One hundred stairs straight up.
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!!!)
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.
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.
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.
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!!!!