This week I read an essay by author Sarah White on her visit to Cinque Terre, Italy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Her story took me back to the time we spent in Italy in the Spring of 2007 and how our journey eventually took us to Cinque Terre. What follows is a reminiscence of our journey accompanied by a few photos.
The Youngest left the US in September 2006 to spend a year studying at a university in Udine, Northern Italy located about ½ way between Venice and the border of Austria. When my Traveling Partner and I learned that she had a three week spring break, we made plans to visit her in late March and early April. By email, we sketched out a rough plan for our three week stay, she would meet us at the airport in Venice, then after a few days we would take the train to Florence for a few days then on to Rome and back to Udine for Easter. We had a long wish list of places to see so left a lot of room for side trips. I knew someone who had been to Cinque Terre on a tour and raved about the experience, telling me “you’ve got to go.” After we got to Italy, I kept mentioning wanting to go there if possible. The Youngest finally said in exasperation: “You keep saying you want to go, let’s do it!”
After The Youngest met us at the Venice airport that Sunday morning, we rode the bus to one of the towns near the train station that takes riders over the water to the city of Venice. We stayed in a modest, reasonably priced hotel with local restaurants nearby, avoiding the much higher prices in Venice. After a couple of days exploring Venice, we were ready to move on. Even though it was early in the season, there were crowds of tourists with vendors trying to separate money from our wallets. One redeeming grace is the city of water is very photogenic. Here are a few.
We boarded the train for Florence, struggling to wrangle our large suitcases up the steep steps into the car. It was at this point, my Traveling Partner and I promised each other that for future trips we would pack light, limited only to carryon sized luggage. A valuable lesson learned. After our exertion boarding the train, we settled into our seats for the nearly eight hour ride. We enjoyed the scenery; the vineyards, olive orchards, orange groves, and the cattle and sheep grazing green pastures. It was in the evening when we arrived at the train station in Florence. We walked dragging our suitcases behind us to the hotel where The Youngest found us a room for a few nights. During the day we toured Florence, visited the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, stood in the long line to enter the museum that housed Michelangelo’s David, and walked along the Arno River at night. It’s a beautiful town with lots of tourists and expats living in an artists dream city. We happened to be there on Palm Sunday so attended services at one of the many churches in the city. Instead of palms, worshippers were given olive branches. Very fitting I say, extending an olive branch in peace to those around us.
One day we took a bus to a village about 9 or 10 miles from Florence. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch and wandered around the village stopping in a church to offer prayers for our neighbor back home who was in a razor tight race for a seat on the city council (she won!). This also is the village where my Traveling Partner and I were locked in a cemetery! The village cemetery was surrounded by high stone walls. We walked in while The Youngest waited outside. Little did we know that the gates automatically closed and locked at 1 PM for lunch and didn’t reopen until 3. As we stood at the locked gate, the attendant yelled something at us in Italian, we didn’t understand and neither did The Youngest. After a few minutes, we learned he was trying to tell us there was a hidden button that opened the gate. Relieved, we escaped the cemetery to live another day! I took the following photo from that village that overlooked the city of Florence.
While in Florence, we made plans to go to Cinque Terre. Learning that the train went through Pisa, we decided we had to make a few hour stop and see one of the iconic symbols of Italy. After about an hour and 15 minute train ride we arrived in Pisa. We stashed our luggage at the station and walked the 2 km to the Cathedral and its leaning bell tower. I was expecting a cheesy tourist trap, not so. It leans a lot so was fun to learn more about it and shoot a lot of photos. Visitors can buy timed tickets to climb the Tower, we checked into it but none were available before our train left for La Spezia. It was a beautiful spring day and great for photos.
Our next stop was La Spezia, the largest city (about 100,000 people) near Cinque Terre, where we would stay and do day trips by train to the villages. We found a nice hotel near the train station that served a nice breakfast. In the evening, we wandered the city and saw many families strolling the promenade enjoying the pleasant weather. On our walk, we came across this fellow creating artwork on the sidewalk. Note the bowl where we and many other dropped a few Euro to encourage his artistry.
Cinque Terre translates from Italian to English as five lands. There are five villages that hug the steep, rugged Mediterranean coastline in what is now the Cinque Terre National Park. There is little access to the villages by car, most locals and visitors take the train or ferries that connect the villages. Cinque Terre is noted for the hiking trails that link the five villages. Those trails are not for the faint of heart as the paths are steep albeit well marked with stone steps and places to rest. Along the trails are terraced vineyards, lemon trees, and lush gardens. The scenery is spectacular.
The next morning we boarded the train and took it to the farthest of the five villages, Monterrosso al Mare. After scoping out the village on the bright, sunny day, taking some photos, and eating a light lunch, we started our 3.5 km trek to the next village, Vernazza. Here’s a look back at Monterrosso as we began our walk.
I should mention that my Traveling Partner was injured in a car accident in December 2006 and spent most of the winter healing her cracked pelvis. With this in mind, The Youngest and I helped her make the many steps up the steep climb. We rested where ever we could and realized that the slow hike allowed us to enjoy the journey.
At one point in our excursion, we came across this old gentleman selling his wares along the path. We purchased some water and a couple of blood oranges from him. We rested nearby to enjoy our refreshments, The Youngest remarked “It was the best orange I’ve ever eaten!” I really wanted to sample the homemade limoncello (a lemon based liqueur) he was selling. However, I decided against having an alcohol based beverage after assessing the narrow foot path and long, steep fall to the water should one slip off the trail. As we rested, another hiker came along and made a purchase and I made this photo of the sale.
As we approached Vernazza, the sky became overcast and a little mist began to fall. That didn’t stop me from taking photos as the village came into sight. I sent my Traveling Partner and The Youngest ahead saying I would catch up to them. I didn’t dilly dally as I made my way down the steep hill into Vernazza meeting them at the village square.
Upon arrival in Vernazza, we enjoyed refreshments at one of the many restaurants and then set off to explore the village. The small, colorful boats in the harbor seem to exist just for photographs but they have a real purpose as fishing is one of the main occupations of local residents.
I climbed to the Doria Castle, the high point on the shoreline behind the village. Here was my view.
Then I walked several hundred yards on the trail to Corniglia, the next village, to take this photo looking back at Vernazza. Note the Doria Castle on the left and the village of Monterrosso in the far background.
At the end of the day, we caught the train back to La Spezia for dinner and a good nights rest after all our physical activity. The next day we visited the villages of Cornglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Our last walk was the one mile from Manarola to Riomaggiore on a fairly level path along the coastline. In one of those villages I took the photo of the five guys sitting on a bench in the piazza watching the tourists file through the village. It’s one of my favorites from our excursion to Cinque Terre.
After a few days in Cinque Terre, we traveled to Rome to see the many sites and eventually ended up in Udine where we ended our three week excursion to Italy.
We planned this trip to allow a lot of flexibility in scheduling. We only made a couple of reservation ahead of time to make sure we had an adequate place to rest our heads. Thanks to The Youngest and her Italian language skills that helped to make our side trip to Cinque Terre so special. I can’t wait to return although I wonder about making the trek between villages with 13 years added to my age!
Until next week, happy virtual travels!