Buongiorno Italia

Posted on April 9th, 2012 by

Bella Firenze

Sorry for the delay, but we’re going to need to pull it back a couple weeks. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll start this post with the arrival of Abbey Maus, a wonderful friend of mine from our days at GAC. It’s her first time coming to Europe, so I’m expecting her to be crazy jet lagged. But as she steps through the gate, she’s got a spring in her step and is somehow fresher than I am. Ridiculous. We make our way home, and I get one of the best presents ever. Peanut butter. Two and a half pounds of the stuff. Glory.

Yes, those houses are falling into the water

The plan is to start Abbs’ week and a half here by going to Italy. Let’s just fast forward there because this is already going to be long enough. Saturday morning, we wake up bright and early to fly to Pisa (I got a solid three hours of sleep after completing my proposal for my Master’s thesis; Gustavus, you taught me well). From there, our destination is Cinque Terre, a series of five coastal cities that literally hang out over the Mediterranean (technically I think it’s the Ligurean, but tomato, tomaaato). We head there by train, and after a short while of traveling through a tunnel, it opens up into an incredible scene of gorgeous blue water, onyx black rock faces, and mountains of lush green as our train whizzes along the coast. Simply amazing. After arriving at the first city of Riomaggiore, we decide to get out as fast as possible because there are tourists absolutely everywhere. The first hike (well, more walk) is along a well-treaded path that somehow cuts along the side of the mountains while hanging out over the water. Again, gorgeous (this word and its synonyms will be thrown out gratuitously in the coming paragraphs). We arrive at the second town of Manarola (not to be confused with Motorola) and decide to explore this one. At the end of the city, we come to a mountain of terraced vineyards. The normal hiking trail from Manarola to Corniglia (the next city) supposedly starts somewhere around here, but is closed due to some crazy flooding that Cinque Terre experienced about half a year ago (many parts only recently reopened). Not put off, we decide to try and blaze our own path. Was that smart? Probably not. Was that legal? Debatable. Would I do it again? Undoubtedly. We work our way back and forth through the terraced mountains and eventually find a stone irrigation trail that haphazardly makes its way up the mountain. We stick to this thing and start climbing. At times it gets a bit treacherous, but with every step farther, it becomes gets more and more beautiful so we couldn’t stop. Unfortunately, we hit a dead end somewhere near the top and our only way forward would be with a machete and some prayers. Lacking the necessary tools, we try finding a way around this obstacle, but eventually have to stagger back down the mountain resigned to our fate of just taking the train to Corniglia like everybody else. This is where we start playing a game called “Peg the Americans.” The game’s simple really. You just try to pick out Americans as quick as you can (obviously before anyone speaks, because that’s just too easy). We actually got pretty good at the game with about 90% accuracy. I’m not exactly sure what it is that we, as Americans, give off, but whatever it is, it’s damn easy to spot.

Italian boy and cat not fans of the white trash

Eventually, we arrive in Corniglia, which is, you guessed it, beautiful. It’s this wonderfully quaint little place that feels less touristy than the other four cities. This is probably just because most people don’t want to climb the 93,875 steps from the train station to the actual city (Sherpas could make a killing here). But whatever their reason, it’s fine by us, for this is where we have our hostel booked for the night. Or at least, so we think. We get to this random lady’s house after weaving our way down a bunch of small, mildly terrifying alleyways, and she comes out and says, “La Casetta (our room) isn’t ready. But I have another one. This is better for you.” Not sure if we should trust her words, we follow. She opens the door and I’m floored. We don’t just have a room. We have a house. There’s a kitchen, living room, and a porch. Even a bidet. How can this be possible? Apparently, it’s so early in the season that no one else has even stayed here. After some of the crapholes I’ve slept at, this feels like a mansion. As difficult as it is to leave, we venture back out into the world and head past the fourth city all the way to the fifth and last town of Monterosso. This place is pretty much a beach town, but seeing as it’s only May, there aren’t too many people frolicking in the sand. We don’t do a ton of frolicking, but enough to at least touch the water. From there, we headed back to Vernazza, the fourth city. This is the town that was most effected by the flooding that hit in October. This is evidenced by the field of white trash bags strewn near the sea. Twas a sad sight, but the place seems to be attempting a comeback.

