Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Up, Up and Amazing - Our Adventure in Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre is a stunning area about 40 minutes south of us located in the Italian Riviera.  Its name, Cinque Terre, means Five Lands.  Cars for the most part, are not allowed and everyone travels by foot thru the moutainous terrain.  The homes are built into the rock face of the mountains and are painted in traditional Mediterranean colors of yellows, pinks, oranges and greens. Because the Cinque Terre is a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, there is a pride amongst its citizens to keep the natural beauty as it is.  As a matter of fact, according to the Cinque Terre website, this area was really only reached by the outside world about 100 years ago when the railway line was built.

So after several of my friends in Spain told me about this region and when Michelle and I started talking about road trips for this summer, it seemed to be a natural fit.  And I'm so glad we decided to put this on the list of high priorities to see this summer!!  Stunning - beyond stunning!  We got a late start, no surprise for this group lately, and grabbed the train which was a 10 minute walk from our apartment.  Forty minutes later we were in Riomaggiore, the furthest town of the five.  Our philosophy is that we would walk from town to town working our way closer to the first town of Monterosso.

Haley and Aidan waiting for our train

Michelle, Liam and Zach on the train to Cinque Terre

The kids as we entered Riomaggiore

I'll be honest, at first none of us were super impressed. Yes, it was pretty but not what we expected. We were pretty much at sea level and yes, the roads wind straight up which required some heavy duty walking, the sites themselves weren't much to write home about (and yet here I am writing home about it). We had lunch at a nice pizza place where all the adults had a wonderful gnocchi filled with tomatoes and ricotta - I've never had gnocchi stuffed with anything so this was a nice treat - usually it's just plain old gnocchi. 
One of the main roads in Riomaggiore

Michelle shopping

Pretty trees along the street
Aidan really liked it here and thought it was pretty... that was til we started to walk uphill
Cute little church

We continued on and the kids were begging (annoyingly) for a swim. We found a small harbor with little motor boats of various bright colors. Though it wasn't our ideal swimming hole, we let the kids in and while I didn't go in all the way myself, the water was as warm as bath water - so perfectly temperate. And I will admit, I didn't really want to go back into the 90 degree blazing heat after putting my toes in. Zach was pretty obsessed with finding crabs and another boy asked me to ask the boy "in the wetsuit" to come help him find some. Aidan and Haley were all about jumping into the water from any rock they could find. And Liam was my superstar as he ventured in further than he normally does and was "swimming" as he likes to do (which involved all the right moves but with his hands walking him across the bottom). 
View as we walked closer to the water
View from the harbor
Another, better, view from the harbor

Great view of the harbor
Zach by the harbor

Cool view
Liam, all smiles
Aidan has become such a fish!
Zach and his new crew checking out crabs
Liam "swimming" as only Liam can swim
One of Zach's many crab catches of the day
A triumphant Liam
At this point we decided the time had come for us to continue on to the next town, Manarola.  We were surprised to have to pay to walk along the pathway but in the end we could see why we had to.  It was built right into the side of the cliffs with some of the most amazing views we'd ever seen.  This is why people come to the Cinque Terre!!  Now we could understand the beauty of the region.  I think we all thought it was going to be more like trail walking rather than an actual man made path and were pleasantly thrilled to not have to do any rock climbing in the 90 degree heat with small kids. 

A lonely sailboat

Aidan and Haley still in their swim suits in the hopes of finding more swimming ahead

View of where we just came from

View of what is ahead

According to the map we had about 20 minutes to walk along the Via dell’ Amore before reaching Manarola. On the way there were lots of locks that were attached to ropes and netting that we were unsure about. According to a website that I found, "Young loves wanting to lock in their love forever, come to Via dell'Amore, write their names on the lock and close it on a fence along the trail."   However we didn't know this information til AFTER we got home and Michelle, in spirit of leaving something behind, left her hair scrunchie.  Does this mean she will never go bald??  Only time will tell.

A symbol of the lock of love along our way

Michelle snapping some pics of the locks

The best part was the part no one told us about which was the bar/restaurant that was built into the side of the cliff halfway there!!  A perfect respite from heat, we grabbed ice creams for the kids and drinks for ourselves and sat down at a table in the shade overlooking the Mediterranean.  Once again I have not seen any dolphins which was a disappointment.  I was a little ambivilent to put my chair on the grate that enabled me to see the cliff below us and the sheer drop straight to our deaths. 

