09 July, 2014

Day 6: Monterroso is the last of the 5 lands

Today we slept late. It seems to be a recurring pattern of early-day / late-day, since the early days seem to have a lot happening, and wear us out. We wandered around Corniglia, and ended up having breakfast at the same place as yesterday again, Caffe Matteo. It's not that it was amazing, but it's familiar, and was a guaranteed decent cup of coffee, which is important. Today, just had croissants, and also this muffin that Allie loved. It was supposedly a chocolate muffin, and I tasted hers, and it was indeed delicious, so I got one of my own, to subsequently discover that it had pockets of Nutella in it, which I do not like. So, Allie ended up getting an extra half muffin out of the deal.

We tried to find Eleonora, to arrange our checkout for the next morning, because it had become apparent that the bus schedule to the train station might not align properly with the train schedule. That would mean we'd need to walk down to the train which, in turn, would mean that our previously agreed upon checkout time of 7:45am would not quite give us enough time to make the train to La Spezia.

It's important, when dealing with multiple connections, to have the entire thing planned out, and to have lots of buffer room between all stages, not just at one stage. I think it is probably my engineering experience that taught me how to handle tolerances and things of this sort. The big difference is that, in engineering, you typically want to only over-engineer to the extent that it's necessary. When it comes to my personal planning, I tend to super-over-engineer the plan, because I have a strong risk aversion. This results in us often having time to spend in train stations. Though, I credit myself a little bit for the fact that we haven't spent 2 hours at a train station yet, so I guess I am not being completely crazy.

Back to Eleonora. We rang her doorbell, and a man answered in Italian, and it is unclear what he said, but the gist of it must have been "Eleonora is not here." This, we deduced by the fact that Eleonora did not appear at the front door. OK. So we would sort things out with her later. We walked back to the apartment, and sure enough, Eleonora was coming down the path from that direction, and told us that she'd heard we were looking for her. So we sorted out the plan, which turned out to be better than we could have expected. She offered to give us a ride down the hill the next morning, so we wouldn't have to take the bus or roll our bags down the 1 mile walk. Very nice surprise.

Before starting our day trip to Monterosso, we did a little laundry. I can't remember if I mentioned this or not, but I pretty much brought 5-7 days of clothes on this month-long trip, first to Germany, and then on to Italy and France. I decided that there was no need to pack for more than that, because I wouldn't possibly want or be able to pack for the entire trip, so better to pack light and plan on washing clothes in the sink. It has worked out well.

We took the steps down to the train station this time... all 382 of them... just so we could have the experience that is described in every tour book. It was not that difficult because these are nicely groomed, shallow steps. I don't think we'd have wanted to go up the steps with our suitcases, though! We got on the train to Monterosso, and arrived not long after. The town looks dramatically different from the rest of Cinque Terre, at first. The arrival is along a long stretch of beach, and the beaches are covered with people sunbathing and swimming in the sea. That is not a sight seen elsewhere. It's probably the one town that is more like Italian Riviera, than rustic village... again, at first. It was super-touristy (at first), and our initial impression was sort of "Ick!" There are some nice old monuments and such, but it gives the impression of being something different.

The better Monterosso is hidden behind this strip of tourist attractions. A village that looks a lot like the rest of Cinque Terre, fairly expansive. We found a number of cute gift shops, and almost bought gifts, but didn't. Not sure why. There's a bit of the combination of "Do we really need to get that?" and "Do we really want to carry that back with us?" Then we looked at the few interesting and beautiful churches in Monterosso. The tourbooks mention these, and it's not surprising, because they are unique and interesting. One of them in particular was very appealing to Allie. It was black and white striped on the outside, and the inside was actually a rather macabre setup with many figures of skeletons and such. It was not your typical Christian-looking church. She had the place to herself, and actually went in twice. Once on the way into town, and again on the way out of town.

