Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Milan, Italy → La Spezia, Italy

Something I should mention - I do not speak Italian. Now, you would think I would know this about myself, but I realized soon after landing in Milan that I actually knew about two Italian words. I could say thank you, and good morning. Useful, yes, but only to an extent. Being vegan, I always try to at least know the words for things I need to avoid, so I can attempt to tell people at restaurants what might cause me extreme stomach pain, or to be able to read labels on packages. Apparently I was so excited about getting to Italy that I didn't consider the fact that I might need to do some research before I arrived.
I had had a lot of people from my Spanish classes at home tell me that Spanish would be enough to get by there. I even had one person tell me that they spoke both languages, yet spoke more Spanish in Italy than Italian. Apparently they were in a different part of the country than I was, because never was my Spanish very useful there. Luckily, wifi was readily available, so as soon as we stopped wandering, I spent some time memorizing Italian words in the obsessive, long-term college student way that I do. But more wandering was done first.

After the Duomo, we wandered into an H&M to look for more shoes. I had been buying shoes since the beginning of the trip because the shoes I'd bought specifically for the trip smashed the hell out of my toes and caused one foot to swell up and cause ridiculous pain every time I took a step. Considering I was walking everywhere, for literally hours at a time, every single day, this was a problem. Thank god for that H&M. I found a pair of shoes that were the only shoes that didn't hurt my already messed up foot, and thus was able to continue trekking around Milan without limping. Hooray!
I headed into a grocery store and got some snacks to eat later, and Noah wandered off to get pizza. The sun was setting just as I stumbled upon a giant castle, surrounded by screeching starlings. Apparently Da Vinci did some work at said castle at some point. It was closed, of course, but I spent some time poking around the gates, and watching the birds.

So many starlings!

We spent some time talking with Joe when we returned to the hostel, until the front desk guys came up and informed us that we needed to lower our voices because there were other people on the floor. Worst hostel ever. In the morning, it was back to the central station to head, finally, to La Spezia!!

When I was about 12, I read this book. In it, the main character's sister travels to Cinque Terre in Italy, and she jumps off a cliff next to a church in the town of Corniglia. I read this, and then I dreamed about this scene for a month. Of course, I had to look up these towns, and have been dying to see them in person ever since. I read about how they used to only be accessible by hiking the paths on the cliffs in between the towns, but now everything is linked through trains and buses. This was the place I had to go in Europe, if nowhere else at all. Cinque Terre was the very first place on my list. Before leaving, I ended up talking to a few people who had been there before. They all told me it was "life changing" - the actual words they used - and that I would love it, and any expectations I had of it would be lived up to. Having taken longer than I would have liked to plan the trip, when I finally figured out what day I'd be arriving in the general area, the only place I could get a hostel was in La Spezia, which is the "gateway" to Cinque Terre. It's just a short train ride away, so for two nights I had a room there, and would just have to buy a Cinque Terre train pass to go back and forth between there and the towns.
I was just excited to get to La Spezia. It was a small town, it was in Italy, and I would get to see the Mediterranean for the first time ever. I just had to force myself not to jump right back on the train and head into Cinque Terre immediately upon arrival. It was late in the day when the train was due to arrive from Milan, and I didn't want to have to rush through the towns. Also, if I ran right to 5Terre I would never explore La Spezia, which seemed a waste. This was made way more difficult by the fact that the train stopped in one of the towns on the way in to La Spezia.
Everyone (books included) warned that La Spezia should only be used as a base, and then only as a last resort, if you are visiting 5Terre. Having spent a few days exploring there though, I don't understand why. It was lovely, and between it and 5Terre, exactly how I imagined Italy to be, much more so than the two larger cities I visited.
The hostel I had (extremely last minute) booked was called Corner House, and it was absolutely lovely. Antonio met us at the apartment to give us keys, and it was totally not what I expected. It was an actual apartment, on a little street in La Spezia, about a 6 minute walk from the train station (though, thanks to google maps I took the loooong way), and right next door to a little grocery. It had a kitchen, and two rooms, which accomodate up to 4 people. So. Nice. If (who am I kidding - when) I head back to this part of Italy, I will totally stay here again. I also had no idea I was supposed to pay in cash, and Antonio shrugged and said I could pay him tomorrow. Worked for me.
It was just so cozy and homey!
La Spezia!
Apparently there were two other people staying there at the time, but neither of them were there yet. So, as usual, exploring was in order.
I wanted, first of all, to see the Mediterranean. I was extremely excited about seeing a new body of water. But we headed out first to the ATM in a beautiful little square nearby to get money to pay for the room. Nearby was a little market that had - oh my god - squash blossoms! SO many freaking squash blossoms. I get maybe a handful of these a year at home, and they're at the market once, twice if I'm lucky. There were just mountains of them. I almost died, I was so excited. So we loaded up on squash blossoms, heirloom tomatoes, and other fresh veggies that we could cook back at the apartment. We then headed toward the pier, for some ocean! There were little market booths, and some sort of festival going on. On a boat in the bay, there was live opera music being played, echoing over the water. It was a ridiculously gorgeous day, warm but not hot, with a nice breeze, and nothing but blue sky. We leaned on the railing at the edge of the sea and listened to the opera for a while.

trying to control the amount of happy on my face, cause I'm so
overwhelmingly happy to be here!
Heading back in toward the center of town, we passed a stage where a cute little band was playing jazz music, which I wanted to stop for, of course. We sat for a bit and watched them play, then wandered in along the narrow streets in search of food. Which was, unfortunately, very hard to come by. I was feeling a little woozy and finally just caved and grabbed a banana from the closest market. I just needed some fuel so we could walk up more stairs!
The theme for this trip, and Italy especially, should have been StairMaster 2013. I walked up more stairs than I could possibly count, in every city I went to. There were thousands. Thousands!!

At the top of all these bloody stairs was a castle, making it (I think) the third castle of the trip. There were beaucoup des castilles.
View from the castle
Weird sideways elevators everywhere, so everyone can avoid the mass amounts of stairs everywhere.


Everyone hangs their wash out, and, no idea why, but I find it enchanting.

 Heading back down the 9 billion stairs, we wandered into town and found a little market, and spent way too much time meandering up and down the aisles, deciding what we wanted for dinner. We had a real kitchen! We could have real food! I wanted pasta, and bread, and anything Italian sounding, in spite of having not had vegetables in a week. I used my super minimal Italian skills to pick out crackers and snacks that didn't have dairy in them, and grabbed some extra goodies to cook with the squash blossoms. How I wished there was somewhere nearby to get Daiya to stuff them with.
We headed back to the apartment and started dinner, and met our roommate.
Real food! So tasty!
Jenni was from Australia, and she was a fantastic hostel roomie! We stayed up talking to her for a while that night - she'd just come from Cinque Terre, and I needed to hear all about it. I absolutely could not wait to get there the next day.

(To be continued)

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