Cinque Terre

Trip Start May 19, 2007
Trip End Sep 02, 2007

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

After a recommendation from one of Glenn's work mates, and with it having been on Christie's "I would love to see list" we decided to go to Cinque Terre (pronounced "chink-wah terra"), Italy. With our location in France being so close to the border, and with us having explored a lot of this part of France before, Italy was singing for us to come!

Cinque Terre is named after its 5 villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza & Monterosso. The towns are linked by a 12km walking track, which passes the coast. It's a National Park protected by Unesco.

Glenn went for jog the day before (Thursday) during lunch with two of his work mates. One of them was a marathon runner (Glenn doesn't do things by halves) and he soon learnt actually how fit you have to be to keep up (or even try). That afternoon was tough, but Glenn still managed to sort out some accommodation in Corniglia for the Friday night, even though almost everything else seemed booked out.

A quick stroll that evening around Juan Les Pins, led Glenn to understand that he was far from being a marathon runner and about 10 years out of practice. Let alone being sore from running, his hip joint decided to turn into an old man's version as retaliation.

Friday was a painful experience, so being that we had to leave early anyway, Glenn decided to take the day off work and rest up a bit before leaving. And considering we missed a public holiday in Aus, we considered it "in lieu".

We set of in Benji for the drive to Italy on Friday mid-morning, feeling a little unusual crossing a border without having to show your passport. We also changed from driving on an "Autoroute" to an "Autostrada".

We are both reading a book at the moment (ok, Christie is finished and Glenn is struggling to get past chapter 2), which is basically a travel diary (Tuning Out, by Katrina Blowers), where she describes arriving in Italy with her husband and taking a break at a petrol station on the Autostrada. The dialogue goes roughly as follows: "We see a sign for a service station and pull into the carpark... A young couple move like lightning, serving customers. I look at the menu and it becomes clear that this is no Australian truck stop with soggy meat pies and cartons of chocolate milk. We are in the middle of nowhere, yet we have found our first Italian espresso bar... the big stainless steel machine dispenses a trickle of chocolate-coloured liquid, tiger-striped with crema, into tiny glasses. A dollop of silky foam finishes them off. She plonks the cups unceremoniously on the counter in front of us.... They're perfect. We stand and sip, trying to act like we do this all the time. Carried away in the moment, we have two more each and spend the next hour with caffeine jitters.

This particular part of the book has been on Glenn's mind before we had even decided to travel to Italy. Now, he loves his French coffee, but all his mates here tell him the Italian coffee is better (that must mean something coming from the patriotic French). So of course as soon as we come to the first petrol station on the Autostrada he was well and truly ready for his first Italian coffee experience...and he wasn't disappointed. If it wasn't for the massive queues he would have gone back for two more as well.

The drive towards the Cinque Terre was easy and we found our way without a problem. We then made our way into the national park area and found the road to Corniglia. It became a very skinny and windy road with sheer drops as we headed down towards the town. Pretty hairy and scary, Christie had white knuckles there for a while. No wonder when the road had blind corners and even though two way, was hardly big enough for one car, and to top it off had a lovely scenic drop straight down.

We knew that there was no parking in the town and that we would have to park somewhere on this street and walk in. We were told that being summer it would be pretty busy and we may have to park the car a fair way back. So we drove down as far as we could, and managed to somehow find a park right at the entry gate to the town ("tinny bugger" Glenn).

We walked into town, backpacks on and tried to find the address we were given for the accommodation. The street numbers weren't very well sign posted, although we thought we had found the right place as the bell had the correct surname (Monti) - so we rang the bell. We could see a lady inside but she didn't come out to greet us, so we rang the bell again and she finally come out, an old lady struggling to walk up the path. We told her that we were looking for Maria Monti and she said no, no Maria, and motioned at us to keep walking up the hill to Maria's place. Oops, we felt bad that we had disturbed her like that, but we were thankful for her help.

