Thursday, July 4, 2013

Corniglia, Italy → Monterosso / Manarola, Italy

Fun fact about Corniglia: you have to walk up 365 stairs to get to it (or, you know, hike or take a train, but shush, I'm building drama here). Fun fact about my obsession with coming to this place and staying in this town: I didn't consider the stairs when booking a hostel. Those 365 stairs became 3,285 plus, very quickly.
But before realizing this, I woke up happily in La Spezia, ready to spend the next two days on a beach and hiking in Cinque Terre. We all woke up and took showers, gathered our belongings and lazed around the hostel living room, sitting down at the little table near the patio doors to talk for another hour or so. Checkout was supposed to be 10, but everyone's trains left a bit later, so we lingered until we had to leave.
We headed to the train station to catch the last train before noon and hopped on, carrying backpacks again. Every time I put the damn thing on, I remembered how much I hated to carry it. As we sped through Riomaggiore and Manarola, Noah pointed out the fact of the stairs. Oh, right. The stairs. And it was 80 some degrees, and we were each carrying 20 some pounds on our backs.
Luckily, being the observant lady that I am, I remembered seeing the bus stop near the train station, so we waited in the scorching sun for the bus to arrive, and took that up to the town. We couldn't check into the hostel until 3pm, so we had about four hours to kill. We dumped our stuff on their storage rack and headed back down the path marked "To the sea."
I laid on those perfectly smooth, flat rocks by the water for almost 3 hours. It was perfect. There were only a few people laying out nearby, and a handful of people on the dock, taking turns jumping into the water. I wanted to go in and swim to a little mini beach across the bay, but the rocks were slippery and the water was a little too rough around them, and I'm a scaredy cat when it comes to the ocean. But I got my feet in, and it was pleasantly chilly after laying in the sun for hours. When it was time to check in to the hostel, I hunted down Noah, and another banana for sustenance, and we went back to check into
the room.
In Corniglia, I picked Ostello di Corniglia. It was a cute little place that used to be a school, and pretty affordable considering it was very much tourist season. They had en suite bathrooms and a small commons area, which I never visited, because it was generally really quiet at night. It was kind of strange, though. In the middle of the day, they closed for 3 hours and there's no access to the building. So if you're out and need something from your bags, tough luck, until they reopen again. There was also a cicada living in the tree outside the window, which was driving me just a little crazy. But the view from the window was spectacular, especially as the sun was going down.
And the sea in the other direction
So, checked in and sans giant packs, it was time to actually get in the ocean, because holy good god was it hot. Monterosso is the only town that's actually on the water, and the one with the biggest beach (and the only one with sand and all that beach-ey stuff). On that first visit, Monterosso seemed the least enchanting and the most touristey to me. There was a whole separate side I had yet to see however, which was decidedly more charming. But I digress. We walked the line of shops in search of a beach towel, and finding that I actually didn't want to spend $30 on a beach towel, finally caved and paid half price (since it was midday) for a little cabana/beach chair spot at the far end of the beach. The water was calm, the sand was hot, and the sky was so blue it hurt to look at. It was perfect.
pursed lips sink ships!
I swam for a ridiculous amount of time, until my legs were tired and my hair was saturated with salt. It was lovely. I miss the sea so much sometimes. Collecting our things, we walked passed a group of small children on a little playground near the beach. One of them had just taken something from the other, and all play halted so the kids could yell at each other in rapid Italian, waving their hands around as they did so. We'd already witnessed an interaction just like this in Milan, when a woman tried to cut in front of someone else at the train station. This worries me just a little - if certain stereotypes of other cultures are so true, Americans must be awful. I tried not to be an awful tourist! But the arguing children were amusing. Neither of the little kids was backing down, either.
And it was right next to this guy!
Il gigante

I had picked Manarola as the town to watch the sunset from this first night, because I hadn't yet seen it, and because it was supposed to have a lovely little bay from which to watch. The train took us back three towns to the stop, and I fell in love with the whole place all over again. Manarola is beautiful. From the train tracks, you walk down into the town, past shops and hostels and hotels, and into the main square. A double staircase and a little hidden ramp bring you up onto a platform where you can see all the way out toward the Mediterranean. Then back down again into the other side of town, the walkway lined with restaurants and musicians, out to the little bay and the dock area. There's a giant rock to jump off of, and apparently the "best deep water swimming" in 5Terre. Right around the corner from this is the beginning of the path to Corniglia (the second easiest!), also unfortunately closed.

