Cinque Terre has to be one of my favorite stops on the entire trip, if not for the fact that it looks like a magical little kingdom built into the side of a mountain. In a bit more detail, Cinque Terre (translates to "Five Lands") is a region of Italy along the western coastline, consisting of 5 villages that are all a couple of miles apart. Because the entire trip was last minute, we only got to spend one afternoon here, but still managed to visit 2 of the 5 villages (Riomaggiore and Manarola). I'd love to come back again someday and more thoroughly explore this super beautiful and whimsical place!
Day 4, Part 1: Riomaggiore
On our last day in Florence, I woke up at 5 am and couldn't sleep. We'd vaguely mentioned visiting this mythical, magical land of Cinque Terre, but it seemed ambitious, considering that we needed to be back in Florence to catch a 10 pm train to Vienna. However, by 6 am, I had somehow worked myself up into a frenzy: maybe it was the jetlag, or the couple of beers I had the night before, but I quickly decided that if I didn't see Cinque Terre on this trip, I might never have another chance in this lifetime. I can be a bit dramatic when I'm sleep deprived.
By 7 am, I'm trying to get Rob to wake up: Morning babe... um, you need to figure out how to get us to Cinque Terre like right now. After some cajoling, Rob sleepily agrees and after quickly educating ourselves on Italian Trains 101, we are somehow at the Santa Maria Novella train station by 8 am, heading toward Riomaggiore, the first of the five villages in Cinque Terre.
The entire trip from Florence to Riomaggiore took about 3 hours, and involved 3 different trains, stopping at a train station in Pisa, and then another one in La Spezia. From La Spezia, a 15 minute train ride (jammed with tourists, apparently) took us to the magical land of Riomaggiore, where a giant expanse of clear blue water greeted us after stepping off the train. The place was beautiful and everything it had seemed to be in the photos. Riomaggiore has a short main street filled with shops and restaurants that we started exploring first. But first things first: We had a quick lunch at Il Grottini (black ink pasta and gnocchi), and a much needed cup of cappaccino at the bakery next door.
After lunch, we started exploring the village, aimlessly. We climbed some narrow stairs into the residential areas and found ourselves in an intricate labyrinth of narrow stairwells and brightly colored alleyways. We passed by homes, a couple of churches, a post office, and the remains of an old castle, all built along the mountain side. Eventually, we made it to vantage point high up, where we got a glimpse of our surroundings. It was beautiful.
I'm not going to lie -- I got an immense workout climbing up all of those stairs. People who live here must have very toned calves! After hitting the top, we went back down to the water (or as close as we could to it), and then kind of lost ourselves in the maze of houses and terraces again. Good thing getting lost in Cinque Terre is actually super fun. We wandered from path to path, walking along the brightly textured walls, wherever they led us. My photographer brain was absolutely exploding from excitement at this point: The colors! The textures! The adorable window shutters! The mismatched paint colors of the chipped wooden doors! Everything was perfect and beautiful in its own way.
Day 4, Part 2: Manarola
Eventually we boarded a train that took us to Manarola, which took all of 5 minutes. (We had planned to walk, but the path connecting the two villages was closed, unfortunately.) Manarola might've been even more beautiful than Riomaggiore, as it had walking paths that led further out into the water, allowing an even more splendid view of the village. In Manarola, it was also easy to go all the way down to the water. Rob, the California boy that he is, decided to use his few remaining hours to sit and dip his feet in the water, while I rushed up the mountain into the labyrinth of houses again, eager to document more of the village.
The entire village was a work of art to me -- the doors, the walls, the windows. Everything was painted in beautiful shades of pastel. There were potted succulents in doorways, and green ivy draped over stone walls. I kept asking myself, is this real life? Do people actually live here?
Getting lost in the village was tons of fun. Sometimes the paths would lead to dead ends, or private entrances. Other times, I'd be rewarded with incredible vantage points. Here are a couple -- looking south, a view of the Manarola train station from high above, and looking north, vineyards grown in concentric circles along the sides of the mountain. Apparently Manarola is very famous for wine-making.
More details around the village -- proof that my photographer brain had been adequately blown. I love how easy it was to find clusters of shapes. Boxes, circles, lines, everywhere. Many of the walls were painted in two contrasting colors: pink against gray, blue against yellow. It felt like walking through a Pantone color guide that had come to life.
Finally, one of my favorite color schemes: Orange against yellow. How charming is this?
I was heartbroken when we had to leave my paradise of shapes and textures and colors! We'll come again, I kept telling myself, and I really do hope that to be true! Even writing this blogpost made me remember the feeling of dread I had as I counted down the hours and minutes before we had to leave.
In the meantime, we still had to make it back to Florence in time to catch our 10-hour overnight train to Vienna. Here's a picture of the man who sat across from us on the train ride back. I imagine he was quite amused when halfway through the ride we started freaking out because we had accidentally taken the local train instead of the express train, and would inevitably miss our connecting train that would get us back to Florence on time. This must be payback for all the times I've watched lost tourists in NYC, with some non-zero amount of amusement. Thankfully, by some miracle, our connecting train was massively delayed, and we ended up making it to Vienna as planned. And that is a story for the next blog post! Stay tuned.