Exploring the Italian Riviera.....

Trip Start Aug 22, 2011
Trip End Sep 29, 2011

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Flag of Italy  , Italian Riviera,
Thursday, September 22, 2011

11 Sept. 22 – Thursday

I found most of the same people in the breakfast room this morning, so I had a short visit with some that I'd been speaking with previously. The breakfast selection was the same as yesterday and the scrambled eggs are sure a nice touch, but I wish there was some Ketchup (I should have asked).

My plan today is to hike as many of the Sentiero Azurro trails as possible, and I figured it would be a good idea to get an early start while it was still relatively cool. I left for the trail right after breakfast, and bought a large water to pack along, at a small shop close to the trail entrance (for myself and cats).

I made the short uphill hike to the Park Booth and had to buy a Park Pass before proceeding onto the trails.  Just below the Booth, I noticed the concrete shape of a swimming pool under construction, and believe this is part of the luxurious Hotel Porta Roca, which is located in that area.

The first part of the hike was more difficult than I remembered, involving a lot of stairs and a considerable increase in elevation.  The views from the trail were incredible , so I stopped often for photos.  It took me a while to reach the flat part and by that time I was getting hot and tired.  I took frequent rest breaks, which also provided an opportunity for a short visit with other travelers and also for photos.

Once I reached the upper part of the trail, it was somewhat flat, albeit very narrow in some parts.  There are a few places where the trail is only wide enough for one person, so it's necessary to "yield" depending on who gets there first.  If there are a lot of hikers travelling in both directions, the wait can take a few minutes.

I eventually reached the area I had remembered from my last visit here where the stray Cats were located, which is fairly close to the Vernazza end of the trail.  There’s a small wide area near an Olive grove, with a wooden picnic table.  This has several food and water dishes on it for the Cats, as well as a small "donation box". Someone must be looking after the Cats periodically, as one of the dishes had a fresh serving of canned meat, which one of them was devouring.  Unfortunately, his “dining experience” was a bit of a risky endeavor, as the dish was surrounded by a large number of hovering Hornets or Wasps.  I re-filled their water dishes using the large bottle I had bought.  When I continued on my hike, I noticed that there’s a small stream nearby, so they probably have a ready supply of water available (that was one detail I’d forgotten about).  I doubt that it freezes here in the winter, so they probably always have water available.

When I reached the famous vantage point above Vernazza where numerous photos have been taken, I waited my turn to occupy the best spot and got several photos.  I decided to use a Circular Polarizer on this occasion as it was close to noon and there was considerable glare being reflected from the water.  At one point, I provided a short photography tutorial to a couple from Australia, who were complaining that the flash kept “popping up” on their Canon DSLR when they were taking daylight photos. I suggested using “Program” mode instead of “Auto” mode to prevent that from happening, I explained how to use the small scroll wheel to change aperture and shutter settings in “Program” mode.  This led to a further discussion of ISO settings and depth-of-field, but at that point I felt I was “pushing their limits” so I left the tutorial at that.

I was very tired and hot when I finally arrived in Vernazza, which I hadn’t expected as I had remembered that hike to be easier.  As on the last occasion when I arrived from the hike, the place was a ZOO, with hordes of people everywhere.  I could barely make my way through the streets to the harbour!  The restaurants were all packed, so I moved out of the harbour plaza and tried to find a small restaurant in one of the other parts of town.  I finally settled on a small take-out Pizza place on the street leading up to the station, and ordered a half Pizza and a can of Sprite.  I sat on the concrete steps of a building across from the restaurant to eat my much needed lunch.

After lunch I went back to the harbour area to get some photos.  It was a very beautiful setting, with a variety of small coloured boats moored, boats coming and going and people swimming.  A cool swim is something I wished I could do at that moment.  One interesting thing I noticed when reading the Menus of some of the restaurants in the harbour area, is that some of the items on the menus were more expensive than the same items in Monterosso.  I’m not sure why that would be the case?  Given the huge number of people, I could hardly wait to get out of there!

