Cinque Terre

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Wow, what an experience.  The Cinque Terre, pronounced Chinkwa Tear (like tear paper, not cry a tear), means “five lands.”  It consists of five tiny medieval villages that date back to about the 1200’s.  Before 1950, the only way to get to them was by boat.  Each one was (and still is) linked together by cliff-side paths that are popular with hikers today.

In the 1980’s, these tiny fishing villages were discovered by tourists and their popularity exploded.  To protect them and maintain their old world charm, they were included under UNESCO’s umbrella.  Today, they exist much as they did in the middle ages.

Between the five villages, there are about 5000 inhabitants.  In the smallest, there are only 250 people.  They are all built vertically on the cliff face so they were a challenge.  What goes down must go up!  Only one of the villages didn’t have a “beach.”  I use that term loosely and you’ll see why in the pictures.  That village was built on the top of a cliff and has shear drops to the sea.  I should also mention that the water here is a brilliant blue color.  It was a little hazy, so not all the pictures capture the true color, but a few do, thankfully!

So, let’s get to it.

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The drive to the coast from Florence was about 2 hours so we stopped at a rest area.  It was just like a rest stop in the US except I had to laugh at the scrum around the espresso bar.  This spot was more popular than the bathrooms!

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This is a good view of the terracing that is all over the hilly areas of Italy, especially the Amalfi Coast, Capri, and the Cinque Terre.

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We went to 4 of the 5 Cinque Terre villages.  I’m not even going to try and keep them straight, but I’m pretty sure this is Manarola. While they were all the same in the sense that they are very old villages built into cliffs, they are also very different.

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They are still fishing villages, but they’re also famous for their wine.  Grape vines were everywhere and they’re in the midst of harvesting now

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Here are a couple shots of what the main streets look like.  It’s hard to appreciate how steep they are from the photos.  As you can see, they are full of tourists and there were many Italians visiting since it was a Saturday.

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This is a little square in the midst of the village.  Up on the hillside, you can see the permanent nativity they have on display.  The second picture is a close-up.  At night, it is always lit up.

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More of the streets.  I thought it was interesting that they drag their boats up the street and store them outside their doors.

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Here is a view of the “beach” at the foot of the village.  There really isn’t any beach to speak of, but lots of rocky spots.

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But if you look closely, there are people all over the rocks soaking up the sun.  In the top picture here, there’s a handrail to assist swimmers.  In the second picture, you can see the walkway along the cliff.  It leads all the way to the next village (or it did before a landslide a couple years ago).  We walked along the walkway all the way to the point and that’s where the next several photos came from.

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Here are some views of the village from that path.

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In this picture, you can see the color of the water.  It was brilliant blue.

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From the point, you could see the village on your left, but the top pictures are the view to the right.  One is a wide shot, the other zoomed in.  Its the village of Corniglia, the only one of the five villages that doesn’t have a beach–its the one built on top of the cliff.

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Lorenzo, our tour guide, taking us down to the boat dock for a ride to our next stop.  Since Corniglia doesn’t have a dock, we had to skip it and go to the next village down the line.  Once we got in the car again, we doubled back to Corniglia.  Pictures to come!

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Another picture that begins to accurately show the color of the sea.DSC01183

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Our next stop, the village of Vernazzo.  You can see all the people enjoying the sun on the rocky shore.

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There were lots of sunbathers and some of the kids were fishing.

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A couple views of the harbor.

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This is the outdoor restaurant where we had lunch.  It was so colorful and vibrant.  I think it would be impossible not to be cheerful here.  At lunch we were joined by some of our fellow tourists, another recovering attorney from Manhattan, and three lovely young ladies from Michigan.

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I have no idea what Bob ordered, or what it actually was, but he loved it.  Here are the before and after shots.  I stuck with the ravioli alla scampi, which I thought would be pretty safe.  And it was, except the shrimp were whole– as in heads, antennae, claws, everything.  I’ve pulled a lobster apart before, but a shrimp is tiny by comparison (even though these shrimp were probably 6 to 8 inches long).  I’m afraid all I attempted was the tail.

