Let's get the obvious out of the way first: We skipped Genova. We didn't miss it, we just looked at eachother as we were pulling into the station and said "How excited are you about Genova?" Sometimes the best decisions are made that way, and this certianly was one of them. By the time we pulled into Monterosso, the northmost of the five cities, the train was so swamped with tourists that we decided to just wait on the train and get off where they didn't. So what did we do? Rode the train one more stop to Vernazza and said "Huh, I really want to see what Vernazza looks like, let's get off here." And that we did, joining the 5:00 running of the tourists. *sigh* Moooooooooooo. Might as well just admit it, dig out your camera and go along. Vernazza is beautiful, there's no denying it. The Cinque Terre have a sort of otherworldly charm to them.
After strolling somewhat confusedly through Vernazza, soaking in the warm salt air,the cool smell of old stones, and the thoroughly Italian ambiance, we set to finding housing armed with one of the few Italian words we knew: "Pensione?"[/Pen-see-oh-nay/], meaning, roughly, a place to sleep for the night. Well, soon enough we learned another one: "Complete!" [/Com-PLET-ay/] meaning, roughly, "I've got enough darn tourists for tonight, go bug someone else." Some people would be discouraged by this. Some people would be smart, go back to the train, and find lodging in another city. Then there's us. We thought "Why wait for the next train? The Cinque Terre are walkable, we've got our house on our back, let's do it!" So we headed into the hills south of Vernazza, bound for Corniglia. Sure, people thought we were crazy. One well meaning Canadian told us "You're nuts. If you knew, you'd turn back." .
But where to stay? We wandered a bit, soaking in the sights but increasingly anxious as the sun sat ever lower over the tiled roofs. Well, confusion is an international expression and soon enough a woman came up to us rattling away in Italian. Seeing our blank looks she sighed and said "Pensione." Well, to be sure, we followed her. Simone (for that was her name) and Angelo, her young son, led us all over the small town, when finally she found...you guessed it: Mama. Well, she presented us to mama with that one magic word and we were off the the races again, Mama in her flowered mumu dragging us down an alley to a nondescript door. Inside was a pleasant one room flat with a single bed and a lovely, all tile shit/shower/shave bathroom. We were planning on going for a nice dinner but between the anxiety of using the railpass for the first time, finding trains, making connections, and the exertion of the overland route to Cornigla, we just passed out. Not even the cacaphony of church bells, the gelato shops loud grinding, or the drunken italians signing late into the night could do much more than cause me to roll over and fall asleep again. The church bells mark the hour and half hour all night, sleeping tourists be damned. It's fine taste of what the area was like long ago.
With plenty of sleep I rose early the next morning for a great constitutional; it felt kind of like camping, when you come into the campsite late in the evening and it's all a blur, then you finally have a chance to explore it by daylight the next morning. Corniglia is my favorite of the five cities, perched aloof on a hill, small and beachless, almost seeming to say "Move along tourists, there's nothing to see here." After packing our things and paying Mama, who came by promptly at 10:00 to collect, we stepped across the street to a cafe for breakfast. Some of you have heard the crack about an Italian breakfast being "A cup of coffe, a cigarette, and the view." Well, that's not far off, but Patrick and I wanted something a bit more filling and a bit less carcinigenic. Not knowing what the local breakfast of choice was, we let the menu be our guide: Orange juice? Bacon and eggs? An outrageous 2.50 Euros and 5.50 Euros, respectively. (About $11) Cappucino and brioche (croissant) were more like it, and with it we enjoyed the view as the sun rose over Cinque Terre.
By way of symmetry we climbed a second hill that afternoon, this one much higher and to the south of town, to see what was once the Madonna de Monte Nero. After two long hikes in the midday sun we headed for a swim on the very rocky Riomaggiore beach and returned to the room in time to get ready for the big event: Dinner at the Ristorante Belvedere in Monterosso. Patrick heard about the Belvedere in epic prose from a couple on the train who RAVED about the house special. Call it cioppino, bouillibaise italiano, or bucket of boat trash it all adds up to the same thing, and we WANTED some.
We left Cinque Terre the next morning as the weekend tourists arrived, deciding to seek out "Dullsdorf"; a concept we learned from our friend Rick. Dullsdorf is that town that no one goes to, where there are few tourists, plenty of open rooms, and a chance to take a breather. We found dullsdorf in Genova, which we wisely skipped the first time. It couldn't have been duller. I won't give it any time here because it is thoroughly forgettable, other than to say that we got our first taste of a Hosteling International hostel, which matched perfectly the character of the city. The hostel was adequately clean, orderly, and about as inspiring as a high school cafeteria. Bah. It did what was needful. The one bright spot of Genova was the happy outcome of getting purposefully lost in a strange city. In a back alley of Genova we stumbled upon a knot of grey-haired old Italians playing petanque! After watching for awhile we were noticed and, much to my delighted, invited in. I did my best to make it known that I knew how to play and even managed to score a set of balls for Patrick and I. We played and watched for an hour or more, awash in rapidfire Italian as these good old boys laughed, fought, swore, and threw solid metal bocce with stunning accuracy. Salute and ciao, Lucciano, Giorgio, Luigi, Bruno etc! (Those were actually their names, I kid you not.)
Eager to get out of Genova, in case whatever it had was catching, we headed for the train station early and caught the train here to Kandersteg. Just about the time I was getting a pile of useful words in Italian we crossed the border into Switzerland and had to start all over. Robert, we coulda used you a few times today, among other things to calm down the Swiss border cops with the German accents and German Shepard who were trying to figure out if there was monkey business with the two nearly identical passports.
Switzerland has greeted us with a terrific and terrible mountain storm, complete with thunder rolling through the alps and occasional lightning. I'm planning on nosing around, talking to other scouts, and getting a nice night in bed, listening to the rain and enjoying the sight of mountains through my window. You've probably heard enough from me for one night, but I would love to hear from you. And don't worry, we're calling Mom tonight.