So I know there are some of you who are highly interested in what I learned in Reggio Emilia…and others who just care about the hiking. Well, folks, this post is for you. (And, in a nice twist of timing, Carys and I will be hiking in Wales when you read this post. Probably the last trip we’ll do for a while, as I’m not going to be able to carry her for much longer…)
When I was planning this trip in the middle of last winter, it was a toss-up between Cinque Terre and the Engadine Valley in Switzerland. I’m a bit of a sucker for snow-capped mountains and while I wouldn’t have been able to do a hut-to-hut trip alone with Carys, we could have based ourselves in one of the valley towns for a few days and done local day hikes, and then moved on up the valley when we felt like it. Since I did the Haute Route (we’re still not sure if I was pregnant when I hiked or if it happened right after I got back) I’ve become rather enamored with long-distance hikes and while at six miles in total length Cinque Terre pushes this description to its limit I decided to do it anyway. Most people bust out the whole six miles and five villages in a single day, but our plan was to savor it, hiking at the relaxed pace of one village per day. Worked like a charm.
We didn’t have an auspicious beginning to this leg of the trip; we left Reggio Emilia in the early afternoon on a short train ride up to Parma, where we were to connect with another train to La Spezia on the coast. No problem on the first leg, but even though I’d only bought my ticket 30 minutes before we left we wasn’t given any warning that there was a strike going on and two trains to La Spezia had been canceled that day – including ours. We had a rather comical moment as I was trying to navigate an up escalator with Carys on my back while dragging a 60lb duffel bag, when the duffel slipped out of my hands and bounced back down to the bottom of the escalator. It would go up a few steps before it bounced back down again; I couldn’t bend down far enough to pick it up without tipping Carys out so I had to just keep walking down while someone at the bottom dragged the duffel off. We sat around in the station for a couple of hours; we wasn’t able to go anywhere else because (as we’d just learned) the luggage was too much for me to handle over anything but the shortest distance.
We headed to our platform 30 minutes before our train was scheduled to leave to find it only four cars long and absolutely jammed with all of the other people who was supposed to be on the two previously canceled trains. It was standing room only with more people squashing on all the time – five minutes before departure we heard an announcement that we were to move to a different platform (or at least that’s what someone told me the announcement said). We hurried to the new platform, getting briefly stuck in an elevator in the process, and with the help of a nice Kiwi we got on the (much longer) train and actually got seats. We spent the rest of the journey talking with him and he was quite glad to have found some English-speakers. We had been scheduled to arrive in La Spezia in time for dinner but instead we arrived right at bed time; luckily I’d brought lots of bread and coppa (similar to prosciutto but a less fatty cut of meat) as travel food which Carys was quite happy to accept as dinner so the race was on to quickly get to the hotel (selected for its location across the street from the station) and get her into bed.
I set up the tent alongside the bed in the space where it fit best and got her settled, but 10 seconds after I sat on the bed to wait for her to go to sleep I heard a quiet “Boo, Mama.” She was peeking out at me through the mesh at the bottom of the tent. We relocated the tent to the foot of the bed where she couldn’t see me, and she went to sleep with no problem.
The hotel manager nearly had a heart attack the next day when I asked him to store our luggage for a week; it clearly states on their website that they offer luggage storage and no time limit is given, but I guess they aren’t used to most people staying in the area that long. He eventually agreed to do it but there seemed to be a lot of back-and-forth (in Italian, obviously) with another manager about presumptuous Americans.
I had hoped to take the bus to Portovenere that first day, take a look around and then catch a boat up the coast to Riomaggiore – the first of the official five Cinque Terre villages – but the rain was absolutely torrential so we gave up on that plan. It’s possible to hike between the two towns but apparently it takes upwards of five hours, even if you’re not carrying a 50lb pack in torrential rain. So we hopped on the train for a 10 minute ride to Riomaggiore, and our AirBnB owner was nice enough to let us into his place super early so we could get Carys settled for morning nap. Except she declined nap, both in the morning and throughout the day. We braved the rain and went out for lunch (the restaurant naturally refused to provide us with tap water, so we passed on our half-drunk bottle to the next table) and back to the apartment – still no nap. The day wore on and Carys was getting increasingly cranky, as well as snotty – definitely a cold coming on. Finally I ignored her “no nap nap”s and put her down at 5pm; she cried “no nap nap!” and then rolled over and went to sleep. I woke her at 6, concerned that she was going to keep me up all night and she cried for half an hour straight and would not be consoled, so I put her back down and she slept for another 90 minutes. I had to go out and get some food for dinner which totally freaked Alvin out when I called him, but she was still asleep when I got back so I guess she didn’t mind. When she woke up she ate some pasta and we hung out for a bit and she was in bed by 10pm and back on normal schedule the following day.
