Day 3 - Rome to Cinque Terre, Italy
Last night's espresso was NOT a good idea. I woke up really early and worked on my blog/pictures until the rest of the family (and the sun) awoke.Jim and I walked over to the train station while the kids slept a little longer and picked up our tickets for later in the day. We had breakfast together, then Jim went off to see some more of the city while I packed up and checked schedules for trains for later. We all got going with just enough time to leave and get to the train station with enough time to buy Zach breakfast (he slept too late) and a snack for the rest of us for the train (we're getting the hang of this train thing now).
We had to change trains in La Spezia to get the "regional" train (milk run) to Manarola, our town (#2) of the 5-Terre towns. That caused some heartache, as we hadn't figured out how to find the right track for those regional trains yet, and missed the first one. Fortunately the next one was only an hour later.
We pulled into town about 5:15, and made our way up the hill to our Hostel - literally at the top of the hill. The Hostel was another new experience for the kids - shower tokens, towel "rental", putting your own sheets on the beds, curfews and lock-out times - but we liked the place. Again, different is not always bad. Our exploration of town consisted of taking a side alley to the bottom. The town consists of one main street going up and down the hill with a few side streets starting from the church at the top and all meeting at the bottom square like ski runs meeting at the lodge at the bottom of the hill. We saw people jumping in the water from the rocks in the harbor and tons of people swimming, so the boys (ie. Jim, Noah and Zachary) all went back up the hill to change to swimsuits and get our towel. I followed them up and down the hill, but not out into the water. Instead, I sat and took pictures from the boat ramp, which was full of people sunbathing, and I watched the people and kept our stuff. There were people of all ages and shapes and sizes, and most of the women were wearing bikinis (as a side note). The boys started out jumping about 3 feet high off the rock, but moved up as their confidence grew. Noah and Jim made it up to about 15 feet. The water was calm, and the air warm. Just about the time I couldn't find anything else to observe, they came out dripping with smiles on their faces.
Since everyone else was wet, we trekked back up to the Hostel to change before dinner, finding yet another little side street to explore. The town seems to be mostly local folks, with a very few tourists that stay over. We ate dinner at a wonderful local café where we sampled the local specialty, pesto, in a pesto lasagna. Jim ordered a main dish - another local specialty, mackerel - as well as pasta, and by the time it came he was too full to eat it, but it was so good that he and I ate every morsel (well, not the head, bones or skin). We got back to the hostel with 15 minutes to spare before curfew.
Day 4 - Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy
This morning, I was awaked first by some thunder and rain, and then by the church bells outside our window (7:00 was the first ringing, with a long set at 7:30 - kind of the snooze button on the alarm). We wanted to hike the whole trail from the far end of Cinque Terre back to our town today, but when checking the train schedules to get there, realized we couldn't do what we wanted when we wanted, so we went with plan B. The rain stopped by the time we got out of bed, so we weren't too worried about it. I threw two ponchos in the backpack just in case (one for me with the camera, and one for Jim with the backpack, and made sure we had our raincoats, but otherwise took the sunglasses and assumed the best for the day. We chose to hike the short walk over to Riomaggiore (town #1) for breakfast.As we were leaving our hostel for the day (knowing we couldn't get back in until 4 that afternoon), we heard a strange whistle through a bullhorn. It turns out that the fresh fish man drives down through town each morning selling fish out of the back of his truck, much like the ice-cream man.Each town has his own fish man (we saw a different one in Riogmaggiore when we got there).
We walked the beautiful 'lover's lane' over to Riogmaggiore. The latest fad in Italy is to "seal" your love to someone by locking a padlock on an important romantic spot. There were a lot of padlocks along this trail. Once there, we walked up the town main street (a slightly bigger street than our town) and found some pastries and coffee for breakfast which we ate on a bench while watching the town wake up (and the tourists wheel their luggage down the street to the train station). We joined the other tourists at the train station and took the train to the other end of Cinque Terre - Montorosso (town #5).
As soon as we stepped off the train, it began to rain. We waited for a few minutes at the train station for it to stop, but gave up and went out in it anyway. It let up a bit, so we strolled through town. They had some kind of market going on in the square. An odd assortment of wares was being sold from the back of trucks - like cleaning supplies and TP and patio chairs and clothes. Obviously the locals need to be supplied with these things, but it was strange to see regular dish soap being sold at the market next to the lady selling her home-grown herbs (more like what I'd expect to see at a market).
