Day 38: Cinque Terre aka The Italian Riviera

I woke up in my hotel room (I can’t say that enough!) to get ready for the departing bus before heading downstairs to check out of the hotel. Last night I was told the hotel had free breakfast at 8 a.m. but I would already be in Sulmona by then so I didn’t give too much thought to it. The receptionist/bartender/cappuccino extraordinaire insisted I have a cup of cappuccino and pastry before I leave. He knew I was in a rush so he whipped it up quickly. Men filed into this coffee shop/gelateria/bar for their morning cappuccino while greeting each other with plenty of ciaos and buongiornos (good morning) to go around. Everyone in Scanno was so nice and happy; tucked far away from the big city, they were content with seemingly no problem in sight. For not being a coffee kind of person, the cappuccino was surprisingly good. I walked over to the bus stop with a few minutes to spare when, to my surprise, Rosanna walked towards me, which was an unexpected turn of events. I figured out that she was leaving for work but, who knows, maybe she was going to travel with me all the way to Rome to make sure I got there safely (her hospitality has been beyond the norm; she always made me feel welcomed). Turns out I was mostly right on both counts. She bought my tickets to both Sulmona and Rome (not much I could do but say thank you) and explained when and where the Roma bus would pick me up. In Sulmona, we said goodbye and departed for our separate ways. Back in Rome, I got on the train that took me to Florence for a quick change before passing through Pisa to La Spezia (the main train station for Cinque Terre). Upon hearing some English speakers on the train, I stroke up a conversation with two girls from Australia. The pair of them told me they were traveling through Italy before going to Spain. We joked about all the obvious stereotypes for Australians and Italians. The one girl explained my personality as an Aquarius, which ended up being spot on. As we discussed our upcoming itineraries, I tried to steer them in the direction of Pamplona for the San Fermin Festival. I have found that the best advice comes from fellow travelers that I have met along the way. They were impressed I was traveling alone. I’m actually impressed with myself as far as how much I have developed my communication and adaptability to difficult and sometimes stressful situations. Looking back, I could not be more grateful for the decision to travel by myself; it was by far the best decision I’ve made. After the Australian girls left the train at Pisa, I began talking to two girls from Boston/New York. The conversation began when they asked me about how the trains worked (transfers, finding platforms, buying tickets, and so on) since I looked like a pro of the train system. Anyways, the three of us arrived at La Spezia but the wrong one (we should have waited one more stop). I shook my head after blindly following the rookies for some reason. We got onto the next train for La Spezia Centrale and that’s where the fun began. From this station, trains depart for Cinque Terre and normally stop at all five villages before finishing at Levanto, where I was staying just outside of the five towns. The signs and departures were confusing at best. After the two girls went their separate way I was left to decipher the best way to get to Levanto. I asked for the platform to get to Levanto, which I boarded without thinking any further about it until I got a twitch of hesitation. A man seemingly employed by the railway passed by and he told me that the train to Levanto was on another platform. I ditched the original train and ran over to board the train the man indicated would lead me to Levanto and my hostel (who knows what these Italians are saying to me). As I normally do, I figured I could simply ask the people on the train where it was headed but not a soul was onboard. Any hopes of getting off this ghost train were dashed when I could not unlock the doors and soon after the train slowly pulled away from La Spezia. I looked in both directions through the empty carriages and chose to walk in the direction of the conductor hoping to get some assistance. In the last carriage, three people, including a railway maintenance worker, sat puffing on their cigarettes and laughing haughtily through the smoke. I asked where the train was headed but they didn’t speak a lick of English. An outpouring of Italian was spoken along with many rapid hand gestures which meant nothing to me. The chain smoking maintenance man started heading for an exit door of the train, which had by this point started to roll in reverse back towards the La Spezia train station. I began thinking this train was getting a maintenance check but luckily it stopped firmly in La Spezia. I followed the Italian out the door onto the rocky path in between two trains on their respective tracks. At no point was I confident that he would lead me to the correct train but I continued blindly following him with no other card up my sweaty sleeves. Eventually, he started trying to open the latches to a train’s carriages but each one remained shut. Finally, a door parted upon my presence. Again, I had no other choice but to board the train, which luckily was not deserted. After being assured of the train’s destination, I finally sat comfortably and let out a large breath of relief. Once at my hostel, I unloaded my luggage and opened Pandora’s Box upon this empty room and chose to deal with this disaster later. After all the time on the train, I was ready to go back to exploring. I stopped in Monterosso, the most northern town of Cinque Terre and by far the most touristy of the five, for my long awaited swim. Even with a rocky beach that tested my feet’s resistance, my desire for refreshment was too desperate and determined to be beaten down. The water was perfectly chilled and clear beyond imagination. I floated over to the area’s rockier waters to peer through the salty water. With my goggles, I witnessed schools of fish swimming their last swim before inevitably arriving on my plate the following day (haha I have a sick sense of humor). Just idly laying on the surface of the water was the essence of relaxation after an epic travel day to this Italian paradise. After having my fun, I climbed over the large rocks bordering the marina and went to dry off. From there, I walked around the marina and up a staircase to get a better vantage point of the town. While doing so, I traversed the area wet, shirtless and barefoot, which may or may not have been the sight most tourists expected or cared to see. With the dinner bell ringing, I meandered the streets for a well recommended pizzeria (to the disappointment of all, I was fully clothed at this point). At Pizzeria La Smorfia, I ordered a pizza with mozzarella, ricotta, pine nuts, and pesto (by the way, the region is well known for their pesto; as you can tell I definitely did my research on food). To wash down the pizza, I grabbed an Italian beer for the occasion. While waiting for my pizza, I began talking with an Italian/English speaking Canadian who was with his wife and daughter on vacation. We talked about my travels and how scary it must have been to take that chance to travel by myself. I’m not sure why I have made talking randomly to strangers such a big deal; this trip has made conversing with strangers not only a necessity but easy and normal. With my pizza and beer in hand, I took my romantic evening to the beach to savor the food, drink, and views from a park bench. The pizza was loaded with the best pesto I have had in my life and the ricotta (oh, the ricotta!) turned me into a believer (this glorious cheese will be making quite a few appearances on my pizzas back home). To cleanse the palate, and just because, I went get a small taste of gelato. I relearned a lesson that I had originally experienced on my first trip to Rome: not all gelati are created equal. Before getting back to the hostel, I watched locals dancing some Italian dance with Italian music filling Levanto’s airwaves. Back at the hostel, I was greeted by a room filled with…no one. I had a hostel room meant for six people all to myself. Although I prefer other backpackers in the room chatting away, I didn’t mind getting a silent night’s sleep for once.

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