Getting to the Cinque Terre

posted in: Travel | 0
The deserted beach at Monterosso

Before we could visit the Cinque Terre villages on Italy’s coastline we had to get to Italy.

We had to wait on the River Royale for a while before we were taken to the airport, so we checked to see how our EasyJet flight measured up as far as ‘on time’ was concerned. Back in Australia, before we booked the trip, we’d checked for delays, ensuring it usually landed on schedule. It didn’t matter so much arriving in Bordeaux, but coming back to Milan was another story. We had to collect our bags, catch the Malpensa Express, and catch an Intercity train to La Spezia. We’d left ourselves some lee-way – but intercity trains don’t leave every half hour. Even as it was, we’d be arriving in our hotel in La Spezia around 10:30.

Col reported that the EasyJet flight to Milan which had been on time all the time before we booked the trip had been at least ½ hr late for the last 10 days. Despite having taken off on schedule from its previous port (according to flight tracker) the aircraft was expected to arrive late to Bordeaux. If the delay wasn’t too long we could still make it. But if we didn’t… plan B pushed back our arrival by several hours. It would mean kicking our heels at the train station for a time and since we couldn’t hope to arrive before midnight, when the hotel’s reception closed, we would have to make special arrangements.

Fingers and toes crossed, this would all work out.

We knew what we were doing at the check-in this time, and joined the ‘super plus’ queue. Shuffling along in the ordinary queue would have been faster. A man with a disabled wife stood at the counter for a good half hour, and the second counter wasn’t working. Through security we managed to grab a seat in a café area. We were lucky to snare seats before the space filled with people. The delayed flight meant people banked up before getting out to the tarmac. It wasn’t looking good. At this rate, we wouldn’t be in La Spezia until the early hours of tomorrow.

We finally got on the aircraft and took off, hoping all the dominoes fell as they were supposed to in Milan. At the other end, we hurried for the luggage carousel, noting travelators that didn’t work. The baggage carousel was iffy, as well. It stopped three times in the first few minutes. But we managed to grab our bags and catch the Malpensa express with enough time to spare to get across to the Intercity.

We’d booked first class and found the train easily enough. But we were frankly very hungry by 7:05pm, having not eaten since breakfast, so we were looking forward to getting to the dining car, or the sandwich trolley, or something. But this is Italy. The train had NO food or drink facilities and never stopped at a station long enough to even dive off to grab a sandwich from a vending machine. That probably explained why one woman had a takeaway pizza carton in front of her. Lucky her.

We were STARVING when we got to the hotel at around 11pm. We checked in, dropped our bags, and went to find some food. It wasn’t a problem. Lots of places in the main shopping/restaurant district – maybe 300m away – are open at 11:30pm. We ate pizza (bloody good) and drank local white wine. Great stuff.

The room was pretty standard – except for the bathroom. It had been renovated and was very nice – apart from the bijou corner shower. Pete had a lot of trouble squeezing in, which I found hilarious. Also, if you didn’t turn the mixer tap up high, it slowly collapsed and turned off the shower. And if you dropped the soap… I’ll leave you to imagine.

Breakfast was dead ordinary. Cold scrambled horrible eggs, cold bacon and tiny sausages, runny yoghurt in a tub. We asked for a different room, which turned out to be difficult because of the Assumption Day holiday on Wednesday. But it was done. The shower was a bit roomier, although it still wasn’t a good idea to drop the soap.

Next day we reconnoitred, finding out about how to get to the Cinque Terre. We’d walked over to the railway station to find out about tickets for the villages and found ridiculously long queues in front of the two ticket machines and also at the information office where you bought multi-day passes. While Col and Pete organised a load of washing in a local laundromat, Sandy and I went to the port to find out about ferries. There was only one dock and the queue stretched for a long way. We’d need to plan our next move. We decided to come back late in the evening to get our tickets for the train and do the ferry trip another day.

Overnight we were woken by hours of thunder. The morning dawned cooler and overcast. After a very ordinary breakfast we went to the railway station to catch an early train to the villages. The train station was virtually empty. We thought we’d been lucky, avoiding the rush. The attendant at the (empty) tourist bureau wouldn’t sell us day passes. The villages were closed until 3pm due to serious weather from the overnight storms. More rain was expected later in the day and the steep, cobblestoned streets could be very dangerous in wet weather. We went anyway, riding to the most distant village, Monterosso, a twenty-minute trip including stops at the other four villages, and worked back from there, spending an hour or so in each. The villages were pretty much devoid of tourists until about lunch time, when the tour groups arrived with their flag-waving guides. That meant we could get around and get some pics without being crushed to death. I cannot imagine what it would have been like on a ‘normal’ day. We’d been told that cruise ships came into La Spezia every day and disgorged two or three thousand people, all intent on visiting the Cinque Terre. Wednesday was also a huge public holiday so the villages were likely to be absolutely packed, so we decided to do a ferry trip on Thursday.

Overall, each village probably has its own character but all of them are collections of colourful buildings huddled together on steep, rocky slopes, divided by narrow streets. There are lots of passageways, and down at the lower levels the sea is never far away. I imagine the villages were placed where they are for security back in the medieval times. These days, I suspect it’s all about tourism. It’s pretty, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you what happened to us on Assumption Day. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. Meanwhile, here are some more Cinque Terre photos.

Monterosso. Note that motorway at top. This was not long after the disastrous bridge collapse in Genoa which claimed 40 lives
The narrow, winding streets are pretty empty
Plenty of places to eat – today
Manarola (I think)

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