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More of the sunbathers on the rocks.

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Some of the streets of Vernazzo.

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This cracked me up.  These two ladies were enjoying a glass of wine outside the clothing store.  Every few minutes, their friend came out in a new outfit and they happy analyzed it for her.  What a way to shop.

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The steps up to someone’s front door.

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Here we are back in Corniglia.  This is the smallest of the villages with only about 250 permanent inhabitants.

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Up the little street you saw above is this tiny square.  You can see how these pictures fit together if you look at the church in the background.

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A look at another front door.  It was a few steps down from the main street, which you can see in the picture below.

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It was narrow and charming.

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Another front door.  They were really charming.

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At the end of the road we found this terrace with wonderful views. Here’s a view off to the left, back towards the first village we visited.

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Here’s a look straight down.  Again, the beautiful blue water.

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This is the view off to the right, towards the second village we visited.

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We all thought this doorway would make a good spot for prom or wedding photos.  The little passage under the stairs is the continuation of the road.

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Gelato!  We had to step down several steps inside the shop.  It was good, but not as good as the stuff we found in Florence.  By the way, I had no idea the English and Italian words for the City of Florence were so different.  English: Florence.  Italian: Firenze.

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The final village we visited was Riomaggiore.  It was, by far, the steepest of the villages.  We parked at the top and walked all the way down, then heaved ourselves all the way back up.  You can see a little of the slope in the first photo.

The last photo is my favorite.  You can see the dog on the beach.  As we stood there admiring the view, he ran down the dock beside us, scampered down the stairs, and frolicked on the beach.  He had clearly done this before. He was dancing in the waves, barking, having a really great time . . . until his owner showed up.  She was ticked!  Apparently he had slipped his leash and she had to chase him all the way down.  He didn’t give up easily, she had to literally muscle him out to of the water and drag him up the stairs.  Both were drenched, of course.  The joys of dog ownership!!  I still miss Mel. : )

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A couple of shots in the dock area.

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Yummy, looks a lot like Bob’s lunch.  I’m sorry the photo quality I had to use isn’t good enough to see the little fish eyes looking at you, but they’re there!

Okay, now for the nitty-gritty.  Sanitation is an interesting subject in these very old little villages.  Why they don’t choose to install real toilets, I’ll never know.  It couldn’t be that hard!  But no, they apparently prefer something called a “Turkish toilet” which is really nothing more than a whole in the floor.  I walked in, saw the deal, and decided I could hold it.  The poor ladies from Michigan made another choice, however.  Thankfully they were all wearing thongs (on their feet!) so the misfires were easily cleaned up!

I talked to Abby about it last night and she said they’re common in Spain, too.  I asked her how to use it properly because the likelihood of disaster seems high. Rather than getting into the details, she sent me to youtube.  If you’re curious, here’s one of the videos I found and I agree with all the advice, even though the video refers to conditions in Asia, not Europe.  Another word of advice, this is one time where wearing a skirt has a big advantage.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7KBbjtan9Q

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This is a view of La Spezia.  It isn’t one of the Cinque Terre villages, but it is the city they’re linked to via the new road that was built in the 1950s.  La Spezia is a ship building port and was almost completely destroyed in WWII, so most of the buildings are much more modern than in the rest of Italy.

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Curious what Italians grab when they want a snack?  Here’s a display we found at the rest stop on the way home.

Once we got back to Florence, we were beyond exhausted.  We found a little pizzeria near our hotel and I tried the local specialty: bread soup.  It was really, really good.  I can see why it’s popular, especially in the winter.  It’s thick, hearty, hot and savory.  Perfect comfort food.

While we were eating, another couple were seated at the table next to us and we discovered they are from Calgary.  After a little more chatting, we found she was another recovering attorney who’d turned to writing anything other than legal documents for a living.  She’s even published a romance novel and is a member of RWA.  I felt like I’d met a long lost sorority sister!  We’re hoping to catch up at next year’s national convention : )

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