Falling in Love: the Cinque Terre – Cinque Terre, Italy

Falling in Love: the Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre, Italy

Beautiful View
Beautiful View
In nearly every place I’ve ever been when traveling, I have never wanted to leave, even if I knew the next place I was going would be wonderful (which it usually was). In the Cinque Terre, I was depressed upon leaving, and nearly changed my plans to spend an extra night there. I fell in love: hard, fast. Everything was amazing-from the food to the views to the infamous Via dell’Amore to the people. I can safely say that this is the most beautiful place I have ever been in my entire life.

The Cinque Terre is translated as “the five lands.” Five seaside Italian towns are connected by a 12 kilometer path, Via Dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane), which provides amazing views from high and low points of the different towns and the ocean. Located close to Genoa, visitors can get on a train at La Spezia to visit any of the five towns: Riomaggiore, Manorola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso.

I had decided to stay in Riomaggiore because it seemed easy, being the start of the path-which was the reason I was going to the Cinque Terre in the first place. That, and I heard it was just gorgeous. Each town had its own unique characteristics. I liked Riomaggiore best-there were good places to eat, grocers and delis, a bar, little shops, a rocky beach-and I thought Riomaggiore was the prettiest. The pastel shades of the houses were beautiful, especially if observing them from below. The only downside was the Riomaggiore beach was rocky-which was a plus to my roommate, who hated sand.

I arrived early in the morning, on a train crowded with beachgoers and beach chairs and tourists with guidebooks in various languages, all flipped to the Cinque Terre section. I checked into my hostel-which was dirty, ugly, and crammed with furniture useless to hostellers-like a large armoire tucked behind a bed, a broken refrigerator, and a broken china closet storing men’s coat hangers. My roommates were waking up, complaining of hangovers. We left almost immediately, armed with sun block and our swimsuits under our clothes, to breakfast at Bar Centrale-where they got drunk last night. Bar Centrale also offered breakfast, gelati, and internet access. We ate crepes topped with fresh fruit, followed with homemade gelati. Licking our cones as we left, we laughed at how quickly friendships form when you are on the road. “Back home, I’d never just meet a random stranger, ask them to hike together, and talk about our dreams and loves and heartaches and personal thoughts.”

Anna decided to lie on the beach and drink bottled water to ease her hangover; Rebecca agreed to go on the Cinque Terre walk. We purchased tickets at the tourist information center by the Riomaggiore Train station-3 euros for entrance to the park only, or 5,40 euro for entrance to the park and unlimited trains between La Spezia and Monterosso. As I still had my Eurail pass dated for the day (I had unlimited travel for the day on my Flexipass), I purchased entrance to the park only, and had high hopes of walking the whole thing. Rebecca had a hangover and said immediately, “I’m not walking much at all.”

The first section of Via Dell’Amore was fairly easy, and also the most populous section of the path (which was not very crowded overall). We stopped frequently to take photos, gasping and pointing out different things to each other. Manorola arrived soon, and we wandered around the town briefly, passing little shops and gelaterias. We wandered back to the trail and walked to Corniglia, which involved lovely views and an absurd amount of steps. Rebecca used photo breaks as a good excuse to take a break; I imitated her, and took more than 200 photographs during my time in the Cinque Terre (which is a lot, for I was only there for less than 48 hours). Rebecca made me walk in front of her, as she was scared of little lizards and birds, so it was my job to scare them away. The birds were everywhere, singing lovely little songs. I felt like I was in some sort of heaven. It is impossible to write about this place without using clichés-pastel picture-perfect houses, seaside cliff walks, the clear blue ocean, sunsets that make you catch your breath.

Look at the Trail!
Look at the Trail!
Corniglia had little jewelry shops and t-shirt shops. I ate a thick piece of margherita pizza, which was better than anything I had ever eaten in New York City, unarguably the pizza capital of the USA. Rebecca found a granita stand (1,50 euros) and slurped as we strolled through the town.

Rebecca was fed up with walking so we consulted a schedule posted, and walked to the train station. The trains are often hourly, often off-schedule. We caught the train to Vernazza, where Rebecca bought a sarong and a beach mat. We got our second gelatis of the day-strawberry and melon for me, peach for Rebecca. We caught the train to Monterosso, which was very resort-like. The beach was sandy, and filled with umbrellas and private cabanas. Rebecca said, “This is a place where people go on vacation to, not backpack.”

We took the train back to Riomaggiore, where we went to the beach. The beach was rocky, without sand, and Rebecca was so happy. “Nothing sticking to me!” However, getting in and out of the water was extremely difficult with the rocks; everyone had cuts from the rocks. I slid on my butt, risking bathing suit damage.

We went back to our hostel, where we utilized the free washing machines and showered. We went out for dinner at a small takeaway place. The friendly staff gave us free focaccia, and we ate the focaccia and our dinners-fabulous pesto lasagna for Anna and me, and chicken for Rebecca. After, we went to Bar Centrale and drank cheap, good wine-one of the best things about Italy. Other travelers were there-mostly Australians and Italians. Another roommate, Marie, who I hadn’t met earlier stopped by-she spoke about how amazing the hardest parts of the walk were, which are between Corniglia and Monterosso.

I woke up the next day to continue my walk. I started at Monterosso, and hiked to Vernazza. I was just wearing my bikini top and a short skirt, and was sweating profusely. It is important to carry plenty of water, as between the towns there is usually no place to get purchase water-you are on a trail in the middle of nowhere, or by people’s homes. The hikes were much more difficult (had my hungover roommate attempted them yesterday, we would not have gotten far)-stairs and windy paths continuously rising and falling, with difficult footing and dangerously narrow paths were the norm. The steps were made out of uneven rocks or carved directly into the dirt, and my breath was heavy as I hiked alone. I paused when I wanted, watched the little lizards, and enjoyed the calls of the birds. Although my hike with Rebecca passed time quickly, the views were better on my hike, and I enjoyed the alone time to contemplate and meditate. Whenever I looked at the water, I couldn’t take my eyes off it-growing up with grayish water in New York, this was truly beautiful. I always feel safest by water-as if I know there is a way out. Here, the water provided endless beauty, a constantly changing scene. For once, I felt like I was seeing the places as they were in the postcards.

Looking Down
Looking Down
By the time I finished the hike alone, I was aching, dirty, and sweaty. I rewarded myself with coconut gelati, and met my roommates at the rocky beach. The cool water soothed my muscles, and we splashed around until we were too tired to do anything but sit on the rocks.

It was soon time to leave. I grabbed takeaway pesto lasagna, and ate it on a bench with my pack on the main street. I had a night train to catch, and as I walked to the train station, I couldn’t swallow away the huge lump in my throat. I knew I was in love: with Italy, but especially with the Cinque Terre. On the train platform, I nibbled on Italian biscotti, holding myself with my arms, feeling already as if a breakup was happening. I knew I would be back, but it was so hard saying goodbye.