Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Our Italian Adventure: Part Due - Careering around Cinque Terre

    Being the beach bum that she is, it wasn't surprising that the wifey planned a day trip out to Cinque Terre (pronounced "chin-kway-teh-rey"). Cinque Terre consists of five sea-side villages, located in the region of Liguria and near the town of La Spezia. The whole Cinque Terre National Park, consisting of the villages, adjoining hillside and  coastline, is a Unesco World Heritage site (yes, another one under the belt).
    As the tour bus neared the first town, the terrain began to slope upwards. Wasn't this supposed to be a coastal village? What were we doing, going up into the mountains? My doubts were soon relieved when we disembarked and made our way down (literally) into the first village - Manarola.

Railway station in the far background.
    From Manarola, we took the metro to our next stop, Corniglia. As the train pulled into the station, the village was nowhere to be seen. It was soon pointed out to us that Corniglia is situated at the top of the nearby hill. We then commenced the climb. What a climb it was. I fancy myself to be in pretty good shape (afterall, I do work out regularly and the doc said my heart was in pretty good shape) but soon my tighs were burning with the exertion and perspiration pour down my brow. The guide wasn't joking when he said we had to "work for our lunch". Unbeknownst to us, it was a precursor of tougher things to come. We ambled through Corniglia and arrived at a little hill-top restaurant with a fantastic view. Lunch was then served.
    With our bellies satisfied, we soon found out why we were served carbohydrates. I knew that there was a trek somewhere in the schedule but I never expected what was to follow. We were supposed to trek through the mountains to the next village. The guide told us that there were once three elderly women who had too much to drink during lunch. In the end they took almost three hours to finish the trek. We were soon on our way.
Happy faces before the climb. I never expected what was to come.
Leaving the town behind (you can see it at the far left of the
picture. Tiny tiny far away...)
    The route started off pretty innocently at first, just a casual climb, not unlike something you'd experience on Bukit Timah Hill. Then the terrain started getting steeper and more rocky. We were no longer stepping on forest floor. Every step we took was cut into the rocky face of the mountain. At times, the path could only fit one person. The alternative to waiting for your turn was a flight down the mountainside to certain demise. It didn't help that the sun was beating down on our heads mercilessly. Each new step seemed more torturous than the one before. Soon my legs began to cramp and I felt a tongue of headache approaching. The one litre bottle of water I had in my backpack felt like a tonne.
Eking out a smile... Press On! 
The wifey on the other hand, skipped ahead, as if on fairy wings. In the glare of the noonday sun, it almost looked as though she had Hermes wings on her feet.
The view on the way was actually quite calming, if not for the terrain and the sun.
     No choice; turning back was not an option. Endure. Press on. I was reminded of the time I spent in National Service (NS). One thing I'd learnt was that the human body could take much more punishment than we ever imagine. One step after another. Finally in the distance there arose the faint silhouette of a tower. The rest of the village soon crept into view - civilisation at last!
Civilization at last!
Down through the narrow streets of Vernazza, between multicoloured residences we went. Straight down to the quayside, to one of the most popular attractions in the village, the gelato shop. It tasted like heaven. It was here that the wifey decided to enjoy the pristine waters of the bay. Then off we went again, by metro to Monterosso al Mare.
The quay at Vernazza.
Monterosso: the most touristy of the lot
The approach to Riomaggiore.
    Our final stop was Riomaggiore. This time we approached by ferry. The ferry hugged the coastline as we slowly made our way to our final stop. Suddenly the bare hills broke out into colour. It was as if the red yellow and blue of Riomaggiore was flowing from the green mountain behind, towards the sea, just stopping short of the beach. It was sight to behold. It is at this busiest village of Cinque Terrestrial that we found the most delicious calamari. The fried anchovies and fish slices were excellent too, but it was the calamari that took the cake.
Some of the best calamari in the world.
     Then it was back on the train, to la Spieza and our tour bus. And that was how we spent a day at Cinque Terre.

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