Friday, May 18, 2012


Florence to Cinque Terre – Day 44 – Saturday

Getting back to the Florence train station was a lot easier than getting to the hotel in the first place.  There wasn’t a train direct to the Cinque Terre from Florence, so I took a train to Sarzana and then transferred to the train that would take me to the Cinque Terre.  On the way to Sarzana, we passed some dramatic rocky mountains.  This was the region of Carrara, where the famous white marble is quarried.  The ride from Sarzana to Monterosso was short.  The Cinque Terre coastline is dramatic, but one can see very little of it from the train except at the stations.  Most of the train tracks run through tunnels behind the nearly sheer cliffs.
Flood Damaged Road

176 Steps
My hotel isn’t very far from the train station, but it was a pain to get to for a couple of reasons.  I knew that there had been a landslide that wiped out the trail between Corniglia and Manarola, but I hadn’t been warned that there had been widespread flooding and nearly every road in the Cinque Terre was washed out or torn up to repair damaged pipes.  I was prepared to drag my bag up a steep hill, but the road, while not too steep, was almost completely dirt and was an obstacle course of trenches, pipes and metal grating.  When I finally got to the right address, I discovered that there was no one there.  There was only a sign with a phone number to call.  Fortunately, I had my Italian cell phone.  I called and eventually a young man arrived to welcome me.  My room was on the 11th floor and there was no elevator.  The young man carried my heavy bag up 176 steps and would not accept a tip.

B&B Alle 5 Terre

The accommodations are very clean, modern, airy and spacious.  There is a balcony with a lovely view. The location is also even less convenient than the hotel in Sorrento.  This apartment is a recent addition to the hotel empire of Gian Luigi and Sherry, whose primary location is in the old town, a fifteen minute walk from here.  Breakfast is at the primary location.  There is no internet here and only one table with internet reception in the breakfast area, which is not open in the afternoon.  These inconveniences are in addition to the rotten street and 176 stairs.  The residents of this building do not need gym memberships.

The first thing I did upon getting ensconced in my room was to wash clothes.  This would be the last time I would be in one place long enough to dry clothes and I did have a nice clothes line behind the balcony.  This took much longer than I planned, since I had a lot of laundry and couldn’t wash very many things at once.  Soon the clothesline, balcony, room and bath were festooned with damp clothing.
View From My Balcony

I took my computer and went for a walk, hoping to find somewhere to eat with free Wi-Fi.  No luck.  Wi-Fi here costs five Euros an hour if you want somewhere to sit or five Euros a day if you don’t mind hanging around the train station.  I elected to wait for the next morning at breakfast.  I walked over to the old town and located the location for breakfast.  Riomaggiore isn’t that interesting a place, but it has nice sandy beaches covered with umbrellas and lounge chairs for rent.  It also had a waterfront promenade with a row of sidewalk cafes and gelaterias.  I stopped in one of them on my way back to my room and had 4 cheese gnocchi, salad and a glass of Barbera for dinner.  I topped it off with coffee and mint gelato.

Cinque Terre – Day 45 – Sunday

I slept later than intended, but still managed to make it across town for breakfast by 9:45.  I could not, however, connect to the Wi-Fi.  The router is in the kitchen and there is only an 18” wide passage between the kitchen and the courtyard.  Only the table in a direct line with this passage gets any reception at all and even that is weak.  It looked like I was going to be observing internet silence until I got to Santa Margherita.  The breakfast, however, was exceptionally good.  Though breakfast was nominally from 8 – 10:30, it was clear that I had missed the main event.  Even so, there was spinach quiche, cheese and salami, several kinds of fruit, cereal, croissants and yogurt.  Gian Luigi brought me a cup of coffee and was comically relieved to discover that I spoke Italian.  English is not his strong suit.  Sherry and her cousin, Gil, who does most of the cleaning and heavy work, are from the Philippines.  Sherry speaks English and Italian.  Gil speaks a little English.  It took me awhile to figure out that speaking Italian to him wasn’t doing me any good.  Unfortunately, Tagalog is beyond my linguistic accomplishments.

