Italy and the Cinque Terre

One of the Cinque Terre
Originally uploaded by apes_abroad.

After Lenka’s birthday marked the end of Lenkapalooza in the Czech Republic, Kim, Lia, Jeff, Colin and I headed off to our villa in the Italian Riviera. We took a series of trains to: Prague,where I spent the last of my crowns on Czech chocolate bars with exotic ingredients like alcohol and caffeine, then to Vienna, where we went for a walk in the shopping district nearby but it being Sunday everything was closed, then to Rome where our private overnight train compartment was a smashing success with goodies like Campari and a great free breakfast, then finally to our new digs in Chiavari (Keeahvaree) just east of Genoa.

Life is peaceful here. Right now we’re out on the deck with our laptops and books, looking down to the city and the Mediterranean through our grove of olive trees. The house is huge (we each have our own bedroom) and isolated in a corner of a vineyard estate. We were welcomed by the owner who brought us wine and vinegar from his grapes and olive oil from the trees over me now. Most evenings we have been staying in and cooking dinner for ourselves, then eating out on the deck with the fireflies. Chiavari is a tourist destination for Italian families; not a whole ton of restaurants, but plenty of places to buy fresh produce, meat and pasta. It’s a good place to get away from city life and hide out with your friends and loved ones. Colin has been working on Clutter and I might even join him today (my focus so far has been on sunbathing and napping).

Yesterday the five of us did the Cinque Terre hike in the national park east along the coast. It is a beautifully built stone walking path that connects five cities in improbable, isolated locations on the water. The railroad connects them now, but it’s possible some of the paths are still used by locals to access the vineyards perched on the steep hillsides above the cities. We started at the far end in Riomaggiore and the romantic lover’s walk to Manarola. This portion of the trail was a wide and easy stroll, decorated with little locks that people attach to seal their love, and graffiti hearts on every flat surface including the cacti. We bought some snacks from a bakery in Manarola then hurried on, eager to lose the crowds. The second leg was still pretty easy going but questionably built into the side of a cliff face. The amount of work this trail must have been to create is unimaginable. They had to blast into the cliff face, then pile up and fit together tonnes and tonnes of flat rocks without cement or anything to attach them together. I think part of it was necessary for building the railroad, but it was done with such quality craftsmanship and is a real work of beauty.

We stopped for lunch at the Lantern restaurant in Corniglia and met some friendly stray cats, then onward to Vernazza where the path got steep enough to deter many of the other walkers. If you’re thinking of doing the Cinque Terre hike, I suggest you do it east-west like we did; this leg looked just exhausting coming from the other direction but for us was mostly downhill. Just enough stairs up to make us glad for the little sprinkle of rain we received. When we reached Vernazza we stopped for beer and G&Ts with a view of the adorable town, which lived up to its reputation as the most lovely of the five, perched on a rock on the edge of the sea. The surrounding hillsides were terraced with vineyards, with little monorail carts to help get supplies up and down.

We’d been warned that the last section of path from Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare was the most treacherous, but we had a feeling the people passing us with hiking boots and double walking sticks were a little overprepared. We did it in dresses and sandals and didn’t have any trouble, although the initial hike up from the water had me sweating hard. It was still nothing compared to our sunset hike a few weeks ago back in Saklıkent Gorge, at least here I could pause when I wanted and admire the lush surroundings. The last leg was without doubt the most beautiful, and felt like we were wandering through a 200-year overgrown flower garden. Which I suppose it might have been in some parts. It did get very narrow by the end and passing oncoming hikers was a bit of a sketchy maneuver, but by 6pm it was mostly empty and the day was cooling down.

The rambling flora became orchards and vineyards again as we neared the last town, and we were delighted to come across a pathside stand run by an amusing man who sold us his homemade limonchello (lemon liqueur) and glasses of red wine. He complained that nobody in Monterosso made wine anymore, they just worked in the hotels and bars down in town. Then he showed us his calloused hands, gestured to the incredibly steep hillside vineyard around us and said “it is fucking hard work to make wine here”. Indeed!

We’re relaxing and recovering a bit today but may head out later for groceries. There are two lovely walking paths going down from our villa to the town. Well, they are walking paths now, but there are still street signs and old brickwork suggesting that before cars these were well trafficked roads. As I mentioned, we (by which I mean Jeff with help from Kim and Lia) have been cooking dinner most nights, although one evening we ate out and I had a huge plate of fish ravioli with the most amazing muscles and clams I have ever eaten. I wouldn’t mind another shot at those before we leave Chiavari.


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