June 1st, 2009
I woke up with a start as the splatter of rain penetrated my sleep. For a moment, I thought I was back in Seattle and the whole of last week just a dream.
After the late night thunder showers in Volterra, an early morning sprinkle on in Lucca, it was a matter of time before the rain would catch up with us. A huge mass of grey clouds disappeared into the horizon. The rain came down in streaks. Yesterday’s heat was gone.
I stepped out. The day-trippers had started to arrive armed with newly purchased umbrellas and ponchos. I ducked into a cafe for my early dose of a fresh cappuccino.
There is no coffee like Italian coffee. There is no ritual to the process of ordering it, no fanfare in the process of making it. No artificial animation in the baristas. Just a matter of fact, minimal crisp movements that produces the most fantastic foam over half a cup of magic potion.
Yesterday evening, we came across a shop that advertised diving. Rhea was excited at the prospect of renting scuba gear and going underwater. At 9AM, the shop was still closed. Getting wet at this temperature suddenly did not seem like a good idea. I let undersea diving wait for another day. Possibly another life.
After the girls were up and around, we attacked the Cinque Terre National Park Trail with gusto.
The trail connects the five villages, hugging the west coast of Liguria, often precariously dangling over the deep blue crystal clear water of the Mediterranean.
Rio Maggiore to Manarola is the shortest and simplest trail. Just over 20 minutes and under a kilometer at a even keel, it provides pretty vistas and photo opportunities at no sweat. No wonder it was as crowded as the Bandra railway station. People jostled each other. Every few feet, we saw a tourist perched on the retaining wall, bravely putting up a big smile, facing the partner-in-camera trying to commit the scene to posterity.
Manarola to Corniglia (pronounced Cornelia) presents the same distance but takes thrice as long. The terrain starts to get tougher, the vegetation denser, the views prettier and crowd thinner offering a tradeoff between peace of mind and a piece of your muscle. Right at the end, we were required to conquer 400 zigzagging steps to reach the town that in antiquity produced a wine so special that its vases were found amidst cinders in Pompeii.
Corniglia to Vernazza is 4 KMs and requires us a good hour and a half. The steep continuous ascent only adds to a steep unrelenting descent. The first timers on the trail, like us, were in for a mild mid-jaunt not-so-pleasant surprise. Right from Corniglia, is visible a cluster of polychromatic Cinque Terranesque houses perched on top of a hill. Only after reaching the spot did we realize that we are merely at the half way mark.
The main town of Vernazza stays hidden behind the curve of the mountain, until the very last moment, when you see a row of pastel houses racing to meet the Mediterranean harbor.
We decided to stop.
The trail extends another 3 KMs to Monterosso and demands a two hour commit. We quit more in the interest of time than the state of our fatigue (Rhea would have done it at a trot. Gayu as a discipline. Me to avoid the shame).
We enter Vernazza, clearly the most populous and popular of the five villages (500 residents, equal number of tourists). Nary an architecture here. Just scenery. Sun. La mare. Food. Wine. and kind, hardworking people. (Here Rick Steves, by the way, is a demigod.)
We eat delicious pastries. Drink many cups of cappuccino. Dollops of gelato.
We squirrel into souvenir shops. Hunt for a deal.
We sit on a stone cobbled courtyard watching a priest play a soulful violin.
We lose track of time. Miss the opportunity to catch a ferry and watch the lights of Cinque Terre from the sea.
We take the light rail – the central nervous system of the terrain – back to Riomaggiore.
A sumptuous dinner at La Lampona before resting the throbbing muscles.
BTW, of all the colorful photos I took through the day, here is my favorite.
[Read on. We are headed towards the Chianti wine country tomorrow]