Day 4 Cinque Terre
We got up very early to board the train to Cinque Terre. There were a couple train changes, plenty of other loud Americans and plenty of time for Ben to sleep, what a surprise. We finally got to our town, Riomaggiore. Our host family warned us ahead of time that the walk up to the apartment they were renting us was very steep and we should call them when we arrived instead of going ourselves. Our sweet host, Maria Pia came and met us at the station. We prepared ourselves for quite the walk to the apartment and were pleasently relieved and surprised when she said we were there after only a small incline of about 60 yrds. Ben and I looked at each other asking, "This is it?" Our room hada quiant charm to it that was furthered by a balcony that overlooked the garden of our hosts and past a couple other residences to the Mediterranean Sea.
After hearing so much about the views and terrain of Cinque Terre, I was ready to hike the trails between all the towns. The month of May was very wet for them and we were lucky that only the last section (which was also touted as the hardest one) was closed. The challenger in me wished it was open so I could have hiked them all, but we settled for the first 4 sections and started off. The first section is a wide paved area that is completely flat and filled with school children and many groups of foreign tourists. The ocean view is beautiful but it was not the hike we had thought we were getting. After about 850m, it dumps you into the town of Manarola. There were people swimming in the marina area and enjoying the many restaurant options along the narrow pedestrian street and after a few pictures, though Ben may argue there were more than a few, we moved on. The second section was similar to the first though a set of stairs added a small difficulty. This put us in Corniglia. The third section began with 381 stairs. No, I didnt count but Ben saw a sign at the top and wanted to make sure he got full credit for his walking. Unfortunately for him, that was the relatively tame part of this section. The last section was supposed to take an hour and a half and looked almost entirely up hill. We had heard Vernazza was the most picturesque of the towns and we were hoping we would not be disappointed. The trails were full of peope and we frequently moved over for people going the opposite direction. It made for some quite interesting maneuvers since the stairs were gravel and very narrow. We kept a pretty quick pace. My competitive nature got the best of me, surprise, and I refused to let the senior citizens move any quicker than me. Ben and I ended up arriving 30 min ahead of the alotted time. This supported his claim that we had been almost jogging on the trail and just made me excited to get more time in the sun. After a quick reward snack of gelato and some water we headed to the marina where we could lay on the rocks and swim. Within a few minutes we had both fallen asleep. I woke up hot and ready for a refreshing swim. The Mediterranean Sea was slightly chilly but crystal clear and so awesome to swim in. Ben lounged on the rock despite my pleading to come in. After I got dried off, we got on the local train and headed to the last town, Monterosso. This was a short 5 minute ride, and in that time I ran into another Deloitte employee who is working in the same area that I will be starting in July. It was encouraging to see that you can still have fun even once you start working.
In the first four towns colorful buildings stretch above you with no rhyme or reason to their structure. The smattering of color looks like a kind of sherbert it is so bringht. Even with the tourists milling on the streets, the buildings and atmosphere has maintained an authentic feel. You can get a glimpse into the life of the locals as they talk to one another in markets, hang their laundry off the balcony, and fly their favorite "football" team flag on the window or roof. The cobblestone, boats, and rocks all worj together to reinforce the typical expectation you have for Italy. Monterosso had a very different feel than the other towns with its sandy beaches and more coastal town environment. There are umbrellas for rent instead of just large rocks to spread your towel on like the other towns. Of that we experienced, I think I really like Riomaggiore the best. There was a balance of energy and authenticity that I valued.
That night we went to dinner in Manarola at small traditional Italian spot. The towns and trails are so much quieter at night after the day tourists head back to the larger surrounding towns. You realize how many of them are just taking a day trip. The town felt more like a place we belonged because we were staying there. I appreciated the quieter pace and lifestyle of the people living in the towns even more in the evening. After delicious food we walked back to our town and stopped to enjoy the view of the sea. As the waves crashed on the rocks below we sat and got to enjoy each others company until we didn't feel so outrageously full and continued our walk back to the apartment. We repacked our backpacks that night and were able to make room for some of the items we had purchased in Florence. We laid out a bathing suit for the next day and headed to bed with our balcony open and the breeze blowing. Cinque Terre had fufilled all of my expectations and I couldnt wait to have another day. The almost rugged beauty of the whole coast was hard to absorb and left me wanting more time to enjoy it and explore.