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Published: July 16th 2008
La Spezia from the road to Cinque Terre
The road rises above La Spezia onto the range the follows the coast all the way through the five towns that make up Cinque Terra and on to Goa.
We have already published these photos but now have the diary of our three davs in Cinque Terre to add to them.
Venice to Cinque Terre
It had rained last night and as we were having breakfast the morning we were to leave Venice, there was lighting and thunder and it really bucketed down. We waited and then, when the rain eased a little, we decided to take off to the Arsenale wharf. D, H and W took off their shoes and walked in the wet and the puddles across to the promenade, dragging their luggage behind them. There we bought our tickets and made out way onto the ferry, through a drizzling Venice morning to Piazzale Roma where the car was parked.
The toilets at Piazzale Roma would have cost about $3.50 each so some of us protested and hung on till we came to a free garage loo.
We paid for the parking went to the top floor where we were parked out in the open, ran to the car, loaded up in the rain and took off, luckily going in the opposite direction to the kilometres of traffic jam (maybe 10 km) trying
Sorting out our luggage at the Vernazza car park
We had to take âsub Stuffâ as the town was away from the car park and we had to get a transit bus to take us there.
to get through the toll gates, which are unbelievably inefficient, into Venice.
At the previous toll gate, Di counted 7 times that people in one car had to transact with the machine with tickets, numbers, money and change before the boom opened - the best was five- the average time was 1 minute and we took 2 minutes to read the signs, fumble with the money and give it to the machine. We had hit the queue for the toll at least half an hour before we reached it and then didn’t know if we were in the right lane and didn’t know what we were going to do if we got to the booth and we were wrong. Luckily we had picked the right lane.
The countryside was flat with fields of corn and since it’s not a staple component to spaghetti or pasta Helen suggested this was potentially eco-fuel being grown.
While the land is flat the rivers are enclosed by embankments and water levels are far higher than the surrounding land. We subsequently met an Australian of Italian extraction in Vernazza, whose family lives in this area and he advised us that a lot of
The restaurant on the corner where the owner, Luka and his twin brother Missamo, two Sicilians who run a famous restaurant in Venazza, organised alternative accommodation for us.
This was the only time our plans failed as the girl who did our original bookings had made them for June instead of July so our apartment was booked by other people when we arrived.
Luka said, "Hey there are only 520 families in the village and we all know each other , and are within 500 meters from each other, so I will just ring around and organize something for you. Anna Maria's mother was a delightful person and we were sorry not to be sharing the apartment with her.
the corn was grown for feed, for stock-lot feeding.
The fields changed to areas of pasture, of neatly rolled hay bales on golden stubble and then we saw sunflowers, but not the extensive fields one sees on the Darling Downs.
The roads were packed with trucks, actually semis, and coming into Venice, I would suspect that every second vehicle was a semi.
We passed olive groves and then a sound barrier appeared in the countryside, beside the road, for no apparent reason other than that maybe a small house was hidden away in the fruit trees. Ancient old, large, derelict, two and three story stone farm houses stood neglected by the highway and tell of better times.
We refuelled at a service station and I cleaned the windshield with a bottle of Metho, as it was still gluggy from the factory dispatch. The vehicle only had 100 km on the clock when we got it in Split and it looked as if it had never been detailed. One problem was that we didn’t know the Italian name for diesel so had to ask the driver of a tour bus full of Australians. We had a coffee
The tower where Luka said Helen was to stay
Actually, he wasn't far wrong as her room was up 40 steps and just under the tower.
and lunch at the adjacent restaurant and continued. The rain had now stopped but the weather had not cleared.
In the rural areas, new industrial development is taking place with building being constructed some four and five stories high with massive concrete aprons and parking for hundreds of workers’ cars. Some buildings seem completely open-plan and it looks as though agricultural processing of some kind is being conducted. Other buildings are single story that extend over 2-3 acres and it looks as though they could be lot-feeding in very sophisticated conditions.
The Italian motorway to Bologna and onto La Spezia, snakes across Italy and we jumped from one route to another. Luckily we only had to pass through one more quick toll after Venice, so that at least saved time.
Roads are excellent and occasionally there is a modern exotic sculpture between the dual carriageways. The roads themselves and the proliferation of new roads is almost an art form in Italy, which heralds from their great skills in aqueduct structures in the past: elegant old aqueducts that spanned rivers and valleys to carry a flow of water to their great cities. Today the great aqueducts carry the
incessant flows of traffic.
As we approached the West coast there were now more pastures and grasses and hay bales neatly rolled and waiting in the fields.
