I bid a tearful farewell to Nice on Wednesday. After breakfast I went out for a bit to shoot some pics that I had scouted the night before, but I didn’t want to be out too long because it doesn’t take long to turn into a giant pool of sweat and I didn’t want to be soggy for my train ride. So then I walked over (slowly, in the shade) to this boulangerie to get a pan bagnat and a pastry for my trip. I’ve never taken a train before so I wasn’t really sure about the protocol, so I arrived at the train station way to early and found a spot to camp out and enjoy my sandwich. And I did. For more details on said sandwich check my FB or IG.
I had booked a first class ticket because I got a good deal by booking in advance. So i get onto the train and there’s hardly anyone else on there, the seats are comfy, we have a table… so I got comfy and wrote my last blog post. Then I watched Bridesmaids and ate my cookie, which they call a sable. It’s filled with raspberry jam. I need to learn how to make them.
Three hours to Genoa, and then I needed to switch trains. I initially thought I wanted to stay in Monterosso but had changed my mind and decided to go all the way to Riomaggiore instead. It was too late for me to change my ticket online (also I wasn’t thinking clearly that I should have just booked a new ticket) so as soon as we got to Genoa I sought out the ticket office to book a new ticket. The guy was like, oh sure, we have a train leaving at 5:29. It was 5:23. I grabbed my ticket and walked as fast as I could to the train (which was now a regional train). I hop on. This was not like the luxury train I’d just come from. This was like the Motel 6 of trains. I throw my bag into the overhead luggage holder and grab a seat. Backwards. Which I hate. But then at the next stop some seats opened up so I moved. And then we sat there. And sat. And of course I don’t understand Italian like I should because I subscribed to Rosetta Stone but never made it past La donna mangia una mela (the lady is eating an apple) so I see the girl across from me look out the window and I did the same. There was the digital train schedule showing we are delayed 15 minutes. Great. Then 20 minutes. Then we still sat there. After 30 minutes we finally got underway. I kept convincing myself that this was all part of the adventure and that I would be fine and I’d get there eventually. It sort of helped.
My main cause for concern with the delay was that when my hotel emailed me to confirm the day before they told me I would need to check in by 6pm because otherwise the desk would be closed. I had emailed back and let them know my train should arrive around 7:30 so they said no problem. But I was worried that if I got there much later that I would be stranded without a hotel!
So we make a bazillion stops but then I started to recognize the names of the stations and I knew we were getting close. I was staying in the the 5th of the 5 cinque terre towns which I had memorized from my research. (Although oddly, in the blogs and travel sites I read they always refer to them from south to north. So I guess technically I was staying in the first one.) The best part about the train ride in its entirety is that the train ran right along the coast the whole way! So it was mostly water on one side, villages on the other side, which made for a pretty cool ride.
I get off the train at Riomaggiore and consult the instructions. Here they are, word for word:
From the train station of Riomaggiore you must take the blue tunnel that bring to the centre in a couple of minutes walking….once there you have 3 choices:
1)walk the main street up till the public parking as the hotel is 100 mt. from that( 10/15 minutes walking);
2)take the green bus of the National Park service that runs from the centre of the village to the high part of the village and stops by the hotel.
Departure by Carige bank at the following time schedule: 8.45 -9.20 -10.35 – 11.30 -12.00 – 12.30 – 13.05 -14.25-15.30-16:00- 17.00 – 18.00 -18:40-19.35 -20:00
3)take a taxi with an extra fee calling the following numbers:
Roberto (0039) 329-8966219 ( just lugguage service)
Marzio (0039) 340-3565268
I had just spent 6 hours on the train, so I thought I’d walk. I did not realize that the 10-15 minutes of walking was all uphill. It was 80 degrees and I was lugging my suitcase. I got about half way up the hill and my phone rang (it was now after 8pm). It was the hotel asking if I was still coming. I explained I was on my way, I was at the public parking. She said “oh, it sounds like you missed the bus”. Yes, yes I did.
I could see the hotel but you have to walk all the way to the top of the hill and then switchback to get there.
I made it. I was literally dripping sweat. I walked inside and the gal took one look at me and said “let me get you some water”. So I got checked in and she gave me all kinds of details about breakfast (which is included in my rate), how to operate the AC, the bus schedule (she even highlighted which times I needed to pay attention to). She tells me “you booked an economy room so you won’t have a view, but you can use the terrace any time”.
I asked her where I should go for dinner. She says “I think, no more walking for you tonight. Just go to the right and walk about a minute, there’s a restaurant up here.”
So I peeled myself out of my sweaty travel clothes, freshened up and walked to dinner. The restaurant was so cute. I got a table outside. The poor waiter was trying to cover all the tables himself (there were about 12 tables and they were all full). I think he must have been new because the lady who was bringing the dishes out from the kitchen kept giving him instructions and redirecting him. He kept getting the tables confused, bringing the wrong checks to people. But the food and wine were amazing! I have found a new love of anchovies. Like, I ordered them intentionally. They were on a wilted “salad” of escarole and onions, with burrata and torn breadcrumbs, topped with pickled red cabbage. Interesting right? But so good! Then the best risotto I’ve ever had, with asparagus and smoked scamorza cheese.
