming! Leather jackets, bags, jewelry, ceramics, shoes, scarfs, carpets, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh. My eyes finally glazed over and I followed Mom like a lost puppy. I remember in Cinque Terre when our friend Jack said that Venice was like "Dante's eighth level of hell for men who hate shopping." Clearly he hasn't been here yet. Mom LOVES to haggle so after making three grown Turkish men cry we walked out with three gorgeous scarfs that are probably made from recycled paper and will fall apart with the first wash (they were 20 lira a piece FYI).

On the way back my sweet tooth was starting to hurt to I walked into a confectionery store on the street and asked which of the crazy looking candy was Turkish Delight. The owner made a sweeping gesture that took in the entire store. What?? Turns out Turkish Delight comes in every flavor available, kind of like taffy. I settled for mint, orange, rose, cinnamon, and chocolate nut. The fruit flavors are kind of like Botan Ame, the Japanese rice candy. It is sort of chewy with a dusting of powdered sugar on the outside. The chocolate and cinnamon ones were nasty.

We dropped off our stuff and walked to dinner down the street from the hotel. We had already "approved" the view from the restaurant earlier and met the chef. The really cool thing about the restaurants is that they have the outdoor cafe on the ground floor and then you can go up the elevator to the rooftop terrace. It's the best of both worlds. This restaurant was called "Tria" and the waiter was Turkish but had lived in England for 16 years. The view of the river was fantastic and the chef was an adorable, overly tan, wiry little man with a happy face. We ordered his suggestions - the meze platter, slow cooked lamb with saffron rice, and molten chocolate lava cake. The Anatolian wine that accompanied the meal was delicious! The waiter I think liked us a little too much as he then offered to show us around on his day off. I had to say "no" because I didn't want to give him the wrong impression.

Once we got home (around 10pm) I spent the next two hours getting extremely heated trying to get my debit card to work. I was told via email that I could sign into my online account and chat with a rep to get the card working again. I chatted with him for 30 minutes only for him to tell me at the end that I needed to call the phone number. I DON'T HAVE A PHONE!!!!!!!!!! What part of that do they not understand. I had an amazing day but all these issues are starting to really fucking wear on me. I finally gave up around 2am and went to bed.

June 22, 2011

Today we woke up first thing to visit Topkapi Palace. Before leaving the hotel, the staff called the airport to check on our bags as we still hadn't heard a word about them. Guess what? The courier had taken them to the Milan airport who then SENT THEM TO A MILAN HOTEL! When I politely pointed out that not only did we not stay in THAT hotel but we never stayed in that CITY, she apologized and said she would do her best. Then she hung up. I will never fly through Milan again or fly Alitalia. For all of those reading please boycott them too so they change their attitude.

Turns out the entrance to Topkapi Palace is right next to the Hague Sofia and therefore right next to our hotel (20 lira entry fee per person). It's a little intimidating to see guards holding machine guns outside but I later learned why. We got there at 9:30am which was perfect because the tourist crush wasn't up yet. We got in line for the treasury first because you can't take pictures inside and so everyone moves at a snail's pace to see everything. Get there after 10am and you will spend all day in the line.

First let me say that I have seen treasuries in Italy, Japan, and multiple other foreign countries and wasn't terribly excited by the myriad of swords and gold coins. This treasury? It was fucking sick. Not only do they have an 86 carat diamond on display that a diamond collector said is worth close to 100 million dollars (explains the guards yeah?) but they also had what I swear was the dagger from the movie, Prince of Persia, the Sands of Time (yes the movie where Jake Gyllenhaal's biceps are irresistible). There were thrones, daggers, and bindings for the Qu'ran all covered in rubies, emeralds and diamonds. No wonder these stones are so rare now - they were totally used up by the Turkish! Next we zoomed through a religious building that housed the "supposed" robe of Fatima and the golden casket that once housed Mohammad's robe. You can't take pictures there either.

Then we entered the Sultan's Harem (an additional 15 lira per person). It was the most amazing building interior I think I have ever seen. The entire building is hand-painted tile with gilded gold beds, velvet pillows, paintings, marble floors, and copper fireplaces. Let me say that being a concubine must have ROCKED. Eventually when I have more energy (probably when these blogs get re-posted to the website) I will fill you in on everything I learned about the Harem and the Muslim religion.