The rain had long gone at 100 km from La Spezia; the sky was overcast and the hills, a new touch to the landscape, were misty.
The plains were now behind us but industrial activity extended into the pastures. Metal prefabricators, concrete manufacturers and fertilizer factories were not clustered together, but spread into the country between farms and villages.
The small hills now started to grow and they were a patchwork of colours, contrasting the greens of trees and fresh grasses and the golden stubble of cut wheat fields.
We then entered the mountains and the road clings to the valleys; it hangs on the edge of the hills and when two roads meet, the roads become a crescendo of swirling and wonderfully sweeping roads marrying traffic flow without a loss of momentum.
These structures, which support the traffic flows, have pylons hundreds of meters high and to maintain levels, tunnels are driven through large mountains to maintain the traffic flow. These structures truly portray the great
modern aqueducts, bridging mountain and valleys, spaning the steep gorges and tunnelling through the ranges, to produce a floating ribbon of road winding their way through countryside with a purpose of its own.
At times you pass by the trees on mountain tops, at others, you soar across a valley like a eagle, on roads supported on thin concrete legs that give the illusion of just touching the ground.
The sun came out as we approached La Spezia. On the southern coast we could see in the hills, villages and smallholder farms with grapes and fruit trees but most of the countryside was heavily wooded. Ahead of us, we could see the Jagged Apennine Mountains
La Spezia is a major port and we circumvented the harbour, and commenced the climb up the range before going down to Vernazza. The queue at the tollgate was small but it cost $40 for the toll. I guess that’s just $1.60 for each10 km.
The road from La Spezia is well made and winds up to about 500m in altitude at the back of the coastal villages, and the last 11(?) kilometres is down to the car park at Vernazza.
Now the road was tight and twisty - just one and a half lanes width, with only a few places to pass - each hundred meters or so.
It was a well made tarmac road that wound around the steep hillside in tight turns that Rodger had not experienced before, but he took his time and we finally arrived in the parking lot. Jan was a little shaken by the steepness and the narrowness of the road as it falls some 360 meters in a short period. At the car park we were directed to an upper park and the shuttle bus for the village returned to pick us up. There was too much luggage to load into the bus, and we were only staying for three days, so we sorted out a sub-set of stuff and packed the rest of the luggage back in the car.
The bus to town almost collected a reckless motorbike rider that slid between the bus and the cliff face that made Jan suck air and I would suspect, the motorbike rider wet his pants.
We were surprised that it was only in the last few tight blind bends that the
driver tooted. The Darjeeling drivers toot whenever they can't see around a corner and the signs on the road encourage drivers to toot.
We found Annamaria’s house that Di had specifically chosen so we didn’t have to walk up the long steps to accommodation. We met Annamaria’s jolly mother who didn’t speak a word of English, only to eventually find that Di’s booking was messed up - they had booked June instead of July.
Annamaria’s Mother was worried for us but Luka the owner of the Sicilian restaurant, near Annamaria’s rooms and right where the bus had dropped us, kindly offer to ring around to find alternative accommodation. He said there were only 520 families in the village so he’d ring around and find other accommodation. He said we may not be close together but there it’s only 500 meters from the bottom of the town to the top.
Anyway, Luka did manage to find three rooms, unfortunately not together. Roger was a bit buggered after the 380 km drive especially the last bit which he found taxing so he was anxious to have a wash and a lie down. There was only one room with air-conditioning
free so we suggested he and Jan grab that and we would work out the others. Win and Di were 180 meters up the hill from the bus stop, Jan and Rodger about 80meters down the road from the bus stop and Helen was right on the city square but about 20 meters straight up the hill. Luka jokingly told her she could sleep in the old tower and her landlady, where she had to drop off her passport, was in fact not too far away from the tower.
Jan and Rodger had a place with air-conditioning and breakfast - any amount they would like to have. Helen had, he joked, a place up in the tower with no breakfast and no air-conditioning and we had a place up the top of the village which was new but had the traffic noise, thankfully no train noise but no air-conditioning, and we found out later, mosquitoes that hum and bite in the night.
Helen’s accommodation (apart from all the steps) was thankfully near the bottom of the hill by the village near the internet café, a bar and the restaurants.
We finally got ourselves organised into rooms and
We took a hop-on hop-off train ride to Monterosso to report the theft of Di' flashgun and then looked around some of the other villages before returning to Vernazza. Monterosso is a much more touristy village than Vernazza with umbrella for rent, and little public areas. Vernazza by comparison is folkys for the locals which they share with a smaller number of tourists.
lunched at the Sicilian restaurant which is owed by Luka and Massimo who specialise in Sicilian foods. They are great fun, always joking and teasing their customers.
