Thursday, July 19, 2012

Day 4: Cinque Terre

I woke early and sat on my balcony watching the local workers of Monterosso scuttle about. I journaled about the previous day and felt the sea breeze blow. Fishing boats littered the shore, catching tonight's dinner as the sun gradually rose above the mountains.

Before we begin, let's discuss hydration.  I have never craved water as badly as I craved it in Italy.  Water was of the utmost importance.  In Italy in July, it was close to 90 degrees F everyday. In most cases, we were walking several miles per day- almost all day.  We were estimating at least 26 miles and several thousands of stairs when we lost track. Between the heat and the physical exhaustion, we quickly learned that we needed to have water on us at almost all times if possible.  In Italy, most stores and stands sell 1.5 Liter giant water bottles.  We started buying these and would plow through one in a matter of minutes because we were so dehydrated.  Eventually, we just started carrying one with us everywhere we went and sometimes even refill it wherever we could.  By the way, we learned this a bit late, but in both Venice and Rome, there are several public fountains placed all over the city- in piazzas and campos, on corners- everywhere.  This water is perfectly drinkable and is actually very good!  Once we figured this out we refilled our giant water bottle several times per day, which made the heat and exertion tolerable and our costs down. We tried to keep track of how many liters of water we had gone through, but last track somewhere in the twenties... Take water everywhere with you! We also bought water at almost every restaurant whether or not we ordered wine or another beverage.  Water at restaurants is not free.  A good price is either €1 or €2 for a decent-sized glass bottle.  However, be sure to order your water "naturale" or say "no gas". We learned the hard way that most Italians drink soda water... yuck!

On the fourth day of our adventure we simply enjoyed the gorgeous Cinque Terre.  We got moving around 8:00 am and ventured down to the the train station.  The Monterosso train station is literally about 100 meters down the road from our hotel.  Here we sought the Park/Tourist desk, which is a separate desk located in the train station, and we bought a train and trail card.  You need to pay in order to hike the Cinque Terre trail, although it is considered a park.  However, you can buy a combo train and trail pass which allows you to hike whatever portions of the trail you like, as well as you use the train unlimited between the five towns throughout the day.  This way we could hike portions and skips towns easily if wanted to.  In fact, this was almost necessary due to the fact that one section (as of July 2012) between Manarola and Corniglia is still closed due to reconstruction due to the 2011 mudslides.  We purchased our day train and trail pass for about €10 each.  We bought them from a woman at the tourism office at the train station who was very unfriendly. She was definitely tired of the tourists, since we were in the high season, and she did not give us our change, and we did not argue. It was such a small amount and so far we had learned while in a foreign coiuntry, we had to choose our battles. We have now come to the conclusion that service in Italy is either outstanding or dreadful.

After purchasing our Cinque Terre , we walked down to the beach and reserved a spot.  Yes- most of the beaches here are owned and therefore charge for use.  There are two free beaches in Monterosso, but they are very rocky with little sand, small, crowded, and have no conveniences.  Reserved spots fill up fast! We paid  €23 for a spot on the beach for the entire day.  This included two lounge chairs, an umbrella with a small table, and use of the bathrooms and showers.  It sounds hefty and maybe it is, but it was worth it since we used it for several hours later in the day.  But first we planned to eat breakfast and then hike!  

Breakfast at La Spiaggia
We walked the few steps from the beach back to our hotel where breakfast was now being served. Again, it was a nice spread of the typical Italian breakfast.  Hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, cereal, fruit, pastries, meats, and cheeses. 

Meanwhile, from our view out of the window, the local produce truck pulled up. It distributed fresh veggies, farm fresh eggs, and more to the locals right out of the back of the truck!  Even the local restaurants were lined up at the back of the truck, which we found out comes by daily, to stock up on fresh herbs and goods for that night's dinner!  

We then departed by train for the opposite end of the Cinque Terre trail and started our hike in Riomaggiore.  The stretch of the trail that goes from Riomaggiore to Manarola is by the far the easiest.  Named the "Lover's Lane", it is a basically a  paved sidewalk and took only 25 minutes to walk.
Along the way, we saw many padlocks decorating nets and over bridges.  We found this to be common and learned from some Australian friends hiking the trail that this is common in Europe.  Lovers carve their names or initials on a padlock, clip it on a bridge or near the sea, and throw the "key to their heart" away in the water. Unfortunately, in this area, people were adding much more than padlocks.  We saw some very interesting items added to the nets: plastic bags, underwear, and even diapers...

