So when I write that going to Cinque Terre was an adventure, I truly mean it, from the moment we left Firenze.
First, the family opted to rent a car instead of taking a train. While I wouldn’t ordinarily doubt the driving skills of my uncle, we can all agree that driving in Italy seems terrifying, what with all of the smart cars, vespas, and tour busses doing whatever they want on the roads. Fortunately, we did have a GPS equipped with European maps, so directions weren’t a problem. The real problem was having 4 backseat drivers!
When we arrived in the region of Cinque Terre, we realized that getting to Monterosso al Mare (the village where we were staying) was going to prove difficult, since the route meandered up, down,
and around the side of the mountains. My family said it reminded them of driving “The Road to Hana,” which didn’t really mean anything to me, since I’ve never been to Hawaii.
Finally, we got to Monterosso al Mare, had lunch, checked in to our hotel, and made plans to take the train to the next town, Vernazza, where we wanted to take the hiking trail back to Monterosso. We knew beforehand that there was a train that travels back and forth between the 5 villages of Cinque Terre. What we didn’t learn until arriving at the station was that there was going to be a scioppero, or a labor strike, going into effect at 9pm that night. This made our train experience much more hectic, since everyone wanted to get on before the strike.
Vernazza was also where we planned to meet our friend, Tian, who has been studying medicine in Berlin. He planned to meet us there with his Italian friend for the weekend. Unfortunately they were a bit late getting to Cinque Terre from Milan (I think . . .), and so we decided to hike the trail back to Monterosso without him, since we had dinner reservations that night.
Hiking the trail was magnificent and fun, but maybe less so for my parents. I was fortunate to have been “training” in the Alps the other weekend, but I don’t think they were prepared for this trip. They (or at least one or two members of the family) had imagined a nice, paved, flat route from Vernazza to Monterosso. On the contrary, the route was a treacherous dirt/stone trail, barely passable by one person at a time, with wooden railings following only segments of the route. What was worse was that we asked passersby if the trail
“went down from here,” or “how much further it is to the next flat portion,” and everyone lied! We got different answers from everyone, and people kept mentioning that there was some local Italian in the middle of the trail selling lemonade and limoncello. We were in such a fatigue-induzed daze that we didn’t really understand what was going on, only that we wanted to make it back before sunset, in enough time for our reservation.
Finally, we made it back to Monterosso al Mare after nearly a 2 hour journey. I’m sure we didn’t look pretty to the Italians and tourists enjoying their dinners by the water, but no matter. We had reservations, which I had to change 3 times on account of Tian’s inability to join us in time, at Ristorante Miky, the top rated restaurant on TripAdvisor. I had a delicious plate of gnocchi alla genovese, which means that it was in a pesto sauce. The wine was a local ligurian variety, which was very complex and delicious. My mom and aunt ordered an amazing seafood risotto which was covered in a puff pastry that had been torched in front of us. I was fortunate enough to try it. One note about risotto in Italy: On every menu in Italy, the risotto dishes have a caveat that there is a minimum requirement of two orders of risotto in order to have it, since risotto takes an extreme amount of patience, work, and attention.
The next day, we decided to take a boat tour to one of the towns on the other end of Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore, since the train workers were still on strike. We were finally able to meet up with Tian when the boat stopped at Vernazza. Riomaggiore was nice, but we didn’t have much time to spend in the village, since we had to
get on the next boat back to Monterosso al Mare in enough time to drive all the way from Cinque Terre to Padova, where my family would drop me off on the way to their hotels in Venice.
That night, we decided to have dinner in Padova, since my aunt and uncle wouldn’t get an opportunity to see it, with the exception of that night. I knew we were in for a surprise, because none of them speak Italian, so I had to order meals for all of them. Of course, the restaurant we chose didn’t have any english translations of the dishes, and I wasn’t familiar with all of the vocabulary on the menu! Everything that we ordered was basically a surprise, but everyone enjoyed their meals . . . I think . . .