Hiking the Cinque Terre

Trip Start Apr 03, 2007
Trip End Jun 16, 2007

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Yesterday, I hiked the trail that connects the 5 towns of the Cinque Terre.  The views of the towns and the glistening Ligurian Sea were wonderful.  The trail was somewhat strenuous, but well worth the effort, and took about 4 hours or so to hike the 7 miles from Riomaggiore to Monterosso.
After checking out of the overly noisy La Dolce Vita, I left my big pack there and set out on the trail.  Right at the trailhead, what did I run into but hoards of elementary school kids, on field trips (this is a National Park after all, I think their teachers were telling them about the history or geology or something).  Luckily, I squeezed past and was able to leave them behind, however, there were also large groups of kids in Vernazza and Monterosso (maybe the same ones).  The trail from the first town, Riomaggiore, to the second town, Manarola, as very flat, but stayed within view of the sea the whole time.  It didn't take long at all to get to Manarola.  Compared to Riomaggiore, Manarola is a quiet town.  There's a nice hostel there, so I trekked up the hill and checked to see if they have any beds left.  Luckily, I got the last bed.  It was starting to get hot, so I was starting to sweat already, but it was nothing compared to what was coming up.
There wasn't much to see in Manarola other than the hostel, so I headed for the third town, Corniglia (the "g" is silent).  The last stretch from the train station up to the town itself was a long, winding stairway, that seemed to go on forever.  It seemed like a lot of uphill at the time, but compared to the two climbs later on, it was actually not bad at all.  Corniglia was also relatively quiet compared to the other towns on the Cinque Terre.  It's perched right on top of a big rockmass that juts out over the sea.
Pressing on, I kept going past Corniglia towards the 4th town, Vernazza.  That's when it started to get steep.  Lots of steps, and they were the most jagged, uneven steps considering how many people traverse them.  Just part of the experience.  The sea vistas were amazing, and I got some great views looking back towards Corniglia.  This was probably the toughest climb of the trail.  It was a relief when the trail finally turned downwards and started descending into Vernazza.
Vernazza is definitely the most memorable of the five towns.  It was so cool when I rounded the bend and there was the peninsula with a stone tower on top.  As soon as I started getting near the town, I could hear all the energetic voices of the tourists.  The place just has a great vibe, everyone there just seems like their having the best time, relaxing by the harbor, munching on pizza at a pizzeria, or sampling the gelato at a gellateria.  I did all of the above.  For pizza, I tried the anchovies.  They only use fresh anchovies here, caught the same day.  They're a bit strong tasting, but not bad.  In the pizzeria, they were watching "Dukes of Hazzard" (not the recent movie, the TV show), dubbed into Italian.  It was hilarious hearing Boss Hogg speaking in rapid-fire Italian.  Then I stopped in at the hole-in-the wall Internet café.  They had wireless Internet (surprisingly high speed too), so I was in luck, and was able to check my email and update the blog finally.  Stupidly, I left my AC adapter plug behind there and didn't realize it until I got back to my hostel that night.  I went back the next day (today), and it was exactly where I left it, still plugged into the wall (phew!).  I'm sitting in the café now as I write this entry.  This older American lady walked in and asked, "I want to use the Internet, but I need someone to help me since your keyboards are different here, and I have AOL and I need help to get on AOL."  <Cringe>  The Americans are by far the most bumbling travelers, but they cater to them here since there are so many.  All the signs and announcements are in both Italian and English.
Fed and rested, I headed out again from Vernazza for the 5th and last town, Monterosso.  This was my favorite part of all the trails (not so much the uphill part, but the descent into Monterosso).   Again, more awesome views, this time of Vernazza, Monterosso, and the vineyards and terraced gardens in between.  The trail went up a lot and was similar intensity to the stretch between the previous two towns.  Since I rested in Vernazzo for awhile, it wasn't as hard, although it was the hottest part of the day and with the sun beating down I sweated like a hog.  I carried 1.5 liters of water and drank the whole thing, in addition to getting an ice tea in Vernazzo.  The descent into Monterosso was so neat, as the narrow trail passed in between narrow stone walls between vineyards and across stone bridges past little ravines.
I finally made it to Monterosso (full name Monterosso al Mare), which is the beach town of the bunch.  It's the only one of the 5 towns that has sandy beaches, and there were a lot of people out wading in the surf and sunbathing.  I knew it was a European beach, however, as there were plenty of men in Speedos, and several of the women were going topless, even though it's a public beach and there were school kids all over.  Guess they just don't mind.  It was cool, instead of basketball courts, they have a fenced-in mini soccer court, with miniature goals, and all the kids play soccer.  I stopped in for another gelato (kiwi and pineapple), then lounged on the beach for a few hours.  I was surprised how cold the water is.  I thought it would be warmer.  It's definitely warmer than the ocean in Oregon, but much cooler than the Caribbean.  Probably similar to the water temperature in Southern California.
Once the sun went down, I headed back to get my bag from Riomaggiore, then headed to my hostel in Manarola.  It was a nice place, and much quieter than the place in Riomaggiore.  I had several roommates.  One was a fashion photographer from Chicago - "I'm a city boy, I take taxis.  That's right, I guess you guys in the Northwest like to walk and stuff".  Another, also American, was a painter.  He accidentally left his glasses somewhere on the beach and lost them.  I suddenly didn't feel so bad about leaving my AC adapter plug behind, knowing that he had to go with blurry vision for 3 more weeks.  Another fellow was from Waterloo, Ontario, the home of Blackberry (Research in Motion).  And there were two nice guys from Sydney, Australia, who gave me a lot of good info about Italy.  I've met so many Aussies on this trip.
Hiking the Cinque Terre is definitely a great experience, and will be one of the highlights of my time in Italy.  Next up, I'm heading to Pisa and Lucca (an ancient walled city), and from there to Tuscany and the hill towns.  Ciao!
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