We arrived in Riomaggiore with some vague directions on how to find our hostel. Turn right, walk through a tunnel, walk up a hill, look for a middle-aged balding Italian man wearing outrageous shorts; this could have been anyone. We passed two ladies in the tunnel. One of them was complaining furiously about having to pull her own luggage on the cobblestone street. I briefly considered offering to help her until I heard some of the things she said. At the end of the tunnel the street turned a corner and became a hill with about a 35 degree grade. Joe and I both laughed, we never did see those ladies again.
We found a middle aged balding man wearing bright green mid-thigh shorts with calico cats printed on them sitting outside on a stool and correctly assumed this was the place. He collected our money and then walked us back down the hill to a building overlooking the
Our roommates were two American girls studying French so they could teach English. We met the first girl who seemed normal enough. I definitely thought we would end up hanging out with these girls, until her friend walked in with an expression on her face like she had just seen Sasquatch making love to a panda. Usually when one walks into a room in this manner there is an expectation of an accompanying story explaining the circumstances behind the expression.
“Hi I’m Joe” “I’m James” we both extended hands.
“Oh you don’t want to touch me I’m a biological hazard hahaha”
“I’ve been deathly ill five times since we’ve been in
“She was quarantined for four days in
“Yeah the doctors didn’t know what I had haha. Do you guys speak French?”
“uhhh un peu”
I slowly began to get that feeling you get when you watch a horror movie and the random guy you know is about to die inadvertently walks into the room where the 7 year old girl had been strangled and hung from the ceiling 50 years ago and is now back for revenge. I noticed her expression never changed, after several minutes I came to some conclusions:
- Wild eyed and bewildered was the neutral expression of her face
- this was because she never knew who her next victims would be
- the door was nearby and we should probably make use of it
We grabbed a bottle of wine on our way out.
We walked down to the rock beach (there was no sand here) and waded out into the water; after swimming around for a minute I turned to Joe;
“Swim in the
I don’t actually have a list, but as soon as I said this I decided it would be a good idea to make one (I still haven’t made one).
We finished swimming and walked up the trail a ways until we found some good rocks to scramble across. We perched on top of some rocks jutting about 20 feet out of the sea opened up our bottle of wine and commenced to watch the sun set. At one point Joe got caught up in the spirit of the moment; with bottle in hand he stood up and gregariously belted out the chorus of ‘That’s Amore.’
We returned to our room and discovered two more girls had checked in next door. These girls turned out to be much cooler; they invited us to join them at a restaurant near our hostel. The restaurant we ate at was fantastic; the bruschetta exquisite; the wine excellent and hands down the best tiramisu I’ve ever had. I was so happy I broke one of the wine glasses in celebration of the excellent food, at least that’s what I tried to tell the waiter as he was cleaning up the mess. After dinner we found another nice rock over the Mediterranean. Joe and I smoked pipes; the girls enjoyed the smell. We made plans to walk the Cinque Terre trail the following day.
The following morning we paid our 5 euro fee and started out with the two girls on the via del’amore which connected Riomaggiore from the second village. I was slightly shocked at the number of people on the trail and slightly embarrassed that many of them were fat Americans. We walked for about half a mile on a flat trail before we started seeing people stopped along the side gripping their love handles and breathing heavily.
“(gasp) hold on Fred (wheeze) I think I’m having a coronary.”
Despite the number of people on the trail the view was fantastic. The
We had several goals tentatively set for the day
- Complete the 6 mile walk through all the cities
- Find a good cliff to jump into the
- Take shots of grappa in each city (This was not a great idea)
We arrived at the second town, walked through the streets for a bit and took our first shot of grappa. In case you are wondering grappa is basically grape brandy from
The second stretch of trail was very similar to the first; generally flat with a gorgeous view. There were fewer people here, the majority of the masses were either still at the first town trying to summon up the courage to walk another three quarters of a mile or succumbed to the American stereotype and given up entirely. As we neared the next town we started seeing what I could best describe as Italian hippies selling bracelets, necklaces and other such brick-a-brack. I bought a necklace for 10 euro and for as much as I wear it 10 euro was a steal. I definitely recommend that hippie to anyone who happens to walk by him in
The third city along the trail; Corniglia, was probably my favorite of the five. It sits high up on a cliff overlooking the sea. The final test for the American tourist as they approached the town from the trail was a switchback staircase that rose up from the edge of the sea to the town about a hundred feet up. A loose cloud of obscenities hovers at it’s base; fed constantly by a stream of curses from disgruntled tourists. The bones from failed assents litter the path. We pushed through the cloud of obscenities and bounded up the steps. Half way up we passed two individuals who had given up all hope.
“(gasp, wheeze) Haven’t these people ever heard of an elevator?”
