First Impressions/Cinque Terre
Written by Adam June 3, 2014
*Note: WordPress can only handle photos that are 2 MB or under, and since the ones I took on my camera were far too powerful for it to handle (they’re all like 5 MB), none of the photos in this post are original, but they each are pretty similar to the ones I was planning on putting in this post. To see the original photos I took, I’ll be posting them to Facebook over the next few days. Also I know this post was kind of long, so thank you for taking the time to read it.
I wish I could tell you that I marveled at the Italian countryside as the bus took myself and the other CIMBIANs to Paderno del Grappa from Venice Marco Polo Airport. The truth is, I was falling in and out of sleep the entire ride there. There really wasn’t much sightseeing that first day, a lot of bobbing my head up and down as I fell asleep during orientation meetings, but no sightseeing.
It took me the first couple of days to get acclimated and let my internal clock adjust, and to get used to how the little things are different here in northern Italy. The first major difference I noticed was breakfast. I wasn’t expecting bacon, sausage, hash browns and pancakes, typical staples of American breakfasts, but at the very least I thought there’d be scrambled eggs. Tuesday morning when I walked half asleep into the cafeteria, I found no scrambled eggs, but a tray of croissants and bread rolls, some pastries, fruit, yogurt and simple cereals. I never tried the cereal, but I’m told that the milk provided is warm, and I have no desire to find out what that tastes like. It took some getting used to, but I’m actually quite content with the breakfast situation now, which is pretty big for me since I’m a huge breakfast person.
Other than that, you get used to the differences pretty quickly, like using euros instead of dollars, how much the euros look like monopoly money, the outlets, the bathrooms, although I will never get used to not being able to connect to Netflix or HBOGo. Let me tell you guys, when you go to Netflix.com and you get the message “Netflix hasn’t come to that part of the world yet!” a little part of you dies. When I have a few hours to kill between classes, I’m used to plopping down and watching Netflix until I have to leave again. So what are you suppose to do when you have some time off between classes and no Netflix to binge? You go out and explore.
On Thursday when I finally had the afternoon off and some time before my evening trip to Asolo, I decided to walk around Paderno for a few hours since until that point I had been too tired to do anything after I had finished classes for the day. The first thing I noticed when I started walking around was how different the architecture was. In the States I’m used to wide roads and large houses that most of the time are painted the same few colors. In Paderno the streets are narrower, the house smaller and simpler, and the house colors are all over the place.
With everything so compact and close together, you really do get that quaint, cozy small town feel when you walk down the streets to the Tabacchi or the bar. All the locals are friendly, welcoming, and honestly some of the most laidback people I’ve ever met. They don’t let life move too quickly around them, and they do things at their own pace. If I lived in such a picturesque mountain town, I hope I would be the same way.
It was jarring at first to speak English to a shopkeeper, and then be reminded that you speak a different language when they repeat back to you a language that is most definitely not English. I thought that my pocket Italian dictionary would be like gospel to me, but I’ve learned that all you need to overcome a language barrier is patience, smiles, some creativity and a lot of finger pointing.
Near the end of my daytime hike around the town, I sat and admired the view of Mt. Grappa, which, weather permitting, I will hike in a few days time. It truly was one of the most amazing views I have ever seen, basically a real life screen saver.
Later that same day I boarded a bus to go to Asolo, Italy, which is where I bought the best souvenir I will get all trip, but more on that later.
Asolo is similar to Paderno in the sense that the roads are narrow and winding, but Paderno architecture has nothing on Asolo’s. The stone fountains on their own were unbelievable, their detail complementing the stone courtyards that surround them. The buildings were also gorgeous, their stonework, the way they weave around each other, I wish I knew of some architectural terms to throw around to describe them, but I don’t. Just take my word for it, they were pretty nice.
This really was a beautiful town, with an even better atmosphere, as the quiet chatter of café goers is complemented by soft music that you can’t find the source of, but is there all the same, the smell of fresh pizza being baked, a gelato maker laughing as he scoops some into a child’s cone, and of course the clinking of beer mugs and the ensuing cheers. Oh and that souvenir I was talking about? See above.
After mingling with some CIMBIANs and getting a makeshift group together, we started the long trek up the winding stone staircases to the top of the hill that housed an old stone fort and, again, a breathtaking view of the countryside.
Before we left a small cafe, I had to snap a picture of the University of Iowa pennant they had hanging inside, because if I didn’t and then didn’t post that same picture to Instagram and Twitter, what kind of Hawkeye am I?
After the cafe we made the trip to the top of the hill. I won’t say how difficult the walk was because it embarrasses me as a man, especially when I consider myself to be in pretty decent shape.
The view was well worth the feelings of shame though.
