Trip Start Aug 01, 2006
35Trip End Dec 29, 2006
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In Riomaggiore, a rocky narrow ravine leads from the mountain range to end abruptly at the rocky shore. Three to four-story buildings built onto each other in a chaotic mess along this ravine spill into the tiny harbor. The trademark of Cinque Terre is that each building is painted in bright colors including greens, oranges, and reds. The towns looked like arteries with a main branch and little random smaller branches off of it
Our apartment was on the second floor with a stairwell so steep and narrow it resembled a stone ladder, and Collette was afraid to walk down it on her own
The first day we walked along the sea cliff walkway and it constantly reminded us of Big Sur. There were huge barren rocky cliffs that become steeper as they got closer to the sea and eventually become a sheer cliff that is anywhere from 70 ft to 200 ft.
The next town up, Manarola, was much the same as our town, Riomaggiore. Steep, narrow, beautiful, and exotic. After changing an especially stinky diaper while crouching behind a few dry-docked fishing boats we decided to take the train to the fourth town Vernazza. The train ran above the walkway and we could often hear it rushing past to Collette's delight. The towns were so rocky and steep that the train line was riddled with tunnels leaving very little room to place the stations
Town 4 (Vernazza) was bigger and had a wider harbor that even included a small beach. This town was the most popular and this was evident by the masses of tourists walking up and down the main street eating ice cream, taking pictures, and asking locals the touristy questions. We enquired about a room but any thoughts of staying here were dismissed about two seconds after hearing the price. We were plagued with this dilemma. Each time we saw a new Cinque Terre town we wanted to stay in that one, Ohh look at that beach, this one has more stores, that's a nice café, and so on. In the end we stayed the whole time in Riomaggiore not because it was the best but because we were there, had a cheap apartment, and at one point you have to accept some things or you would never be content. I called Riomaggiore Morder because its high buildings and narrow lanes gave it less sunlight than the other towns
On the third day we had big plans, get up early, get a quick train to the central station, two trains and then a bus. We had not seen all of Cinque Terre but felt compelled to see more of Italy and to see a town that was less touristy and representative of the "real" Italy. Even though we were still tired and burned out we were going to stick to the plan of heading towards a small town near Siena.
That evening we went to a café to watch the sunset. The outside café was perched at least a hundred feet above the sea on a rock that jutted out over the cliff like the bow of a ship. We were not as brilliant or unique in picking our sunset watching location because the café suddenly got crowded. One table next to us contained someone we couldn't fail to recognize. The man dressed and looked like a garden gnome. He had tan puffy pants with suspenders, white shirt, a full beard, and a bald head topped with a hat that was more appropriate for the Italian Alps than the café (as evidenced by the feather sticking up out of it)
Troubled by this new information and seriously considering changing our plans on her word we bought our first train tickets. Sporadically discussing our travel plans we bought some pizza and gobbled it down in the hotel room where we could better control Collette. After unwrapping our pizza slices like greasy Christmas presents Collette ate exceptionally well. Late in the night some instinct or small noise brought me awake and I could see Collette sitting upright in her bed. I went to her and sensed that something was not right because she kept looking down and made barely audible grunting noises. Then it came, or more precisely, then it came out. Collette started burping out streams of hot vomit. As any parent knows, vomit makes your reflexes faster and I picked her up over the sink to spew at will. As I held her heaving little body I could feel the convulsions moving up her spine
Vomit is like an archeological dig and in its contents the last 48 hours were laid out in a variety of forms and colors like 3-d spin art. Ohh that's right I remember that café, it was chilly in the morning but those croissants were warm.
Collette was in fine healthy spirits the next day showing no sign of last night's illness. Toddlers appear to be able to throw up at will and suffer no repercussions. The sun was out and we took the train to town 5, Monterossa. Being less hilly than the other towns gave several advantages. The sun was more accessible and the streets were easier to walk. It contained more restaurants and shops than Riomaggiore and once again the old feeling that I wished we had stayed in another town remerged. This was tempered by my general happiness and relief that we were not having a hard long-range travel day and this buoyed my spirits for the rest of the day. Monterossa had the most extensive sandy beaches and we had a nice lounging day in the sand while Collette played with an kid from Denmark until we overstayed our welcome
Collette's knees and legs looked like the bottom a ship covered in barnacles and scrapes from the mosquito bites, constant falling, and crashing through plants. She now refuses to go into the ocean, not because she doesn't enjoy it but because the salt water causes her owies to sting. She will sit and cry until the effect wears off and then she will be wary of the water and prefer to play in the sand.
