Ringed in Italy

Italia, Sveitsi - 27.9.2017 23:36

Deb and I took off on Thursday after work, and drove over the Grand Sant Bernard pass to Aosta, in Italy. We were on our way to the coast of Cinque Terre, and stayed the first night in a nice quiet hotel at the mountains. As always so far, the Italian hotel experience was great! The staff were overly helpful and friendly, serving us dinner and breakfast, and even prepared the spa for the two of us on Friday morning. We were actually supposed to stay at a camping ground the first night, but then noticing that the evening temperatures go down to almost zero degrees at the mountains, we changed our minds and stayed indoors. Good decision.

The weather forecast for Cinque Terre had been on and off the whole time – I had been following it for over a week, very unnerving. We wanted to go to Cinque Terre for a long weekend. Sometimes it looked like it would rain the whole time, and sometimes it looked a bit better, but I wasn’t too optimistic about tanning on the beach, although in the summer the place is hot like a desert! But this time weather was a big question mark. And especially because we had bought and gathered all the camping gear and wanted to try camping that weekend. It wouldn’t be so nice to camp in the rain, for sure. Anyhow, as we drove on Friday, it was raining most of the way. However, fortunately arriving in Cinque Terre the rain had just passed, so we were able to pitch our tent while staying dry. The tent was fresh from the package, and we managed to assemble it without breaking anything, the tent nor the peace of the day. I was very impressed by the tent, actually, it came in a very small and light package. That was the idea, so you could carry it easily in a backpack when hiking.

We started our first hike that day from the village centre of Levanto, where we had our camp site. Levanto is the next village outside of the five Cinque Terre villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. For all the surfers out there, Levanto seemed to be pretty busy among wave riders. Not the biggest ones, but still. Levanto was a good place to stay as it was less crowded than the cinque terre villages, yet all the villages were within the reach of a short train ride. To the first village, Monterosso, we still hiked from Levanto. It was about a 3hr hike, quite a bit of up and down, along the coast and the mountains. The other side of the mountain offers nice views to the Cinque Terre coast. We started the hike with Italian Gelatto in Levanto, enjoying the occasional sunshine, which unfortunately turned into rain towards the end of the hike. Because of the rain, the town of Monterosso was a bit underwhelming, however, we got our first feel of the pastel colored, petite and lively cinque terre villages. We took the train back to Levanto, which was only a 5-10 minute ride away, and the ticket was only a few euros. In Levanto we went to a pizzeria called La Picea, which had won the second place in World’s pizza championship. We had to wait a bit because we didn’t make a reservation, but were lucky to get in. I had the award winning pizza and it was delicious, the best pizza I’ve tasted: slices of truffle, burrata cheese, roasted pine nuts, cherry tomatoes and delicious parma ham. That night, as we got back to our tent, it was raining hard. Luckily we had our tent ready and everything was still dry inside. However, we couldn’t sleep very well that night. I hadn’t been to a camping ground like that before, only camping in the nature, where it’s quiet and peaceful.

Saturday came, the wind from the Mediterranean cleared the sky and the sun was out! We set out on a journey to Riomaggiore, the southern most of the Cinque Terre villages. As we arrived, we stopped to enjoy the sunshine and the sea on a beautiful cliff terrace, where we stayed and had fizzy drinks to wake us up! Awake and on the go again we explored the beautiful, picturesque village. There were quite many tourists, so after a while we hit the trails, actually called Ring of Riomaggiore. It was beautiful, on the trails there was almost no one else, and the views over Riomaggiore and the coast were amazing. The hike was about 2-3hrs long, and on the top of it was a beautiful church overlooking the coast. We stopped there to have a snack, take some photos, and enjoy the view. The weather was pretty ideal for hiking, around +25 degrees with a nice breeze. We descended down back to Riomaggiore and stayed there for a lunch in one of the small alleyways. Then we walked to the port, because we wanted to take a boat to a village called Portovenere. There is no train connection to Portovenere, which is at the end of the peninsula, therefore can be reached only by boat, or a 5hr hike from Riomaggiore, or by a bus from La Spezzia, which is the biggest city in the area. It was nice to take a boat to see the coast from the sea. And, frankly, we preferred to save the long hike for another time. Today was not the day for that kind of exercise. (Although I had originally planned to do the long hike this day!)

As we arrived to Portovenere, we sailed between the Saint Peter’s Cathedral and Palmira island, into the calm bay of Portovenere. From the boat we could see the nicely colored buildings by the sea, cafés and restaurants. Fortunately there were much less tourists in the more secluded Portovenere than in the other villages of Cinque Terre.

I wanted to take Deb to the cathedral that was built on a rock at the tip of the peninsula. We walked there and to a platform, which was on top of the church, looking towards the peninsula and the Mediterranean. The sky had become a bit cloudy by this time, but just now at that moment we were able to see a bit of a sunset between the clouds. As we were looking at the view from the terrace, there was an Italian girl who asked if we wanted her to take our picture. Yes, definitely, this was exactly what I had hoped for. There was even a white flower to decorate our photo. I asked her to take one more picture, and in that moment I reached to my pocket and pulled out the ring to propose to my dear sweetheart, the love of my life. It was a magical moment. I was nervous, and committed. I couldn’t see anyone else in that moment. And she said ”Yes”, I slid the ring on her finger, took her in my arms and kissed her. People on the terrace were cheering and applauding. The photographer didn’t panic, nor steal the camera, but saved the moment. And as a cherry on the cake, there was a boy with a polaroid camera, and he had managed to capture the moment as well, and gave us the picture as a memory of that moment. It couldn’t have been better, especially since Deb loves polaroid pictures.

