a TERRE-bly good time

Our first stop in Italy was a city named Cinque Terre. Located on the coast of the Italian Rivera, west of the small city of La Spezia, and compromised of five villages. We arrived at the train station in La Spezia and it was raining, I was exhausted and ready to eat some food and take a nap. We hopped in a taxi and headed to the small village at the top of the mountain where our hostel was located, only to find out no one was there. We walked up and down the tiny street a couple of times confused, tired, and hungry. I looked around and we were literally in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nature. The neighbors of our hostel called to us and asked if we needed help in Italian, well at least I think they did because I don’t understand Italian but they seemed helpful. One of the neighbors was so sweet and walked with us to another hotel down the street. We asked the woman running the other hotel for help, she neglected at first because we weren’t staying with her but after a couple of minutes of us standing in the rain she called the guys who were working at our hostel. She told us they’d arrive after thirty minutes so we sat on the stairs of her hotel waiting for them. I looked miserable and felt way out of my comfort zone. I’m a city person and being surrounded by so much nature and not even a convenience store or local restaurant was a little aggressive for me. Finally, two guys who worked for the hostel arrived. One guy named Rafael grabbed my suitcase and started talking to Tamara and I, giving us a tour of the hostel and telling us we were supposed to go to Monterosso to be picked up instead of grabbing a taxi to the hostel. The e-mail they sent us with that information went to Tamara’s spam box so we never ended up getting it. We were staying in a private room, meaning it was just the two of us in the room but we shared a bathroom with other people. We lucked out and our room was close enough to the router so we could still get the wifi. We were really hungry so they heated up some pesto lasagna from the night before to hold us over until dinner later. We ended up falling asleep until just before dinner since we were both kind of exhausted from all the traveling we’d done that day. At dinner, we were introduced to the rest of the people staying in the hostel. The cool thing about 5 Terre Backpackers is it doesn’t feel like a hostel, it was a group of people all around our age from all over the world. It’s 10 euros to eat each night, and the men running our hostel spend all day cooking a delicious meal and dessert for us every day. That particular night we had some pasta and it was our friend Lindsey’s birthday so they baked a chocolate cake that tasted like chocolate cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory. We had a champagne toast for Lindsey and then I went back to the room because I was tired.