After due consideration of my back condition and general “state of exhaustion”, I decided to take the train instead of hiking from Vernazza to Corniglia.  According to my memory, that hike is almost as difficult as the one I had just completed and I knew that I was in no shape to do that on a hot afternoon.  A more sensible option was to take the train from Vernazza to Manarola, and then finish the last portion of the trails, the famous Via del’ Amore to Riomaggiore.

I walked uphill to the small station in Vernazza and bought a ticket at the staffed ticket office.  Unfortunately, it seemed like the crowds were following me, as before long the platform was absolutely packed with travelers!  This included at least two large tour groups, complete with umbrella-toting Guides.  When the train arrived a few minutes later, there was a bit of a “stampede”, with people trying to disembark and board the car at the same time. The cars were of course “standing room only”, which is not the most pleasant experience on a hot afternoon in a car with no air conditioning.

When I arrived in Manarola, I took a few minutes to get some photos and refresh my memory of the town.  I had considered staying in Manarola this year, and may yet try that on a future visit.  I then walked back through the long tunnel to the rail station and up a metal grill walkway behind the station building, which is where the via del’ Amore starts.

My memory of that trail was accurate in this case, and I found the via del’ Amore to be an easy stroll.  Not long after leaving Manarola, I encountered the small Bar and Restaurant and was happy to see that it was still operating.  I decided that would be a good time to stop for some “liquid refreshment”.  I wasn’t really in the mood for Beer or Wine, so just had Coffee.  I felt the type of beverage wasn’t really important, as the view of the beautiful Ligurian sea from that vantage point was the best part.  The Via del’ Amore is all paved and with the ramp at the Manarola end and an Elevator at the Riomaggiore end, it could be toured in a Wheelchair.

When I arrived in Riomaggiore, I had a brief look around the station plaza, which was much as I had remembered.  The famous Mama Rosa was seated in front of her Hostel, resting her feet on a chair, and I felt that was a scene worthy of a photo.  I walked through the short tunnel to the main street, and stopped by the offices of Mar-Mar Rooms to find out if there were any changes in their rental facilities.  I wanted to check on that, as I frequently recommend them on the HelpLine, so wanted to make sure I was providing accurate information.  Bar Central and Gelateria Central were just as I remembered, and I decided this would be a good time for a Gelato.

As I was walking downhill towards the harbour area, I passed a tourist heading in the opposite direction who appeared to be flossing his teeth, something I found gross and disgusting.  His general appearance suggested that he was a tourist – short pants, Camera, small Backpack,etc.

I decided to take the Boat back to Monterosso rather than the train, as it was a beautiful afternoon.  However I couldn't remember where the docks were located.  I headed down to the harbour area and asked one of the shop keepers there.  She directed me around the corner and eventually I found a small ticket booth.  When I reached the boarding area, there was already a large crowd of people gathered on the rocks by the water, a location which was accessible by stairs.  I assumed that’s where the boat would be arriving.

The boat arrived a short time later, and boarding was very quick.  I sat outside on the upper deck as that was a better location to get photos.  The boat stopped at each of the villages just long enough for passengers to disembark and board, so the trip took less time than I had anticpated.  It was great to see each of the villages from the water, as it provided a totally different perspective.  On arrival in Monterosso, it was a short walk back to the Hotel.

On my travels during the day, I talked with a lot of people from Australia, the U.S., Quebec, Denmark, France, Germany and several other places.  Back at the Hotel, I had a nice visit with two Australian couples, who showed me some photos of Portofino taken on their Smartphones.  After seeing those I decided that I’ll definitely be heading there tomorrow!  I also had another nice visit with the young lady that works in the Hotel in the afternoon.  It's always such a pleasure to visit with her.

I decided to return to L’Alta Marea restaurant for dinner tonight, and ordered Ravioli al Ragu, Insalata Mista, Vino and coffee.  The meal was excellent, and after dinner the Server brought a complimentary Limoncello.  They seemed to be getting to know me to some extent.  I’ve been trying to use Italian as much as possible in the restaurants, so perhaps they appreciate that?  Of course, I enjoyed the Limoncello so much that I had two more while I was visiting with a couple from Florida.  I also visited with young family from Australia (the wife has an Italian background, as her family originated in Calabria).

