Heroes of the Cinque Terre!!

This morning we slept in. And it was awesome. AWESOME! Then we took our little breakfast ticket down to a cafe where we get a free Italian breakfast – it consists of a espresso, a cappucino, or a tea, and a brioche or a focaccia, and my goodness, it was yum. Very basic, but delicious all the same, and free! Then we went to the train station to see Alfie off to Milan and then Cara and Sean and I took a train to Riomaggiore, the first village in the Cinque Terre (for those who don’t know, there are five villages, connected by a coastal path. It’s been there for centuries, and people who lived and worked along the coastline have cut it into place.) It takes approx. 6 hours to walk the whole path across the five villages and we weren’t sure if we’d have the stamina to do the whole lot so we thought we’d play it by year.

The first walk, between Riomaggiore and Manarola, is called the Via dell’Amore (‘Love Walk’). Today, it was free, because it was Valentine’s Day! Oh yeah, that’s right! Valentine’s Day! It certainly was a lovely way to spend Valentine’s Day. INCREDIBLE views. Brilliant sunshine (it really was too hot for jackets so I carried mine most of the way). Stunning cliffs with love seats cut into them, and plaques and padlocks and graffiti of lover’s names all along the walk. Beautiful, beautiful stuff. We took huge amounts of pictures. And I may have written some graffiti of my own…

We reached the town of Manarola, an incredibly picturesque little slice of heaven. We walked through it to reach the next part of the coastal walk and were about a third of the way through when we reached a gate that locked the way – part of the walk was dangerous and we couldn’t go any further. That problem is easily solved – there are train services through the five villages, so we just walked back to Manarola and hopped on a train that took us straight to the next town, Corniglia. This is the only town out of the five that doesn’t have the train station in the middle of the town, so you have to walk up a steep hill, or 382 steep steps. We took the hill, though it took a while and was very difficult. Corniglia was very beautiful also. We noticed throughout the day that there weren’t many people around. This could have been due to it being the off-season, or, as we found out later, due to the damage to the coastal walk that occurred in October last year.

We decided to walk the one and a half hour trail from Corniglia to Vernazza. The trail from Vernazza to Monterosso, the final town, is about two hours, so we made no promises and decided to just see how we felt. The path between Corniglia and Vernazza turned out to be one of the most crazy difficult experiences of my life (a crazy difficult experience that included insane views and stunning coastal scenery of wild orchards and vineyards and the extremely weird combination of snow and sea and sunshine). As we got further and further along the path, we encountered bigger and bigger sections that had been collapsed, or destroyed by mini landslides. Clearly, the storms in October had made it extremely perilous. We kept climbing really carefully over piles of rocks that just ended in a cliff drop. I had to jump at one point and tore a hole in my jeans when I snagged them on some wire. Part of the fence had collapsed and there was a huuuuuge rip. My only jeans. Right across the upper thigh region. Yep. Time for new jeans. If any of us had slid down, we wouldn’t have been able to climb up and we would have had to call some kind of emergency service. Picture the 1000 steps, on a cliff, three times as long, with no one else around. It was extremely scary at points, and I don’t know why there wasn’t a sign somewhere blocking the path off. If any elderly people had decided to take the walk, they wouldn’t have been able to leap over things or tiptoe over rockslides, so there really should have been a warning. That being said, the sense of victory I felt when we reached Vernazza was tanglible. We WIN AT CINQUE TERRE!! And though the path had been tough, my goodness it was a good-looking piece of nature.

As we walked through Vernazza, the damage was obvious. The roads were extremely muddy and it was full of construction people cleaning and draining ground floor buildings. We took a train to Monterosso, determined to see the final village, but by the time we got there, our energy had completely expired and we stumbled into a coffee shop at the station for a hot chocolate and an espresso, and then stumbled back to the platform to train back to La Spezia. So we didn’t see much of Monterosso at all, but I felt we saw plenty of beauty of the Cinque Terre regardless. The weather remained beautiful for our entire adventure and we felt like total winners because we had survived the death trap of the Corniglia-Vernazza trail. Once we arrived back in La Spezia we collapsed for a bit, then dragged ourselves back to the restaurant from last night. We had the same waiter and the same wonderful experience, so I would definitely recommend Pizzeria Il Pomodoro for anyone visiting La Spezia! (Note: bring a phrasebook, you will need it). We are all exhausted, so we will not do much else tonight. Sean has gone for a short walk with a cigar, and I’m going to have a much-needed shower. Tomorrow: Milan! Until 7.40pm, then we get onto a night train to Barcelona. Yay!


La Spezia!

Hi kids! I’m writing from lovely La Spezia, which we reached today at about 4pm. After a pretty leisurely morning (getting up, eating free and delivered breakfast, checking out and hanging round the train station), we got on a direct train to La Spezia. So far, I am not hugely enamoured with Italian trains. They are definitely fast, and very new, but they are not as comfortable as some of the less fancy trains we used in other countries. Regardless, we reached La Spezia and our hotel is just 80m from the main train station. We met the hotel manager just outside the doors and she showed us to our room which is on the very top floor. This means a lot of stairs, but a beautiful view. It was also really sunny, and I think it might only be 3 or 4 degrees, but it actually feels warm compared to the temperatures we’ve been enduring.

Once we’d settled in, we went searching for a restaurant to eat a nice dinner in as it’s Cara’s birthday! While we were waiting for all the places to actually open for dinner, we went for a walk around the town. The language barrier is far more apparent here, as La Spezia isn’t a huge tourist city like Venice or Rome. When we sat down for dinner, we discovered there was no English menu and our waiter had  pretty much no English. This was good! We’ve been far too spoiled and I wanted to experience what it was really like to struggle with a tough language barrier. Our waiter was utterly delightful, and so friendly. We ended up looking at the menu, identifying words that looked familiar and then just picking stuff almost at random. It was sort of pot luck, but my goodness the food was good. We had excellent pizzas and desserts and the restaurant was so affordable, much cheaper than anywhere in Rome or Venice. We spent quite a while just sitting and chatting there and decided it was definitely one of our top dining experiences thus far. Afterwards, we headed back to our room and have just been chilling out. There hasn’t been much opportunity to go out in Italy because we have only been in places for two nights, which means lots of early mornings. Hopefully, once we get to the UK, we will have longer times in less places, which means more time to explore!