Easter weekend (3/29-4/1) a group of us decided to spend the weekend in Cinque Terre! We stayed Friday-Monday (no class on Monday because of Easter) in an apartment (approximately 22 euro per person a night). The apartment was lovely, especially once we figured out how to turn on the heat! The only complaint would be that a very high pitch sound would sound frequently with the heater, but after a while we got used to it.
We woke up early to catch a 7:30 AM bus to Florence – this is the same bus we took when we originally went to Florence at the start of the semester. It was a direct bus with no stops, and it was packed! Luckily we made it to the bus station early enough to have good seats and we slept most of the ride. In Florence we met up with two people my roommate had met on a previous trip and we took the train to Monterosso. Monterosso is the northernmost town in Cinque Terre (which means “five lands” aka five towns). Moving south from Monterosso is Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. We arrived in the afternoon around 2:30 PM and our very kind landlord met us at the train station to walk us to our apartment. She explained the apartment, pointed out some grocery stores, and gave us a map with a brief description and some train schedules. She was also nice enough to buy us some more olive oil for the place so that we could cook for ourselves. There were five of us in total and the apartment had two bedrooms with a big bed in each, and then a sofa bed for one. There was a decent sized full functioning kitchen and a dining area as well.
Although it was damp outside it wasn’t raining thankfully so we explored Monterosso for the rest of Friday. Our apartment was in the newer part of the town and we walked along the walkway along the water towards the old historic center. We all loved the beauty of the ocean (although technically it was the Mediterranean Sea) and took way too many pictures – I swear they were all necessary! It was nice to breathe in the sea air and watch the waves. That’s the nice thing about Cinque Terre – there aren’t too many sites that you have to see. Instead, you just wander around and explore and take in the beauty of the area.
For lunch we ate pizza (I got anchovy pizza which I’ve become quite fond of) and for dinner we ate at a lovely restaurant close to the water. We had a table right next to the window and there were a fair number of people in the restaurant giving it a nice atmosphere without being too crowded. I shared a spaghetti al mare (spaghetti in a sauce with mussels, clams, and squid) with my roommate (minimum two portions to order so we both had plenty). I also ordered a caprese salad and we shared a bottle of Cinque Terre white wine. The food was delicious! And the prices, while still above average, were quite reasonable – especially considering my last dinner eating out experience… After dinner we strolled back home along the water and went to bed pretty early since we were tired from getting up early in the morning.
We were planning to go to Vernazza and Corniglia on Saturday but unfortunately we only made it to Corniglia (and you’ll see why). Our landlord alerted us that the walking paths between towns were closed due to the rain which was quite unfortunate because that’s a main thing tourists do in Cinque Terre. Since the paths were closed we would have to take a train to get to the different towns. I suggested that we see Corniglia first and then Vernazza because there isn’t as much to do in Corniglia so we could spend the majority of the day in Vernazza. The Debby downer of the day was that it was legitimately raining hard on Saturday. The rain wasn’t too bad though until we were heading back towards the train station in Corniglia. Before that we had hiked up the road from the train station to the town center, explored the (few) streets, took some pictures trying not to soak our cameras or break our umbrellas (because of the wind), and drank hot chocolate in a bar (remember an Italian bar is both a café serving coffee and sandwiches but also a place that serves alcohol). As we started heading back to the train station the rain and wind really picked up, as in the rain was being blown sideways directly at us. We didn’t take the road down (which winds along the side of the big hill/small mountain) but instead took stairs that descend the mountain slalom-style. With each turn of the stairs I would turn my umbrella to face the wind but despite my best efforts, my boots and the front of my pants were completely soaked by the time we got to the bottom of the hill (along with everyone else’s). We had been going strong before that, but once we were soaked we decided it wasn’t worth it to go to Vernazza and be freezing.
At the train station we apparently had become too confident with train schedules and did not read the screen displaying the arrivals/departures correctly. We stood waiting for a half hour or so at platform one…that’s when we saw a train traveling in the direction we wanted to go arriving at platform three. In Italy you get fined for crossing the train tracks and so by the time we determined it was the right train and had run down the stairs (under the tracks) to platform three… it was sadly already leaving. We had to wait another hour for the next train so we ate the lunches we had packed (luckily I had put mine in a plastic bag so it wasn’t soggy) and the time passed. When we got back to our apartment some took naps while others of us watched a movie. We were planning on buying groceries for the next day but when we finally left at around 7:40 PM it was too late and the grocery stores were closed. Luckily we already bought Saturday’s groceries on Friday so we made pasta and carrots for dinner – I was close to ravenous at the time so it tasted amazing.
