Tag Archives: adventure

My “Eat, Pray, Love” Getaway

17 May

DSCN2846 As I’ve said over and over in my blog, this semester has taught me a lot. Many of those things I had to learn the hard way. Including, one should never indulge in extra curricular activities the night before an early travel departure (royally screwed that up 3 times). This was one of those times I screwed up. Big time. The night before, I remember that I set a 5:45 am alarm for my 8:10 train ride to Cinque Terre.

7:23 am: Wake up startled, panicked, and flustered. I had planned to meet my travel partner, Anna, at the bus stop at 6:50 and I woke to a FaceBook message, “So.. Did you oversleep?” In full makeup from the night before, an empty stomach, and some nappy hair, I grabbed my backpack and ran out the door.

7:45: After running through Trastevere, heart beating out of my chest, I approached the empty bus stop. Not aware that it was an Italian holiday and the “H” bus (created by the Devil himself) probably wouldn’t show, I hopped in a cab with a nice American woman just hoping that Anna would have had the same idea as me and would be waiting at the station.

8:09: Throw myself onto the train heading towards Genoa with 1 minute to spare. God, I hope she’s somewhere on this train.

10:30: Get a call from Allison, “Anna didn’t make it on the train.” Stomach sinks.

12pm: Arrive in La Spezia like a lost child in the movies, where the whole world feels like it’s spinning around me. There’s no surprise that I waste an hour in the station dealing with debit/credit/ATM problems when trying to buy the train tickets to the coast. Money issues have defined my semester abroad. and many others’.

Riomaggiore  DSCN2726 Besides the colorful cliffside picture of Manarola that you see over and over when you search ‘Cinque Terre’, I really didn’t know what to expect of each of the 5 towns. The train popped out of a cave on the side of the cliff and rolled into the coastal station. DSCN2750 Each of the towns has its own signature tunnel connecting the station to the town and Rio’s is my favorite – floor to ceiling mosaic sea creature art. DSCN2739 Over in town, one narrow street holds in the smell of grilled seafood and pizza fresh out of the oven. I went to find my hostel, Affittacamere Patrizia, to explain that I’m alone to try to get the money back, but because it was less than 24 hours notice they couldn’t refund me. Instead, they felt bad for my pathetically lonesome self and upgraded me to a private suite – queen size bed, bathroom, and fridge. Ah! The silver lining! DSCN2710 Giovanni walked me back through town, up a set of steps, through an alley, and up to my room. It probably wasn’t the safest thing that he knew where I was staying.. alone.. and no one else did.. but I’m alive today to tell about it (don’t freak out Nani)! As you walk dance down the steps from where I stayed you hear the amplified voices of ABBA thanks to “Mamma Mia”, the snack shop selling fried seafood in paper cones. DSCN2716 Being starved and parched from the hectic morning, I went to Bar Centrale, which is pretty much the only recommended spot for a fun morning and night environment and free WIFI (like cocaine.. you crave it). I love the tight-knit communities of these tiny towns. As I stood at the bar with my cappuccino and the BEST chocolate cornetto I had ALL semester (and the size of my ass is proof that I had a lot), friendly family and friends of the baristas came in and out (some just to say “Buon Giorno”). As I rapidly slapped out an “I’m ALIVE!” email to my parents, the barista had me sit at a table with her cute little son and for one time only, her and I made fun (in Italian) of all the dumb Americans who came in. amore When reopened after WWII, the Via dell’Amore, or Lover’s pathway between Riomaggiore and Manarola, became a lover’s meeting point for young boys and girls from each town. Unfortunately, the path is closed more than it’s open due to landslides and was closed the weekend I was there… but I really have no business being on a LOVER’S PATH anyway. DSCN2759 DSCN2764_2 As I started Day 1 of my hiking adventure, I came across a single church above the town and I can’t really explain what happened next. I walked into the dimly lit and empty church and as I approached the alter I smelled something that couldn’t be easier to identify: Nonna. If you haven’t read my “Dear Nonna” post, it’s almost been a year since my Nonna passed and as it slowly creeps up on me, more and more things remind me of her. I couldn’t stop the tears running down my face. I was alone, until I smelled her.

Lit a candle for Nonna

A candle for Nonna

To ensure that I didn’t look like too big of a loser eating every meal alone at restaurants, I went to the deli across from my hostel to up lunch and breakfast food. For lunch, I walked up Il Castello di Riomaggiore and opened up my greasy focaccia, prosciutto, and salami sandwich. A little piece of me died inside when I came across the husband reading a story to his wife as they looked out at the sea. DSCN2779 DSCN2772 More Riomaggiore : DSCN2754 DSCN2719 DSCN2732 Manarola DSCN2831 This is the town that normally pops up when you search “Cinque Terre”.  It’s breathtaking. My favorite of the 5 towns! When I arrived, I went straight up to the tippy top of the cliff. I climbed through bushes, up makeshift steps, and brushed past what could have easily been poison ivy (luckily it wasn’t). DSCN2793 DSCN2797 DSCN2800 Somewhere over the rainbow… of houses is the most colorful cemetery I’ve ever seen. Apparently this is a temporary cemetery which is emptied after a generation or so into some sort of “bone yard”. From outside the cemetery is the picturesque view of Manarola. DSCN2829   As it started getting later and the sun began to set, I went out to the marina and (once again) thankfully my high school bouldering skills came to use as I climbed along the row of boulders that jutted out into the marina. I laid out a towel under the sun and looked up at Manarola. Women were hanging clothes out their windows, couples dangled their legs off the marina ledge, families sat out on their balconies for a little aperitivo, and 1 lone boat anchored in the water next to me. DSCN2876 DSCN2851 What I would do to sail out to sea for a while..

