Italia Days 1 & 2: Levanto & Cinque Terre
I’m worried that writing about my Italy trip in November won’t do it justice, especially because I waited so long to write about it, but let me start of by telling you that it was amazing. If I had to pick one favorite trip I’ve done so far during my year abroad, it would be this trip. Italy is beautiful, I loved being able to practice my limited Italian abilities, the food was to-die-for, the people were friendly… Fantastic trip.
I went with three fellow EAP-ers, Jen, Rances, and Sarah. Though Italy was the #1 country I wanted to see while in Spain, we hadn’t even originally planned to go to any of these cities (Cinque Terre, Lake Como, Lugano, and Milan) but really just wound up there after following the best deals on flights, hostels, trains, etc. But it worked out perfectly.
On Thursday morning, we met up at Sol and took a taxi together, then flew to the Milan Malpensa airport, an airport about an hour, took a bus to Milan (I bought the tickets in Italian! How exciting it was to actually utilize this language I had only used in a classroom setting before!), and then, after some confusion with tickets and help from a friendly man working for Trenitalia, we took a train to Levanto, a small, adorable seaside town north of Cinque Terre, on the north-western coast of Italy, that had been recommended by our friends Connie and Ariel. The train itself was pretty cool because we had our own little compartment that reminded us of Harry Potter (ha, I think everyone in our generation gets reminded of Harry Potter by everything), especially when they came by with the little snack trolley. We were greeted by rain, but it cleared as we made our way to Levanto, giving us a gorgeous view of Easter Egg-colored houses stacked on green hills facing the bright blue Mediterranean Sea. If the only time I got to spend in Italy was that train ride, I still would have been content.
We got to Levanto and found our way to the hostel, despite having no map and no idea where it was located, stopping to look out at the ocean on the way. The hostel, a converted 17th century monastery, was very cute, and we ended up having the room to ourselves the first night there. After checking in, we found a bakery where we bought pizza and focaccia for lunch. SO delicious, and it was only the first of many fabulous meals. Then we explored the town until it got dark and rainy, seeing castles, churches, plazas, playgrounds, and beaches, and having our first taste of real Italian gelato. Because it was raining, we were tired from getting up at 4am, and there wasn’t a lot to do in Levanto at night, we bought some groceries, made sandwiches in our hostel, and went to bed ridiculously early, like at 7:30 or something.
The next day, we were lucky enough that the rain subsided, and we bought a Cinque Terre pass, which gives you unlimited train rides and path access from Levanto to the five towns of Cinque Terre to La Spezia and back. Let me explain first that Cinque Terre, which translates to “five lands,” is not one city, but rather a group of five small coastal towns connected by hiking paths. We took a train to Riomaggiore, the southernmost of the five towns, where we walked around the town. Cinque Terre doesn’t have a lot of attractions or museums, so visiting it is all about wandering around and just looking at the beautiful (and it really is extremely beautiful) scenery. Each of the five towns is pretty similar to the others, and they all feature pastel houses nestled in the hills, with tiny (too small for cars, often) cobblestone streets running through them, beaches, and lots of views of the coast and the ocean.
We next “hiked” to Manarola. I put that in quotes, because the first stretch of the hike really isn’t much of a hike but rather a nicely paved path (though later on we did more actual hiking). The first path is called the Via dell’Amore, the Road of Love, and it is pretty much the cutest thing ever. The walls and rocks are covered in graffiti featuring love quotes or names of couples, and people attach padlocks to the fences and rocks as a symbol of their love.
Manarola was equally beautiful. There, we got exhausted climbing really high into the hills, and then we came down and had lunch in a super cute (I know I keep using words like “cute” and “adorable,” but they fit Cinque Terre so perfectly!) restaurant, where Rances and I had pizza and Sarah and Jen had pasta. If you thought Italian food in the U.S. was good, just wait until you try real Italian food. And I don’t think this is even an area really known for its cuisine. We had gelato for dessert, of course, and then we hiked up to a beautiful cemetery. I’m really not a fan of cemeteries, and, in fact, I was deathly (ha, pun) afraid of them when I was younger, but Italian cemeteries are filled with fresh, fragrant flowers, and the graves all have photos of the deceased person. Plus, this one was overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
The hike to the next town, Corniglia, is a long one and ends in 382 steps, which, let me tell you, is exhausting. I suppose hiking Cinque Terre isn’t for the faint of heart (not that I’m much of a hiker), but it’s definitely the best way to see Cinque Terre in my opinion, because of all the beautiful coastline sights you would miss by train. And going in early November was perfect, because it was still warm enough that we were comfortable, but there were very few tourists there, so we basically had the trails to ourselves. Anyway, in Corniglia we visited a cute little wine shop where the owner let Sarah tasted and bought some wine, we wandered through the cobblestone streets like we did in each of the towns, and then we headed for the next town, Vernazza.
The hike between Corniglia and Vernazza was the longest and most nature-like (more dirt paths, hills, and trees), and we made it to Vernazza just as the sun was setting, so we sat and watched the sun set over the ocean. Because it was now dark and cold, and because the hike from Vernazza to Monterosso was supposedly even longer than the others, we took the train for the last stretch. Monterosso is more built-up than the other towns, but it’s still cute, and we stopped and had drinks in a café, then took the train back to Levanto.
Back in Levanto, we ate dinner at a restaurant across from our hostel, where we each tried different kinds of pasta (I had gnocchi in a cream sauce, so good), and Sarah even got a free meal because they brought her the wrong (yet equally delicious) pasta. At the hostel, we discovered we no longer had the room to ourselves and ended up talking for a while to two American girls who were studying abroad in Rome. Hearing about their program, in which they were housed in a nice hotel for the semester, were given vouchers to use at cafés, had weekend excursions planned for them, and took classes with only Americans, made us realize just how much of an immersion program our immersion program really is, and, while I’m sure they had a great time in Rome, I’m really glad to be seeing Spain the way we are. Anyway, we called it an early night again so we could leave the next morning for Lake Como.
But this post is already really long, because I love talking about our Italy trip, so more on Lake Como, Levanto (Switzerland), and Milan later. As you can tell, I went kind of picture-crazy in this post, but I wanted to post even more, because it was all so beautiful. Make sure you check out my Facebook album if you haven’t already. Those photos don’t do it enough justice, really.
I’ll leave you with one piece of advice: GO TO CINQUE TERRE! It’s probably in my top 5 favorite cities (well, it’s a group of cities, but you know) in the world. I fell completely in love with it. I had heard before going that it was great, but it exceeded my expectations. Everyone who goes to Italy sees Rome, Venice, and Florence, and Cinque Terre is pretty popular too, but I think it sometimes gets overlooked, and it really shouldn’t, because it’s an amaaaazing place. Can you tell I kind of liked it just a little bit?