Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Long and Winding Road

By Chuck

Claire asked if I wanted to go on a beautiful, downhill to flat walk in Le Cinque Terre. Of course I said yes. Well, 7 hours, 5 villages and zillions of up and down steps of grueling hiking later, I plopped onto a chair in a bar in Riomaggiore vowing to never believe her smooth-talking lines again; there is no truth in advertising in Homer this week. My knees hurt, my hip hurts, my thighs burn. And, the bar didn't even have Sangría – though I was dying (almost literally) for a cold, refreshing drink. I settled on a draft Italian beer – and it wasn't even dark beer. I know, I know – this is wine country; but, when you are hot and thirsty, a cold beer can be pretty darn good. It was terrific.

One of the helpful aspects of the hike was the clever marking strategy – a red line above a while line along the trail whenever there was a change in direction or a need to reaffirm that this was the correct path. Unfortunately, the same color scheme was used for all the alternative trails, too.

There is a useful transportation arrangement for traveling in this region. You can get a day pass that covers all train transportation in Le Cinque Terra Park region; but, you need a separate train ticket to travel to or from the region. We were interested to note that the conductors seldom check your tickets; instead, you must validate (i.e., timestamp) your tickets before boarding the train. If a conductor should happen along and you have not pre-validated the ticket, there is an automatic 50 Euro fine on the spot; if you cannot pay that, you pay a 150 Euro fine within 15 days; it goes up further beyond that time period. We saw only one conductor the entire time we traveled by train; and he did not inspect a single ticket while we watched him. This seems to almost parallel the French situation where everyone believes there are policemen everywhere, but you never see them.

Upon returning to Homer and finding the hike literature we hadn't bothered to bring along – Claire has done this hike before, you see – we discovered that there are different versions of the hike; while I signed up for the baby version, Claire took me on the take no prisoners route along this stretch of the Italian Riviera.

Yet, having (barely) survived the hike, I am more than ready to move on to Lake Como and try to spend some quality fun and relaxation time with George (Clooney). [The gullible need not reply to this.]

I do admit that the food was delicious and the scenery was beautiful. This area is very Mediterranean and very much like California, even to the beautiful coastline and the ubiquitous trees. But, there does seem to be much more small scale agriculture, here; we saw many family vineyards and every available spot of mountainside was terraced and had something growing there. We brought our own lite lunch along the way and stopped, again, in Vernazza for pizza, gelato and a currant “scone” on the way back. I even managed my good deed for the day: A number of tourists were getting onto a train and a member of one group asked if the train stopped in Vernazza. I called out that it didn't; but, there was another train in 9 minutes that did go there. The word passed among a couple of groups and they rapidly disembarked; one person actually thanked me. At least we have learned to read the train schedules in this part of the world – fingers crossed.

For the sweets fans among you, I want to recommend several flavors of gelato: cinnamon, toffee, chocolate and ambrosia. Of course, I loved the vanilla with black cherry and café I tried yesterday. In fact, I truly believe that “bad gelato” is a blatant contradiction. However, one should always remember the wisdom of Rick Steves: gelato aficionados avoid colors that don't appear in nature.

Hiking the five villages
By Claire
We woke up at 6 am to darkness and cold. I couldn’t figure out why we had decided to do this hike so early. So, we relaxed, decided to wait until it warmed up, and Chuck went back to sleep. By 10:30 we were on the trail from the first Village, Monterossa. It was gorgeous out, even a little too warm and we began stripping off layers. The views were fantastic even if the trail was a bit uphill. It just led to better and better views!

Hike start, Monterosso

Before we knew it, we were in the next village, Vernazza, everyone’s favorite. We bought bread at a tiny shop then wandered down to the harbor to sit in the sun and enjoy our picnic lunch of hardboiled eggs, apples and bread. It doesn’t get much better than that. We took our time, watching the various cats and interesting people. Soon we decided we better get going. But first, a gelato on the way out…..

House on the trail

Leaving Vernazza. Note the rocks on the roof in the foreground. Those are there to hold the shingles in place during wind storms.

The trail is impressive if a little dangerous at times. Narrow with steep drop offs and people coming the other way with only room for one. Hmmm. Lots of beautiful things to see including vineyards and the people working them, old stone houses, rock walls and plenty of vegetation including cactus.

We made our way to Corniglia, Village #3. It sits high up from the sea and has its own charm and character. The views were breathtaking.

Corniglia is mostly down hill so I knew we were getting close to the end. We arrived in Manarola, another car free village to find instead, boats parked along the street.

I was ready to stop and have a drink at a nice bar overlooking the sea but Chuck was like a horse with the corral in site. He was sure he wouldn’t be able to continue if he stopped. I couldn’t figure out why…’s only a hike! We got a little lost in Manarola and added another kilometer or so uphill but managed to find our way through the human tunnel to Riomaggiore ending at a wonderful place, overlooking the sea, just as I wanted. We wanted more Sangría but they only had wine, cocktails and beer so we settled for an Italian beer. I didn’t even know they made beer. It was very good and we relaxed for an hour until the next train which would take us back to Vernazza for dinner.

We arrived in Vernazza and made a bee line for a pizza place that makes pesto. We ordered one up, sat down and watched the neighborhood.

A short train ride back to Deiva Marina train station and a ride home with the campground shuttle. It was nice to be home—warm, cozy and relaxed.

UPDATE: I just found out, the hike is 18 kilometers or 11 miles. I wonder if I should tell Chuck?


Pat in Santa Cruz said...

I was LOL all the way through your story Chuck! I have been in your shoes. On a hike with my friend I described as "brutal" she considered "leisurely" :-) Thanks for the amazing photos. Since you didn't mention a tram I think it's clear you did some serious hiking. Italy is so beautiful! That pizza looks great.

Diane said...

Well think of it this way--an 11 mile hike uphill means you can eat even more gelato and pesto pizza! It seems that the next place is even more beautiful than the last place on this journey of yours. I'm proud of you for chilling out on hike departure times--much more civilized. Unless you risk dark falling, but I'm sure you have some head lamps stashed away in Homer--you two are always prepared!