Saturday, November 3, 2007

From dream to reality

*Warning* If you see the photos in this post, it may very well ruin this place for you. Might be better to go to the place yourself. Plan your trip for a place called "Cinque Terre", and just go. You won't be disappointed.

You've been warned... Read on for what Cinque Terre is, and some photos of what it looks like.

Ever had an image of something in your mind, an idea of what it would look, feel, taste or smell like before you even came into contact with it? Then, when you're there, next to it, on it, nearby it, or whatever it may be, did it fulfill your expectations, and manage even to exceed them and become something much better, filling you with a kind of happiness, bursting forth as an uncontrollable laughter, creating within you a ceaseless fountain of joy and bliss?

Well, I should start from the beginning.

So I flew out from Amsterdam---which, by the way, is an absolutely magnificent city for its beautiful canal-based architecture, rich history and vibrant art housed in its many museums, unforgettable CouchSurfing people, and for its liberal attitude, which invariably includes the organically grown and the many deliciously baked goods that are created from it---and landed in Milan at about 11 PM because the flight was delayed. The Italian transportation system's penchant for being late will bite me in the ass again later.

Couldn't find a CouchSurfer this time because this weekend is, apparently, a holiday weekend. It's Halloween and All Souls Day (Nov. 1st) so everyone is on leave or hosting friends. Bit worried since I know that it's almost midnight and the metro system is bound to shut down soon, as it does all over Europe. By the time I got to the station where I needed to change lines, the line I needed was closed. Damn. Expensive taxi time. It's raining cats and dogs, and I'm not too excited to be here. I head to the hostel listed in my Lonely Planet, and luckily, even though I arrive after the curfew, they are still open and welcoming.

Next morning, I get up and head to the dining room for some free breakfast (woo, free!) and meet Conrad, a Canadian passing through Milan, and Clara, half German half Californian, as she describes, on a semester break from her studies. I ask her about this place I keep hearing recommendations about from other travelers I've met, Cinque Terre (pronounced, CHIN-kweh TEHR-re). She mentioned that she's headed there next, and that she's staying one more day in Milan because there aren't any beds in the Ostello 5 Terre for the night. She also recommended that I just call and see if they have anything, and I thought, well, why not try? I've only got a few days left before China and I'm not sure I want to spend them in Milan, a city obsessed with its fashion and looks.

Call up the hostel using my handy dandy Skype, and the guy tells me, "Yes, we have seven beds left. Where are you now?" I tell him I'm in Milan.
"Well, you should hurry and come by because we don't take reservations under one week ahead and if people come, we will run out."
"OK, thanks." Click.

Off to the train station, I buy my ticket to Cinque Terre and hop on the next one out. After about three hours on the train (and a fabulous nap later) looking out the window gives me a glimpse of...

Il Mare! I can see the sea again! And the sun! How great to see it shining in the beautiful blue sky, which I haven't seen for over a week. I look out the other window and I see... green covered mountains, and small houses sprinkled sparsely between the vegetation. The train finally arrives in a small city called Monterroso. I'm supposed to change trains here, so I get out and wait for the next one, which comes by about 20 minutes after. Finally arriving in the city of Manarola, I jump out of the train, and head toward the main street of Manarola, then up the street toward the hostel.

I see other backpackers heading up the hill. I walk faster to pass them up ...

Arriving at the door I see that... it's closed. Well, it opens up again in 15 minutes, might as well put my bags down and wait. The two backpackers come to the door. They're both from Australia, Guy and Donna. Door opens and I move inside. Woohoo! There's still a bed left. Fantastic! I put my stuff in the locker and explore the place. Top floor has a roof that... is open! I go outside and it hits me...

Cinque Terre - The 5 lands. 5 small towns, each with population under 1000 (including tourists, except for Montessoro, which is nearer to 2000), all built on cliffs that overlook the sea, individually charming, collectively breathtaking.

This is exactly what I envisioned Italy would look like. This is exactly why I came to Italy. I'm filled with absolute bliss and can't help but smile at my surroundings and how utterly beautiful it is.

I would try to say more, but I think this will explain it better.

Amazing, no? It's like a dream come true.

Want another one? Of course you do.

How about another city, say, Vernazza?

If you ever go to Europe, you cannot afford to miss this place. The food, the people, the rustic cozy atmosphere and the nature and trails... Amazing.

As always, head over to the Italy photoset yourself to see more.

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