Bit Ihop!

If you don’t know about The Cinque, well, now you’re gonna know.

Cinque Terre is a national park, a collection of five small fishing villages situated on the coast where the mountains meet the sea. The order of cities, from south to north, is Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. They are characterized by their brightly colored buildings, clustered on the edge of the water. Each town is small; it takes no more than an hour – usually less- to see one in its entirety. There is a train that runs through the area and stops at each town, with the shortest travel time between cities at 4 minutes and the longest at about 15. In addition to using the train to travel up and down, there are hiking paths going from city to city. Due to natural forces, some of these paths are closed, but the (arguably) best one is open, going from Corniglia to Monterosso (or the reverse).

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Manarola! City #2

When visiting The Cinque, most people (I’m talking about backpackers on a budget here) try to stay in La Spezia. It’s about 30 minutes south of Riomaggiore, and there’s a great hostel located there. Since we like to book things less than 4 days in advance, this hostel was completely full when we wanted to stay. Instead, we booked the only hostel in Biassa, a small mountain town between La Spezia and Riomaggiore. When I say small, I mean two-restaurants-two-small-markets small. When we tried to eat at the locals’ favorite restaurant, we were given the silent treatment from a couple rude waiters who didn’t care if we ate there or not. They literally wouldn’t give us any of the (open) tables. Safe to say, the people of Biassa really don’t like tourists.

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The amazing coastline 

After eating dinner at the hostel instead (the food was actually delicious), we drank some wine with a couple of the girls at the hostel. They’d been there a couple days, so they told us about their experiences with the hostel (bad) and in The Cinque (good). The men working at the hostel must have associated me and Em with these girls, who pissed them off, so of course they treated us like crap our entire stay. Still, we did make friends with our girls Anna and Zoe. Anna was a Swede, and taught us the phrase, “Bit ihop,” meaning “bite it” or “just do it.” This became one of our favorite sayings during the trip, and sort of a motto for us.

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Vernazza

For our first full day, we decided that it was the right day for the beach since the weather was warm. Em, Anna and I took the train to Monterosso, the only town with an actual beach. As we laid there for a couple hours, alternating between swimming and tanning, we discovered where to get the pina coladas we’d been craving: a little beach shack serving Drunk Ass Buckets (real name). The bartenders made them right there in front of you, pina coladas and margaritas and other delicious, alcoholic beverages. The buckets were huge and made perfect companions for our beach day. That night, we hung out at the hostel with Zoe, Anna, and our new friends Nick, Cain, and Heather. “Hanging out” means a couple bottles of wine, several limoncello shots, and trading stories. While not a huge fan of limoncello in the past, the stuff in The Cinque is delicious and well known throughout Italy.

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The only “true” beach in Cinque Terre. This is Monterosso! Look at that water – it’s so clear!

Our second full day there, we decided that we would hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, and then (hopefully) Vernazza to Corniglia. Think of it as going from 5 to 4, and 4 to 3. Anna, Em and I took the train all the way up, and followed the crowd up the hill to the beginning of the trail. While it’s not the hardest hike, it’s definitely not easy. The entire thing (to Vernazza) took us around 3 hours. While there are some flat parts, much of our way was made up of stairs. Add to this the fact that the day was warm and muggy, and you can understand why everyone on that trail was sweating buckets.

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The end of the hike, looking down into Vernazza

The hike is one of the best ones I’ve ever been on. It feels like you’re trekking through a jungle when suddenly you can turn a corner and be met with a stunning view of the sea. At certain points, you can look up the coast line and see where the other 4 cities jut out. The water is blue and clear and sparkles under the sun.

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When we finally made it to Vernazza (we ran out of water with 45 minutes of the hike left), we grabbed food and gelato. I ducked into a random gelato place and got some of the best of my life: they were known for their blackberry and their lemon flavors. I got them together in a cup, and I have to say that I don’t think I’ll ever have something that good again.

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After wandering Vernazza a bit, we took the train to Corniglia; we were tired and didn’t want to walk. However, Corniglia is not like the other towns: when you get off the train, you then have to climb 400 steps up the cliffside to the village itself. It was very cute and quiet in a quaint sort of way. The view from the lookout spot is spectacular, especially since you can find 3+ cats roaming around or lying in doorways.

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One of the many cats lounging around Corniglia

That night at the hostel was much the same as before: wine, limoncello, laughing with new friends until 1 in the morning. We made a plan for the next day, however: we would meet back in Riomaggiore at 7 so that we could watch the sunset all together. Anna, Em and I spent a lazy day in Manarola, swimming and sunning ourselves as best we could with not a lot of sun. We headed back to Riomaggiore, where we shared a bottle of cheap, house wine and an awesome appetizer platter. We met back up with the group, picked up a couple of beers and some cones of seafood, and went to watch the show. Riomaggiore doesn’t have a beach, per se; there are a bunch of rocks that you can sit on, and stairs leading down to the water. We clustered on the rocks, each finding our own little nook, and sat back. The sunset was amazing, breaking through the clouds and lighting up the coastline. Somebody suggested a swim, so at 8pm I jumped into the sea and watched the sunset from the water. Trust me, it’s way better from there.

