I’ve been up since 5:30 am…and I can’t get back to sleep. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that my body is still operating like i’m living 7 hours in the future. I’ve never really had an issue with jet lag. Usually, I need one good solid night of sleep and i’m good. But my sleep pattern has been completely off since returning from my European adventure a week ago.
Yes…one week ago today I was boarding a plane out of Keflavic, Iceland to make my way back to the states; first NYC then St. Louis, to rejoin my Lion King cast. The 12 hour layover in Iceland (a place that i’ll definitely have to return to) was my last before returning to the states. Over 5 weeks, I experienced 5 countries (not bad…my passport is happy!). Italy, Turkey, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Iceland. A whirlwind, especially since 3 of those countries were experienced in just 2 days. I look back at my pictures and i’m truly amazed at what I see. I wonder, did I actually do this? Yes! Yes, I did! I saw devastatingly, breathtakingly beautiful places; both natural and manmade. Lake Zurich, The Princess Islands, Capri, Amalfi, and Positano, The Pantheon, The Vatican, The Hagia Sophia, volcanic rock in Iceland and the canals of Amsterdam. And Cinque Terre…
“The Five Hills” of the Italian Riviera. Five small villages connected by nothing but rugged walking paths, trains and boats. The villages along with the coast line and all the hills that surround are a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Sight. Basically, that means that while you’re hiking the 7 miles between towns, up and down rugged stairs, through terraces covered by lemons and vineyards and taking time to stop and look back and down at the devastating beauty of the Mediterranean coastline, you don’t have a bunch of touristy shop owners trying to sell you postcards, shot glasses, or magnets. Thank goodness!
For 7 miles and about 10 hours (that’s how long it took me to hike from Monterrosso to Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, stop and explore each town and take two beach breaks) it was just me and God and rugged path as well as the other hikers I encountered along the way.
My journey began at 5:30am in Florence. I took the train from Florence through the hills of Tuscany to the coast, arrived in Monterrosso at about 8:30am, and started walking. I knew I had a long day ahead of me, so I tried not to get caught up in the beauty of the beach, the waves crashing against the cliffs and the crystal clear turquoise of the water as I climbed up, up, up to the start of the path, but I must admit, I think I turned around and stared and probably took the same picture more than a dozen times. It’s just. that. gorgeous.
Anyway the first hike from Monterrosso to Vernazza took close to two hours. With over 500 “steps” up, it’s the hardest terrain of the entire 5-town hike, so wanted to get it done first. Those 500 “steps” were pretty tough at times, winding around corners and very narrow at times, but the lemon groves, olive trees, and vineyards that I passed on the way up were totally worth it. And the view! Breathtaking!! When climbing, walking, riding up the side of a cliff, always look back and down. You may be sweating and breathing a bit hard, but the view is always worth it.
So I made it up the 500 rugged “steps” and down to Vernazza where I took a little break to walk around the town, have a little snack, and replenish my water. The town was typical of any tiny Italian town perched on the edged of the sea; shops and eateries catering to the locals and tourists, a small beach, colorful houses climbing up the side of the the hills, narrow walkways between homes with laundry hung to dry, children playing, conversations over cigarettes and wine, and the like. After a short time walking through the town and moment to admire the waves crashing against the shore of the beach (closed for the strength of those waves), I got back on the path, up the side of the hills, and continued my trek.
And the rest of the day continued that way. Making my way through the hills and down into each town, save for Corniglia which sits on a bit of a plateau high above the water; the only thing “down” is a long flight of stairs where I spent quality time sunning myself. Strolling through the shops and eateries and admiring God’s handiwork on this “Italian Riviera” definitely took a significant amount of time. The hiking trail (the Blue Trail) from Corniglia to Manarola was closed to hikers because of a land slide due to heavy rains in 2011. My only two options were to take a 2 hour detour further up into the hills using the “Cinque Terre High Trail” or take the train that rain between each town. At that point, I chose the train!
Once I arrived in Manarola, the 4th of the 5 towns from north to south, I was able to stop and have a full meal. The trail between Manarola and Riomaggiore is the easiest to maneuver with paved sidewalks, so I knew it would take very little time to walk. At that point, a meal of linguini, lobster tail, and a glass of the local red wine was calling my name. I answered and got back on the trail, the Via dell’Amore, to Riomaggiore where I knew there was dessert and a beach waiting for me before I returned to Florence.
Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane) is, in my opinion, meant to be the last town encountered on the hike. For one thing, it’s the easiest stretch, covered at some points by an overhang protecting hikers from the hot sun, dotted with benches to sit and rest and features two “I was here” points. The first is a short fence where visitor have left locks, ribbons, and notes on small pieces of paper. The other is a wall full of handwritten tags. People have written their names, notes to their hiking companions, and general declarations about their experience on the hike and the sense of accomplishment they feel upon completion of the hike. And, of course, I had to add my own “I was here” to the mix!
Finally, I made my way into the last town, Riomaggiore and took time to stroll, take pictures, purchase a bottle of local sweet wine to be consumed at a later date and then reward myself with, my favorite, chocolate cake and a cool drink. By this time it was early evening and the sun had long ago started its descent to meet the sea. So I sat on the balcony of a restaurant overlooking the water, enjoyed my treat and my accomplishment…and then I made my way down to the rocks for the last dip of the day before catching the last train back to Florence.
5Terre…an entire day of climbing, descending, strolling, sweating and enjoying God’s breathtaking creation. I can’t wait to do it again!