Saturday, August 11, 2012

Motivation to become a light packer?

The Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, consists of five villages nestled along the cliffs of northwestern Italy. Due to the steep topography of the region, the easiest way to access CT is either by boat or by train, resulting in a distinct lack of the kind of corporate development I think you would typically find in a coastal vacation destination. Martina and I decided to stay in Monterosso al Mare, which translates to ‘Monterosso by the sea,’ for the first week of our “honeymoon” vacation, as we came to call it after discovering that 80 percent of the other tourists there were on romantic getaways. We managed to snag the last room in Albergo al Carugio, a quaint family-owned hotel located in the old town of Monterosso. With a gorgeous outdoor patio surrounded by lemon trees, a fabulous staff, and our own bathroom, what more could we want for 65 euros a night?! (the private bathroom was seriously key) Andrea, the owner and manager ,went above and beyond in helping us with anything we needed…such as carrying our luggage up the huge flight of stairs to our room. “You have a lot of luggage! You said you had a lot of luggage, and most people say that, but WHOA, you actually do!” We were obviously his favorite guests that week.

When I say that it is truly a miracle that Martina and I made it to Monterosso in one piece with all of our luggage, I am also not exaggerating. In fact, probably the most eventful part of our trip occurred while traveling to and from Milan. For this reason, I am going to spend most of this post describing the events of that day. I could not physically carry my two suitcases and duffel bag altogether, so Martina very generously offered (okay, I may have swayed her with my puppy dog eyes) to take one in addition to her massive orange monstrosity. You can’t take luggage carts past the ticket stand for the train to Milano Centrale – here’s a picture of the slowly dawning horror on my face as I realize that we are going to have to carry everything on our own.


But the worst part was yet to come, as we entered Milano Centrale all the way across the station from where our train was departing – twenty platforms away, to be exact. Milano Centrale is pretty darn big, and we were definitely a sight to behold as we stumbled up and over, moving at pace of roughly twenty steps every five minutes. We had a routine worked out where I would sling the duffel over my shoulder,  and drag my suitcase behind me, gritting my teeth  and speed walking as fast as possible. Step step step step step drag drag drop stop, repeat. Martina preferred a slower approach, where she would half lean on her suitcase, dragging it forward while pulling mine in her other hand. It was like watching the Olympics, if making extremely ugly grimaces, sweating profusely, and walking appalingly slowly was an event. 

Twenty minutes later, we came to platform 20. Half an hour later, we realized that our platform had been changed to #16, and had to move everything over.  Our train consisted of six- person passenger cars with luggage racks, but let’s be real, there was no way in hell we were actually going to be able to lift our bags above our heads! We instead stuck them in the hallway. This turned out to be a problem, because said hallway was designed to be just wide enough for the snack cart to fit.  If looks could kill, the snack cart guy would be rolling over my dead body, not just my suitcases. So about twice every hour, the snack guy would ring his little bell, and I would walk out to move my things until he had gone by – it could have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship, if only he had just smiled…instead, he would ding his bell at me harder if I wasn’t moving quickly enough.

Now, one of the reasons we picked CT is because we wanted a locale a bit less touristy than a regular beach resort. In this case, less touristy translated to no elevators or escalators to be found; one of the least handicapped accessible places I have ever visited, including national parks. To top off our seemingly never-ending saga, after successfully making it down stairs and calling a taxi, the first two drivers we called barely spoke English, and I had stupidly packed our Italian vocab book for beach reading.  This is how my conversations with the drivers went: “We’re at the main station and we need a taxi to the square or Via Roma in Monterosso, please.” “…scusi, no English.” “Ummm Statione! To Via Roma!” Then we would both stop, listen to each other breathe for a second, and start the conversation all over again.

In October 2011, floods and landslides devastated CT. Monterosso and Vernazza were hit especially hard, and after looking at pictures of the damage, it was truly amazing ready that they were open for tourist season. Part of the preparation process involved the instillation of drainage grates across the road leading up from the main square in Monterosso, where the taxi dropped us off.  I couldn’t push my wheels over the grate, but I also couldn’t pull my suitcase up the hill.  I had to stop, turn the suitcase, pull it over the grate, turn it again, and then push it up the hill with my stomach. There were at least ten grates on this stupid hill. Since it was close to dinnertime, the street was full of tourists and locals staring at us, trying to figure out why on earth we would bring so much luggage on vacation. Eventually, a nice lady from the wine shop came over to help us, but not before chastising me for overpacking. “I’ve been abroad for a year! This is for a year!  A year!”                                     The best part? It turns out that Martina’s suitcase had two broken wheels.

After we semi-pulled ourselves together and changed out of our sweat drenched clothing, we grabbed some pizza, a bottle of wine, and sat down to watch the final Euro Cup match between Italy and Spain. This was the only part of the trip where I wished we’d chosen Spain as a destination, because we saw A LOT of sad Italians that night.  Martina and I tried to distract ourselves from this by debating which football team was more attractive. 

I was trying to get rid of books I’d collected in CPH left and right, so I may have forced Martina into reading The Hunger Games (but don’t worry, she was totally Team Peeta).  Italy dubs their TV programming, which I found surprisingly enthralling. Ohhh Martina! What shall we watch tonight?! City of Angels, or an old Italian beach movie where a hairy man is smearing and  licking Nutella off of a supermodel?! Magical. Another plus was catching a documentary on the singer Rino Gaetano, whose songs Stefano would sometimes play for us to hear in our apartment.

Milano – like the cookie! – was a very different experience after CT, but still very enjoyable. Because Milan has such an emphasis on industry, such as banking and fashion, when compared to other famous Italian cities, I think it was the right decision to only spend four days there and a week in CT. In fact, maybe even two days would have been enough to see all of the major tourist sites, unless we had somehow found the money for a side trip to Lake Como. The upside of staying four days was that Martina and I became even more relaxed in our approach to this trip – I mostly blame our hostel, which enabled us by serving breakfast until 12 PM.  We strolled through beautiful streets, sat at neat little cafes, and saw some very beautiful architecture, ruins, and paintings. Of course, there was some shopping too, but Mango and the kitschy little shops on Corso di Porta Ticinese were more our speed than Dolce & Gabbana.  I am no Carrie Bradshaw, but the shoe stores in Milan were a little piece of heaven, especially Mauro Leone, where all of the colors brought to mind a candy shop, except that you can wear the candy! Too bad my feet were too fat for all of the sizes that were left.

As for the rest of our trip, I think that showing you some pictures is necessary. Here are some snapshots of a blissful twelve days spent hiking, swimming, sweating, sleeping,  and stuffing our faces with delicious food.

Just picture us "strolling" through here with our luggage.

Our amazing view on the night of July 4th!

Really excited about the BEST tiramisu. Ever.
Take away all the people, and it could be a shot from National Geographic!
When the tide went out, there was the most amazing sound. The ocean that day looked & felt like swimming in seltzer water.

Luckily, we got most of our bikini-wearing over with before...

eating multiple servings of pesto gnocchi!
and pesto focaccia for breakfast every day...
and fresh bruschetta...
and big heaping plates of risotto!
Martina then had some issues with her cone.
I'm pretty hopeless at not tripping down the stairs...
but pretty good at getting stuck on top of boulders.

We're both pretty good at sweating! This was taken after about 15 minutes of hiking.
This photographer had a beautiful exhibition to benefit the recovery efforts. Wish my pictures turned out half as good as this one!

Wall-E at the Duomo!

Peace out.

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