After a bit more of a trek up hill, we finally found Maria's place and rang the bell. There was no answer. We rang again and still no answer. A younger woman popped her head around the corner and said something to us in Italian that we didn't quite understand, which she soon realised and then said in English "one moment please". Finally came Maria, an older lady walking around the corner clutching a bag of lemons and a piece of paper. After a bit of discussion and confusion (in Italian), she realised who we were and told us that we needed to walk with her back into town, which is where we would be staying. At least it was what we guessed she was saying.

She led us back into town through the little cobbled streets saying "ciao" (hi) to everyone that she passed. It wasn't long before we arrived. There were a couple of blokes sitting on the steps to Maria's place having a beer and they said hello to us in English, Christie said hello back and Glenn his very Aussie G'day. They picked up on this and said "You Aussies are ya?"

"Yup, you bet ya", and with big smiles they said "Well, welcome to skippy house!" We left the Aussies to their beer and followed Maria up the steps to our room, all four floors of them. When we finally got to our room and filled out the paperwork, we arranged a time to meet Maria on Sunday morning and then she left us to enjoy the amazing view from our room. We couldn't believe that we found such a beautiful place on such short notice.

We decided to see a bit more of Corniglia that afternoon as we would begin our hike to Vernazza and Monterosso early in the morning. We found the Aussies still hanging out on the steps and discovered that they were a family travelling around Europe. We had a chat to them for a while and then set off about the town.

It didn't take us long to discover the beautiful Corniglia, it was such a small town, quiet and tranquil, so most of our time was spent taking photos and just enjoying it. We decided to head out for dinner after that (to one of the two restaurants in town!), other than trying to communicate with Maria earlier in the afternoon, this was the first time we had to try out some Italian. We got a table overlooking the ocean and the waiter brought us our menus. We greeted him with "Buongiorno!" and got a look of shock straight away. The waiter then said in English "No, No, No my friend, it is "Buonsera" in the evening, actually after around 2pm in the afternoon". There is only one way to learn, and although we felt a little stupid, at least we tried and the waiter was really lovely about it. After that it was a clumsy mix of English and Italian (and probably a bit of French) for the rest of the night.

We knew that the area (the town of Levanto in particular) is famous for its Pesto, so that was on our checklist of things to try during our weekend in Italy (along with coffee, wine, pizza, wine, seafood, and ummm.... wine), so we both ordered pasta with pesto and a bottle of local wine, so local that it was produced in Corniglia. We weren't disappointed with anything that night, the food, the wine, the service, the moonlit view over the ocean - everything about it was perfect - talk about la dolce vita!

Before dinner we had stopped in at the little deli/supermarket in the village to pick up some water and came across a bottle of Limoncello (a sweet lemon liquor), which we had tried in France a few weeks before. So we bought it and after dinner we took it up to the terrace of Maria's place and had a few Limoncello's (in a couple of espresso cups - all that we could find!) to finish the night with a beautiful view of the village lit up at night. But we couldn't enjoy ourselves too much we had a 4 hour hike ahead of us the next day, so it was off to bed.

Well our early morning didn't turn out so early, and we began our hike at 9am. We were surprised how quiet the trail was (guess that's the benefit of starting in the middle).

It was a reasonably hard walk to Vernazza, with quite impressive climbing up through the vineyards and terraces to be greeted by glimpes of stunning coastline. But well worth the effort.

We passed a local bakery and were seduced by some amazing little pastries inside. So there we were, sitting on some steps in the town watching life go by and ruining all that hard work we just did walking.

After a wander around the town and a few photos, we continued on the hike to Monterosso. This was the hardest part of the hike (lots of up and down - don't you love this technical description), and we were glad to see the beach of Monterosso as we descended into the town some 5 hours after we started the hike. There was a bit of a celebration going on in the town and there was a big feast, with old blokes cooking little fish and fried bread - selling it to the crowds of people queuing up for it. It was a simple and cheap meal and not the rewarding restaurant lunch we had originally envisaged when we finished our hike, but we loved the simplicity of it, and the atmosphere (and the food) was great! (We later found out from a lady in Corniglia that this feast only happens one day a year and is done in celebration of the towns patron Saint. Oh, and she also told us that the fish were anchovies! Never thought we'd say we had eaten them!).