On my way back up to the train, I had many nostalgic moments. First I sat in the town square and watched three young boys kick around a soccer ball as their family watched from balconies overhead.

DSCN2874 DSCN2871   Second, I passed by a window in which a husband, wife, children, and nonna were sitting down for dinner. Brought back amazing memories of Sunday dinners in Nonna’s kitchen.. and more tears. Nothing could have made me more excited to go eat dinner alone.. Ha! lalamp Back in Riomaggiore, I took a quick shower and got dressed (don’t know who I was getting all pretty for), that was until I walked into the restaurant with 2 of the sexiest waiters. La Lampara was the cutest little restaurant with outdoor seating in what looks like a boat. The night kept getting better as a GORGEOUS couple was seated at the table next to me, we became friends.. if that’s what you call sharing olive oil and pepperoncini. Picture 18 I felt like Julia Roberts as I ordered my glass of wine with Linguine with breadcrumbs and swordfish and observed the fellow gavones (look it up) who were all observing the lonely girl in the corner.

The following morning at Bar Centrale, my handsome waiter from La Lampara came in, we said “buon giorno” and exchanged a seductive smile. I could definitely get used to mornings like that.

Corniglia DSCN2916 If you don’t have much time in Cinque Terre, this town can be missed. It’s the only town built above sea level and is quite the hike to reach. Too bad I didn’t have anyone to piggy back me up the cliff. DSCN2897 DSCN2904   From the top of the town you could hear music playing all the way down the steep cliff at the train tracks. When I reached the bottom to get back on the train, I passed the little man, posted up, playing the accordion. He smiled at me, I dropped a few coins in front of him, and snapped this pic. DSCN2920_2 Monterosso al Mare DSCN2925 This is the most northern town of Cinque Terre and known as the beach town. There was a really cool center and tons of restaurant options. I walked in a wine shop and was offered a full glass of Cinque Terre wine. By the end of the glass I was feeling loopy, and had to get out before I knocked over any displays. DSCN2941 It was supposed to thunderstorm today, but Italy didn’t fail me this time! The weather was perfect for laying on the beach all day. Little naked kids ran through the water and I was shooting death stares at the couple in front of me as they rolled around in the sand. Thank you, for reminding me what I’m missing. DSCN2944   Vernazza  DSCN2959 This is the one town I wish I had more time in. I was cutting it close for my train home to Rome, but needed to make a pit stop in what I heard was a couple peoples’ favorite town. Right off the train, Italian flags drapped all across the town. DSCN2952_2

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This was the only town where the train came directly through town. I practically ran through town to get a glimpse from the water. I remember hearing about the view from the castle and wanted to quickly find it. I ran up narrow steps following “Castel Doria” signs until I reached a little hut with a woman charging 1.50 Euro for the castle climb. Now I normally don’t pay for views, but it was cheap, I was in a hurry, and knew I wouldn’t be able to find a free view from this high. After I climbed the skinny stairwell to the top, I was yelled at in Italian for standing on the edge of the tower (working my pro photo skills). I nervously laughed and then was joined with the men who “yelled”. Looks like they were just joking, but it didn’t come through with the language barrier.

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Leave it to me to board the train, during rush hour, cutting it as close as I could to make my train back to Rome. With my train to Rome departing at 6:11, it was 6:10 and I was rolling into the La Spezia station, crammed into the corner. I’ve also learned, nothing will get done unless you open your mouth. Under my breath I muttered, “Well I hope I make my train.” Luckily for me, I was surrounded by a group of nice Americans who heard and helped me push my way off the train. I sped up and down tracks to find the Rome departure; jumped on and off trains “Vai a Roma?” I finally found the right train, plopped down in 1st class, and with 10 seconds to spare I was on my way home.

5 breathtaking towns, numerous stuffy train rides, 1 deliciously lonely dinner, and (hopefully) hundreds of less calories later, I was leaving Cinque Terre with the hope of one day returning: alone or not. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect trip to close my semester. The alone time gave me the opportunity to stop and really process everything that happened this semester, the good and the bad. I really recommend a solo trip at the end of your semester abroad. Make it the final goal on your Study Abroad Bucket List!

“We travel, initially to lose ourselves; And we travel, next, to find ourselves.”

Ciao!

