Sunday, May 5th, 2013
We arrived at La Spezia station around 5:30 p.m. to catch the train to Cinque Terre. After a 30 minute delay we enjoyed an eight minute train ride to Riomaggiore. It was still raining as we exited the tunnel, but the place still smiled with beauty. The pedestrian streets are gently laid in stone and the buildings wear pastels that were still shining with warmth despite the grey clouds overhead.
Just steps from the marina we found our temporarily paradise, Mar Mar. We made ourselves at home and then set out to meet the first of the five little villages of this 4,200 acre national park. We walked down the main street, Via Colombo, to get a feel for the miniature place, and then quickly retreated to the marina to catch a glimpse of the village before darkness fell.
The amber glow of lights reflecting off the stirring sea was our cue to hurry into one of the small grocers lining the street and grab a bottle of wine to enjoy while deciding on a spot to eat dinner. Walking and excitedly talking about how we were no longer in the dumphole Catania, we found a spot on a bench outside a busy restaurant where we could enjoy people-watching without the ‘coperto’ charge. We didn’t feel guilty because the swanky diners had equally as good of a time watching us happily chug straight from the bottle street-side.
Well, a few hours went by and we found ourselves no longer interested in the somewhat ‘nice’ dinner that we had originally thought was appropriate upon arrival. So instead we thanked the indifferent Italian host for allowing us to borrow his bench and found ourselves a small pizzeria just down the street. The owner was closing up shop but was happy to welcome us in (okay in retrospect, we might not have asked) and she was apparently amused at my excitement over the ceci (chickpea pancake) sleeping in the glass display.
Bravo, Italy. This ‘traditional’ food that had been impossible to find during the past month actually does exist. She warmed up some pizza and ceci and handed over far more slices than we had each paid for. We weren’t sure if she really liked us or wanted us to sober up. Either way, we were off to a good start in Cinque Terre.
Monday, May 6th 2013
The sun woke us up around 8:30 a.m. and apparently the date on the calendar that morning delivered the sense of urgency I needed to quit my job. So we stepped across the street into an internet cafe to take care of some unfinished home-business.
After downing far too many espresso shots we walked away several hours later, now on a mission to celebrate my unemployment.
We paid about €8 or more for a Cinque Terre Card that included hiking, trains and local buses. We were happy to fork over some cash to support maintaining the beauty of this park (declared a World Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1997). We were unfortunately informed that the hiking trains from Corniglia to Manarola and from Manarola to Riomaggiore were closed due to recent landslides, and we would have to take the train to visit these villages.
We took the train to Monterosso, the northernmost of the five villages.
Monterosso al Mare has a reputation for being a bit of an outcast. At one point it was dropped from the Cinque Terre. I think they quickly realized they would have some confused visitors asking the annoying question of what ‘cinque’ meant, so instead they again included this village back in the famous five. Although its the largest (and first documented) of the five villages, it doesnt quite have the quaint vibe that Lonely Planet claimed it would. Instead it feels a bit resorty.
It was a warm day and the Mediterrean was warm enough for these Seattleites so we jumped in. After eating some focaccia while sitting in the sand, we decided we had experienced all that Monterosso had to offer and we started the hike toward Vernazza.
We only lasted seconds on the trail before we were forced to buckle over and laugh at the insane number of hiking poles involved in this couple kilometer expedition.
The walk took us an hour and a half. Okay that may be an under-estimate given the number of distractions along the way..
We arrived at Vernazza around four in the afternoon and stopped at a sweet spot to eat right on the jetty. Vernazza was definitely one of my favorite of the five villages. Little cafes and restaurants crowd the waterfront and there is plenty of room to explore, witness the exterior paint colors change as the sun dances across them, and watch the waves crash below the medieval fort.
After some €5 Cokes we decided it was time to hit the trail so we could make it to Corniglia before sunset.
The expected hiking time was again roughly two hours, but Sergeant James was monitoring my pace and camera usage so we ended up making it in just one hour.
Corniglia has its own charm. It was much quieter than the others we visited, probably because it is the only one without direct beach access. Instead this village teeters right on top of the cliff edge.
We enjoyed the breathtaking view and wandered around through the winding streets, found some gelato and then made our way down the zig-zag stairs to the train station.
We rode one stop over to the second village of Cinque Terre, Manarola. Manarola is the postcard view of Cinque Terre. We of course got lost in our camera and GoPro and it was hours later before we decided we were hungry and would grab something to eat and drink before the next train.
We waltzed right into the place with the best view, Ristorante Marina Piccola. It was a classy little place with outdoor seating and white tablecloths. While everyone else was decked out in their newly purchased Milan treasures, we were bumming around in tennis shoes and bathing suits. Very quickly we were moved to a table in the back. The view was still incredible. The atmosphere was beyond bizarre and we laughed at how much fun everyone else was having, or not having.
We enjoyed ourselves, and somehow remained well behaved before graciously paying for our overpriced wine, shitty service, and “free“ bread that apparently carried a €3 dickhead donation fee.
This was the manager that earned himself a lovely review on tripadvisor:
Thanks to his inability to generate correct change in a timely fashion, we missed the train. Luckily the next one came in over an hour. So off we went to find a different restaurant that wasnt oozing with people full of themselves. We found Mamma Mia! and felt much more at home. We enjoyed our communion (red wine and bread) before catching the last train home.
Tuesday, May 7th, 2013
Up by 8 a.m. thanks to the brilliant sun shining through the window, I snuck out of the apartment and headed to the marina to take pictures of sleepy Riomaggiore before the town awoke.
I decided I was glad we picked Riomaggiore as our place stay in Cinque Terre. The little grocers enjoy your company, the streets are quiet and not bursting with too many tourists, and a few steps away the marina offers a quiet and peaceful place to escape from it all while looking up at the pastel colored buildings sprinkled across the cliffs ahead of you. It’s pretty perfect.
After our usual espresso and croissants we went to the marina to find a boat that would take us north to Monterosso.
The views were amazing and we were proud of our impromptu decision to take the boat.
We deboarded the boat at Monterosso al Mare and after indecisively checking out every restaurant option available on the boardwalk we settled on some take-away pesto and rosemary foccacia to enjoy on the beach. Next we took the train back to Vernazza, as we had decided this was one of our favorite places from the day before that hadn’t yet received the attention it deserved.
We ended up walking down some stone streets into a grocery store to get the predictable essentials: a block of cheese for James, a generous jar of pesto, freshly baked bread, limoncello and Moretti. With our picnic supplies in hand we headed to the rocks to setup camp.
Hours of talking, eating, and people-watching later, we were kindly interrupted by a couple that overheard our conversation about the Pac-12. Of course it turned out the husband was a Coug and within a minute the man joked, “I wish I would’ve brought my Coug flag.” Without a second of hesitation James reached into his backpack and excitedly tossed the man his Coug flag.
It started to get dark so we cleaned up our mess and headed up the trail so we could take pictures of this perfect little chunk of Italian Riviera before it was too late.
Of course there was a huge vacation home balancing on the cliff that I needed to trespass to get the picture I wanted, so James stood guard while I climbed the spiky fence and crept into their yard.
After pushing the capacity of my SD card, we headed to the train station and took the train to Manarola.
We avoided Marina Piccola and went into a fun bar with live music where we spent the rest of the night.
Wednesday, May 8th, 2013
Somehow we were up at 8 a.m. again and we packed our backpacks and headed out for coffee before boarding the train at 9:45 a.m. to La Spezia, en route to Milan!