A weekend in the Italian Riviera begins – Monterosso al Mare

And so the four part series begins!  What an amazing trip it was to Cinque Terre, a set of five vineyard-ridden, fish-catching, cliff balancing towns.  Amazing structures, colors, culture, food, and yes, vino.  The towns are named – from north to south – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.  I may let the pictures speak for themselves in these next posts, so don’t fret if my writing is a bit truncated compared to my usual verbose nature.

Readers, meet Monterosso al Mare.

Readers, meet Monterosso al Mare.

180 degree spin, a view of the town from the pier

180 degree spin, a view of the town from the pier

A nice spot for some bouldering adjacent to the Mediterranean

A nice spot for some bouldering adjacent to the Mediterranean

My good friend Arianna from high school came to join me on this adventure, as she is currently just a short jaunt away from Italy in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  She is working for Reclaim Childhood, and NGO founded by Williams College alums that engages young girls (many of whom are Syrian, Iraqi, and Palestinian refugees) in athletics.  Check them out at: http://www.reclaimchildhood.org/.  On this trip, Arianna and I got our fill of all things food, hiking, sun, and fermented grape.  We stopped in each of the five towns for at least a little while, and truly got a feel for the relaxed Ligurian lifestyle.  If you take anything from following my short trip to Cinque Terre, remember this: pesto.

Let the terracing begin!

Let the terracing begin!

Passing in style \

Passing in style

Reaping the benefits of a short hike above Monterosso

Reaping the benefits of a short hike above Monterosso

The adventure began, as all my adventures do, in Roma.  After meeting up old school style (as in pick a place, pick a time, and meet, rather than just be interconnected via cell phone or internet), we hitched a ride on the fast train to La Spezia, the major southern transit hub for all things Cinque Terre.  After only a stop on the platform, we snatched the next train bound for Monterosso al Mare.  We glimpsed out first views of the cliff faces from the train, yet were rudely interrupted by the conductor asking for our tickets.  We had unfortunately rushed and forgotten to validate our tickets (get a hole punched in them by an automatic machine pre-boarding), which he told us was a 50€ fine.  Great.  50 beans for not getting a hole punched?  Dude, just take our ticket so we can’t use it again.  Or better yet, punch a hole in it so we can’t use it again.  We bargained down to a 5€ first-time fine, and were happy to leave this dude behind us and let the scenery raise our spirits once more.

Downtown Monterosso

Downtown Monterosso

Not a bad stoop

Not a bad stoop

Floral education: this is where capers come from!

Floral education: this is where capers come from!

Luckily, amazing vistas are not in short supply in Cinque Terre.  In fact, it is hard to find a place that doesn’t have a great view!  Monterosso is a bit touristy due to its size and the size of its sandy beaches, but an excellent first stop nonetheless.  We made our way to our guesthouse, Manuel’s, chatted with our host who lacked some teeth and knew very little English, and settled in before exploring.

Time for some sun

Time for some sun

The main beachfront in Monterosso

The main beachfront in Monterosso

Wishing that time could slow down a bit...

Wishing that time could slow down a bit…

The more natural side of things

The more natural side of things

One thing Arianna and I agreed on for this trip was that food would be a priority.  That being said, we dropped in on one of the best restaurants in town for our first meal that included fresh sea bass and tuna.  And yes, dessert was a delicious gelato in town as we navigated the two main streets and got lost on our trek back up to Manuel’s.  We called it an early evening to prep for the hiking ahead, the scenic Vernazza was waiting!

Tuna heaven

Tuna heaven…

...with a side of fresh sea bass and potato

…with a side of fresh sea bass and potato

Be prepared, lots of moonshots to come

Be prepared, lots of moonshots to come

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