Tuesday, September 20, 2011

(Port Review: La Spezia, Pt II)

The train to Corniglia, with the village in the distance.
When last I left you in La Spezia, we were headed to the village of Corniglia, next on our hike through the Cinque Terre. I had explained that the pathway to Corniglia was closed due to some maintenance. In my tired state, this was such a relief. Thinking back, we hadn't even done that much walking (so in case I'm scaring anyone off, I just complain a lot). I'm not sure why I was feeling exhausted, but as I said, the train was a welcome mode of transportation. The trains are great and I would readily recommend them to anyone visiting any area of Europe. If you're not from a city or place that forces you to be familiar with public transportation, I'll bet you'll leave here loving it. It's clean, easy, and fast. While I found the trains in France to be the most beautiful, all encounters that we had were perfectly acceptable.

The 382 steps to Corniglia, with the train station in the background.

After a quick ride to the next village (upon which I was quite happy with myself for not having to walk), we made it to Corniglia. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the train station was at the bottom of the village, and that visitors must walk the famous 382 steps to reach it. I have a feeling J had done the research on this, and somehow forgot to tell me what lay ahead. If you visit during the hotter months, I absolutely recommend that you have a bottle of water to get you through this little hike. I know that I'm a bit sensitive to physical activity, but I saw many people sucking down their waters on the way up. I promise you though, the walk is worth it. Corniglia was one of my favorite villages along the Cinque Terre, and soon you'll see why.

A view from the top of the steps.

First off, there's the view at the top of the stairs. It's a great place to catch your breath, and I took full advantage. Inhale, exhale, enjoy the view. Get ready to move, because the walk to the village is still upwards!

For Sale: Smug, athletic husband who thinks 382 steps are fun :)

It was after noon, and we were starting to get a bit hungry. We didn't really have a plan for lunch, so were pleased to find a small market with fresh fruit to our right once we entered the village. I had been yearning to try some of the wine grapes, so grabbed some and brought them inside to pay. The man inside weighed the grapes and I believe that we paid by the pound. It was an inexpensive snack and a very refreshing one. Be careful though, the grapes have a lot of small seeds in them!

While Corniglia was remarkably similar to the other villages that we had seen along the way, I preferred its atmosphere and general feel. We saw a lot of hikers, and many people who had come to sunbathe along the rocks below. To fully enjoy the Cinque Terre, I think you need to do a lot more than we did, or at least have a plan. We didn't fully enjoy the foods that the villages have to offer, and we sort of breezed through.

I think that Corniglia was perhaps my favorite because it was the village that we spent the most time in. Also, because that is where we ate. Anything with food pretty much seals the deal for me!

We stopped in a small place that resembled somewhat of a bakery, and grabbed some sandwiches. I got salami and cheese on focaccia bread, and J had ham on the same. We got our sandwiches toasted, so they were served warm. I actually think I would have preferred the sandwich much more had it been cold, simply because salami gets a bit greasy when cooked. I can't complain too much about fresh sandwiches in Italy though, right?

My favorite part of the meal, though, were the chips! They were called Groggys, and I grabbed them because the photo on the package looked like a dinosaur. I really love my dinosaurs. In any case, it was a good thing I picked them because these things are delicious. They are light and airy, yet salty and satisfying (mine were flavored with paprika). They were definitely the best part of my meal, and if anyone knows where I can purchase them, do tell!

Once we were done exploring, it was back down the steps to the train station. Let's face it, you couldn't have paid me to walk to the next village, especially since I was told that it was a true upwards hike. If you plan on doing the full hike, come prepared! The 382 steps were much more friendly going down, and the benches at the train station were beckoning me for a nap. By the way, see the bottle of Coca Cola in the photo? It tasted weird. Like super sugary sweet, not refreshing (not that I ever recommend hydrating with soda).

The 4th and almost-last village is Vernazza, and this is the place where my grumpy attitude started to turn around. I think the fact that we got gelato had something to do with it. I got a watermelon gelato, and it was the most refreshing, energizing thing I had ever tasted at the time. It was like an instant spark of energy, a second wind. When ordering gelato, you do it by the scoop. If I remember correctly, the particular gelateria that we went to allowed up to 5 scoops, and each can be a different flavor if you so choose. I choose the aforementioned watermelon, alone with mint chocolate chip (a steady favorite of mine). J had something delicious and coconutty, as well as strawberry. Yes, I'm definitely double-fisting gelato in the photo above, and no, that's not even mine that I'm eating. I had to hold J's so that he could take a picture. I was helping!

Vernazza was definitely the most happening of the villages that we had gone to. There was tons of activity by the water, and they even had somewhat of a little beach! I enjoyed the atmosphere that Vernazza had to offer, and have been told by many that the final village, Monterosso al Mare is the busiest one of all, tourist-wise. I have also learned that the trail between Vernazza and Monterosso is by far the steepest, so unfortunately we did not venture out to do it. I had been fully exhausted from the day.

During the length of our trip, I had insisted that La Spezia was my least favorite port. I complained about the Cinque Terre and just thought about how exhausted it had made me feel. While I still stand by my statement that the stop was my least favorite on the trip, I am so thankful to have experienced it. For every complaint that I have about the Cinque Terre, I have a hundred amazing memories. I have beautiful photos that make people long to visit such a place, and I was in the middle of it all. I am so blessed to have been there, even if it isn't my favorite place in the world. Heck, thinking it over now, I might even want to do it again someday. Who knows? And if you're the opposite of me, which means you aren't lazy and you may even be athletic, you will probably really enjoy it here. It also may help to visit during a time of lower temperatures.

If you' have been to the Cinque Terre, or you'd like to go, tell me all about it! I'd love to hear about the adventures that you have had or hope to have!

Happy Hiking!

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