I felt like I could see all of Italy from that hilltop, all of its mountains, hills, vineyards, and cute little houses. The view was spectacular, and the visit to Asolo would have been complete with a tour through the fort, but alas, the old fort itself was closed that day. At any rate the trip was a strong 9/10, my only complaint being not enough time to see more of it.
Aside from the trip to Asolo, my first few days in Italy were pretty boring. I wanted to get out there and travel, to experience the places that I had only seen on postcards before. But before you get to that first weekend, you have to go to class, and there’s no way to dress it up, it’s torture.
That isn’t to say my classes are boring, I’m actually really enjoying them so far. My intro to law class has been the most engaging college class I’ve ever taken, its even aroused some interests in me to maybe look at law school, a thought I know would please some people in my family. And my Social Media Today class had a guest speaker, a filmmaker who works in the music industry and really has one of the coolest jobs I’ve ever heard of. The classes are fine, I just feel like a hyper ten year old doing his homework in the middle of an arcade, and I can’t play any of the games until I finish.
When that first weekend came, I finally got to experience my first real slice of traveling abroad. My time was spent in Cinque Terre, on the Italian coast, and although it wasn’t even on my radar when I was thinking of where to go that first weekend, I doubt I’ll ever see a more idyllic place in my life.
Our Hostel was in the middle of the first of the coastal towns, Riomaggiore. The town itself was unreal, its one main road went through the entire town and was home to all sorts of smells, sounds, restaurants, souvenir shops and bars. With so much fresh seafood and delicious delicious wine all readily available around you, you quickly burn through all of your monopoly money euros. There was a bit of a snafu once we got to the hostel office, as they claimed our group of four would not be in the family deluxe room I booked, and would instead be split into two rooms on opposite ends of town because, “one of us had emailed them that only one instead of four would be coming.” I was the only one who booked the place and only I knew how to contact them, and I sent no such email.
Regardless, I was too happy being in such a serene town to really care. Why would I want to feel any amount of anger or frustration when I’m in such a wonderful place? Later that night at the bar I heard from some CIMBIANs that after we had left, some Canadians arrived, and asked if the hostel owner had gotten their email.
At any rate, we got to our rooms, changed and found the nearest wine shop to sample some of the local vintages. Mine was quite fruity and well worth the 13 euros I paid for it. We went to the harbor to drink our wine and watch the crystal clear water clash against the rocks. We found the group of RA’s who were staying in the same hostel as us doing the same thing, so we joined them, drinking and watching the ocean waves and sunlight draping the cliffs.
We went to a bar that was a very fun time, but I won’t spend too much time detailing it, because college kids drinking until the bar closes isn’t really the point of this blog. I will say that we met some guys from the Netherlands, who were as awesome as their hair was long and blonde. Near closing time, I met a guy from Australia, Melbourne specifically, who also had some funny stories of his own to tell of his time in Cinque Terre.
The next morning, we made our way to Monterosso beach, which was a crazy amount of fun. The only really unique thing I did at the beach other than laying out in the sun was paddle boarding, or stand up paddling. It was very fun, but also very hard to get used to. I’m sure I looked ridiculous falling down all the time, but I had a blast nonetheless.
After repeatedly going through the cycle of sitting on the beach and swimming in the water that is suprisingly cold, the sun eventually began to set, and it was time to hop on the train back to Riomaggiore… to again go through cycle of change clothes-> go to dinner->buy wine->watch sunset on the rocks.
If it sounds like all I did on this Cinque Terre trip was eat, drink and lay on the beach, you wouldn’t really be wrong. BUT, I was eating the most amazing seafood, drinking great wine and gazing upon gorgeous cliffs, mountains, beautiful views, coastal towns, and serene sunsets.
Speaking of, that second night in Riomaggiore, we all went to the rocks again to watch the sunset, but this time it was on the other side of the harbor, and we actually got a full view of the sun setting behind the mountain that Monterosso was nestled beneath.
I won’t try to explain it, both because the words perfect and magnificent would cheapen it, and because any attempt I give at describing it, would fail miserably.
The next morning we checked out of our hostel and visited two of the other coastal towns that make up part of Cinque Terre; Manarolla and Vernazza. Both were its own unique version of amazing, and swimming around the harbor of Manarolla and jumping off of its cliffy rocks was a great end to an unbelievable weekend.
In conclusion, this was a phenomenal weekend, and no amount of description in this blog will do it justice. I didn’t even know Cinque Terre existed before Tuesday when I rushed to sign up for the bus, but I am so glad I was fortunate enough to spend a weekend there, to meet the people I did, to see the places I saw, to experience the things that I will remember forever.
I know however, that it will not be long before I come back to Cinque Terre, and to lovely Riomaggiore, to buy wine from that same little shop, to sit on those same rocks, and watch that same sunset.
Thanks for reading,