Feeling like being on top of the world, super relaxed and a bit surreal, we walked through the old town of Portovenere to a nice hotel I had booked. They had given us a bigger a room with a beautiful sea view. It was so nice to be in a hotel room after a night of camping, being able to take a shower and change to nicer clothes. I explained to my fiancé how I had planned everything, and she was so happy, even surprised about the proposal in public, as I usually don’t like much attention. I did it for her, since I knew she would appreciate a photo of the proposal. Deb couldn’t take her eyes off the ring, she loves it, which is a big relief and success for me, since deciding what kind of ring to go for was not an easy choice. The evening continued with a dinner. I had reserved a table for us in the best restaurant in Portovenere, and the fine food with all the tastings before and after fit the special occasion perfectly. If having a picture taken was one of the parts I knew Deb would like about a proposal, the other part I knew was fireworks. Unbelievably, just that night, our special night, there happened to be beautiful fireworks to celebrate our engagement. And that is special, something that comes back to my mind again and again, how amazing it was. Thanks to you, who helped me. Actually, I think I know who it was..

 

Sunday morning we woke up to the sound of the sea and had a really nice breakfast on the sunny terrace of our hotel. We left Portovenere by bus to La Spezzia. The bus went fast along the winding coastal roads, past the Italian Naval base. We arrived to the train station just in time to catch the train back to Levanto. We traveled by train through all the Cinque Terre villages back to the town were our car and tent were at the camping grounds. We had bought daily travel passes for the area, which allowed us to use trains as much as we liked. It was a good idea to buy in advance anyway, because the waiting times at the ticket booths were so long that you might have easily missed your train while waiting to buy a ticket. We had booked another hotel night for the last evening, so we went back to the camping ground to pack our tent and take our car.

The weather was still sunny and nice. The sea, however, was quite rough. It was nice for photos though! All the boats were canceled, so it was good we had taken the boat the day before. We took the train from Levanto to Vernazza, where we had nice lunch at the ”Lunch Box”, a vegetarian alternative restaurant. The restaurant was above the main street, so it was a great place for people watching. And there were a lot of people, so we took a beautiful 2hrs hike to the next town, Corniglia. Again, on the hike there were not many other people, it was nice and quiet. At the tourist info in Vernazza they told us that all the hikes were officially closed.. And there was a checkpoint along the trail, but the person in the hut had her feet up on the table and eyes on her phone. Corniglia was a beautiful little village on top of a cliff. We checked into our hotel, where our room was on the top floor, so it was quite exciting to stay so high on a cliff’s edge! I liked the town, it’s more secluded than the other towns, and it had nice little shops and gelaterias. For the sunset and dinner, however, we took the train to the last Cinque Terre town we hadn’t yet visited – Manarola. The famous picture of the colorful village on the rocks with the waves splashing high. The sunset was beautiful, and the place was just perfect for nice pictures and us securing a lock on the fence. Lock never to be opened, as the key is now somewhere in the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.

We found a very nice restaurant up above the town of Manarola. There was a long queue but we managed to get in without a reservation, always so lucky! This restaurant was specialized in sea food. We shared a dish of sword fish pasta with slices of truffle. Excellent. And the wine was fine too! We spoke French during the dinner, because all around us were American tourists, and we wanted some privacy. Hehe, so funny to have a private language in situations like that! After the nice dinner we found our way down to the train station through the narrow streets of Manarola. It was just a 5 minute train ride to Corniglia, but once arrived we had to climb a couple of hundred of steps back up to the top of the hill and to our top floor hotel room in the cute cliff edge building. That helped us to digest and sleep well.

Monday was the last day of our holiday. We had our breakfast on the terrace, and started our journey further south, to Pisa. We thought since we were only an hour or so away from the funny leaning tower site, we might as well go there for lunch and see what  the fuzz is all about. It rained, it was bucketing. Reminded us of our trip to Milano earlier this year. But once we arrived in Pisa, we had sun shine! So that worked out nicely, luckily. So many tourists, oh my goodness. Quite stressful. But the place is beautiful. It’s a big open space, and the cathedral is impressive. The leaning tower is actually a bell tower of the cathedral. Its foundation was too shallow and so the tower started tilting. Nowadays the tilt has been corrected from some 5 degrees down to 4 degrees. It looks really tilted still though! So funny, all the people taking the famous picture of holding the tower. We did that too, though! And then we had nice pizza, we thought to do that since we were in Pisa. We also ordered some dish from the menu of which we had no idea what it was. But it was good, some kind of pizza dough with fresh cheese. Never seen that before. It started raining again as we got back to our car and started our journey back home.

Thanks to waking up early, we still had enough time to drive back 7 hours to Lausanne and arrive at a reasonable time.

After a trip like this I think about how happy I am, and what a privilege it is to live in Switzerland. Can just drive for a romantic weekend in Cinque Terre. What a blessed life. And how lucky am I, now being engaged to a beautiful and loving woman!

Grand Saint Bernard Rainy Monterosso Riomaggiore San Pedro Cathedral Portovenere Ringed! Dreamy Vernazza Wavy Vernazza Corniglia on the rocks The jump! Sunny Manarola Sealing the deal Cou Cou