Europe 2016 — Cinque Terre

Day 12, 27 September 2016

Levanto is located on the West coast of Italy where the top of the boot meets the rest of the Europe. We stayed in Levanto so that we could check out Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of five old villages. The villages and the surrounding national park were incorporated as a World Heritage Site for the way that the people had harmoniously co-existed with a beautiful natural setting. Today the five towns are busy with tourists. Although not as busy as Venice, Cinque Terre has tourists everywhere.

To start off, we took a ferry boat from Levanto down the coast so that we could see the towns from the ocean. The ride was longer than I expected but still very scenic. To maximize our money and ocean view we took the boat the furthest to the south getting off at the fifth town of Riomaggiore.

Entrance to Riomaggorie

Riomaggorie was my favourite town and perhaps the most scenic. There is a small bay with a boat ramp that leads up a winding main street filled with shops. Perhaps because of the morning, it was also the least crowded of the towns we visited. We walked around the little bay and took photos before trekking up the many steps between houses to get up the cliff side. There was a scenic walk to the train station along the cliff side that we took and passed several houses with nice terraces overlooking the water. They looked very inviting and the perfect spot to spend an afternoon lounging around but they were private.

Along the walk to the train station

We then walked back towards town, looking briefly at the church and then going down the main street in search of water. Unfortunately we ended up with sparkling water that nobody liked and then bought a pizza for lunch.

Italian pizza is sparse with toppings. Sometimes, there might only be four wafer thin slices of meat for the whole 14 or 16" medium pizza. It can be rather lacking but the over baked crust, home made tomato sauce, and minced mozzarella cheese is better.

Riomaggorie also has a small castle on the hill called the Castello di Riomaggorie. The fortress itself was quite small and seemed to be more of a statement than an actual useful defence but the view from the top was stellar and I got some good classic shots of the town.

Riomaggorie

To get between the towns in Cinque Terre one can buy single journey tickets for 4 euros each or a day pass starting at 16 euros and decreasing with the number of consecutive days. We calculated that the day pass was not worth it and we were right, taking at most 3 trains a day during our stay.
After Riomaggorie we took the train to the next town of Manarola. This town was also scenic and had a nice bay of rocks for swimming around. One guy did a backflip off the highest point to great acclaim of the watching crowd. Yuki wished that she could go swimming because it was hot out and the water was very clear.

Manarola

We got some calamari to go which wasn’t nearly as good as the night before and then walked along the coast up to the lookout point. The walk was nice and would probably make for a great sunset viewing point but it was the middle of the afternoon and we were very hot so we returned to the town. Our energy throughout the trip has been slowly dwindling, especially for Yuki’s parents so we took the train back to Levanto to rest knowing that we had several days left to visit the other towns.

Levanto is situated to the north of Cinque Terre and is a great base camp to use while visiting the five towns. It is cheaper than staying in the five towns and is, surprisingly, filled mostly with locals who all seem to known each other. As is common in Italy, we saw lots of people sitting around in the evening chatting and saying hello to passing neighbours.

We used the supermarket to buy supplies and cook dinner for about 15 euros which was significantly cheaper to the 82 Euro we spent the night before. Yuki’s mom had brought kilograms of ai spices for us so we opened a few and she cooked an excellent Thai dinner, though several ingredients were unavailable to fully complete the dishes.

Day 13, 28 September 2016

Levanto was a great place to relax and rest up. We slept in late and spent the afternoon gaming on the ipad. We tried to go swimming but Yuki found it too cold and I could only swim for a little while longer so we spent most of the time flopping around in the surf. Yuki’s dad did one lap and then we all lay on the beach to warm up in the sun. Yuki dug a hole and so I buried her in sand. I am now happy to say that I’ve swam in the mediterranean.

Yuki is Buried

The only other event of the day was a trip to the gelato restaurant for a cup of fruit with two scoops of ice cream and gelato in a crepe. The fruit was good but the crepe was meh.

I was hopping to eat at that same restaurant again for dinner because it was so good but it was closed so we went to the supermarket and bought more food which Yuki and her mom cooked.

Day 14, 29 September 29 2016

Of the five towns in Cinque Terre, Corniglia is the smallest and the least visited. This probably has to do with a hike up the cliffs from the train station which no one, including us, wants to do. Yuki, her mom, and I went to Vernazza which is supposedly the most beautiful of the five towns. Her dad wanted to spend the day resting so he stayed in Levanto and sunbathed on the balcony.

Vernazza is beautiful in it’s own way but I think Manarola is nicer. This is because Vernazza is busier and more compact. Along the main street, we found a hole in the rocks that lead to a rock beach where we took some photos. There were more tourists around so it was harder to get good pictures. It was evident that rockfalls are common on this beach with rock nets hung from above but at the same time the buildings sit right on the edge with at least one house supported by a rock arch.

See the arch holding up the building?

At the top of Vernazza is the Castello Doria, which has a panoramic view of the town and the ocean. Like the Castello in Riomaggorie, it looks like it is more for looks than an actual defence. Still, it’s a great place to get above it all and take photos. We went up the tower but the chambers below the deck are closed off to the public. The Castello has been renovated so it is bizarre to walk on newly placed stone pavers while surrounded by short walls that are centuries old and crumbling away. The walls have clearly seen better days and the limestone mortar between the rocks has weathered away.

View from the Castello

The bay in Vernazza is well protected and makes for a great swimming spot. Yuki was disappointed that she didn’t come prepared because the water was shallow and warm and looked beautiful. We looked in the church and then went behind for a view of the bay where we had a picnic snack of sliced apples. Several people were swimming or lounging on the rocks and it looked like a lot of fun.

Vernazza Bay

To combat our FOMO (fear of missing out), we left and found gelato. The gelato was as good as ever and Yuki had a tiramisu. Then we took the train to Monterosso so that we didn’t have to think about swimming.

Monterosso is known for its beaches, of which it extends the length of the town. Several parts of the beach require payment and it isn’t protected like the bays of Vernazza or Manarola so it’s probably not as warm to swim in. In that way, it’s weird that it would be the busiest and most popular swimming location when the other towns look nicer.

Monterosso

There are some good looking restaurants and bars along the street beside the beach but they were full so we didn’t try getting a table. Otherwise, we didn’t see anything to do so we left and went back to Levanto. We walked down the beach to see if there were any better swimming spots but they all seemed to be the same temperature. I had another gelato and then Yuki and I went to the beach again.

I was determined to attempt a second swim, knowing that it was probably just as cold as yesterday but I felt that we weren’t doing much and wanted to feel like we were making the most of our vacation time. The swimming was as unsuccessful as the day before but we did notice one thing. The few people in the water have no problem with the cold, while the rest of the beach goers never touch the water and stay sunbathing on the sand.

Unfortunately that restaurant was closed again so we had to walk around in search of another. None of the other restaurants looked appealing so we went back to the gelato restaurant and got pizza, and pasta. The dinner itself was unfulfilling and Yuki also had a Nutella and banana crepe for dessert. I considered another gelato but three in a day seemed excessive so we went back to the apartment and packed for our last joint stop in Rome. Everyone could have stayed in that apartment for a week doing nothing and it would have been enjoyable but when you have an 8–5 job and only 3 weeks of vacation a year you’re under a lot of pressure to make the most of it and that means having to move on.