Thursday, October 22, 2015

Rugged Coastline of Northern Italy

Our Italy adventure continued. . .

After a wonderful breakfast with heavenly croissants, delightful cheese and fresh juice, our water taxi arrived and we took one more ride through the canals of Venice on our way to the train station for our trip to La Spezia.


The goal of the next part of our adventure was to hike the Cinque Terra trail.

On the first part of our train trip we had very nice seats in first class with a good view of the Italian countryside. Hubby D worked most of the way.



We raced along on the tracks with this view of the Alps out the train window.

We transferred to a new train in Florence. Later we will return to experience Florence. Our train from Florence to La Spezia had only 2nd class seating. There was no first class section and this was a challenge!

This is not our train, it is one sitting on the tracks right next to our train.  However, after we finished the trip to La Spezia, I felt like I had been on this train for 2 and a half hours!
After we boarded the second train, my first thought was that our friend MD could not buy his way out of this one. (Inside joke)



Once we were on a trip with MD and his wife, JD. MD purchased new first class seats on a return flight because he and JD were assigned (in error) bad seats for the very, very long flight.

After serious negotiations with an airline representative over being given the wrong seats (they WERE terrible seats), he told us, "I showed them. I just bought first class seats."

I wished we had that option on this train.

This train ride reminded me of scene in movie Romancing the Stone where the female lead character, Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) rides on a bus filled with peasants into the mountains. 



The train we were on had crying babies, families eating their meal in the open floor area, hoodlums that I imagined were eyeing my wedding ring and lots and lots of loud passengers. 



The bus from Romancing the Stone.
We luckily snagged two seats on the side with no other adjoining seats so we were assured of not needing to share our space. This was the best thing about this train trip.


Very quickly we discovered there is no air conditioning. We sat with our window down the entire two and half hours. My ears were ringing from the strong wind from the window by the time we arrived in La Spezia.

Did I mention there was no food or water on the train?

Sadly we did not plan for that and our breakfast started wearing off after traveling several hours. But it did limit the number of times you needed to visit the rest room. . . THANK GOODNESS because the rest room was not a good experience!

When we took daughter BHB to Europe she rated each city by the quality of the rest rooms. She would not have liked this train ride. In fact, she would not have liked almost all the rest rooms in Italy. 



And, someone needs to introduce tissue and soap to the Italians. These were missing from most rest rooms.

We arrived in La Spezia in early afternoon and after checking into our hotel, Hotel Firenze E Continentale we bought a map of the Cinque Terre trails. We would hike the next day with our friends ES and NS who were coming from a wedding in the States. They joined us later that evening.

Checking into our quaint hotel in La Spezia.
The room keys were quite unique.
According to Wikipedia, the Cinque Terre is a rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera. It is in the Liguria region of Italy, to the west of the city of La Spezia where we stayed. 

"The Five Lands" comprises five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Over the centuries, people have carefully built terraces on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the sea. Part of its charm is the lack of visible corporate development. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages, and cars cannot reach them from the outside.

The map created the impression the trail was more difficult than it actually was. The entry points were very easy to find and it was clearly marked along the paths.
Along the cliffs that border the sea, there is a rocky hiking trail. The lower sections between Riomaggiore, Manarola and Cornelia are the easiest. The ones further north between Cornelia, Vernazza and Monterosso are more difficult. As my luck would have it, the lower two sections were closed because of mud slides and we would be hiking the 2 hardest sections.

After ES and NS arrived and were settled, we strolled around La Spezia and finally settled on a restaurant for dinner. It was a lovely garden setting where we had a seafood platter and black ink octopus and pasta. YUMMY! This was one of the best meals on the trip.

While enjoying our meal one of the other diners leaned towards us and said, "Are you from Bahrain?" Much to our surprise a fellow diner was a friend from the Embassy in Bahrain. It is a small world.

Friends from Bahrain
The next morning we headed out early to the train and traveled to the city at the northern end of the Cinque Terre trails, Monterosso.