We wandered about the town. Vernazza is a very pretty small village that surrounds a small harbour with one main street running down the centre of the village to the harbour. There are a lot of small side pedestrian paths crowded with houses stretching up the hillside where there are two old towers, one on the point and the other at the back of the town overlooking the sea.
The harbour is crowded with moored boats and is protected by a great stone breakwater which stretches out to sea reducing the harbour entrance to about 30 meters wide.
The ferry boat loads passengers at the point directly by the open sea so if there is a sea running the ferries would be unable to load. They load by putting their bow to the rock; tying up two bowlines, dropping a gangplank over the bow of the boat to shore, tightening up the ropes and putting the boat in reverse to keep the boat steady. The passengers hurry off dragging suitcases
Umbrella at Monterosso
This is the equivalent to the rocks at Currumbin
of all sizes, and then the new lot of passengers scramble on, gangplanks are loaded, ropes untied, the boat drives out and they are away to the next village.
On the beginning of the Vernazza harbour wall and surrounding the harbour, restaurants crowd the walkways. The water is pristine and children are swimming in the harbour and grandparents walk their grandchildren up to the children’s park near the centre of the town above the railway line. The main street is cosy, friendly, lined with cafes, small shops, bistros, restaurants, bars and people go about their businesses.
The railway line appears out from a tunnel in the mountain and stops at the station which has been set 3 meters above the road. Once through the station it follows the harbour and then vanishes into another tunnel heading to Monterosso or Corniglia, the next villages in each direction.
When the express trains whistle through town there is a deafening roar for a minute until the train passes. You have to hold on to your hat if you’re on the station then the sound becomes muffled in the tunnel. The local trains rumble into town and ease out of the
Mural on wall near Monterosso station
There is a celebration in the murals of hard work - of men and women building houses and walls and fishing and bring in the catch.
stations without the shattering noise of the express but they take longer.
Di had been warned to find accommodation either at the top of the hill or at the bottom to avoid the noise as the trains run all night.
We checked out the station, collected timetables between the five Cinque Terra villages, checked the ferry and collected timetables between four of the towns. Corniglia is not a ferry port as the village is too far in the hills to be serviced by boat.
We checked the walks and scheduled walk times and altitudes.
Montarosso to Vernazza 2 hrs walk 3 km and the toughest walk between the villages - 5 minutes on the train
Corniglia to Venazza 1.5 hrs walk 4 km downhill 5 minutes by train
Corniglia to Manarola
Manarola to Corniglia 1:10 hr walk 1 km uphill 4 minutes by train
Manarola to Riomaggiore 20 minutes 1 km along the flat- the easiest walk, 2 minutes by train
Walking from Riomaggiore to Monterosso takes 5 hrs to travel 9 km or 16 minutes on the train. You guessed it, we walked the easy one and trained and ferried the others.
Mosaic in the Monterosso tunnel that joins two side of the town.
A long tunnel under the railway was lined with beautiful mosaics like this of wild life that they see in their every day life.
had a great dinner that night in the Sicilian restaurant and Di, Win and Helen walked to the harbour and took photos of the village lights. Win put down Di’s flash unit in the dark on the top of the wall and when he went to pick it up it was missing. That was a pain and we had to report the thieft to the local police for insurance claims.
The following morning, after breakfast at the Sicilian restaurant, we went to the police station in Vernazza to find a fat cat asleep on the officer’s desk and a wonderful elderly gentleman policeman who informed us that the Carabiniere, to whom the loss must be reported, is in Monterosso. In reply to our question of whether a flash unit was handed in he said, “No, but there was this camera that came in yesterday”, and he offered it to us. On the off chance someone picked up the flash in the dark and didn’t notice us we checked again at the nearby restaurant and then planned to report the loss at Monterosso.
We got the train tickets and took off.
Monterosso is a far more commercial, touristy
Two ladies outside a church in Riomaggiore
The locals sit around at any time of the day shooting the breeze; usually the men and women sit in different groups.
place than Vernazza, (which is a gentle sleepy village by comparison) with the flashy umbrellas and the deck chairs that pack the beach.
We walked through a long tunnel to the eastern side of the town and found the Carabiniere office where were we were ushered in and completed the police report. There were some excellent cartoons of the Italian police conducting duties, including one about leading the animals onto Noah’s ark and another providing shelter from the rain under their large hats.
I reported the loss as “theft” which the police were a little unhappy about. They though it should be recorded as “lost”. I said it was put down and when we went to pick it up it was gone. “But yes”, he said. “The person may not have noticed you and thought it was left behind and he would hand it in.” That may be the case, but it hasn’t been handed in to date. OK, so he put it down as “theft”.
