You May Leave the Explorer of the Seas, but it Never Truly Leaves You: Day 6, Cinque Terre, Italy
Most Monday mornings are the epitome of a struggle for me: sleep deprivation combined with the hint of melancholy that accompanies the end of a good weekend, leave me the perfect candidate to be wearing one of those basic angsty teenager t-shirts, with slogans like “But first, coffee” or “Need. Coffee. Now.”
Yet this Monday was far from typical, as it signified our first full day in the glorious haven of Cinque Terre, Italy. Our hostel was conveniently located directly adjacent to a church tower, which the bells like clockwork every hour and every half-hour. By some miracle (or maybe just the grace of God), Margaret and I managed to sleep through this fun feature of our hostel for the entirety of the night.
We had plans to go on a hike in the morning and then reward ourselves with an afternoon at the beach, as a pat on the back for being athletic. The local train wouldn't come until a little after 10, so we found a precious Italian café and bakery called Da Aristide where we could get some breakfast. It appeared as though a tour group had just gotten off the train, hence why the line was surprisingly long.
We eventually got our chocolate croissants and cappuccinos and found a table directly outside of the café. One bite of the chocolate croissant quickly revealed that this place was going to become a morning staple in our days in Manorolla and that Paris will have one heck of an act to follow. The gooey chocolate made it taste more like a s'mores croissant and was perfect when paired with the coffee.
Margaret and I were in the midst of a conversation, most likely raving about the glorious chocolate croissant, when I heard it. My ears perked up in disbelief as the words “shore excursion” rang undoubtedly clear through the nearby crowd forming next to us. I glanced at Margaret, who had also stopped talking, to see if she has indeed heard the same words, which could only mean one thing. We both glanced over to see a woman holding a sign with the words “Shore Excursion”, complete with the one and only Royal Caribbean logo.
This past school year, my roommates and I had booked a relaxing cruise over Spring Break with a group of our friends, in order to be together for our final spring break at UGA. However, a few months before the cruise, I woke up one morning to a Facebook notification, saying that I had been added to the group “UGA SPRING BREAK CRUISE”. It turned out that a few other had the same idea and that over 800 UGA students were all going on what became known as #THECruise.
Despite our initial fears and questioning of what had we gotten ourselves into, THE cruise ended up being the greatest time with 800 of my closest friends. On our last night of the cruise we had asked our waiter, Anthony, where our boat, The Explorer of the Seas would be sailing next. He informed us that they were taking break until May, when they would set sail for the Europe tour of the Mediterranean Sea.
Our entire table joked that maybe we would run into them in Europe/how funny that would be. And in return, the unthinkable had occurred: The Explorer of the Seas had indeed followed us to the quiet coast of Italy on it’s Mediterranean Sea Europe Tour. Washy Washy was back, complete with SeaPass Cards and Shore Excursions on Manarola.
After nearly spilling my coffee from laughter at the hilarity of the situation, Margaret and I boarded the train to Vernazza, the fourth village of Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is an incredible destination, as it looks oddly similar to where my family used to visit in Maine and has incredible hiking paths between each of the islands. Since we had plans to spend the afternoon at Monterosso del Mar, it made the most sense for us to hike from Vernazza as the end of our hike would be our beach destination.
The hiking paths of Cinque Terre are part of the Italian national park system, so we paid €4.50 to take the trail to Monterosso. Since early high school, I've come to love hiking and enjoy the scenery combined with the overwhelming sense of accomplishment at the conclusion. It's kind of like when you run a 5K race: at first you're questioning your sanity for paying money to run from point A to B, but once you get in the swing of things, you're loving every second of it and compulsively decided that maybe you should train for a half marathon! (This level of crazy hasn't happened to me yet, but without a doubt I know that the day will come.)
The hike began just like that: fun at first, as we stopped to take pictures at a gorgeous overlook that perfectly framed the village of Vernazza. We met a group of Australian vacationers, who offered to take pictures for us if we did the same for them. In my less than 24 hours in Cinque Terre, it has become extremely apparent how genuinely nice and kind people are here, both the tourists and locals alike. It's almost like I'm back in Georgia again!
