Sunday, June 26, 2011


Like 7 Miles

We hit the ground running on our first day in Riomaggiore. Almost literally, but not quite. We did sleep in a bit, though the timing of our day worked out perfectly. It began with a long way down to Via Columbo, and a trip to the tiny Co-op a few steps up the way. Out in front they had displayed all manner of fruits and vegetables, of which we grabbed some apples and pears. Inside the tiny store was packed an amazing amount of food and goods. At the front was a small deli, where we ordered our usual salami with cheese on a roll. We also grabbed some granola bars, corn chips, and off-brand cookies. Then we faced the day ahead.
The twenty minute walk back to Manarola was busy, but bright and breathtaking. It was when we got into Manarola that we realized just how many people had our same idea. We made a quick trip through the tunnel to the main street, but once we had a glance, we decided to backtrack to the train station and continue on to Corniglia, as the walking route between the two towns was closed. The tickets were easy to come by and cheap, but as we waited on the platform, more and more people began to trickle in, and eventually entire tour groups were standing with us waiting. We must have waited at least a half hour, and there were so many people trying to fit on the train that we wished we had just taken the alternate walking route. However, it seemed rather silly when the train ride lasted less than five minutes, and we began a rather hot trek up the snaking road from the train station to Corniglia. Unlike the other towns of the Cinque Terre, Corniglia sits atop a soaring cliffside rather than at the tide. It is a very quaint, old place, small and close-knit. Memories of hazelnut gelato with my mom came back to me. We climbed to the panorama to see Manarola and the coastline, and on the way back said hello to a very sleepy kitty beside the stairs who looked exactly like my Ziggy. It was like petting him again. We ate our lunch on someone's doorstep, then set out on our long trek to Vernazza. My memory served me well, and we headed up the road, then down into a shady gully with a stream and a bamboo thicket alongside. We hiked 4 kilometers up stairs, through olive orchards, at the base of soaring green mountains, along mile-high cliffs with commanding ocean views, down into shaded woods, and up and down again. Occasionally we would look back at Corniglia and Manarola, far in the distance, in amazement at how far we'd come. The breeze alleviated the heat somewhat, though I will say in all honesty that I can't recall sweating so much in my life.
We made the slow descent into Vernazza. It is a truly gorgeous, unique place. The first you see is the ancient tower used to scout for pirates back in the day, then the part of the town below the tower which juts into the ocean, and eventually the bulk of the town, which much like Riomaggiore, is nestled between two steep green hills, cluttered with buildings of all shapes and sizes. The hills which rise steeply above the town are striped with the horizontal lines of the vineyards for which the Cinque Terre is so famous. Upon descending into town, we immediately saw a Siamese cat lounging on the path, whom was friendly and soft. Our first contact with the town was in its quieter section, above the train station, where a small deep creek bisects the village. I had an objective in mind, and soon it came into view. Il Pirata caffe was a frequent stop for my mom and I three years ago, and a source of many fond memories. We were greeted by Massimo, the biggest character of the two twin Sicilian brothers who own the caffe. He is very Italian, and hilarious. He immediately handed me a menu and pointed to my favorite: Panna cotta with mixed fruit. He says: 'Here, you must try this, is the dessert of your dreams.' I smiled and nodded, as this was what I was there for.
It was cool outside, so we grabbed a table for two, and soon were presented with the panna cotta I had been waiting for. Absolutely smothered in fruit, whipped cream, powdered sugar/chocolate, and raspberry sauce. And beautifully arranged to boot. We made unfortunately short work of it, but I wasn't done yet. We cooled off with our (iced!) Fantas, then soon were setting ourselves on their famous canoli with ricotta cheese. I aimed to order the same one my mom and I had tried, though I'm not sure if it was the same. Either way it tasted amazing. Once finished, Massimo treated us to a free iced cappuccino (bellisimo!) and asked us about our origins in his funny Italian way. He urged us to have dinner there, saying it would be 'the dinner of your dreams', though we told him we would not be staying in Vernazza for dinner. Knowing he had tried, he shrugged and said, 'Well when you are married you come back here and have dinner.' We laughed and agreed, thanked him, left the check and the tip, and went on our way.
Refreshed and happy, we took in the sights of Vernazza. Each town in the Cinque Terre has its beauty, but I will admit that Vernazza is probably the most unique. Every inch of it seems to be different from the last. It is a bit more touristy than Riomaggiore, though a local presence still exists strongly here. We roamed around the small marina, as the town is sloped though not nearly as severely as Riomaggiore. There was activity everywhere. People swimming, cliff diving, sitting, talking, dining, ferries coming in and out. I'd forgotten how busy it was here. We decided to climb to the tower, Castel Doria, to see the town from a different view. It was a pretty vertical climb, but the effort and €1.50 entrance fee was worth it. From the small tower one can not only see the extent of Vernazza and the jutting hills surrounding it, but the coast farther north, the next town of Monterosso, as well as the coast that we had just hiked, and the two towns south. The ocean glittered in the afternoon sun, bright blue and pure. A beautiful view I was glad to revisit.
Everything was as I remembered as we traveled up the center sloped street to the train station. Luckily for us, a train pulled into the station just as we did, so we hopped on board with only the tickets we had bought that morning and hoped no one would check us. Sure enough, we made it back to Riomaggiore without a hitch, retracing in 10 minutes a journey that had taken us the entire day on foot.
Despite the many steps back to the apartment, we were eager to wash the day off and start fresh for dinner. We ate at one of the places only steps from where our stairs end on via Columbo. It was a nice restaurant, though not so much so to keep us from going. I ordered stewed veal, and Erik a seafood soup, which both came out in steaming huge pot-like bowls. It was impossible to eat for at least ten minutes, though my soup was delicious when I could eat it. Erik, though, was faced with the challenge of shelling his meal, as all of the sea life were whole. We tried some more wine and decided it wasn't for us, though out of politeness, I finished it. As always, we ended our tiresome yet rewarding day with a relaxing and rewarding gelato, on the rocks of the jetty in the Riomaggiore marina, the sun turning the sea to gold.

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