We woke up the next morning and it was still kind of cold and gloomy outside. I grabbed some coffee and packed my backpack with a bathing suit, beach towel, my Birkenstocks, and my sweatshirt. Our plan for that day was to hike through the five towns so I wore a long sleeve shirt, spandex shorts, stance socks, and my No Bull tennis shoes. The night before we had to sign up to take the van at either 8:30 or 9:30 that morning down to the train station in La Spezia but there were no 9:30 slots. We decided to take the public bus with our new Australian friend Mel who arrived the same day as us. The bus ride took about forty-five minutes because of all the stops but when we finally arrived at the train station we ran into a group of people staying in the same hostel as us. They were saying bye to their Australian friend Brody. We figured out the hiking trails were closed so we bought a train ticket to travel by train through the towns. We quickly became really cool with the other group of people from our hostel. Their names were Domenic, Charlie, Tim, Lindsey, and Sam, all from Northern California and Oregon. We all got off the train in the second town of Cinque Terre, Manarola. Mel went off with her friends from home but Tamara and I stayed with that crew. It was like God opened up the gates to heaven because we arrived and the sun was beaming, there was no sign of rain at all like in La Spezia. We walked into a mini market and bought two big bottles of wine, twist off of course because none of us had a wine bottle opener. We walked down to the water and I felt in my element again. I was telling the group how I felt out of place the night before because I’m not a big nature guru, but I love me some sea, wine, and sunshine. There were no bathrooms around so we changed into our bathing suits right there. Chill out y’all, we held up towels for each other, we didn’t just strip down to our birthday suits in front of the public. Tim, Charlie and I walked down to the water and jumped into the sea. There was a huge cliff with a rope on it, we had to plant our feet on the rock and use our strength to pull us up. We climbed the rock and then jumped off into the sea. It was a workout to swim across to the side our stuff was on since the water was so rough. I got out and sat on the ledge with Lindsey, Sam and Tamara and the four of us talked. Lindsey and Sam live in Oregon and attended the University of Oregon. We passed the bottles of wine around while chatting up about what we do, where we’re from, etc. We watched Tim and Domenic climb the rocks on the other side, then jump into the sea and swim a couple hundred meters to where we were. Domenic is Lindsey’s brother; the three guys live in Northern California and are in a band. After jumping into the sea a couple of times, swimming, hanging out, and drinking wine for a couple of hours we all decided we were hungry. First, the girls had to walk up the hill to use the bathroom. One thing I noticed in Cinque Terre is there weren’t many “free” public restrooms. At the top of the hill, we found a tiny playground. Lindsey and I hopped on the see saw and played on it like ten year old children for about ten minutes. When we met up with the guys, they were at one of the local stores. We walked in and looked around, I looked at the bracelets because I wanted to get a few people souvenirs back home but nothing appealed to me. I bought a t-shirt instead because it was hot and I didn’t want to wear my long sleeve shirt I’d originally brought. We decided after that we’d split up, we went with Lindsey and Sam and the boys went off to look for waves because they’re surfers. We took the train to a town called Vernazza. As we were walking to the beach, we found a hidden gem. There was a cave with signs that said no trespassing, maybe it was the wine but it seemed like a good idea to explore since we saw an older man walk through the cave right before us. We hopped over the rope and walked through the cave to find a private beach. We stayed for about fifteen minutes, taking pictures, drinking more wine (what a surprise), and hanging out. After we left the cave, we walked down to where the beach was and immediately I took my shirt off, dropped my stuff and jumped in. The water felt amazing but there were a lot of rocks and the water was kind of low so I swam to the ladder on the other side and got out. We tried to eat at one restaurant but they were closing soon and didn’t have any fish or calamari so we left. On our way back to the train station, I spotted a sign that said wine tasting so I suggested we do that. We walked up the steps and sat at a table inside, they gave us three wines along with some bread and olives to pair with the wines. We were there for about forty-five minutes hanging out, before we left we bought two more bottles of wine (surprise), some cheese, bread and pesto then headed to the last town we’d visit that day named Monterosso. This was the most eccentric of the towns we visited. We got off the train and changed into our bathing suits, then walked on the beach looking for a place to hang out. We found a spot to the right against some kayaks, laid our towels down, whipped open the bread, cheese, pesto, and of course, the wine. I hopped in the sea with Sam, we swam out a little bit and then back in to eat some of the bread we’d just acquired. We sat there, laughed, took some pictures, absolutely demolished the bread and wine, and before you know it, it was almost 6pm. The guys from the hostel have two pick-up times at a small bar on the beach in Monterosso, 6pm and 7:30pm. The girls were on the 6pm pick-up and we were on the 7:30pm pick-up so we walked to the bar where we met up with the guys. We walked upstairs and got gelato because who doesn’t get gelato in Italy?! I got the nutella flavor in a cone of course. We said bye to the group we’d become so close with and went back to the bar and waited for our 7:30pm pick-up. We grabbed some glasses of wine (seriously, is it even surprising at this point) and there was a little girl I kept playing with while we waited. On the way back, we stopped at a perfect place to watch the sunset before continuing our trip back up the mountain. We got back to the hostel, quickly showered, changed and walked downstairs wine drunk, super excited to be reunited with our awesome crew from that day. Dinner that night was a pork schnitzel, some veggies, more wine, and a lemon dessert. Tamara walked to the couch outside and fell asleep before dessert got there, I walked upstairs and grabbed my laptop and brought another bottle of wine to the party. Dom read my blog post from Nice out loud to the group, he has a journal himself so we talked about writing for a little bit. Dom and Charlie are in a band, so they brought out their guitar and uke. Most people don’t know this, but I was in chorus from pre-K through my freshman year of high school. I absolutely love singing but I have stage fright and will only sing in front of people I feel comfortable with. Naturally, after so many bottles of wine you start to feel comfortable with people so I sang the song “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley while Dom played his guitar. We endured so many laughs that night, my favorite was when Charlie saw the background of my phone, which happens to be my brother and I, and shouted “THAT’S YOUR BOYFRIEND?!” Almost with a sound of disgust because my brother looked so young, I’d been telling them about my boyfriend all day so when he saw the picture of Richard and I he thought I was really rocking that cradle. Another good laugh was meeting our new friend Marco, he’s a Filipino who lives in Jacksonville and went to Florida State University as well. Marco showed us some YouTube videos from when he was in a duet called Karaoke Boys, two Filipino dudes who sing covers to songs. Please go watch the “Crank That Soulja Boy” and “Party in the USA” covers yall, you will not regret it at all. Around 1:30 that morning we decided to head to bed, Marco stayed downstairs but the rest of us said goodnight.

