The past 2 days have basically been beach-hike-beach, a few train rides, and some good food thrown in there to keep us going.
I've been happy to do something that so many other people have on their bucket list - it wasn't on mine, but I can see why other people do it. The scenery is great, and the culinary opportunities are worth the time. The one thing that just kept getting to me is the huge number of tourists. And primarily the organized tours. I've talked about this before, I think, but if you're going to take the time to come to Cinque Terre, and all you do is get herded around, then you're wasting your time. That's the kind of check-it-off-the-list place that I never want to go. Also, if you come all the way to Cinque Terre and don't hike between at least two of the towns, why did you come here?
Thursday was a pretty low-key day. After Eno hurt her ankle in Corniglia on Wednesday, we switched our plans and decided to do a beach day yesterday and then hike today. That was pretty good unintentional planning. It was sunny yesterday, which made the
beach a great place to be (and a hike would've been pretty miserable); it was cooler and windier today, which made the hike more bearable (and the beach less appealing).
We slept in a little on both days, and we managed to get the train to Cinque Terre on Thursday around noon. We've found this little bakery around the corner from our hotel, so we like to stop by and browse the options (they change every day, though they usually have some of our favorites everyday) before heading to the train station. They've started to recognize us, so we feel like regulars now. The train wasn't so bad getting there these past two days - this is a marked contrast to our first day taking the train there. What a nightmare. Anyway, on Thursday, we had some more cinnamon gelato from Vernazza before settling in on the beach in Monterosso, the northernmost town in Cinque Terre. We were there for a couple of hours. It wasn't too hot, but the beach itself isn't the best (though this is the best beach Cinque Terre has to offer). The sand was pretty, and for the first 7-8 feet into the sea,
the bottom was great to walk on. After that, there were bigger pebbles and shards of shells that did murder on the bottoms of my feet. So, I couldn't stay out there for too long at a stretch. I went out further than that a couple of times, where the bottom turned into smooth stones, but the shelf just drops off very quickly, and it's hard to keep your position. Plus, the undertow is very strong. And there's some debris floating about 50 feet from shore - it might be just brown seaweed, but I wasn't interested in going near enough to find out.
One of the "fun" things on the beaches around here are the women who hone into newcomers to the beach. They creepily approach you and then ask if you'd like a massage - but they say it in pseudo-Italian, so it it sounds like "massagey." We've always declined their offer. One of the consequences going into the sea is that all those small pebbles find a way into your bathing suit, if you've got shorts. They stuck to my legs already, and it took a good bit of washing and brushing off while in the
water to remove them. I tried to get them all off while still in the water, but it didn't always work. In fact, when we were walking up to the train station, I noticed a bit more weight in one of my back pockets. We got up to the platform, and I realized it wasn't in a pocket - it was in the netting inside my bathing suit. So I shook that part, and all these little pebbles came tumbling out from between my legs. There must've been hundreds of little black and white pebbles lying on the ground. Several people took notice, though I tried to do it away from everyone next to a trash can. Only one person actually said anything - a middle-aged white lady from America just looked at me and said, in a playful tone, "I don't think that's allowed up here, is it?"
Italian trains are just notorious for being late. Even when the announcer comes over the loudspeaker and claims that the train is approaching the platform, it usually means it's about 5 minutes before you'll actually see the train. On Thursday morning, we just kept getting later and later because so
many people were piling on there. And then, as we were pulling into the Manarola (the 2nd town) station, I could've sworn we jumped off the rail. We must've been at that one station at least 15 minutes (normal time is 2-3 minutes), but then we pulled away as if nothing happened. And then on Thursday evening, our train was supposed to stop at Platform 3, but they changed it at the last minute to Platform 2. One normally takes the under-passage to get between these two platforms, but I threw caution to the wind and followed the example of some of the locals and crossed over the tracks, which is "strictly forbidden." No authorities did anything, and only a few fellow passengers scolded those of us who took the forbidden shortcut. I'm quite the rebel.