futbol en Corniglia

We found a little hole in the wall restaurant (literally, it was kind of carved into the wall, and was just a barrier and a little kitchen), and ordered cones of seafood and french fries (no seafood for me!), and walked down to the water to rest our weary legs. Along the way, I overheard a man saying something about his friends back home blowing stuff up for their fourth of July celebration. Was it fourth of July? The day was almost over, and I hadn't even realized it was a holiday in my own country. I had pleasantly lost track of the days pretty soon after starting on this trip, days started feeling like weeks, and they all bled together in a way they only do when traveling.

I decided we needed to check out the path that was closed and see just how far we could go before it was blocked off. The path winds along the edge of the cliff, and all the rocks along the way are laced with marble. The rock has been so uplifted and distorted that it has twisted and created these amazing patterns that, again, were making me wish I had retained more from my geology classes. I stopped to take a picture of the town and a couple walking by asked, in English, if I wanted a picture of Noah and I. I shrugged and said sure, why not. They took our picture and we wandered a ways, kind of at the same pace as them. I kept stopping to take photos of the rocks, and the guy appeared to be doing the same thing. Noah, apparently bored waiting for me obsessing about the rocks, asked them if they'd like a picture in the same spot. So we started talking to them, and it turned out they were from New York, and he was a geologist, and she spoke Spanish (among a few other languages), and had lived and worked in Ecuador. She was head of a study abroad/masters program, which was very exciting, and so we walked the rest of the path with them, she and I talking and walking ahead of the guys.

Manarola, in all its sunbathed glory.
They were kind of fantastic, and we ended up lingering at the end of the path for a long while, heading down to check out the water. Noah informed me that the guy was a geologist, and so he and I walked out to the edge of the sea to a particularly interesting section of rock, and he explained away the whole thing to me, both of us getting a little too excited a few times with the waving of the arms and almost losing our balance and falling into the ocean. Not a great spot to be waving your arms around. They decided to join us out on the rocks for the sunset, so we meandered in that direction.
marble veins

It was a bit treacherous getting out there, and I kept laughing to myself thinking about the fact that I was in Italy, leaping across gaps in the giant slabs of marble thrown into the sea, to avoid dunking myself feet first into the Mediterranean ocean. It seemed very surreal. The sun was already on its way down, colouring everything a beautiful golden orange, and there were a few people out on the rocks ahead of us. We found a comfortable spot, upon which Noah proclaimed he wished he could take a chunk of marble home with him, and he and the guy (whose name I unfortunately can't remember), clambered down to a lower spot and started whacking at the marble with other pieces of marble, flying white chunks of the stuff everywhere. Jessica and I made fun of and/or yelled suggestion at them, until they came back with handfuls of powdery white rock for us.

It was (obvio) very picturesque
I'm pretty sure I've not seen a nicer sunset in my entire life. It was ridiculous.
We stayed on the rocks for a while, until it was decided that dinner time was nowish, and they invited us to dine with them at a restaurant nearby. They were staying in Manarola, and had only the following day to explore and see all the towns. We told them what they absolutely had to see, and suggested the two hikes they ought to do, and then parted ways. We planned on heading back to Corniglia, but had just missed the train, so ended up having dinner in Manarola anyway. We read menus for almost a half hour until I found a place with food I could eat. And it was so, so delicious. Oh my god. Pasta with fresh veggies, and Cinque Terre wine, made from grapes grown in the hills through which we'd been walking for two days.

Feelin' super fancy
And so much good bread. I thought I would be sick of bread by the end of the trip, but Europeans really know how to make their bread.
All the food distraction had caused us to miss yet another train, and the next and very last one of the evening didn't come for almost an hour. We sat at the edge of the water, wandered the trail some more, and then headed down the extremely long tunnel, lined with pictures and information on all five towns, to hang around at the train station. We had to head back so I could write out the nine billion postcards I had promised everyone, as our hostel was right next door to the post! I wasn't sure when I'd see another one (and I was tired of carrying around postcards), so that was the plan for the next morning. And hiking!

To be continued.

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