I got on the train in France and got off in HEAVEN -- also know as Monterosso al Mare, one of the five small villages that make up the Cinque Terre region of the Italian Riviera. This place is really incredible. Basically these five small villages are perched between the mountains and the sea and are pretty much isolated from the rest of the world. The train connects all 5 towns, but there are only a few roads in the area and cars and not allowed (or able) to drive in the towns. There are also a lot of hiking trails, and one main coastal trail that connects all 5 towns. It really is amazing that people built towns here. Most of the hills are straight up. The towns are really pretty traditional, despite the amount of tourism that occurs here. The hills are surrounded by terraces filled with olive trees, lemon trees and wine grapes. I don't know how they have managed to farm these hills -- everything is really straight up.
When I arrived here, I didn't have a room booked yet. This is only the second time I have done that, and again it went unbelievably well. I just stopped in the tourist information office at the train station and was able to get a private room with an incredible view for 50 euros. After staying in hostels for the last week and sleeping in a room with anywhere from 8 to 15 strangers, a private room was so lovely! I could spread out and make noise and not worry about anyone else. And take a much needed shower in a private bathroom! Of course the view meant that I had to walk straight uphill -- it was quite a climb, but worth it. I am staying in a private room at someone's house. Most people here rent rooms to tourists to make some extra money. But it is not quite like a B & B in the states -- it is pretty much like a hotel room with a private entrance and little interaction with the family. The lovely Betta Luisa is the owner of the place and she was very welcoming. Despite her speaking almost no english and me speaking almost no italian, we managed to communicate. She greeted me with a big hug and kisses on both cheeks and I felt like I was really in Italy!
I spent the first evening just walking around Monterosso. It is a lovely small town with a beautiful beach. I sat by the beach and read a little. This is the first place that anyone has seemed concerned that I am alone. I had several men or various ages approach me and want to practice english. They were all quite worried that I was by myself. In the other countries I have been to, no one seemed to have noticed. But in Italy, it is a little different. Everyone was very friendly and not at all threatening and I was happy to chat and have some company. But I am glad that I will be travelling through the rest of Italy with Mel and Jamy and Wendy and Steven.
Yesterday I hiked the coastal trail through all 5 towns. Some parts of the hike were quite difficult -- up and down and lots of steps. My legs can feel it today! But it was definitely worth it. The views were amazing and it was a great way to see all of the towns. Each town is a little bit different with its own character. Monterosso (where I am staying and the town farthest west) is a little more beachy, since it has the only sand beach of the 5 towns. There are a few more hotels and tourists here, but it still feels like an authentic small town. Vernazza is a beautiful town with a natural harbor. Corniglia is the only town perched high on a hilltop without direct access to the water. Manarola is a little bit smaller and focused more on wine grapes. Riomaggiore is the farthest east and is a little more spread out. It was so nice to spend the day hiking and exploring. It made me remember why I want to move back to the northwest -- mountains, trails and nature!
In Riomaggiore, I decided to stop and get a drink on a beautiful terrace bar overlooking the water. I decided to try Limoncino -- a lemon drink that is a regional specialty. Not quite what I was expecting. It was very potent and very lemony! Much better after diluting it with some ice (it originally came in a shot glass -- also not what I was expecting). While sipping my drink I started talking to Jamie, a girl from Chicago who is travelling in Italy over spring break. She was really fun and we ended up having dinner together. We had a great meal from a local Foccaceria. Tomato bruschetta, pesto foccacia, some spinach pastry thing and topped off with lemon gelato! Yum! The food here is really amazing. I had a great time visiting with Jamie and hopefully we can meet up in Chicago someday for a drink!
I have loved being here so much that I am glad I have something else to look forward to -- Naples with Mel and Jamy! If not, I have a feeling I could spend a week or more here. It is just so beautiful and relaxing. The brilliant sun, the bright blue Mediterranean, the slow pace of life. This has easily been one of my favorite stops so far!
I will try and post some pictures soon!