How do you like them lemons?

We then head back to Corniglia for the night. We know, being in Italy, that gelato needs to be a main priority. We look on the internet and find the name of a supposedly great gelato joint. Armed with a plethora of Lactaid pills (Abbs is also lactose intolerant), we go on an adventure to find it. We come across the street it’s located on quite easily, but are nowhere near the correct house number. We then start venturing all over the city and winding our way through virtually every street. Once while going down a random path, we run into an old Italian lady tending to some calla lilies. Abbs compliments her flowers and the lady is so happy she ends up giving us lemons. Even though this doesn’t bring us any closer to finding our ice cream, it’s still sweet to get a present from a random Italian. Anyway, all this searching works us up an appetite, so we end up getting a couple pizzas. And seeing as we’re quite close to our place, we just take the pizzas and a bottle of classy Italian wine back to our kitchen (cuz we have one). Italian pizza is magical. Eventually, we head back out to find any random gelato place seeing as we never successfully located the one we were looking for. We settled on one where the shopkeep had spoken to us earlier. As we get our gelato, we realize that the address on the cup is the one we’ve been looking for all along (how Via Fieschi 98 comes between something like 40 and 45 will never make sense to me). And keeping with the theme, it’s glorious. Italians have a way with taking a beautiful thing (ice cream) and just making it, for lack of a better word, divine.

Casa, sweet casa

The next morning we have to leave ridiculous early for two reasons. We want to get to spend some quality time in Florence, and more importantly, the train workers are going to strike at 8am. Classic Italy. We are on our way before the sun even rises. When we get to Florence (the city where I studied abroad my sophomore year at GAC), it takes a little while to get my bearings (probably because my orienteering skills are worse than a seven year old cub scout). But once we get more into my area of town, everything starts to come back (including memories; for example, getting my hair cut by a woman with a tattooed on mustache… ). It is crazy though how much more has changed over the past three years than I would expect. One of our favorite sandwich shops is gone. One of the grocery stores, Standa, has now changed hands. And most surprisingly, Florentine public transport actually has signs now. But luckily, JianJian, the mediocre Chinese place across the street from my old apartment, is still hanging in there. Eventually, we try to find a gelato place named Vivoli which is uber-difficult to locate. After brushing off the old Italian skills and asking directions from some random guy opening up his shop, we find the place only to see a massive line outside. It is worth the wait though when coming out with all kinds of flavors such as rum, caramel pear, strawberry, and chocolate. My mouth waters just thinking about it. From there, we basically visit the major sights that Florence has to offer and then head to the Oltrarno, the neglected part of the city that’s across the Arno River. There’s a gorgeous walk that I found one time that winds through the hills that surround Florence and eventually arrives at the San Miniato. This is a church located at one of the highest points in the city and has a stunning view of all of Florence. Simply breathtaking. The only one not enjoying it is some guy with a whistle who’s drunk on authority and lambasting children for sitting the wrong way on a wall. Abbs and I laugh along with some purple-hatted Italian lady who looks like a character out of Alice in Wonderland. Great people watching. After this, we go back to our hostel for a bit before eating at Quattro Leoni (four lions). This place is unbelievable and has the most amazing pear ravioli (that may not sound great but it’s heavenly). Our waiter is also wicked sweet. Finally before heading home, we take some night pics with Abbs’ sick camera (there’s a reason we took over a thousand pics in a couple days). In order to take pictures with the aperture open for a long while, you have to stand extremely still. Here’s where the good ol’ rifle skills come in handy. I don’t know if I could every shoot anything, but I sure as hell can old stuff still. It then becomes my personal mission to run around Florence taking pics of anything and everything that could possibly look cool.

The next morning we take the train to Pisa (Trenitalia really has stepped up its game; no, the trains don’t come on time but at least their website has an English version now) and fly back to Berlin.

It’s now definitely time to wrap this thing up, because it’s already way too long. Congrats on making it through.

Hugs and hand pounds,



  1. Meghan Stromme says:

    Sounds like you and Abbs had a lot of fun! I’m so jealous! When will you be home?

    • Hasanga Samaraweera says:

      Not exactly certain, but I’m guessing something like late summer, early fall. We will have to wait and see. Hope all is well with you Meghan. Take care.