Monday, November 11, 2013

The Cinque Terra

The Cinque Terra was one of those places on our Go Ahead Tours itinerary that I had never heard about before the trip. I did a little research and what I came up with just looked like these quaint little villages on the coast of Italy. What a surprise I got when we arrived! (remember to click on the small photos to see the full sized version)
 We took the very short walk to the train station in Santa Margherita and headed for Riomaggiore which is the bottom of the Cinque Terra. The train was very nice. A bit old but still very comfortable. And for all that we had been warned about "Italian Train Time" being a moving object, our trains were fairly on time.
 On tours there are always time constraints so we really only got a chance to see two of the villages on the Cinque Terra, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. But they didn't want us to miss out on the amazing cliff walk between the train station at Riomaggiore and Monorola. It was amazing. Yes that is the walk at the upper right hand corner! 
 I was amazed to see these flowers growing on the inner edge of the walk way. They are all of the succulent family but it was a beautiful burst of color too!
 Here is a better view of the walk. It looks really narrow but it was actually about 9-12 feet across and very solid concrete. The railing is only made of wood though so I wouldn't lean on it too much! 
 But the views were amazing. The rock face looks more like petrified wood than the cliffs I am use to here in California. I am an ocean baby and to find myself out on this walk with the sea breeze and the crashing waves was simply heaven!
 There were lots of sea caves as well. I can imagine that they would be fun to explore once you got your timing down on when they were exposed and when you would be trapped! You may get the idea from that last sentence that I'm not a fan of caves.
 Something more my speed were the battlements that were still all along the walk. Some of them left over from the early 20th century with WWII and some from much much earlier.
 Now, I'm mildly claustrophobic so while caving doesn't sound like a great idea, the battlements were okay to walk through because there were archways every few feet.
 Sadly, like the rest of the world it seems, there was a lot of graffiti inside of them. We still thought they were very, very cool.

From there we caught the train to Vernazza. A quick word about the train stations. Well, more specifically, the restrooms at train stations...and all over Italy in fact. In America we are very spoiled with a nice porcelain bowl with a seat and a lid. If we are "roughing" it the seat is in a tiny building with no plumbing called an "outhouse" or "porta-potty". In the hotels in Italy you will find our American type set up. But when you are out and about you are, more than likely going to find a shock. The restrooms in these stations were rectangular one person rooms with holes in the floor and porcelain "steps" on each side of the hole. There is no bowl. There is no seat and there certainly is no lid. You have to place your feet on the steps and squat and hope you have good aim. Now you know why the women there wear dresses all of the time. Easier to get out of the way. Let me warn seems that most people have really,, really bad aim. We decided we could wait till we got back to the hotel. You've been warned. 
 The village of Vernazza was breathtaking. This was our view from our lunch table. We had amazing pizza in an outdoor cafe and enjoyed this view. 
 We never miss a chance to pop into a local church when we are traveling. You just never know what you are going to find. With this one we figured, due to the rather modern looking exterior, we would find a modern interior. We were totally wrong. This wonderful pebble mosaic at the front door was just amazing!
 The inside made us feel like we had traveled back to the 1200's!  Sure enough, I found out when we got back and I could do some research, the Church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia of Vernazza was built in the 1200's. Easy to let your imagination get swept away while spending time here.
 Outside of the church we found this walkway that made it's way up the hillside to the trail through the vineyards. We didn't have time to explore that before catching the train to Monterosso al Mare but I have seen photos taken of Vernazza from the vineyard and they are gorgeous so if you do have the time then take the walk, it's worth it!
 Monterosso al Mare is divided into two parts. Old Town Monterosso al Mare is to the left of the train station and New Monterosso al Mare is to the right of the station. We never went right. You have two choices when it comes to walking into Old Town. One is through a tunnel and one is up over a hill. Guess one I picked? Yup, any way that doesn't include a tunnel is a good way to me! So we headed up the path that went up the hill and we heavily rewarded. Since the tunnel was downhill most of our fellow travelers considered it the easy way so we were pretty much alone on our teeny hike. This lovely stairway just led up to a home. Completely charming.
Somehow we always find a kitty on our travels. This one was very happy to hang out with us and have us pet him while we took at break at the top of the hill.
But this view was the major payoff that the other travelers missed when they took the tunnel. This castle, called the Torre Aurora or "Dawn Tower", sits on the cliffs at the entryway of the small marina of Old Town Monterosso. Notice the domed WWII bunker on the shelf below the castle. New and old signs of war.
 This photo is one of my "Oooooh, Wish you were here!" postcard moments. Just so picturesque you couldn't take a bad photo if you tried.
The church in Old Town Monterosso al Mare has earned the nickname of the Beetlejuice church in our house simply because of it's wonderful black and white striping. The detail on this Rose Window just takes my breath away! SO beautiful!
The inside is even more beautiful. With the same black and white striping inside, the black and white diamond flooring and the crystal chandeliers this church is one you just can't miss if you are in the area. Gorgeous!
The day was warm and after all of our walking around we were very hot and tired. We treated ourselves to a frozen cappuccino and sat on the shady veranda over looking the sea and the promenade that begins New Monterosso al Mare. Another postcard moment. What a nice way to wait for the train.

And speaking of postcards! I'll take you to Portofino at the end of this week! In the meantime you can get beautiful photos several times a day if you follow me, shutterbugtraveler, on Instagram!


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