We went to the town square and had lunch and returned to the station. The tunnel is decorated with stone mosaics portraying the people’s lives by the sea. There was also
Part of the walking path out to the houses on the point from the railway line
This one goes around the cliff. Most crawl straight up the mountain and are difficult to climb.
a huge wall painting near the station to celebrate the labour to build their community.
We then went to Riomaggiore which was the last southern village. This was an impressive town much larger than Vernazza. It was hot and we slowly walked to the top of the town. We decided to leave the sections below the railway line to the sea until we came back by boat. There was a wine museum in the town in which it documented the activity of wine growing in the area. It seems Dante wrote of the high quality wines in the C13th and in the C14th there was official recognition of the wines. The mountains were terraced almost to the sea, but over time the vineyards had fallen into disrepair and it has only been in recent years that they are being extended. All the wine we drank was fresh, fruity and dry.
I walked across the ridge at the top of Riomaggiore, past another church where the walls by the roads were painted with an impressive and enormous mural depicting the saga of the village’s fishermen, their wives, their deaths, the storms and their drowning in tumultuous seas.
Typical narrow street
In Corniglia . we had to catch a bus from the railway station up to the top of the hill. This is the highest village of the five villages and the hardest to walk to from Vernazza. The walk back to Vernazza is
road continued on at the same level around to the sea and then there were 250- steep stone steps that wound around the houses down to the beach. I walked back and met the others coming down the hill. Di’s photos of the wine bottles show a fine record of Korda’s photographs of Che Guevara. There were other photos of the Doge of Italy, Mussolini and of Hitler and we don’t know if these were commemorative bottles on him becoming President or on his death when most Italians detested him and his brown coats.
We then went to Manarola which is, to us, the most colourful of the five villages. It is a small village along similar lines of Vernazza with trees planted along the main street, restaurants, cafes and small shops,
All the villages are similarly constructed with a single main road like the backbone of a sole with small ribs, lateral to the main road, which are the thin pedestrian paths that separate the houses and wind around the small harbours.
From Manarola we went on to Cornigilia which was high above the sea. From the station we caught a small bus to take us
Interesting wine bottle labels
Che appears 7 times, Mao just once, a young Ho Chi Minh once, Lenin and Marx just once. Now who was the young Gramsci with glasses? Win thought it was a beardless Trosky before he saw the name?And who's the Pope and who are the Ayrian wenches next to Hitler and next to the Pope?
to the town on the top of the hill. This was included in the train ticket.
It was steaming hot and we walked to the village square and had a drink. Di and I walked to the edge of the escarpment, past the small shops and houses and from there could see Vernazza and the tower and in the opposite direction Manarola both snuggled by the coast line. Regrettable it was misty and the veiled scenery does not give the panorama the justice it deserved.
It was so hot we gave it away and caught the next bus back to connect with the 5:30 train. On the way down the hill a bloodhound ran out on the road; the bus stopped ; the driver yelled out to the woman with the dog, “ Yakikaki kak” to which she replied in a rather shrill voice and much waving of hands “ Santa Maria! Yak Yak yak Yaki yaki kak. Yak Yak Yak YAK YAK Stupido!! Yka Yak”. To which the whole bus load broke up laughing even though most did not speak Italian.
I did a non-literal interpretation of the conversation from the tones of the voices and
what I report may very well not be the literal conversation but it’s very close to capturing the sentiment of the conversation:
Driver: “Maria!!!, This is the third time today that I’ve nearly skittled that damn dog of yours. You’ve got to control him better.”
Maria: “Santa Maria !!! My dog ! My Dog!!! That’s nota my dog. That’s a my husband’s dog. And thata dog of his, hesa justa like him!
Does anything he want, chases bitches all over the village, doesn't care about anyone, pisses on anything he likes, doesn’ta look where ’is agoing. That dog is justa dumb !- Stupido ! - just like his master! Control him - Bah!!!”
We all had a go at the interpretation of the tirade by the time we got down the hill and caught the train back home.
That evening we had dinner in a really classy restaurant; the food was exquisite and we met an American family who have their son in soccer training school in Italy. He’s 12 and batching with the rest of the training group. His sister works for Barclays on the New York Office and was a switched on
We wandered up the hill; I had a twirl on the round-about with a 6 year old local who spun me giddy- I had to get him to go in reverse a few time to get my eyes to focus.
