Our fourth day took us to Vernazza, with a not-too-steep hike up to the vineyards (helped by the fact that Corniglia is above sea level) and then through the terraces for quite a long way. There was a tiny village half way that had fabulous views; it would have been pretty cool to spend a night there if I’d known about it. We stopped for a copa break (Carys’ new favorite snack, closely followed by salami) outside a not-yet-open restaurant – our early hikes kept us away from the masses, but also meant that we missed some of the on-trail facilities that was open later.
Vernazza was my favorite of the Cinque Terre towns – the buildings was a little beaten up if you looked closely (the town was heavily impacted by flooding several years ago) but the overall impression was lovely. There was great viewpoints looking into the town from both the entering and exiting trails, and the old tower on the point made for a unique view. We arrived mid-morning and spent an enjoyable hour buying supplies at the market and in the local stores, heading to our AirBnB meeting point at noon, the appointed hour. I texted our host to be sure he was going to be on time, but it seemed as though he took my text as a signal to leave his house in Levanto as he didn’t arrive until close to 1pm. By then Carys was pretty exhausted and cranky (and so was I); he walked us to our apartment which was close to the train line but thankfully didn’t suffer too much from train noise. I cooked our lunch while the host was still marveling that we was traveling alone (“you” (points to me) “and you” (points to Carys) “and finish?” (shakes head…)). Sadly the sausages from the market was ridiculously over-salted (a theme with Italian food, I found) but Carys enjoyed them anyway and was soon ready for a long nap on the kitchen floor (in her tent). I took a nap myself as I was surprised at how much energy the hikes took out of me, since we was only out for a couple of hours each day – I guess it must have been the 50lb pack weight.
In the late afternoon we climbed up to the top of the tower (with Carys on my shoulders most of the way); Carys pointed out the church (“bells come from”) but was mostly intrigued by some teenaged boys who was attempting to carry each other on their shoulders. She spotted a playground across town which I’d actually attempted to locate, with no success. We went into the church, as she’d become fascinated by them – she understood what I meant when I said “shhhhh!” because she would then say “people nap nap” – but she would always say it in a really loud voice.
The apartment had a very strange washing machine which I attempted to use; it was a top loader but had a basket that rotated on the side axis not the bottom/top axis. I couldn’t get it to run a cycle that would drain until I ran just the spin cycle, and when the clothes came out they were still sopping and slightly dirty. There was a heated towel rail, though, so everything was dry by the morning.
Our last day, from Vernazza to Monterosso, was the hardest one we hiked (others would have been harder if we’d actually hiked the uphills), but overall it wasn’t too bad. The people coming up from Monterosso seemed once again very hot and much more tired than us; there was certainly a lot of steps at that end of the hike. We stopped at a little viewpoint and were rewarded with the sun shining on a little spot on the ocean just south of Vernazza; we stood there for 10 minutes or so (with Carys saying “go go go!” at regular intervals) and eventually the clouds did shift so the town itself was illuminated – a pretty cool sight. We got to a short paved stretch of trail and I thought we were close to being done so I took Carys out of the pack, and when I realized we still had a number of steps to go she was not at all in love with the idea of going back in the pack. Once we got to the actual end of the trail she walked once more, and enjoyed looking through the drainage holes at the waves.
Right as we entered the town we found a big playground under the train tracks and around the corner from a church – so many of her favorite things in such close proximity! Every time a train came through, or the church bells rang, she would break away from whatever she was doing, seek me out, and say “choo choo!” or “bells” while clenching her whole body with a huge smile on her face.
Our apartment was one of a pair in the same building; the lady first showed us to one room and I said “where’s the kitchen?” and she said “Oh, you need the other apartment!” so we went across the hall to the other one and I said “where’s the kitchen?” and then I opened the closet and found it. We was getting pretty tired of ravioli by then and the co-op’s grocery selection was a little limited, so I got some frozen fish and potatoes and peas, and a pack of four hot dogs for Carys. She devoured all four hot dogs about three minutes and then said “more hot!”. I tried to get her to eat fish or peas but all she wanted was “more hot!”. So we went back to the grocery store and got another pack, and she proceeded to eat three more, and then the fourth for breakfast the next day. Since the park was so close to our apartment we went back down after dinner and Carys had some more fun wandering around, watching people, and handing leaves to random men just outside the park.