We grabbed some focaccia bread and a hunk of cheese for a snack, and headed through some back alleys toward the trail. We found a sign that pointed to Vernazza (Town #4), our next destination, so we started to go down that trail, but it was obviously unused and overgrown, so we turned back and found the main trail (with the other tourists). Montorosso is usually a vibrant beach town with a beachfront full of beach chairs and beach umbrellas. Because of the weather, the beach was sadly deserted. The sprinkles began again just as we were leaving town to start the trail. I only got a few pictures in before having to bury my camera under my jacket and poncho. We took away lots of memories from this hike, but very few pictures.
We took a wrong turn (as did three other couples behind us) right at the start and ended up at a dead end, so backtracked and found the path again. The rain then became a downpour. The trail was somewhat narrow and climbed many steps, and the steps became a waterfall and the trail became a stream. The thunder was right overhead (counting almost no time between lightning and thunder), and bounced off the mountains. Jim and I were reminded of hiking the Routburn Trek in New Zealand where we hiked in similar conditions. By this time, what was going to be wet was already soaked. There were still plenty of us crazy people continuing our trek up and across to the next town though - we met people going both directions. The rain hardly let up the whole trek. What should have taken 1.5 hours took at least 2 hours until we arrived in Vernazza. We looked over the town (still pouring rain), deciding what to do with 4 wet and hungry bodies. We finally settled on pizza, and crowded into a little shop where another couple we got lost with at first showed up (they turned back and took the train to this town - but arrived about the same time we did). I was upset because my camera was taking fuzzy pictures so I knew I had water in there somewhere (turned out it was just fog inside the lens filter - not a big deal), but I was too wet to do anything about it. We were starting to get cold as well as wet, and our feet were tired of being wet, so we gave up our quest for seeing town #3 (Corniglia) and bought train tickets to go back to Manarola.
Just after we bought the train tickets, the sun came out. We hung up our wet jackets and sat in the sunshine and I dried off my camera while waiting for the train. Our first train out was canceled, and the next one was delayed, so it was a wait. When we got back to our town it was nice, so we walked down to the harbor. After that ordeal, gelato seemed a good idea - bubblegum again for Zach, coffee again for Noah and lemon for me this time (none for Jim this time).
The harbor that yesterday had been clear and full of swimmers was churning brown from mountain runoff from the storm. There was a fishing boat coming in, using the pulley/crane system to haul the boat from water level to street level about 60 feet in the air. All the local people seem to have boats which they park along the streets (I even saw one parked at the top of the hill on a wall). They have little wheeled trailers (dollies) that the boats balance on. A motorized pulley hauls the boat up to a big I-beam, they pull the boat over to the street along the beam and lower it to their boat dolly, then push it up the hill to their parking space, wipe it down and cover it up. We watched this phenomenon, then continued walking around the corner to see what the trail to Corniglia looked like.
We could see Corniglia's train station from where we were, so Jim and I decided to go see the town. The boys were less than willing to continue the day's journey, and told us so in many whiny ways. In hindsight, we should have just let them go back to the hostel together, but instead we made them join us for the trek. Though we could see the train station, the town was still up the hill from it. Noah's knee was aching and Zach's foot was sore (he cut a toe on the rocks swimming yesterday) and his heal hurt, so by the time we reached the train station 45 minutes later, the boys were barely moving. Sympathetic me stayed back with them and bought tickets for the train back to town (plus my feet were tired too and the hill to the town looked daunting). Jim went on ahead and climbed up to the town, then decided to take the trek back to our town. Our train was delayed by 40 minutes. Jim got back to the hostel not too much after we did (but he got to see much more than the train station). Though the hike was beautiful and interesting, the afternoon was a bust for me between the waiting for the train and dealing with grumpy kids. Ah well.
It didn't seem like a good idea to go out to dinner, so we ate pasta at the hostel. It started raining again while we ate, and we ended the night with one more downpour and thunderstorm. At least this time we were inside. Jim and I talked to a fellow traveler from Australia quite awhile after dinner.