So I wanted to start this post by commenting on a few things I missed, and a few things that keep cropping up around my trip.
First of all, I rambled on and on about what I did at Oktoberfest, but forgot to set a scene for people who have never been there. Picture this: one massive “tent” (the top is thin material, but supported by massive wooden beams), with a wooden floor, long wooden tables (and some thin standing room tables), packed with thousands of people. Many of the people are in dirndls and lederhosen (despite the fact that many of these people don’t speak a word of German). There’s a big band full of brass instruments playing on a raised platform – about every 10-15 minutes they play “Ein Prosit mit gemuetlichkeit”, and everybody stands and toasts everybody in toasting distance with a hearty “Prost” – swinging the giant heavy 1 litre beer steins. (Some end up broken later on). And then the band, all in their lederhosen, also play a selection of other things – songs from 50 years ago seem to be popular, including New York New York, Will You Be My Girl, and – my personal favourite – Country Roads. Sitting with non-English speaking Germans belting out “Take me home, to a place, I belong!! West Virginia…..” is a surreal experience.
Anyway. Besides that I missed, a few of the constants. Every place has its own sort of beggars, (kids with notes that say they are from Bulgaria, old woman with scarves on their heads, men with one shrivelled arm… ), and I’ve figured out a system for dealing with them and not feeling guilty. I will rid my pockets of my under 50-Eurocent coins up to once a day. It works I think.
And the other… chains. I’ve been keeping up with my McDonald’s survey around Europe, and have found some interesting switches. Prague had the McCountry, which was the breaded fried cheese on a bun they call Smazny Syr (or something similar) – as well as an extensive menu including breaded shrimp. Italy has the McToast, as “toast” is actually toasted bread with ham and cheese… and that’s what it is. And then I think it was Germany that had a whole line of “America” Burgers (Los Angeles Burger, Chicago Burger, and so on.) As for other chains, I didn’t realize Pizza Hut and Burger King were so international, as well as Claire’s (the accessories shop).
So if you were waiting for my report on the Cinque Terre, here it is!
The first day I arrived late, got situated in my room, and grabbed some pesto spaghetti to go (pesto was invented in this region), and tried to locate a place to sit. I walked down the the harbour of “my” little town of the Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore, and found a lot of other people already set up on rocks to watch the sunset. Perfect. It was precarious climbing on the rocks with my spaghetti, but I made it, and watched. I toured Riomaggiore a bit and then, tired out, headed back to the room.
The room (“Affitacamere Patrizia”) was almost like a self-contained hostel – 11 beds, sitting area, full kitchen, and bathroom all in a little apartment. Snug, but didn’t feel cramped. Jan, a 50-something Tasmanian (aka Australian) who was on the 3-month trip she wanted to go on her whole life, was already in the room, and offered to share her bottle of wine with me. Naturally, I accepted, and we went on to meet other roommates (Joseph, a sheep shearer from New Zealand working in England; Emma Jane who I thought was “Imogen” because of our competing accents – and she didn’t notice a difference – also from New Zealand, and Shawn, a girl from Seattle). We planned on a “pasta party” for the next night!
The next day I tackled the trails in the rain. The first trail, from Riomaggiore to Manarola is the “Via Dell Amore”, and just an easy path. So I decided to continue, from Manarola to Corniglia – some slightly tricky parts, but I made it in the 45 minutes it said it was (and used my guidebook’s advice to take the shuttle to the hilltop town of Corniglia, rather than walking up the deadly stairs!). I browsed a bit in the tiny town (only 200 people actually live there), checked out a couple cute shops, grabbed a gelato, and tried to use the public women’s washroom. But it was a pit in the ground with railings for propping yourself up…. and someone had already used it for a “number two”. Since I didn’t want to crouch over a poop to pee in a pit, I located a wheelchair washroom – with a toilet.
By this point it was actually spitting, but I went for the next hike (90 minute, “the wildest and most rewarding”) to beautiful (but very touristy) Vernazza. As I awkwardly shambled up rocky steps that were hardly steps and all, and huffed and puffed and took numerous breaks (while.. um.. regretting it a bit at some points)….. seniors (especially Germans) with alpine walking sticks and little dogs barreled on past me. Phew. But it was really beautiful views and everything, and I did feel very accomplished when I made it to Vernazza! I wanted to check out the little town, but it immediately started pouring so I headed back to Riomaggiore to get some dry clothes.
The pasta party was that evening (I brought the vegetables), and Emma Jane, Jan, Shawn and I had been joined by Dennis, a middle-aged American with a motormouth…. who also happened to be a very good cook. So we had our pasta (cooked by Dennis), and his soup as well, with some wine, and dessert!. Nice evening.
The next day I decided to tackle towns. Or, you know, browse and stuff. I started with Vernazza, browsed little shops and grabbed a slice of pizza to eat sitting on the breakwater facing the harbour town. Gorgeous. Also very touristy.
Then I headed to Monterosso, the “beach town”, which was really so much like many other beach towns I have been in, that it felt very familiar. I wandered this town a bit too, before rolling up my pant legs and wading at the beach for a while (I would have swam, but the waves were deadly – too deadly for me to be alone swimming in them, I thought), and then laying on my towel on the sand to dry off. Ah.
It wasn’t until the evening that I decided I still needed to check out Manarola. I followed my Rick Steves tour (again the best guidebook for the Cinque Terre), which led me up to a vineyard path overlooking the town (the hills are covered in terraces full of grape vines). It was also just about sunset, so I watched once more. It was beautiful.
Heading back down into town I realized I hadn’t had dinner, so I tried to locate a decent restaurant. I ran into Shawn, who was doing the same thing, so we found a place together and even split a bottle of the Cinque Terre white wine. Nice wine too!
All together, the five little villages of the Cinque Terre were beautiful – shambled pastel coloured buildings (some with peeling paint, which added to the charm), with plenty of laundry drying out the windows, all perched on rocky coasts with lush greens in the background and great views of the Mediterranean. Wow.