We spent some more time wandering the grounds and eating meat pastries at the palace restaurant which were tasty. The view of the Bosphorus is even more tasty.

Back at the hotel, I finally got Skype credit so that I could call Bank of America and fix my debit card. I find it evil that in order to call to get my card to work I have to BUY Skype credit to call them with a card that oh wait doesn't work. That's what moms are for :-) Also at the hotel, we booked a boat tour on the Bosphorus for Friday for 45 euro per person which includes entry fees of a palace and fortress, an English speaking guide, a minivan back, the boat, and snacks for lunch. I'll note here that it's important to check when you first arrive in Istanbul when different sites are closed. For example, the Hague Sofia is closed on Mondays, Topkapi Palace is closed on Tuesdays and the spice market and Grand Bazaar are closed on Sundays.

Speaking of spice market, we wanted to get that in today so we set out north in the general direction. Along the way we stopped at Joseph's store. He is a shop owner we kept passing to get to the hotel and promised we would visit at some point. Turns out he lived in Idaho for a couple months as a valet and then spent the next seven months touring the U.S. He is like the Turkish man version of me!

He also taught us more about carpets. A lot of the store signs in Turkey say carpets and kilim. Kilim are still carpets but they are made by a different weaving method that makes it so they are completely reversible (you can use either side). Then Persian carpets, of which he had many, are a single knot weave and Turkish carpets are double knot weave, which is the strongest. There is a starting and finishing end on each carpet (obviously). If you rub your hand from start to finish the carpet is soft versus rub it the opposite way and it is rough. Also, if you look at the carpet and face the starting end the carpet looks darker than if you rotate it around and look at the finished end. Crazy shit.

Each carpet is also based on the story of the tribe that creates it and many carpets are even more expensive because the tribes that created them have long since stopped making them or are extinct. Each tribe makes its own dyes so one carpet might have a blue that is lost forever after the tribe disappears. It's really sad.

Joseph is also well known for his kittens - he almost always has a litter of them in a basket in the window. The joke is that you get a kitten if you buy a carpet. The mother of the kittens is famous and has been in multiple international magazines because she is so rare. She is pure white with one blue eye and one green eye. Apparently you won't know if a kitten will have this trait until they are 45 months or so and even then only the white ones have the propensity. The ones that do inherit the eyes can be worth up to $1,000 a piece (or so says Joseph).

What's nuts is that as soon as my mom noticed the kittens she realized that my aunt, who had been in Turkey five years ago, bought a carpet from a man who had kittens in the window. Joseph said he didn't know if he sold her the carpet but he could pretty much guarantee that he was the only shop owner in the area with kittens in the window. His store is called Artemis if you ever want to play with some cats. Cats in Turkey are like dogs in Thailand - EVERYWHERE.

Finally we left to try and make it to the spice market which closes at 6pm. We stopped along the way and my mom bought a plate and a lamp from a store called Mil & Art. I also found shoes I really liked but was too cheap to buy them for $30 U.S. I miss China prices...These guys just refuse to bargain! We ended up coming back before we even made it to the spice market so we will try again tomorrow.

On the way back I discovered a new treat for my sweet tooth - Osmanli Macunu. Basically it looks like taffy and comes in kiwi, banana, cherry, lemon and orange flavors. The guy wraps the "taffy" around a wooden stick over and over again, flavor upon flavor. It was really fun to watch. The taste is very sweet and it must be 100% real fruit because the flavors are very intense. The only difference is that unlike taffy which hards, this stays very flexible which ensures it gets stuck in your teeth. I likened it to a Sugar Daddy that was left in the car on a hot day and is kind of gummy - only the flavor is ten times better. I'm actually making it sound bad when it is really good but hey try it for yourself! It's certainly better than Turkish ice cream which you can practically chew.

For dinner, we went to Seven Hills restaurant which has the highest patio in Sultanahmet with a perfect view of the Blue Mosque and the Hague Sofia. Make sure to reserve a table in advance so you get an outside table with a view. We had lamb skewer, Coban Kavurma (a pot of lamb, potato and vegetable) and a fig and honey dessert. I felt very Turkish. The Kavurma was very spicy, hot, and delicious.

