THE MAGIC OF CINQUE TERRE
On April 28th, my dad and I left Florence from the Santa Maria Novella train station in the morning and set out to La Spezia, a port town in the region of Liguria, which lays to the northwest of Italy and the jump off point to see Cinque Terre. The train ride was 2 hours and 30 minutes from Florence to La Spezia Centrale station and was about 18 euros for a one way ticket, yet can range anywhere between 15-25 euros. Once we arrived we set out walking towards the port; going down a set of stairs, crossing some intersections and strolling down Via Fiume and then down Via del Prione. At the port we crossed a suspension bridge and circled around the port watching the boats and ferries go by and talking about maybe one day owning a sailboat.
At the entrance of the port there was a long line of people waiting to get inside a seafood restaurant called Dai Pescatori, so of course we join the line to see what the deal was. Turns out it was more like a self-service place with different seafood dishes, calamari, pastas and salads. Everything was freshly caught and they were only open for 3 hours starting at noon and then open up again at 7pm for another 3 hours. We order some calamari, fried merluzzo (cod), seafood gnocchi with langostines and a large Moretti beer to share; and then pay a lady sitting nearby. At Dai Pescatori, they serve everything on styrofoam plates, give plastic utensils and then seat you in a patio with plastic covers but with a view of the marina. Everything was around 10 euros and it was a cheap and very decent place to eat. The gnocchi was very soft and delicate with a light yet creamy seafood sauce. The fried cod was actually served cold but they were thick pieces of fish and were really nice with a squeeze of fresh lemon. The calamari was very good, being hot, crispy and fairly soft, unlike a lot of calamari which can be ridiculously hard and chewy. Overall, it was a nice little spot for Ligurian specialties at very affordable prices and recommended if you’re ever find yourself in La Spezia. I actually later learned that it’s quite the popular spot for locals, despite all of the foreigners that were there.
Afterwards we approached a small kiosk that sold boat trips around Cinque Terre to ask for the schedule and prices for tomorrow, since they had nothing that day due to the choppy waters. We then grab two cafe corettos, which is a shot of espresso with a dash of liquor, usually brandy, grappa or sambuca, from a small stand alone cafe called Chiosco delle Palme . We get ours with sambuca, which I’ve become really fond of and then sat down to look for a hostel to stay for the next couple of nights. As we searched, I reflected on the surroundings of La Spezia and our trip so far…
In short, from the Azores, we docked for a day each in Malaga and Cartagena in Spain. It was nice to revisit and stroll around Malaga again since the last time I was there. We enjoyed the city and had some small beers called cañas at a popular bar called El Pimpi and walked up the very steep ramps of La Alcazaba, which is a Moorish fort from the 11th century and the best preserved in all of Spain. We then climbed the castle of Gibralfaro which offers a wonderful panorama of the city. In Cartagena we walked all over the city as well and had some very regional and tasty Churros con chocolate, this being long fried pieces of batter covered in sugar and served with cup of very dense and rich hot chocolate meant for dipping. Here we also visited the Punic Wall of Cartagena, which is a defensive wall built buy the Carthaginians in the 3rd century BC. From Spain we finally docked in Civitavecchia, Italy on the 20th. From there, which is just on the outskirts of Rome we took a train to Termini station and enjoyed The Eternal City fully for the next three days; The Colosseum, The Roman Forum, Altar of the Fatherland, Fontana Trevi, The Vatican, The Pantheon, Piazza del Popolo…almost everything, but Rome is MASSIVE and there is so much to do really. And I don’t even have to bring up of how delicious Roman cuisine is…Although, I would really like to… Ok, let’s keep moving.
From Rome we went to Perugia, which took about 3 and a half hours from Termini to the Perugia train station. Perugia is an old Etruscan town and is the capital of Umbria region of Italy. It happens to be a very cultural and artistic city, known for its universities, jazz festivals in July and world-renowned chocolate. Honestly, what I really enjoyed was the quiet and medieval feel of the town with its ancient architecture and cobblestone roads and stairs that criss-cross all over the city center. The days were bright and had street vendors selling all kinds of artisanal goods from meats and cheeses to quality soaps and textiles. Here we actually spent three nights amazingly and on the 25th we left to Florence, probably my most favorite city in all of Italy just for the history and the amount of art alone, not to mention the decadent food and the friendly hospitality of the locals; especially when you make the effort to connect in Italian. Which that being said, I must add, in my humble opinion…for any traveler that decides to go abroad and become a guest in another ones country, it would be wise to research on local customs and learn some very basic key phrases before going. For not only will it be easier for you to be understood more efficiently but it will also make your trip much more engaging and memorable. For speaking in another persons language makes the interaction more intimate and enjoyable. It softens the heart and opens people up, and with doing this, your trip will prove to be much more rewarding. Dig it? Cool. Anyways, in Florence we went to the Galleria dell’Academia which houses the Statue of David in all his glory and other exceptional works of art and instruments. We did the Duomo, Piazzale Michelangelo, Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi museum-which is very rich in Renaissance art, housing Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raffaello and Caravaggio, to name a few. Obviously, I could write about Florence till my hands cramp up…but I won’t. But I will say this, it is definitely not a city to be missed if ever in Italy and if you’ve already been there once, go again.
We stayed three nights in Florence and then went to La Spezia, where we pick up again. La Spezia is the second largest in Liguria, after Genoa. It’s located about halfway between Genoa and Pisa and has a large Italian Naval base. Next to the port and suspension bridge there is a boardwalk of sorts that extends along the pier and a park with large shady trees adjacent to it. Along Via del Prione there are restaurants, cafes and some small bars, along with some small plazas with statues. Everything was pretty much open yet, I saw only a moderate amount of people walking about, which I found strange since most people come here to see Cinque Terre. Maybe they all go straight there afterwards, or there may have been some kind of holiday going on. Either way it left a sleepy port town impression on me. We booked some nights at a B&B called Il Faro through the phone and began to walk towards our destination, about a 40 minutes walk from where we were. We walk down Via Nicolo Fieschi and arrive around 3:30pm. There we were greeted by a very nice Italian woman named Samantha, that spoke very little English. To communicate I had to use whatever basic Italian I’ve learned form the last time I traveled Italy, and we actually got by. Samantha was a very gracious host and took care of all our needs and even drove us to the port and to the train station in the end. We had a nice room to ourselves and a separate bathroom. We settled in and rested since traveling to get there took up our day, yet went out around 10pm looking for a Turkish restaurant nearby. The next morning we had a light breakfast at our place and Samantha drove us to the port. It was a chilly day but we bought a one way ticket to the last stop of the Cinque Terre route…Okay, now I know what you’re wondering…”Benny! What’s Cinque Terre, goddangit!?” Why thanks for asking! (Inhales a deep breath) Cinque Terre, in Italian means “Five Earths” and its basically a coastal area west of La Spezia and is made up of five seaside villages: Monte Rosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. All of this goodness along with the surrounding hills make up the Cinque Terre National Park and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And it is a beaut! It’s been around since the 11th century and the area is known for it pastel-colored houses and buildings, local cultivation of grapes and olives, pesto and the seafood heavy cuisine. Every turn in any of these towns is a sight to behold in terms of sheer pleasant beauty. And I really mean it… Old restaurants, bars, cafes & gelaterias. Vines creeping around old houses and gardens, antique street lamps and vendors selling fresh produce. Fisherman bringing in their daily catch. Hiking trails from village to village that offer breathtaking scenery of the Mediterranean, small beaches, zesty local cuisine, beautiful people, lemon trees, seagulls…just look.