The weather had been pretty consistent all week; mostly clear along the coast with clouds hugging the hilltops, and quite windy – the next day was no exception. This meant that the boats was still not running so we took the train back to La Spezia and the bus to Portovenere, the town we missed due to rain on our first day. Carys hit her head on the side of the seat (not too hard, but hard enough that she cried) toward the end of the bus ride and an old man sitting opposite us offered her an enormous orange to keep her quiet. When we got to town we wandered along the waterfront and I was a little surprised by the different character of this town – the houses are all arranged like a fortress and I didn’t even realize there was a second street of shops running right behind it until we went to meet our host. Our apartment was on that second street; it was advertised as a one bedroom but really it was a studio with an elevated bed. Carys went up the steps and onto the bed but as she tried to come down she thought there was a step right underneath her feet when actually there wasn’t and she almost took a tumble. I caught her, but it scared her and she didn’t attempt to climb up again.
We weren’t very organized that afternoon and I think we climbed the narrow steps to our third floor apartment four or five times, to the amusement of the man running the shop next to our doorway. I kept forgetting hats and sunscreen and we went to the supermarket (closed) and the information center to get bus tickets and find out how to get to the castle (also closed).
While Carys was entranced by the church that we passed and wanted to spend all day there we did eventually make it up to the castle which she didn’t like so much at first until she found the little lookouts at the corners, each of which she called “tiny house,” and she enjoyed picking up the dust and gravel on the floor and throwing it up in the air.
After dinner we took another wander out to the regional park at the tip of the peninsula on which the town sits (which was more of a paved area with a church at the end than a “park”). The church had some lovely archways looking out at the view along the coast but sadly there was two girls installed in one of them who looked like they could be there for hours, so we headed back home.
The next day we returned to Florence via train, with rather less trouble this time although it had little rooms within the carriages and we couldn’t find one with open seats. I think it’s possible we was actually on the wrong train and should have had a seat reservation if we were supposed to be on that train but the ticket agent let us go anyway. We ended up getting a “room” with a couple from Southern California who were on their way home from their honeymoon; they were quite happy to meet Carys and consider the idea that travel doesn’t have to stop after a child arrives…
Earlier in the day the weather was forecast to be fine until nighttime but I guess the storm moved through faster than anticipated because by mid-afternoon (our exploring time!) it was absolutely chucking it down. I had Carys’ full rain gear again now (we’d left it in La Spezia while we was hiking) so we got dressed up and went out anyway. I didn’t realize that the Boboli Gardens is a pay-for-entry park and was rather shocked at the 10 euro fee to get in. And we didn’t even get very far – I was hoping to see an overlook of the city but Carys got sidetracked by the rain pouring off a roof and by the gravel on the paths, so we barely saw anything at all. She had a good time, though.
With three legs and two connections our return flight was the hardest we’ve ever done. Six hours into the Frankfurt to Seattle leg the woman in front of Carys turned to me, furious, and asked me to “control” Carys, who had been standing in the foot well for some of the flight and I guess was pressing up against the woman’s seat, which I didn’t realize. I asked her why she didn’t say anything earlier and she said “My husband said “Please!” to your daughter, twice!” – I guess she hasn’t been around many two year-olds. I spent most of the rest of the flight re-reading the same eight books to Carys over and over again, or standing with her in the aisle. We were lucky enough to get a row to ourselves on an otherwise-full flight from Seattle to SFO and she FINALLY took a nap – she was so tired that when we got off the plane a flight attendant held her while I got organized, she handed Carys back to me so she could go in the front pack, and we got half way through the airport before she woke up. Daddy was, as usual, very glad to see her– and Carys was rather happier to see him than she had been on our return from previous trips as well!
Do you want to understand how your child’s brain is developing?
If there's just no way you can get to all the reading on your child's development that you want to do, check out my free four-page summary of Your Child’s Growing Mind by Jane M. Healy, Ph.D.