I really wanted to hookah but we were far too tired and have to get up early in the morning so that we can make it to the Cisterns before all the tourists show up.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Arrivederci Italia; Merhaba Turkey!

June 19, 2011

Today was Mom's day to be depressed. The lack of clothes is really wearing. I feel like I've spent a significant amount of time at the Internet cafe figuring out our bags. The courier service is closed today (of course) and we leave on the train to Milan at 6:55am tomorrow so we won't get them before we leave for Turkey.

We were both feeling pretty lazy have the serious hiking we did yesterday and the weather was AMAZING so we just wandered around town. We found a store on the waterfront where I found a pair of shorts, a blouse and a tank top that should hold me over for another few days. They were actually pretty cute! Maybe I should rename this blog "How to Survive Europe with a school backpack." I felt a lot better after having a third outfit so with a little more pep in my step we jumped on the train to Riomaggiore.

As an aside, I mentioned in an earlier entry about the Cinque Terra card and how you can only get up to two days. Well today was our third day and I'd realized something. When you first buy the card they tell you you MUST it is stamped at the yellow ticket machine. It stamps the date and time on the card. It is this date and time they use to determine when you first started using the card. Well Mom and I had never bothered to get ours stamped so I realized if we got it stamped today then they wouldn't be any wiser. So that's what we did right before boarding the train.

Riomaggiore turned out to be WAY cooler than I'd originally thought (you might remember the nasty beef egg thing I ordered at the restaurant there). I'd realized that on our previous visit we had completely missed the best part of the town, the Marina. I wasn't surprised to find we missed the Marina as the only access to it is a dark staircase that looks like a service entrance.

After going through the tunnel from the train station most people turn left into the light and see the upper part of town. Instead of turning left out of the tunnel look in front of you for a dark staircase. Yup, that's it. On the other side of the staircase we were greeted by a stormy, rugged coast, waves crashing against the wall of rocks that protects the town from the ocean. This area of the town feels like the last remaining stronghold of an empire. In other words - AWESOME.

I headed straight to the water's edge and turned for my mom to take my picture. Right as she aimed the lense, a giant wave took out my left side. Yes, I was soaked. And she was laughing so hard tears came to her eyes. I slicked back the left half of my hair, Two-Face style, and we contined to the other side of the Marina where I got some great shots of the town nestled in the rocks. This one is definitely climbing the ranks of favorite city.

The plan was to head to Vernazza to hike the last remaining part of the trail left, Vernazza to Corniglia, but my flipflops were making my feet bleed so we had to take a detour back to Monterosso. We were amazed by the crush of people that met us at the train station. Where did they all come from!? We were elbowed from all sides but had learned to stand our ground. I would recommend avoiding weekends if you ever come here though. So much more relaxed and empty during the week.

Back in Monterosso, we stopped at the same restaurant where we'd had dinner the night before and I purchased a speck and brie sandwich to-go that was delicious. Mom was getting more and more depressed so we decided to skip the hike and just relax at the hotel. We spent the next few hours tanning on our lovely terrace. A room with a terrace is a little extra but let me tell you it was WELL worth it. I finally feel a little bit like I'm on vacation! The warm weather definitely cheered my mom's mood (doesn't a tan always make you feel better?) so I convinced her that she had to do the hike. Afterall hiking the entire Cinque Terra is on her life bucket list. Can't stop now!

So we headed for Vernazza. The town was bathed in the soft light of the afternoon sun which transformed it into a golden city. I left mom at the base of the trail we hiked yesterday and ran up it a mile to the outlook where we'd taken photos before. I couldn't resist retaking the pictures with the town looking like this. The raging sea made it look even more romantic.

When I returned I found my mom lurking near the Blue Marlin. She is postitive that this is the same bar that she and my dad had come to when they visited the Cinque Terra almost fifteen years ago. The bartender at the time apparently looked like a carbon copy of Dad and she was determined to find him. Instead we found an old man, the owner, who continuously molested my mom until I finally said I'd take a picture of the two of them if he would let her leave. He literally grabbed at her to take the picture. EW!