I left completely satisfied and ready to sleep – it had been a long day!
Thursday – my first day in Cinque Terre
I’ve already shared a lot of photos from the day, but it was truly wonderful! At breakfast I made some new friends – two ladies from Vermont who were wrapping up their two week trip in Italy. We chatted over coffee and shared our mutual adoration for aperol spritzes.
I had decided that I would do the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza. All of Cinque Terre is a national park, and the towns are all connected by “foot paths” – which makes them sound friendlier than they are. Unfortunately because of wash out some of the paths are closed. But this one is one of the more popular trails – so I decided to give it a go. I’d read some about this particular trail, that it would take 1.5-2 hours, bring water (I also packed a snack), wear comfortable shoes (which I feel is rather obvious). I sunscreened up and took the train up 4 stops. When I arrived in Monterosso I stopped in the visitor center to ask how to get to the trail (there was no obvious signage). The gal pulled out a map and it only took her about 10 seconds to explain (she’d obviously done this a million times before). So yes, the hike itself would be 2 hours but it takes like 10-15 minutes just to get to the start. I walked slowly, trying to conserve my energy.
So I got to the start and thought “ok here we go” and started up a set of stone steps. And then another. And then another. And another. I wasn’t alone, but the trail was not overly crowded. I got about 20 minutes in and stopped to catch my breath. It was reassuring to hear others grasping for their breath behind me – I felt like less of a wimp.
At one point, maybe 30 minutes in I stopped an was chatting with a Brit who was hiking with his family. We discussed the difficulty of the hike. But then as we started off again he said “but you can do it though!” And just those words were really reassuring. Yes, I could do it. I stopped along the way and took photos of Monterosso disappearing behind me, and then enjoyed all the beauty that came with this hike.
Tiny trickling streams. Random wild flowers. Small homes tucked into the hillside. A haven for cats. Wait what?? Yes, there was a small fenced in home for cats, complete with tiny housing structures and instructions for feeding them.
Along the trail there was a man sitting with his wife, playing the according (he was, not her). Then a man selling fresh lemonade and limoncello. Toward the end of the trail (or the beginning, depending on the direction you’re coming from) there were two musicians, one playing the saxophone and the other playing accordion. I got my first “ciao Bella!” From the accordion player. I gave him a friendly “ciao!” Back and kept going. As I rounded the next corner I heard a bunch of hikers stop and sing along with them – so cool!
It was an amazing experience, trekking along with others from all over the world, everyone sort of suffering through it together but knowing that it was more enjoyable than anything else. And then when I got the postcard view of Vernazza – in that moment, I felt pure happiness and was proud of myself for making it.
The walk into Vernazza was pretty cool too. Down narrow alleys between the villas, into the center of the city which was buzzing with tourists.
I stopped and got a cone of fried seafood, a local speciality. Calamari, anchovies, crab and cod. It was salty and not greasy and just what I needed to refuel.
I wandered a bit then headed to the train station. I thought I’d stop by Corniglia, the next town, and then see what I wanted to do next. While waiting by the train I met a woman from San Diego who was traveling with her two kids. We started chatting about our travels – they were also headed to Corniglia. The train came and when I got off at Corniglia I started walking but then realized this was the town where you had to walk up over 300 steps to get into the town. I paused and looked out over the water, thinking maybe I’d wuss out and just go take a nap. But then Margaret and her two kids came along and she encouraged Me to walk with them – after the hike this morning, this won’t be too bad, she said. Ok fine. I walked up the steps and we chatted the whole way, then I went with them to get lemon granitas. Which are the very best lemon slushy you can get. They are like super fresh, lemony, and just what I needed at that point. After that we wished each other well, she showed me where to catch the bus back to the train station (I was done walking) and went our separate ways.
I made it back to my hotel, cooled off a bit, and researched my dinner options. The concierge called the restaurant for me to make a reservation and then showed me, using Google earth, how to get there “the back way”. I felt pretty comfortable with his directions. so I freshened up and started walking to dinner. I walked down the road my hotel is on to the castle, then took the stairs down. Then I turned on to this narrow path. But then I panicked, thinking I was going the wrong way.
So I tried to use my google maps but they were of no use as they don’t depict the foot paths and trails. So I turned back and then started down a road. I saw a guy standing outside one of the homes so I asked for help. He pointed me the right way and eventually I made it. I was dripping sweat (which apparently I will be any time I’m on the move). I got to the restaurant and got the last table with a view – it was magnificent.
The menu was limited, just about 8 dishes, and each page had a watercolor painting of the dish. It was so beautiful! I selected the spaghetti with mussels after I learned that the mussels are caught in La Spezia, the next town to the south. Best spaghetti I’ve ever had. I also had dessert, a puff pastry with sweetened ricotta and Lambrusco-soaked peaches. Cinque Terre produces some local wines so I had a glass of white and it was really great! They brought me the check and I thought something was missing – it was only 25 euros!
After dinner I was determined to walk back the same way and figure out where I’d made my wrong turn. And I did. Had I just kept on the narrow path it would have taken me to a set of stairs. But now I knew!
My first day in Cinque Terre was exhausting. And hot. And wonderful. Today I need to explore Manarola, and then I’ll have made it to all 5 towns. And I also need to swim.