|Days 1-8, Cinque Terre:
Our week-long stay in Cinque Terre was fun and relaxing. Cinque Terre ("five lands") is a section of the Italian Riviera comprised of five small, neighboring towns along the Mediterranean coast. We chose the town of Vernazza as our home base within the region. Vernazza is a tiny town of about 500 residents, with over two-thirds of these residents a part of the local "Basso" family. One member of the Basso clan, Giuliano Basso, ran the small "hotel" where we stayed. Giuliano's operation consisted of four nice rooms and a large shared terrace, all of which he physically built himself - he has pictures to prove it. As an aside, Giuliano also waited tables at a couple of different restaurants in town, so we saw him on a regular basis. Giuliano and his American girlfriend, Michelle, ran the small hotel-like operation extremely well. They were both very friendly and accommodating (they were both approximately our age). The rooms and the terrace were perfect, with great views of the town below and harbor. Michelle was living out her very own "Under the Tuscan Sun" experience (yes, Stephanie made me watch the movie). Michelle had been living in San Francisco last September and had planned to stay in Vernazza for a few days while vacationing through Italy. During those few days she met and fell for Giuliano. Within a year's time, Michelle was pregnant with Giuliano's child, living in Vernazza, Italy, and managing their small hotel. She seemed happy as a clam to be the newest member of Vernazza's Basso family.
Vernazza and its neighboring towns offered a limited number of activities. They mainly consisted of hiking, sun bathing, strolling, people-watching, and eating seafood. We did all of the above during our week long stay in the area. The five villages in the Cinque Terre region sit between the ocean and terraced hills covered with grape vines (the local wine is great by the way), and we spent much of our time hiking and traversing through these grape-filled hillsides. We also took advantage of the coastal trail connecting all five towns. This four hour long trail was a good way to explore the other villages and, not to mention, the ocean views along the trail were awesome. Every other day we hung up our hiking shoes and brought out the beach towels. While sandy beaches in the Cinque Terre are in short supply, any reasonably flat surface near the water (including rocks) was blanketed with sun bathers. Staying in Vernazza was a key advantage when it came to sun bathing. We were able to pick out our little sun bathing turf long before the early afternoon train dumped a throng of tourists into the town. While at first the Cinque Terre struck us as a little small and crowded (we were there during the peak tourist season), the area grew on us quickly. By the end of the week we had a terrific routine of hiking, sun bathing, and late night after-dinner strolls through our quiet town and its small harbor.