Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cinque Stars for Cinque Terre!

After the outrage in Pisa, we continued north by Train to a little place called La Spezia. It is a small fishing village that isnt really an attraction by itself.. but it has the benefit of being 7 minutes by train from the Cinque Terre (5 towns).

Before you start reading this blog, please do something. Open google, type in Cinque Terre, and hit 'image results'. Uploading photos is too tiresome for us but we need you to see what we have just seen.

Cinque Terre is another place that has been on our itinerary from the beginning. We knew we wanted to see it and hike between the 5 towns. We have been so excited about it - and it has not let us down. This is one of the highlights of the trip! Probably just what we needed to snap out of our 'cultural burnout'.

Tuesday night we enjoyed a wander around little La Spezia, a nice dinner and an early night in preparation for the big hike the next day.
Wednesday morning, we arrived in the first town (Riomaggiore) at around 10am. The site when you jump off the train is quite astounding. You're on the edge of a cliff with stunning views over the mediterranean. The entire area - all 5 towns and the paths between - are a UNESCO national park. But if you dont want to walk it, a train also runs between each town.

The first leg of the hike is fairly easy.. only about 15 minutes along what is known as 'Lovers Lane'. It is a tunnel filled with graffiti of couples names and lots of padlocks. The padlocks are seen all through Europe. I believe couples write their names on them, lock them to something (normally bridges) and throw the key into the ocean.

We arrived in the next town and were thrilled that it looks just likethe pictures.. a little town built on a cliff with all of the tall houses painted in gorgeous pastel or gelati-toned colours. Definitely postcard worthy pictures.

From here... the hike gets harder. The entire hike is actually only 9kms. But it takes 5 hours. It is up and down stairs and cliffs and is a real work out. Particularly in the harsh sun. Each leg of the trip takes about 1 or 1.5 hours - and at the end of each walk you are rewarded with another beautiful little town.
To give an example, when you actually arrive at one town, a sign will say "Welcome. Please climb 365 stairs to visit our village". And you do it because thats nothing really after the climb you've done.

In the 4th town, Vernazza, we stopped for a lunch of pizza and beer. It was a really cute town filled with boats and people swimming.. and lots of little restaurants. Plus we needed the break as we knew that the final leg from Vernazza to Monterosso is the hardest. Only 2 or 3 kms, but takes the longest - 2 hours. Man was it tough! About 10 minutes in, I was groaning that we should just take the train. I had a belly full of pizza, sore legs and it was the hottest part of the day. We climbed for what seemed like forever. And every time we would go DOWN stairs, it'd make me want to cry.. for we knew that when you go down, you need to climb back up again eventually. The paths on this leg are often about 30cm wide.. with a big drop off the edge. So we were lucky not many people were coming the opposite way. When they do, you just have to wait and pass each other one by one.

It was tough, but every now and then you'd reach a flat piece of ground, look around at the water and cliffs and the other towns in the distance and just go: "wow. look at where we are". It was seriously beautiful. And you didnt really mind the pain either.. because it just felt good to be achieving it.

We made it to Monterosso sweaty, hot and parched. Thank god, this last town has the best beaches of the 5 towns, as we really deserved the swim in the sparkling blue water that was waiting for us (even if we had to pay 25 euro for the privelege!).

Cinque Terre gets two thumbs up. Or cinque stars. A great experience.

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