Just back from a couple of days in Cinque Terre, where we visited four of the five villages that comprise Cinque Terre. We stayed in Vernazza, took the train to Riomaggiore and Manarola, skipped Corniglia (had to get out of the afternoon sun) and spent an evening in Monterosso al Mare.
The two days were a feast for the senses. Hearing the sound of the water crashing onto the rocks – I like that sound even more than the sound of the surf on a sandy beach. Seeing the beautiful blue-green of the sea, the pastels of the village buildings and the decorated tunnels from the railway stations in Riomaggiore, Manarola and Monterosso al Mare to the village. The one in Riomaggiore was my favorite – tiled in all the colors of the sea, with abstract representations of the cliffs and the flora and fauna.
Tasting the food: I tried an anchovy – fresh anchovies are much different than what I expected and quite good, not like what one sees on a pizza in the USA. A dinner of tagliatelle with zucchini and shrimp was wonderful – the zucchini was small and crisp and there was a hint of nutmeg. Lunch in Manarola was delicious ravioli Ligurian style – triangular, stuffed with spinach, with a cream and walnut sauce. Another lunch was a lovely insalata Caprese with a cannoli to take away; the cannoli was filled to order, the shell sprinkled with cocoa, with strawberry slices on the ricotta. Yum!
The heavenly smell – I wish a camera could capture smells so I could share them. Anywhere there was plant life, there was a smell of basil, warmed by the sun and mixed with the smell of other herbs, flowers and fruits.
This rhapsody peters out when we get to touch. Yeah, there were things to touch – the railings and rock walls as we hauled ourselves up a multitude of steps and inclines. Although the coastal path is closed between Riomaggiore and Corniglia because of the 2011 flood, we still got plenty of exercise just walking up and down the streets of the villages. The stairs keep one alert – the risers are of different heights and the steps sometimes crumbling, so you have to pay attention. On the last day, I hiked part of the path between Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare in search of a geocache. After hiking the less-than-1km to the cache, I understood why walking the 3km between the two villages takes two hours!
Besides the sensory pleasures, a highlight of the trip was meeting interesting people. Talking to two couples at lunch our first day, one woman told me that she and her husband take each grandchild on a trip of their choosing when they finish high school. She always asks what they learned; one granddaughter said she learned she had to be respectful of other cultures, another granddaughter said she learned she should marry well!
The owner of Il Parata in Vernazza (where we had breakfast) was friendly and outgoing, telling us on our first visit that Il Parata had been mentioned in Rick Steves’ guidebook, which he had by the cash register. There was a sign on the food case: “Please don’t ask for eggs. This is Italy. Eat our food.”
On the train platform in Manarola, we had an interesting discussion with a woman from San Diego about the differences between the east and west coasts of the USA. That evening, while waiting for the train to Monterosso al Mare that never came, we struck up a conversation with a couple from the UK, both originally from Wales, living south of London currently.
When I misread the train schedule in Monterosso al Mare after dinner, we spent the hour before the next train walking around and then sitting on a bench overlooking the beach. A young woman passed us a couple of times with a baby in a carriage, trying to get it to sleep. We communicated via sympathetic looks and shrugs. The last time we saw her, she was yawning and the baby was wide-awake – eyes as big as saucers!
One of my favorite encounters was with a group of four American women on the cliff path between Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. There was a view of Vernazza far below and people taking pictures. I offered to take a picture of all of them, after which we got to talking. They are spending a semester abroad in Paris. I was impressed at how bright and engaging they were. One of them said something that someone had said to me recently, which is that we grow when we move out of our comfort zone. Smart girl!
Even if a common reaction seems to be “damn you, Rick Steves” (for making Cinque Terre popular), it’s a beautiful place.
For more about Cinque Terre as a Unesco World Heritage site, please visit: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/826/