As I said Corniglia was probably my favorite town in Cinque Terre I think because it embodied everything I imagined a small Italian hideaway should be. The streets were narrow, probably well established before the invention of automobiles. The shops were all small and quaint. We walked through them, examined their wares, took a shot of grappa and continued on. In the center of one of the squares we found the absolute creepiest statue ever of a young naked boy cast in bronze. I don’t know if it was because no one had ever cleaned the statue or what but the little naked green kid’s eyes were black and there were black tears running down his face like something out of a horror movie. I kept expecting him to look down and deliver some creepy one word epitaph;
Later on in the day it would occur to us,
“The guy from our hostel!”
From Corniglia only the most intrepid explorers continue on foot as the distance to the next town was something like 2 miles, a seemingly insurmountable distance to most of the people we saw walking the trail. We passed through the olive fields spread across the hillside in blissful silence. The view continued to be excellent.
I don’t remember the name of the fourth town; I don’t think anything significant occurred there, save another unfortunate shot of grappa.
As the day drew to a close and we neared our final destination my search for a suitable cliff jumping location became almost frantic. Early on in the day I had passed on several possibilities thinking we would find something better later on, only we didn’t. I mentally kicked myself in the butt for squandering the halcyon hours of our day. We rounded a corner and saw the beach (this city had sand), we crossed over a small bridge situated about 50 feet above the water and I did a double take.
“Joe how deep do you think the water is here?”
“I don’t know, it’s hard to tell”
The bridge filled a gap in the cliff face; it wasn’t very wide, but from the middle of the bridge I was looking straight down on clear blue
“Is there a way to get down there to check?”
“Probably at the beach up ahead, but that’d be a long swim back.”
With reckless abandon I leapt over the edge, plunging fifty feet before hitting water and then rock. My legs shattered. I struggled to the surface to warn Joe not to follow me in this foolish endeavor, but an angry Italian merman pulled me out to sea and fed me to his sea turtles.
“There’s got to be a way to climb down.” I said after the aforementioned scenario played out in my head.
A little further up the path we found what we were looking for. After climbing down to water level I got in and immediately began swimming back along the cliff face to our proposed jump site. I dove down and realized I couldn’t touch the bottom; golden. Joe still hadn’t reached me so I climbed up the rock face about 30 feet to do a test jump. The climb was sketchier than it looked.
“Joe, I’m jumping”
With reckless abandon I leapt from the edge; plunging into the water before bobbing back to the surface.
“How was it?” Joe asked
“On a scale of 1 to 10 I’d give it an awesome.”
When Joe jumped off he cut his foot on the rock. I made fun of him for having weak genes, but then I cut my foot on my next jump and the irony occurred to me. One of the girls jumped too after standing on the edge of the cliff for like 5 minutes. The sun was getting low and we decided we wouldn’t have time to go back up to the bridge to try the ultimate jump; plus from down low the bridge did look really high…
We boarded the train for Riomaggiore and slid into our seats like jellyfish. The six miles, the swimming and the grappa had taken it’s toll, but we could finally just relax. At least until the conductor came up and discovered one of the girls had forgotten to validate her ticket. He took one look at her ticket and you could see his eyes begin to twitch, his lips curled and his hands shook as he held up the ticket and said in a thick accent
This was the extent of his English, but judging from his facial expressions and body posture I gathered that to an Italian not validating your ticket is roughly equivalent to punching an old man in the face and peeing on his dog.
The girl tried to explain that she had only forgotten, but the conductor just got angrier.
He began scribbling on his paper. Joe and I looked at each other and exchanged helpless glances. The girl looked like she was about to cry. The conductor finished his scribbling and threw the paper down in front of the girl. At the end of some Italian was a number with a Euro sign next to it. She handed over a bill; he pocketed it and left I’m pretty sure he used it to buy a bottle of
If memory serves me correctly (and it is a little foggy) that night the four of us drank five bottles of wine.
The following day we returned to Corniglia by train (and with validated tickets). The previous day we spotted a little secluded wine bar tucked away in the hillside; a place we deemed had enormous potential of being spectacular. We arrived in the early afternoon and were warmly greeted by an older Italian gentleman who spoke excellent English in a strong Italian accent. His tables were all covered by a network of vines growing over wire framing an unbelievably gorgeous view of the
“I’m in love with him” said one of the girls.
“I was about to say the same thing” said the other.
“Me too” I said, I kind of felt left out.
We stayed all afternoon.
Early on when the man saw we planned on staying and sampling many of his excellent wines he went into greater detail on how he hand selects all his wines from local growers. You could see the excitement in his face as he talked about his wines until he would suddenly pull a bottle of the shelf and say ‘you have to try this.’ I decided that Shangri La does exist, and it’s located in a little town in
The sun was beginning its descent into the sea when we finally left.
We said our goodbyes to the two girls that night and turned in early; the following morning we woke up before the crack of dawn to catch a redeye train bound for