The following day we caught the ferry to Riomaggiore, Rodger and Jan were on the top deck as we came into Riomaggiore and were serenaded by the Swiss? Swedish choir who had just competed in Venice. They sang a birthday greeting to one of their members and then to a small boy in the crowd and then some more songs to the delight of the passengers. We could hear the beautiful music and all the clapping but couldn’t see them. Jan and Rodger had front seats to the performance.
From the landing place, we walked past the boats and the rather steep ramp into the town.
From here we walked along the walk to Manarola, the “Via del Amore” (The Lover’s Way). The walk follows the coastline and there are names along the path commemorating lover’s names - every lover who walks the track has his/her name on the walls of the tunnel which was
Corniglia village from the sea
We took a boat from Vernazza to three of the five villages on one day. You get a better idea of how the houses hang precariously on the cliffs that jut into the sea.
built to stop rocks rolling on the walkers. There is also a place where people place “chastity” locks on the rails. Apart from the lover’s names there is a lot of art work on the walls.
Manorola is a cute, colourful village. The boats, traditionally moored in the harbour, now, because of the inadequacy of the harbour, are parked by the houses, all on trailers with wheels. If there was a tuna school coming past, I would image it would be bedlam to get all the boats into the water.
We then caught the boat to Monterosso which landed on the southern side of the village. We met Jim and his family who jumped off at Vernazza. He got a photo of us all, from the boat, which you’ll see in the photos.
Unfortunately it was an overcast day the scenery was not clear and bright but non-the-less, still very spectacular with high rocky points capped in colourful villages jutting into the sea.
We sat on the front deck returning from Monterosso to Vernazza and were entertained by a group of jolly, laughing, singing and dancing elderly Italian women whose joy of life and whose effervescent
The boat took us past this town and we eventually walked from Riomaggiore along the lovers walk to Manarola. This is not a difficult walk along the level and you can walk it in 20-30 minutes if you don't stop for a drink, an ice cream and take a lot of photos.
characters washed over everyone who saw and heard their frivolity.
A young American boy, who had been taught Italian songs, sat next to his Mother. She nodded at him when they sang one song and he quietly began to sing. And in the lull of their singing, the old women poised and listened. He had a beautiful boy soprano voice which was reminiscent of Aled Jones. The old ladies spoke to the boy’s mother and she explained to the boy that they said they were delighted that he could sing in Italian. The old ladies gave him a hug as we got off the ferry at Vernazza.
Di, Helen and I then decided to walk back up the path towards Monterosso to get “that” view looking down on Vernazza. Di and Helen walked to the first ridge, which gives you a spectacular view of the village; I kept walking until I reached the top of the ridge where the road then looked down on Monterosso on the other side. From here, just off the track there is a position with a terrific view of Vernazza.. but I had no camera and it was futile even thinking of getting
This was the most colourful of the five villages
Di and Helen to walk 600m straight up the hill and climbing 150m up.
On the way up, a house on the side of the road, was perched on the edge of the range. It had a lovely rock wall and a wrought iron gate. The large mosaic terrace, between the rock wall and the house, was shaded by a wonderful old mottled pink-barked pine tree. Underneath, in the bordering garden, was a combination of colourful oleanders from vibrant reds and pinks to whites. And the old stone house on the edge of the cliff, with open windows looking out over the blue ocean, reminded me of Pelagia’s house from “Capt. Corelli’s Mandolin”.
Just before the top of the range, I met some walkers giving comfort to a young girl - aged about 16-17 who was crying because it was “tooooo hard and her legs were soooo sooore and tired”. They had walked from Riomaggiore and that’s about 5 hrs to complete the trip to Monterosso. I suggested she wander down the hill to Vernazza, hop on the train and she’d arrive in Monterosso before her parents, who were on the track ahead of her.
walker was bounding down the range and I followed her and eventually ran past her to the bottom ridge, where Helen and Di were waiting for the right light of evening to get a memorable photo of Vernazza.
The young girl came walking past with another friend, who was saying “ Did they see you crying? Did they see you crying?” And I thought - how fragile is appearances to the young.
We slowly walked down the road back to Vernazza and decided to have a simple fish and chip dinner, with Jan and Rodger, on the rocks of the harbour and watch the golden light of the late evening twilight wash the buildings and the sea. We saw Jim, his wife and sister walking up the steep steps to the restaurant under the towers. But our proximity to the harbour and the lights and the reflections gave us, we thought, the better view of Vernazza to remember.
In the morning we paid our bill, caught the shuttle bus back up to the car park, jumped in the car and headed up the road to the main road. There had been a land slide on the original
road we came down and the cars could not get up there. Luckily we had to go in the opposite direction and as it turned out, much to our relief, it was a much better, wider road.
So we headed off to Juan les Pins, Antibes in France.
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