OK. We get it. Western culture is pretty much an ode to hedonism. Just glancing back only as far
as the Roman Empire a couple of thousand years ago, we look at the ruins which reveal a fascination with food and wine, sex and entertainment, gore and adventure -- and all of this before the advent of television and movies. Everywhere, even in the non-tourist towns, we find plenty of great cafes, many of which pride themselves on regional specialties, from truffles to wild boar, and with good wine lists, too. Oh the wine! Ask a clerk a simple opinion about which bottle he recommends and you will get a five minute analysis of the merits of the different varietals and the different vineyards.
The places we tour in Italy are gorgeous and picture perfect. In the Cinque Terra region, we hike daily between towns, eventually exploring all five of them. These 5 towns were once remote fishing villages cut off from the highways by steep mountains until, in the 80s, they realized that selling refrigerator magnets to tourists for 4€ each was a whole lot easier than getting their hands all bloodied hauling up fishing nets and coming home smelling like a 3-day old empty can of Little Friskies Ocean Whitefish and Tuna. It is still very difficult and impractical to drive to this region. Almost everything here (people and supplies) comes by boat or train or on foot by hiking the extensive trail system through these mountains.
Walking along a trail cutting through vineyards above the village of Manarola, we look down upon brightly colored buildings scattered below us along an S-shaped path that originally followed a river and ends in a rocky harbor where the sea is churning away. In the village of Riomaggiore, we stop at a hole in the wall store (literally, a hole in the wall cut into a rock cave) where they sell large brown paper cones filled with a batter-fried combo of calamari, anchovies, fish, and veggies for 7€ which we buy. Ellen is even willing to try the anchovies despite their beady little eyes looking up at her. After a few bites, she decides they are a bit too "fishy" for her so Bill happily eats her share of them...what could be more perfect than a salty seafood treat while strolling the streets of this quaint village? And this was after a lunch in the village of Vernazza sitting at a table in a niche carved into a cliff looking down at the crashing waves and enjoying a 180 degree view of the sea while eating a delicious pasta dish of squid in its ink, seaweed, and shrimp.
Even along the often ill-maintained trails that we hike between towns (the major past time for tourists here), we are accompanied by an accordion soundtrack as musicians compete for tips. Although our legs are sore at the end of each day, it is hard to call this a rugged hike when there are old men selling fresh oranges along one trail and even a half-way spot along another trail where we can enjoy a beer or a campari. Oh, the "rabbit diet" (carrots, celery, lettuce) awaits both of us when we touch down in L A on Thursday...payback's a bitch.