Cinque Terre

October 20, 2011

End of October and whatever Indian Summer we had in Toronto – it’s all gone now. Cold, rainy and gray appear to be the the themes of today, but I’d rather remind myself of another somewhat rainy day. Unlike today here, that was in Cinque Terre and while humid and ultimately rainy, it was warm and colourful.

Upon waking up in a hot, non air conditioned hotel room we were anxious to get out into the villages and see how they fair in daylight. We headed to the now familiar train station and got tickets for the furthest one – Monterosso al Mare. The train station at La Spezia is actually advanced enough to accept credit card payments for tickets in an automated dispensing machine. On the previous night when we were returning from Riomaggiore the manned kiosks were already closed and all that was left was a single automated ticket selling machine that had a tiny screen to make your destination selection, a couple of buttons and a slot for coins. Coins was all it accepted and we were really lucky to have some (usually I’m the one to try to ditch coins as soon as I can and on most occasions I therefore do not have any). Shortly after we spent some time figuring out how to buy the right tickets with that machine, a couple of girls went for it as well and were getting quite frustrated (I don’t blame them). We eventually helped them out, and were slightly surprised at their surprise that we spoke English. I mean what, did they think we were Italians? At that hour?

But back to this morning. As I mentioned, it was looking cloudy, but even the gloomiest day on an Italian vacation is more fun that the funnest day in the office. No competition.

We passed all the first four villages and finally exited the train at Monterosso.

Monterosso al Mare – view off of train station.

Mountains nesting around the village.

Blooms along the pathway down to sea level.

Despite the presence of all the beach lounge chairs, no one wanted to take advantage of the water. Perhaps they are too spoiled by sunny weather here.

Speaking of the beach. The material of the shore is a mix of sand and finely ground sea shells, which overall has a very rough texture to it. While the view around here is much more picturesque than say, at Lido di Venezia, the rough shore is not as pleasant to the feet.

Interestingly enough the first thing we did upon coming closer to sea level (the train station is at considerable elevation compared to the streets) – we got a gelato. The stuff was very good, and made me wonder why we did not have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I tried what was labeled as “gelato” at one point in Toronto, and that stuff was more like solidified flavoured slush. It really left a bad taste in my mouth, as far as comparing ice cream to gelato. So I was not too excited overall to try it in Italy either. Stupid, in retrospect.

Footpath along the shore

Looking back at the beach and the open sea.

A statue of a man with a dog.

I bet he is some kind of a saint but the exact name escapes me.

Boats near the shores of Monterosso.

Another section of the village, with another beach area and a railway highlighting the landscape. The clouds were rathe low and often touched the tips of the hills.

Monterosso, now in visible light.

A man's best friend will shake your paw if you insist.

Here is a view I wouldn't mind waking up to. Reminds me of the lush flowers in front of our Venetian apartment.

The footpath started at sea level, went up a bit, and now there is again a steep descent with houses lining up the stairs.

I used to have one of these as a potted plant.

Why don't people in Toronto line up the streets with cute plants like that?

Lots of houses had doors wide open. You could peak in, and others could look out at you from the inside.

This dog looked at us intensely as we passed, and clearly did not trust us.

Pigeons, framed.

The striped walls of this church make it to many souvenirs sold in Cinque Terre.

The street in front of it is so narrow, you need a really wide lens to fit it all in.

Someone is lucky enough to have a luscious garden like this.

The streets are over and we are headed for the footpath along the mountain slopes that will take us to Vernazza – the next village in Cinque Terre.

A look back at Monterosso.

It's getting further and further, with its azure waters and colourful houses.

House on the hilltop in Monterosso al Mare – Red Mountain by the sea.

A lot of the slopes are covered in vineyards.

And some – in fruit gardens.

Specifically, lemons.

I think they have a lemon festival there at one point during the summer. It's like a national fruit.

The footpath follows through some very natural grounds. Mind the insects and spiders.

Vineyards with Monterosso al Mare as a backdrop.

And in visible green.

The village is beginning to fade in the mist and behind the curved mountains.

Looking ahead, that is south.

Trails, forests, and clouds.

Blooms on the slopes.

The maximum elevation recorded by our GPS was less than 200m, but looking down it felt much more than that.

Here is something we did not expect – stray cats living along the trail. This was the first of a few. We got some Cinque Terre themed T-shirts in one of the shops, mine had a drawing of a cat and a caption – i gatti delle Cinque Terre (cats of Cinque Terre) – here is why.

At times the trail goes on with no parapet.