My day has been long, interesting and somewhat tiring, but very enjoyable.   I felt it was time now for a rest.  I walked back to Hotel and spent a few minutes catching up with E-mail, and that was it for the day.

11 Sept. 23 – Friday

I started my day a bit earlier this morning, at about 06:30 and was easily ready for breakfast before 08:00.  There were a few people in the breakfast room that I didn’t recognize, but I had met most in the last day or so, including the couple from Denver that I had spoken with the previous day.

I had a short visit during breakfast with most of the other guests.  I left for the train station between 09:30 and 09:45 and as Hotel owner had suggested, I easily made it there before the departure time of 10:18.

When I got to the station, I had a visit with four girls from Brisbane.  They were heading for Genova and then Munich, before going for a sailing holiday in Croatia.  I rode with them as far as Santa Margherita Ligure, which was the stop I’d be getting off at.  The two Australian couples from the Hotel were at the station also, but wouldn’t be taking the same train.

The train ride to Santa Margherita Ligure was uneventful and when I arrived I wasn’t quite sure where to board the Ferry to Portofino.  The station agent indicated that Ferry tickets were sold at the small coffee bar at the end of the station, so I went there and bought a ticket. The ticket agent provided directions to the dock, and I had to walk down a long staircase to the main part of town, where the Ferry dock became visible.

I had a wait of about half an hour, and when the Ferry arrived, the waiting crowd surged forward so boarding didn’t take long.  The trip to Portofino only took about fifteen minutes, and arrival was right in the main port area. There were a LOT of small boats moored there, as well as three huge yachts and a bunch of tall sailing ships.

I decided to hike up to the “Brown Castle” first, before lunch to get some photos of the harbour and boats.  The trail up the hill was all paved and was fairly gradual, so it wasn’t really too strenuous.  The first part had steps, but the rest was a gentle incline.  I found that there’s also an old Bunker up there on the side of the hill.

When I arrived at the Castle, I discovered there was a sculpture exhibit on display by the famed Italian Sculptor, Michele Vitaloni.   The exhibit in this case was “hyper realistic animals” and the artist had achieved incredible realism and detail.  There was also a video display of the real animals that he used as “models”, as well as a look at his work creating the sculptures.   I wasn’t aware there would be an admission charge of €5.00, but I figured  since I’d made the effort to hike up there I may as well pay the charge and at least have a look.  I spent about 45 minutes touring the exhibits as well as getting some photos.

When I returned to the harbour area, I started looking for places to have lunch and finally settled on San Giorgio Café.  I had the house salad with Tuna, white wine and coffee.   It was good but a small portion size for a €10 meal.  After lunch I continued to walk around, explore the town a bit more and take photos.  The late afternoon was a good time for photos, as the shadows were starting to "creep" over parts of the harbour.

By about 16:00 I was starting to feel tired, so took the boat back to Santa Margherita Ligure and walked back to the station.  Unfortunately, there was some kind of “problem” and the train was at least 15 minutes late.  It eventually arrived on track 2 rather than 3, and I boarded for the trip back to Monterosso.  Once again this was a reminder that the trains in Italy don’t always operate with the same precision as in other countries in Europe.

During the journey, I spoke with a Nurse from Vancouver who had been travelling for over 22-hours.  She seemed surprisingly alert given the long travel time, but I suspect she was working hard to keep the jet lag at bay.  She would be staying in Levanto rather than one of the five villages, as there had been some “difficulties” with the reservations that she made on one of the Internet sites. I suggested it wasn’t always a good idea to use these sites as the hotel websites usually provide the most reliable results.  Her husband would be joining her tomorrow (he’s on a golf holiday in Ireland and Scotland at the moment).

Back at the Hotel, I had a shower, a short visit with the staff at the front desk and then made the short and now familiar walk to L’Alta Marea for dinner.  During my lengthy evening repast, I visited with people from the U.S. and Germany, among others. There were some people seated beside me who had two dogs, and I quite enjoyed have some Canine dinner companions, although it made me miss “Lou”.

That was the end of what had been a long but memorable day.

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londonpenguin on

Reading your descriptions of the Cinque Terre on a rainy October afternoon in Seattle is NOT making me jealous. No, not the least little bit! Sigh ...

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