I woke up the next morning and I could feel all the wine I’d drank the day before. Man, was I hung-over. Even worse, at twenty-five my hangovers don’t just last a few hours anymore but they last days. Yes, days. I walked downstairs to say bye to Lindsey and Sam who had an early train out to Venice, then sat on the back porch with Domenic. We conversed a little bit and picked some figs off of the fig tree in the back yard, it started raining so we moved under the glass where the couches and stuff were. After feeling well enough to drink some coffee and water, I went upstairs and got ready for the day. We were on the 9:30 drop off to La Spezia with the guys. They were headed to Florence that day but weren’t leaving until noon so we went to breakfast near the train station with them. It was then, we decided to change our travel plans from Rome to Venice and meet up with that group there. At breakfast, we paid 7 euros for a cup of coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, eggs, croissants, yogurt and toast. It was a good little deal, especially for Europe. We booked our hostel together for our one night in Venice; the cool thing about Europe is flexibility. People often ask me why I don’t plan trips, I book a flight but I like to go with the flow of things because you never know whom you’ll meet on vacation. After breakfast, we walked to the train station together and said our good byes. The boys went off to Florence and Tamara and I hopped on the train to the towns in Cinque Terre. We wanted to do something different so we got off at the first town, Riomaggiore. Tamara really wanted some calamari so we walked around looking for restaurants with calamari but couldn’t find any. The first town was kind of bland, the trail to Manarola was closed and there wasn’t much to do so we hopped on the train and just headed to Monterosso. I was still hung-over and didn’t feel like fighting people to get on and off the trains so I figured we could find a spot with Calamari in the last town and I wouldn’t have to move so much. I’m not so fun to be around when I’m hung-over, sorry bout it. On our way to Monterosso, our train stopped for about thirty minutes. Apparently, there was something wrong with the train before us so it delayed the rest of us. The longer we sat there, the hangrier I got and was ready to get off. When we finally got to Monterosso, we walked in and out of restaurants looking for calamari. We found a restaurant named Bar Gio’ and grabbed a table. We sat outside and ordered two glasses of Moscato, water, calamari, bruschetta with pesto, spaghetti with meat sauce, and pesto lasagna. The weather that day was the complete opposite from the previous day, it was colder, windier, and the water was more aggressive. We ended up getting the lasagna and spaghetti to-go since we were full from the appetizers and walked around. We walked down the street into this pathway that ended on the rocks on the side of the mountain, we sat there for a few minutes before deciding to walk back to the beach. We still had about three hours to spare so we walked in and out of souvenir shops but nothing caught our eye. We ended up sitting in the same bar we get picked up at for about two hours. I ordered a latte thinking it would help with my hangover and Tamara got two mimosas. I played on my phone and Tamara edited pictures on her camera. She took a lot of good photos from the previous day, including all of us jumping into the ocean and just amazing scenery pictures. We decided we were hungry but didn’t want to be rude and eat inside the bar we were at so we split up. I sat upstairs and ate my spaghetti and Tamara went to the place we were at by the Kayaks the day before to eat her lasagna. I devoured my spaghetti and then walked up and down the street, I had an hour and a half to kill so I bought some white chocolate gelato and walked into a few different shops. I met back up with Tamara and we ran into the guy picking us up so he let us sit in the car while we waited for all the newcomers. At this point, I was just ready to go to sleep. When we got back to the hostel, I knocked out immediately. I fell asleep around 7pm and woke up the next morning at 7am.

Our last morning, I woke up feeling much better than the night before, I took a shower, packed my bags then walked downstairs for breakfast. Marco’s sister, Mariel, was downstairs eating breakfast so I talked with her. She lives in Jacksonville too so we had a little bit in common, she used to work at my favorite restaurant, Salt Life on Jacksonville Beach. After breakfast, we got our things together and made our way to the car because we were on the 8:30am drop off. Rafael was our driver that day, Tamara sat up front and talked with him and I sat behind him in the same row as Mariel. Marco and I started talking about Florida State football and our fantasy leagues, I’m in two leagues this season and won last week by chance because I forgot to set my line-up since I was traveling. When we arrived at the train station, we said bye to everyone but had about an hour to kill. Mariel and Marco had an hour too so the four of us walked to the breakfast place from the day before and ate breakfast. Marco is doing something similar to myself in leaving his job to pursue entrepreneurship. I’ve decided when my contract ends, I’m going to come home and pursue the business I started a year ago. I started a fitness apparel line back in September of 2016 but living across the world and being the only investor have limited my success over the last year. I believe I can do very well if I came home and put 100% of my efforts into Crops & Cleans. Anyways, after saying bye to our new friends we walked to our train. Currently, we’re on our train on the way to Milano, where we’ll change trains and head to Venice to meet up with our other friends from the first few nights in Italy. I’ve never been a “hostel” type of person but 5 Terre Backpackers is an awesome hostel if any of you ever head to Cinque Terre, the hospitality and the way everything is ran is absolutely amazing. Just don’t be like us and skip out on spam e-mail the first day because then you’ll end up walking up and down an empty street in the middle of the day like we did. This world is so big and full of so many amazing people, every trip I go on I meet more and more new people that I still keep in touch with. For those who haven’t traveled anywhere, I encourage you to travel somewhere new even if it’s just another city. Hope you guys enjoyed our adventure in Cinque Terre and don’t forget to subscribe. Until my next post, inshalla.

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Twenty something Army veteran, part time traveler and lover of food, travel, animals, fitness, good drinks and good people!

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