Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Day 4: On Which the Sun Came Out and Nathan Smiled All Day

Thankfully, when we woke up on Monday morning, the sun was out, perhaps not shining exactly, but it was in the sky with few clouds in sight. We set out for Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is in the region just north east of Tuscany, called Livorno. The name Cinque Terre actually covers five cliff villages along the coast. The villages are connected by a train and by a number of different hiking trails.

It's possible to take a train there all the way there from Florence, but we chose to drive our trusty Fiat to La Spezia, the town just south of Cinque Terre, and catch the train to Cinque Terre from there. Now the problem with just sticking to the Cinque Terre train is that you won't actually get to see any of these cliff towns or the views of the sea because the train connecting these five towns runs mostly underground. So Nathan came up with a great plan to include his pregnant and moderately-hostile-to-hiking wife. We'd do the short easy route from city 1 (Riomaggiore) to city 2 (Manarola), which rambled along the coastline and should take about 20 minutes. Then we'd have some lunch and decide if we wanted to tackle one of the longer 2 hour hikes between some of the other cities.

Of course, this being Italy, the plan did not hold up. As soon as the train pulled into Riomaggiore, we found out from the visitor center that the easy ramble of a hike was closed due to mudslides. While I had no wish to test it out, that meant that we were now picking our routes on the fly. Nathan asked about taking the road to the next town, got a frown from the woman at the visitor center, and decided to do it anyway (this is completely typical for him).

The town of Riomaggiore is basically right on the water. We walked through the gorgeous little village, stopped to buy some cheese, salami, and bread, then headed up the nearest path. This path consisted of an uncountable number of stairs. I started to get a little worried about my future. We got to a lovely view and had our "snack" before we set out to find the road that was high above us.

So much climbing.

Nathan's road shortcut turned out to be a great one except for one small detail. When we got back to the trail, we were now high above Manarola. I was given the option to go all the way down there for lunch before we continued on to Coniglia, town 3, but the pulsating of my temples reminded me that I'd have to come ALL THE WAY BACK UP AGAIN afterward. A nice lunch just didn't seem worth it right then. Of course, I didn't realize how long it would be before I actually got lunch.

So we continued up. And up. And up. I found myself wishing for a burro or a sherpa as my sisters-in-law skipped merrily along beside me and eventually miles in front of me as I breathlessly waved everyone on. "I'll. Catch. Up. Eventually. Don't. Wait," I said between heaves. We got to a small scenic town not part of the official Cinque towns, called Volastra, and then eventually to a plateau with gorgeous views (well, they got there half an hour before me. I got there too eventually.)

It was a gorgeous day on the coast. The sun was bright and the water sparkled. In the shade it was cool, but not cold. Our path wound its way through the terraced vineyards and through the olive groves, nearly always with a gorgeous view of the Ligurian Sea off to our left. Locals arranged their olive nets around the bases of the trees to begin harvesting, and we passed a little old couple carrying baskets on their backs on their way to their trees.

We continued up for a long time. It would seem that we couldn't possible be heading up anymore, that any minute we'd start to descend toward the little town that seemed so close, but then no we'd continue up. Finally, about 2 1/2 hours in to the hike, we finally started heading down. And down and down.

By the time we finally reached the streets of Coniglia, my knees were actually knocking from fatigue. We trudged into town to the restaurant I had been picturing for the last three hours, only to have the girl sweeping around the tables turn to me and say "Chiuso." That crushing word in English is "closed." I am only a little ashamed to say that I made it out the door before I sobbed, clutching Nathan's shirt. Three o'clock in Italy is a brutal time to want lunch, I will warn you now. (And you'd think we would learn this, but we never did. Also, don't grocery shop on Sundays-we didn't learn that lesson either.)

Nathan found me some lunch at a small cafe. They served us some delicious pesto coated pasta (as pesto is a local specialty since all of the ingredients are easily grown on the hillsides all around Cinque Terre). I had a (slightly) reinvigorating Lemon Soda, and we decided our next move would be to head on to Vernazza, town 4, thankfully via train. We decided that as it would be getting dark pretty quickly, Vernazza would be our final destination before heading back to La Spezia.

As we waited for the train to Vernazza, the sun set. The sun was nearly out of sight as we got to Vernazza, but there is no more perfect place to watch the sun set than on that little dock. We wandered through the town, Nathan opting to head up lots of stairs multiple times (this too became a theme of our Italy visit-he always found the stairs).

We got back to the train and headed back to La Spezia for dinner. Sus offered to treat us all to dinner with Jenny's money, but we decided to split up when they mentioned going to Pisa on their way back to Florence. Nathan knew I was counting on some seafood pasta, so he said we'd see them later, and he made sure to find me a cozy place to have dinner. We had the whole restaurant to ourselves, and the owner didn't know a word of English. It was a lovely end to the best day in Italy so far.


  1. I love that of all the good conversations and awesome parts of this day, that one quote made it into the blog. Let it be known that I paid up!

    And Hanna, you definitely sell yourself short. You did great on this day of hiking! It was tough and you hung in there, except for the minor snack catastrophe.

    1. I have no doubt you paid up. Thanks for defending me from myself. I did hear that you told Dean I was a trooper, so I was pleased. It was totally worth it!