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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

Cinque Terre is five picturesque town located on the Italian Riviera in Liguria, between La Spezia and Genoa. I had gone there my last time in Italy and it did not go very well. It was a rainy day in November than was peppered with thunder and lightning. I got wet and lost and did not have the experience I had hoped for. This time was much different.
The middle of September is still the peak of tourist season in Cinque Terre. There were a lot of tourists, most coming from the US or Germany. The prices were touristed up quite a bit too; hings were very expensive. Table wine at a restaurant was twice the price as anywhere else in Italy. This affected me a great deal, but I survived.
My economic survival was helped by Couchsurfing. Prior to arriving, I had reservations about my host. Her profile says that she is bipolar, obsessed with homosexuals and transgendered individuals, and often thinks about killing herself. To my relief/disappointment, Margherita ended up being (relatively) normal. We spent a lot of time with her dad. He is a former world champion swimmer and, now retired, he works his own organic farm. He produces his own wine and also grows vegetables. I came in time to help with the grape harvest and spent a wonderful morning on my back under grape vines on the terraced hills of Vernazza.
I took a day to check out the other 4 towns. They are very small, pretty, and full of tourists. I had a nice meal at a place from my Slow Food guide in Corniglia, A Cantina De Mananan. The seafood sampler we had for a starter was especially good. I encountered a pasta I had never seen before, testaroli. Texture-wise it was the pasta equivalent of tripe and was interestingly delicious. We had extremely fresh grilled fish for our main.
The cool thing about Cinque Terre is that the locals still live there. For the most part, they just ignore the tourists and go about daily life as they have for centuries. Staying with Margherita allowed me to meet some of them and see how they live. Let me tell you, it’s a very good life. The thing that really impressed me was that they continue to appreciate the beauty of the place they live. They admire each sunrise and sunset and still marvel at the deep, dark blue of the sea.
One night there was a festival/fundraiser for a church in Monterosso. There was really good lasagna and lots of wine. The performance part of the festival had two parts. It started with a group of highly intoxicated men dressed as a cross between scarecrows and sailors, wearing eyeglasses with a lemon round around each eye walking around the block. They were followed by onlookers, including yours truly, and stopped at several restaurants and bars where they shared wine and snacks. Once they returned to the piazza the theatrical performance started. There was a large building overlooking the square and actors would open one window at a time and say some funny things in Italian. At the end of the performance they all opened up their windows and led the crowd in singing the national anthem.
Cinque Terre is a very special place. The natural beauty is undeniable. It is what draws in tourists by the thousands and is still appreciated by the people who have lived there for millennia. The way the locals capitalize on the influx of tourism while still maintaining their traditional way of life is remarkable. It is definitely worth visiting these five beautiful towns.

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