A trip to “Il Bel Paese” and Celebrating America’s Birthday

This weekend the majority of the group travelled down to Italy to Cinque Terre, or “the five lands” in English. A few of us were returning for the second or third time, but for most it was the first time they experienced the five little towns nestled in the cliffs of the Italian Riviera.

It was a relaxing couple of days spent on the beach, visiting the various towns, and getting robbed blind by overpriced tourist shops. The weekend started at 4pm on Friday, as we were dismissed from class an hour early and began to pack for our journey. After an uneventful train ride from the Riva S. Vitale – Capolago train station to Milano, we made an unfortunate discovery as we boarded our train to Monterosso, the northernmost town: the lady who sold us the train tickets back in Mendrisio had set the wrong date on them. Had we only been riding on small regional trains, this wouldn’t have been a problem, but to get to Monterosso we had to ride the Intercity between Milano and Genova and then keep going down south. This is one of the busiest routes in Italy, and requires the purchase of reserved seats a few days prior to any trip. We ended up having to sit and stand along the hallway of the train on the ride there, foreshadowing our continued bad luck with trains on the way back.

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Upon reaching Monterosso, we checked in to our modest 25 Euro per night hotel/hostel (hotelstel?) and spent the remaining hours of the night by the beach making friends with groups of locals and listening to the water. Saturday morning started early, with a failed attempt to get a nice burn going on the beach as the sun was nowhere to be found. The group split into two, with half of us buying day passes for the ferry and the other half opting for the train.

The group travelling on the boat left around 1pm from Monterosso, and we made our first stop in the scenic bay of Vernazza. It was there that three years ago I had a life changing pizza experience at a local restaurant, so as soon as we arrived I dragged the group over to that same restaurant to enjoy the delicacy that is their salmon and buffalo mozzarella, thin crust slice of heaven. The others thought that my claim of the pizza being life-changing was a bit bold, but enjoyed it nonetheless. After lunch, we got back on the next boat and skipped over Corniglia to head straight to Manarola, the fourth town. As our boat was docking, Adam Lind, Nicholas Denney, and I all noticed some locals cliff jumping into the bay and knew we had to try it.

We headed down to the water, and began our climb up to the top of the rocks. We reached the very top just before a local was about to jump, and before he left I had him reassure me that it was very safe and we would not hit the bottom. Immediately after his words of wisdom, he turned around and calmly jumped off, leaving the three of us looking down at his wake. He had jumped twice now since we got there, and the pressure was on us to deliver. The rest of the group was on the walkway across the water egging us on and shouting words of encouragement, so after a few minutes to gather my nerves I closed my eyes and stepped off.

The jump itself couldn’t have been more than 30 feet, but it was still an awesome experience. Unfortunately, the local who had reassured us was not completely right about the safety of the jump, and after I hit the water I went all the way to the bottom where a rock eagerly awaited my leg. Luckily the damage was only superficial and no one else hit anything on the way down, but I was reduced to walking around with a bleeding leg the rest of the day. Once our cliff diving experience was over with, we realized it was almost time for the last boat back, so we walked around town a little bit and then laid out on the rocks until it was time to go.

When we had originally made our way to the boat back in Monterosso, we had made a reservation at a restaurant for 9pm, giving us three hours to kill between our return and dinner. Now that the sun was finally out, Adam, Nicholas and I went back to the hotel, grabbed our towels and napped on the beach after a tiring day. We woke back up around 8:30, and stopped at the hotel to change before going to the restaurant for one of the best meals of the trip. The restaurant, called Ristorante Ciak (http://www.ristoranteciak.it/ristorante/ilcuoco_eng.php), featured a chef with an “explosive personality” who vigorously cooks everyone’s food from behind a glass wall in the main dining room, as he barks orders and insults at the waiters. After eating, we ended our night much like we did Friday, spending time by the water in conversation.

Most of the group left Monterosso around 11 am on Sunday, and began the trek back to Riva early with a stop through Milano along the way. The sun was out in full force, so instead of leaving early a few of us opted to enjoy as many extra hours of the beach as we could. We ended up swimming out to the rocks and renting a paddle boat for a few hours before lunch. When it came time to leave, we headed over to the train station to buy our tickets home.

While you think we would have learned from our first travel experience, we left the act of buying our tickets to the last minute and discovered that the intercity from Genova to Milano was completely booked. We bought whatever ticket we could to get to Milano, which was a collection of small regional trains stopping in every little town along the way.

We arrived in Milano, purchased tickets for Chiasso so that we could eventually go to Riva, bought some Kebabs for dinner, and awaited the last train home. We got in at the early hour of 11:45pm, and had to make the choice to either begin working on our paper or head straight to bed. I opted for the former, and stayed up until about 4 am trying to finish as much paper writing as I could before today, the designated workday. Its America’s birthday, and if I can’t be downing burgers and hotdogs to the harmonious melody of fireworks going off in the states, I want to at least spend as much time as possible at the lake here, where they provide free wifi to allow us to continue working in between trips to the water. Enjoy the pictures of the trip, and if you’re reading this from the US, have an extra burger for me.

Author: Mario Gazzola, Undergraduate, Global Development and International Business, VT

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