Lady Luck seems to be shining upon me!
I got to the first town in Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore, by chance. I missed my original train in Siena but the man who helped me buy a new ticket seemed to appreciate my broken Italian and got me a great deal. When I got off the train here, I had no idea where I was going to stay. I actually asked an American couple where they were staying, and they directed me to a campground outside the city, "close by" as they said, but a half-hours train ride away! (Please excuse my terrible punctuation in this post, as I am using a weird keyboard and cant find the apostrophe key!)
Anyway, that did not appeal to me so I walked outside the train station, questioning my judgement in arriving without solid plans. Just then, an older man walked up to me and asked if I was looking for a room. Of course, my first reaction was "Dont do it, who knows what will happen?" but I remembered reading somewhere that its very common for pensione (pensioners) to rent out rooms here. So I figured, why not look? His apartment is about 30 seconds from the train station, and when we walked inside, there was another American woman, Michelle, staying in a different room! And not 5 minutes later, a Canadian couple showed up at the door looking for a place to stay-- and one of them had stayed with Sergio two years ago.
So thats where I have been for the last two nights. Sergio has an adorable breakfast ready for us in the morning (croissant with jam, fruit, and hot chocolate!) and is an all-around nice guy. He speaks to Michelle in English but he speaks to me, mostly, in Italian. I have continued to surprise myself with my Italian abilities-- of course I make lots of mistakes, but time and again I can communicate. I even spoke to a random woman on the street about her adorable little dog! Three months ago it would not have been possible.
Michelle and I get along really well, and spent yesterday hiking along the trails that link the Cinque Terre (Five Lands). The trail starts off fairly easy, paved and flooded with tourists. We stopped in each town to wander, getting a fantastic almond milk smoothie in one, getting foccaccia (flatbread) in another, and going for a swim in the ocean. By the time we started out for the last town, it was beginning to cool down and the sun was setting. A fantastic day. We also had a great meal, all fresh frutti di mare (sea food, literally "fruits of the ocean").
Today we will probably rent kayaks for a couple hours, and then I will be on my way to Nice!