We caught the local train back to Corniglia and had a siesta for a few hours. We decided to go to Levanto (town after Monterosso) for dinner, but as soon as we got off the train we realised it was a much bigger town than we had thought and seemed to lack the atmosphere of the Cinque Terre towns. According to the town map, the centre was quite far, so we went straight back to the train station to catch a train back to Corniglia. (Of course we had just missed a train and the next one decided to run very late, and so we didn't get back until 10pm and had to walk uphill to town - yes Corniglia is built up much higher than all the other towns, and the steps up alone turn a lot of people away).

We decided to 'share the love around' and go to the "other restaurant" in town and although we were grateful that they were willing to serve us so late at night, the service was very rushed and the food, although good, didn't equal our experience from the night before. The Aussies were at the same restaurant that night and we caught up with them on how our days went and then they left the restaurant before us. The previous night we had spotted a quaint little wine bar which we weren't game to stop at because we had a big hike the following day. But this night we didn't have such a big day planned for the next day, so we decided to go to the bar after dinner to wind down a bit after our Levanto disaster and rushed dinner. Who should we find but the Aussies, and we decided to join them to finish of the night, sharing our travel experiences. The owner of the wine bar was an amazing lady. She spoke perfect English and managed to pick our taste in wine exactly just by asking us a few questions. The Aussies were leaving for France the next morning, so they called it a night and left us chatting to the lady at the wine bar.

We got to bed about 1am and the church bells (something we forgot to mention earlier) kept us awake for a while. We somehow managed to wake at 7am and felt okay (not bad as we had expected to feel a bit sore from our hike the day before). After breakfast we packed our bags and took them up to the car. We walked back into town and after a morning coffee we met up with Maria as planned and said our goodbyes. We then started the walk in the other direction to Manarola and Riomaggiore. We say walk, because it was much easier than the previous day.

We soon arrived in Manarola and loved the town. There were people jumping off rocks into the water, and it had a nice relaxed feel about it. We decided we would head to Riomaggiore and then come back to Manarola for lunch. We walked to Riomaggiore on the Via dell'Amore (Lovers Lane), famous as part of the walk but now basically lots of graffiti of who loves who. But we saw the padlocks again which seems to be something universal as we have seen them in many countries from China to Latvia.

Riomaggiore wasn't as special to us as the other towns and after Glenn took a dip in the very rocky beach we walked back to Manarola for lunch. (When we say very rocky, these were boulders, not pebbles like in France, making it a serious challenge to get into the water - oh, and there were waves here!)

We had spotted a nice little restaurant before away from the waterfront, and now it was a very busy place which seemed to be popular with Italian familes and that was good enough for us. Glenn tried the seafood with a pasta marinara and Christie had the gnocchi with pesto again. It was another amazing food experience and it was kind of nice to be surrounded by the rowdy Italian familes. It created a nice atmosphere and it was lovely to be around people who were enjoying life so much.

We decided to take the train back to Corniglia, and escape the scorching heat. A brief stop back at the wine bar landed us with lots of wine to take home. The lady remembered us (we wish we asked her name) and after giving us few free tastes her husband arrived and she proceeded to tell him all about us (that Glenn was working in France and we were living in Antibes), all things that she had remembered us telling her from the night before. It's so nice that they had taken such interest and they were both lovely people, and of course now we have the wine to remember them by.

We then met up with Benji again and started the drive back to France.

We stopped in at Portofino on way home, and noticed a big contrast. There was a lot of money here (supposed to be the Italian version of the French Riviera) and although it was nice, we were both so awestruck by the Cinque Terre and also very tired that we didn't hang around for long.

It was here that Glenn's precious camera decided to cark it, making him a very unhappy chappy. Looks like it's the point and shoot camera for the rest of the trip, so we are hoping our photos don't suffer too much. Guess that we will just have to be more creative.

We continued on our drive, but Glenn couldn't leave Italy with one last road stop espresso. Needless to say, when we finally made it home, it was a little difficult to sleep.

The following evening we had to move house, into the centre of Antibes. It was the last thing we felt like after such a full on weekend, but to date our Italy side trip has been our highlight!
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anel on

You do not have the address of the old lady you stayed with, we are looking for a place to stay and the place you stayed in sounds beautifull.

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