My last night in Venice was one of my favorite nights so far. I decided to stay at the hostel to enjoy some Japanese style Italian cooking courtesy of Tomo. Barry and Stacey, a young married couple from Canada, Kate and Doug, a couple from Australia, and Abi, an Australian woman in transition, joined as well. We all got along splendidly and seemed to have the same sense of humor. We shared our travel stories and some humorous hostel anecdotes. There were liters of wine and lots of laughter shared. We sat around for about 4 or 5 hours eating, drinking and laughing. It was a truly lovely time.
The following morning I set out for Cinque Terre. I had a train to Florence, then a transfer to La Spezia, where I was staying for the night. Well. First, our train to Florence got delayed en route for about 2 hours. I'm still not sure exactly what happened. There were messages about an accident, but the details were fuzzy. A problem with the cables? Two men caught in wires? The walls came off the train? These are some variations of the story we heard. Regardless, we eventually started out again and made it to Florence. Let me say this: I have taken my share of planes, trains and buses of the world, and the Italina rail is one of the most confusing, un-user friendly systems I've ever seen. Everyone - including the Italians - was lost and had no idea if they were on the right train or not. The one I was supposed to be on according to the schedule didn't show up on the screen, so someone told me to just go to Pisa and pick it up there - same direction. So I did. Then I got to Pisa and the same thing happened. I asked 3 people and they all confirmed that this one train went to La Spezia, so I got on, knowing in my gut that there was no way this train was going to La Spezia. It wasn't. I took it to the end anyway, figuring there would be a connection.
When I got off in Pontremoli, I met Tim and Carly, a couple from Seattle, who had done every single thing I had done that day. They were on the same train from Venice, took the train to Pisa, and took the same connection. Finally, we found a train that went to La Spezia and waited an hour for it. They told me they didn't have a room for the night because we were supposed to get in at 2 and they figured we would just find a place. We actually were scheduled to get in around 8. I offered to talk to my hostel when I called to confirm that I was still coming to see if they had an extra two beds. They thought that sounded great at this point - they were pretty desperate.
The last bus from La Spezia Centrale to my hostel was at 8:10. As the clock crept towards 8, we were getting nervous. We knew it was a 5 minute walk to the bus stop from the train station, and we didn't even know where we were going. It was 8:04. We knew that if the next stop was not La Spezia, we were screwed. Please, please, please.... LA SPEZIA!!! We started running as fast as you can run with a 20 lb pack in the direction that we hoped was the way to the station. We saw the little park the directions mentioned and rejoiced. We saw a bus coming and ran towards it with flailing arms. It turned out to not be the bus we needed - that one came at 8:15, a few minutes late, but we were there at 8:10 on the dot. It turned out that the bus stopped right at our hostel, and another picked up in front in the morning and was a 10 minute drive to Cinque Terre. We checked in no problem and immediately sought out a place to eat since we were STARVING after 10 hours on a train. We devoured two delicious pizzas, a salad and a liter of wine in no time. Carly and Tim were so grateful that I found them a place to stay that they bought me dinner. Yay karma!!!
In the morning, I offered to let them store their bags in my room at the B&B in Cinque Terre for the day, since they were only staying until 4 and then heading to Rome. So, we headed to Monterosso al Mare, one of the northern towns on the sea. As it turns out, this place is paradise. The waters are impossibly cerulean blue, with a backdrop of lush green and complexly terraced mountains. Looking around, if you only concentrate on one piece of the town at a time, you could be in any number of countries. Looking out at the crystal blue waters, you'd swear you were in the Caribbean. Look off into the distance at the misty mountains and perhaps it's the moors of Ireland. Stare up at the terraced, fog-capped mountains, and maybe it's China. Or, wander inland through the village with the smells of various restaurants wafting together and maybe it's a charming small town in Italy after all. After about 3 minutes of this, I called the B&B and booked another night and cancelled my hostel in Genoa. Really, what's in Genoa, anyway?
Tim and Carly were happy to let me tag along for the day, which was nice. Our first stop was this little wine/gourmet food shop that my hostess also ran, which offered free tastings. We had limoncello, melonecello, the special Cinque Terre wine (4 kinds), strawberry liquor, and grappa. At this point, we were getting a little tipsy. On top of this, there was an array of about 15 fresh spreads that we were free to sample, including 2 kinds of homemade pesto, artichoke dip (O.M.G.), anchovy spread, caper and olive tapenades, marmalades, garlic creams, and many others. I tried all, just to be sure I didn't miss anything spectacular. I purchased 2 little jars of pesto (one green, one red), the artichoke spread, and a little bottle of melonecello, which I like better than the limoncello because it is creamy and like a smoothie. Tim and Carly shipped 3 bottles of wine home and bought some pesto, too. Carly informed me that this place is actually the birthplace of pesto, so naturally, I've been eating it at every meal. The streets are lined with pots of fresh basil and lemon trees, as if to remind you just how fresh it is.
After I said goodbye to my new friends (we endured a lot in those 24 hours!) I took a little nap, then went for a nice long hike before settling down to dinner on the water. The funny thing about this town is the closer you get to the beachside, the cheaper the food is, which is so counter intuitive to US real-estate and, consequently, food prices. But if I can have pesto lasagne while watching the moon reflect on the sea drink my wine to the sound of crashing waves, that's just fine with me