June 5

June 6

Cinque Terre, Italy
Lodging: We do not yet know where we will be staying in the Cinque Terre. There are no hotels, but just about everyone lets out a room in their home.
June 5

Plan: We will arrive in the Cinque Terre by train. The Cinque Terre is an Italian national park - a group of five seaside towns which do not allow cars or big hotels. We hope to relax, enjoy the beach and maybe hike between the towns.

What actually happened (per Christine): We left Helen and Orlando's villa in the morning. Things were a little hectic there because their son was having his first Communion that day and it sounded like their family was having a party at another relative's house later. They also had another guest from Australia who refused to say how long she planned to stay. But in spite of that, they took the time to call a cab for us and personally see us off at the door. We took the train to La Spezia, where we transferred to a smaller train that serves the five towns of the Cinque Terre (literally, "five lands"): Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterossa. We stayed in town #4, Vernazza.

When we got off the train, we went down some stairs off the platform to a narrow, cobbled street. We walked down the street as instructed and turned left at the pharmacy to go up an even narrower alley of stairs. We went up and up to get to Mike and Franca's place. We knocked and Mike (the italian owner with the New York accent) had us go up even more stairs to our rooms. Michael (Riat) counted the stairs later and there were 92 stairs to our room. If they were ordinary stairs, that would be about 7 stories. But these weren't ordinary stairs. They were uneven, tall, winding stone stairs. It was a miracle that we got our suitcases up that high. I am very impressed that I managed to do it. But when Mike (the owner), opened the door to the patio, it was a stunning view! The patio overlooked the ocean crashing on rocks right below us, with a view to the tower up to our left and the castle down to our right. It was sooooo cool! I'm not a big fan of water (at least of the ocean variety), but this was beautiful! And we had our own private balcony overlooking it, with a little table, lounge chairs, a little flower garden, a cool sea breeze, and two days of no museums! It was totally awesome and even worth those 92 evil stairs. Our room was quite cute; it was near the patio and had a little kitchenette with a sink, refrigerator (to keep water and wine cool) and a tiny table. I was just wishing that I had an English book to read, (since I had finished all mine long before), when I saw that there were some books on a bookshelf there, including a copy of "Angels and Demons" (in English), which I had just bought a copy in St. Louis but hadn't yet read it (nor had I brought it.). What absolute luck!

The very first thing we decided to do was eat lunch, as we were both starving. We had read about a good restaurant in the tower on the hill, so we immediately went for another climb up a bunch more steps to the tower above us. There, we got a view of the whole town (you'll see the pics). We ate at the restaurant (awesome food). I had a pesto lasagna (the Cinque Terre was the birthplace of pesto) and Mike had stuffed bell peppers. We drank some of the local vino bianca (white wine), which was great; it was one of the few wines I've ever tasted that refreshed your mouth like water does. We got a bottle to go, so that we could maybe order some, but it was literally a house wine, they just tapped it from a keg in the back; no label. We also had a cake soaked in this special sweet dessert wine (sorry, I can't remember the name of it); it, too, was great. We did manage to make it back down the steps to our room.

At that point, Mike was ready for a nap and I was ready to go explore the town, so we each did our respective thing. I went down and explored the one (very short) street, leading down to a small sand beach and a large rocky breakwater. I explored all the little restaurants and shops along the street, watched lots of people sunbathing and swimming, and took off my shoes and played a little in the water that splashed up on the breakwater. There were tons of cats hanging around the beach (Mike says probably because of the restaurants serving fish), so I stopped to play with a few of them. Then I set down to the serious business of finding an ATM (since the owner guy only took cash). Unfortunately, the only ATM I could find was out of money, so I got to explore the upper (not touristy) part of town to find the other ATM. I then went and got Mike and showed him everything I had "discovered" and we got snacks (more pizza) and gellato (I could eat that all the time! Then I spent the rest of the evening with my book (yes, I finished it by 2am).

June 6

Plan: More lounging on the beaches.

What actually happened (per Christine): We slept in late! (or should I say, like we normally would, till about noon!), then leisurely sat around on the porch. Mike got some oranges and (yech) more pizza, while I worked on updating the website. I wanted to hike the five towns, though Mike, who had been reading Rick Steve's said that Rick mentioned that some readers thought the path between Vernazza and Monterossa was dangerous. Since it was getting late-ish about 2pm, I agreed that I would hike between the first four towns and Mike agreed that he would hike with me between the first three.

