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June 30, 2014

Our coffee shop by the passenger tunnel to the train station was closed this morning, so we had to try another place down Main Street closer to the harbor. They made crepes.  Heidi ordered a Nutella crepe and I tried a mozzarella asparagus one.  For me, it was nothing to write home about, but it was breakfast (the most important meal of the day :-)). Heidi’s looked rather tasty!

We finally confirmed that the entire coastal path was closed except the section that we hiked yesterday and that section was the hardest part!  If we chose to take any other paths, we’d have to climb to the top of the mountain. The 1km hike to Riomaggiore from Manarola was estimated to take 1.5 hours!?!  I’m still trying to wrap my head around that calculation, though last night when we started walking up the 200 plus stairs, it was slow going.  Therefore, train rides were in our future.

Of course, without knowing the schedule we arrived at the station with 30 minutes to spare, so we asked the station attendant the best way to purchase tickets. A pass to get on and off the train anywhere in Cinque Terre lasted 6 hours, otherwise individual ticket purchases were required.  Each ticket had to be validated at the entry station, otherwise a 50 euro fine was possible.

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Our original plan was to visit Riomaggiore and then turn the other direction, passing Manarola to Corniglia before finally ending the day on a sunset boat ride in Levanto.  This was going to take more than six hours, so we purchased individual tickets. While we were waiting for the train, we strolled along the only street in Manarola.  The main street of Manarola, lined with boats instead of cars as they are not allowed, came to life at 10am…all six to eight shops opened! Heidi found a lovely painting for her apartment in Chicago.

This time, with the train schedule in hand and the ability to read it, we embarked on our three minute train ride which was uneventful except for the fact the regional trains aren’t terribly timely.

Starting out with the most negative thought first, Riomaggiore was my least favorite town in Cinque Terre. The colors of the buildings weren’t quite as bright…most were in need of a paint job.  It was smaller than Monterosso, but larger than Vernazza.  Of course, it offered the token church and castle/fortress/palace/tower to visit.  I may have simply just had my fill of these types of buildings, though we made the trek up the hill to see each.  The information signs were in Italian so it made the clock tower and crosses less interesting since we didn’t understand any of it.

The marina was nice and full of people. After we watched the waves crash over the rock barrier, we browsed the shops.  Most the shops carry the same items, risotto, olive oil, limoncello, wine, ceramic tiles, beach bags and jewelry.  A few had cute clothes, and I found a lovely dress for 35 euros!

After searching in vain for A Pie di Ma, a must see restaurant according to a blog post I read, we ended up at La Lanterna.  Heidi had spaghetti with clams, and I had fried shellfish which included anchovies.  I can’t say this satisfied my taste buds too much.  Perhaps my tongue was having an off day, though I think the way to go is pasta…each of those dishes has been fantastic.

After lunch, we ventured back through the tunnel to the train station, where we found the next train wasn’t departing for 45 minutes. We forgot to consult our schedule and just missed the previous train.  If our final destination weren’t Corniglia, we could have left a little sooner, but regardless we had time to visit the vendors by the station. It was Heidi’s turn to buy a dress.

As we waited on the train and watched the birds line the roof tops, we spotted a restaurant perched on the cliff jutting into the sea.  That had to be A Pie di Ma on the other side of the train station from town. Next time!

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We eventually made it to Corniglia where we prepared to tackle the 365 steps up to the village from the station.  It is the only village that is not seaside, and climbing the stairs is the only way to get there from the train!  Heidi had a grand idea to count the days of each month and take a picture of our “birthday step”.  My April 14th birthday earned a bench on a landing.  Heidi’s August 17th birthday step earned a nice view of Manarola as we were 2/3rds of the way up.  We were pleased to find that the San Diego couple we met a few hours ago were correct regarding the difficulty level.  The steps were low and the grade was flat as the staircase switched back and forth up the mountain.  The couple had planned to hike to all five towns today, 11km.  While it doesn’t sound like much, given all the coastal paths were closed and mountain climbing was necessary, we wished them luck, especially when the gentleman claimed he’d do it four hours.  Wishful…there are way too many people to succeed at that!

I just absolutely loved Corniglia and its historic charm.  I don’t suppose I need to mention the church and the tower by now.  We did, however, enjoy walking down the narrow, stone sidewalk lined with shops, bars and restaurants that led to a beautiful panoramic view of the sea coast with Manarola to the East and Monterosso to the West.  We also found a soccer “field” which was cement with painted lines and nets hanging to keep the ball from going over the cliff or down the stairs.

We decided after all of our stair climbing, that we deserved gelato.  Two gelaterias stood right next to each other.  This has been a game for me…to see how many gelaterias I could find in each town.  Vernazza won with three in about 600 yards of each other.  The other places were home to two though I didn’t look that hard in Monterosso (there were probably more) given the size of the town.  Riomaggiore challenged me the most in my “I spy” game…I almost had to leave having only found one, but I spotted a second shop near the train station.  While we didn’t eat gelato in every town, I liked the caffe gelato at the gelateria closest to the train station in Manarola the best.

At 4:19, we hopped the sardine packed train back to Manarola, as our sunset cruise was canceled.  It was just as well, as we have had very busy days.  With one stop on the train and the hike up to our “penthouse”, I was relaxing in the cool breeze on our balcony, a necessity without air conditioning, by 5 pm.  Heidi decided to browse a bit more at the stores.  As I was staring down at the street at least eight stories below, all I could think was I didn’t want to walk down for dinner in three hours, so I texted Heidi (they seem to work within the Italian network, but not so great from America), “How about pasta and fruit salad?”  She bought the goods, and I cooked.  I suppose, never say never, as we were eager to use the kitchen we never intended to use!  We ate on the patio while we watched the World Cup on her phone as the sun set over the mountain.  It was a perfect final evening in Cinque Terre!!  Even the seagull tried to get in on the action.

My favorite places in Cinque Terre were Corniglia and Manorola, though they may be a bit quaint for some especially if staying more than three nights.  I found them far less crowded than Monterosso, Riomaggiore, and Vernazza, though Vernazza had a charm to it despite all the floods the last few years.  I’m not sure how I’ll handle bustling Rome tomorrow, but I am looking forward to seeing all the historic sites!  ETB

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