Monday, June 22, 2009

The Ultimate European Journey: First Night

As you should have read below, we arrived in Monterosso around 9:30 or so at night. We had a basic plan. Find something fun to do. Find a quiet, secluded spot on the beach to sleep after exhausting the fun. And...break.

We walked around trying to find a good bar in Monterosso, and it turns out only one exists. It is absolutely overrun with American college students. They were beyond obnoxious. It was actually almost embarrassing to us that Americans are perceived that way in Europe. It's no wonder everyone hates us around the world. The bar was small and expensive and crowded, but the beers that were available--the draft only had one or two beers working at a time because the lines heat up and they won't pour properly--were pretty delicious. We managed to swoop in and grab a table as soon as a big group got up that was right in the middle of the bar. It was called something like "Fast Dice" or "Easy Dice" but I can't remember for sure, and I can't find it on Google.

Anyhow, we set up shop and watched the train wreck around us of ridiculously drunk American kids mixing with ridiculously drunk American adults and caught highlites of a few of the Confederations Cup matches on TV behind us. We struck up conversation with everyone that came near in the long-shot hopes of finding a free place to stay for the night. I chatted with a group of brother and sisters who were very nice, all from Chicago. One went to Purdue, one to Indiana, the brother was silent, and the third sister was a political consultant living in Iraq. She looked like she was 18 at the oldest, so I don't know how that's working out for her. Then, three Swedes came and sat with us for a few minutes, but they were a little bizarre. One of the two guys was a close-talker and had Johnny cornered. The girl was a little difficult to talk to because her English was pretty poor. The third guy was silent until he asked if they could leave. We were grateful.

Two Australian girls came by that were pretty boring as well.

Then finally, the magic happened. Two American girls, cousins, came and started talking with us. They were really cool. One was an aspiring pro golfer, but has recently decided that she might move to Tempe to get certified as a PGA instructor and then teach golf in Hawaii. The other is hoping to start a masters in Sports Administration or something similar in the near future. They were staying in the Hotel Punta Mesca on the other side of town with their two guy cousins, who were at home sleeping. The four of them had a 5:15am train to catch. As we talked, it became clear that they were concerned about us sleeping on the beach and offered to let us sleep in their extra bed. They were staying in an apartment/hotel that had two bedrooms and a pull out bed in the kitchen that was unoccupied. We quickly accepted and bought them a drink as a show of appreciation. I think they might not have wanted it.

Anyhow, the moment we stepped outside, two things happened. (As a preface, I just added these two girls on Facebook, so if either of you happen to come across this post, I hope you're not offended by our perspective. You two went above and beyond generosity for two absolute strangers. This is all meant in fun). One, we began to sense a little apprehension in their disposition at allowing two strangers to stay at their place. Two, a serious monsoon hit Monterosso - lightning, thunder, downpour, and strong winds. They were committed. So they said they had to make sure it was okay with their cousins if we stayed, and that we would walk over there and find out. The walk was very chilly, but it was fun. I didn't bring a jacket. Johnny did, and the two girls had shawls.

We got there and waited outside while they went in and talked it over with the cousins. We didn't hear any talking, and we're not sure they actually talked to anyone, or if they just decided it was too weird. Either way, they came out a few minutes later with really apologetic looks on their faces. They said their parents had given strict rules on the use of the hotel, among other things, and allowing two strange young men to sleep there was obviously excluded from the 'allowed' category. We were disappointed, but not surprised. They did throw us a handful of blankets and pillows and told us no one else was staying on this floor, so we would be safe to sleep there.

So, we did. They said they would wake us around 4:45am or so when they left for their train. We went head to foot, by the way, in case anyone is wondering. It didn't cross either of our minds that we could move the bedding and not sleep cuddled together in the same part of the hallway. Exhaustion is a funny thing, that way.

I think Johnny was asleep by the time that photo was taken, and I stayed awake for a few minutes listening to the storm. I've always loved thunderstorms. It was a bit of a restless night; I woke up several times in the 2-3 hours we were in the hall, but it was not too uncomfortable. Right on cue, they came out a little before 5am and woke us up. They said we could go into their room at that point and sleep in a bed, but that we had to be out by 8 or so. They also said we could take advantage of their breakfast in the morning. We were too groggy to know what that meant, so we assumed they had left food in the fridge or something.

We went to our separate rooms and fell asleep instantly. Alarm was set for 7am.

The Following Morning
We woke up and started searching the kitchen for food. When I say search, I mean we did a 360 and saw every nook of the room, which was about 8'x8' if you don't include the bed. There was nothing but these weird little individually wrapped baked things that were not good. They did have a shower, though, so we took full advantage of that. Our original plan had been to shower in the Mediterranean in the morning before starting the hike. Had we slept outside, we would not have needed a shower at all.

We grabbed a few things that we assumed would be thrown away if we left them--uncooked spaghetti, and about 50 packs of chamomile tea--and headed down. As we walked out of the hotel, we noticed the breakfast buffet. We went in and made sure it was free to guests and began to chow down. After our first course, we were approached by a server and asked what room we were in. I showed him our key and said "4," which seemed to satisfy him. Until about five minutes later when the hotel manager came over and confronted us about where we were staying.

As it turns out, anyone who stays in an Italian hotel needs to register their passport information with the front desk. The police check everyone regularly, so you can be hauled off to jail for not being registered, or the hotel can be fined significantly, or some other strange form of European punishment could be enforced. Anyhow, we tried to explain the situation as best we could, not wanting to get our saviors in trouble. He ended up being really nice about it. He even let us finish eating before we left. And we took some bananas from the buffet for the road. These things were massive. We handed in the keys and, with full, happy bellies, headed toward the train station to begin our hike from Riomaggiore.

Along the way, we got a decent look at Monterosso in the hazy early morning light.

We decided that this was the perfect European experience.

Future Note: Writing this on Monday from our apartment in Florence, we just used the bananas to make what might have been the greatest peanut butter and banana sandwiches of all time. No joke.

No comments: