Night Location: La Spezia, Italy
Song of the Day: Footloose - Kenny Loggins
Mumisode of the Day: Shouting out, "Neptune! A zephyr from the gods!" whenever there was a sea breeze while walking along the Sentiera Azzura (Cinque Terre - blue path).
If you have not already guessed by the Mumisode of the Day, today was spent exploring the five small towns that make up the Cinque Terre, aptly named by the Italians as 'five lands'. The scenery along these paths is simply incredible. Once again, small villages hug the cliffs that fall down to the sea. And once again, there are gardens and fruit trees and grape vines filling every square inch of spare ground.
The day started less than auspiciously as we missed the train that supposedly leaves every 30 minutes by two minutes and were then forced to wait for 90 minutes for the next one. The only good thing is that our hotel is conveniently located across the road. We set off on round two, and eased our way amongst the crowd buzzing on the platform all prepared for the Cinque Terre. There were people everywhere that were serious walkers with serious walking shoes, serious shorts, serious backpacks and serious walking poles. We did not look that serious.
The first town was Riomaggiore. We emerged from the tunnel of the train station, proceeded through a long pedestrian tunnel and found ourselves in a narrow piazza with a road winding upwards. This marked the beginning of Amber counting the upward steps for the day. From here starts the Via Del Amore, the walk of love, that is fairly level and connects this village with the second village, Maranola. The walk is covered with fences that have padlocks, plastic bags and shoe laces tied all around them, that people have left as a symbol of love. Amber and David had their picture taken on the love seat.
The section of the coastal path between Maranola and Corniglia has been closed for some time now (news to us today), due to a landslide. This threw a small spanner in the plans, as this was the walk we intended to do. Instead, we caught the coastal train onto Corniglia, and then thanks to David's excellent research once again, the bus up to the town so as to avoid the 365 steps to the top. Corniglia is the only one of the five towns not to be located at sea level. We had lunch in a small trattoria that had a covered courtyard. David tried the grilled swordfish that had been cut perpendicular to the backbone, and the rest of us tried the local speciality, pesto pasta.
Mum up until this point had been feeling a little unwell in the stomach. We have since discovered that this is likely due to her ingestion of one of Dad's Metformin (diabetic) tablets as she carries her similarly shaped, sized and colored Caltrate tablets with his. After lunch, she picked up, ready for the walk.
We set off, a little unsure where we were going at first, but there in the distance loomed the Cinque Terre guard station. We flashed our passes and set off. We noticed that people coming toward us on the path had removed clothing and looked generally hot, bothered and exhausted. It was a little daunting given that these people looked like 'serious walkers', and remember we are not.
The walk itself was fantastic. Would do it again tomorrow and could have continued the next section if time had not been an issue. The path winds its way up and down through farm land and Italian 'bush', then all of a sudden you come out to a section of railing that guards a cliff edge and you can see the landscape far into the distance and out to the sea. It was just spectacular.
Luckily for us, Gemma and David had done their research and selected the correct direction to walk. At the start, it seemed as if we were only going to go up. Not our favorite direction! After a long section of uneven, large steps of different shapes and heights, it appeared that there was no more 'up' to go. Gemma - correctly for a change - announced that this seemed to be the last of the 'up'.
We tried to take pictures, but they really do not do this area of the world justice. It is breathtakingly beautiful. The descent began. Amber had at the start of the day been counting the up stairs. Before we started the hike she had already reached 261 (total up for today was 881). Gemma's job was to count the down stairs. It was decided that there would be a photo when or if the down stairs and the up stairs count equalled. At the start this did not seem probable, however at 861 the photo was taken.
The down did not stop there. There were 943 steps down in total, none of them particularly easy. We kept passing people who were walking the other way, and considered telling them to turn around, particularly the couple with two tiny children.
Finally, at down step 871, we could see Vernazza, the fourth town and goal for this section of the journey. It was a celebratory moment, let's just say that. Amber may have sung our theme song of the day, 'Footloose'. We cooled off in the town with some lemon gelato, and then made a sprint for the train to the fifth and final town of Monterosso: not the best timing for this one as the legs were a bit tired.
At Monterosso came the worst experience of the day. Gemma and Amber, ingeniously, had decided to pack their swimmers in anticipation that at the end of the hike, a swim would be an excellent idea. It was going swimmingly, until we reached the female toilets where we intended to get changed. Firstly, they were squat toilets, not the smartest idea after hiking, when even sitting is painful. Secondly, as David walked past on his way to the men's toilet, he turned around and waved his hand over his nose. We weren't sure exactly what this meant until we were about twenty metres from the door of the toilet. It reeked. Amber describes this as the worst smell of her life. To put it politely, someone had left a lot of brown and not flushed it down (close to the foot section). This was the toilet that Amber headed for first, before abandoning this option and kindly offering to guard Gemma's door as the lock was broken.
All Gemma heard while she was getting changed was, "Oooh, yuk!" and "I'm going to faint." While getting changed herself, Amber came extremely close to vomiting while in an awkward position, half in and half out of swimmers while not trying to touch the floor, walls or anything else. Somewhat Mr Bean style of getting into swimmers. Amber walked out with her shoelaces not done up; she just needed to get out!
Finally, that ordeal was over. Amber and Gemma headed straight for the beach and jumped in. Heaven. Heaven at least until Gemma was stung by a large orange jellyfish. Interesting that the last time Gemma was in the water, she was stung by a bee, now a jellyfish, all while Amber has been swimming closely and remains unscathed. Amber also helpfully offers that if we go swimming along the French Riviera, it will likely be a shark next.
We shall finish by saying that La Spezia is not a great town for food. That about sums it up if you catch our drift. On to Eze tomorrow and to Monaco where we have to dress up. David is researching the dress code for the casino as we speak. James Bond, here we come.