Anyways, back to my story. I left off telling you how I was headed to a small town- Casteggio. It is cute. It's got the square, a fountain, a really old church, vineyards, and most importantly, my family. I spent time hanging out with them, getting to know them, eating chocolate, and visiting nearby towns for the 3 days I was there. One day, I went to Voghera, the next town over that had a very quaint atmosphere and a parade of a few hundred children celebrating Italy day--again. I love Italians and the way they celebrate things- they get so festive and it goes on forever! I believe it was called "Experience Italy" and every week for a couple months or so they had some event, some where.
On my last day in North Italy, I was lucky enough to visit Torino, or as American would call it "Turin", I say that with a southern accent, and it cracks me up every time.
Anyways....about Torino. I was trying to decide where to go on my last day in north Italy. It was a Friday and that night I was heading a couple hours south to Parma, where I would stay with a couple of American girls studying there. (I met them in Rome at a hostel).
I get up early, deeply inhaling the aromatic scent of Italian coffee permeating the dining room I slept in, get ready, and join cousin Laura for "o cafea." My cousin Laura is more like aunt- she is in her early sixties, the first daughter of my oldest aunt. And me, being the youngest of the youngest- that puts about 40 or so years between us.
They take me to the station and I arrive in Torino shortly after 10 am. I don't know what to expect, I've heard about this city, know its big, and know chocolate is a big thing here. Which definitely increases my interest in Torino. As soon as I exit the station I cross the street and run into an information booth, and exit with about 6 pamphlets about the city. And I'm off!
I walk by squares, Italian flags everywhere, men playing electric violins and accordions on the street...I smile as I pass by, and try to record as much of what I'm seeing, feeling, and hearing in my brain, knowing that these moments are unique and Lord knows when I'll experience them again.
It was another day to celebrate Italy- storms of schools groups, tourists, Torino-natives, business men and women were on the streets with the same look of awe and admiration I was wearing. It was nice to know I wasn't alone, although I was, it didn't really feel like it.
I strolled through a park that had different tents of vendors selling stuff- mostly food items like salami's, breads, dried fruits and nuts. I opted for a small amount of dried ginger- a personal favorite then made my way to a cafe for a cappuccino. After my short burst of energy I made my way down to the chocolate festival. It was SO awesome!
I remember thinking- this is one of the best days of my life- and nothing even significant happened- I was just exploring a beautiful city that had a chocolate festival going on. All the big Italian chocolate brands were there- Perugina, Milka, Ferrero, Lindt, etc....as well as independent sellers featuring interesting products such as Chili Chocolate Liquor ( I was so tempted to buy a bottle, but I had absolutely no room in my bag) and Limoncello Hazelnut white chocolate cream- one of my favorites. It was SO GOOD. I kid you not. But again, space and money held me back. I half regret not buying it, but it only stirs my motivation to go back. Aaah. All these amazing flavors make me more excited for heaven. Oh Lord.
It was a warm, sunny day in Torino so I hiked up to this hill that had a church on it and a good view of the city, one thing I still haven't seen was the Mole- Torino's building- basically the one people think of when they think of this city. I rested at the top, admiring my surroundings then headed back down, walked through the university district, wandered about the city a bit and headed back to the train station.
Overall the city was great, it was like a mix of the big-city-ness of Milano and the small town, romantic feel of Florence or Parma. So glad I was able to see it!
Some pictures from Torino:
The busy days don't stop here. I left Casteggio later than night, with long goodbyes to my family and off I was to Parma, where I joined Kelly and Megha, the law students from New York in a night out in Parma- experiencing the nightlife, meeting people from all over the world, and even doing Karaoke!
It was funny because during my trip I've talked about and wanted to do Karaoke, but never really got the chance and/or didn't know where to go, so I gave up on the idea, but it was like God reminded me of this thing I've been wanting to do and gave me the chance to do it! Me and Kelly sang Bohemian Rhapsody of all songs and the crowd actually joined in on this one with us. It was a moment to be remembered and the most fun I've had in a while.
After walking 1.5 hours back to their place, making it about 2:30 am, we fell fast asleep, and got up 4.5 hours later to catch the train to the Cinque Terre- one of the most amazing places I have ever been to in my entire life- dare I say the best.
The Cinque Terre means "The Five Lands" and is made up of five villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. All beautiful gems on the western coast of Italy. Check out the link, that gives you more wiki info on it. And go see it!
We got to the southernmost village at about 11 am along with a billion other Americans. It was weird. Where did they come from? Judging by their faded blue jeans, American English, and cameras, they were out to do the same thing I was... And thanks Rick Steves for advertising this place to the world, so they can treasure it as much as I do. Okay, so I'll be honest, it was Rick's videos that opened my eyes to this place, BUT, I was crazy to think I would be a minority on this path.
Anyways, we get off the train and start walking- my feet are ready, my eyes are hungry, and my heart is happy. I'm so stoked. It was beautiful- the path along the water, the sun shining, the breeze blowing...It was the "Love Walk" we strolled on from Riomaggiore (the southernmost city) to Manarola that was the busiest- both for the eye and the foot- locks hung from every possible place to hang a lock, pictures were taken everywhere, hearts and initials were carved on wild cactus leaves growing close to the trail, and there were quite a few people on it, most of them, again, English-speakers.
This day was one of the best days of my life. That's two in a row! I'm on a roll. Hehe.
The sun was shining, the hike was climbing, and I was crying. Or at least about to, it was just soo beautiful!
We made our way to the next village, then realized we had to climb- a looong way to the next city and the ones following it because the path along the water from Manarola, the 2nd city, to the rest of the cities. Taking the train would have been lame, so off we go on the beaten path. We followed white arrows around vineyards, local's houses, rock paths, rocks steps, dirt paths, grass steps, and any other medium of foot travel. God, I can't explain to you how beautiful the day was.
We got to the next town, Corniglia, had a short lunch, and continued our hike.
I was leading the girls, who were so awesome and so down to hike this, even though they complained (and warned me they would) for some of the time. But I didn't mind. We had some great conversations along the way, they told me about law school, what it's like to live in New York, talked about relationships, and the like...They had vibrant, fun personalities, and so it made it fun. I don't know what I would have done if I was alone...I would have still wanted to hike it, but some parts of it were rough- if you fell or something, your body would probably be found a few days later down by the water or something. All in all, we made it to my favorite village out of all of them, Vernazza, that was showered with vibrant colors, umbrellas, boats, friendly people, local foods and drinks, and a gorgeous sunset. The last town, we did take the train to, because it was getting dark. Trust me, you do NOT want to get stuck on a trail like this at night. Finding your way around during the day was a challenge enough- take away the sunlight and your screwed. Unless you've done it before and are prepared- that would be fun.
Anyways, we got to the last city, explored it, found a castle, and made our way back to the train that would take us back to Parma. And, to no one's surprise, it was 50 minutes late. Thanks Trenitalia.