Saturday, May 31, 2014

Why Visit Manarola?

Landscape shot from the apartment!

Before coming to Italy I obsessively searched Pinterest for travel ideas and I remember seeing a picture of beautiful, brightly colored buildings lining a rocky coast behind turquoise water. 

Turns out that gorgeous place was Cinque Terre annnnnd last weekend I visited the beautiful "Five Lands" for real! A few friends and I left after school Friday afternoon for the drive to Manarola for one of our fabulous coworker's birthday celebration. It's amazing to me that for a 'regular' Memorial Day Weekend growing up, my family and I would have taken a five-hour drive down to Lake Wallkill, NJ and here, within 3 hours, on just a regular, not-long-weekend, I was in one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy.

The first thing that struck me about Manarola, the second smallest of the Cinque Terre towns, were the terraces. 

One view from our apartment terrace was the terraces (hehehe)
Thousands of stones fill the rugged hills that over the centuries have been used for growing lemons, grapes, and olives. Someone mentioned that the low stone walls, which took over 200 years to finish building, span a total distance longer than the Great Wall of China. The town itself is just bursting with color between the bright blue sky and even bluer sea, the vivid green of the hills, and the multicolored buildings stacked on top of each other. The houses are said to be painted in a variety of colors so that when fishermen were working out at sea they could look back at the town, find their home, and feel confident that things were alright at home.

Ours is the little orange one in front with two dark doors

Our own little home for the weekend was booked through a friend of one of the teachers at school. 

Beautiful sunset
There was a last minute problem with the room we had originally booked with him, so he put us in an apartment that he "only rented to friends" (yay!). It was the most perfect little apartment in the world with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a huge balcony overlooking the whole town, the terraces, and the sea. It was absolutely incredible, and also pretty lucky because there was a miscommunication with the boarding situation of another friend and he ended up staying with us too. One room would have definitely been a challenge for three people who all appreciate (and require!) alone time.

I just couldn't get over this view!

Maybe you can see the giant fish...

If you aren't already a seafood lover, Cinque Terre will change your mind.

We went to a restaurant the first night (whose name I unfortunately forgot) where I ate anchovies marinated in olive oil and lemon that were absolutely amazing. Who would have thought!? Stacia and I split an appetizer, side, and main dish; when our grilled tuna arrived, we were both a little surprised to see that our tuna was only cooked on the outside. As it turned out, it was delicious! Someone mentioned that tuna are caught right off the coast here (glad to know it was as fresh as it could possibly be) and that tuna cooked any more than ours was would be considered overcooked. Hmm. The next night we ate with a larger group that came to celebrate Robert's birthday at an incredible restaurant called Trattoria dal Billy. When we first arrived, a man came over to our table holding a giant fish (with teeth!) by the mouth. For the next few hours, plate after plate of heavenly appetizers and pastas were passed around the table. I wish I had thought to take pictures of all the different plates but was too busy eating to remember. My favorite was the pasta with pesto (from what I hear, pesto is a Liguria specialty), but a highlight was definitely the black spaghetti (dyed with squid ink) with clams and other seafood. So weird yet so good! Anyways, that giant fish that came in at the beginning of the night was our final course- it was so huge and tasted kind of like lobster. And had a head.

Every view could be on a postcard
Picture borrowed from Mary's Facebook- Thank you!

After dinner each night we headed to Cantina dell Zio Bramante, a gem of a bar if there ever was one.  

One of the teachers from school is from the area, and he and his friends (including the one who rented us our apartment) played the trumpet, guitar, drums, flute, harmonica, and sang all evening. Some of the songs were from his new album, others classic rock.. classics.. to sing along to (Dad, I'm mailing you his CD :) ). They were all amazing musicians and made the atmosphere so much fun! One of the best parts was getting to meet all of his local friends! It was definitely a wakeup call with my lack of Italian though. At school we're kind of in an English bubble and I hardly feel pressure to make a serious language effort. Though the other guys spoke varying amounts of English, I felt awful for not being able to say much at all in Italian and have been practicing on Duolingo and Rosetta Stone every night since. 
Cute signs all along the way

Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I'm sooooo not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination.  

Right before heading down into Corniglia
So, when it was suggested that we bring hiking boots, I'll be honest, I thought I'd talk my way out of hiking with our group and spend my time wandering around cafes and shops or something else more up my alley. I did end up hiking, but Stacia and I both completely underestimated the intensity of the hike and wore skinny jeans and sneakers (my skinniest of skinny jeans that sometimes I can't even put on). It seemed like a good idea at the time... it wasn't. Anyways, I couldn't be happier about going on the hike. From what I hear there is a much shorter walk between the towns but it was closed so we took the long way. While it was incredibly tough (including climbing hundreds of stairs on multiple occasions), it was well worth it for breathtaking views of the sea and towns and the feeling of accomplishment upon reaching Corniglia. We passed groves with nets tied up to catch the ripe olives as the fell, walked through the charming town of Volastra, and nearly sweated to death in the glorious sunshine. Robert and Mary have done this same hike many times and before going I wondered why anyone would want to do it more than once; if you've seen it one time, isn't that enough? Well, I am now a hike-lover and while I will definitely dress more appropriately next time, I would go for that same trek (and trip!) again in a heartbeat. 
View of Manarola from the peak of our hike

1 comment:

  1. You are lucky to have those friends that know Little spots that no common people know. It looks wonderful I never Heard of the place and now well it has gone into my bucket list! Thanks for that. As always, loved the pictures and how you describe the whole trip!