Viva Italia - Part Quattro (Four)
Note: Reposted from RealTravel.com and branded "Editor's Pick".
Before I finalized my worldwide itinerary, my friends Suzanne and Nolen recommended that I add Cinque Terre to the Italian leg of my trip. I never heard of these 5 fishing villages nestled along the coast of Northern Italy, but trusted their judgment since they did a 1 year tour themselves several years ago. I am so glad I followed their advice since the five terres are just what most websites describe them – breathtaking and untouched. Dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage site, this national park is the perfect place to shop, lounge, or completely veg out while enjoying a small carafe of wine and tortellini. This is exactly the way I spent my days while I was there.
I first arrived on August 27th after taking 2 trains to Riomaggiore, the southernmost terre just north of La Spezia. Once I disembarked, I headed down this tunnel lined with beautiful mosaics and illuminated blue glass throughout. Went up Via Colombo (the main strip) and after 20 minutes found the hostel reception desk. It was such a relief to check in since the uphill climb coupled with the 30 degree Celsius heat made it difficult to breathe. I was so wrong about my trek ending at that point. After giving my passport to the hostel owner, Patrizia, she led me up this steep hill past the main church, across a cliffside overhang, as we continued to zig zag up the mountain towards my room. I am not asthmatic, but I could swear I was having some sort of pulmonary attack. In between sweating and hyperventilating, I kept asking her intermittently: Are we there YET (pant! Pant!)? It was super embarrassing since I thought by now I was in shape. Patrizia recognized my pain so she offered to take my mini pack. If I had the energy, I would have laughed when she thought there were heavy books in my small rucksack. Imagine what my larger backpack felt like.
Finally, we made it to the base of my building, and the owner told me that my room was on the top floor. CURSES! I couldn’t believe I made it up another 240 steps, but I did. Boy, was it worth it. The view from my room was worth having to squeegee my drenched Ciao Bella tank top after Patrizia left to escort my other suitemates who just arrived at the check in point. I was relived to see that my Irish flatmates (Gary and Lisa) were also dripping with sweat when they finally arrived at the suites since I thought I was the only one winded. I found out later that they took a shortcut and their luggage was much lighter than mine.
After I took a much-deserved shower, I went down the hill towards the main square and got a little lost. I wasn’t paying attention on the way up since I was too busy huffing and puffing to notice the route. I ran into two Americans who told me how to make my way down. They were also taking photos of various cement stairwells so they wouldn’t get lost either. Smart idea! On my way to town, I spotted an Asian woman with high heels. What was she thinking? In Cinque Terre? Vanity over practicality, perhaps? I bet 5 minutes of climbing the steep terrain will help her see the light.
Went back to Riomaggiore train station to purchase my 2 day Cinque Terre pass (13 Euros), which grants access to all walking trails, trains, and buses. I would have hiked the following 2 days, but the heat was unbearable. Plus the walkways are heavily trafficked during this busy July/August timeframe, so I decided to visit all 5 terres via the regional train system instead.
Monterroso: This is my favorite, northernmost terre. The train station is situated right next to the beach, where there are rows and rows of octagon-shaped umbrellas with bikini and speedo-clad tourists directly underneath them. I spent most of my time here since this town accommodates the lone traveler. Many shops, restaurants, gelato, and internet cafes to occupy my time.
Vernazza: This adjacent town is slightly smaller than the one I described previously, but equally impressive. It was packed with many people since there really is only one primary walkway leading to the beach/pier. Also saw 20+ tourists embarking on a ferry that takes you from one terre to another (with the exception of Corniglia).
Corniglia: So my next train stop was the central terre, where I had to scale the hillside just to see the town. Once at the town, I saw a sign that stated: “Congratulations, you have just climbed 382 steps. You are at the center of Cinque Terre.” I wish there were more to this town, but sadly there wasn’t. I warned my suitemates about this so they skipped this stop altogether. If you are looking for an alternative to your in-home stair master, this place is worth visiting. I would have enjoyed this climb much more during the fall or winter months. Scorching heat really makes exercise unpleasant.
Manarola: I spent only 30 minutes in this terre mainly since it’s an even smaller version of the first two terres I described above. It’s definitely quaint little town with a few souvenir shops and a handful of restaurants. Cute.
Riomaggiore: My home for three days! This is the very first terre (I listed the terres in descending order from North to South), where you can start your journey on the Via dell’ Amore. This takes you to the adjacent terre – Manarola. I spent plenty of time at the small mini markets purchasing bottles of water and fruit to keep me satiated. My flat mates, Lisa and Gary, even treated me to a mojito my 2nd night. I enjoyed this terre the most since I was able to wake up to the most spectacular view. I even purchased a postcard that features my building situated at the very top so I can always remember my visit.
I am deviating from my original itinerary and skipping France and most of Spain. Instead, I will be heading back to one of my favorite places – Istanbul. Will commence blogging when I land in Madrid mid-September. Until then…