Now This is REALLY Heaven

One hundred stairs straight up.         

Stairway to Heaven

The short way: steep, narrow and curvy.  The longer way: a little less steep, a little less narrow and little less curvy.  And that’s just getting to the front door of #41 GianniFranzi Hotel.  Then there’s the spiral staircases, two of them —– very steep, very narrow, very tight, very curvy.

Oh Madonna! And at “BellaThea’s” suggestion, I took her suitcase, a little bigger,  a little heavier and a lot clumsier given its soft sides.

Oh Madonna!  What was I thinking…to take her suitcase and to book this “pensione” in Vernazza, where all the rooms require a climb?

Because of the view off my tiny balcony, right onto the Mediterranean Sea, and the incredible covered terrace, hanging on the cliff below the town’s “castello,” overlooking the sea.

On the way up, I passed a cat and prayed aloud that it would magically become a fairy godmother to help me.  I thanked God for my health and agility.  And suddenly an answered prayer in the form of the strapping, young “ragazzi” who carried my suitcase up both spiral staircases.  A tip was in order and how to I reserve him for Thursday when I leave????

Vernazza is the signature postcard of the Cinque Terre.  A rocky azure blue harbour, bright umbrellas, flowers, pastel painted buildings and a church…right there waiting to be captured by memory, imagination, paintbrush, photograph, and has been countless times.  And I thought Monterosso was heaven on earth!

I spent my first day wandering around, sampling the gelato – crema vernazza (a limoncello and lemon zest laced creamy concoction) and pink grapefruit, again (M, I’m taking notes!).

I had a disappointing lunch on the harbour – salad with canned black olives, tomatoes, mozzarella, and canned tuna, topped with Berio (yes, the same you can get it in Canada off the grocery shelf) olive oil.  I guess I paid for the view…right on the harbour, in the sun where I sat writing postcards.

And then I came back to the Gianni guest terrace and sat, and stared, and stared, and finally painted a quick picture of the agave stem and flowers and that glorious sea.  My efforts inspired a conversation with a lovely couple from Philadelphia (it seems everyone from North America has read Rick Steves’ Italy and so knows about this particular pensione).  I’d learned the day before the trail had been closed due to landslides.  They’d walked the rigourous trail to Monterosso, and another couple walked the Vernazza to Corniglia trail with no problem.

I dined al fresco on my balcony, from samplings purchased at the little grocery store –  fresh tomatoes, a chunk of cheese, salumi, focaccio and pesto, with some Cinque Terre white wine.  Enough left to make a sandwich for the next day’s lunch.  Soon to sleep.

Today, I wakened as the light came over the mountaintop.  I dressed for a day in the sun, on land and sea, as I’d make my way to the remaining three “terres.”  I donned a hat and jacket to stave the morning chill.

Another “slender thread” in the form of Karen and Bill from New Jersey, a couple I’d overheard talking at the train station, considering the same train to Corneglia.  We’d just missed it, and it’d be another hour before the next one.  So after a quick chat we decided to hike the ninety-minute trail trusting the reports we’d both heard the day before.  I was as pleased as they were to have found able-bodied and well-prepared companions.

Time passed quickly as we climbed in the fresh air to stunning vistas, sharing good conversation.  At Corneglia, we each enjoyed a café macchiato (and I had my first experience with the hole-in-the-floor toilette!), and with Karen’s “good enough Italian” learned the trail to Manarola was closed, but the upper, more strenuous trail was open and afforded great views.  Though most welcome to continue with them, I chose to part ways as I knew that portion would be hotter and steeper (and I had a lot of climbing when I got back to Vernazza!!!)

Corniglia

I enjoyed the walk around the town (thanks again to Rick Steves’self-guided walks on my Kindle.  I learned from the “Philly” couple yesterday, that I could download his audio guides free from his website onto my MP3…next time!  I had a leisurely wait for the four-minute train to the next town, Manarola, and met a couple from Calgary and one from St. Albert, Alberta.  The world is small. And soon after I’d begun the morning hike, I met the young couple from Australia who were on the train from Milano.

Manarola From Its Vineyards

In Manarola, I sampled the local foccacia made from chickpea flour as I strolled around the harbour, up through the vineyards and then to the trailhead of the shortest and simplest of the Cinque Terre trails, “la via amora,” to Riomaggiore.