Aidan heading towards the bar

Nice cold glass of wine and we're good to go

The kids having an ice cream - makes the world a better place

I'm trying to get both Aidan and a picture of Manarola in the background

Aidan in a tree

Liam with Manarola in the background

Hot sweaty kids getting a quick cold rinse

Liam's only ride that he hitched all day

We entered Manarola and I was already more impressed than in Riomaggiore - the streets seemed to have more stores, more restaurants and it seemed overall a bit larger.  After a very brief attempt at shopping (failed - 3 adults against 4 kids) once again we were drawn to the water.  But this water was already much more impressive than in Riomaggiore.  There were huge rocks to jump off of and it all reminded me much more of a lagoon only it was in the center of town! 

Michelle went swimming with the kids but Kelly and I found the heart shaped wet spot from her bathing suit to be most amusing...

Instead of parking your car by your house, you park your boat

I'd say that we were there for a good hour and this time while Liam did great, Haley was the one who shined the most. She was jumping from significant heights - I'm going to say at least 10 feet above the water! Michelle was intimidated but refused to let a 7 year old do better than she did! Aidan also did amazing - jumping off some lower lying rocks (which was still higher than I would have gone). Liam went in with Michelle which was impressive in and of itself. And Zach was after more crabs again (and in the process managed to break his second pair of shoes, this pair of which we "borrowed" from the apartment we are renting and nicknamed "Old Man Shoes"... Poor Zack)!!

Rocks that we ended up jumping from

Aidan when he first jumped in

Michelle and Haley

Views from the lagoon

Perfect cannonball, a la Haley

Michelle refused to be outdone by the 7 year old
Aidan also joined in
It took some convincing but yes, Liam went in the water
Even Zach jumped in... both Kelly and I, did not

Liam even went into the middle of the lagoon before requesting to turn back

Finally it was time to move on and explore some more. And by now it was getting close to dinner and we still hadn't done a whole lot of exploring. After doing just a little bit of shopping, we asked a street vendor a good place to eat dinner. He told us to go uphill til we saw the church and that there was a good restaurant (no name given) within 50 meters of the church square. We found the church and saw a restaurant named Trattoria Billy...hmmmm Billy, not so very Italian sounding. And at first we thought it was the place with the run down plastic tables and chairs but a nice old man approached us and told us that this Trattoria had the most magnificent panoramic views and we should definitely go and it was actually just up the road.

Liam ready to go

I liked these buildings

Surprisingly this one looked like new construction

Clock tower and church high up on the hill

This is the view from next to the clock tower

Another view from the top (actually we are no where near the top, that's how steep it is)

There are grapes growing on this vine which is very cool

Running to dinner

View from next to Billy's...

And he was right!! Not only did it have an amazing view, but the food was fantastic too. The kids all (except Liam) shared a crab pasta that had fresh crab that they brought out to show the kids (you know, before killing it). I was hoping that they would de-shell the crab but alas I had to do it for Aidan and really really was wishing Josh was there for that - Josh would have laughed at me doing it for sure!! Michelle, Kelly and I also had great pasta dishes that expanded our waistlines just a teeny bit more. Finally it was time to find out way back out of town and to Rapallo.

We never would have expected that the food at a place called Billy's would be soooo good!

Stunning view from inside the restaurant

This one isn't bad either...

The kids loved having their crackers!

My milk-oholic

Attempting to stab the meat out of the crab

Another favorite view

Happy kids after dinner

It was after 8 by now and we went down to the train station.  None of the trains actually said they went to Rapallo from what we could tell and our schedule was pretty unreliable.  A train arrived a few minutes later and we asked the conductor if this train would take us to Rapallo.  He answered no, only to Levanto.  It was in the right direction but not far enough and would have required another train in Levanto.  Of course as the train pulled away that's exactly what we realized we had to do.  So we asked yet another old man how to get there and he told us there were no more trains stopping at this station in the direction we were going to need to take a train in the opposite direction to go back to Riomaggiore to get a train to take us to Rapallo.  It's a good thing our second guess was right or we probably would have ended up in someone's rowboat to sleep for the night!

While frustrating, it delayed us by only about an hour in getting back to the apartment and everyone took things in great stride.  We didn't make it back to Rapallo til close to 10:30 though so we were all exhausted!!  And once more, special kudos to Liam who walked the entire day less maybe 10 minutes and was such a trooper with the hills and water - no stroller for this big kid!!!

Today was an adventure in and of itself so that's going to be a whole other post... til later!


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