Path to Vernazza
Endless Stairs
Vernazza from Afar

 My plan for the day was to walk to Vernazza and Corniglia, take the train to Manarola, since the trail is washed out, and then walk from Manarola to Riomaggiore and return to Monterosso by train.  The entire coast route is about seven miles long, so this seemed quite doable, even though it involved a lot of up and down.  First, I hiked to Vernazza.  The stairs appeared endless.  I climbed up and up.  These were not nice, horizontal, even stairs, but stairs built from natural stone with varying heights.  It was a workout.  The path wound through vineyards most of the way, with wonderful views of the Mediterranean.  To carry the grapes from the steeply terraced vineyards to the road, they use a system of diminutive monorails.  Many of these tracks were bent and twisted from the flooding that had swept through the area.  From a number of spots, I could see all five cities simultaneously.  It was quite overcast, which was actually nice, given that the hike was so strenuous.

Vernazza is a pretty village with a quaint harbor.  Waves regularly crash over the breakwater.  Its main square is filled with colorful café umbrellas.  All of the cities in the Cinque Terre are built in narrow valleys and originally had rivers running through the center of them.  Today, these rivers run under the main streets.  The flooding has left all of these main streets a disaster.  I liked Vernazza and thought I would return the next day, but this was my day to explore all the cities, so I headed off for Corniglia.  I climbed to the top of the town, but couldn’t locate the path.  

Ridge Above Corniglia
Road Down to Corniglia
 I followed two young women who looked like hikers.  After a while, they told me not to follow them, since they didn’t know where they were going, either.  About that time, a Cinque Terre Park bus came by and I asked the driver where to find the path.  He informed me that the path to Corniglia was also washed out and I would have to take the road.  The girls ignored him and walked back towards the town, but I elected to continue up the road, knowing that the road was a longer route and not wanting to climb up and down the hill unnecessarily.  There were other hikers on the road, so it seemed like I was on the right track.  While the coastal path winds around the side of the cliffs, the road climbs up to the ridge and then back down into the next valley.  The road was in terrible condition.  Half of it was washed away in many places and guardrails were missing.  I climbed up and up.  After a while, I was so deep in the valley that I could no longer see the sea.  The entire scene was of stone terraces and vineyards.  Someone calculated that there are 3,000 miles of stone walls in the region and the stone in them could have built the Great Wall of China.  As I reached the top of the ridge, it started to rain.  I put up my umbrella and hoped it wouldn’t rain too hard.


Corniglia sits on a headland high above the water.  It has no harbor.  It is always the quietest of the five cities, but is even quieter now that access from the south has been blocked.  On a rainy Sunday, it was so quiet that is was almost eerie.  I walked out to the overlook at the edge of the cliff and encountered the two girls I had met in Vernazza.  They had managed to make their way to Corniglia along the washed out path.  They informed me that the trains were on strike and were dismayed to discover that there was no boat service from Corniglia.  It was 4:30 and we knew that the last boat from Vernazza probably left by 6:00.  It was going to be a close shave.  I elected to take the path, knowing that I’d never make it back in time if I took the long way back again.  They girls elected to take the road.

Obstacle Course

The path along the cliff was beautiful, but it was washed out in a number of places.  Only one spot required me to climb an exposed face of crumbling shale, but there were a number of places where I had to clamber over or edge around stacks of wood, rebar and bags of cement that must have been dropped on the pathway by helicopter.  I tried to run a bit on the more level parts, but quickly decided I would kill myself if I continued.  I hurried as best I could and made straight for the harbor when I got to Vernazza.  I knew I would cry if I had to descend those steep stairs to Monterosso.  I made the boat with about 30 seconds to spare and boarded just behind the two girls.  We were all glad to see each other, since we were worried about each other.  They were amazed that I had made it.  They had ended up hitchhiking.  

By the time I got back to Monterosso, I was tired and ravenous.  I decided that I deserved a good dinner after my extra strenuous walk.  I stopped in a big restaurant along the beach near the old town and ordered spinach and cheese cannelloni and a quarter liter of Montepulciano Rosso.  The sun came out for a bit and I was contemplating gelato, but the sun went behind a cloud before the waitress came and it got chilly.  I ended up ordering a cup of coffee instead.  For the first time since I have been in Italy, I broke down and ordered a caffe Americano.  I wanted a big warm cup of coffee to wrap my hands around.  It did the trick.

