Moving to Holland is not easy, but it's worth the effort. This blog tells the story of shifting from American life in Pittsburgh to Expat life in the Netherlands,
and all of our European adventures that follow.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cinque Terre, June 2009

After 7 long years since I first laid eyes on this little paradise on earth, I again found myself in Cinque Terre, Italy. My sister and I first stumbled upon this little cluster of villages (Cinque Terre = 5 towns) while backpacking across Western Europe in 2002. We were planning on staying for 1 day, and ended up staying for 3. Even though our stay was extended, we were almost in tears as we left… watching the last glimpses of the beautiful shoreline flicker by as the train would pass another tiny window in the tunnel.

Chad and I had the pleasure of going to Paris for our first anniversary. Tres romantic! So, for our second anniversary, to follow up on PARIs, what better place than PARIdise. Ok, admittedly cheesy pun there. We stayed in the first town of Riomaggiore for 5 nights, then moved on to the last & largest town, Monterosso for the last 2 nights. Monterosso is where Christy and I stayed, and we loved it. But, I must admit, that I think Riomaggiore has now taken the lead as my new favorite of the 5 towns.

Riomaggiore has a quiet charm that makes the entire city feel like someone’s home, where each tiny sidewalk or building is a different hallway or room. It has the trademark pastel painted houses in pink, yellow and salmon. The one main road leads downhill through the center of the town and ends at the tiny marina, lined with colorful stacked canoes and small boats ready for the fisherman to take out. If you wander around the left side of the village, around the path by the tiny Cliffside pub, you come to a hidden rocky beach hugged on three sides by the vertical cliffs surrounding it.

It is a spectacular site, and a really beautiful place for a swim in the Mediterranean. The water is crystal clear, of course, and just the right temperature. We were smart enough to bring Teva’s to wear in the water, because the rocks can really cut up your feet, especially when you are battling the waves getting in and out. It was nice relaxing on this beach, with only a few other people around you. Far removed from the cramped, touristy beaches of most popular destinations.

The most beautiful part of the Cinque Terre is the nature itself. These five tiny towns are surrounded by mountains that are terraced with grape and olive vineyards. There are high and low trails through the mountains connecting each of the towns, so you can hike between them. The regional train also stops at each town, and is a nice way to get back to your own town at the end of the day.

We had a great time walking between the towns, exploring all of the different tiny streets, tasting every flavor of gelato that exists, and sampling the delicious local cuisine of seafood, pizza, pasta (including chocolate ravioli), and of course, wine. Manerola was the second town, beside Riomaggiore. We had a fabulous seafood dinner there one night at a seaside table with the view of the sunset, and delicious tiramisu.

The middle town, Corniglia, is a bit different than the other four, as it is the only one that is not down at sea level. Instead, it is perched on top of a cliff, accessible on either side be steep and plentiful stairs. But, apart from the spectacular 180 degree view from the tip of the town, Corniglia had another hidden treasure, it’s beach. The train station is on the right side of the city. After walking up about 400 stairs you arrive at the top of the city. You stroll down the streets and see signs for “del mare” (the sea) leading off to the left side with arrows pointing down. The last thing you want to do at this point is go all the way back down after having just walked up there. Perhaps that’s why there are so few people down there, and, perhaps that’s why it was such a special find for us… because we had to work for it.

For those determined enough to make the trek back down the left side of the city, you come to a tiny marina and rocky beach (even smaller than Riomaggiore). The coolest part, though, is that there is a cement pier that juts out into the middle of the roaring, turbulent waves. We stood on that pier forever, just watching the waves around us rise and fall 10-30 feet as the waves came in and out, each time crashing violently around the huge rocks. The water is really amazing to watch, and also quite relaxing. We would make a second trip to this beach, later in the week, and we actually convinced ourselves to take a dive in these extraordinary waters (that's actually Chad diving into the water in this picture).

As with most costal areas, the weather can sometimes change by the hour. We had beautiful weather for most of our entire trip, but on a couple of the days there was an hour of rain here or there, that would quickly pass. One day, just as we were going back to our beach in Riomaggiore, we heard thunder and saw some dark clouds rolling in. So, we decided, instead, to stop at the little pub on the path next to the beach and see if rain would follow the thunder. It’s a good thing we did, because for the next hour we watched a really intense thunderstorm from the covered deck of this pub. There was lightning over the ocean & over the villages, and it even started to hail. On another night, we watched a spectacular lighting show out over the ocean for several hours, which was really amazing.

One afternoon we decided to take a long hike on one of the high trails between Vernazza and Corniglia. It was a difficult, but fun hike. You get such an amazing view of the towns, the mountains and the ocean once you are high above them. It’s also nice to be completely surrounded by the silence of nature. Way up at the top of the trail was a sanctuary. It was a large church with adjoining building in the middle of the woods. It was locked up and appeared to be empty. Perhaps it is used for retreats or something. It was very peaceful, though with a running fountain and statues, gigantic trees and a beautiful view. The path we were following actually stopped existing after a while (but that’s a different story), so we ended up following the main car road back down to the town.

For the last two days, we moved to Monterosso, and stayed in Manuel’s Guest house (where Christy and I had stayed). It is up on the hill and offers the best view of the city and ocean. It is also a really neat house (only 5 rooms) with a large veranda with tap beer and wine. Nice! It is the biggest of the 5 towns, and the only one with a proper beach. We took advantage of that one hot afternoon.

From Monterosso, we decided to take the two toughest low trail hikes: Monterosso to Vernazza, and Vernazza to Cornignia. And, they were tough, indeed, but very rewarding. A ton of up and down, and back up again. Tiny stone stairs and narrow pathways that dropped of dramatically. It was after this long hike that we again made our way down to the beach beside Cornigia and jumped in for a swim. The rolling waves and cool water felt very rewarding.

We had a wonderful time in Cinque Terre. I think it was exactly what both of us needed. It was a true get-away, relaxing, romantic. When you are there, you really feel like you are fortunate to have places like this that (for the time being) are not too large, loud or touristy. I’m so glad we were able to go here. It made our second anniversary that much more special.


PS: As a side note, to get to Cinque Terre, we flew in and out of Pisa, and took a train from there. So, the day we flew out, we decided to do the touristy thing and go and see the leaning tower. We appropriately donned our Fat Heads t-shirts, in hopes of making it on the wall of fame in Pittsburgh, and we leaned and held our arms up in the air with all of the other silly tourists. So, we can check this off of our list now. But, in all honestly, apart from the mobs of tourists and cheesy vendors, the tower, and the surrounding white marble buildings, are quite beautiful. If it weren't for the leaning tower, I doubt many people would go to see this area since Pisa is sort of a small city.

More pics from our trip are online:

No comments: