Friday, July 5, 2013

Corniglia, Italy → Manarola / Monterosso / Vernazza, Italy

I woke up in Italy on what would have been my grandpa's 92nd birthday. Planning on getting up early did not work out when I was in a room that wasn't full of 6-8 other snoring, noisy people. So, early enough, but not really early, I dragged myself out of bed, finished writing postcards to everyone, and got ready for the hike from Corniglia to Manarola. Since the regular trails were closed, I decided I had to do at least one of the trails through the mountains, which were longer and a little more difficult. I was excited. And hungry.
I was planning on my usual banana for breakfast, but Noah wanted to check out the little restaurants, and we wandered into one across from the gelato shop. My first clue should have been this, but I didn't put two and two together at first:
So, having spent yet more time studying Italian (this hotel did have wifi), I attempted to ask in as few words as possible, what the hell was in their food in order to determine whether or not I could eat it. The woman looked seriously confused by what I was saying, and yelled in the back toward the chef - in Spanish! Yay, Spanish! Every time I heard it in Italy I was so grateful. I felt so lost not knowing the language. Happily, I asked her again in Spanish, and looking seriously relieved, she told me what was in everything, and that the focaccia was in fact vegan, and holy crap I can have foccaccia!! It was seriously delicious. I just wanted to come back here for every meal (and kind of did).

Sufficiently full, we stop at a fruit stand to ask where the trail to Volastra starts, and are pointed toward the church, whose bells had been marking the time for us at the hostel every night until 11. I hadn't been back this way since walking into the town on the hike the first day, and everything looked different and new again. The church was lovely, too.

Let's go alreadddyy!
The beginning of the hike was just up. Straight up the mountain, and it was freaking hot. Noah complained about the bugs the whole way. He's not very good dealing with nature. As the trail curved and twisted further up in toward the grapevines and we got higher and higher on the side of the cliff, I realized we were going to have a spectacular view when the trail finally wound back toward the sea side, and I wasn't wrong.

Manarola in the distance

Corniglia behind us

The sea was vast and flat, the sky was blue and nearly cloudless, and they blended into each other practically seamlessly. The trail wound around closer to the edges, allowing for breathtaking views of the towns, and then up into the vineyards, so you were actually walking through the terraced vines on the side of the hill. Just before Volastra, there was a tiny town and we actually had to walk through backyards to get across the trail. Noah waved and "buongiorno"ed at a man sitting out on his back porch, reading the paper, and he "buongiorno"ed back, without looking up. How strange to just have people traipsing through your backyard all the time! He was completely unfazed by it. I'm thinking about how he must be irritated by the people constantly crossing his property when Noah stops abruptly in front of me and I almost run into him. The strange way he's frozen keeps me from asking what's wrong, but when he finally takes a step forward again, he turns around to tell me he stopped because a giant snake had just passed in front of him. Boo! I missed the snake!
contemplating the edge of the world
Corniglia, zoomed.

As we passed through the last section of the "town", I happened to look over a at a little empty spot near the grape vines, and I saw this:
I actually screamed, probably seriously frightening anyone within ten feet of me. KALE!!! I had been trying to find the damn stuff the entire time I'd been in Europe, but nobody had it. Nobody eats kale in Europe! I don't understand it. I was convinced it didn't exist over there, until I saw this. I was this close, soooo close, to just smashing down the little chicken wire fence and pulling the stuff up by the roots, cramming handfuls of it into my mouth like a beast. I wanted it so bad. But this was all they had growing, these measly six plants, and I felt that they must be growing it for themselves since nobody sold it anywhere. Lacinato kale is sold here as Italian kale, so shouldn't they at least have it for sale in Italy??
In any case, it was very exciting, and Noah had to physically pull me away from the fence to keep me from stealing all the beautiful kale.

Very soon after, we made it to Volastra. The trail opens up into a small square, and a quaint and unassuming little church sits at the far end of it. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside it was so beautiful. There was no one inside, and I walked in and sat in a pew in the front row and watched the candles burning down for a while. It was quiet except for one of those giant Italian flies that had been pestering us the whole hike. It buzzed lazily along the floor, and I watched it for a while, enjoying the cool wood beneath me and the echoing quiet of the church.
We sat on a little bench outside and drank some water, and then continued into the town itself. Volastra, since it's further up on the hill, is near the actual road, and is easier to get to than the Cinque Terre towns. It's still small, but surprisingly well populated, with tiny car free streets, all the apartments and houses pressed together along the cobblestone. We stopped in a shop for water, and then, having completely missed the signs for Manarola (they're on the walls you don't see when you're walking into the town), we got lost for a while, wandering through the narrow streets of the town and admiring all the buildings.

So, the whole hike, there had been wasps. They'd ignore us for a time, but eventually they'd come back, buzzing and circling our heads and being generally very aggressive. A few times we actually had to run for a good chunk of the path because they would not leave us alone, and I definitely did not want to get stung by anything so far away from civilization (or in civilization, for that matter). At about the time we reached Volastra, they stopped bothering me, but they would not leave Noah alone. He was also convinced it was the same wasp from the beginning of the hike. It was also about this point that I started finding it mildly hilarious. He had to run ahead of me (I've never seen him do a hike so fast), trying to avoid the damn thing, flailing his arms around and yelling back in my general direction. Everyone passing us going the opposite way gave him a wide berth, and as they got up to me, walking mellowly behind him, I'd explain, "There's a wasp chasing him." I had some funny conversations with people as we walked passed each other because of Noah's wasp run. One guy didn't stop walking, but continued to yell conversation with me over his shoulder as he continued up the hill.
He ran down most of the stairs - hundreds of them, that, coming form Manarola, one would have to walk up - as the trail petered out and opened up onto the road, heading toward the parking area in Manarola. We had made it!