Cinque Terre – Day 46 – Monday

I got up earlier and started my day with a nice breakfast.  Gian Luigi made me an omelet with yummy cheese and ham and brought me a cappuccino.  I managed to snag the internet spot and spent an hour or so chatting with Scott and posting a blog entry.  I talked to Sherry about my departure the next day and discovered that there is a road two flights further up the stairs.  This will make leaving much easier than humping my bag down eleven flights. 
Manarola Swimming Hole

I took the (now running) train to Manarola to continue my walk where I left off the day before.  Manarola is even cuter than Vernazza.  No cars are allowed on the main street, but everyone parks their boats there.  Boats on dollies line the street from the train station down to the harbor.  At the harbor, there is a crane to lower the boats down to the water.  Manarola has no beach, but there are a couple of nice swimming holes.  I had stuck my toes in the water the day I arrived and knew that the water was too cold for my taste.
Manarola Wildflowers

Closed Path to Corniglia

Manarola Seaside Vineyard
I walked up the main street to the top of the town.  At the top, there is a church square with a beautiful view of the sea and the vineyards.  From there, a nicely maintained path winds around the side of the valley above the town and through the vineyards.  Wildflowers were blooming everywhere: red poppies, purple vetch, yellow broom and more.  The path skirts the town and then drops down to a quaint cemetery on a point above the sea before curving back down to the harbor.  The past bit is actually part of the path to Corniglia.  I could see where the path was closed, but couldn’t make out the washed out area.  

Via dell' Amore
Via dell' Amore Overhang
The stretch of the path between Manarola and Riomaggiore is called Via dell’ Amore because it allowed young people to court partners from the other village.  It is a basically level and fairly smooth, wide walkway with no stairs.  If the elevators were working, it would even be handicapped accessible.  Unfortunately, the elevators never seem to be working.  In Italy, it is believed that if a couple locks a padlock to a railing in some romantic spot, it will seal their relationship.  I have seen these padlocks in many places, but nowhere have I seen as many of them as I saw along the Via dell’ Amore.  It truly is a romantic spot.  The views are breathtaking and the air smelled of orange (or maybe lemon) blossoms.  Part of the trail winds through covered galleries designed to protect passersby from falling rocks.  An accordionist was playing sappy Italian music and it echoed along the gallery for hundreds of yards in both directions.
Mill Wheel

I continued along the path to Riomaggiore and then walked up to the top of the town and then around the nose of the ridge and into a second valley full of town.  I passed an old mill wheel once used to crush olives for oil.  The first half of Riomaggiore wasn’t very impressive, but it was a different story once I turned the corner.  As the name of the town suggests, it was built along the banks of the major river in the region.  While the river has long been hidden beneath a modern road, the road still follows the gentle curves of the original stream.  Here, too, there was evidence of flood damage.  The historical bridges are gone, but I did see one modern drawbridge.

Riomaggiore Harbor 
Riomaggiore Beach
I walked down through the town.  Like Vernazza, there were more boats parked along the main street than cars.  Riomaggiore has a nice little harbor and a pretty stony beach around the corner.  I’m not very fond of sand, so this suited me fine.  I found a nice sloping rock for a backrest and basked in the sun for an hour or so.  From the beach, I could see nothing but cliffs, sea and sky.  It was a pretty place and there were only a few other people around.

Beer at Cafe dell' Amore

Manarola Train Station
Beach in Monterosso
When I felt that I had enough sun (I just don’t have good skin for the beach.), I walked back up through the town.  My original plan had been the take the train back from Riomaggiore, but it was such a gorgeous walk back to Manarola that I decided to return under my own steam.  Even the train stations have wonderful views in the Cinque Terre.  I stopped at the Café dell’ Amore, straddling the pathway with tables on a balcony hung over the edge of the cliff, and had some tasty bruschetta and a beer.    From Manarola, I took the train back to Monterosso.  I was reluctant to end the perfect day in this beautiful place, so I bought some chocolate with rum and peach gelato and sat on the promenade in the late afternoon sunshine, watching two little girls chasing each other across the mosaics in the pavement.

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