Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Labor Day Getaway: Cinque Terre and Pisa!

With the holiday weekend approaching and the knowledge that we had a pack of Virgo birthdays to celebrate in our group of friends, Team Keenan, Team Jacobsen and Team Julie Holland decided to take a trip up north to Cinque Terre! 

For clarification, and my personal hatred of reading about places which I know nothing about, the Cinque Terre are five little villages that are located in the northern portion of the Italian Riviera.  I've included the Wiki Link for further information and inquiring minds.  Anywho!  The five of us piled into Gabby, our Honda Civic, and off we went!  Well it turns out that a 5 person road trip in a Civic is probably more fun when we were all in college and not accustomed to leg room or packing our own wine keys and that kind of stuff.  Needless to say, poor Gabby was loaded to the gills and on the bumpy Italian roads our tires rubbed against the car every time we hit any significant dip.  I cringed and foresaw the five of us taking everything out of the trunk to get the spare, put it on and pop it again within 5 KM.  But, positive thinking prevailed and 7 hours later, we made it! 

We stayed at the Hotel Al Terra di Mare in Levanto, not *quite* inside the Cinque Terre but deceivingly close on a map.  We all decided to take the train to Riomaggiore, the southern most town.  There are hiking trails that connect the towns, though one had been washed out by a landslide this spring.  Following the herd, we walked along the Via Dell'Amore from Riomaggiore to Manarola, the second town.  All along the way, there were locks on fences, hand rails, even the erosion netting, which are meant to signify young lovers "locking their love in."  We weren't sure at the time, but there were two men who were trying every combination lock.  I guess that love didn't work out and they didn't want it locked up anymore??  Non lo so...

For lunch,  we followed Rick Steves' recommendation and stopped in at Il Porticciolo in town #2, Manarola.  The place was packed and deservedly so!  I got the local fare, the squid ink pasta with clams.  Mamma mia!  It was so good!  Mmmmmm......

Onward we went to Corniglia and then hiked for two hours to get to Vernazza.  Oh my goodness.  That hike was tough!  It was up the face of a mountain and pretty challenging at times.  Julie, the gazelle that she is, sped off ahead of the four of us slow pokes, who took pictures and strolled a bit more casually.  Once in Vernazza, we decided that hiking further would be far too masochistic, even by Julie's standards, and enjoyed some pesto and gnocchi and my ill-fated carrot salad, which turned out to be a large bowl of carrot shavings.  I mean, if ordering something completely different from what you thought you were getting only happens once on a trip, that's pretty good in my book!

Day three, it poured.  Poured and poured and poured!  The place was a ghost town!  We stupidly wandered about, getting more and more drenched, before deciding that a large meal and waiting out the clouds was the best bet.  Onward to Monterosso, the northern-most town.  Ol' Rick Steves had HIGHLY recommended Miky Ristorante and after his first suggestion was so delicious, we couldn't skip it!  Miky's was by far our fanciest meal in Cinque Terre and every dish came out better than the last.  The most exciting was the local pesto which came lit on fire!  What?!?!  Each pasta dish comes "pizza style" which means that the dish is wrapped in pizza dough and then lit on fire!  Then the waiter very carefully peeled back the dough and with more care than I've ever seen and personally dished the portions of pesto out in perfect little twists of the fork.  It was magical! 

We left with full bellies and the sun in our hearts to see that the sun had peaked out from behind the clouds as well!  Our group went into one of the private beaches, which turned out to be much cheaper and cleaner than the ones here in Napoli, and swam for a few hours. 

On the long ride back to Napoli, we decided to stop in Pisa to check out the Leaning Tower and stretch our legs for a short stop.  Julie had recently been there with a tour group and said it was worth seeing but maybe not worth a completely seperate trip.  The Field of Miracles, where the Leaning Tower is located, was packed!  We took the obligatory pictures of either holding up or knocking over the tower and strolled around laughing at other people's attempts.  The best, in my book, was the most dedicated German woman stretching and straining in her picture.  Muscles were flexed for like 3 full minutes!  She was really determined to push that sucker up in her picture!  We all marveled at how beautiful the whole town was.  It was so bright and clean compared to the sites of Napoli and so amazingly maintained.  The detail work around the Leaning Tower was phenomenal!  Truly breath taking! 

At length, we arrived back at home and fed our affection-starved cats with an evening snuggle.  It was definitely a great birthday celebration for Nathan, Julie and I to share.  A special thanks to Tom and Kim for getting us all the most amazing birthday meal at Miky's!  And to the entire group, you are fabulous travel companions!  It was a great time for sure and especially so with such wonderful friends to share the experience!

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