September 12, 2011

Tuscan Archipelago & Cinque Terre

Well, life has truly started! Classes started last Monday {Tuesday for me} so just as I thought I was getting settled I added a whole new layer to my adventure. I'm really looking forward to the discussions and global perspectives I'll encounter while studying Italian, Art History, Ethics, and International Management! I cooked a bit more this week, ate lunch on the steps on Santa Croce, and wandered around the city to take in the sites!

Friday morning I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take a yacht cruise to the breathtaking islands of the Tuscan Archipelago. It meant waking up at 4:30 am, walking twenty minutes in the empty streets {not the wisest decision as the bars had just let out}, and taking a 2.5 hour bus ride but I would do it over and over again {and call a taxi next time}! We arrived at a dock in a typical Tuscan hillside town and boarded the boat for a day of exploration. I didn't know much about where I was other than that the Tuscan coast lies on the Tyrrhenian Sea and is home to a group of small islands, many of which are still natural preserves.As you can tell, little english was spoken on the excursion that day...

It felt so good to inhale salty air, feel the wind whip my hair everywhere, and just see the vast ocean before us as we cruised over to the first island. I sat on the upper level reading, glancing out the windows now and then to take in the view. Shortly after, we docked at a small rocky island & found ourselves in a preserve with a small beach only accessible by boat. The island was untouched with trails leading to the beach and cliffs to dive into the ocean. It was BEAUTIFUL!

I quickly made my way down to the beach, dropped my bag, and dove in! The water was crystal clear, just the right temperature, and much to my amazement I floated without trying! Apparently this side of the coast is a lot saltier than home! After swimming to the cove, a few new friends and I made our way to a rock cliff that many Italians were diving off of. I followed their lead, not looking twice and just diving in! So fun! After laying out for a bit we made our way back to the boat and cruised to the next island.

I spent the next hour of the cruise on the top deck conversing with my new friends & keeping my eyes glued on the beautiful blue sea below. As we drew near to the small harbor, my mouthed dropped at the picteresque scene. Isola del Giglio is the Tuscan Coast you see in the movies. A town with only one street curled around a harbor with a vast array of colorful villas on the hillside behind! There's part of me that wants to keep it just to myself {you find out why later in this post}.

I wandered the streets musing at the different houses before setting my towel out on the rocks and diving into the ocean again. After a swim, I settled in for the afternoon reading, talking, laughing, and just plain soaking up the sun! Before I had to board again I made a quick stop into a back alley gelateria where I asked the shopkeepers what their favorite flavors were-they each had different ones but settled on almond. I quickly ordered a scoop {with some nutella of course} and to my amazement they mixed in the almond-nutella right before my eyes. Now that is gelato artigianale! It was a perfect way to end the cruise...

The next day I did it again-waking up early to fast walk to the train station heading to Cinque Terre with three of my roomates. Due to the confusing nature of the trains {we ran to three platforms}, we missed the first connection but made it to Pisa where we paid an extra seven Euro to board the faster, more direct train to La Spezia {thanks to the nice Australian couple that translated for us}. In La Spezia we purchased the Cinque Terre card which allowed for entrance to the park, bypassing the lines, and riding the train in between the five towns.

We arrived in Riomaggiore and began walking across Via del Amore {Lover's Walk} that extends between the first and second town. It was beautiful to walk along a path on the cliff of a coast & see the locks of the couples who had walked before us, throwing the key to their heart deep into the ocean. The hike was closed from the second to the third town due to a rock slide so we hopped on the train again and arrived in Corniglia. Corniglia is one of the smallest of the five towns and sparsely populated. On the trek up the hill we met a couple from Denmark who told us that they're were only five restaurants in the particular town. We were starving so we whipped out a copy of an old Rick Steves guide and found Cicio, a small restaurant on the hill that served the region's signature Pesto.

It was nice to escape the crowds for a bit and enjoy lunch, punctuated by the argument going on between the passionate Italian couple in the back. Although the water was severly overpriced {3 Euro each}, the pesto spaghetti was delicioso! After the meal we hiked down the endless stairs to hop on a train to Monterosso as we only had a few hours left and wanted to enjoy the sun.
Unfortunately when we arrived, so had everyone else. Even at the end of August {and the tourist season} the resorts had bought every square of sand, charging for an umbrella and chair. The two public squares were tiny and full so we waded in the water for a bit to cool off then sat on the side of the road at a gelateria. I tried a Lemon italian ice to get in my regional lemon squeeze for the day!

I was so blessed to see two beautiful coasts in two days but I secretly preferred the hidden escape of the Tuscan islands. Hopefully they'll remained as preserved as when I left them for another visit someday...

P.S. A special thanks to Mouna, Mary, and Stacey for helping me capture some of my time at the coast! Without you, I'd have nothing to cherish my time there but the memories!

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