Italia, part 2: Monterosso
It’s hard to know where to begin. There were so many things that were wonderful about this beautiful little village. The colorful houses, the narrow lanes, the beach full of perfect skipping stones, the food (oh my heavens, the food), the mountain views.
Cinque Terre is located along the north western coast of Italy and is comprised of five small villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. Each one is beautiful and distinct. They are only minutes from each other by train, but hours by car as they are surrounded by mountains. To get to one village from another by car, you would literally have to drive far up into the mountains, and then back down again. We were told that driving these roads is literally like driving along a donkey trail on the edge of the cliff, so we gladly took the train, which in retrospect, probably saved our marriage. Being one who hates heights and being out of control, I wouldn’t have done well in the passenger seat.
So, let me back up - We started the day on Monday July 3rd at the Vatican (remember that nasty anxiety attack I had because of all the craziness there?). We had booked a train to get to Monterosso at 3pm, so after spending the morning saying goodbye to our lovely Rome, we headed back to the hotel to grab our bags and grabbed a taxi to get to the train station. We were already running slightly behind, and our driver didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry (unlike all of the other taxi drivers in Rome). We pulled into the train station with about 5 minutes before our train was scheduled to depart. We were wheeling our heavy bags, as well as our carry-on’s, and as soon as we walked into the train terminal and looked up at the arrivals and departures screen, all that ran through my head were expletives. I had no idea what I was looking at. There were numbers, cities, times, towns and other words that I didn’t know and we hadn’t thought to check our train number before we arrived at the station. Here we are in a panic, worried that we’re going to miss our train (the last one of the day going to Monterosso) and in a moment of brilliant mental clarity and luck, we found the Trenitalia ticket desk, and they directed us to our train, which departed mere moments after we stepped onto it.
The express train took us from Rome to La Spezia in about 4 hours, and then we had to switch to a local train, which took about 30 minutes to get to Monterosso. As we approached each of the towns, I was getting more and more giddy, just thinking about what awaited us. The sun had just set, the lighting was beautiful and as we came out of the tunnels that brought us through the mountains from town to town, the views of the water and the cliffs were breathtaking. We arrived in Monterosso where we were greeted by the most jolly taxi driver (he seriously may have been Santa Claus. Could Santa be Italian?) who was sent to pick us up by the hotel we were staying at - Albergo Marina.
We LOVED staying at Albergo Marina. It felt homey, was very simply decorated, the people were warm and kind and it included the most amazing amenities. From 8-10am there was breakfast in the lemon garden on the roof. I’ll repeat that for you: lemon garden on the roof. Now, this wasn’t your typical “breakfast included” kind of breakfast. This was “custom made omelettes and crepes” kind of breakfast and it was as amazing as it sounds. The owner of the hotel also owns a restaurant that is right down the street, and every day from 2-4pm they offered their guests a free pesto tasting, which included a generous plate of homemade pasta with pesto or bolognese sauce (which seriously put all other pasta’s to shame) or a huge, delicious salad. Basically, the only meal that we had to think about was dinner, and it was glorious.
Monterosso is split into two distinct areas, connected by a tunnel: Old Town and New Town. We stayed in Old Town which has the old churches, the castle, the narrow winding streets and a plethora of restaurants and stores. New town seemed more resorty, had one main strip of stores and restaurants and plenty of beach. We chose to stay in the Old Town because from what we read in Rick Steves book, it seemed like it would be slightly quieter, and I’m so glad that we stayed where we did. Hotel Marina was about a 5 minute walk from the beach, through the narrow lanes, past stores and restaurants and through the small main square. If we had our kids, this daily walk may not have been as pleasant (our crew would literally would take up the entire street) or would have taken 3 times as long, but nonetheless it was perfect for our stay.
Our days in Monterosso looked like this: wake up, put on bathing suits, drink a double cappuccino, eat breakfast, go to beach. Once we were at the beach we would decide what we were going to do with the rest of our day, but our main objective was to get to the beach and relax. No agenda, no needs to be met, no diapers to change, no arguments to referee. We just sat. And read. And swam. And talked. And rested.
