Blog #21 - Eh oh! Oh eh!

Last we left you we were disembarking from our crazy mansion on the sea after twenty-two days of easy-peasy travel stocked with three course meals, a state of the art gym, and comfy sleeping quarters.  We were now ready and refreshed to tackle Europe and start the Luciani European Adventure!

We walked ourselves off the boat and then from the port to the train station in Citiavecchia where we headed north to the poor man’s French Riviera, le Cinque Terre!  

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There we met up with our good friends from Toronto, Erin and Jeff.  It had been two and a half months since we last saw a familiar face.  We were so excited!

We arrived in Cinque Terre after four hours of train hopping and then started our ascent up the crazy slope to our rented apartment in the tiniest of the five towns, Corniglia.  Minor geography lesson for those who haven’t been or are unaware of Cinque Terre – “cinque” means five and “terre” means lands, so as you could have guessed this place is comprised of five beautiful towns that are just dripping into the Mediterranean sea, on the coast just north of more-famous Pisa.  It has cliffs, colourful houses, and one of the most scenic hiking trails in Italy.

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So the five day reunion with Erin and Jeff would also be supplemented by two days of amazing hikes.  To keep costs sane, we all agreed on staying in downtown Corniglia, which is the middle town, highest from the water, and no less that 382 vertical steps from its train station.  We also think it was the prettiest of the five (but not for the feint of heart, or weak-kneed…).  Our plan on the first day was to hike to the two towns in the south, Manarola and Riomaggore, and on the second day, hike to the other two towns in the north, Vernazza and Monterosso.  Molto Bella!

We arrived after Erin and Jeff and so we were greeted by Jeff popping his head out their apartment window (Ciao!), which was followed by a flurry of warm smiles and big hugs.  In fifteen years, Steph had never been apart form Erin for this long (except for the time Erin went on her Australia/New Zealand adventure after graduation).

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Our apartment was super-cute and tucked away high up in a popular corner of Corniglia between a couple of gelato shops.  This is a very small town and as such has only a few small café and restaurants.  You can tour around the town and see everything in about fifteen minutes, but upon arrival we were happy to relax and take twice as long (hey, the sun was setting!).  

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Of course our first night was spent catching up, eating amazing local food, and conking out after way too much wine.

When we woke up in the morning, the four of us discovered a quaint little café that served the most fabulous focaccia filled with arugula and ricotta for breakfast and Lavazza cappuccinos, so, from this point onward this would be out first stop each day.  Once we had filled each other in on the last five months, and filled our bellies, we set off on our first day of hiking.

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However, along with ourselves, we also brought along some nasty rain and cold weather, and to make matters worse that first day, just after we bought our trail passes we were informed that due to a recent landslide (in 2011!) the scenic trail remained closed, so for us to get to the towns south of Corniglia we would have to hike far up the ridge, and then back down.  This is how we discovered the little village of Volsatra (which is not blessed one of the five “Cinque Terre” towns). 

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The walk was super hard, but a great workout.  By the end of the three hour hike in the non-stop rain, both Steph and Erin looked like drowned rats but it was fun nonetheless.  We met lots of other hikers along the way and finished our day at the best restaurant in Corniglia, enjoying local rabbit and pasta.  Sorry Thumper :( 

On our second day, we had our fingers crossed that the weather would hold up as the trail in the other direction was supposed to be quite beautiful, and the northern-most town was supposed to have an actual beach!  After another three hour hike, along the water this time (beautiful), the hype proved to be true, it was so magical and full of sunshine.  What an amazing hike and great way to spend the day.  We enjoyed pizza in Monterrosso and had wine on the beach, and even indulged in the local lemonade as lemons were on every tree in this region.

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To get back to our town, instead of hiking back or taking the train, we managed to catch the last shuttle boat, and so we enjoyed the views from the water and got to see all five towns once again before departing in the morning.  Other than a touch of sea sickness experienced by Erin, it was breathtaking, and a great way to see Cinque Terre.  And other things!  Upon docking we were faced with a view even some locals may never get – in North America we call this a “banana hammock”, but in Australian we learned it’s called a “budgey smuggler”.  Whatever you call it, it’s just wrong….and for heaven’s sake it isn’t proper fishing gear either!  Hahaha!

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Cinque Terre was most definitely a fabulous stop and we were so happy to experience it with Erin and Jeff.  Together we all packed up and jumped on the first train to Lucca.  We were so lucky to invade their annual vacation for five days and we were most happy to show them Lucca.  Also, this was one of Vince’s favourite places in Italy which he had visited many times prior.

The journey only took two hours, and when we got off the train you could feel the calmness and romantic ambiance of this Tuscan walled town.  We were excited about exploring and eating our way through the entire old town.  We quickly checked into our modern bright bed and breakfast just outside the wall and dropped off our bags.  We were itching to walk and sample the vino.

Now after four days in Italy, Steph’s Italian was starting to get really good for a ‘mangia cake’, and so being immersed in Lucca where English was not as readily spoken was a good thing.  Her goal is to be conversationally fluent before leaving Italy…you can learn a whole new language in three weeks right?  Time will tell.

While in Lucca we tried many local restaurants and dishes.  The ingredients were so fresh and in season including the peas, artichokes, mushrooms, tomatoes…yum!  And did we mention the pesto is to die for?  What a culinary adventure including the best local wines.  Tuscany is a true treasure we would highly recommend.

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In Lucca we spent two days strolling the streets, looking at the many churches, perusing the shops and markets, and cycling atop the city wall which was four kilometers of park dreams.  Steph and Erin even managed to negotiate a price for a half-kilo of cherries from a near-toothless woman at a fruit stall near the main square, paying more than double the market rate! (I have a feeling the lady knew they were tourists….).

We had such a great time with Erin and Jeff, which made us miss Toronto even that much more.  Thanks to both of them for traveling so far to bring home to us, allowing us to be part of their romantic vacation, and for the lifetime of memories.  We cannot wait to get home to pick up where we left off.  We miss you already!

After we said our goodbyes and parted ways, we spent an extra day in Lucca to plan our next moves within Italy, and hey, get a haircut. 

We write this entry on the train en-route to Florence where we start our second week of this Italian adventure.  So excited to see what is in store for us, on and off the plate. 

Until our next blog, please enjoy the ‘Mangia Cake’ Cam below.  You can take the Toronto girls out of Canada but you can’t take Italy out of the girls.  Eh oh! Oh eh!

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