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The best way I can describe The Cinque and how I felt about it is that you constantly get a little jolt of realization. I’m here. I’m in Italy. I am so lucky to be where I am right now. And, most of all, there’s nowhere else I want to be. Surrounded by great people, who are now my friends, and one of the most beautiful places in the world, it’s a kind of perfect bliss that doesn’t come along that often. Fortunately for me, Europe has given me several of these moments.

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Europe is full of fun doorways

We were very sad to leave The Cinque, and our friends. But we were headed somewhere just as amazing, but in a different way… Florence.

Ciao, Cinque Terre!

Long-Awaited Waves

On Aug 19, we left Lyon and took a train into Nice. As the train rolled through the countryside, the thought of being on the coast was forefront in our minds. Our only change was in Marseille, and as we stepped onto the platform, we got our first breaths of salty ocean air. It was delightful, refreshing, and invigorating. Our train to Nice gave us a beautiful view of the glittering water, right outside the window, laid out before small, coastal towns. I would have stopped at every single one if I could have.

People told us that Nice is nice, and it very much is. Whereas Lyon was beautiful but overlooked, and therefore not very tourist-ridden, Nice had people from everywhere. As we stepped out of the station that afternoon, it presented itself as a busy vacation spot. Our hostel was a tall building nearby with tiny, sloping rooms, spotty Wifi, and an abundance of Australians. We shared a dorm with two young Australian girls, who we happily made friends with immediately.

Our first night, Em and I treated ourselves to a delicious dinner at a local Italian restaurant. She ordered a plate of mussels while I got ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta. For dessert, we shared chocolate fondue and fresh fruit. The entire meal was fabulous and a nice break from cheap street food.

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dinner at Le Luna Rossa

The next day promised to be hot, a perfect day for the beach. Our hostel was a 15 minute walk, so we put on our suits, grabbed the hostel towels (which we technically weren’t allowed to take out of the hostel), and set out on a mission. We’d been dreaming about jumping into the ocean for weeks; it was time.

The beach we went to was unlike any beach I have been to into California. Instead of sand, there is a 20 foot walk from the sidewalk to the water of smooth rocks the size of eggs. People crowd onto every inch of this space, even right up to the water. Women wear bikinis or one-pieces like any place back home, but men in speedos are everywhere. This took a little getting used to. There were also women tanning topless, but since that is something I have done at Pirate’s Cove near San Luis Obispo, I barely noticed.

The water in Nice is spectacular, composed of two jewel-like tones of blue waves. It is wonderfully clean, though startlingly salty (I would definitely avoid swallowing any, as your stomach will be upset afterward). In between our tanning sessions, we spent a lot of time in the water, letting the gentle waves rock us back and forth.

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Not even trying to be cute; the ocean was trying to make us fall over

That night, we went out to some of the pubs with one of our roommates, Hanne (hey girl!). We tried several bars, finally settling on the most crowded one. Wayne’s had groups of people hanging out outside, beer in hand. Inside, the front room was packed with people trying to get drinks from the bar and then trying to find a place to stand after. We got some beer, and met a couple of nice American boys as we sipped our drinks. Finally, we moved to the backroom. Instead of a dance floor, this room has 3 long tables lined up, with benches or stools on either side. Almost nobody dances on the floor, as there isn’t much space: bodies are gyrating up on the tables, fighting for space amid the flashing lights and deafening American music. A couple guys gave up their spots on the table so we could get up, and we didn’t come off those tables for 2 hours. It was a sweaty, loud, and sometimes scary time (only because there was a very real chance of falling off the table), but we had a great night dancing with each other and saying no to the many French boys asking us to dance. The next night, we had a repeat evening as we went back with both of our roommates, Bonnie and Hanne.

Our second full day in Nice saw the four of us taking a short day trip to Cannes, home of the famous film festival and a crazy number of fancy places to eat, sleep, and lay on the beach. When I say lay on the beach, I mean that in Cannes you have to pay for a spot on the beach unless you want to sit on the sand with the hot sun beating down on you. Emily and I were recovering from sunburns from the previous day, so the four of us rented beach chairs and umbrellas on one of the “paying” beaches. This was a very laid back day, as we were all tired from travel and dancing, and so we laid on the beach for a couple hours, grabbed some dinner, and headed back. I decided that while the actual beaches in Cannes are better (sand instead of rocks), the water in Nice is much better and looks a lot cleaner.

The last day in Nice was my favorite. We got a late start to the day, but after getting lunch with the girls, we headed down the beach to the left. At the end of the beach is a wall, with a cluster of rocks hanging over the ocean. You have to swim out near the cliff side to reach them, and climb up out of the water. Emily and I joined a bunch of locals and other adventurous vacationers on the rock, and jumped off one of the lower spots. Even though we couldn’t understand each other, the locals shared our excitement and gibbered at us in French or Italian while we nodded and said “Oui! Oui!”Cliff jumping is an experience that I was very excited to have over in Europe, and we’re hoping to find lots of it in Italy.

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The rocks we jumped off of are at the very center of the photo

As I write this, I’m lying on my third tier bunk in Milano. A lot has happened, and it’s been tricky so far to keep up with everything (which is why this post is late late late) but I’m speeding through this post so that I can get to the most important and exciting part of the trip so far: Asti. Keep an eye out for my next post as I detail how I found some long lost family members in unlikely circumstances.

Au revoir, Nice!

-Kayla