I was born in Italy and lived there for the first 7 years or so of life. Obviously, it will always have a tender and warm place in my heart:) But that doesn’t stop me from recognizing things that drive me crazy about the country either!! 😉
First I will start with the positive: Italians in my opinion have mastered the art of enjoying life! From the meals with friends that take hours (and almost always several courses) to complete then always end with a shot of liquor, then an espresso, followed by another shot and another espresso, lol!! They really have a passion for life and the enjoyment for it! They don’t really have personal space, which for some is really hard to accept, and they express themselves very passionately with their body language. This is another aspect that is hard for non-italians as while it looks from an outsiders perspective that a fight is going on (from their flailing arms and raised voices) they are simply discussing the weather!! Lol!!
The driving in the country makes me absolutely crazy, as in my opinion all drivers in Italy are absolutely crazy!! The country is so diverse for being so small and each section has a very strong and individual culture (sometimes to a fault as there are many rivalries between regions that sometimes break out in violence which again speaks to a different kind of passion). I do love the country and of course recommend it to all travelers! However, do be aware of petty thieves and pickpockets… They are quite talented in Italy!! That’s all for now- enjoy my most recent experiences in Italy:)
Oh and by the way- Ice cream and gelato are NOT the same thing… Gelato is to die for whereas ice cream I could pass on:)
Cinque Terre in Italian literally means the 5 lands. The 5 lands in this case is made of 5 villages on the Tuscan Mediterranean coast including, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Monterosso al Mare is the northernmost village, and the Riomaggiore the southernmost. In the summer time these spots are quite a popular vacation destination, and from the few pictures I’ve included, it’s easy to see why!!
My dad and I drove there on a sunny late-summer day through the windy roads and arrived in Vernazza, #4 village of 5…
Seriously I will put this out that if you get car sick easily, you may want to consider taking a train into any of the villages of Cinque Terre… Because those roads are seriously no joke!! It’s really amazing that there is even a road to begin with that connect each village, as I’m sure that they started as simply foot paths then expanded to allow cars! Mind you, they haven’t really expanded that much… The roads are barely wide enough for 2 cars, and of course Italians speed around the blind corners of the really windy and narrow roads as if they could see the other side…
Since I’m on the topic a little, I’ve just got to vent for a few seconds that Italian drivers area absolutely NUTS!!! I’m not even being prejudice in that statement because I include my father in there too, lol!! And he knows about it, lol!! But seriously, anyone who has ever been to Italy knows exactly what I’m talking about! If there is an inch of space, it will be taken by a car or Vespa or bus!! It amazes me how there aren’t more traffic accidents than there are!! They are all crazy drivers yet somehow it just works out!! It’s beyond me how, but it does! My only saving grace on this trip was the absolutely stunning views around each and every terrifying corner!! Simply beautiful and amazing!!
Sorry for the tangent! Back on course here: We arrived in Vernazza about mid-morning, parked the car in the lot outside the village and walked down to the village for some exploring. Now, this area of Italy is sometimes quite prone to dangerous and damaging floods. Everything is literally built on the edge of the mountain that dives into the Sea, so when the floods come, it leaves lots of damage in the wake. About 2 or 3 years ago a flood had happened in the Cinque Terre area and in fact as we walked down the road to the Village, you could still see evidence of the damage it did years ago.
We wandered around the village, spotted a cave that led to a little beach that is only visible (and passable) when the tide is down, wandered up to the church and tower at the top of the village, then had some lunch at one of the restaurants with a view of the water:) The region of the 5 lands is in Liguria, which is famous for its pesto sauce!! Yum!!! In addition, Liguria is also known for a special shape pasta called Trofie, which is a hand rolled pasta made from pieces of dough that are twisted together. So “when in Rome” I of course had to have a plate of Trofie al pesto!! It was quite delicious and hard to stop eating until of course the plate went empty… So I had to stop, lol!! We wandered a bit more, had a gelato then headed back to the car for Portovenere.
Oh, before I leave this section- for those into hiking, there is actually a pedestrian trail that goes from the first village to the last!! It is quite a long hike though (remember to calculate in stop times to take a gazillion picts!) and the terrain has lots of ups and downs (literally)!! It would probably take all day to walk one to the next, but I imagine it would be well worth it for the views alone!!
