Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hiking Cinque Terre with a Two Year Old on our Backs

We've wanted to hike Cinque Terre for several years now. Everyone seems to rave about it, so when another flight deal came about to get close by, we hopped on the big bird and headed to Italy! I have included a map above that shows both the position in the country of Italy as well as the 5 towns that make up Cinque Terre. It is about 3 hours from Milan and maybe 1.5 from Pisa, near the town of La Spezia --- slightly northwest of Tuscany.

Rick Steves describes Cinque Terre (CHINK-weh TAY-reh) as a remote chunk of the Italian Riviera...a traffic-free, lowbrow, under appreciated alternative to the French Riviera. There's not a museum in sight. Just sun, sea, sand (pebbles), wine and pure, unadulterated Italy. Enjoy the villages, swimming, hiking, and evening romance of one of God's great gifts to tourism.

Are ya sold yet? Maybe this will help.... Cinque Terre is a beautiful coastal region with five tiny towns jetting out into the sea. Hiking trails connect all five with paths of various rigor along the terraced mountainsides. The views are the type that bring tears to your eyes and make you happy and grateful to be alive to experience it.

We stayed in Monterosso at Hotel Punta Mesco. The hotel was clean with a filling breakfast, but nothing to write home about. But the price was right which always helps. And the staff were so kind, welcoming and attentive that that is really what I will most remember. Although we actually would have preferred to stay in Vernazza if there had been hotel availability.
Kicking off our adventure, we started by taking the train from Monterosso at one end to Riomaggiore at the other. We poked around the pastel houses and got a feel for the place. We even found a 'built-in-the-mountain elevator' to take in a spectacular sea view panorama. We were getting very excited as we set out on the hike ahead!
Perhaps I should amend the above "we" to "Kirk and I" were getting excited. Connor was falling apart. We set out anyway reasoning that the first hike was only meant to be 15 minutes long, flat, and easy-peasy. It is called the Via dell'Amore, or Pathway of Love/Lovers' Lane since it was the only way folks from neighboring towns could meet each other in the remote region.
Along the Via dell'Amore we came upon a large cluster of padlocks under a tunnel. Supposedly closing a padlock with your lover onto a cable or railing at a lovey-dovey spot - often a bridge - is the current craze in Italy. There wasn't too much time for starry-eyed romance though since Connor was moving around all over and fussy. We made the mistake of letting her walk under her own power and thought we would never make it through the first easy hike - more or less all four. Not fun. But still very stunning.
We brought along our hiking backpack and I was determined we would make it further after so much anticipation for the Cinque Terre hike. By golly if I was going to leave without seeing every bit! So I strapped Connor on my back and forged ahead.
To our surprise that was just what Connor needed. I think she appreciated the snug fit and she settled in nicely. We huffed and puffed not only through that first hike but two more, up and down the mountain stairs and along cliff walks overlooking some of the most beautiful coastline (Riomaggiore to Manarola; Manarola to Corniglia; and Corniglia to Vernazza). The entire 4 hikes are meant to take 5-6 hours total so we hiked these first three in about 5 hours, leaving the most difficult one for the next day. Not bad.
Stopping for a much-needed water and rest break along the path...nice hair, huh??!!??It was certainly our stubborn perseverance that saw us through. Fellow hikers would gape probably thinking us insane, but one foot in front of the other and we too got to see and enjoy it all. I taught Connor and sang the "Zip a dee doo dah" song which she loved. Singing this happy tune helped pull us through. I can't help but wonder how much our fellow hikers enjoyed my weary singing voice but maybe it helped put a spring in their step as well!As we reached Vernazza, our final town this day - this is indeed how I felt....
We arranged to meet another one of Kirk's Ernst & Young Global Exchange colleagues in Vernazza. Nicole is an auditor on assignment in the London office and her boyfriend, Matt, also works in London. We discovered through Facebook we would be overlapping in Cinque Terre and therefore planned to connect for a drink. When we arrived drenched in sweat from our ambitious hike and they still had on their bathing suits we decided the best thing would be to grab a bottle of wine from the nearby shop and uncork on the beach. That way Connor was able to run around after being "backpacked" all afternoon. She adored the sandy beach and running ankle-deep into the gentle waves! What a special treat to meet Nicole and Matt to compare notes in expat adventures. They are avid travelers too so it was terrific tit for tat.
We took the train back to Monterosso and all three of us crashed into bed after a bulging day of exercise.
When we awoke on Sunday we had the one remaining leg from Monterosso to Vernazza to complete the Cinque Terre. It is a 90 minute up and down and the most strenuous - as well as the most scenic - segment. We tied on our hiking boots and our can-do attitudes, Kirk took his turn carrying Connor in the backpack and off we went. I LOVED looking down at the beach getting smaller and smaller with all the orange and blue beach umbrellas neatly lined rows.
I was fascinated by this man fishing solo with the enormous long fishing pole!
It wasn't long before we were again covered in sweat and shuffling around the narrow steep path. But oh my. I am not sure I have ever witnessed anything so breathtakingly wonderful. The hiking route was not at all crowded so it felt like we had the whole thing to ourselves to pace and enjoy. The few folks we did see were Italian and their hearty "Buongiorno's" as we passed were heart-embracing incentives to keep going. I appreciated these simple, sincere words of good day and good cheer. Life should always be so simple and joyful that we would greet neighbors and strangers on the street in this way.
The views overlooking Vernazza as we approached were some of the best of the entire hike...At the end we found a playground for Connor to enjoy. Much earned after all the sweaty hiking. I hope one day she will grow to appreciate what we did with her and think it as cool as we do.I love these "36 Hours in XYZ City" articles by the New York Times and thought I would include the link here for the piece on Cinque Terre. What a truly spectacular part of the world. And definitely worth a little (or a lot!) of sweat to enjoy and fully appreciate!

No comments: