The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 13, 2013

Quaint, untouched aesthetics of Italy lives up to its billing

By Brandi Underwood
For The Register-Herald

CINQUE TERRE, Italy — Editor’s note: Brandi Underwood is a senior at West Virginia University majoring in journalism. A 2009 graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School, Underwood is currently spending her spring semester in the Czech Republic and is visiting other sites in Europe as a part of her study abroad. Pictures and stories from Underwood will be featured here on Page 2A every Monday through June 10.


The salty air greeted me like a long-lost friend. After nearly nine weeks of being bundled up in thick layers and a coat fastened up to the throat, being able to unzip my jacket and feel the cool, light breeze on my skin was both cleansing and invigorating. While I reveled in the soothing quality of the sea, I looked at the unfamiliar atmosphere in wonder.

The quaint, untouched aesthetic of Cinque Terre, Italy, was a setting that I’ve only seen in movies or travel magazines, and one that I never imagined myself to experience in my lifetime. Narrow, winding streets crowded with tiny restaurants and sidewalk patios, brightly colored buildings with freshly laundered clothing hanging from the windows to dry, and animated locals enjoying coffee surrounded me.

Our first step after arrival was to find the room we rented, by which we were assisted by the local bread maker, who kindly used his cell phone to call the number we had scrawled down on a neon yellow Post-it Note. Only as an afterthought did I feel like we should have been a bit more prepared. However, when the call connected and I heard the friendly exchange between the smiling bread maker and the voice on the other side, I knew that everything was going in our favor. He ended the call and immediately pointed us up the street to a lively restaurant.

To our surprise, the room we had rented for the next two nights belonged to the chef at the restaurant right across the cobblestone street. As it was a busy Thursday night, he was preoccupied in the kitchen, clad in a white chef’s coat and hat printed with lobsters and various sea creatures. He smiled at us from the kitchen and pointed to the restaurant’s manager, who greeted us with a smile. She explained that Alessandro was unable to take us to the room at that moment, and instead offered us a coffee and cookie. After the long day of travel we found ourselves famished, and chose instead to take a table for dinner.

The server placed handwritten menus before us and elaborately explained the daily specials. I asked for his recommendation, which I tend to do in such moments of mealtime indecision. His choices were the stuffed mussels and a pairing of pesto pasta, enlightening us on the fact that pesto sauce originated in that area of Italy, and the restaurant’s unique pesto recipe had long withstood the test of time. Needing no more convincing, I happily obliged.

The dinner proved to be delicious, and after finishing, my friends and I walked down to the beach and digested our day while sitting seaside. We had successfully managed to travel by nearly every form of public transportation — tram, bus, taxi, plane, and train — and arrive safely at our destination and according to plan. It felt like a great accomplishment to three early-20-year-olds with little travel experience.

That night, I lay down in the foldout Murphy bed that would be my resting spot for the next two days. My head felt heavy after the long day of travel, but even in the fuzzy, unfamiliar surroundings, I was comfortable. As I heard the snores of my two friends quietly humming beside me, I realized that the anxiety I felt before the trip was completely unnecessary, and everything I worried about seemed to have been in vain. I realized that night that everything seems to have a way of working itself out in the end, and I was more capable of things than I gave myself credit for. Shortly after, my mind drifted into a sound, dreamless sleep.

— Continue to follow my column for more stories documenting my travels. E-mails with questions or comments are welcomed, and can be directed to