Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cinque Terre

From Rome we went to a little town in the Tuscan region of Italy called Montecatini Terme for just two nights. We would have gone straight to La Spezia but it was booked for a few nights. So Montecatini Terme was our "lay over" stop. We followed our directions to the hotel and try to check in. The old man at the counter seemed to have trouble finding our reservation though and had to call someone else and it was all a big fuss. I eventually whipped out my computer to double-check the hotel - turns out we were at the wrong one! Whoops. We ducked out of there as quietly as possible and panicked a bit at how we were supposed to find our actual hotel. As we're heading back to the train station I look up and see our hotel, looming just off the road to our left. That was pretty lucky of us! They had no problem finding our reservation, although we did have to wait an hour for our room to be cleaned. It was already 5:00 PM and our room hadn't been cleaned yet? This was not going to be the best hotel. Once in the room we realized that our air conditioner was missing it's remote. Of course, they had no more remotes and suggested we open the window (which had about four layers of blinds and shutters on it). And last but not least, they charged out the butt for one hour of internet. Poo. We got out of the hotel and went to get some groceries for breakfast, then we stopped for dinner at a restaurant just next to the hotel.

The next day we headed out try and experience the highlight of Montecatini Terme: hot springs. There are a number of spas in the area, most of which seemed to cater to actual spa treatments. We just wanted to swim in a pool of hot spring water. Another problem was that it was Sunday, and it seemed that everything was closed on Sunday. So after a bit of wandering around with no luck we called it quits and headed back to the hotel. I noticed on the walk back that it seemed everyone was shutting down. The streets were pretty much dead - it was like a ghost town. We watched a few movies and Bones episodes (I love that show) for the rest of the afternoon. We went out for pizzas in the evening. The town had come back to life now. The streets were swarming with people and it was fun to watch everyone going by all dressed up. Chuck and I went to get some gelato while Robyn did some shoe shopping. Back at the hotel I fell asleep kind of early, only to be woken up by some distant loud booms. Over the course of 30 minutes the explosions got closer and closer. We were all sitting around wide-eyed, wondering what on earth was going on. Is there a war? Some Tuscan gang violence? Really, I think it was fireworks, but we never did find out! After 30 minutes it was done and everything seemed to be fine. Probably fireworks.

We woke up to heavy rain on the morning of the 14th. We packed all our stuff up and got ready to leave. We tried to check out a couple of times, but no one was at the desk. Finally someone showed up, we called a Taxi and headed to the train station. The taxi was because it was still pouring outside. It rained all day long. Rain rain rain. It let up just enough that we were able to walk to our hotel in La Spezia though. The room was tiny and Robyn's bed unfolded out of a little wooden box. It kind of reminded me of Harry Potter's little room under the stairs (before he moved to Hogwarts) for some reason. We went searching for internet since we hadn't been able to get online for a few days now. We were really hoping to find some place that had free internet, but after getting groceries and a couple of kebabs Robyn and I broke down and went to a €3/hour place. We ended up booking our next hotel in Pula, Croatia which was nice to have done and out of the way. Later on Chuck and I headed back out together for some cheap gelato.

It was raining again the next morning - the 15th. Thankfully, it let up and we felt confident in going to Riomaggiore to walk the Cinque Terre National Park trail. It's a hiking trail that runs along the coast and passes through five little towns, all tucked away into the cliffs along the north-west coast of Italy. It's so beautiful that it's been made into a national park and has a fair amount of tourists that visit. I heard quite a few Australian accents on the trail, so apparently the Aussies like it. It was a gorgeous hike! The waters were a beautiful aqua green-blue and the cliffs, although they didn't quite dive into the sea, they sort of swooped instead. The landscape was covered in aloe plants (the ones along the trail were completely covered with peoples names that had been carved into the the juicy aloe flesh), cacti covered in bright pink and red prickly pears, and all sorts of other scrubby shrubs. There were also a lot of lime trees and vineyards full of grapes that looked to be turning into raisins. Either their owners were just being lazy and negligent, or they were actually making raisins. Robyn said she though she heard that they make raisin wine around there, so maybe that was it. We stopped for lunch in the fourth city on our route: Vernazza. We ate at a pizzeria and happened to be sitting next to a nice Australian family. The father was very talkative and told us all about where to go in Australia and how to get there, etc. One of the daughters was up and down out of her chair trying to avoid a little bee that was flying around their table. She kept saying "I don't like beeeeeees!" Her Mom finally told her she was free to take her lunch somewhere else and eat if she'd like. She said "He won't bite you," to which Chuck added "He'll just sting." They were a nice family! Some of the hike was pretty tiring. There were parts that seemed to have stairs that just went on forever and was constantly uphill. Most of the trail was easy enough though. So all in all, a great hike!

The next day, it was raining again. It slowed to a light drizzle in the morning and Chuck and I headed out for breakfast. It was nice to sit int he quiet of the morning eating a croissant and having a cappuccino (which I never do). They don't do big breakfasts in Europe like they do in the US or even England. I have to say, I miss giant plates of eggs with sausage and bacon and biscuits and gravy and pancakes and french toast and syrup. Oh yum! But still, the croissant and cappuccino were good. We checked out prices on train tickets to Pula and made it back to the hotel before we it was raining too hard. We headed back out into the drizzle again with Robyn to actually buy tickets and get food for the next days trip at the grocery store. After that the heavens broke open and it became a torrential downpour, keeping us locked up in our room for the rest of the night. Eventually we got hungry enough that Chuck decided he would take Robyn's little umbrella and bring us back some pizzas. Somehow the rain actually got worse while he was out and the thunder and lightning set in. There were some seriously loud cracks and the lights started to flicker every once in a while. It felt like being back in Florida! I was a little worried about Charlie out there in the rain, one hand holding pizza and the other a tiny umbrella and decided I would go help him. I threw a towel over my head and plowed out into the storm barefooted. It was great! I sloshed through the streets managing to mostly stay in the protection of the side of buildings so I didn't get completely soaked. I found him walking back not far from the pizza place and joined him. We were both pretty wet by the time we got back to the hotel, but it was fun. And the pizza was very good.

Can you guess what happened the next morning?? It was raining! Somehow we manage to avoid the rain most of the time, which is just what we did after packing our stuff up and heading off to the train station. We managed to get to the station before the drizzle turned into actual rain. Off to Pula we go.

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