We arrived in Manarola and then took the train to Vernazza, skipping Corniglia.  As mentioned earlier, the stretch from Manarola to Corniglia is still closed, and Corniglia is much higher up on the cliffs warranting an extra bus ride.  For this reason, we moved on directly to Vernazza, preparing to hike the most difficult stretch between Vernazza and Monterosso. Although we were only on it for a short 10 minute jaunt between towns, this bus was our first double-decker, and we sat on the top! 

We hopped off in Vernazza and has to walk through town in order to get to the rest of the Cinque Terre trail.  There were no directions, but in such a small town, we figured we would eventually find it.  Besides Monterosso, Vernazza was hit the hardest from the floods and mudslides last October and the reconstruction was a little more evident here.  Crews were had at work restoring roads and buildings, although it was not overbearing and tourists were already crawling over this sweet little town. See more about this town's reformation here. We enjoyed these beautiful views from the harbor of Vernazza: 

Love this pic! 
We eventually found the opening of the trail- a set of stone stairs wedged between two old stone buildings- and it began to climb fast!  There were SO many stairs!  We just kept going up and up and up... Many people we talked to during and after the hike agreed that it really was a fairly difficult hike, even for avid hikers.  It was definitely doable, but more challenging than you would expect.  It is almost all uphill in either direction, but it is highly recommended that you go in the direction from Vernazza to Monterosso rather than the other way around, as the ascent is even steeper and rougher on the knees going in that direction. It took us about an hour and a half to do this portion of the hike. Regardless of the difficulty, the views were outstanding!
We saw this cat on a picnic table placed randomly on the trail, along with a sign that  indicated that he lives here and donations of food or money to feed him are to be left in a lock box.  

Sam on the CT trail. 
The trail is VERY narrow in some spots- barely big enough for one person.

Heading back down towards Monterosso.
Once we arrived back in Monterosso around 12:30 pm, we quickly headed to the hotel, changed into our swimsuits, and rented beach towels from our hotel.  These were  2.50 each and totally worth it to not have to pack beach towels in our bags. Sam was debating buying a snorkel all day, but they were almost  €20.00, and we would have to throw it away when we were done due to lack of space.  Then we saw someone throw one away on our way down to the beach and we reluctantly grabbed it out of the garbage. We took it back and washed it thoroughly and even soaked it in liquor to try and decontaminate it!  We were laughing about the ridiculousness of this, but we were too cheap to spend that much on a one-time-use snorkel!   We marched straight out to our reserved beach spot in the front row.  All of the rest of the spots were taken by this time, but ours awaited us!  Sam immediately went swimming and snorkeling. On the other hand, I went to sleep on my lounge chair and soaked up some rays with the long strap of my purse wrapped completely around my waist and my hand over it to avoid any pickpockets. Yes, this is a big problem in Italy!

A bit later I also went swimming in the sea and then we took a break to split a tomato and mozzarella panini and 2 large Peroni's we bought from the local beach snack bar, Stella Marina Bar.  It was actually quite good.  Read the review here. We also enjoyed some fresh coconut we bought from a vendor.  We stayed on the beach for about five wonderfully relaxing hours. 

Later we made another stop at the local grocery store, La Bottega and then tried to hit Cantina Micky for dinner since we had heard such great reviews, but unfortunately they are closed on Wednesday nights, so we missed out.  Instead, we decided to go to Bar Gio next door, which was actually only steps from our hotel. We sat outside under the stars and enjoyed the evening ocean air.  We ordered the "menu turistico" (a predetermined menu that includes several courses and usually wine).  We started with two appetizers including the area specialty- seafood!  We started with a plate of fresh anchovies and then a fritto misto- a mixed fried seafood appetizer, including fresh calamari, anchovies, and shrimp.  For those of you that know me well, you know that I despise all seafood, but considering I was in Italy and on the coast known for its phenomenal seafood, I was brave and tried both the shrimp and calamari.  I am glad I did!  Then Sam had the trofie pesto, and I ordered the spaghetti alla bolognese followed by a fresh salad. We split a 1/2 carafe of the house white wine. Bon apetit!
Fresh anchovies
Fritto Misto
Spaghetti all Bolognese
Trofie with Pesto- a CT specialty!
Yummy salad with fresh mozzarella! 
After dinner we went back up to our room, drank a bottle of wine made by the owner of our hotel (It wasn't that great), and sat on our balcony before going to bed.  This night was much more quiet than the night before and a good night's sleep was had by all accompanied by the sea breeze blowing in our window. 

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