Along The Italian Riviera with the Penn State Alumni Association

A group of 22 Penn State travelers explored the Italian Riviera from Oct. 27-Nov. 4, 2007, in a Penn State Alumni Association tour. You can experience the region’s beauty and history vicariously by reading dispatches from such places as Sestri Levante, Portofino, Genoa, and the Cinque Terre.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

One Last Glorious Day on the Riviera

Saturday was our last day of the trip, and it was a free day -- people could do whatever they wanted. Some opted to stay in Sestri Levante and explore the town some more, while about a dozen of us headed back to the Cinque Terre, one of the most celebrated and picturesque spots in this region. Our trip director, Umberto, walked us over to the train station in Sestri and helped us buy the train tickets we'd need. I think the round-trip ticket cost 4.80 in Euros -- about $7.50 U.S.

We took the train from Sestri southward to Monterosso, the northernmost of the five villages of the Cinque Terre. From there we split up -- the hikers among us started hiking to Vernazza, the next village, while the rest of us bought tickets for the boat ride that would take us all the way to the southernmost village, Riomaggiore. You would not believe how many people they crammed onto those boats. Check it out:

In many ways this is the last weekend of the summer for the Italians. Last Thursday was Tutti i Santi -- All Saint's Day, a national holiday -- and many people took Friday off as well to create a four-day weekend. Plus the weather was gorgeous -- sunny with temperatures in the 60s. So it seemed as though most of Italy had taken advantage of the chance to head to the Cinque Terre to join us.

The boat ride, which took maybe an hour, was unbelievably scenic. Here's a view of the village of Corniglia (pronounced "Cornelia"), which as you can see is perched at the top of a hill:

Just when we thought the views couldn't get any better, we approached the southernmost of the five villages, Riomaggiore. All those multicolored houses crammed up against the hillside, right against the water, were just amazing.

We got off the boat in Riomaggiore and continued oohing, ahhing, and snapping photos. Here's a shot of four of the Penn State travelers, Dean and Barb Fernsler and Sandy and Ron Bixler, shortly after we disembarked in Riomaggiore.

From there, people wandered off to explore Riomaggiore and the other villages, eat lunch, buy souvenirs, and soak up the sun. Before we knew it, it was time to hustle back to Sestri Levante for the closing reception of the trip.

Since it was an educational trip -- officially called an "Alumni Campus Abroad" trip -- Umberto conducted a fun oral quiz during the reception, to see how much we had learned during the week. Questions ranged from the geographic ("Which of the following towns is not part of the Tigullian Gulf?") to the gastronomic ("Which of the following is made from chick-pea flour?"). Umberto also gave us a few final lessons on Italian body language -- he had entertained us on the bus all week long with comical demonstrations of Italian hand gestures, used for communicating such concepts as "How much does it cost?"; "Are you crazy?"; and "Go away." I wish I were a good enough writer to be able to describe each physical gesture, but suffice it to say he had us in stitches all week.

On Sunday morning we got up at an ungodly hour, had breakfast at 5:30, and piled on the bus at 6:30 a.m. for the trip to the Florence airport. Most of the passengers were headed home, while others had opted to extend their trip with stays in Florence, Rome, and Venice. All of us will take with us a great collection of memories of our week together in the Italian Riviera.

Don't forget that you can see a large collection of trip photos here. When you're on that page, click on "detail" to see the photos with captions. And if you're interested in seeing some photos from Florence, where I'm spending two days before heading home, they are here.

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