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Thursday, June 24
We have just had three wonderfully relaxing days. After classes Tuesday morning, everyone packed and headed to the train station. There we caught a train to Pisa, then to La Spezzia, and then to Vernazza. The first two trains were under an hour each, and the last was maybe half an hour. I found the trains to be similar to the bus system in terms of getting to your destination, but the seats were much nicer. I had thought that I wouldn't get sick on the trains--it's been several years since I was last on one, though--so I was disappointed to learn that the ride was unpleasant. Not unbearable, but certainly uncomfortable. I don't think I could ever sleep on one without wonderfully-drowsy Dramamine. On most cars, there were two seats on each side of the aisle with half facing one direction and the other half riding backwards, depending on which way the train was going. Not being able to ride backwards often made it difficult to find two seats together. Greg and I often had to walk through several cars before finding somewhere to sit. Other cars on the trains had little compartments for six people, but I don't really see the advantages of that. Oh, there were a couple that were two-story train cars, but those were for really short rides.
Okay, I guess I should explain now where it was that we went. Our destination was the Cinque Terre of the Italian Riviera: five tiny towns on the northwest coast of Italy. It's a favorite vacation spot with the Italians, though there were also several Americans and Germans. These towns were built mostly in the middle ages and were mostly isolated until the train was brought in about 50 years ago. The landscape is beautiful and undescribable. The towns are on mountains and look like they are about to fall into the rocky beaches. They grow grape vines and olive trees on the terraced slopes of the mountains, which is just awesome to see. Everything about the towns is so quaint and peaceful. There really isn't anything to do except buy gelati and lay on the beach. Well, you could swim in the water if you were a polar bear. I thought it was freezing, but several people swam anyway--including Greg. Most of the beaches weren't like our concepts, but they were still very enjoyable. And there was hardly any nude suntanners. ;-)
We arrived Tuesday in time to go to our rooms and eat dinner. Greg and I were on the fourth floor of the biggest hotel in Vernazza. There were four other rooms in our hall, and there was one bathroom. That part was a suprise to us, but didn't turn out to be as inconvient as you would think. Showers the first morning weren't easy, but everyone still made it to breakfast. But back to Tuesday night. Dinner was nice, but it took ~forever~ for them to serve everyone; that's what happens when you try to feed 50 people with only one waitress and one helper. We got a choice of pesto, tomato, or seafood sauce with our pasta--oh, the bread was ~so~ much better than in Florence--and then we got a second course of seafood, fish, or roast beef (I ate more bread). But by the time they came to our table with dessert, they only had two choices left. :-(
The rest of the night--it was 9:00 when we finished with dinner--was spent up in our room. Unfortunately, it had been one of those my-allergies-are-so-bad-I-just-want-to-die days. You truly cannot immagine a more miserable day. There was so much pressure in my sinuses that my ~teeth~ were aching: that means that on the allergy scale of one to ten, this day was a negative nine, which is just short of spontaneous explosion. Yup, it was that bad. But I don't want to think about that anymore.
So Wednesday morning--after a couple hours of sleep--we had breakfast around 8:30 before going as a group to Riomaggiore, the first of the five towns if you're going east to west. We then took the "Via Dell'Amore" to walk to the next town. But the "Road of Love" wasn't really that impressive. It was right along the edge of the mountainside and provided great views of the (empty) ocean and rocky shoreline, but we all expected something a bit better. That walk only took a short 30 minutes or so before we came to the next town. From there we continued on a more strenuous hike to the next town of Corneglia. That part was enjoyable and felt more like a romantic walk. The Via Dell'Amore was a covered, modern walkway while this road was through the plants on an ancient mule trail. It wasn't even very difficult with the sun shining down on us. Shortly before the town we came upon a nearly-deserted beach which we stopped at for a short while. And it was at Corneglia that I left the group to catch the train back to Vernazza. My allergies were threatening to flare up, and I didn't think that hiking through more weeds would be good for me just then. Unfortunatly, I had missed a train by two minutes and had to wait 45 minutes for the next one. Me being out in the sun for that long without sunscreen wasn't very smart, but I should point out that I didn't know it was going to be so long until the next train. Anyway, I got back to Vernazza just about 20 minutes before the rest of the group. Greg says that the last stretch was a bit more difficult and narrow, but that it wasn't too terribly hard. For lunch the group ate at what would be called a large ristorante for the area. First dish was pasta with tomato or seafood sauce--I got very tired of tomato sauce on this trip--and the second was seafood or fried porkchop. The shrimp on the seafood dishes were very big . . . and very whole. I just could not stand to see the entire shrimp laying on people's plate, staring back at me. ~shiver~ Not to mention how disgusting it was to watch people tear the heads and legs off. And I was trying ~not~ to watch! Uggh. There was some sort of pecan pie for dessert, too. After that ordeal, Greg and I went to the beach in Vernazza, which looks more like a harbor for ships. He went swimming in the icy water while I laid on the beach with some of the girls. It was nice, but I stayed out about 20 minutes longer than I meant to. :-( Dinner that night was the same pasta choices, then either baked fish or stuffed peppers. I ate lots of great bread and was happy. Then shortly after dinner we had a devo out by the ocean on a part of the dock. It was great, though it was pretty cold with the wind blowing on us and all. Afterwards there were many of us who stayed and just sang for a while longer, which was really great because so far this hasn't been much of a singing group. Then Greg and I went to bed, and I was pretty much out right away.
This morning Greg and I went into Monterosso along with most of the other Harding students. It's the last town of the cinque terre, and also the biggest because the beach there is so much better. It was a lot more like a Florida beach, though the sand was still the wrong color. Greg and I wandered around the town for a bit before he decided he wanted to go swimming. However, this meant going back to Vernazza to get his swim trunks. So I sat under an umbrella on the beach--for 12,000 Lire!--while he caught the trains there and back. It took him about an hour, so we ate lunch as soon as he returned. We had pizza at some restaurant for a good price, but the pizza had too much raw tomatoes on it for me to call it great. Then Greg went swimming while I went to Vernazza to get ~my~ bag, because we discovered that there wouldn't be enough time later. However, there wasn't another train back to Monterosso before the train to Florence was supposed to leave. I didn't know if Greg would be smart enough to meet me in Vernazza or if he'd still be waiting for me in Monterosso. Fortunately, he showed up on the train to Florence (it had come through Monterosso first) and we got on that together. I had been kinda worried because I had been carrying his Eurail pass and wallet, so it was fortunate that the train conductor didn't ask to see his car's tickets. So we rode the trains back to Florence with maybe a third of the group. We were all so tired and ended up sleeping for much of it, but we made it back just fine. There were sandwiches waiting at the villa for us--it was nearly 7:00. Since then I've been trying to hold out on sleeping until it's actually bedtime, but now the noise is going to keep me up even longer. :-(
So to sum up, we had a great relaxing time on the Italian beach and enjoyed doing nothing important for two and a half days. :-)
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