We ended Thursday with a little bakery-picnic in the Garibaldi park a few blocks from the hotel. The sun was still out, and we got in some good people (and dog) watching. I'll never understand this culture and their dogs. They are everywhere, and they bark all the time, and people just either don't notice or they don't care. Walking big dogs around
This morning we got out a little earlier, making our way to the station and onto the train by 11:10AM. Our destination was Monterosso, again, but this time we wanted to hike between there and Levanto, which is not in Cinque Terre. Our friend Rick Steves said that this trail is the "no wimps allowed" trail, and I believe him. Whereas the Vernazza-Monterosso hike on Wednesday took about 90 minutes, this was near 150 minutes. We set out a little before 12:30 and got to Levanto around 2:45. This was much more rugged than any of the other trails we had seen, and we questioned our resolve when we saw an ambulance pull up behind us not long after we had set out up the trail. An EMT got out and followed us for a good ways. I would not want that job. It was over half way up the trail before we came across the people in trouble. I couldn't tell who was actually in trouble, since there were 3 or 4 people sitting around with the EMT (the EMT had passed us when we went down a side trail), but when we got to the
other side of that bay, we heard/saw a helicopter hovering over that spot and even a person at the end of the cord. I guess there's really no other way to retrieve someone from a place like that.
This hike was brutal. After the first 15-20 minutes, the artificial stairs are gone, and you're lucky if the path is clearly marked at all. Every so often, you get a small red stripe with a white stripe underneath painted on the rock or a tree to let you know you're still on the trail. But it goes up and up and up before it starts to descend. and once it descends, watch out. It's such a steep angle, you often have to do S curves in a very short amount of time with no handrails or really anything else to stop you from tripping over a jagged set of rocks. It passes through some great canopy areas, which are a relief from the sun, and then it snakes along the edge of a cliff, again with no guardrails. You pass by people's houses and through their very flowery gardens. The insects were out in full force today, though nothing stung
us. As we went along the path, we ran into fewer and fewer people. I guess the later it gets, the less gumption anyone has to set out on this trail.
We were much relieved when we started to get views of Levanto from up on high. Levanto is the first town to the north of Cinque Terre and where this trail ended. Once we got there, it was a completely different world than anywhere else that we've been this week. It was quite sleepy. Very few tourists, and the number of shops and restaurants matched that small number of tourists. We did find a place right near the beach that had some cinnamon gelato, so I naturally partook. Then we went to a nearly-deserted beach, though it was much like the one in Monterosso in terms of sand and water quality. But the cloudy weather had scared away most of the sun-worshipers. I got in the water, though I ran into the same problems as I had in Monterosso. After about 20 minutes, it started to rain a little, so we took that as our cue to head out. We walked up to the train station and got
on an empty train back to La Spezia. The train filled up more and more as we went. And those tour groups - nobody EVER knows when they're supposed to get off the train! "Do we get off at this stop, or the next one?" "Well, the tour guide said the 3rd stop. Is this the 3rd stop? Let's all get up and head to the door just in case." "Nope, it's the NEXT stop. Let's all find a seat that other people have probably already taken." Ugh. Sheep.
Back in La Spezia tonight, we packed up our stuff and made our way to an actual "Döneria" a few blocks from the hotel. We both got döner boxes - which Erica introduced me to in Germany - and they were quite filling. The girl at the counter acted like she didn't know what I was talking about, pointing to the menu, but I described it to her, and then she whipped out little cardboard boxes that were official "Döner Box" containers. I thought I had been pretty clear when I said what I wanted, but maybe she just didn't want to give them out. We got 'em anyway.
Tomorrow, we're taking an early train to Florence, where we'll spend about 6 hours, and then we're taking the fast train to Rome. Our seats are in business class, so we're looking forward to our final train ride in Europe being a classy one. By this time tomorrow, I'll be in Rome!
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