A bit of respite from the north and the warren of chocolate rabbits that descend upon London for Easter saw us fly to Italy to enjoy the rugged coastlines of the Ligurian Sea.
Genoa, was the start to our Italian adventure. A short one at that as we avoided most sights in favour of starting our hiking trip in Cinque Terre. Catching the train to Rapallo, we had our first encounter with a conductor; In Italy, they love to validate. Buy a ticket, you have to take it somewhere else in the station to get it stamped. It was one step too much for us and we got caught out. Luckily the conductor was charitable and we were let off.
Once in Rapallo a friendly beggar helped us and everyone around us with bus tickets, whether we wanted it or not. He was a bit bemused as to why we changed the screen language to English, as he couldn’t read English and could therefore be of less service to us. Arriving short in Santa Margherita Ligure we opted to brave it and run overland to Portofino, where we were instantly exposed as unfashionable tourists in our running rags. The long legged Russian tourists wearing stilettos, Prada and squat boyfriends giggled. Practically, we were better equipped to run across to San Fruttuoso. Here we got to see the abbey and the general patch of ocean where the famous sunken statue, “Christ of the Abyss” stands.
With not much time till the last bus back to Rapallo we took off at a frantic pace – rounding off about 20km of running with little more than our complementary in-flight breakfast. Both tired, Mitch painstaking sat down at his meal to separate the scampi from its shell, while Tam tried in vain to separate oil and cream from the carbonarra.
The next morning we were starting on our Cinque Terre or “Five Lands” hike. The hike goes through Monterosso, Vernaza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. The area gets really crowded later in the summer, with all sorts fighting their way along a narrow path. En route to Monterosso we were caught out again by the train conductor for unvalidated tickets, we pleaded the innocent tourist and got let off with a similarly innocent 5 euro fine.
Getting off the train we immediately were greeted by buckets of rain, so found a hideaway in a bruschetta bar. Italy cafe’s seem to have a 1 euro espresso rule, whereby it must be illegal to charge anything in excess. Not that we drink coffee, but couldn’t help observing the perceived quality and cost, which inevitably saw us purchase ridiculous amounts to test our caffeine tolerance. Climbing into the hills and weaving our way amongst the terraced gardens – built complete with amateur rollercoasters. The rain that fell in this area had been in fact hail. Once it began melting the steps became submerged in a steady flow high enough to penetrate your ankles and into your shoes. A cat sanctuary perched high on the rock face must have been well cared for as the cats all looked well fed. So well fed, you could see the rats nearby.
Once in Vernazza, we got to experience the local charm of the fishing port and appreciate some finer Italian cuisine, good enough to miss out on the sunset.
The next mornings hike to Corniglia, was considerably brisker, missing out on our usual breakfast of packaged toast and fruit pie, we made good ground on empty stomachs. Corniglia was perched high on top of a cliff, similarly isolated and coloured with houses of pastel pink, yellow and blue. On the road out of Corniglia we encountered a large slip in the path. The other hikers on their way back did warn us, but we clearly thought we were more capable of navigating a way around. As it turned out we were pretty bad at that. The steep shingle path around the slip and the nearby house saw a few rocks slide down the hill, into the barking jaws of the house’s German Shepherd. We turned back, with our tail between our legs, before the owner came out to inspect the commotion. We took the train which skipped Manarola and saw us arrive in Riomaggiore.
Exiting the train station we found Riomaggiore to be the busiest town of them all, the track back to Manarola had also slipped into the ocean, so we were already at the final point. The smell of a baked parmesan cheese risotto pie wafting from the stalls smelled a lot better than it tasted. The hunt for something to take the awful tang away led us to long queues outside the local fish and chip shops for calamari.
To get to our accommodation for the night it would take another 15km of hiking up and over the hills. This did take us and the dog that followed us much longer than expected – particularly when we had the option of taking the easy track or hard track – the easy track turned out to be an extra 3km. The ‘Rifugio’ in the hills above Portovenere was were we stayed, with a view across the harbour and a feed prepared by our hosts we sat stupidly as the only English speakers in a loud Italian banquet. Tam did manage to make friends…while waiting for a cold shower, she got into a heated argument with a man wrapped in a small towel over who was next. After he forced his way in, he then apologized by using his towel to mop the floor for her… The place was freezing cold, but sharing a bunk room with another couple helped with warmth. Mitch found the plug for the heater, but over the night it was repeatedly pulled out to charge someones mobile phone…
Portovenere town was apparently the one which Ernest Hemmingway found dearest to his heart – always the gentleman. The marina was full of yachts (we still struggle to understand what size a boat without a mast has to be before it is labelled a yacht…) and luxury Italian goods were peddled. Our bus to La Spezia dropped us amongst a boulevard full of orange trees. A local told us they were no good for eating as Tam started to dig her fingernails into one.
Once at the train station it was manic with everyone returning from their Easter Weekend. We queued for an hour, missing several trains to Florence, but eventually managed a ticket (and validated it) narrowly avoiding the wrong platform. We were exhausted after the last few days, going at our typical frantic pace, covering a lot of ground on foot. At least in Florence we should be a bit more relaxed…