But as we kept going, the trail began getting steeper and steeper until it felt as though we were climbing at 90 degree angle. We kept passing people who had turned around to not finish the hike and I found myself unsuccessfully trying to conceal my exhaustion from them, as a ploy to make myself seem atheltic. After about 25 minutes of this, we reached the second overlook rest view. Margaret pulled out the map to reveal that we had only gone around half a mile of the alleged 2.5 miles to Montorosso. Awesome. We debated for a few minute about whether or not to continue before I turned to a nearby couple who spoke English coming from the opposite way, who revealed to us that it "got better eventually".
Against our better judgement, Margaret and I decided to channel our inner athleticism and continue on with promises of gelato (and piña coladas) lingering in the distance. We continued to trudge up the mountain path, attempting to make conversation before giving up to focus on breathing.
Around when stopped to eat a snack, the trail at long last started evening out to become only a slight incline. I mean, we would eventually have to lead us back down from the mountain eventually, right? The hike proved to be more than worth it, as the scenery of mountain cliffs surrounded by crashing waves made this one of my favorite trails ever.
Around three quarters of the way into the hike, we reached a set of extremely narrow and small stairs. The people going the opposite way from us began to pass by traveling from Montorosso to Vernazza where we had started. They all seemed to be absolutely exhausted, as many of them sat and rested in makeshift areas along the side of the trail. After we counted going down about 400 steps, we determined that we had chosen the best direction to travel, as no one in their right mind would choose to hike up hundreds of steps nonstop. As we neared the end of the trail, we saw dozens of struggling hikers and gave them a compassionate look as we continued on the opposite way. One couple was even attempting to lug a stroller up the mountain, which I can predict did not go well.
After walking through a beautiful tunnel, that oddly reminded me of Buddy the Elf entering New York City for the first time after traveling through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, we had at long last arrived in Montorosso del Mar. The hike was beyond worth it and additionally served as a bragging point for the rest of the day as well as justification to eat whatever we wanted for the rest of the trip. "We hiked the other day, so we can TOTALLY get gelato twice today."
After walking through town, I asked Margaret where the public beach was located. To my utter confusion, she responded by pointing to a trailer park that was indeed located on the beach. In response to my confusion, she explained that their was a public beach right behind the trailers. Gotcha.
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the beach. The highlight for me was realizing that there was sea glass to be found beneath the rocky sand, just like what we call Pebble Beach up in Kennebunkport, Maine. Swimming in the Mediterranean Sea has been one of the coolest experiences of this trip so far and I'm so thankful to have had the opportunity to visit the beach and the mountains within 48 hours.
We grabbed gelato and caught a train back to Manarola to shower and rest some before making plans for dinner. We arrived just as our new roommate, Becca, was moving her stuff into our room. She was backpacking through Europe with her boyfriend, both of whom were from Toronto. We immediately became friends with her and were thankful to at long last have a roommate who was normal. Or maybe just weird like us?
We took a train back to Montorosso to try one of the dinner restaurants we had seen earlier. Many of them turned out to be rather pricey, but eventually we discovered a hidden gem on a side street. Immediately upon walking inside we were welcomed with the most delicious smelling pizza imaginable. Better than Antico in Atlanta, if you can imagine. The restaurant immediately brought us bread, but didn't take our order until after 9:15 pm.
My pesto pizza was absolutely incredible and I can say that Italy has lived up to the expectation of having the best pizza. As a self-proclaimed pizza enthusiast, I can genuinely say that I'll be dreaming of this pizza until I return to Cinque Terre.
Around 10:30, we had finally finally finished eating and asked the waiter to give us our check, per favore. He motioned "si si," and continued serving those around us. The last train left at 11:15 for our stop, so we continued to ask him for it trying to be polite, but persistent. At 11:00 he apologized with lemoncello "on the house", but Margaret and I were still slightly worried because we would be stranded if we didn't make the train.
At exactly 11:10, we paid and sprinted out of the restaurant towards the quiet train station. There was one train leaving toward La Spezia at 11:15 and we jumped onto it, right before the doors closed. Yet there was one thing about Italian public transportation of which we were blindly unaware: trains are not realiable and don't always make every stop.
As we zoomed past our hostel stop, an officer explained this to us and sympathetically said that we would most likely have to take a taxi from La Spezia back to Manarola.
€35 and 45 minutes later, we at last arrived back at our hostel, thanks to a kind taxi driver at the station. The silver lining to this? He dropped us off at the top of the hill which allowed us to bypass the hike to the hostel and get home safely, at last.