Giorno Cinque, Cinque Terre – The train goes where?!

Harbor in Vernazza, CInque Terre. © Carl Amoth

Blogging in the car on the way to Chianti today (as Carl is cruising along at 150 km per hour).

Yesterday was Cinque Terre day—the five small villages. Although we have rented a car, the easiest (and best) way to get to Cinque Terre is by train as there is extremely limited parking in these small hill top towns. The train is a five minute walk from our hotel and we set off directly after breakfast. Having traveled even one time to Europe and taken advantage of the train system provides a huge advantage for a return trip. For example, no one really tells you when you buy your ticket that you have to validate the ticket in one of the little yellow machines. There are certainly no signs telling you to validate your ticket either. If you haven’t validated your ticket when it is checked by the Train Master, you could be subject to a minimum 25e fine.

Our train ride to Riomaggiore, the first city of Cinque Terre, was uneventful but for the fact that we met the son of the owner of Arizona Tile Company, which is headquartered in Phoenix. He was there looking at Italian marble to purchase for the company. He does this each year for the large tile show and his brother travels each year to Asia for the same purpose. I digress… We knew we wouldn’t be able to see all 5 towns, you really need two days for that (at least if you are a photographer). There is a trail that runs between all five towns and provides the opportunity to walk from one town to the other. There are also trains that you can take between towns, as well as boats (other than between towns #3 and #4). However, the trail was closed between #3 and #4, plus town #3 Corniglia sounded the least interesting of them all, so we chose to bypass it. We also didn’t think we would have time for the last town, Monterossa al Mare, which was also fine, because it appeared to be a smaller version of the other three interesting towns.

Riomaggiore marina. © Carl Amoth

Hang drum player.

From the very first step off the train and into the mural lined tunnels, we loved Riomaggiore. All of these towns are high on cliffs and therefore will require oodles of walking and hiking to truly do them justice. There is a elevator that takes you to the “top of the city,” however, according to the ticket clerk, “it is under repair, you are not lucky today.” We hiked up to the castle in hopes of good city views, but was not to be possible. Carl did get some great city street shots including several of a metal drum street musician playing a unique metal drum called a “hang drum.” The music was intoxicating, and he gathered quite a crowd. We were fortunate enough to capture video and audio of his playing (will share later).

Slayed by the wit of a Scotsman.

We continued down to the Marina and Carl “set up shop” once again to get some interesting photos of the boats and town scenery. After about an hour or more, he was clearly engrossed yet again—that is a good thing—so I went up to the a lovely restaurant overlooking the Meditarrean Sea and enjoyed a lovely glass of local Cinque Terre white wine while reading my “book.” Carl finished up about 30 minutes later and headed over to the restaurant where I was (only I was upstairs). He encountered  a couple of Scottish gentlemen and English woman on the main deck of the restaurant and began an engaging conversation. It’s just what he does. He looks up at me and gestures, and I can actually hear him telling them, “oh she’s used to it.” He’s right. Before I knew it they pulled out a chair for him. I am laughing inside and taking pictures on the outside.

Oh my, how my husband loves to meet new people. It truly keeps our trips very interesting. I imagine I am less inclined to reach out to new people for two distinct reasons. One, I travel alone very often and it isn’t the safest thing to do, so I rarely do it. Two, I travel so much that I find myself in a “travel zone” where I often don’t even notice the people around me. Therefore, it is an immense pleasure to me that Carl has the propensity and capacity to engage total strangers.

We decided to walk to the next town as it seemed very close and was also called “Via Dell’ Amore”: the walk of love. It was an easy hike (in comparison to the steep hill streets of Riomaggiore), and came across some peculiar features: small padlocks hanging from every possible link on a chain, archway, etc. As we later discovered, and as we suspected, the locks symbolize the binding of a couple’s everlasting love for each other. What better place to put these, but along the Via Dell’ Amore (lovers’ lane)?

Lunch at Trattoria Il Porticiciolo ,in Riomaggiore

After the lovers walk, we arrived in Town #2, Manarolo. By now it is about 3:30 and it is definitely time for lunch. We have adapted to the Italian eating timeline and fortunately there are restaurants opened during what would normally be their siesta time. We chose Trattoria Il Porticiciolo, recommended by Rick Steves. It was a great lunch spot, and true to our commitment, we chose local cuisine and ordered the grilled fish platter with a side of spinach ravioli. The platter included lobster, a gigantic prawn, squid, octopus, and a delicious local white fish. We never did find out what the local fish was, but it was tender and delicious.

We took the train from Manarolo to Vernazza, the third town we knew we wanted to see. There were some very specific shots carl had planned that he wanted to capture at sunset and then some evening shots as well. We got to the town at about 5:30 p.m., and although we had a train schedule we had obtained that morning, I wanted to check at the station to determine our last train options back to Santa Margherita to ensure that we managed our time well. However, we were off and chasing the sun from the moment we stepped off the train. That was my first hint of nervousness. We headed down to the Marina for some early evening, pre-sunset pictures, and some town scenes.

