Sunday, October 18, 2015

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

We chose to stay in Vernazza because it had the best deal and was centrally located. We could hike to two towns and easily take the train to the others. It turned out to be a great choice other than the fact that our room was 62 steep steps up from the street. We were able to move down 18 steps after two days, but that still leaves 44 steps each time we ventured up to our room. Still the room included breakfast and a 10% discount on the excellent dinners we had at the restaurant. We enjoyed eating freshly-caught anchovies cooked in a variety of ways and some of the best pesto made here in the region of its origin. Moreover, Paolo was a great host who made sure we were happy with everything.

 We quickly learned that wherever we wanted to go in Cinque Terre other than in Monterosso meant going up and down. Very little of these towns is on flat ground which of course is part of the charm and provides the beauty of the area. We were a bit surprised at just how close the towns are to each other. Looking across the water to Monterosso or Corniglia from Vernazza made seem like they would be easy to get to. We actually watched one swimmer take off for Monterosso one morning. It is only a four minute train ride between towns which is the only easy method of travel in the area. Even getting to the train station can be difficult. In Vernazza that meant a quarter mile up a relatively steep incline. Still that was better than other towns. In Corniglia, the train station is about 350 stairs below the town. Fortunately, there is a shuttle service available.

The train spends most of its time in tunnels between the towns.
These boats are always crowded
Vernazza is probably the most popular of the towns for tour groups because the train station drops people right off in the town where they can easily walk down the one main street to the harbor with many stops for food and shopping.  The harbor is graced with a large square and several restaurants along with the church which was also worth a visit. The trains came once an hour and disgorged tourists with their guides. The ferry that carries people from town to town did the same thing when the winds were light enough to allow people to board, something that is not always the case since the gang plank was at the bow of the boat and offered a roller coaster ride even in calm weather. Between 10 am and 4 pm we were joined  by the hordes making their quick visit to Cinque Terre. By the end of our week in Vernazza we became a bit like the locals who have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the tour groups. The difference was that we weren’t making any money off them.

Even rain didn't deter these visitors
One of the highlights of our time in Vernazza was the saxophone concert we attended in a church above the town. Four saxophones and a piano entertained us for two hours in the old church that is now the performance hall for a music school. The elevation above the town also provided some good views of the area. Another highlight is the old castle on the other side of town. Several hundred years ago people here were in danger from marauding Turkish and Africa pirates who would kidnap and enslave anyone they caught. The towers and castles provided some protection and an early warning system with fires atop the towers to warn the other towns.

View from the upper part of town. Most people walk up and down.
Cars are limited to early morning deliveries and emergencies.

Homes on the hillside
The weekly market on Tuesday was rather meager, perhaps due to the rain or maybe because tourist season is ending. Five trucks lined the main street. One sold dairy products. Another had fruits and vegetables, something available at several stores along the same street. The others sold women’s clothing, outdoor plants, and sundry items one would find at a Walgreen’s. The produce and dairy trucks did a healthy business. The others must have done ok to keep coming back.

Farming of grapes and olives requires some special skills and tools. The terracing must be kept up and that is hard work. Not all of the fields are still in use. 

Nets to catch the olives as they fall or are shaken from the trees.
These ingenious carts literally wind their way on tracks up and down through the fields.

This helicopter made a trip every two minutes. It worked for over an hour.
In the old days, those packages would be carried by humans or donkeys.

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