We started to wander toward the south end of town, where there were some old ruins-looking things, and we noticed a set of steps that seemed to indicate that it lead to a cemetery. So we decided to ascend them. They went on for a long way, and went up, up, up. The steps were more like a trail, with some rocky steps along the way. We were the only ones on the path, so that was nice. At the top, we did arrive at a cemetery, and it was very beautiful. It was this series of large, above-ground burial chambers, stacked one above the other in rows and columns, almost like you'd find in a morgue, but made of marble and beautiful. They had inscriptions on them, and usually a photograph of the person at some earlier point in their life (based on the photos and the ages of death). We spent a fair bit of time there, even though the sunny parts were scorching hot.

After this time, we made our way back down the other side, not on the same trail, but on the one that was more traveled, though still not overly crowded. I was a bit hungry, so we stopped at a small pizza place. It was our second choice. There was a place that looked really cute, but when we tried to enter, they were just closing for whatever the Italian version is of siesta, since it was around 2pm. So we found this pizza place, and sat outside in the shade. I ordered a pizza that had a white sauce, and some sausage, and onions. Allie had a spicy pepperoni type of pizza. The pizzas were pretty good, but the server was kind of a punk, and not very nice to us. My pizza had a sauce that was kind of wet, and when he was putting the pizza down (served on a large cutting board), the liquid (very hot) splashed on me, and then began running off the pizza, over the edge of the cutting board, and dripping everywhere. He didn't even notice (or care). So it wasn't what I'd call the typical Italian hospitality. But, all things considered, it was not expensive, and the food tasted good. We ate all our leftovers on a subsequent day, if that's any indication.

From there, we wandered some more, back through the church again. We decided to catch the next train back to Corniglia, and were making our way along the seafront. Then, suddenly, the sky opened up into one of those torrential downpours. Fortunately, again, we had our raincoats at the ready. We were just about the only ones who did, which made us feel uniquely Seattle. Hey. It is what it is, right? The rain tapered off pretty quickly.

We made our way back to Corniglia. This time there was a very, very long wait for the bus, in blazing sunshine. We arrived as a bus was arriving. But so did 30 other people, and we were not at the front of the line. The wait was probably close to 30 minutes. We found some shade, but the cost of shade was that we had to listen to an American family with a chubby 12 year old girl, and 10 year old boy, complaining to their parents: "I thought you said we were gonna be able to swim here?" said the girl. Dad replies, "There's no beach here. Just rocks." Girl says "Awwww... but you said we were gonna be able to swim! How do you know there's no beach?" It goes on like this with the complaining. Then, the husband and wife start debating whether it's worth going to Corniglia or not. He says "I think maybe we should skip this town. It's gonna take too much time." The wife did not, in this case, say that she really wanted to see two towns. She asked him why, and he told her that it would be waiting for the bus, then the train, and just a lot of time for this town. He's right, actually. And the kids were not going to enjoy Corniglia, I can tell you that much. They left before the bus came (but missed a train, so they were really awfully inefficient in their planning).

Finally the bus came. We should have just walked, but after investing 15 minutes in waiting, it became one of those "Throw good time after bad" scenarios, where you might as well keep waiting, instead of walking, and having the bus pass you on the way up the hill.

For the rest of the day, if I remember correctly, we wandered around a bit, rested, went to the overlook and took some photos, including some of a cat that was being quite brave on the edge of a wall in front of a cliff. We didn't go out for dinner that night, even though there was a place that I had wanted to try, but I guess we really just weren't that hungry, and had some leftovers we were trying to eradicate, so that we wouldn't need to bring them to the next town. It's good not to waste food, but it is even better not to truck it around from town to town while traveling. So one must budget one's leftovers accordingly.

That was our last night in the Cinque Terre. We packed in the evening so we'd be ready to go early the next morning.

I am glad that we went here, and I am glad that we stayed in Corniglia. It's funny thinking about how great it would be to come back again someday, while simultaneously recognizing that it's unlikely we will. There are many places in the world to visit, and I imagine it will be a long time before we return to one where we've already been. There are some exceptions to that, such as the really attractive universal places, or really easy places. But something small and fairly isolated like Cinque Terre... it may be the one time we see it.

I don't think I would change anything about the visit.

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