The Chinque Terre. It literally means, five lands, and is a stretch along the Italian Riveria made up of 5 small towns that have been there for centuries. Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso, Riomaggiore and Vernazza are the names of the 5 towns that actually took our breath away. We walked up and down every street of each town and kept finding new and interesting sites, houses, shops and historical markers. The towns are all connected by a hiking trail that takes you up into the mountain side so you're walking by the vineyards and lemon trees.
The first bit of our Chinque Terre stay was in Corniglia where we stayed in an adorable, fully furnished little apartment. I got to cook while we stayed there! I made squid ink pasta and used the local specialty- pesto to make a wonderfully delightful little Italian dinner. Just call me Ina Garten. It was a beautiful place where we did lots of reading and relaxing. From here, we hiked to the two northern most towns of Vernazza and Monterosso. We enjoyed a bottle of wine on the Mediterranean and doing some general people watching.
But the towns themselves weren't the adventure- It was during our hike to Monterosso that we were reminded how little Italian we knew. The hiking trail was pretty full of people pretty much all the time. So we thought it was a little odd when while walking part of the trail from Vernazza to Monterosso we hadn't seen anyone in about 60 minutes. We kept going until we got to a part of the trail that had been completely washed out. See, in 2012 there was a series of really bad mudslides along the Riviera and large parts of the trail had been washed out and were in the process of being repaired. So THAT'S what that sign meant. So, we're standing at the edge of the trail where the only place to go was up a 6' cliff that if you fell meant falling down the rest of the cliff and probably landing, hard, somewhere in the Mediterranean, or to go back from where we had come. Lo and behold, there was a crew of 4 guys standing on top of the cliff doing repair work. One of the Italians reached down his hand obviously meaning for me to take it and with a giddy school girl smile, I grabbed hold. With a cigarette in the side of his mouth, he lifted me straight up onto the cliff. I mean, I felt weightless. And then, he did the exact same thing to Daniel. Just swooped us right up the 6' ledge like it was nothing. Gee, thanks you tan, rugged, perfect Italian specimen, you. I'm still blushing.
The next spot we stayed was Riomaggiore. The places there each had their own courtyard that sat right on the cliff over looking the Mediterranean. So. Gorgeous.
Aaaaand here we come to the infamous wine night. Or as we like to call it, the night we almost died. We had a delicious dinner and had finished our bottle of wine early in the evening. We were staying right outside of Riomaggiore and there were no more shuttles going into town, much less any shops still open. So, we went to the little what can only be described as a-bodega-with-an-umbrella(?) and asked the girl if she knew where we could get a bottle of wine. Her answer? "You want wine? I can get you wine". She grabs an empty 1.5 liter water bottle, sets a funnel on top and pours wine- from a 5 gallon bucket. I know what you're thinking. Any normal person would have said, uhm, nah, I think we'll pass.
But not us. Not during our once in a lifetime European walkabout. Not when we had such a beautiful view of the Mediterranean. Not when we were aa bottle of wine in. So I gave her something like 5euros and we proceeded to drink our incredibly shady, more-than-likely bootlegged wine. Or maybe it was just straight up hooch. We still aren't sure what we were drinking. It tasted like apple juice, but had the effect of tequila. We only drank *maybe* 1/3 of the bottle, but neither of us remember much from the rest of the night. Like, we remember being very inebriated and running up and down the cliff, but the rest is kind of...a mystery. Oh. And the next morning? We found a fly in the bottle. We can only hope it got in there AFTER we stopped drinking. And that was the last time we drank wine. For like a year a half.
The next day was spent dozing on a hammock while the clouds came rolling up the cliff and left us damp. Being in the clouds was among the coolest experiences of the whole trip.
So, if you're planning a trip to Italy, you MUST go to the Chinque Terre. Do some hiking, exploring and steer clear of the wine from the umbrella girl in Riomaggiore.