Super grumpy after the wasp escapade.

We killed some time in Manarola, grabbed some water and wandered some shops for souvenirs for friends back home, and then hopped on the train for Monterosso. I was in serious need of some ocean time.
I  remembered that Jenni had told us there was a whole second section of Monterosso (the less populated side) found on the opposite side of a pedestrian tunnel, across the beach from where we'd been the day before. This was the charming side of the little town.
We walked up through the tunnel, having rented a beach towel from the hostel this time, and I laid out for a bit and swam for hours. It was so lovely. The water was cool and calm, just as before, and although there were beaucoup des children, still very relaxing, and just what I needed after the hike. I stood on the loose rocks of the bottom in tree pose and tried to balance against the small waves.
Noah had wandered off while I played in the water, and as the sun started causing shadows to creep up the beach over my towel, we decided to explore. There was a long walk up the side of the cliff that started the trail toward Vernazza, so I wanted to see how far up it we could go.
This place was just idyllic. The water sparkled, the people were gorgeous, and everything was bright and summery and perfect.

My sister saw hearts everywhere, I saw 13s.

Such a climb to get down there!

Someone said the trail had re-opened between Vernazza and Monterosso and I was very anxious to see, and maybe just do the trail now. But I had decided to watch the sunset from Vernazza this evening, and it was getting on close to sunset time. I didn't think I could make the 2 hour hike in such a short amount of time (and I was starving), so I decided to see if I could do the hike in the morning, before we left. Heading back down the trail, I noticed some guys on a cliff over the edge of my railing, yelling at each other to jump off. They were from Australia (there are nothing but Australians in Europe!), and I decided I needed to document the jump. The one near the water noticed my camera and yelled to his friend that he had to jump now, because he had an audience. We had a nice yelled conversation, and I started yelling at him to jump along with his friends. When he finally did, he waved his arms in little circles as if trying to fly the whole way down, and both we and the Australians whooped for him as he hit the water.
I love that his friend threw his arms out too, as the jumper started off the cliff.

 There was another entire section of town we hadn't yet seen, and we wandered into the endless maze of Monterosso. It was so much bigger than I'd thought! I picked a residential alleyway, which eventually meandered back into the shops and restaurants. I found a dress I wanted but didn't want to spend 40 euros on, and Noah found gelato he wanted and did want to spend 3 euros on. Monterosso was lovely, and I was starving, but we had to leave and head to the train station to get to Vernazza in time for the sunset. There was so much more of the town I didn't get to explore! There was a whole old section and a cemetery, but the train was waiting. It just means I have to go back. Soon.
Somehow, we got on the wrong train, going in the completely wrong direction, instead of back toward Vernazza. We ended up in Levanto, which is another 5Terre base (like La Spezia, but it comes more highly recommended). A handful of other people had made our same mistake, and we all conferred as we hopped off the train just in time to watch the next return train leaving. Another one was coming, but all of us being unsure as to whether or not it would actually stop in Vernazza, we opted to wait (with Kinder candy) for the next 5Terre train. While we were sitting there, this awful, ridiculous song came on (this one). As soon as it started up it caught my attention (I had been tuning out everything except the constant Attenzione! announcements about train delays), in a "what the hell is this and why is it happening" kind of way. Having been seriously irritated about the trains and being further delayed, this awful song made me laugh and kind of made everything better in the weird way. It will forever make me think of Levanto, now.

Arriving in Vernazza, there was a bit of a debate - food or sunset? The little harbor wasn't too crowded, and so we wandered in search of food for a while before deciding we should probably settle down and watch the sunset, or we'd very likely miss it. There was a spot where we'd gotten off the boat that first day in 5Terre, where the rocks were warped and lifted and right close to the sea, that I decided would be perfect for sunset watching. I wasn't wrong.
At some point I realized I had this whole weird series of pictures of my feet in different places. I have pictures just like this in every country and I didn't even realize I was doing it. Weird.
What I'd always imagined, imagining Italy.

 Needless to say, it was gorgeous. Most things in Italy are.

Everyone had pizza and wine and other sunset watching snacks. It was lovely.

We spent a good amount of time wandering and debating over food, finally settling on a lasagna and a focaccia (god, I ate so much focaccia), and a monster sized beer to bring back and eat on the edge of Corniglia. The train took forever (it had been late all freaking day), and we lazed around the station in the near dark, listening to the announcements over and over again (Attenzione!).
We walked the quiet street of Corniglia, past the main square, and a ton of cats, to the edge of the city, the edge of the cliff, where that church stood in that book I read so many years ago. We sat and ate our dinner and eavesdropped on the conversations of the handful of other people here, drinking wine and talking about where they'd been, where they were going. In the morning we were leaving 5Terre. I just wanted to stay here forever.

To be continued.

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