After spending endless hours and miles exploring Rome, we were ready for our final Italian destination – Cinque Terre. While saying goodbye to Rome was definitely bittersweet, the promise of a few lazy days in the coastal sun made it a tiny bit easier.
Goodbye Rome…. Hellooo Manarola!
Manarola is part of the Cinque Terre (which translates to five towns), and is a super tiny town. *Cue the excitement of our overly exhausted feet*. I don’t think we could’ve handled another 10 mile day!
After a mild train mix up, which included us dashing off a train before it departed and being completely lost for a solid half hour, we walked though the Manarola train tunnel.
It was absolutely surreal. We were greeted by the bright sun, surrounded by colorful, stacked buildings, and could smell just about EVERY delicious nom in the world just begging to be eaten.
There were only two directions we could go after we got out of the tunnel, so of course, we chose the wrong one. A few turns back, some serious uphill trekking, a couple flights of stairs, and we finally found our airbnb. It was a perfect, bright, beautiful little apartment only 5 minutes from the ocean. We couldn’t have asked for more.
Since we’d be train traveling for a solid 5 hours we were starving, and we wanted to be reunited with the ocean badly. So we walked our oh so strenuous 5 minutes (*kidding*), and stopped at a small cafe that had a display window loaded with pizettes, focaccia, and sweet filled pastries. We got pizza and sweets, and headed down to catch the sunset.
Manarola might be small, but they have an absolutely perfect coastal ledge that makes for some epic sunset watching. Pizza, sunsets, and the ocean breeze, what more could you ask for?
On day two, we literally had NO plans. Well, that’s not true. We had plans to do a whole lot of nothing. Manarola doesn’t actually have a beach. They’ve got a dock that people line their towels on and lay out. It’s both crowded and hilarious. You seriously have no personal space, which makes for some entertaining conversations (filled with lots of hand gestures and searching for words you both know in one language).
Ben found his calling as a professional cliff diver, and of course, had to jump from the highest and sketchiest ledge available. It was literally so terrifying that a crowd would gather to see who was actually brave (crazy) enough to try it. Ben kept them thoroughly entertained.
There’s no shortage of delicious spots to eat in this tiny town, and we spent the day filling up on gelato, smoothies, fresh fruit, watermelon granita, and of course, pizza. Oh and Ben had a bottle of wine on hand at all times. It was like an Italian security blanket.
We also fit in part two of the vegetarian vacation with fish and chips. There was a line up the street for this place, and the smell was incredible. Sadly, we were less than blown away, and didn’t even finish it :(.
Doing a whole lot of nothing is surprisingly exhausting when it’s done in the sun, but we definitely couldn’t miss a Manarola sunset. We stocked up on picnic eats, and headed down after showering.
How epic is this picnic?? Dreaming about that pesto to this day. We ate 3 tubs of it. That’s not an exaggeration.
Day three we decided to breakfast it up and tackle the infamous Cinque Terre hike. This was the first Americanized breakfast we had in Italy, and figured a pre-hike protein fix was the time to do it.
The most well known hike is the coastal one that takes you through the 5 towns, and this was our planned hike for the day. SAD news: the trail is closed because it needs repairs. So plan B? Take the DEATH version of this hike, which includes a 1.5 mile incline in the blazing sun.
This trail is MUCH harder than the coastal one, and also way less clearly marked. We were cruising through (and by cruising, I mean breathing heavily and sweating profusely), when we reached a dead end. There was no obvious way to go. Up? Down? Right? Left? Through someones yard? When we say we were lost for an hour, we mean we were LOST for an HOUR (are we seeing a trend in our navigational skills yet?).
We literally tried EVERY possible way, and none of them seemed to take us back onto the trail. We were literally turning around to head back when we ran into a couple who pointed us in the right direction (it was indeed through someone’s yard). After looking for so long, we felt obligated to keep going.
FINALLY we found some real signage, pointing us down to the next town. SUCCESS! Well, almost, since we’d wanted to make it through a couple towns and only made it to the next one over after 4 hours haha.
When we got into Vernazza, we found the first cafe, and ordered gelato and lemon slushies. And then got on the train back to Manarola. You couldn’t have paid us enough to trek back up to the trail.
Home sweet home. A solid 2 hour nap later, and we were ready for dinner. Since being in Tuscany, we’d been craving the trofie al pesto, and saw it on a menu on the first day. We knew we NEEDED to have this again, so we made reservations at a cute restaurant near the coast.
At the end of the meal, we were telling the waiter how amazing it was, and he says “my grandmother makes the pesto” and gestures towards the kitchen (which was in a different building). We look over, and… OUT POPS HIS GRANDMA FROM THE WINDOW. Smiling and waving. It was too much.
Italy, you are so good to us.
For our last Manarola sunset, we decided we were going to unplug. Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to snap the perfect picture, that we forget to live in the moment. We wanted to enjoy something that only WE would remember. And it was perfection. The best way to say goodbye to this beautiful little town.
The next day, we headed back to Milan. Nick met up with us, and we had our last Italian meal in a very non Italian way… Tizzy’s Bar and Grill :). After all of the nights of pasta and pizza, we were so excited for some good old American cuisine. Tizzy’s did not disappointed. Cheese fries, veggie burgers, wine… So much YES. Tizzy was back in New York for holiday, so she wasn’t there to celebrate with us. But she did receive the 600 food pics we snapped.
Our journey home was nothing short of a shit show – including 1 delayed flight that turned into a missed flight, 1 extra night in London, 1 serious head cold, 12 hours and 2 break downs in the Chicago airport, 1 more delayed flight, and 24 straight hours without sleep.
BUT, what we really left with (aside from the head cold) was an incredible appreciate and fondness of a culture we thought we knew. A feeling of being so very small in a very big world, but in a way that empowered us and filled out hearts. It gave us a sense of wonder about all of the places we hadn’t seen yet, the people we have yet to meet, and a million memories that will not soon be forgotten.
Italy, you were a dream. You were everything we imagined and so much more. Thank you for showing us more than we’d ever hoped for. Thank you for teaching us to appreciate something so much bigger than ourselves. Thank you for your beauty, your simplicity, and for the gift of curiosity.
Until next time, Ciao.