Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Hiking the Cinque Terra

Riomaggiore Sunset
Originally uploaded by cornasdf.
Next up, we hopped a train to Cinque Terra. CT was remembered as a favorite from my 98 backpacking tour. You never know if things will be as good as you remember them but this one is a winner. It has changed a bit, and I have changed a lot, but this place is one of my favorites.

Train is a great way to travel. As air travel has gotten so obnoxious, it makes train seem great in comparison. No body cavity searches, customs is generally easy, center of town to center of town. For anything less than about a 75 minute flight, it is generally quicker too. Anyway, the train through the Italian countryside was great. Even better after the two older Turkish couples sharing our cabin left. Not that there was anything wrong with them, they were pleasant enough. We chatted a bit and they were on their way to take a Mediterranean cruise. But once they left we had the cabin to ourselves and could stretch out.

We hit La Spezia with a bit of extra time so we stopped across the street from the small train station for a glass of wine. They brought out some apertifos that looked like green olives with the stem. Inside were a bunch of soft seeds the size of bbs. Odd and I still have no idea what they were.

We caught a quick train back up the line to our destination. We started talking to a group of traveling girls and almost didn’t make it off the train. I thought we were stopped in a tunnel out side of a station until Zach pointed out that there were people walking by the train. Luckily we managed to dash off the train before the doors closed.

The train leaves you looking at the Mediterranean in Rio Maggiore. This is the smallest of the 5 villages of Cinque Terra. I guess these were fishing villages, the land around is also good for some grapes but mainly citrus and spices. Apparently, until about 100 years ago, the only way to get from town to town was this hike from village to village. All the towns are perched on the cliffs at the edge of the water with steep narrow pathways to get around the town. We wandered up the central path to find the guy with our reservations.

Last time I came to CT, I just wandered to the bar and asked for a room. I think that still works for most times. During Easter though, the place was pretty packed and I didn’t risk it. We found the booking guy and he started to lead the way up to our place. This place ended up being at the very top of the hill. We just kept going and going. He mentioned there was a shortcut but that it was too early in the season, he wasn’t in good enough shape to go that way yet. As we approached the place, he pointed out a 90yr old man that still manages to get up there (it’s not like there were any escalators anywhere). OK, I guess I can suck it up. We had a single room in a 4 room house with 2 shared bathrooms. Not so bad, our room had a commanding view of Rio Maggiore and we could see the sea through the trees.

We headed down the shortcut which was basically a small stone alleyway/staircase that went all the way down to town. When I was first here, I had the best pizza in the world at this place so I wanted to return. The place was called Gigi’s or similar and the pizza was pretty damn good. I have traveled a bit more and met some other good pizzas. This is still in the top tier though. I also had a side of some pesto pasta that was delicious. What really topped the meal though was the Tiramisu. Wow, that was the best tiramisu ever. We contemplated ordering a second round.

After an excellent meal, we wandered to the water (which pretty much completed our tour of town). We stopped at the bar but we were tired and ready to hit the sack to be up for the hike the next day. Besides, I wasn’t sure it would be trivial to find our way back up the hill.

We caught the train to Monterosso at around 10 or so. I prefer to do the Cinque Terra hike from Monterosso to Rio Maggiore. This is mainly b/c the hard legs are between Monterosso and Vernazza and Vernazza and Corniglia. I like to get the harder stuff done first. The first leg is the hardest and the second leg is the most varied. If you only have time for one leg, definitely make it Vernazza to Corniglia. One thing that has changed since my first trip was that it is now a National Park. As far as I can tell this means that they charge you for the hike now. There was also a lot more people on the hikes.

Even so, the hike is amazing. The trail is a couple hundred feet up from the water, which you can see on your right. It winds through small farms of grapes, citrus, and herbs. Most of the path is dirt there are plenty of places to fall you your, well, at least marked unfortune. Many of the worst places do have handrails and whatnot. Even with all the people, the hike was stunning.

Each town has its own character and you can pick some of that as the trail winds through the town. We stopped in the middle town, Corniglia. Unfortunately, there was just too many people. We sat at a restaurant for a bit but got no service so we left once our initial exhaustion had worn off. We stopped at a pizza spot, selling slices and such. I assumed it would be quick and grabbed a soda out of the fridge and opened it b/c I was thirsty. The damn line to get food turned out to be nearly an hour. The pizza was good when I finally got it but it was just too crowded.

The next 2 legs are much easier though there are a considerable number of stairs coming out of Corniglia. Manarossa to Rio Maggiore is known as the ‘Lovers Walk’. We stopped for a drink at a café near Rio Maggiore. Tried a local Limoncello. Meh. Nice place though. Great view.

We headed back into town and up the hill to the room. I passed out for a bit and Zach headed into town. After a pleasant nap, I headed down to bar centrale and found Zach. On the way in from the walk, we found a bar/café on the far side of the train station that looked like it may have an ocean view. We stopped there for sunset. Had some munchies that were just excellent. The tomatoes must be local, they were fantastic. Met a couple that was recommending Vernazza’s square for nightlife. Wine bars around a big square. It did sound nice, maybe next time.

We went back to our new favorite restaurant, Gigi’s. We weren’t really hungry, we just wanted more tiramisu. We weren’t as early this time and had to wait to get a table. It wasn’t so bad, we spent the time chatting with random travelers. I had the same pasta from last night (though I ordered the lasagna). It was still great. I was realizing that I was pretty full from the last meal still. Unfortunately, they were out of tiramisu. We had some fantastic chocolate thing in its place but it was no tiramisu. Doh!

Thoroughly stuffed, we headed up the hill and passed out.

After a nice breakfast of crepes and cappuccino at the Bar Centrale, we caught a train to La Spezia. This place was a madhouse. All the trains to Milan were sold out. Our next best bet was to take a train to Genova and hope to connect from there. The train was absolutely packed, standing room only for a few stops. Then we hit Monte Rossa and everybody got off to go to the beach. That is one big plus about Monte Rossa is they have the nice beach. Once we got seats, it was a beautiful train ride up the Mediterranean coast to Genoa. Found a connecting train in Genova that left in about an hour so we wandered and found some food. I wanted one more pasta meal but it wasn’t to be before we left italy. It left me hankering for pasta for weeks. We trained to milano and then bussed to the airport. Flew to London, caught the Stansted Express back to London. Too late for the tube so we walked towards the bus and by some miracle found a taxi near Liverpool st station. When we finally got back we had be traveling for some 14 hours. Ahh well, it was worth it.

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