Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cinque Terre

We've had a very busy two days experiencing the Cinque Terre (pronounced chunky terry) which is five villages hacked into the cliffside above the sea and only 9k from the northern one, Monterosso, and the southern one, Riomaggiore. They are linked by buses, rail, ferries and walking tracks.

Terry and I started the day with a 30 minute jog at about 7.30am and then a nice breakfast at the hotel which is included in the price. We then caught up with David, our waiter from last night, who gave us all the advice we needed about tickets, and suggested the order we could visit them in our two days. He was extremely helpful, knowledgeable and passionate about the Cinque Terre National Park (www.parconazionale5terre.it).

On Thursday morning we boarded the train after purchasing a 14eur 2 day pass at 10.00am planning to get off at the second to last village in the north, Vernazza, which we would explore, have lunch and then train to Monterosso for the afternoon. However, and of course, the train was an express and went straight to Monterosso, an 18 minute trip on a track largely cut through the rock as a tunnel. We decided to explore Monterosso, which is the largest and had bigger beaches, most of which you had to pay to go on to.

After exploring a bit, which mainly included climbing steep paths, I enjoyed a beautiful swim in the Med (I was the only one to pack togs and towel). I was a sight to behold with the beautiful bronzed people. We then jumped on the train and travelled 4 minutes back to Vernaza, which was much smaller. We had a beautiful pizza and foccaccia feed for lunch before I took another dip to cool off as it was very hot. We then leapt on the train to Monterosso and caught the ferry back south to Porto Venere. This was about a 45 minute trip which took us past each of the Cinque Terre for great views from the sea., Porto Venere is absolutely beautiful with the typical narrow sreets and tunnels lined with well-priced food and local goods. We bought some limincello for Mum and some Amarretto for Leigh. Thanks to Davide for recommending the stop at Porto Venere.

We had a 30 minute wait for the ferry to La Spezia so we had a beautiful local beer on the water's edge before our final ferry ride which was a great way to end that part of the day.

After a bit of a rest we joined Terry and Dallas in their room to knock off a nice, dry Rose they had brought from France. We then headed out for another nice feed. I had Pasta Arabirica (Chillies!), Leigh had Ravioli, Terry had a selection of 6 seafood thingies and Dallas had a spaghetti dish with mussels. This was washed down with a nice Italian red.

We were quite knackered so crashed about 10.30 with the intention of catching the 8.12 train to Riomaggione and walking to the second village of Manarola before it got too hot.

So, on Friday we got up in time to eat and get to the station for the 8.12 to discover that that train only travelled on 'working Wednesday'! The next train was at 10.00. There is a silver lining though as we found an internet cafe and were able to all check our emails and enjoy some great coffee.

When we leapt on the train in the mad squash we found ourselves in a comfortable carriage with few people. This was air conditioned and comfortable. We soon discovered it was first class. Anxious to avoid another 50eur fine Leigh and Dallas left and squashed themselves in to the packed standing bit between the carriages. Terry and I hung in until we saw the conductor coming and we joined them for the last 2 minutes of the ride.

Once arriving at Riomaggiore we headed off on the 30 minute walk to Manarola along the Via d'Amore (Path of Love). There was some shade and a bit of a breeze so it was a beautiful walk. The water is so clear and keeps taking your breath away.

We strolled up the largely only street and visited a place, hosted by a very strange Italian man, that showed a video of Cinque Terre, concentrating on the very unique and special wine produced here, Sciachetra (pronounced Shark Attack!). After seeing that we promptly bought a bottle of this dessert wine. We are looking forward to trying it at home.

Terry and I then had a swim. It's not like in NZ because these sheer cliffs drop straight into the sea and you just have to launch youself off the edge into the very deep and beautiful water. Ladders are provided to climb out on.

We then set out on the 70 minute walk to the third and final village, Corniglia. It was much hotter, but still pleasant. Leigh and Dallas chose the bus option from the track to this village which is the only one not directly by the sea, while Terry and I chose the 350 step option. The locals are very good at dealing with steepness and cliffs so the climb was not too difficult.

These whole cliff sides have been terraced with stone walls into narrow terraces on which the grapes and other produce are grown. They are continually maintained. People have accepted their environment and made use of it in a sustainable way.

In this very small village we enjoyed a cool beer and bread and salami and stuff before exploring the steep side streets and cramming on to the bus for the steep downhill ride to the station. We trained all the way back to Riomaggiore (9 minutes) to explore it. We climbed right to the top before Terry and I had another dip before training back to La Spezia with Terry leaving a very damp patch on his seat.

When we got off I decided to find where the hire car place was and plan our attack tomorrow as we leave here to drive to Sienna in Tuscany. I did't have a map, but I had a bit of an idea in my head. It was 4.00pm and I made it back to the hotel at 6.00pm without having found it, but I picked up a map and reckon we will find it tomorrow, but we might catch a bus because it is a bit further away than I thought.

We're about to go out for our final feed.

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