Trip Start Aug 11, 2009
14Trip End Oct 08, 2009
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We believe there are two main ways of traveling: one is searching out specific places and things to visit or see; two is to simply try to live like a local and soak in the local environment. We spent most of our trip until Cinque Terre traveling in type one mode. But the towns of the 5Terre were like a siren's song to slow down and suck up the local life. It helped that they have some sand beaches to lay out on -even if the sand is trucked in these days because the ocean's errosion is so strong here. The first day we spent the afternoon on the small public beach in the old town. My attempts at swimming were comical thanks the absolutely brutal waves and rocky pebbles under foot that didn't allow for trying to stand up against the waves. The storm from the night before was still agitating the water and the waves were fun to bob in, but trying to get back to the beach was a lot of work. Laying on beach and letting the tide wash over me was much easier. We grabbed some raw coconut for eating from a strolling beach vendor and just watched the growing crowd of locals arriving after getting off work. Eventually we shuffled off to the hotel, cleaned up and went back out to find food. There is a little bar/restaurant on the main street called David that gives free tapas plates when you order a drink and they were inventive and tasty (great local olives and a creamy type of potato salad stood out).
The Il Maestrale has a top notch breakfast buffet that includes fresh bread, pain au chocolate, parma crudo, brie, yogurt, a ridiculous array of jams and fruits, cereals, etc. and soft boiled eggs and cappuccino on demand to be eaten on the lush terrace that straddled over the street. Needless to say, we didn't miss any breakfasts. The rest of the day, all day, was spent at the beach in front of the new town. We rented out two beach chairs and an umbrella in the front row of the beach. So close to it that at times waves would rush under your chair, requiring all items be tethered up inside the umbrella. The beach was sandier at this location and the waves had settled down, so we were both able to spend time swimming and bobbing around in the warm waves. We even bought a cheap inflatable mattress to float around on and we did so for hours. Cold beers were bought at the nearby snack shack that we drank on our rented loungers waiting for the coconut man to come by. There he is - right on. Beach life just can't be beat.
Dinner started on the main drag again (which is hyperbole considering the smallness of the town and street) at a wine bar specializing in local vines. We shared generous meat and cheese plates while Marisa got the local red wine flight and I got the white (five good sized samples each.)
One of the unfortunate realities of Venice (besides the fact that it's sinking) is that despite the tourist boom and dense population, the locals have declined from well over 200,000 in the mid seventies to around 60,000 today. That's why its hard to hang with the locals in Venice-- there just aren't that many of them anymore. They have fled the city to the suburbs as outsiders have bought up property for vacation homes and tourism investments. Cinque Terre doesn't have that problem. Talking to the locals is much easier and they don't mind chatting you up. This place feels like a home town and not a tourist mecca. At least not yet.
One aside: there is a creepy little church in town that's sort of tucked in the shadow of the main, marble adorned town church, like a let's-not-mention-her-name cousin. It seems to be strangely adorned with human frailty and traditional images of death, namely skeletons. It's was so strikingly different that we placed a euro in the collection cup asking for donations to help refurbish the old girl.
Also, this town was well liked as a vacation spot by German forces in WWII (it was close to the major strategic port of La Spezia), so there is still a WWII era pillbox bunker sitting on a cliff that is eaily accessible - so much so that it appears inside to be a burnt out party cabin well used over the years.
The last day (after some shop perusing - there are some great shops in town, especially for ceramics) we decided to forgo the beach and the languid life to take the train and check out the next town over, Vernazza. It has the reputation of being probably the prettiest of the the towns, which we think is true. It also has some excellent ducks, great shopping and restaurants with great views. We were attempting to make a reservation for the night at one when the tourist herd arrived by boat. It was like four tour busses depositing their ill will on us and we ducked up a narrow alley up into steep stairs to find some calm on a hidden quiet neighborhood bench.
Cinque Terre was a delight and we could have stayed another week if the French Riviera wasn't calling us. It was one of our favorite places on the trip and helped set the tone for the rest of the vacation. Yes, we came to see places and do things, but its still a vacation and we need to slow down, relax and treat wherever we are like home. It certainly had the feel of it here.
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