It was about this time in the trip that Collette began to be less intimidated by strangers and started giving her patented tourists response. If someone prompts her for her name she proclaims," I am Collette" Followed by "I'm three" and finally," Santa Cruz". It is often up to the listener to decipher these cryptic, poorly pronounced, and random remarks.
Now we had to do town 3, Carniglia, the only one not yet explored. This town is the only one that is not right on the beach. Instead it resides about six hundred feet above the sea with houses and buildings wedged into small ravines and openings in the rocky face. We took the train to the station and then instead of taking the 489 switch back stairs that took you from the station to the town we waited for the little tourist "special bus". I was strongly opposed to this and when I saw the crowd of old German people, hunched Italian ladies with grocers and a mix of tourist chronic smokers my dissent bubbled over to anger
We ate lunch in a small concrete courtyard overlooking the mountains and the coastline as it stretched out several hundred feet below. Now in complete agreement we did decide to leave this most unpleasant place and walk the two hours back to Riomaggiore. A long scenic walk away from the bustling hordes would improve my mood, and after perching Collette on my head, we happily headed out.
Two related things of no consequence happened to us on the way back. We saw a group of three college young men with beers in their hands slowly doing the frat boy swagger. I noticed one had a Crow's Nest t-shirt but the other two had English accents. They looked out of place and aloof of their surroundings. We asked the t-shirt owner if he was from Santa Cruz and he said, "yes." Apparently the Crow's Nest not only provided him his employment but his wardrobe as well. After some superficial talk of Santa Cruz the English one broadcast, "I'm not from there." Brilliant. The conversation ended awkwardly because they weren't articulate or good conversationalists (I'm being more than generous). Later in the walk we ran into a girl wearing a Pizza My Heart t-shirt and we asked her the same questions. Yes she was from Santa Cruz but we didn't find out if she worked there
Christy was feeling slightly ill the last day so I suggested a hike to the top of the mountain looming over the town. Leaning ridiculously forward I pushed the stroller up the incline until the road ended at a rocky path. We hiked about ten feet and then Collette demanded that I pick her up by stretching out her arms and making small grunts. I put her on my head and started climbing and sweating while Collette talked and sang happily. "Look at that butterfly daddy, he can fly fast". The trail followed a narrow rocky ravine that was cut out by a stream. A few sparse houses dotted the mountainside. It was rocky enough that I had to bow my head to watch were I put my feet and my neck ached from the 15.2 kilograms of extra weight. I know Collette weighs this because I put her on the luggage scale while Christy was checking us in. After passing a few mountain vineyards we were rewarded with a beautiful view and silky hot chocolate. The road terminated at an almost empty hotel and café that had a demanding view of the coastline in both directions. In the distant haze town 5 could be seen where the sea cliff made a hook. Again I was struck with the similarities between this coastline and Big Sur. After letting the sweat dry on my shirt we took a new path of mostly stairs to Riomaggiore laid out far below us like a model train set.
While browsing e-mail for financial disasters we were informed of another more personal piece of bad news. My father was in a severe bike accident and had broken his hip and shattered his arm. To those of you who know my father his physical prowess is not something that he just takes pride in-- it is part of his being and his soul. To hear that his body had been broken and that he would be immobile for an extended period of time shook me to my core and brought out deep feelings for him that are difficult to express. I have a strong sense of sympathy for him but know that his mind is stronger than his body and he has an unlimited capacity to take on physical hardships and overcome them. Others and I admire him for this. Being so far away I felt helpless. So, with an umbrella over my head I used the phone card purchased in the local bar to call home. My dad sounded distant and weak. Obviously he was still freshly injured and had the slow speech belonging to pain medication. I know he is a strong and marvelous man and no accident can take away his vitality and resolve for life. I wish him the best.
We left Cinque Terre feeling refreshed and Collette perhaps a little bit lighter. It was an interesting place with a complex blend of extraordinary features. The Italian culture, the dramatic landscape and the haphazard and beautiful architecture worked together to form something completely unique. We were happy that we had taken the time to feel the rhythm of the place and to explore of all the towns. So we launched ourselves from the relaxing slow pace of the village life of Cinque Terre and into the chaotic hectic nest of Rome.