Trip Start Apr 04, 2008
22Trip End Jul 01, 2008
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Our trip grew increasingly stressful the further south we went. The drivers grew more insane. They cut in front of us, tailgated and sped in long, dark tunnels that are concrete death traps. It was like doing the Bathhurst 1000 for five and a half hours straight. Obviously, more so for Danny than I. We passed Monaco which probably explains the Alfonzo Alonzo type driving styles of the area. We went through so many tunnels I can't even begin to estimate the number.
We found the main town of La Spezia just outside the southern border of the Cinque Terra and this is where we were to have our final lesson in Italian driving etiquette; that is if you don't have a lane make one and only slam on the brakes if you are in imminent danger of a collision. We traversed the mountain side up to our village of Biassa on the narrowest of roads that have silver reflective discs to help you see if anyone is coming
But at the end of the day there was nothing that two Panadol and a bottle of red didn't cure. And after the second glass I could recall that the scenery along the route had been stunning; pastel coloured buildings on the hillsides of the valleys some silhouetted against a backdrop of Mediterranean blue ocean.
Our house in the village is tucked away in the middle of a labyrinth of other houses and cottages all built on top of each other. It has a balcony from which we can see the church tower with the bells that chime every hour and to the east we can see the towering, majestic peaks of the mountains of La Spezia and the valleys that are still filled with snow.
We found the local bar pizzeria and had a delightful large, fresh pizza at a table with the prerequisite red tablecloth. The family who run the restaurant had their evening meal at a table near us.
Sunday 27 April
Our house is clean but has a number of challenging features
It also doesn't have a washing machine which is very strange in what is claimed to be self catering accommodation. We also do not have a kettle. I thought I would go and see Mrs Leidel who looks after the house for the owner and was there to open the house for us. As she does not speak any English she invited me inside to talk with her daughter. When I asked her about a washing machine or a laundry to wash our clothes she asked me whether I wanted something to eat or drink. Not a good start. Eventually with much gesturing I was told "No". No, there is no laundry, no there is no laundry in the village. It was finally worked out that there is a laundrette in La Spezia some 15 minutes drive away down the killer road. As for the kettle; I asked but had to resort to my sketch of a kettle with steam coming out the spout, which I had prepared just in case. Once again I was told "No." I was taken into their kitchen and showed a saucepan. This is what Italians use. They do not need kettles as they drink Espresso coffee; well that's what I understood anyway
So, that leaves us with dirty clothes and a hassle to make a cup of tea. That would have been ok except that we didn't have any milk for the tea. We tried to go shopping in La Spezia but we came to the conclusion after driving around and around that no shops; absolutely none are open on a Sunday; not a corner store, not a convenience store, nothing. We only have a bottle of gherkins, some olives and some jam so we are down to survival rations. Everything closes for siesta but even later in the afternoon, early evening there is still nothing open. So we returned to our house without any food to our dirty clothes and had a beer thereby getting around the whole no kettle, no milk issue. The sun was still shining and we stood on our balcony, looked out over the village with its hundreds of different shaped rooftops in many hues of pink and brown and enjoyed our drink.
Monday 28 April
We woke up to a beautiful day and headed for the Cinque Terra on a little green bus. Riomaggiore, the southern most village, was a hive of activity with walkers and tourists milling in the pedestrian only streets skipping from souvenir shop to local produce shop that sells local wine, cheese and pesto. It is a stunning village as the houses, all pink and brown, tumble right down the cliff almost to the waters edge. With the green-blue water of the Mediterranean as a border it just picture postcard stuff. All the five villages of the Cinque Terra are stunning; all perched magically on spots where you think no houses should be able to be built.
We chose the easiest walk for today
The walk was truly memorable. It made us puff in parts but to be able to reach the summit of another headland and look back at the panorama of villages made it all worth while. The hillsides are terraced with vines, lemon, cumquat and fig trees. As we headed down to Monterosso there was a man in a hut making fresh lemonade. He offered us a piece of lemon dipped in castor sugar and told us to eat it skin and all as it was all organic. It was delightful as was the glass of lemonade we bought. We sipped our drinks and considered how hard the lives of the farmers must be here to have to cultivate such truly difficult terrain
We were quite tired by the end of the walk. We caught the train back to Riomaggiore, walked to the top of the village to catch the bus back to our village and then walked up another 100 stairs to our house.
The bath was superb.
Tuesday 29 and Wednesday 30 April
During the night our village had been immersed in a thick grey fog. Visibility was less then 50 feet and the mist was dripping off the leaves and leaving puddles on the patio so we decided to spend the day looking for an internet café and exploring Riomaggiorie with its numerous restaurants and jewellery stores.
With some time to kill we caught the double-decker train to La Spezia and took a walk around to see if we could find a better internet café than the dial up one in Riomaggiorie
Wednesday started much brighter with little patches of blue so we set off from our village to walk to the southern village of Portovenere. We followed the little red and white stripes that are painted on trees and stones to mark the path. Our walk was going well as we climbed further up the mountain through the bush at the back of the village until the little marks disappeared. The bush was very thick and we met no other walkers. It was about time to give it away as getting lost was the only place we were likely to end up, when at the last minute Danny spied through the bush, one of the markers further up the hill. We tried to follow the map and thought we were coming into one village when in fact we came into another, Campiglia, which is the one we had planned to stop at for lunch anyway. We had covered twice the distance we thought we had, so we had a lovely lunch looking over the ocean. Later on we examined the map a bit more closely and worked out that we hadn't been on the walk marked on the map at all but must have taken a path much higher up the mountain through wild boar territory. All of a sudden the makeshift shelters with green tarpaulins we had seen and the spent cartridges on the ground seem to make sense
We then continued on for another 2 hours to Portovenere. The path was a little narrow in parts and the land fell away alarmingly down a very steep cliff to the sea but for the most part it was good walking. The sun decided to come out and we could smell the pine scent of the conifers mixing with the smell of the sea. We had a panoramic view of the huge cliffs of Portovenere and looked down on the top of a church and a few very tiny villages along the way. We also had a good view of the bay with La Spezia on one side and Portovenere on the other. Portovenere is a very pretty town with large buildings painted different pastel colours right on a harbour. The focal point is a large, grey fort with a tower right on the top of the headland.
We caught the ferry back to Riomaggiorie which gave us a view of the different colours in the cliff face and a different perspective of the incline on which the village of Riomaggiorie is built. It just seems to go straight up.