Sunday, August 10, 2014

backpack boy and other tales from the Cinque Terre

Disclaimer: This post is a long one, but loaded up with pics..fair trade? I think so.

At this point most of you are probably wondering about Steve. After the weekend in Florence when I first arrived, we only spoke a few times via text. There was no mention of meeting up again like planned, to go to Cinque Terre together, and frankly, I was relieved.

I boarded the ferry from Elba back to the mainland and went up to the bar to order a coffee. Coffee guy took one look at my ginormous suitcase, thought he was funny and as he made my café americana, and asked if my boyfriend was in there. Ha ha, hilarious coffee guy. I said no, no, but I wish he were so he could help me carry it. Sigh.

Many hours later, almost getting stuck in a tiny elevator, and a near miss losing my toe thanks to my luggage, I arrived in Riomaggiore…To find the biggest, steepest hill I could climb with said luggage. As I was getting off the train I overheard someone say, “Well, at least we don’t have a suitcase like that!” Touche.

After climbing what seemed like a 90 degree angled hill at the time, I found the bed & breakfast, Sol Levante. And wouldn’t you know..there were 3 flights of stairs. By this point I was dripping in sweat and almost ran over the communal cats. There were four cats or so, (who knows more could’ve been hiding somewhere) just lounging on the steps watching me struggle with my luggage with lazy smiles on all their faces. Jerks.

A man spotted me on the stairs and yelled, “ELISABETH. ELISABETH!” I can only guess he must’ve been Elisabeth’s neighbor. The owner’s mother (Elisabeth herself) came out to meet me, and thankfully she was so nice..and there was air conditioning! Hallelujah! I showered almost immediately and cranked the shit out of the air.

It was weird arriving later at night with no bearings. Also I was starving. I felt refreshed after my shower, and went out to explore Riomaggiore. All one street of it. 

I landed on a restaurant where I could get some cheap pasta and a glass of wine. Lucky for me there was a judgmental couple at a table nearby who kept staring me down. As if I enjoy eating by myself people, come on. I used my most evil eye look and continued reading my book. The pasta was delicious. But this would be my last solo dinner out at a restaurant.

I was exhausted so I passed out, looking forward to the adventures I might find the next day. I woke up early in search of a coffee and marveled at how beautiful the scene was before me here in Riomaggiore.






all the pretty boats in a row
I knew I wanted to hike one of the Cinque Terre trails, but some of them were closed. After a quick consultation at the information office near the train, I decided on taking the train to the last town in the Cinque Terre, Monterosso al Mare. I planned to wander the town, hike from there to the next town, Vernazza, go for a swim, and wander around there too for a bit. It was about a two hour hike, and I picked the hottest time of day to do it, naturally.

Monterosso was the biggest of the 5 towns, but had cute shops and restaurants. 

I found the blue trail, and started my ascent to hike onward to Vernazza. 




more locks of love...

It was both depressing and hopeful to be in a place where love and romance was so abundant.



view of Monterosso from the trail
The stairs were no joke. Neither was the skinny ass trail, and for someone who is afraid of heights…





But the views were mind-blowing. 






Making a wish in the Cinque Terre...


About a third of the way through, just as I was going past a particularly hairy point and talking to myself with these exact words, “holy shit, holy shit,” I stopped to let my heart stop pounding.
Just then, another hiker, wearing a backpack in lieu of a shirt went racing by. Just as I was chugging half a bottle of water he looked me straight in the eyes and said “Ciao!” I ciao-ed back, red faced and sweating through my tank top. He was pretty good-looking I thought, keeping my eye on him as he went onward on the trail. Backback boy was speedy. It was hard to keep up with him. His name implied super hero, of the super fast hiking kind.


I thought I had lost sight of him, when I spotted his backpack near the side of a trail. Sure enough, I look down under a tiny bridge, and he’s scaling a small waterfall. And why wouldn’t backpack boy scale waterfalls? I’d expect nothing less. I kept on the trail, leaving backpack boy to his adventure.

Oh good, just one more hour...

A little bit later I stop for another quick break and to wipe my drenched in sweat face again, when who should round the corner practically running? That’s right, backpack boy. Apparently he was done with the waterfall and racing again to the finish. I wondered if there was some sort of competition I didn't know about.

I said stupidly, “I saw you in that waterfall.” First of all, I had no clue if he spoke English so I was taking a chance there. Second, it was just a dumb opening line.

Turns out he did speak English decently enough and was Etienne, a French-Canadian from Quebec City, and he would be doing the second hike after this one, to the next town. We chatted for a few and continued on the hike together, discussing our trips, etc. It was nice to have a hiking buddy, but I was pretty sure I’d fall off one of the cliffs trying to match his pace. 

