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Travel Journal: Italy, Day 11

I slept terribly last night, I think a combination of allergies, Zirtec, and sambuca (which tasted good last night because it cleared my sinuses!).

We woke up around 7 and caught the 8:20am train to Monterosso. Cinque Terre means "5 Lands" and it refers to the 5 villages along the coast. Monterosso and Riomaggiore are the two at either end, and there's a walking path that connects all 5. The local farmers, centuries ago, terraced the mountainsides for farming grapes, olives, limes, etc.

The villages are in an area that's protected by the land around it, so the climate here allows things to grow that don't in other parts of Italy. A microclimate. The whole area is a National Park as well, so the water and land is protected from development. We bought a card yesterday that gives us unlimited train and walking path passage for 3 days (they have 1, 3 or 7-day passes).

We got to Monterosso around 9, walked down the beach to see Il Gigante, a cement statue of Neptune made in 1910. Hit the trail right after that. The trail is AMAZING. In most spots, it's very narrow and there is no railing - just a sheer drop onto a farmer's terrace below, the underbrush, or the sea. From Monterosso to Vernazza and Vernazza to Corniglia are the two most challenging areas. Up and down, up and down, usually via stone stairs built into the hill. There were plenty of other people on the trail, but for the most part it wasn't to an annoying level. Those first two trails kick your ass, so everyone is very friendly in their shared misery.

The views are astounding. How or why these farmers built cities right between a steep mountain and the ocean is mind-boggling. These cities are every bit as amazing as Venice - perhaps more so since they were built by peasants. Unlike Venice, created by aristocrats.

We heard that the whole trail takes 4.5 hours, 2.5 of which would be the first two trails. We started around 9:30 and arrived in Corniglia near noon. Grabbed a sandwich and did Corniglia to Manarola and Manarola to Riomaggiore in about 1.5 hours. The last 2 trails are much flatter, and the road between Manarola and Riomaggiore is the one we walked last night - the Via dell'Amore - and takes no time at all. I'm glad we went the route we did - all the hard stuff at the beginning and the easy part last.

My least favorite part was descending steps (though ascending wasn't always a picnic). Going down the stairs, especially ones that are wide, steep, and/or made of uneven, rocky surfaces really messed with my knees.

I'm an idiot and forgot to bring my hiking shoes, too, so I ended up wearing a pair of Jeremy's. They were a little bit big, but I put 2 pairs of socks on and they felt okay. The tongue pressed against my ankle a bit, but I didn't think much of it. But, after all that hiking today, my ankle is swollen and throbbing. Bummer, because I'm hoping to climb the Leaning Tower tomorrow.

Good news on the allergies - I've been nearly sneeze-free all day. Not sure if it's the Zirtec, or if what I'm allergic to had passed, but I took another pill this afternoon to ward off any more attacks.

After hiking, we were beat, so we came back to our apartment and napped a little. J headed down to the beach to take some photos, and I met him down there later. The waves were amazing - crashing against the rocks and throwing up huge sprays. They were crashing up onto the sidewalk; J saw an old man get doused before I arrived.

We stood together on a tall rock and watched the waves for a while, then decided to take the train to Corniglia (the middle village) for dinner. Hopped the train and were in Corniglia in about 10 minutes. Like idiots, we immediately started walking up the hill toward town, without noticingthe shuttle bus parked outside the station, or the fact that EVERYONE else from the train ws climbing on it. After a moment (the moment when the bus left us in the dust), we realized why - the only two ways to get into town are via a winding road up a steep hill, or up what looks to be around 300 stairs. Maybe more, ad I'm neither exaggerating nor kidding. We opted for the road.

After hauling ass to the top, we discovered there are only like three restaurants open, the gelateria that J wanted to get sorbetto from was closed, and the next train wasn't for like 2.5 hours. Arg.

We picked a place near the road that looked like it had some good pasta that Jeremy could eat. Unfortunately, he had another bad fish experience - when he asked what the fish of the day was, the waiter apparently thought that meant he wanted to order it. And - you guessed it - fish head. In fact, this time, it was the entire fish...not even splayed open like the other night, but a total fish like something out of a Tom & Jerry cartoon. I thought Jeremy might cry out of sheer frustration. I kept telling him that it would all make a really good story someday.

After that, we went to a bar up the hill to kill some time. I tried grappa, which was disgusting. J stuck with sambuca, which was smart. The bar started closing down, so we were forced to go back to the train station and wait it out. To get back down, we took the immense staircase. The staircase from hell.

At the train station, I killed time by whining. Then I made Jeremy laugh by putting his microflashlight up my nose and singing "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

Food today:
Breakfast: Big bowl of granola with soy milk, which kept me fueled on the hike.

Lunch: Potato and speck (a bacon-like meat) focaccia. Dee-lish!

Snack: Cheese focaccia from Il Bomber. The best!

Dinner: Smoked tuna appetizer and two pastas, split with J - a spicy penne and a garlic olive oil spaghetti. I also had an abysmal steak.

Dessert: Grappa. Tasted like crappa.

Posted October 7, 2003 10:25 PM | On This Day: 2004 2002