Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Italy Part III - Cinque Terre

Little r ensured that we got off to an early start. We devoured the yummy continental breakfast provided by our innkeepers and sipped the lovely espresso before heading into La Spezia to catch the train to Cinque Terre. We had considered several options including the train, the ferry, and the hike in. Optimally, we would have loved to have hiked into Cinque Terre, but it would have added a couple hours onto either end of our day, and we were not comfortable that the cani (Italian for dog) or our bambino had the stamina to handle that exertion. Instead we opted to park in La Spezia and take the quick 8-minute train ride to Riomaggiore.

Like everything else we've experienced in Europe, I'm not sure why we expected a quick 8-minute train ride to be anything less than an adventure. We felt like old pros heading into La Spezia. Like I mentioned in my previous blog, once you have an idea of where you are going, it's a piece of cake. The parking, however, was less than "cakey" - instead it felt more like a mud pie. The parking garage for the station was closed for construction, although this wasn't apparent and we found out by traveling down a private road and being told off by a local. I wanted to ask the Polizia hanging out near the station, but Big R told me I was nuts and that they don't have to show any restraint in Italy. Why I would be beaten with their batons for asking a question, I'll never know, but as far as Big R was concerned, it was hardly worth the risk. We found our way out of private roadways and located some street side parking. Right as Big R was about to throw in the towel as he noted that parking was 10 EUR/hour, a nice local man quickly informed us that parking was free on Sundays. (Again, he thought we were German and mumbled this in the best German he could muster.)

This was our first train adventure with our puppy, and it was super easy. We got tickets for La Spezia to Riomaggiore for less than 5 EUR (little r was free). It was the first train ride for little r, too, and WHOA NELLY was that super cool. We didn't realize in less than 10 minutes we'd be running frantically from train door to train door trying to escape the moving car. The train operator forgot to unlock the cars, so Riomaggiore came and went before we could find our way off the train. With a bout of interesting luck, a set of train doors opened in Manarola, so that is where we started our Cinque Terre adventure.

Manarola is one of the smaller villages with a port and a swimming cove. We grabbed some breakfast down by the water, and eased into our day. It started raining, so we were quickly very happy with our choice to take the train and NOT try the hike from Campiglia. After breakfast, we embraced the rain and took the hike along the Via Dell'Amore ("Love Walk"). It was an easy 20 minute stroll between the two towns, and it was also the most popular. Use of the trails in the regional park system requires a ticket, so we purchased a package that allowed us to use all of the trails and trains unlimited for the day. The views from the Via Dell'Amore were incredible. You could see the bottom of the ocean the water was so clear and blue.



Along the Via Dell'Amore, hikers put padlocks, scarves, string, or any other item to memorialize their love. We were not prepared and brought nothing good to leave behind. Then Big R found his Starbucks Gold Card - now that is a way to say "love" - haha. Not much Big R loves more than his Starbucks (and to think he wouldn't even drink coffee when we met!).



Riomaggiore was more touristy and less quaint. Hard to be in the Cinque Terre and not see beauty, but in comparison it was not the highlight. We had hoped to hike down to a nearby beach using a trail along the cliff from Riomaggiore, but the area was closed, so we changed course and headed to the train station taking a few detours through the windy and narrow pathways along the way.

Corniglia was our next stop, and it was by far one of our favorite villages. The train station sits 380+ stairs below the town. We let little r take this trek outside of the backpack hoping it would wear him out a little bit. He loved the hike and stopped every other step to notice the train, or a truck, or a boat... yeah, took us quite awhile to ascend those steps into town.

What a beautiful little town nestled in the cliffs. The views were spectacular, and the buildings with all the little shops and apartments were filled with character and charm. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending how you view it, a huge thunderstorm filled the skies as soon as we made it to the top of the stairs. We tried to hang with the storm until it unleashed the furry and we could hardly see in front of us. We finagled our way to an outdoor table with an umbrella. Not entirely a dry seating arrangement, but it was far better than sitting in the downpour. We ordered a couple of local wines and a treat while little r took a quiet snooze. It wasn't exactly planned, but I have to say, it ended up being quite nice listening to the rain while sipping a local vino rosa.

We managed to get a few pretty shots of Corniglia before our hike to Vernazza. The rain soaked streets just add a little more charm...

Despite having nothing on his feet but flip-flops (Big R forgot socks - this is a reoccurring theme that I just love giving him a hard time about), Big R said he wanted to do the hike between Corniglia and Vernazza. Figuring dealing with the stairs again would be equally as difficult, the hike would be prettier. It had finally stopped raining and the air and temperature were perfect. This, of course, was only temporary and as soon as we started the hike up the cliff-side, the sun made it's debut and it got steamy and hot. The guidebooks warned of the quickly changing weather, so (aside from the socks - hehe) we came prepared with plenty of water, layers, sunglasses and hats. The trek was worth every rock, drip of sweat, and achy foot (or "barking dogs" as Big R likes to say). It was so incredibly beautiful.

Big R took the heat carrying the bambino in the backpack, while the cani and I trekked behind. I let Rani take her time - she's an old girl, and I didn't mind the slower pace in the heat. Big R took on the trail with a vengeance passing many other hikers. We found it funny that inside the towns we saw a small few English speakers, but on the trail we heard hardly a word in Italian and instead heard mostly English in varying accents. I kept hearing hikers pass by Big R saying, "no thanks! he has some skills carrying that," or "honey, you know I love you, but never make me do that," and even the fellow husband carrying a toddler, "I feel you." Pure comedy - I loved it. Honestly, compared to hikes Big R has done in the past with little r on his back, this trail really wasn't that difficult. It only took us a little over an hour before we started descending into Vernazza. Thinking it could not get any better than Corniglia, we were blown away when we came to the next town.

Big R took the bambino for their first swim in the Mediterranean while I enjoyed a local vino rosa at a table in a waterside cafe as Rani took a much needed snooze. We finished our afternoon with a hike up to the castle before catching the ferry back to Riomaggiore.

Our timing was perfect as the rain started yet again, so we ran into the village of Riomaggiore to grab some good Italian cheese and prosciutto for dinner, and hopped on the train home. The car was right where we left it and we drove the windy road back to our hotel in Campiglia. Little r didn't last long. Big day for the little man - first train ride, first swim in the Mediterranean, first boat ride... lucky kid. He was a trooper with hardly a single meltdown, and the puppy was a dream. After we got little r tucked into bed, we enjoyed the bottle of vino rosa we picked up in Corniglia and snacked on our local meats and cheeses and listened to the storm outside our windows. We would have preferred enjoying the evening on our balcony, but who's to complain?! What an amazing day.

The drive home was painless and adventure-less (if you can believe that). Little r was done and ready to sleep in his own bed, and Big R and I kept talking about how we really need to be sure to do this trip again. Hard to believe the Italian Riviera is just a day's drive away... yep, hard to believe...

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