The Cinque Terre
Suitcases in toe, my roommate and I stared at the departure board in Bologna's train station. Our tickets said Modena, Parma and La Spezia. We found trains bound for Parma on the board, but none for Modena. So, we chose the one going to Parma. The only seats were two fold-up ones in the aisle. So, we sat, wondering if we were on the right train.
After about 45 minutes, we pulled into the Modena Station. Relieved (and surprised) we had come to the station on our ticket, we hopped off the train, thinking we needed to transfer to a train bound for Parma. As soon as we lugged our suitcases down the flight of stairs, we found the departure board telling us we had just stepped off the train en route to Parma. I still have no idea why the man at the ticket counter told us we needed to transfer trains in Modena.
After the correct transfer in Parma (and a lot of lugging our suitcases up and down the steps of the platforms) we arrived in La Spezia -- not quite our destination. Another train whizzed through a dark tunnel for 10 minutes until a brilliant blue sky and gleaming ocean filled the train's windows. My roommate and I sat, jaws dropped and eyes wide open. The warm afternoon sun lifted our spirits as we stepped off the train in Corniglia and we boarded another bus that took us the final mile (completely uphill) to the tiny town where we had booked a room for the night.
Our pensione was a yellow house with green shutters. We looked around the deserted patio when all of a sudden a second-floor window popped open and a middle-aged balding man told us he would be right down. He greeted us with a quick "Ciao," threw my suitcase over his shoulder and led us up two more flights of stairs. I nearly fell over as I took a step in room -- the window opened right on the glistening blue ocean, the mid-afternoon sun gleamed over the town's colorful buildings (notice our window's green shutter framing the picture below). There was a reason it took four trains and a bus to get to that room.
Fifteen minutes, 20 pictures out the window and two giddy smiles later, my roommate and I hit the hiking trail linking Corniglia to the neighboring town of Vernazza. The path took us past oceanside fields, orange trees and ocean views straight from postcards. Although the guidebook said the path was an hour and a half hike, it was more than two hours and nearly dark when we rounded a corner and saw the glowing yellow clock tower of Vernazza's samll chapel.
Rather than a starlit cliff side hike back to our pensione, we opted for the 15-minute train ride. And when we finally found ourselves back in the dining room of our pensione sitting down to look at a menu at 8:30 (an early dinner hour in Italy) we ordered a full Italian dinner.
First, a basket of bread (no butter) and flat crunchy breadsticks disappeared. For the "prima piatti," we chose the gnocchi with a fresh green pesto sauce. For our "secunda piatti," we chose sea bass. The pensione owner (our waiter for the evening) brought out two plates with an entire fish atop each one -- fins, eyes and tails still attached. I was still staring at the fish on my plate, pondering how I was going to find the edible meat when the owner used the side of a tablespoon to sever the fish's head, pull back the skin and de-bone the the fish. I smiled at my friend and when I looked back down, I had a plate of steaming white fish with a lemon on the side. I ate every bite. To finish off our meal, we both picked a slice of homemade tart -- I sampled the lemon -- perfectly sweet and sour.
The only other diner that evening was a close friend of the pensione's owner. He ordered an espresso and a piece of cake and was very interested in the two wind-blown American girls. I told him I was from Chicago and he said one word to me with a wide grin on his face --Obama. He could not speak a bit of English. But, his thumbs up revealed his opinion of our new president.
Needless to say, my friend and I fell into bed that night.