Looking Back From the Via Amora

By the time I reached this most southerly of the five “terre,” I was tired and really looking forward to my chosen closing highlight, the boat ride back to Vernazza.  On such a calm, sunny and warm day, I made sure to sit starboard at the bow to take advantage of this amazing photo perspective on the towns I had just visited. It was all I could have hoped for, a perfect conclusion on a perfect day to my visit to Heaven… I mean the Cinque Terre.

Riomaggiore

PS – There were three spiral staircases!  I think I couldn’t let that reality sink in or I might never have found a way down!!!!

About Katharine Weinmann

living and leading with courage, clarity, compassion and creativity
This entry was posted in Community, Italiano, Pilgrimage and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Now This is REALLY Heaven

  1. Karen says:

    Katharine,
    It was wonderful having a hike with you and getting to know you a bit. I hope the rest of your journey is/was/will be wonderful!
    Karen

    • What a delightful surprise to hear from you, Karen. Yes, our fortuitous meeting on the Cinque Terre was a highlight…so too this last trip into the south and Sicily. Best to you and Bill….Ciao, Katharine

  2. Jenn Lesko says:

    Hi Katharine!
    Happy belated birthday and congrats on having the courage to undertake such an amazing, and I’m sure, life changing adventure. I have been reading your blog and marvelling at all you are doing and seeing. I’ve also been dreaming about perhaps following in your footsteps someday…..

    Take care, and cherish each moment.
    Jenn

  3. Kerry-Ann says:

    Hello Dear Katharine,
    I must admit it has been over a week since I had the delight to sit back and read about your adventures. I envy you as I look out at the three feet of snow still in the backyard. Once again warmth and happiness comes over me as a take a few minutes to escape into your journey. Enjoy your days ahead! Happy Birthday!

  4. Dieter Weinmann says:

    12:39 PM Our time, just travelled with you reading your Blog. By now you are lodged in at Sienna and enjoying the best part of your Birthday in the Place that you most looked forward to be. Happy happy Birthday to you my first born, I wish you
    all the best and continuos safe journey. Hopefully we can catch up on skype soon.
    love ,Pappa

    • Yes, after a long day I have arrived at another iteration of Heaven. WIFI is weak in my room. I will be lying low and just staying put for the next day. When I feel rested I’ll skype with you. Love to you and Mom.

  5. Mom says:

    Just came from having my nails done–the people are from Sicily and related to Joe and Nina. Maria said if you go to the Isle of Capri, go to a perfume factory, called the “Essense of Capri” and that they make wonderful perfumes to suit you. Nino and Maria said when you are in Agrigento to go to Realmonte and walk the “Steps of Turkey” for a spectacular view. Nino would like a pebble from there. I said “I didn’t think you had room for a pebble!!”

  6. Charlie says:

    Happy Birthday, Kath!
    Glad you get to enjoy in such a wonderful place!
    Love,
    Charlie

  7. Mom says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY BEAUTY—-What a wonderful place to be in. We hope that you are having a great day, and that the “white room” is as wonderful as anticipated. I certainly am getting anxious to see you and hear all about your trip in person. We love you and send you our very best wishes for a marvellous day and the continuance of a wonderful experience. Love you, my first born. Mom

    • Thank you so much, Mom. The white room is everything I’d hoped for. I will stay put, soak up the view and sunshine and catch my breath and rest after the whirlwind of the last week. Love you…

  8. Julie Detenbeck says:

    Happy Birthday !!!!!! What a glorious place to celebrate your birthday! Hope you have an amazing day and best wishes for an even better year. Hope the remainder of your trip continues to be as wonderful as it has been.

  9. Terri Songbird says:

    Dear Sister,, know that I celebrate you and your birth,,, and your presence in our family and in my life,,, even though this distance between us has been great for so many years,, it has never diminished the presence of your light in my life,, or that of my children

    I give thanks for you,, and love your dearly,, happy birthday Katharine
    mucho love to you Terri Songbird

  10. Terry Stevens says:

    Looks like heaven. Hope tomorrow is just as beautiful and that you have a wonderful birthday. Italy looks like a great place to celebrate.

    • It is my birthday as I type. While not yet in Siena, I am in Tuscany, Lucca – a beautiful city. It is good to be alive and I am so privileged to have this as the site of my birthday. If only you could all come over and celebrate with me. That’s a seed of possibility to nurture! Love to you…

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