Yesterday, Jen and I went to Cinque Terre for the day. The three-plus hour drive to get there made it a little ambitious for a day trip, but well worth it in the end. Like every morning so far, we had grand plans for being up at 7 and on the road by 7:30. And like every morning so far, the previous night’s three-hour dinner that didn’t start until 9pm meant that we weren’t up until 8 (…ish). We were more or less ready to go by 9:30 or so, and then caused a minor kerfluffle when we came through the breakfast room intending to just grab some yogurt to eat on the road and met Paolo, our amazing and generous host, setting up the breakfast spread. He seemed genuinely concerned that we were not going to be eating a full breakfast, and we assured him (and assured him and assured him) that we would eat more on the road and that we would join him and the other guests for a full breakfast again tomorrow, but we had to get on the road early today (which was already not happening).
Yogurt and peaches in hand (and due espresso in stomach) we hopped in little Umberto Cinque and took off for the coast. At this point we’ve gotten pretty familiar with the roads around our village, and the freeways and toll roads out here are pretty unremarkable highway driving. An hour and a half into the drive (and due espresso later) we turned from the A6 onto the E80 and the fun began. This road runs from Genova along the coast of the Ligurian Sea and is a place where driving should be thought of as a grand adventure. Speed limits can be interpreted as a relative scale here. For instance, a speed limit of 130 k/h means drivers will be traveling somewhere between 130 and 180. A speed limit of 90 k/h means that drivers will be traveling somewhere between 90 and 180. See how that works? Quite clever. Little Umberto, while lacking the muscle to spring off the starting line, has the scrap and tenacity to (eventually) get up to 150 and handles like a champ at that speed. I’m also beginning to discover that a driver following closely on your tail here is not being aggressive, it’s just the way that people signal that they would like to go around you. It’s pretty practical, really. If I fail to notice someone who would like to pass me, he can politely reach out and tap me on the shoulder.
Following our lesson in performance driving we arrived in Monterossa, the westernmost of the Cinque Terre. While the Terre were once sleepy little fishing villages, they are now hyper-caffeinated tourist spots and by some miracle we got the last parking space in the lot closest to the town. As we got out of the car we discovered that no, it is not cooler by the sea. In fact, it was hot enough that we began to doubt our plan to hike all five villages. Monterossa is split into Old Town and New Town, and we made our way into New Town because that’s where the train station is. New Town contains the only sand beach in all of the five villages, so it’s a bit like a tiny Miami Beach. There are a thousand beach umbrellas packed as tightly as possible, and a boardwalk catering to all of the beachgoers, and all of humanity stacked on top of each other. Determined to retain Monterossa’s cultural identity, the chalkboards outside these traditional establishments would advertise such local specialties as the “drunk-ass bucket”. (These we renamed the “drunk ass-bucket” in honor of the champs who were drinking from them). In short, New Town Monterossa was kind of awful. We got a quick slice of pizza and a coke for lunch, and got our combination train ticket and hiking pass at the train station, where we learned that most of the trails were closed for maintenance today. Instead of hiking all five villages as we had planned, we would only be able to hike between village #2 (Vernazza) and village #3 (Corneglia). We’d be doing the rest of our village-hopping by train. Given the heat, that was A-OK with us.
We caught the first train to Vernazza which, while still overrun with tourists, was not so much of a spring-break-style bacchanalia as Monterossa had been. Vernazza is a spectacular terraced village cut into the hillside surrounded by vineyards that have to be harvested using a special trolley system to get the grapes up and down the hill. We tromped through the town and headed out onto the path to Corneglia, where we were sent on our way by a man playing an accordion on the hiking path. Awesome. Molto bene. It was about a 90 minute hike between the towns, and we drank in the spectacular coastal views as the path jutted out and back into the woods along the seaside. We were greeted just outside Corneglia by two more street musicians standing on the trail, this time an accordion and a saxophone. We were pretty wilted as we walked into town, and followed signs down to the marina, where we found a few dozen people swimming and sunning themselves on the rocky shore there. This was a little more our speed. With a modicum of modesty, we changed into our swim suits and hopped, squealing, into the chilly water. That perked us right up, let me tell you.
After that, we climbed back up the hill and found an afternoon gelato and a beer, took a quick jaunt on the train to Manola, the fourth village and scoped out the view, then boarded the train back to Monterossa for dinner. It turns out that Old Town Monterossa is way more charming and way less douchey than New Town Monterossa, and we had a delicious seafood dinner sitting at an outdoor table on a street about eight feet wide. We had to make it quick because we were getting on the road, so dinner was only two hours long. Another extended lesson in performance driving got us home, and we were in bed, road-weary and sun-baked, by about 12:30.
Next chapter: A Fancy Evening in Milano and the Trip to Innsbruck.