09 October 2005

Cinque Terre, ees good eenough for mee...

I went to Cinque Terre last weekend (23-25 Sept), with Nick, Kate, and Kirsty. CT is a 3 hour trek north up the coast, beyond Pisa. We took a bus from Rosia to Siena, then trains from Siena to Pisa, switching in Empoli, and continuing from Pisa to La Spezia, where we had a hotel reservation waiting for us. The travel there really wasn't as difficult as it might sound; all the connections were right on and on time. It had been a long day, though - if only finding that waiting hotel room had been as easy as the woman at the other end of the phone line had indicated it would be. I think we called her three times between the train station and the hotel, and La Spezia is not that big. It's hard when all the streets sound foreign, and when many aren't even marked with a name, dontcha know...

La Spezia was very beautiful, stony and cobbled like you want a small Italian town to be. It appeared well-stocked with interesting (and likely expensive) shops, cofee bars, and small dogs. I can't comment much on the nightlife, cause this old girl opted for immediate sleep while the others went out in search of a beer. I slept pretty poorly in a cot-like bed that inclined at the head end, but was still able to sleepily laugh into my morning as I used the bathroom, which was obviously built for dwarfs. It was tiled and tiny, even on the claustrophobic side. Caught a good view of my knees from the mirror OVER the sink.

We stumbled out of La Spezia as quickly as we could, trying to pack our backpacks for the most comfortable day of hiking possible. Walking to the train station, we popped in a cafe for a coffee and stocked up on focaccia, a traditional treat of the area, and one that abounded in our weekend path. We reveled in the salty-ness of the bread, of course. For good measure, we ate some sweet morning croissants as well, finding out exactly what kind of filling they had as we bit into them; I have yet to see a marked pastry case in Italy.

We caught a quick train from La Spezia to the first town of the CT, Monterossa. We planned to take the hiking path from village to village, an easy-ish trek that takes about 5 hours straight through. We factored in extra time for gelato, wine, and/or beer in each place.

Monterossa is the easy end of things, as far as walking goes. It starts with a paved path, some of it covered, known as Lovers' Lane. I took pictures of the views immediately - ocean panoramas, graffittied walls (and plants!), and high-heeled shoes on several of the women.

Stillettos soon gave way to thick legged Nordic folks, fast moving armies of khaki-clad Germans, and day-tripping American and Italian tourists. Soon there were fewer people in general, as the terrain grew more uneven, more rocky. I really began to sweat under the day's sun in my jeans and tank top.

We stopped in Corniglia, village 3, for lunch. A chalkboard scrawled with Italian foods caught my eye in one of the narrow streets, and - like in A Wild Sheep Chase (a Murakawa novel I just finished reading) - I just knew this was where lunch needed to be eaten. We waited for the 1pm opening time to come around, then waited some more. I positioned myself at the door and watched the owner arrange chairs around the tables. I caught myself licking my lips in anticipation. We definitely rushed the door when it was cracked open.

We feasted and fatted on local white wine, hearty bread, an antipasto of veggies under oil - sun-dried tomatoes, eggplant, artichoke, mushrooms, olives - then dug into main courses: pasta al pesto for Nick and Kirsty, tagliatelle con frutti del mare for Kate and me. All the pasta was fatto a casa. Yum yum! Worth the wait and salivation. We pressed on, digesting en trail. After a gregarious start, wine was ringing in my ears.

By the time we reached the 4th village, Vernazzo, my knees were shaking from the large steps down the steep mountainside, and I was in desperate need of water. I (somewhat crabbily) shook off Kate's insistence that we begin to look for a room for the night, and made for the nearest gelateria. A giant bottle of water and the best gelato I've had in Italy were just the restoratives I needed. I tried a scoop of pineapple gelato, and a scoop of Sciacchiatra, a sweet wine of the region. MMMMMMMMMMMMMMmmmm. I would return to Vernazzo in a heartbeat, if only for the gelato.

When I felt like myself again (myself in Italy again?), I found that I didn't want to walk anymore. I joined Kate's enthusiasm for finding a room, and we began calling the phone numbers we saw posted on doors advertising rooms to let. We pressed buzzers. All to no avail; there were no vacancies. One woman responded to my bell buzzing by sticking her head out of an upper floor window. "Ciao! We are full. I think it is impossible. There are no rooms in Vernazzo tonight." What? No available room on a Saturday night in a tiny, bustling, touristy beachfront town?

We consulted our guidebook and considered other towns. After just a few phone calls, we finally found room at a hostel in Levanto, a short train ride from the Cinque Terre. We hopped the train after wandering and getting our fill of Vernazzo, ready to drop our bags at the hostel and find some dinner. We decided to arrive at the last Cinque Terre village via train the next morning.

Levanto was nice enough, though it seemed something of tourist overflow for Cinque Terre. I definitely had the grossest pizza while there, a little ditty called the 4 Seasons (which season is hot dog, I wonder? And which is canned mushroom?). A bad year, perhaps. Starving, I ate it all. We downed some decent house red wine with the funky food, and slipped out into the night (after the man at the cash register cut us a deal on our meal...? The total came to 63 or 64 euro - "60 is ok," he said. OK!) We found a bar down the street where we topped off with grappa, and then we headed to the waterfront to splash in the Mediterranean because we could. It was a very pleasant evening to a long day.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Erin, it's good to read about your adventures. I did the same CinqueTerre walk about 15 years ago... it doesn't sound like much has changed.

Dave K (from NWCAV)

10:25 PM  

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