19 March 2011

Have I died and gone to heaven? - Cinque Terre [Italy]

The sun was still shining when I stepped off the train in La Spezia, and I was plesantly surprised to be greeted by what seemed like a cute little town, rather than an industrial city.

I followed the directions provided by my hostel to the bus stop, and got there with about 10 minutes to spare. Just as well as the bus after mine didn't arrive for another two hours! I dropped my bag and waited... and waited... and waited. Thirty minutes after the scheduled time I decided it was not coming, so tried to get hold of the hostel. Problem - the number I had was not working. So here I was alone in a foreign city where hardly anyone speaks English, I don't know how to get to my accommodation, I know for a fact that all the budget accommodation is booked out and it is starting to get dark. Shit. You start to feel pretty alone in situations like that.

I made my way down the street to see if I could find an internet cafe so I could get the correct phone number. I stumbled across a normal cafe, where one of the old guys spoke a little English. He was very kind and tried his best to help, but in the end he just walked me back to the bus stop I had already been waiting at. But while there he did speak to some of the locals, who said the busses were all screwed up because it was a national holiday. So I basically just had to wait.

And less than ten minutes later the bus trundles down the road. I breathed a huge sigh of releif and was finally on my way. The bus wound its way up this crazy steep hill for about 20 minutes before arriving in Biasa. The people at the hostel were extremely friendly and gave me all the info I needed for the following day. Unfortunately the one store they had in this tiny village was closed, so I had to go to the resturant to eat. It wasn't so bad though - a beer and a bowl full of pasta for dinner! The rest of the evening was uneventful. The hostel was practically empty! So I just chilled and caught up on some emails.

The following morning was spectacular. Perfectly clear, blue sky and the sun was shining. One of the guys from the hostel ran me in to the first village - Riomaggiore - in his car, along with a couple of others. It turns out they were pretty cool people so we decided to stick togethor. We met in Riomaggiore with some other friends of theirs, so all up we were six. They were a mix of nationalities - French, German and Begian, all studying economics and political science togethor in Milan.

The people at the hostel were amazingly friendly and helpful, but their information... well, sucked. First screw up - they told me there was a left luggage facility in Riomaggiore. So I planned to drop my bag, visit Cinque Terre, then jump on a train to Pisa. There WAS a left luggage facility, but it was closed until high season. The closest facility being back in La Spezia! Let me tell you about Cinque Terre - it is five small villages set back in small valleys, surrounded by massive cliffs. My plan was to walk between them - which takes the best part of a day. There was no way I could do it with my massive backpack.

The next thing - most of the path was closed! There was only one small part open between Riomaggiore and Manarola. If you wanted to visit the other villages you had to go by train. I thought - maybe I can manage with my backpack. That lasted about five minutes of an uphill treck. So I left my new friends and jumped on a train in to La Spezia. Or so I thought. The sun was bright and I could hardly see the departure board. What I was actually looking at was the arrival board. So I jumped on the train that had just arrived from La Spezia. Inside the train it also said La Spezia. Why the f they had the origin point displayed in the train I have no idea! It took me a few stops to twig, and when I did I was understandably pretty pissed.

The trains do not run very frequently, so I had to wait about 45 minutes for the correct train to come along. On the train I dropped my bag, cranked my mp3 player to 11, closed my eyes and took a couple of deep breaths... Worse things could have happened.

At La Spezia I dropped my bag, then jumped on a train back to Riomaggiore By the time I finally got there and was ready to explore it was 1pm! I text my new friends to let them know that I was way behind them now and would probably not be able to catch up. I set off along the only open path from Riomaggiore along the Via Dell Amore to Manarola. Along the way there are love notes and hearts drawn everywhere, along with locks hanging from every surface that will take them! The path and view was stunning. This tiny, colourful village tucked away amongst the towering cliffs, and the clear, blue sea below. Just check the photos!

When I got to Manarola I recieved a text from my freinds to say that they were there also! Perfect! So I met up with them, we grabbed some lunch, then chilled on the rocks for an hour or so.

We got on a train to the next village - Corniglia, which was up in the hills, meaning a huge trek up. It was worth it, though, with amazing views over the coastline. I don't have the words to explain the beauty.

The next village along was Vernazza. The drawcard here being that it had a beach - although it was only 20m long. We just relaxed by the sea and ate gelato. A perfect way to spend the afternoon.

Sadly it was time to say goodbye to everyone. They were going to stay in Vernazza for another hour, but the sun was setting and my time was running out to see Monterosso and make it on to Pisa. So I said goodbye and made my way to the station. When I got there I suddenly realised that I was not sure what time the left luggage closed in La Spezia. If I went on to Monterosso I would not get back to La Spezia until after 7pm. So I made a last minute decision and jumped on a train to get my bag. I was not too concerned - the villages so far had been spectacular, so I am not sure how Monterosso could top it.

I made it there, grabbed my bag, then headed for the ticket hall. I bought a ticket from an automated machine with a €20, and instead of giving me my change - it spat out a credit note for €14.80. With about 10 minutes until the train left I quickly went to the ticket counter. The guy asked for 20c, which I gave to him in 1 and 2c pieces. That was not good enough apparently, so he went away and took what seemed like forever. When he finally did return he gave me a €10, and four €1 stacks of 2c pieces! WTF dude? What am I going to do with 200 2c pieces? I grabbed them anyway and ran for the train.

So here I am on the train with a stack of 2c pieces. I actually just had an interesting run-in with one of the guards. He asked for my ticket, which I gave him, but apparently you have to validate the ones you buy at the station (I had been buying them online up until now). He said he was not going to give me the normal penalty (€50 or something crazy), and would only fine me €5. I was pretty pissed, tried to argue that he just needed to clip my ticket and I couldn't use it again. But he was sticking to his guns. So guess what I gave him? The 200 2c pieces plus a bunch of other change. Karma. As I was counting it out he actually told me 'forget it' and walked off. WIN!

Tomorrow I plan to check out Pisa in the morning, before moving on to Florence in the afternoon.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Neal!

    Was great to share the Cinqueterre-experience with you! Wish you still a great journey with loads of great experiences and nice people to meet!

    all the best!


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