The Cinque Terre sits nestled in the coastline of the northwest of Italy. Five cities all linked by a train, boat, or hiking path. There weren't cars in any of the five cities and only locals could access very rudimentary streets from the upper most vantage points of each city. I'm not quite sure how it happened, but we stayed in a town called Riomaggiore which is the southern most city of the Cinque Terre. There may be a handful of hotels or a hostel or two in the entire region, so the custom is to stay in people's homes.
I distinctly remember the conversation when we arrived at the Bar Centrale in Riomaggiore. We spoke with Gianni and he was kind enough to ring up someone willing to let us stay in their home for $20 USD a night (for both of us). This may be a good time to share a bit about the landscape of Riomaggiore, it's steep and remember the no car part, well that means you are hiking to get where you want to be. All the cities of the Cinque Terre are built into cliffs. There are numerous beautifully painted homes just perched on the side of a mountain, overlooking the sea. Gianni okayed our stay for two nights with Guiseppe. I wondered if it was one of the houses just right out the door, overlooking the sea or the quaint town square. Gianni hung up the phone and pulled out a napkin. He drew us a map to Guiseppe's home which involved countless stone stairs that were worn down in the center from all of the use over the years and then a hike down a trail which was covered in lemon and lime trees, flowering bushes, and a view from what felt like the top of the world. After hanging a right off the trail at a large boulder with a white arrow painted on it, we arrived on Guiseppe's terrace.
Guiseppe was a sweet old man, who was pouring us two glasses of Limoncello as we walked up. I was hot, sweaty, and absolutely delighted by the gesture. He made the Limoncello himself from lemons grown on his property. His home was modest, painted a light sky blue, and as you would imagine the whitest of whites were drying on the clothes line. Guiseppe already had a few Americans staying at his place, so we were offered the pull out couch. (Cue, remember this was my honeymoon? Well I wouldn't of had it any other way.)
We spent the next couple of days immersed in the beauty of Cinque Terre and relishing in the spirit of Italy. We hiked between all the cities, spent hours at the beach, sang Nirvana with locals at a little rocky cove after sunset drinking wine made by someone's father, watched free spirited travelers cliff dive. We made fast friends with the other couple that were staying at Guiseppe's house, with many local business owners, and people from South Africa to Norway. We wrote postcards to friends back home, sitting on benches next to beautiful Italian grandmothers watching the passers by. We were invited to an impromptu wedding of two Americans that was being thrown by the owner's of the Bar Centrale and few other local businesses chipped in to help out. When I say impromptu, I mean impromptu. The couple had just arrived a few days before and decided that they must tie the knot in Riomaggiore. I don't think there was anything missing, we had cake, there was a white dress, fabulous food, a photographer, live music, all thrown together by people that had hearts bigger than I could have ever imagined.
That is the Italy I experienced.
With much hesitation and sadness the day arrived that we had to catch the train to Nice, France. We sat down that morning at the bar stools of the pizza shop in town and ordered a slice of pizza with fresh ricotta and potatoes. When we went to pay the owner wouldn't take our money, said it's free of charge, his pleasure.
That's when I began to cry. The tears streamed down my face and I looked into J's eyes and begged him to stay. How could we possibly leave such a magical place behind. J promised me, someday we would return. I'm going to keep him to that one.
This post was inspired by Eat Pray Love. I went to see the movie and was moved by how beautifully Italy was captured on film. I imagine on my next trip small snippets from my Flip camera, thousands of digital shots, rather than rationed snapshots on our film camera. Better yet, I imagine not just a visit, but rather an extended stay. It's my dream to live in Italy for a year and mark my words, someday it will happen.