We made it to just above Vernazza with a spectacular view. 

MORE LOCKS!


He asked if I wanted him to take a pic for me and I said sure, just do it from far away since I was disgusting. He laughed. Get a photo taken in the Cinque Terre? CHECK!



Then I took a video pic with his gopro camera for him and he mentioned he was creating a montage of his trip. I asked if he had seen the one that had gone viral that the guy made taking selfies everywhere he went,as he traveled around the world. Then when he paused, I got a little nervous that it was him and I amongst the selfie celebrity himself. 

I told him such, and he laughed, and I joked that I loved his work. We finished the hike and ended up at the small beach they have there. I couldn’t wait to jump in the water. 

He went in first, and I followed, letting the water cool me down. As I made my way into the water, looking like a baby giraffe, stumbling on rocks, I wondered if maybe backpack boy could be my vespa make out guy.  We swam, he suggested we get a drink. Why not? We each paid for our own drinks, mine a Corona, and brought them to the marina to sit on the huge rocks basking in the afternoon sun. It was picturesque and I was parched.

He asked where I was staying, and said he was also staying in Riomaggiore. "Oh, really? Where?" 
"On the beach." was his response. Except there was no actual beach in Riomaggiore. Just giant boulders lining the marina. So backpack boy was sleeping on the rocks. Interesting. Turns out he did this on the Amalfi coast part of his trip as well. One night some American tourists invited him to stay in their hostel. Well, I wasn’t about to invite him to stay with me, and I also wondered how many days it had been since he showered. We were done here. 

Backpack boy left to continue onto leg two of the hike, and mentioned that he’d be drinking on the rocks later that night. I wouldn’t be joining. We bid Adieu, and Au Revior, and I wandered around Vernazza, collecting beach glass and of course eating more gelato.

Vernazza..and my obsession with laundry continues
searching for beach glass..found some great ones!

finders keepers
That night I tried a local favorite, fried calamari in a cone. It came with the octopus looking ones and although I've always avoided them, tonight was the night I would try one. And I did. I had been right to steer clear of these guys. I did not enjoy chewing the skinny little tentacles. But the cat at my feet did.



Riomaggiore marina at dusk
Riomaggiore at dusk

I was leaving the next day, feeling like I barely had time to catch a breath in the Cinque Terre. I really wanted to see it from the water, and had e-mailed a private tour guy with a boat to see if there was a group going out in the morning before I had to catch my train. There was! We met the next morning in the town over, Manarola, which I hadn’t been to yet. It was cute and easily could become my favorite of the five towns. 



I met Daniele (my captain for the morning) in front of the restaurant he picked as a meeting point in the center of town. He informed me that it was just going to be me (awkward) and so I asked if we could do a shorter tour for less money, and he agreed.
Awkwardness or not, I was psyched to be going out on a boat to view Cinque Terre from the sea. 



Daniele regaled me with tales and facts of Cinque Terre, played latin music, and poured me a beer that he proceeded to spill on my bag, claiming he was not a good bartender. It was like we were on a date sort of. We stopped for a swim, where he warned me of possible naked people sightings since it was a beach known for that. I saw all five towns from the sea, and it was glorious.


Riomaggiore
Manarola

Corniglia
Vernazza

Monterosso al Mare
 We swam in a cave, and when Daniele asked me if I was scared, and I replied with “why what’s in there?” He teasingly said, “just me.” Oh, Daniele. So witty of you. 


Daniele's attempt to take a picture of me in the cave, whilst telling me about the possible jellyfish. Great, thanks.

We wrapped up the tour with the perfunctory European double kiss and I was off to eat some traditional Ligurian pasta for lunch before I left Cinque Terre. I ordered the trofie with pesto, which the region is known for. It was obviously amazing.



I was back to Riomaggiore to collect my bags from the B&B’s garage, where Elisabeth, the owners mother so nicely allowed me to use for storage for the morning. When we said goodbye she hugged me and said, “you are very nice.” I don’t know why everyone keeps hugging me, but I’ll take it.



I was sad to be leaving Cinque Terre, it would have been nice to stay one more day, explore the one town I didn’t get to see, and climb some more steps. Next time I come back will for sure not be in August though, the crowds are ridiculous, and I’d enjoy not being pushed onto a train…

Next stop? Camogli, part of the Italian Riveria. It was deemed the most underrated coastal town in Italy, and every since seeing it grace the cover of Conde Nast magazine months earlier, I was anxious to see it for myself. Andiamo.


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