Saturday, July 6, 2013

Corniglia, Italy → Pisa, Italy

My plan was to get up super, extra early and hike the trail between Vernazza and Monterosso before leaving Cinque Terre. For many reasons, this didn't happen, the main one being that the trails didn't open til 6am and the train to Pisa left at 1130. The train schedule didn't line up with my getting to Vernazza in time to finish the hike before the train left, and I didn't particularly want to do the hike carrying all my belongings. So, I set my alarm ridiculously early anyway, and woke up to the pinkish sunlight creeping in the window. I got dressed and decided to head to the water to enjoy the end of the last sunrise I'd see here for a while.

The Manarola room in Ostello Corniglia = photos of Manarola above my bed
Something else I loved about Europe: nobody wakes up early. Europeans appreciate their sleep. The little town was utterly deserted as I headed down from the hostel. The weird "closed" hours of the hostel were in effect, and the woman who would be working the front desk peered at me strangely from her table as I walked out, locking myself out of the building.
The streets had all been hosed down and everything was dripping. There were no tourists at all, just a handful of shopkeepers yelling at each other from their open doors in Italian, back and forth across the cobblestone walkway. I turned down the stairs near the square and headed to the water. It was deserted down here too, and already hot. I took my time going down the hundreds of stairs and sat down by the water for a while, watching the sky change colours.

I had to see what it would look like to jump, as she
did in the book I read when I was young. Straight
down, straight below me, and jutting rocks into
the sea.
By the time I walked back up, the first bus had come into town, bringing with it people in beach clothes, looking excited to begin exploring the little towns. I wanted to stay. In hindsight (and actually at the time), I realized I could have booked the hostel one more night and not had so much time in Pisa - it really only requires one day of exploring - but I didn't know that then.
So, packing up our things, we spent an hour sitting on the cliff edge in Corniglia, making friends with the resident cats and watching some fisherman way below cast his line amongst the swooping seagulls.

We headed to Monterosso -we had to backtrack to get on our train to Pisa, which was kind of silly. But, it allowed for a bit more exploring of Monterosso, which was even more lovely early in the morning.

Very, very begrudgingly, I headed to the platform to leave Cinque Terre (at least we had the trains figured out by now). It was late, as usual, and we stood in the sweltering heat, waiting, until I decided the universe was trying to tell me to stay. I was ready to change into my bathing suit and just live out of my suitcase on the beach in Monterosso for the rest of forever. But the train did come, and I teared up as we pulled out of the station. I am so, so grateful I was able to go there. Check and done to the number one thing on my bucket list.

 The train was full, and we had to shove through four carriages before reaching our compartment toward the back. Pisa was a relatively short train ride away, but true to form, I passed the hell out as soon as the train started moving. Luckily, it was horribly uncomfortable in there, and I woke up in time to see the giant freaking marble mountain on the way down to Pisa. Our friends from New York had told us about it, as they had taken the train up from Pisa to 5Terre, and I had planned to be on the lookout for it on the way back down. They said they'd thought it was a snow capped mountain, and realized that it was in fact just a giant slab of marble. No wonder everything in Italy is made out of marble.

We got off the train in Pisa centrale and wandered out in search of the bus. I didn't think there would be a repeat of Belgium, with me magically knowing enough Italian to get us where were going, so I was hoping it would be easy to figure out. Thankfully, the bus pulled up right away, and we showed the driver a map of where we were going. She said she'd yell to us when we got there, but it would be obvious, as it was the turn around spot at the end of the bus line.
We had a hotel for the first time the entire trip, and I was a little excessively excited to not have to share a bathroom with other people. I also didn't have to lock my stuff up or deal with being woken up every time someone came into the room. Don't get me wrong, I love hostels and all the people that come with them, but oh my god I was so excited to get to sleep in the next morning!

Unfortunately, the hotel was far enough outside of town that it was a pain to get to without the bus, so we dumped our stuff, and hopped right back on it, because (and I'm sure you saw this coming), I needed to see the leaning tower of Pisa.

There it is!
I had read about this vegan restaurant, Vegan Come Koala, which was supposedly the only vegan place in Pisa. So we headed there first, since I was about to keel over from lack of nutrition. They had the most amazing chocolate hazelnut baci cookies (I bought a whole freaking bag and ate it within 24 hours), and a pretty tasty seitan sandwich. The guy working the counter spoke English, and we talked about vegan places in Italy, and he told us a few places to go if we were headed to cities in any other direction, which we weren't. It was a good, but pricey meal, but at least I'd had something besides bananas and sugar.
I say sugar because I'd discovered this lemon soda while we were in Italy that I became completely obsessed with. Think Fanta in the states, but with real sugar, and lemoney, and about 300 times better. They were absolutely the most refreshing thing ever after walking for miles in 80 + degree weather. I had far too many of them on this trip.

Using our dinky little hotel map and following the signs with the silly tower drawing, we made our way in the general direction of the tower, until the road opened up a bit, and there it was. It is so surreal seeing monuments like this in person. I've seen this thing in photos, in movies, online, for my entire life. I had built up an image in my head of what it would be like, what the area around it must look like, and how it was all laid out. And now here I was, standing in front of it, and it's just so strange that it's a real thing, that it exists, and it's here all the time.

So I had to take a stupid tourist photo with it (or three). Because, really, how could I not?
a). They all look photoshopped. why?!
b). Never felt dumber taking a photo. Ever.
The surrounding buildings in the Piazza dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) are astounding, too - nobody ever talks about those! The whole city is also mostly walled in with old, crumbling castle walls, which jut out at odd angles around the piazza.

We sat in the grass and wandered about for a while, hunted down more water (Europe in general doesn't seem to like ice cold water much), and then started the long walk back to the bus station. It was late-ish, we were exhausted, and I was actually looking forward to getting to bed early so I could sleep in! All the adventure left little time for sleep, and I was well aware that I needed to take advantage of the lack of other human beings at the hotel.

When we'd come in on the bus, I'd noticed a little organic supermarket right next door to the hotel. Deciding food might be in order sometime within the next few hours, we decided to check it out.
They had a wall of vegan food. This was the first I had seen anywhere on the trip so far, and I was so freaking excited. They had fake meats, fake cheeses, and best of all - Drumstick cone type ice cream cones with Italian gelato. OMG!!!! I kind of freaked out a little, did a little happy dance, and then (illogically) asked Noah if he thought we could eat all four cones, because we'd have no place to store extras. He looked at me like I was crazy, I realized I could probably eat at least three by myself, and I tucked them away in my basket, along with some seitan jerky, rice milk mozzarella, a fresh heirloom tomato and some crackers. Yay, food!
Really way too excited about this.
Another thing I had to learn in Italy: how to buy vegetables. You have to weigh them and print out a sticker with a price on it, or they look at you like you're a crazy tourist. There are little printing stations throughout the produce section, and it took far too long to figure this out.
In the morning, I realized I'd slept through the whole night without interruption, got to stretch out in a big, comfy bed, and actually got to eat gelato in Italy. Plus, it was like 10am, which is later than I probably slept in on the whole trip.
Happy camper. That bed was so fluffy!
Today, we were leaving for our next destination: Spain. Unfortunately, Spain only accepts visitors at 12am, so there was an entire day to kill before our flight. We packed everything up and headed back to the bus station, whereupon I realized it was Sunday. Fun fact about Italy: they are an 80% Catholic country. They like their Sundays. What they like even more about Sundays is not doing things like running buses and having stores be open. So, bags in tow, we headed back to the hotel to wait for the much too expensive cab back into town.
To be continued

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