La Spezia & Cinque Terre, Italy
29.07.2014 - 02.08.2014 30 °C
Okay so here's how this works for those of you who are playing along at home. First, I'll begin by telling you about picturesque mountains and greenery stretching for miles with mountainside vineyards, then I'll tell you about gorgeous oceans, sheer cliff faces and bizarre rock formations and last but certainly not least, an entire rainbow colour spectrum depicted by old and slightly decrepit houses. Picture these things separately. Immense beauty, nature and the work of human at its intriguing best. Now combine all these elements into one town. Impressed? Yeah, me too, but I am still not finished. Multiply it by five and now I can present to you the Cinque Terre - Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. Grab a pen and paper ladies and gentlemen because this should be near the top of your list of places to see before you die.
It is with great pride that, thus far, Georgia and I can honestly say that we have truly experienced each place. At each stop of our journey we have spoken to locals and eaten the region's traditional cuisines along with seeing the tourist 'to-dos'. The Cinque Terre would be no different. As the Busabout coach rolled into La Spezia (10mins away from the first of the 5 terres), I began to think about our impending encounter with Fausto, an Italian man whose apartment would serve as our home for 4 nights. We knew minimal information about Fausto except that his English was virtually non-existent and that he would be the one at the train station wearing a hat. You can imagine how flustered we were arriving at the train station late after being held up with only that minuscule shred of information, however; somehow we rendezvoused as planned in front of a tourist-flooded McDonalds. He was able to use his limited vocabulary of English numbers to point and give us precise walking times to various places along the 14 minute walk to his house. Upon arrival, we were pleasantly surprised with a bottle of Veuve Champagne, a gift from Jo and Crossy for Georgia's birthday the following day. Thanks guys!
After the lofty heights of our Florentine experiences, the Cinque Terre was always going to be met with a small hint of sadness. Our adventures through Tuscany had been paramount to our Italian experience but a split-second glimpse of the ocean and cliffs from the train as it travelled through a tunnel was enough to make us desperate for more. We stopped in the fourth town of Vernazza before completing a seaside mountain hike to Corniglia, the only one of the Cinque Terre to not be situated directly on the sea, but rather a high cliff. This hike was made difficult by a flash storm which meant we climb through torrents of water rather than well-worn paths but the view rendered wet socks and chafing irrelevant.
Earlier on the first day we had arranged to be 'Voluntourists' - an excellent idea pioneered by Busabout in conjunction with Save Vernazza after the landslide disasters a few years ago. Every four days a group of busabout 'voluntourists' make a €25 donation and complete several hours of labour for locals who are still trying to recover from the devastation. To put things in perspective: each Cinque Terre is linked by water and train, there is no direct route for cars, however; it is possible for them to get into the main centres. Furthermore, locals live in the hills and mostly live off what their gardens yield. We were to be helping with tasks such as building fences, digging trenches, fixing homes etc. - whatever was required. Unfortunately when we arose the following morning, a night of steady rain meant that it was cancelled when we arrived. The English speaking guide said regrettably that the rainfall overnight was similar to the weather which caused the devastation years prior. It was a shame that we couldn't contribute to the cause, however; we made several new friends and we now had an entire day to celebrate Georgia's birthday.
The plan was as follows: go home, nap a little (or in my case, a lot), get the train back in, have a wander and have a great feed for Georgia's birthday. Suffice to say, it didn't go to plan. The Cinque Terre region has a series of wineries which make small amounts of commercial wine in addition to what they live off. The two couples which we met earlier in the day suggested that we go to the end town and go on a winery crawl back home. Brilliant. This was the classic example of a "it will be fun they said, you'll be fine on your five hour boat cruise tomorrow they said..." Kind of moment. On a day where nothing went to plan, I can now reveal that we never made it to a winery. First it was some cheap wine at a bar, then it was piña coladas on the beach but it finished with drinking wine out of plastic cups and watching the sun go down in Manarola. It wasn't how we had planned but most importantly the birthday girl had a great time... until the following morning.
Upon waking up and examining the contents of my pockets, I wasn't sure if I was seeing double or whether there really was six wine corks in my pocket. Closer examination revealed the latter and it certainly didn't bode well for our scenic boat tour in a few hours time. Seedy. Very, very seedy. We were glad to board Angelo's Boat Tour and see several others who possessed similar characteristics of being a bit 'under the weather'. We soon worked out that three people on the boat had shared birthdays the previous day and we set off on a leisurely cruise along the magnificent coast line of the Cinque Terre. The picture I painted earlier with the amalgamation of exquisite features was amplified from the water. It defies logic, it blows your mind. If we hadn't have done the cruise, we may never have known but you never truly see a place like this until you see it from the water. Wow. A seafood banquet, some champagne, limoncello and a relaxing swim in the warm deep waters capped off a brilliant day, despite several mouth-vomits and mild seasickness.
Our final day was spent hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza. I chose this hike because we were both feeling the effects of a hectic few weeks, remnants of glandular fever and other self-induced misery. I chose this hike because it was the 'lovers hike' a scenic, relaxing hike with relatively no hills. I assure you now, that was my intention. Five trillion steps, and three mountains later we arrived in Vernazza. Reading topographical hiking maps obviously isn't my strong suit, however; the pictures we took may be the best of the entire trip. It rang true in my ears that nothing worth seeing in life is easy, but no one could ever argue that it wasn't worth it.