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Published: June 23rd 2016
My Dogs Are Barking
Maybe you have not heard this expression for a while. To say ‘My dogs are barking’ means ‘My feet hurt.’ It’s an old expression that gave rise to naming of a shoe brand ‘Hush Puppies’, meaning that if you wear Hush Puppy brand shoes, then your feet won’t hurt. That how I feel after marching around the Cinque Terra today.
Yesterday we entered Italy and were headed for the fabled Cinque Terra, to check out its reputation as one of the world’s best coastlines. From the motorway, bypassing Genova and the clutter of a string of Riviera traffic hazards, we looked down on some pretty spectacular indentations to the Mediterranean coastline. With a narrow continental shelf here, mountains rise directly from the seabed. In some places, there is no, or negligible coastal land. The coastline is unlike those formed by glacial activity and so has very few deep harbours despite having a jagged fjord-like appearance. From stony beaches, cliff faces rise to reach peaks of up to 2,000meteres. The slideshow that formed our view as we drove along the elevated freeway was of one coastal town or settlement after another, where the deep blue sea
met a rocky beach next to abstract lines showing where streets and roads ran between colourful houses clinging to the lower slopes of steep hills that grow into mountains. What a warm up.
After camping in the village of Devia Marina toady we took the train toward La Spezia, Yes the train. This part of the world has carved a niche out of the tourist industry by not upscaling infrastructure to accommodate motor vehicles. Crooked little narrow streets, steep hills and absence of trafficable roads between the region’s villages make this a No Go zone for cars Walking is promoted as a tourist attraction, not just as a means of transport from the pre-equestrian era. I understand walking. It was one of the first things I ever did. You put one foot in front of the other, then move the second foot further forward. After that, you repeat the process again, and again…. Dig that.
The train line leaves a seaside village called Levanto, and heads south along the coast, but its way is barred by a cliff face. So the train shoots into a tunnel. At the point where it emerges from the tunnel, there is a
little bit of flat ground behind a beach. On that bit of dirt stands a few of the buildings that form the village of Monterosso al Mare. There wasn’t enough room for all the buildings of the village on this patch of dirt, so they stacked the remaining buildings up the hill/mountainside like odds and sods from a Leggo collection. Then the train line attempts to continue adjacent to the beach, but again it's blocked by a mountain, so it goes through another tunnel. Where the train tracks emerge from a tunnel there is another village. There are four more villages in the Cinque Terra region, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. All are within about one kilometre of each other, in a direct line. But the only direct line is via the railway. To walk between each village a traveller needs to walk up over the mountain that separates current location and destination. A traveller would also need a reason, such as wanting to save the E4 train fare. A traveller should also have good legs and ample water although one couple that we met along the track, who hailed from Chicago had red wine to quench their thirst. Well,
at 65 cents a litre, red wine can be cheaper than water.
There are some relatively short and less hilly walks adjacent to the beaches are cut into the cliff face to skirt around the headlands. But on the day of our visit, these were closed while the Italian nanny state guardians repaired some rails. The alternative is to walk over the top of mountains, to get a bird’s eye view of the coastal scenery. Well, the scenery is good. But I have been spoiled by vistas such as the Etreat coastal cliffs, so I found it hard to get motivated to climb the walks of Cinque Terra which vary in length from one and a half to ten kilometres. To reach the village of Corniglia from its train station we had to tackle 363 steps zigzagging up the hill, and back again. That’s why my dogs are barking.
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