Cinque Terre

For my last two weeks in Italy, I was lucky enough to have my fiance join me. It was his first time in Italy, and one of his Must-Do activities was visiting Cinque Terre. Located on the west coast of Italy, the area of Cinque Terre is made up of 5 (in case Cinque didn’t fill you in on that) small towns that hug the coast.   First of all, the towns are each incredibly beautiful.  Coming out of the train tunnel out of La Spezia and catching that view for the first time was surreal. It’s better than my pictures can show. It’s better that you can imagine.  Unfortunately, I barely saw any of it.  I had the incredible misfortune of coming down with salmonella almost as soon as a we got there.


Our goal was to hike a bit of the trails, but the famous (and easiest trail) Via dell’Amore was closed due to landslides, and as we started to head up to the higher trails I started to feel awful-cold sweats, shooting pains in my stomach and queasy.  To be fair, this is normally my reaction whenever someone tries to get me to hike something that takes longer than 20 minutes, but I could tell this wasn’t going to be good.  The more we walked through the first two towns Riomaggiore and Manrola, the worst I felt.  Every time I caught a whiff of the area’s famous fried fish, I wanted to toss myself off the cliffs.  By the time we reached our rental apartment in Corniglia (and the massive stairs that you take to reach the hilltop town) I was done.  I spent the next 12+ hours puking my guts up and wondering if it was possible to die from puking because it sure felt like I was.


One important thing we found out was there are no pharmacies in Corniglia. My fiance ran around town buying bread and water, but there was no medication to be found.  A waitress at a cafe (we were under the mistaken impression that fresh air and some mint tea would help—it didn’t–I puked on my fiance on the street in public. Another proud moment in my life) confirmed the lack of pharmacies but was sweet enough make a mixture of lemon and warm water which she promised would help.  I did seem to feel better afterwards so I’m crediting her with my recovery.


I did feel well enough the next day to continue on to the next two towns of Vernazza and Monterosso. I wasn’t well enough to eat, but Vernazza did have a pharmacy where I paid $14 for one box of anti-nausea medication. I have to say it might be the best $14 I’ve ever spent.  It meant that we got to have a mostly normal day, and enjoy the views the area has to offer. Vernazza was, by far, the most crowded of the towns we had visited thus far.  While the others had a sleepy feel to them Vernazza was hopping with tourists, cafes and tourists shops. It also had the prices to match.

Our final stop was Monterosso which was completely different than the other four towns. Rather than cliffs there was a beach lined with small cafes and outdoor bars (I can’t tell you how upset I was not to be able to sit there and relax with a snack and a drink).  We stopped by a nice hotel and asked if we could possibly leave our bags there. For a fee of 3 euros the lady said we could check our bags and change into bathing suits in the restroom. For another 2 euros we were able to rent towels.  That’s a pretty great deal in my mind.


We swam at this beautiful beach for a bit.  My fiance was good for two swims, I decided to play it safe with just one and rest on the beach. Monterosso seemed to have more of a traditional seaside resort feel to it compared to the other four towns. There seemed to be more standard hotels as opposed to apartment rentals that the other towns seemed to have.

Overall, what I saw of Cinque Terre was lovely.  I wish I had had the opportunity to try some of the local fare and you know…not do the puking tour of one of the prettiest places on earth.

Dante

The reason I was in Florence this summer was to learn Italian for my dissertation. One of the texts I’m working with is The Divine Comedy. So it seemed like a good idea to have a working knowledge of Italian. Since Florence was Dante’s home prior to his exile, there’s tons of Dante related things all over the city. These range from historical (his house & the church where Beatrice is buried) to the kitschy (Dante impersonators & cafes named after him).

Siena

My first trip to Siena was in 2009 when I sailed with Semester at Sea. It was an all too brief stop on an all day tour of Tuscany. I had the insanely good luck to be there on Il Palio so the town was filled with people, brightly colored flags and horses. I wanted to dig my feet in and not get back on the tour bus because the town was just that cool.

Lucky for me, Siena is a quick bus ride (ok, that’s not entirely true if like me you get car sick. Then it’s way too long & leaves you fairly green by the time you get there) away from Florence. Towards the end of Mer’s stay in Florence we hopped the bus and headed out to Siena.

It was a great day trip. The town was busy, but there were enough side streets that we didn’t feel crushed by people. We went to see the house & various severed body parts of St. Catherine of Siena (I like religious relics. I’m a bit ghoulish), and then we went to the Duomo.

This is where I have to confess that I wasn’t entirely thrilled by visiting the Duomo again. I knew Mer should see it, but since I had already been there I wasn’t relishing spending another $15 and waiting in a horrendously long line for something I’d already seen.

Within 10 seconds of walking into the Duomo I realized how incredibly stupid that train of thought was. The Duomo of Siena is just flat out spectacular. Worth every penny. Worth every second in that incredibly long line.

After the Duomo we followed the advice of my Brazilian friend and went to Da Divo for lunch. Da Divo specializes in truffle dishes so I was instantly sold. Add in the fact that they bring out a giant cheese wheel to mix your pasta dishes in and they grate they truffle right in front of you, and I was in truffle loving heaven. Mer is not a truffle person, and even she admitted that it was delicious. That’s high praise from someone who thinks eating veggies is akin to torture.

I have to confess that Mer and I got on the wrong bus to get back to Florence. We had tickets for the express bus, but jumped the gun when we saw a bus that said Florence and just hopped on. Turns out that bus was the local bus. Ugh. It doubled the time it took to get home (and my level of car sickness). We got back just in time for a horrendous thunderstorm so we had to spend an extra 40 minutes hanging out in the bus depot waiting for the rain and lightening to pass.

Luckily the city decided to make up for the hassle with a gorgeous rainbow right over the Ponte Vecchio. It’s hard to stay disgruntled when this is your view walking back.