After the failed grocery attempt the previous night, we embarked on our grocery spree in the morning at around 9:10 AM. We bought breakfast, lunch (which would be tuna sandwiches), and dinner (which would be a seafood rice meal with zucchini). We wanted to go to a church service at a local church that started around 11 AM, but we ended up being slightly late (but only by around 5 minutes). Nevertheless, we had to stand for the service because there were many people there. Although I could only understand parts of it, it was interesting to compare the service to my own back home. I only recognized the tune of one of the hymns they sang but the music and the passing of the peace were probably my favorite parts.
It was supposed to rain some in the afternoon on Sunday but the clouds never came (besides a few here and there) and it was a beautiful day! It was certainly interesting to compare Sunday’s weather to the deluge on Saturday. After much picture taking in Monterosso with the newfound sun (and of course the sea) we went back to our apartment, packed our lunches, and headed out for the train station. We would be exploring Riomaggiore and Manarola this day!
I was hoping that, if nothing else, the trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola (Via dell’Amore or Trail for Lovers) would be open but unfortunately it wasn’t because of the previous rain. However, that did not stop us from walking all over town up and down many hills to see some spectacular views. On our way back down the main drag after much walking, we decided to buy some fried fish (the delicious aroma was everywhere!). I bought a small cone of fresh fried calamari – you can guess how delicious that was! Afterwards we walked down to the area closer to the breakwater where water from the town meets the sea and rocks out in the ocean. This is a way to prevent some of the big waves from crashing against shore. While there (and picture-taking, of course) we got a little too close to some of the wave action. One person’s legs got soaked when she was getting her picture taken. Then one time we were all too close and a huge wave came towards us further up the ramp than any other one had so far – luckily I caught it on video! After ever more water picture-taking, we finally headed back to the train station to catch the train to Manarola.
We had spent the majority of the day in Riomaggiore so we didn’t spend as long in Manarola, but we still had a good chunk of time. We walked to high points to see the views, and along the way found a small piazza in front of a church where we sat for a bit. There was another group of older Italians basking in the sunlight against the church and the moment felt very Italian. I even played with a little dog who was announcing his presence with a bark to the whole piazza. Afterward we headed down closer to the water, ate some gelato, and eventually made it back to the train station. As my Rick Steves book about Italy points out, trains are often late between the Cinque Terre towns – and this time it was certainly late (around 20 minutes or so). However, it was just late enough for us to be able to watch the sun setting over the water so I would say it was well worth the wait! Otherwise we likely would have missed the sunset on the train ride back to Monterosso.
Once back at our apartment we eventually made dinner – a mixed seafood and rice dish with a side of zucchini. We also bought a Colomba cake for desert which is an Italian tradition on Easter. I had raved about it after my Italian teacher brought some in for our class (I swear it was really good!). This cake we bought (made by a different brand) looked very similar but seemed to have a slightly different recipe…it was not nearly as good. Oh well – we tried at least!
This was our last day in Cinque Terre and was the day to explore Vernazza, the town immediately next to Monterosso. We were only there for a few hours because we wanted to catch a train that left around 2 PM. The rain held off for most of the time we were there but really picked up towards the end – not before pictures though! Vernazza was a pretty town and I wish we had more time there, but we were all also pretty tired from the weekend.
Side note story: Once we were in Florence (train transfer) I was waiting in line for the bathroom (that was pretty long already) and finally after waiting for some time it was my turn to go next. I was standing semi in the doorway when this girl, perhaps in early middle school, walked right in front of me. I noticed two younger ones right behind her, but no adult was with them. The big girl who seemed like the type who could be a bully at that age then turned, looked up… and stared right at me. It was as if she was saying with her eyes, “Are you going to do anything about it?” I was initially sort of in shock basically thinking is this actually real? I then looked back at her, stepped in front of her, and body blocked her from going into the stall when the woman before me left. Needless to say once I exited the stall I gave the girl a look as she had to wait her turn. Oy!
Other than that little mishap – it was a great trip! It was an added bonus that I got to play with a dog on the train ride home. I highly suggest Cinque Terre for anyone visiting Italy. It’s a great place where you don’t have to worry about seeing a bunch of sights – just relax, hike, and enjoy the area.