In Part One I talked about some pre-travel things and our first night in Milan, now we’re getting to the good stuff, La Spieza and Cinque Terre.
Our first night in La Speiza we spent walking around the town as we arrived on a later train and knew we could see all the Cinque Terre towns in a day. I chose La Speiza because the hotel was much cheaper than any Cinque Terre towns and it was close to the train station, but the city wound up being a place we really enjoyed as well. After we checked into the hotel we walked toward the port, where we planned to take the water taxi to the Cinque Terre towns the next day. On the way we passed busy streets filled with locals shopping and enjoying their time lazily sipping drinks and smoking cigarettes at outdoor tables in cafes. The weather here was warm and still felt like summer, though it was almost October.
We also were among the many tourists with their pull suitcases, ill-suited for cobblestone streets, past stands selling warm foods and breads of all kinds, fresh fruits and vegetables, and through a well maintained park with gravel paths and, in the center, a larger than life statue of famed Italian Girabaldi on a horse.
We continued across a pedestrian suspension bridge and took note of all the shipping containers, huge cranes and large port that we had come to recognize as part of the cities we have lived in recently, from Long Beach to Gijón. We walked past the many, many personal boats of varying sizes docked in La Spezia, including a pirate-looking mostly wooden ship complete with a naked lady in porcelain attached to the front of the boat. Toward the end of the pier, obscured by tall bushes, we glimpsed some of the largest ships we had every seen; we saw a flag that had a small union jack in the corner, but the rest of the flag I could not recognize. As we stopped at a restaurant to have a drink near even more enormous boats, I saw the flag again, and found it was from Grand Cayman. I have a friend living there now, and he was not surprised these boats were registered to the island, but he said he had never seen any that large actually docked on the island itself.
Near the docks, there were a couple of restaurants with outdoor seating, but the tables were not filled, and it was nice to enjoy the breeze and the view. The people at the nearby tables were speaking English, some with accents, and by their later ages and their laughter they seemed like boat owners enjoying each others company. We decided to have one more drink before our dinner reservations, and stopped at a bar with a patio on the second floor. The young Australian waiter asked what size of draft beers we wanted, a half liter or full liter, and not thinking about it, said full liter, but of course not realizing how large they would be (below left).
Our dinner reservation was at a cute place where we sat outside under a covered sidewalk (above right). We were the only outdoor diners, and thus had a very attentive waitress, which is definitely not the norm in most restaurants we have eaten at thus far. We split our appetizers, first and second courses (like an old married couple) and they were nice enough to put them in separate plates; the smaller portions really added to the fine dining experience, however we did order two different desserts, because, why not?
We slept well that night, and in the morning decided on taking the boat taxi instead of walking the trails through Cinque Terre, and that decision proved to be the right one (especially after seeing how sweaty and miserable a majority the hikers looked on that hot, humid and sunny day). We already average more than 10,000 steps on our normal days, and that they charge to take the trails cemented that choice. The all-day boat pass did not stop at one of the towns, Corniglia, as it does not have a port, but we used it to visit all the other towns. Our initial ride from La Spezia led us to sit at the front of the large boat, taking in the views of the true blue water, sunny skies and ocean breezes as we proceeded to our first stop, the town of Vernazza.
Once off the boat we stopped to take pictures of the tiny beach, however one could not call it a beach per se, more like rocky spots to swim from, and if one found a smooth enough rock, could sunbathe. We had heard a lot of the enjoyment of Cinque Terre was getting lost in the tiny pathways between the homes and buildings, similar to Venice. So we walked up the first pathway we saw, away from all the people meandering around the port, and climbed the narrow passageways, higher and higher. We happened upon one tiny stairwell, not even wide enough for two people to pass, and as we waited for another couple to pass by, we saw a sign pointing toward a restaurant nearby. We climbed a few more flights of stairs until we reached it. The friendly Italian matriarch that ran the restaurant asked, “are you here to eat?” and we nodded, then continued, “then I have a fine table for you,” and she was not kidding. Right at the top of the cliff-side, overlooking the ocean and town, truly spectacular (our table was under the farthest right Red Umbrella).
We shared white wine, pesto lasagna and veal cutlets, while eating as slowly as possible enjoying the ambience, the view and the serenity of the place and moment. We took a long time eating dessert, a slice pistachio cake, knowing we had more towns to see, more narrow passageways to meander, but really taking in a long look.
Eventually we did have to leave, and found that the cashier was actually the matriarch’s mother, who could have been in her 90s, and she offered us limonchellos as a digestif, which one has to drink when in Italy. Cinque Terre was very reminiscent of Cudillero in Asuturias, except with better food, a bit more charm, and pastel painted buildings, that is.
We had planned on skipping the largest town in Cinque Terre, Monterosso, because we had heard it was flat, had the least amount of charm and most amount of tourists, as it had the most places to stay. However, we boarded the wrong boat taxi, and found ourselves in Monterosso for an hour. While it did have an actual (tiny) beach, we decided to get out of the sun and enjoyed some prosecco and peanuts at a covered cafe, hiding from the sun.
We boarded the next boat that took us to the town of Manarolla. We had a couple hours until the final boat ride to the town of Riomaggiore, so we hiked up the main road, past all of the tourist shops (and there are so many) and packed cafes, until we found a table amongst a few other travelers, at an outdoor cafe, very near the trail point.
Here we observed the many different types of tourists that hiked between the towns, some had walking sticks with large backpacks, others wore sneakers and had day packs, some limped, others had visible bug bites, all appeared sweaty and hot, and we confirmed that not hiking the trails was the right call for us as we enjoyed our draft beers and stale potato chips. People watching is a favorite pastime that we all should engage in, as we are all so varied as humans. From the things we cannot control (our height, eye color, skin color, walking gait) and those we can (clothes, hair color, tattoos or not). To see and celebrate these differences makes it much easier to deal with so many fellow tourists from many different countries speaking many different languages.
We proceeded back to the port of Manarolla, and although bathing suits and swimming were not part of our plans, I still wanted to see how nice the Mediterranean water felt and I put my hand in, and the water was so warm and inviting that next time we will swim in it (as those that did looked so happy). Our last stop was the town of Riomaggiore, but we were starting to lose steam. We found a crowded place to grab a snack, amongst travelers, locals, and smoking youths, and ate toast with pesto, mozzarella, and sun-dried tomatoes, as we did more people watching while waiting for sunset. As we sat I eyed an almost empty square that looked like a good spot to watch the sunset, and when we arrived there were only a couple of kids kicking a soccer ball as their parents chatted, and we glimpsed the sun setting.
After that we took the short train ride back to La Spezia, found a place with take-away pizza Margarita and ate it on the large outdoor patio that was shared with a hostel, separated by a short fence. As we ate our pizza by tearing into it (they do not slice the pizza unless you ask them too, which we did not) we listened to the hostelers talk of their travels in their young lives we remembered back to our youthful travels, our first trip to Italy (Rome, to be exact) and how much we had changed and I thought about how lucky I am to have a partner to share moments, and days, like these.