The train from Pisa stopped at the seaside city of La Spezia, and I got off to follow my hostel’s directions to the bus that would take me to their doorstep. I’d asked them about walking the 5 km up the hill where the hostel lay, on the east side of the mountains from the towns of Cinque Terre. They’d said, “The road is narrow and steep. Take the bus.”
I’d chosen to not stay in Cinque Terre directly because of the cost of accommodation. Besides, I’d already seen three of the towns. I was there to hike, not hang out on a touristy terrace restaurant.
The road to the hostel was twisty and narrow, just as they’d said. The bus honked its horn before every curve and waited for a few seconds before going on.
When I reached the hostel, they were cleaning and I was the only client there. The owner told me I could wait in the common room until check-in at 2 pm.
I hung out for a while and admired the view over the hills but soon got bored. The town was in the middle of its noon rest and few cars even drove by. I asked to leave my backpack and told him I was going for a walk.
Planning to explore the town and maybe find an open shop where I could find food, I followed the road up. The excruciating pains under my kneecaps had stopped waking me by then. I’d get the odd twinge during the day, but nothing serious.
Nothing was open, so I continued up, walking slowly and taking photos. I knew from a previous visit to Cinque Terre that there was (or used to be) a restaurant at the crest of the hill before going down to the sea and Riomaggiore on the other side. It was at center of the hiking trails to Portovenere. Surely it would be opened.
Overlooking Cinque Terre
It was! And very busy.
I picked the table closest to the edge of the cliff and ordered seafood pasta with coffee. Hikers wandered in and out, some ordering to stay and eat, others as take-out, many with heavy hiking boots. Unless the trails had changed since I’d been, big hiking boots were definitely not necessary. But equipment depended on needs. Maybe their ankles were especially tender and needed protection?
The age median neared 60. They came in twos or in larger groups. I was the only single. French people, a few Americans and Canadians, Italians, Spanish. I loved hearing the diverse languages. And everyone seemed so happy. That was the thing about holidays, wasn’t it? In everyday life, there were often too many chores, meetings to attend, and people to please.
The restaurant was a great place to stop. There was a covered seating area outside, the surroundings were restful, and the coffee was wonderful. I walked up to it nearly every day I was there.
The haze that clung to both sides of the mountains I blamed on the smokestack near the bay in La Spezia. It dissipated a few days later. Above, the town of Biassa with La Spezia in the distance.
I checked in and found my dorm. It was right next to the dining room where a chef came to make meals every evening and morning. The menu was on a chalkboard with most dishes 7 – 9 Euros. Breakfast was 4.50.
This serving of reasonably priced food in a hostel wasn’t a new concept. The Generator in London had been serving food for more than a decade, as had a few others. But never had I travelled Europe and found so many hostels with this option. It was perfect for me. I liked to stay in and read during the evening hours.
I obviously wasn’t the only one who appreciated the service. At least half of those who stayed in the dorms ate supper in the dining room, and over three-quarters ate breakfast from his morning trays. The dining room became the place to meet.
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