Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Cinque Terre

I’ve been in paradise for a few days and I could not get on the net because of it, SORRY FANS!

As I posted earlier, I decided at the last minute to go to the Cinque Terre area of the Italian Riviera for a few days after the Ancona game to relax and clear my mind. Playing well on defense for the first time this season really helped with both of these objectives!

Since the plane fare to Pisa was 230 euros, I decided instead to take the overnight train for 68 euros to get to this little spot of heaven on earth.

Leg #1 was boarding the train from Catania to Rome at 10:05 p.m. Saturday night. Because I made this decision at the last moment, no sleepers were left so I purchased a regular seat in a six person compartment. Upon boarding I realized I had Jason’s good black Nikon camera sitting on top of my black carryon bag and didn’t know it until I raised my bag up to near eye level to climb the stairs to get on the train. SORRY JASON! At least I didn’t lose it.

The six people in the compartment were myself and another guy who were both solo and two guys and three girls in their early 20’s who were all friends. Yes, your math IS correct, that IS seven people in a six person compartment! Did I mention that Andrea kept the conversation going ALL night with his four somewhat sleepy friends?

In Messina they do an interesting thing. Since Parsons has not built either a bridge or a tunnel across the Straights of Messina as promised, they take the train and divide it into three equal parts and load it on a VERY LARGE ferry boat to make the crossing!

After going through Naples, we finally arrived in Rome at 9:00 a.m. none the worse for wear. During the one hour layover at what has become my second home, i.e., Rome’s Termini Station, I felt a tug at my heart strings as the Leonardo Express took off for the ride to Rome’s airport. How many times have I taken the Express in the last four months?

At 10:00 a.m., I boarded the train to La Spezia. If I thought the first train was a tough ride, this was tougher! I had no regular seat, meaning that I had to stand in the corridor the whole time. Well, that’s not completely true, there are very small, pull down seats in the small corridor. Do you know how many people get off and on a train, go to the restroom and go to the dining car during a four hour train trip? TOO MANY, that’s how many! The lesson here is to plan your train trips in Italy at least two days in advance of your trip! Spontaneity in a romance is great, in train travel it is not so good.

Once in La Spezia, the end of my 16 hour train odyssey, I had another 20 minute wait for the train to the Cinque Terre. Once on board it took about 20 minutes to get to Corniglia, the hill top town where my hotel was located, also a last minute choice.

Cristiana Ricci, no not the movie star, rented me a GREAT little room with an incredible view of Corniglia and the Ligurian Sea for only 45 euros a night.

I spent the rest of the day exploring the first two eastern cities in the Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore and Manarola.

Riomaggiore was a good place to start. It boasts of simplicity and hard working people with brightly colored houses crowding on top of one another.

Manarola turned out to be my favorite town. First of all, I had to walk the 15 minute Via dell’Amore trail from Riomaggiore to get there. Incredible vistas, you really should take this walk with someone you hold dearly, not solo! Upon arriving in Manarola you find yourself in a living picture postcard! I must have taken over 100 pictures there. The colors of the buildings and the hillside vineyards are just something that must be experienced.

By the time I got back to Corniglia, the last shuttle bus had made it’s 8:00 p.m. run up to the only Cinque Terre town not on the water. My choices were to either walk up the FOUR HUNDRED step pedestrian staircase or follow the paved switchback road the bus usually takes. The thought of my calves exploding ten years ago when Laurie and I walked up the Statue of Liberty staircase leaving us both in pain for the next three days crossed my mind, so I took the switchback road…GOOD CHOICE! My legs felt great the next day.

On Monday morning, after prowling around my home base city of Corniglia, I walked DOWN the 400 steps, piece of cake, to board the train to Monterosso. This town had a real tourist feel to it but it has the only sand, O.K. really small pebble, beach in the Cinque Terre. I spent an hour on the beach working on my tan and daydreaming. I actually took a quick swim in the Ligurian Sea, quite refreshing indeed! I must admit it was a little disturbing to see a Nazi bunker still intact from WWII, how could this beautiful town ever have been exposed to that?

Next up, the last and by far the busiest of the Five Lands, Vernazza. I found good food and great gelato here, now can you imagine that! It was much more crowded than the other towns but it was still easy to get around. I found yet another gelateria and just sat at the harbor breakwater watching the world go by slowly and in a very relaxing manner.

Late in the afternoon, I took the train back to Corniglia and decided to walk to Guvano Beach, which is clothing optional. To get there you have to walk 15 minutes down a well lit but damp tunnel that during WWII was used by the locals as an air raid shelter when the Allies were doing bombing raids to try to take out the train tracks. Again, it is hard to imagine war touching this now serene part of the planet.

With this in mind, it was ironic that the only other people walking in the tunnel were a family of four Germans about 30 yards behind me. They were speaking quite loudly and the whole WWII thing somehow got into my head.

When I finally got to the end of the tunnel, a guy on a bongo drum informs me that the beach closes in one hour and that I have to pay five euros to go on the beach. I noticed that there were only two people on the beach, a guy laying on a towel and his girlfriend who was coming out of the water. She was about 25, auburn hair, bronzed beyond belief, about 5’6” and weighed approximately 120 pounds, as she perkily stood up in the sea, wearing nothing but a gorgeous smile and a sea foam green thong…or maybe it was just green sea foam after all. As promised, I averted my eyes and left the beach immediately to catch the bus up the hill to Corniglia. Once there I headed o the Enoteca Il Pirun for a glass of local red wine and some Jack Johnson music, the girl who runs the Enoteca is a big fan. Later I ended the day with a great meal at the trattoria La Lanterna on the main square. A perfect relaxed meal to end a couple of very enjoyable days in the Cinque Terre.

If you travel to the Cinque Terre, don’t expect museums, historical sights or anything else but a laid back experience, some walking and a chance to unwind BIG TIME!!!

Monterosso the most touristy town

The only sandy beach is found in Monterosso

Monterosso has two beaches

Monterosso's Beach still has a WWII Nazi Pillbox...amazing! 


The Vernazza shopping area

Vernazza's beach front square

Same Square in Vernazza, bigger view

And BIGGER yet

The way to the mysterious nude beach in Corniglia

The really mysterious tunnel, once used as an air raid shelter during WWII for protection vs. Allied attacks against the rail road tracks

Some other tunnels between in towns are nicer.

Corniglia where I rented a room

Some of Corniglia's hillside vineyards

Corniglia and me

Corniglia's town square

I ate a great Penne all'Arabiata at this ristorante in Corniglia

My favorite Cinque Terre town, Manarola

Nice home out of a rock in Manarola

More hillside vineyards

Sunset in Corniglia

Hillsides are nice

Can you ever have too many sunsets?

The start of the Via dell'Amore Trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola

Water scene on the Via dell'Amore Trail

Riomaggiore loves their muralists


Riomaggiore mini-bay

Swimming rocks in Riomaggiore


Unknown said...

I was telling everyone who would listen ""according to Rick Steeves ...." now I tell everyone according to George and Christie and Jason .... Pictures are wonderful and blogs are better.

Really looking forward to the up-coming trip - 28 more sleeps.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! Just beautiful! You have made Cinque Terre look so wonderful to visit! We can't wait!