I should start by saying that I really didn’t have a plan. None of this trip was planned exactly. The farthest I ever got with “planning” was that I was going to sell everything, quit my job and travel out of the Country. But that was it. Seriously, nothing beyond there. So when I landed in the San Jose airport (located in Alajuela) I didn’t have any further idea of where I was going to even sleep that night or what my next move was…
Many would find that crazy especially since I had the time to figure it all out, but in my mind I was just interested in the experience and the challenge of having to figure it out as I went along. I have always done my best work when thrown into the deep end of the pool and in a way, planning to NOT have a plan was my own personal ocean:)
Walking out of the airport I was immediately ambushed by tons of eager faces and voices all asking “Taxi???”. I turned them down and asked someone nearby where the bus station was instead. My thoughts were to get out of San Jose immediately and get out to a more typical Costa Rica town: more nature, less city! As I made my way toward the buses I suddenly thought “well, one night wouldn’t hurt and I could use it to get my barring”. So I headed back to the taxis and met a couple of other people who were asking if I wanted to share a cab to San Jose. I took this as a sign that ok, I could stay one night in San Jose!
In retrospect, had I really understood that the airport was in Alajuela (which I did have a foggy memory of my brother telling me that, yet it somehow wasn’t solidified in my mind) I would have just gotten a taxi to downtown Alajuela…
In any event, about a half our later we were in San Jose and had dropped off my two taxi buddies at their various locations. The taxi driver then turned to me and (all in Spanish) said- “where are you off to?” I replied that I had no idea, but asked what he would suggest? I stated that I wanted somewhere cheap- the cheaper the better in my mind! He politely stated however that he would much prefer I stayed somewhere a little more pricey, but it would be in an area he considered safe for a single traveler. I acquiesced and was taken to a little B&B near the downtown area.
After settling in I spent the rest of the afternoon getting lost and trying to get directions on where downtown actually was! I ran into a few people on the street who I trusted to ask questions of and they assisted me very kindly- but each person also emphatically told me to either get back to my B&B prior to the night-time or take a taxi back. “Muy peligroso” was what I was told. Mainly because the drug addicts come out at night and petty crimes apparently aren’t unusual in San Jose. Though there are crimes everywhere, I took the locals advice to heart and made sure I was back at the B&B by 6pm (yes, it gets dark here by 6pm everyday, year round!).
San Jose was a bustling, constantly moving city! There were people everywhere!! In the markets, hanging out in the parks, moving on foot or in their cars or on bikes going to their destinations. Movement everywhere you looked! Buildings weren’t very tall but they were everywhere all squished together as far as the eye could see, thus blocking any real view of the beautiful nature that surrounds the city. McDonald’s, Quizno’s, Pizza Hut and other U.S. food chains were also everywhere! I hate to admit, but as I was getting a little tired from all the travels and walking around all afternoon, I did drift to a Quizno’s for dinner. The shame, I know!! But crowds and areas with lots of hustle and bustle tend to wear me out fast and it was nice to get a little food that I could relate to, so to speak. I knew there would be plenty of time to taste local flavors and I was certainly looking forward to that, but for the time I was happy with the Quizno’s.
After my bite to eat I did a little internet research at my B&B for Volcan Poas. My cousin, who is a “seasoned” Costa Rica traveler said it was a good day trip from San Jose, so I decided to check out what was available there (hostels and such) for a trip the next day. I found a few hostels online and took down their information so I could look them up once there. I also had to get the bus situation understood because San Jose has 4, yes 4 different bus stations all in different locations from one another. Depending on where you want to go to, that decides which bus terminal you need to show up to.
As I settled into the B&B to sleep, a huge thunderstorm settled in overhead… Now for those of you who know me, you know that I absolutely ADORE thunderstorms!!! In fact, so much that whether a place has thunderstorms on a fairly consistent basis is actually a deciding factor for me on whether I will plan to live there or not. I know, I know- sounds absolutely nuts picking a place to live based on thunderstorms, but hey, I follow my passions no matter what form they take!