So we took the train to Riomaggiore and started on the Via Amore. This short path between the first two towns was a wide promenade, good for a stroll (I think it was even wheelchair-accessible). The views were very cool. In Manarola, we stopped for a gellato break. It was great! We then started on the second leg of our journey to Corniglia. This path was a bit more "path" like, with rocky, uneven terrain and a few places where it was a bit crowded for two people to walk abreast. There were sheer dropoffs, but there was a sturdy fence on most of it. The trail went up for some time, which was quite tiring in the hot sun, but we got through it easily enough. There was a lot of really different plant life than I had seen before, including these huge cactus-looking things that we got a picture of.

We reached the Corniglia train station and Mike was undecided whether to join me for the last leg of the trip or to go and try to find an Internet connection to do an update. He was still undecided until we got to the stairs of Corniglia, which sits up on the hill. The stairs went up as high as we could see. I wasn't sure that I wanted to go at that point! Mike decided then to head back to the train station and I, reluctantly, started up the stairs; we would meet back in Vernazza. On the plus side, these weren't uneven stone stairs, they were very shallow regular steps. On the downside, they seemed to go on forever! I finally reached the top and got to the town of Corniglia. This was the only one of the towns that I saw that had cars driving in it (probably because people would have a heart attack trying to make deliveries up all those stairs). The town was pretty and I got to see some of those crazy hillside vineyards close up. By the time I reached the other end of the town, I was looking up at the mountains before me and having second thoughts about going on this next hike. I couldn't see Vernazza from here and it was getting a little bit late 5pm and I didn't know how long it would take me (the signs said 1.5 hours and Rick Steves said 2 hours). That would allow me about an hour or two leeway before dark. That should be fine. Lots of people do this hike; we saw lots of them coming down at the restaurant at the tower the day before. I should just think of it like an adventure with Frodo and Sam, tromping through the woods. I still am not sure if I made a good decision to go or the worst decision of the trip! :-) The hike was hell. It was really, really rough, lots of up and up and up. I started out in the woods away from the sea view. I saw a couple leaving as I was hiking in. Then I walked alone for about 35 minutes. The woods were scary, because they were so unlike any woods I'd ever been in. I saw lots of little lizards (I had seen a few on our patio in Vernazza the day before) and at one point I saw a really big lizard go running off into the woods (it might have been a really big snake, but it moved more like it had legs, rather than slithered). I'm sure that it was as afraid of me as I was of it, but that still didn't keep me from watching the ground pretty carefully after that. I kept wondering if I was on the right path (though I did keep seeing the red and white path stripe) , and stopping to drink water. I wasn't thirsty, but I didn't want to get dehydrated from sweating so much. I finally made it to a little stopping point flag that had an emergency buttons to push if you needed an ambulance or wanted to report a forest fire. That made me feel a little bit better; like I had some contact with civilization. Soon after that I passed first one, then a second guy hiking in the opposite direction. I ran across a cat standing in the path. (I don't know why, no fish out there!). About 10 minutes after that, I came upon a second emergency station that told you the number to call for emergency, which was not helpful as there was no phone, and had a broken-down picnic bench with a cat sleeping on it. I rested there a bit, then set out again. I kept going up, higher and higher, and now I was climbing a rocky path on the side of the mountain with no fences and the mountain falling to the sea on one side. The view was cool, but very scary. At one point, the path narrowed down to about a foot and a half, with a 500 ft or more dropoff to one side. I almost gave up right there and turned back, even though it would be over an hour. But I didn't. I took off my backpack and held it in front of me so that I didn't overbalance, I prayed that no little lizard would startle me and I crossed the narrow part of the path. I kept going. I started feeling a little shaky and really thinking this had been a bad idea, when I came upon what looked like some abandoned buildings. In the middle of the buildings was an oasis...a little bar, with gatorade, water and snacks! I was saved! I went to the bar and drank a whole gatorade while talking to the little Italian owner (mostly in sign language, as he knew very little English and I knew only a couple of Italian phrases). I found out that Vernazza was only about half an hour away, so it was better to go on. Rested and somewhat refreshed, I continued on my path. I was still quite dangerous and rocky, but mostly downhill. I passed two other women hiking the opposite direction. Then I met no one else for about 30 min. I was beginning to despair once again of finding civilization, when I spied the tower restaurant where Mike and I had eaten the day before. Yeah! I had made it! I got back to Vernazza. Climbed down all the stairs on jelly-legs and went and played in the ocean on the beach for awhile. I drank some more gatorade while waiting for Mike to get back from the Internet cafe and when he did, we sat out on the patio and watched the stars and drank good wine and ate oranges. Sorry, you'll have to wait for pictures to be developed to see the pictures of my exciting adventure!


June 5

June 6

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