It may look nice and easy, but it's really not so easy. You know that elevation of just under 200m I mentioned? What I did not yet elaborate on is how excruciatingly difficult the climb is. It starts fairly flat, and in no time you have to climb steep rocky stairs. Once you reach a certain hight, it continues flat for a while, letting you enjoy the surroundings, only to send you downwards, and then steeply upwards again. The footpath is very rough at times and sometimes gets so tricky and narrow, you may have to wait for the people going into the opposite direction to pass before continuing on. But in the end, it was definitely worth it. Just make sure to have comfortable shoes and get long hair out of the way or else your face will likely overheat.

That's not what I call tricky. When passing tricky, it did not feel like stopping for a picture, unfortunately.

Long way down.

There is a tip of Vernazza there.

The horizon is hidden amidst the descending clouds.

If there is anything that is the same in Canada and in Italy – things growing on the barest of rocks.

Clinging on, looking up.

You never know what's behind the curve.

More cats. These ones had some provisions with instructions to feed them from time to time. Which we did. One of the cats had an injured leg, but was overall quite perky and quickly went for food. The other was kind of sleepy and slow, possibly sick. At least they have each other, and the fresh air. It must be much more rough in the winter for them.

Blooming cactus.


The pianist cactus.

Looking back north we see a darker cloud spreading over the mountains.

This would be an undesirable place to fall off the trail.

More vineyards as we approach Vernazza.

And here is the crown jewel of the trail – the picture perfect view of Vernazza. Infrared.

The view in visible light. It will get closer soon. From here on it's all downhill, which in this case is a good thing.

The classic view of Vernazza. On the right side you can see a set of blue and yellow umbrellas – that's where we ended up having lunch.

The downward slope made this part of the journey rather enjoyable. As we passed people going in the opposite direction, it was slightly funny how they were so exhausted, even though their trip just started, while we were energetic and cheered up at the end. It makes a huge difference when you work with gravity instead of against it.

More vineyards. Mostly white wine. Took home a few locally made bottles.

Here is a steep and rough one.

Cactus with Vernazza in the background.


Another view from a lower vantage point.

A more complete look at the village – with the railroad.

Boats in Vernazza harbour.

Lots of flowers, as expected. But still breathtakingly beautiful.

Vineyards, flowers, and the oncoming rain cloud.

Houses and the bell tower of Vernazza.

If you draw a straight line from Monterosso to Vernazza it’s going to be less than 2km. But the trail is anything but straight. It takes a couple of hours to complete the trail, more if you stop to take in the vistas and rest. We were not sure at the beginning if we’d want to continue on to the next village after Vernazza, but seeing how demanding it is and with the upcoming rain, we decided to stop here.

For lunch we had pasta at an outside cafe. With house white wine, naturally. My partner offered to have it inside but I think it would be a shame to have walls around us when the outside is so beautiful, and F the rain. It was a small rain anyway. We had pasta with bolognese and pesto sauces (on separated plates, exchanging halfway through). Bolognese was a safe choice, pesto was an experiment. Neither of us ever tried pesto sauce before, and it was quite a something. It’s green and very flavourful. I have since made it at home and it’s a really cool sauce to make, particularly because it’s so unusual yet easy. Most of the time the words “pasta sauce” inspire an image of hot tomato goodness, the rest of the times it’s a creamy white sauce like Alfredo. Pesto is positively different and can remain exotic if you don’t overdo it.

Shortly after lunch we had to go back to La Spezia, to get new shoes. Since my fairly comfortable leather flip flops caved in on the way out of Venice my shoe situation was rather subpar. We got a pair of shoes in Sirmione, simple and cute ones, with little glass beads attached on the front, but after a day the beads fell off. We returned to the store, where they promptly replaced the missing beads, but I doubted they would stay much longer. That was true, they fell off again, but by then we were far from Sirmione already. We got another pair of shoes in Malcesine, but they were more something you’d wear in a city. They were definitely not for hiking. The pair I took for hiking ultimately turned out to be not up to par given the terrain, but it was too late by the time I realized that. So ultimately I had to get a pair of Nike shoes in La Spezia, in an athletic shoe store. Surprisingly enough, they were open until 8pm. That’s like way past “gotta get off work and party” time. These were comfortable for a while, and I did not have any problems with my feet all the way until the last day. More on that when we get there.

After all the running around it was great to finally rest on a flat surface in the hotel. Little did we know that this was the final booming night of a local festival – Festa della Marineria. Our hotel was located right in the centre of the town and the final night was the night of the loudest music. They started around 9-10pm and went on until at least 3-4am. It must have been a lot of fun down there. Noise isolating headphones barely helped, closing the windows helped a little, but with them closed the heat was getting unbearable. Somehow we even fell asleep at some point, but I do recall developing a very sharp sense of hatred towards the lead singer. He managed to outshout the loud percussions, and that’s saying a lot.

The end might sound a bit negative, but I'd do it again with no second thoughts.

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