Wine Not? : Il Poggione

18 Mar

It all started 3 years ago. I was extremely fortunate to have been asked by my cousin Elise to spend a month of my summer working in some vineyards in Italy. My uncle is in the wine business and of the extensive list of international wine his company represents is Il Poggione, a winery in Sant’Angelo in Colle, Toscana. Although we had the luxury of our own apartment with a pool overlooking miles of rolling hills and vineyards, the work we did in the Il Poggione vineyards was brutal.. I passed out the first day on the job. After such a life changing experience I knew I needed to go back to visit. The winemaker’s family is one of the most generous and welcoming families I’ve ever met and I’ve kept in touch with the daughter, Francesca, since I left. I knew that this semester in Rome was my chance to go back and visit them, so we made it happen! Here’s a blast from the past..

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Our work crew

Our work crew

This trip back to Il Poggione was the ultimate relaxing girl’s weekend and I wish I had my cousin Elise along for the reunion! This time I went back with a somewhat intermediate knowledge of the Italian language and was so excited to use it! The weekend started off in the most American way possible : McDonald’s milkshake and cheeseburger at 6am. The trip was off to a bumpy start before we even got on the train. The departure sign said Grossetto (our stop) on Track 25, by the time we got there the train wasn’t there and we had 10 minutes to spare. We went into ultimate freak out mode and started sprinting throughout Termini Station with our backpacks, purses, and milkshakes in hand looking for anyone that could help. We finally asked a group of police who thankfully told us we were to get on the train to Genova which stopped at Grossetto.. we threw ourselves on the train with less than 1 minute to spare..

The train ride from Rome through Toscana is absolutely breathtaking. You pass through rolling green hills as far as the eye can see, covered with shepherds herding their cattle. The winemaker’s wife, Signora Bindocci, and their daughter, Francesca, generously picked us up from Grossetto and drove us back to Sant’Angelo in Colle which is a little town on top of a hill right outside Montalcino.

Sant'Angelo in Colle

Sant’Angelo in Colle

Since it’s off season, the vines are bare and the fields are empty which made for an even quieter and more relaxing getaway. The Bindocci’s were unbelievably accommodating to let us stay in the same apartment that I stayed in last time. Also due to it being too early in the year, there was only 1 other family staying in the 11 apartment farm house with us. The minute I walked through that door again I knew I was never going to want the weekend to end. And the backyard view.. to die for.

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We finally got to have the 'pillow talk' we've been waiting for!

We finally got to have the ‘pillow talk’ we’ve been waiting for!

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Halfway up the hill to Sant’Angelo is the Il Poggione winery. Francesca gave us the perfect tour with an explanation of the entire winemaking process and I’m proud to say that I understood and appreciated it so much more this time around. First we walked through winemaking room filled with huge vats where the fermentation process takes place. Next we walked downstairs to the fancy wine tasting table and then through to the cellars. One room is full of monstrous barrels that age the Brunello which takes longer than the Rosso di Montalcino which ages in much tinier barrels in the second room. The combo of the wine and wood scent is so powerful down there, but it made us really anxious for what came next!

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DSCN1037_2DSCN1042_2 DSCN1043_2The next part was hands down the best part of our Tuscan weekend. We walked across the courtyard to a big dining room on the top floor of a separate little building with ceiling to floor glass windows overlooking endless rows of vineyards. We sat at a table with my back against a crackling fireplace and began the Il Poggione wine tasting and classic Tuscan lunch. The adorable little cook named Fiorella shuffled out of the kitchen to serve us the most amazing meal I have had in Italy. I went to heaven with every bite I took and everything we ate came from the winery’s animals along with homemade pasta.

Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino

Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino

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Tagliatelle con ragu di cinghale (wild boar ragu)

Tagliatelle con ragu di cinghale (wild boar ragu)

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Steak Florentine

Steak Florentine

Cake with a sweet pink cream and crushed walnuts

Cake with a sweet pink cream and crushed walnuts

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Why did it have to end? Each of their wines were so delicious, but my favorite is the Lo Sbrancato rose because it’s so crisp and refreshing and reminds me of laying by the pool during the summer.. and who wouldn’t want to be reminded of that?! Allison and I devoured everything on our plates and even went for seconds on the steak, thinking that would be the best way to compliment the cook.. look at us fat Americans. This was adorable, while we were out exploring the rest of the day Fiorella surprised us by dropping off the rest of the cake in our apartment – which was inhaled as a late night snack and breakfast. I wish I could shrink her and carry her in my pocket so I could eat incredible 4 course meals like that all the time.

Smells like success

Smells like success

In order to digest the food baby inside us all, Francesca took us to the top of Sant’Angelo in Colle where her family and only 150 other people live. It’s one of those towns where everyone knows everyone’s business and it’s impossible to hide anything from anyone. It’s really peaceful and exactly what you’d picture a Tuscan town to look like. She took us to her favorite lookout point and we stood in silence staring out at the land for a while.

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There is definitely a special place in my heart for Il Poggione, Sant’Angelo in Colle, and the Bindocci family. No matter what language barriers I might have with their family, they always show me an unforgettable time! Fingers crossed that this won’t be the last time I’m back to visit.

Until next time,

Ciao