It’s really not possible for me to hike very far uphill with Carys, the backpack, and 15lbs of gear – we were carrying a single full set of clothing for each of us plus some key extra pieces; five days’ worth of diapers (3 ½ lbs right there!), a minimal amount of toiletries – and not much else. The whole thing probably weighed about 50lbs.
The virtually flat Via dell’Amore between Riomaggiore and Manarola was closed due to rock slides, so we took the shuttle bus up the very steep hill to the Santaurio di Nostra Signora di Montinero (a big church), and had a nice walk along a disused and mostly level road. It would have been great to have Carys get down and walk but unfortunately clouds loomed overhead and we was not prepared for rain, as I couldn’t carry the extra gear. I hoofed it pretty fast (and Carys fell asleep for her nap, snoring like crazy because of her cold) but as we dropped down onto the last stretch of the lower elevation alternate trail that 300 other people was hiking, it became clear that the clouds was sticking to the tops of the hills and wouldn’t bother us after all.
We found our hotel in Manarola and because it was still only noon we was told to come back in two hours, so we explored the town. It was pretty packed with people and Carys kept wanting me to carry her in my arms, which I don’t love doing up and down hills.
We went back to the hotel and I took a rest while Carys destroyed the room (mostly she played with the safe, which was conveniently located at her eye level, and pressed the buttons until it locked with the door open and gave an error message accompanied by much beeping). She enjoyed playing out on the balcony, except when the church bells started ringing – she was alternately fascinated and terrified by them, and in this instance she started wailing and I had to go out and pick her up.
Manarola was the only place we couldn’t find an AirBnB and consequently the only place we didn’t have kitchen access, so we ventured out to what Rick Steves said was the nicest and least touristy restaurant in town, Trattoria dal Billy. We got their earliest reservation at 6pm, and I was hoping for a fairly quick in & out but they ended up taking forever – we must have circled the (luckily empty) restaurant six or more times, with me lifting Carys up to touch the fake fish and the photos of people catching real ones. Eventually our food arrived and she thought it was pretty good (especially the fries); I thought it was fine although I could have done without the liberal drizzling of unnamed sauce (probably mostly oil) that the server put on right before serving. Her patience ran out pretty soon and I had to shovel the last bites down pretty fast – and then paid 47 euros for our meal. They charged us two cover charges at 5 euros each, and 5 euros per 100g of fish, including the parts you don’t eat. What a ripoff.
After dinner we walked down to the promontory that looks back on the town, and discovered a playground on the hill! Carys was very excited and didn’t want to leave as it got close to bedtime. I eventually persuaded her by letting her ride on my “showdows”, which became a theme for the rest of the trip.
The next day we repeated the logistics of the previous one, taking a bus up to Volastra high on the hill and walking the mostly flat and then severely downhill trail to Corniglia. We had the upper parts of the trail pretty much to ourselves, and Carys got to walk for a bit as the trail was protected from drop-offs. Lots of people was coming up the steep part of the trail as we was heading down; most of them seemed very hot and tired and under-prepared. We met our AirBnB host in the town’s main square, and he took us to our apartment. It was a bit of a shame that in an almost entirely pedestrianized town our apartment looked out onto the only road so while Carys was keen to play with the dog figurine just outside the front door, I couldn’t let her be out there by herself.
Corniglia, perched up on its hill, was very windy and we spent the whole day bundled up in our rain jackets (and I wished – not for the first or last time – that I’d brought a sweater with me). The town was pretty full of tourists (although not as bad as the other towns as it isn’t accessible by boat). The narrow streets wandered all over the place and strangely enough for a tiny town I never fully felt as though I got my head around its layout. Riomaggiore hadn’t been too crowded because of the rain (I guess a lot of people had decided to stay put wherever they were), but Manarola had been absolutely swamped. I noticed that the crowds thinned significantly toward the end of the day, so we continued our pattern of resting inside in the middle of the day and venturing out to explore later on. I think Carys must have missed her afternoon nap that day because when we went out for post-prandial explorations she fell asleep in the backpack as I scouted off-trail photo opportunities. It didn’t seem to disturb her evening routine, though – and neither did the chocolate gelato we had for dessert.
Corniglia marks the half-way point of the Cinque Terre hike – I’ll share the memories and photos from the second half in my next post (so you don’t get completely burned out…).