Vernazza steps leading to cemetary

By then it was nearing sunset and we had to make it up to the cemetery, which provided the best town and marina views, and hence photographs. We could visually see how far up the mountain it was, but not until we started climbing about 2,000 stairs (ok, exaggerating a bit) did we realize just how arduous it was. Any trip to Europe will definitely include lot’s of walking and perhaps hiking—which is a good thing—however, any trip to Cinque Terre will having you hiking up extremely steep inclines and loads of steep, often uneven, steps. This picture shows just one portion of the lower section of the steps, not even close to the steepest. The pictures were worth it yet again, no disappointments. It is now almost 7:00 p.m. and my anxiety meter is getting pretty high. We have been gone most of the day and although my train schedule says there are trains departing at 7:50 and 8:39 p.m. it doesn’t say the trains go to Santa Marghertia, only in that direction.

Vernazza marina. © Carl Amoth

Carl wants to go back to the Marina for night time shots, but I insist that we stop by the train station first to sort out the return trip. Bad news. Train station is closed. There is no one there. We can’t buy tickets or ask any questions. Fabulous.

Carl is not deterred even when I tell him I am nervous about getting to the hotel. He tells me not to worry, it’s not a problem. He is now planning on taking the 8:39 train, but we have no tickets so we have to hope there isn’t a ticket master on the train checking tickets. Carl shoots for about another 40 minutes while I find a spot for a glass of wine to calm my nerves. I do not like uncertainty. I like to have a nice dinner in the evenings, particularly after being a trooper by helping schlep camera gear all day on my back up mega flights of stairs and through hilltop towns—not to mention the hours of patiently waiting while Carl is finishing at a location.

Vernazza sunset. © Carl Amoth

At about 8:10 we start heading to the train station. The train is on time, and away we go. By this point I am still fairly nervous, but am somewhat relieved to be on the train. I just don’t know how far it goes, or to where. The first couple of train stations I recognize from the train in the morning. However, we then pass by at least 6 stations with names I have never heard of before. It is now 9:10 p.m. and I am most definitely freaking out. Carl is quasi-dosing next to me. Time for acceleration. I nudge Carl and tell him we have to move up in the train so we can see the names of the stations when we are arriving (we are so far back in the train, we are not close enough to the station to even see the name). I think I finally have his attention that this doesn’t look good. We finally scour our map and realize all these little towns we’ve been stopping at are NOT on the route we took this morning and although headed in the general direction, it does not appear we are going to get to Santa Margherita. As we get near to the front of the train, we see the Train Master we saw earlier that morning and Carl asked if the train is going to Santa Margherita. “No.”

I knew it! I felt it all evening long. He tells Carl we should get off at the next station and then we can take another train. Great. 5 minutes later we get off the train, it is now 9:25.  The departure board shows the next train at 9:57 p.m. and again there are no clerks at the counter to ask any questions. The train is heading to Genova, which is the right direction, but no way to know for sure that it will stop in Santa Margherita. Time for a Taxi. Business Bev takes over as we head out of the train station. I walk into the first Panini shop I see, and ask where we can get a taxi. The fellow behind the counter walks outside, calls to his friend (who’s taxi is parked out front) and he is there in less than 2 minutes. I ask if he can take us to Santa Margherita, “yes”, how much? “60 Euro”. Carl says, “wow that’s a lot” I give him a look that in one moment silently says “ I don’t care if it is 200 Euros, we are getting in this cab and getting back to the hotel”. Enough said.

Oh well, what is a vacation if not for a little adventure along the way. Thank goodness again for the Italian time schedules, because all of the restaurants serve dinner until midnight. We found a spot to eat, and while not the greatest service (our server is chugging beer between tables) the food was adequate and we managed to enjoy the rest of our evening.

Buona notte.

Vernazza harbor. © Carl Amoth

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3 Comments

  1. Mark Amoth
    Posted October 4, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Yes, Via Dell’ Amore! And I believe you’re supposed to throw the key into the sea — your love can never be unlocked. The pics are amazing! Thanks so much for sharing your trip.

    • Posted October 7, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Actually Mark, we didn’t know that part of the story – Grazie Mille! We are so pleased that you are following along on our journey. I am certainly having fun writing about it and Carl is doing a magnificent job documenting it in the most amazing way! Caio!

  2. Pamela
    Posted October 5, 2010 at 6:37 am | Permalink | Reply

    Ahhhhh but the sunset photos are worth it all!

    I can identify with the no train to get back issue! Once on the train from Bergen headed to Oslo I saw something on my map, just north of a little village the train went through called “AAMODT”! Also, on the map was the word “WAHALLA!” Since I’m an Amoth (Aamodt) from the Norwegian union of Aamodt with Kjemhus who left Norway and settled in Wahalla ND – of course I had to hop off of the train about 5 pm to see if I could hop on a train to THERE! Who knows what I might find! I’d heard of a family farm on the Historical Registry. Alas, no trains to there. And no more trains out of the village I was now in – until morning!

    So I wandered through the village, had dinner, yes chatted with people, then sat on the steps of the train station and watched the sun ALMOST set over a beautiful lake in front of me. It turned to almost”dusk” then the sky brightened up again for morning. It was the last week of June! Near summer solstice, which is a time that now holds a place in my heart, as does Norway!

    I wouldn’t trade that experience for a warm bed in Oslo!

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