I still go through our travel photos at least once a week, sometimes two or three times. I’ll think of something we saw or did or ate, and I immediately want to go back and look, and think about it some more. I think about the pictures I took and why, and they usually jolt my memory some more. Anyway, I would like to occasionally write about these memories as they arise. It won’t happen weekly, maybe only once a month or so, I don’t want to write a travelogue either, but just general memories of a place we were fortunate to visit, and show that even the shortest bit of travel can be an adventure.
Cinque Terre National Park in northwest Italy had been on my bucket list of places I wanted to visit for as long as I can remember. One year I even planned for our family to rent a house there for the summer, but the cutback in Brett’s hours that year and our increasing debt put an end to that plan. So, when we scheduled a month’s stay in Florence I knew this was our chance to visit, and we scheduled an overnight getaway. Because of heavy rains in the area we had to postpone our trip by a couple of weeks, but were easily able to change both our train tickets and our hotel reservation.
We started our visit by taking the train all the way up to the northernmost village, Monterosso al Mare. The ride from Florence took around three hours, and we had beautiful views along the way, including the Carrerra quarries (where Michelangelo got his marble) and Pisa, where we got a clear view of the Leaning Tower from the train. There were few people on the train though, and when we stepped off in Monterosso it was like entering a ghost town. What we didn’t know was that “the season” had ended a week earlier and few visitors were heading to the area. Shops and restaurants around the village were closed, the beach was deserted, and there were really no people around. We wandered around for a few minutes, found one open restaurant and had delicious seafood lunch, but then headed back to the train station and hopped on the next train to the next village, Vernazza.
We did not realize at first that we had boarded an express train, with the next stop Spezia! We forlornly watched the other four Cinque Terre stations speed by our window as the train rushed through each station. At Spezia we licked our wounds, figured out the schedule for the next train that was stopping at Vernazza, and were eventually back on our way.
Late afternoon and sunset in Vernazza
Vernazza in late afternoon was lovely, with people out and about. It was full of colorful buildings and streets, and had a picturesque harbor. Shops and restaurants were open, and we stopped at a gelateria to get our daily fix. Fishing boats were done for the day and had been pulled up out of the water, but we sat on some rocks by the harbor and watched the sun go down over the Mediterranean. Afterwards we climbed back up the hill to the station, and caught the train to Manarola. We had decided to skip the village of Corniglia because of the time, and because it also required a steep climb from the station to reach it, something we definitely didn’t want to do in the dark.
The sun was almost completely down when we reached Manarola, so we set our hotel’s location in Google Maps and started out. What we didn’t realize was that Google Maps gave us directions that looked good on paper but that would not actually get us to our hotel! We went around in circles for a while, but eventually stopped back at a restaurant in the main square and the owner sent us off in the right direction (the opposite of where Google Maps had sent us). It was now pitch dark, there were no street lights or street signs, and we wound our way up to the hotel using the flashlights on our phone, still having no idea if we were going the right direction or not. We eventually reached our hotel, with the owner leaning out the window waiting for us, worried that we were never going to show up (we were his only booking that night). He recommended a restaurant down the hill for dinner, but at that point we were so exhausted and grateful to have found our hotel that we instead went straight to bed and were asleep in moments.
We woke up to an amazing view from our veranda, of the entire coast and villages all the way back to Monterosso, as well as wonderful views of Manarola below us and of the hillsides covered with grapevines. We got dressed, said our goodbyes to the owner, who was heading out to tend his vineyard, and then headed back down the hill to walk out to a northern viewpoint, followed by a trip back to the square for some more coffee. As we were enjoying our drinks, a group of 60+ Chinese tourists suddenly filled the square. Their numbers blocked everything, and they were very noisy, so we finished our coffees quickly and headed for the train station in hopes of getting to the final village in the Cinque Terre National Park, Riomaggiore, before the big tour group did. Our luck had apparently run out though as the entire group boarded the train just after we did, filling our car to bursting.
Manarola in the morning.
At Riomaggiore, as we climbed off the train we were faced with a dilemma: which way to go? Should be go right and up into the hills, or left, through a long tunnel? The big tour group forming up next to us forced us to make a quick decision and we turned to go left. It turned out to be a wise choice as the road took us up and through the village and offered stunning views along the way. However, the tour group had followed us up the hill and we had to walk quickly to stay ahead of them. We eventually landed in the village square, chose a restaurant, and had one of the best meals of our travels: freshly made pesto with potatoes and pasta for me, and a seafood medley pasta for Brett along with a few glasses of delicious wine. We never saw the Chinese group again – it was like they vaporized somewhere.
After we left the restaurant we spotted a sign at the bottom of the square pointing to the station. We turned right at the sign and discovered ourselves in the long tunnel that we would have come through if we had chosen to go right from the station! We left Riomaggiore feeling very glad we had turned left and headed up the hill, big tourist group or not.
Our one regret was that we were not able to hike any of the cliffside trails between villages – they had been washed out in several places because of the recent heavy rains and were blocked off. Otherwise, we enjoyed a perfect Cinque Terre getaway and satisfied a long-time travel desire of mine.