Dreams Come True
I'm so excited for this day – I've been waiting for it for 30 years. I was in my early 20's working as a travel agent in the Seattle area when I attended a seminar given by local Europe expert, 25-year old Rick Steves, who had written his first book, Europe Through the Back Door. One of his “back door” destinations was the Cinque Terre, a set of 5 small towns located along the Mediterranean, south of Genoa, but north of Rome. The picture he painted was idyllic – classic Italian hill towns perched over the sea, painted in pastels instead of the rich ochres of Tuscany. Tourists can't drive into them – the only way to visit them is to take the train that runs along the coast or walk the trail that winds through the vineyards between them (and you all know how much I love walking trails). Sounded like a place I would love, and this afternoon I'll be there!
But first, we have to get there. We have a reservation on a train from Florence to La Spezia, the largest town next to the 5T (shorthand – Cinque means five, Terre means lands). Then we take the small train that stops at each of the villages – it's just a 20 minute ride. Unfortunately, when we arrive at the Florence train station and look at the big board of departures, it says that our train is cancelled due to fires. We scramble to find an agent, who gives me a new schedule of three trains and a bus to get to Corniglia. The first train is ready to depart, so off we go.
We're not the only ones whose schedules are messed up, though, and by the time we board the train, we are left with standing room only. We meet Americans, Brazilians, and Germans and share stories. First stop, everyone gets off and goes to look for the bus. As we wait outside, someone from the station comes out and tells us that there is in fact a train that will take us to Pisa instead of the bus. We pile in again, standing with a group of new friends, pile out at Pisa, then find our train to La Spezia. We wish we could stop for a bit to see the famous leaning tower, but the Cinque Terre calls, and we are late. This time we get a seat, and watch as the scenery speeds by. As we pass by Carrara, we can see the mountains and marble quarries in the distance and the big chunks of marble stored in lots just before and just past the train station.
Finally, we board our fourth train of the day and arrive in Corniglia. The train is packed with hikers who have been walking all day and they spill out of the train and up the stairs where the bus is waiting to take us to the town at the top of the hill. We could drag our bags up 382 steps, but we wait for the third bus to take us up, a little miffed that none of the hikers took pity on our tired, trained-out bodies to let us board.
From the bus stop, up the hill, up more stairs, we find Beppe's house, where we will stay the next two nights. Beppe is in his 70's, a retired railroad engineer, and is happy to see us, but doesn't speak a word of English. He proudly shows us to one of the two rooms he remodeled on the first floor of his house (he lives above and we have breakfast in his kitchen) and we settle in. Right below our room is a fabulous foccia store and we take our bread with olives up to the courtyard of the church in front of our room and enjoy the view with the local cats.
It's 4pm, we've had lunch, and, after sitting all day, we're ready to walk. It's only an hour and a half to the next town, Vernazza, so we start up the hill, enjoying the ever-changing views of our little village and the Mediterranean below. I get a bit ahead of Susie and about halfway there meet a guy who lives right on the trail. He offers two rooms in his house for a reasonable price, and the view is spectacular. I wish I could stay there, but I need to catch Susie, who's gone ahead now, and move on.
We arrive at the most wonderful bar (ok, everywhere is the most wonderful bar when you've walked an hour and a half up and down the mountains) and stop for some 5T white wine. It's amazingly good and we float from lawn chairs to tables to find just the right view of Vernazza below.
Eventually, and much happier but fairly tired, we descend into Vernazza and catch the train back to Corniglia. The foccacia lady sends us to a local restaurant with great food and a view to match. By the time we're done, we've made friends with everyone who works there and I've got an offer for some advanced Italian (language!!) lessons. I decline, gracefully, and we head back to Beppe's.
You know when you have dreamed of a place and when you finally get there, it doesn't measure up? Well, that is NOT the case here. Dreams really can come true!