- We went cliff jumping. Actually, that’s misleading - Seth went cliff jumping. Me? I stood on the edge for about 20 minutes inching forward and back, forward and back. Then I finally leapt with a blood curdling scream, after I found a safer, lower point from which to jump.
- We swam out to the breakwater (which seemed further than it looked), scraped up our hands on barnacles and soaked up the sun until we were almost dry again, then dove back into the turquoise waters to return to our towels and books.
- We went snorkeling. There were fish EVERYWHERE. As we made our way out to the breakwater with our goggles, we realized just how many fish we must have passed all the other times we swam out there. I’m sure they’re just swimming around, minding their business and humoring us while Seth and I pointed and made humming noises to try and communicate with each other with a mouthful of snorkel.
- We went paddleboarding. This was probably my favorite thing that we did while we were in Monterosso. There weren’t any paddleboards to rent in the Old Town, so we made our way over to the New Town and rented a couple of paddleboards for two hours. We had met a family at the beach on our second or third day and had spent the better portion of days 3, 4 and 5 with them so we brought the boards over to meet them so that they could try paddleboarding for themselves too. Let me tell you something. Paddleboarding: not easy. Luckily we had watched a YouTube video before we left our hotel that morning which showed us the basics and was tremendously helpful. We each got in the water, kneeled on our paddleboards, paddled out beyond the waves, stood up and immediately realized that this was much harder than it looked. Take note: if you’ve never been on a paddleboard before and decide to go, DON’T. LOOK. DOWN. once you’re standing. You’ll fall. Facing forward at all times and looking out towards the horizon or just off in the distance is what kept me from falling the entire time (#humblebrag). Seth had paddled out ahead of me, and after we had been out on the water for about ten minutes, I heard him yelling something. But because he was ahead of me, and not turning around to yell (see above), I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I just brushed it off and figured he was saying something sweet or cute. About a minute later, as I was paddling, I saw something in the water up ahead of me. I tried not to focus on it because, balance, but as I got closer to it I saw that it was a ginormous jellyfish. A GINORMOUS JELLYFISH. I immediately sank to my knees for fear of falling off the board, kept paddling and hollered to Seth, who replied, “I KNOW!!!”. As we were paddling toward Old Town we saw over a dozen jellyfish that were at least 12 inches in diameter. It was equal parts terrifying and amazing. We didn’t even see one on our way back to the New Town, but Seth did manage to fall off of his board again and lose his brand new prescription sunglasses to the sea. He’s still mourning the loss. RIP, Warby’s.
- We thought about hiking, but decided against it (a decision we don’t regret, even though I’m sure it would have been breathtaking). We had been walking around Rome for days at the beginning of our trip, and knew that we’d be walking a lot around Venice at the end of our trip, so we figured that we should keep things low key at the beach. I did pack my sneakers to hike, but the only time I wore them was on the flight home.
- We skipped stones. After dinner one night we walked down to the water and took advantage of all of the skipping stones that littered the beach. It was dark, so we couldn't see how many times our rocks were skipping unless we threw them directly into the reflection of the moonlight on the water. As usual, we both had some impressive turns, but my skips rarely outnumber Seth's. When we were dating, we were living along the Seacoast of New Hampshire. We were young and didn’t have a lot of money, so there were many a date night that led us to the beach where we would walk, chat and skip rocks as the sun set behind us. We would scour the beach when we arrived, looking for the perfect stone. My faves were smaller and thin - like the size of a half dollar, or a bit bigger. Seth’s were more hefty; he didn’t care if they were a little bit thicker, as long as they were perfectly flat and closer to the size of a mason jar lid.
As I’m thinking about this now, I’m realizing that in that moment of skipping stones in Italy, we really came full circle. We had started our relationship doing this simple, fun activity. We would talk about our dreams and what we wanted for the future and as we were standing along the shore of the Mediterranean, we were in the middle of living out those dreams - Married with a litter of kids, living in New York having owned and sold a business, starting a Church, writing a blog, on vacation in Europe. We are literally walking in the steps that we had hoped for, and I need to make more of an effort to remember that. Despite the challenges, the exhaustion, the setbacks and the heartache, we are doing the things we've always wanted to do and living the life we've always wanted to live.
Next up, Part 3: Venice.