Wednesday, July 3, 2013

La Spezia, Italy → Corniglia, Italy → La Spezia, Italy

Within the next few days, we made it to all the towns of Cinque Terre, but we'll start where we left off, at the hike into Corniglia.
We could hear the man with the accordion for a while as we trekked up the hill. We arrived at the little booth where they checked for 5Terre cards (we just waved ours in the general direction of the booth - great security), and started on the path, finally! It wound up and up and up, with - surprise! - tons of stairs. The view was gorgeous, and the weird sort of haze of the grey blue sky reflected beautifully off the water. It was much easier for me to be hiking in toward the mountain than along the edge of the sea; I kept almost walking off the trail because I was too busy looking at everything except where I was going.

It was also super humid and crazy hot. So, gross, yes, but sooo happy, too.

The path meandered toward a few buildings, where a some people were living in between the towns. As we turned the corner past yet another blue Corniglia sign, we came upon a tramped down fence, twisted grapevines still clinging to it, where people had been climbing out onto the roof of a house set into the cliff. It was perfectly flat and overlooked the sea with a perfect view of Corniglia, sitting quietly on her cliff in the distance.

Corniglia at my elbow! Sooo excited.

So close!

We passed lots of people coming up the other way, and discovered as we headed downhill that we had gone the hard way. Oh, well. When we got close enough to see the buildings clearly, we snuck down a side path through some grapevines to admire the view. I wanted very  much to sprint the rest of the way and get there already, but I reigned myself in and walked the last leg.
Just as we're coming around the last corner, I hear accordion music again. The song is "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and I just stop in my tracks. I tell Noah, "See, this place was made for me. Accordion music everywhere!" but really I'm just speaking so that I won't burst into happy tears. I was all about the happy tears the first couple of days here. So, we cross the little bridge that leads toward the road, and smile at the accordion players, because they just completely made my day. Accordions on both ends of the hike, and I was about to step foot in the place I'd wanted to go for years. All in all, the hike took about an hour and a half and while it was a bit steep at the beginning, it mellowed out halfway through, which was nice.
Walking into the town, you step across the road and straight into the grapevines. There are so many of them, terraced along the hills in all directions.
Then the buildings start, and the narrow pathways open up into a little square, where there's a tiny little bus stop and a market before the one cobblestone alleyway through the town begins. We turn a corner and happen upon the hostel we'd be staying at the next night. This seems to me like the smallest of all the towns, and it's the only one that's not right on the water. To get to the sea you have to hike down - you guessed it - crazy amounts of stairs. But once you get down them, there are giant slabs of grey rock to sunbathe on, and a little dock, and a small, mellow chunk of sea to swim in. After exploring through the square, Noah needed gelato. We sat and took a nice break from walking and then followed the signs that read "To the sea" and headed down the stairs.

Lemons outside the gelato place. Literally almost the size of my head.

Locks everywhere seems to be a theme in Europe.

The dock
Perfect for lounging!

We sat on the rocks for a while, enjoying the sun and the surprising lack of people, and then headed back up the 9 billion stairs for the town. As the day was slowly turning toward evening, we decided to head in the general direction of the train station.
So, Corniglia is, as I said, the only town of the five that's not right on the water. To get to it, you either take the shuttle bus from the train station (boring), drive in from someplace else (cheating), or train/hike in and walk up the 365 stairs (which I was so excited about). That wasn't sarcasm, I was genuinely excited about those stairs. So, in following the signs toward the train station, we started down some stairs, and it took me about halfway through to realize that these were the 365 stairs I had been wanting to climb. Half of them are too large to take in one step and are incredibly awkward, and the whole lot of them zigzag in tight little switchbacks down the cliffside. Once you're at the bottom it's nearly a half mile walk to the train station itself. You can imagine, if you time it wrong, how frustrating it would be to get to the bottom and watch your train pull in and know, no matter how fast you ran, that you wouldn't be making that train. We did a lot of running on that little stretch of pavement.
But that's later. For now, we checked the train schedule, realized we had quite a while, and decided to go in search of the (closed) path toward Manarola. Down some stairs to a little man made waterfall and around a corner, we found it, totally gated off with warning signs posted in Italian, English, and German. Since we weren't in any particular hurry, we decided to walk the length of the path we'd just taken, but this time on the low side, closer to the water. Noah collected rocks to take home with us and I kept wandering into the wall, staring at the sea.

Las escaleras

Eventually we hopped on the train and headed back to La Spezia. It wasn't getting dark until after ten at night, so we still had some decent daylight on the way back to the hostel. We needed to take advantage of having a kitchen still, so we headed to the nearby market to pick up some food.Walking around the produce, I hear, "Oh, hi!" and look up to see Jenni. I don't know what it means when you've been somewhere for just a few days and are already running into people you know, but I like to think it means I should stay there forever, or at least get to live there a while. We all arrived back home around the same time, and sat and cooked, and talked with her about Portovenere, another place I'd wanted to check out, but didn't think I'd get to this trip, what with wanting to spend all my time in Cinque Terre. She'd spent the day there and I wanted to hear all about it. As is usual with me, the conversation eventually steered toward languages and accents, and we compared Australian accents and different American dialects for a very long time. Eventually Mario, the roommate we hadn't met yet, showed up from watching the sunset in Vernazza. My immediate thought was, 'Why didn't I think of that!' and my new goal was to watch the sunset from a different town each of our remaining nights. Mario was from Cuba, so I had to force my Spanish on him, too. They were both lovely. We spent hours sitting up talking with Jenni and learning all kinds of fun things about Australia (which just made me want to visit there all the more).
The only complaint I had about Corner House was that there was no wifi. However, Jenni, having been there a few nights already, had discovered a spot just between the apartment and the grocery where you could pick up someone's wifi, and a spot out near the center of town, as well. Whenever I needed to send a quick message to someone (like my mom, to let her know I was still alive after no internet for 3 days), I'd pop out to the corner and stand there on my phone, trying to act like I was just loitering and not stealing someone's internet.
So, after hours of good conversation and delicious, real food, we all went to bed. We were all heading out in the morning - both of them to Germany, and us to stay for a few nights in Corniglia. And even though I didn't have that Christmas feeling anymore, I was still ridiculously excited to get to stay in 5Terre in the morning.

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