After this nonsense we prepared ourselves and began the hike from Vernazza to Corniglia. Just outside of Vernazza we came across a bar on the right side of the trail that had a patio built into the side of the mountain with a gorgeous view of the Vernazza and the ocean. We were more than tempted to bail on the hike and stay to down some beers and watch the sunset.

But the bucket list drove us on. This trail was unlike the tourist-ridden trail of steep stairs from the day before. Not that there weren't a bunch of stairs...but this trail was more wooded. I felt like I had entered the forest where Sleeping Beauty is hidden. I kept waiting for singing rabbits to start seranading me from the bushes. It takes an average person about one hour to hike this trail making it shorter than Monterosso to Vernazza.

After trekking along the coast, we came around a corner (I love how they put amazing places just around a corner) and saw Corniglia set out on the mountain cliff in front of us. It looked like a storyboard castle, strong and solemn atop the bluffs, but also colorful and inviting. I swear it needs to be made into a jigsaw puzzle that shows the town, the bluffs and the angry ocean below. The water around the bluff was a poisonous green with a fiery white froth. But the mountain easily took its abuse. We passed through miles of vineyards and old rock walls into the town.

By now it was very late in the day, close to 8pm, and we had to pack and print our tickets so we headed straight to the train and got the opportunity to ride on a brand new train called Arenaway. I need to look up the company to learn more but from what I could tell its a first class train complete with tables and computer outlets. I think you can even order food. I'll have to get back to you on this.

After another visit to the Internet cafe, we showered and went to Tortuga Restaurant which is situated near the castle tower in Monterosso. It was the best food we've had yet - sea bass with pine nuts and tomatoes, green noodles with bolognese and creme brulee with a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino to wash it down.

Our table looked out over the ocean and the sound of glasses and silverware tinkling was no match to the overpowering roar of the ocean below. Such a romantic dinner with Mom! The couple sitting next to us was super friendly and from Bristol so we had a chat about the Royal Wedding and our thoughts on Kate and Camilla. Our server's name was Denny who said it had been very busy and it was his second job of the day. He took a little while to warm up but we finally got him to relax.

Feeling drunk and truly content for the first time on the trip we soaked in our last moments of the Cinque Terra as we silently returned to our hotel to pack and prepare for our long travel day tomorrow.

June 20, 2011

We woke up first thing this morning and boarded our 6:55am train for Milan. I was so tired that we almost slept through our stop. Upon arrival at the airport, we spoke to Barbara at the Lost and Found who spent a lot of time reaching the courier and getting our bags in order. Apparently they should meet us in Turkey in a few days. By the way if you ever lose your bags and need to get back into baggage claim you CAN go through the area that says NO ENTRY as long as you have the lost baggage claim form and your passport.

We went through security where the man was nice enough to let Mom keep her pesto after hearing our lost bags sob sorry. Unfortunately, to get from Milan to Istanbul for less than a couple grand we had to go through London which is only completely out of the way. However, the trip must be getting better because once we reached Heathrow airport there was a litte cafe with amazing salami and goat cheese sandwiches. Maybe I was just hungry. The guy working the counter reminded me of the soup Nazi from Seinfeld. We stood at the counter waiting to give our order when he informed us that we were standing at the pick-up counter. We moved about three feet to the left and suddenly we were in the order line. Our mistake.

Finally we boarded the plane from London to Istanbul and sat next to a Scottish man that sells airport parts to airlines. He was immensely interesting and told us that we needed to visit Syria specifically Palmera and Damascus. Palmera is where the many ancient trade routes collide and Syria also boasts the cave where Cain supposedly slain Abel. The Bible come to life - that's cool! We also met a woman getting off the plane whose carry on luggage has the coolest tag - "Pretty sure this isn't your bag." She said she bought the tag from a website called Pamela Barsky. I took a look at the site and she sells some fun travel stuff.

We landed at 11:15pm and voila our airport pick up was right there! We got to the Esans Hotel which is super cute and a little ridiculous. The wallpaper is white with a turquoise leaf-like pattern that is glittery. Yes, like they dipped the entire thing in glitter and then pasted it on the wall. My mom also felt the need to turn the air conditioner down to subzero so my toes are freezing as I write this. It is 1:10am so I am going to head to bed but look forward to my new entries in a new place - Turkey!

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.