At the train station, NS and I decided we wanted to visit the ladies room before we hit the trail.  OOPS!

Not one of the nicest ladies rooms I have been in, but actually not the worst either.  The Middle East is not famous for their facilities. And, note that there was no tissue and no soap.
In my research about Cinque Terre, the best description I found was from Rick Steves, whose book gave us a tremendous amount of information for our entire trip. Rick is wonderful. If you are traveling in Italy, his book is a must have item.

Here is what he says about the Cinque Terre trail.
https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/articles/the-enchanting-cinque-terre-fiatfree-italy

“Along a beautifully isolated six-mile stretch of the most seductive corner of the northern Italian coast lies the Cinque Terre (CHINK-weh TAY-reh) — five (cinque) small towns gently and steadily carving a good life out of difficult terrain. Each village fills a ravine with a lazy hive of human activity — calloused locals and sunburned travelers enjoying the area's unique mix of Italian culture and nature. With a traffic-free charm — a happy result of their natural isolation — these towns are the rugged alternative to the glitzy Riviera resorts nearby. There's not a Fiat or museum in sight — just sun, sea, sand (well, pebbles), wine, and pure, unadulterated Italy.”

He was spot on!

The seaside city of Monterosso was our starting point for the trek.
Don't we look fresh?  That will change. LOL
The trail started out going through this tunnel. I thought, "I can do this."
We started winding through grape vines and olive groves.
The path became more difficult pretty quickly.


However, the view was spectacular.
Looking down I saw a path that ran along the cliff. I was really glad to not be there.

 

This is looking back to Monterosso.
Even the flowers were clinging to the sides of the rock walls.
Along the path there were several areas with large stone walls.  It must have been a massive job to build these in such an isolated area.
Along the way we saw some really beautiful sights. 





As we approached the second city of Vernazza, the view was even more spectacular!


I wish the light had been behind me. This could have been a much better photo. However, it was still beautiful.
The city of Vernazza was even more interesting to see up close.
The path took us right through town.

Water safety signs were posted in all three cities.

As we left, the city was gorgeous as it clung to the hillside in the early afternoon sun.
Rather quickly the trail headed straight up.
More steps? It may appear that ES was resting, but he was only stopping to let me take a picture of the steep steps.  He did not complain even once. You can't say the same thing about me.  The next day was even worse when my exhausted legs burned with every step.
As we approached the half way mark, the guys still look fresh but NS and I are a bit moist. Later on Hubby D asked, "Why did I even wear a clean shirt today?"
As we approached our final destination of Corniglia, the view continued to amaze us. Notice the olive grove in the lower portion of the photo towards the sea.
Just before we reached the downhill climb to Corniqlia, we came upon a bar perched on the side of the cliff.  We gladly stopped for some beers and lemonade.
The view from the bar.
This was the toilet at the bar. We peeked under the door. NS and I decided we really did not need to go.
Going downhill was so much easier.

Close to the town, the path became very easy and gave us a nice ending to a long trek


This is a pictorial memorial to the rescue and rebuilding done after the floods and mud slides that occurred in Oct. of 2011.  

Every city we visited in Italy had laundry hanging on the sides of the buildings.  Cornelia was no different.

We hiked all day and finished totally exhausted. After taking showers at the hotel, we boarded the train again and traveled to Manarola for dinner. There we found a wonderful bistro hanging on the side of the harbor. Wine and a 5-course dinner ended the perfect day.

I snapped this quick sunset shot just as the sun went behind a heavy cloud bank.
The next day we headed back to Florence. Our adventure into the rugged Italian coastline was wonderful and breathtaking!  It will never be forgotten.

Cheers,
Brenda

1 comment:

  1. These pictures are truly amazing! Your trip seems full of fun. Next weekend I am going to take my family to NYC. We were making plans for this trip from a long time. Have to attend a wedding at an event space NYC and then will explore city in remaining time.

    ReplyDelete