Sunday, October 23, 2011

Last day in the Cinque Terre

This morning we hiked up to Monterosso again (our favorite hike), took the train down to Riomaggiore, found some decent focaccia there, walked the short and (frankly) comparatively dull Via dell’Amore path (it’s all paved, flat) to Manarola, took the train to Corniglia (path to Corniglia is closed), got some decent gelato in Corniglia, then took the rugged and steep up-and-down path to Vernazza, meeting several cats at various points along the way.

After all that hiking, we were completely famished. We’d made a reservation for dinner at Il Pirata for our final night here, and I’d been dreaming about their pesto lasagna all day long, particularly at several points along the hike. But when we got to Il Pirata, the green shudders were pulled down over the windows, and there was a bright orange sign taped to the wall with some hand-scrawled bullshit (but apologetic) story about them being closed due to an electrical problem. Given that all of the other restaurants in Vernazza are either mediocre or over-priced, or both (Vernazza’s most glaring shortcoming), the temptation to collapse in a heap on the sidewalk and cry was difficult to resist. But we mustered what last bit of strength we had to go back down to the center, and we got some cheap take-out pizza and a salad, which we devoured in the kitchen of our apartment. At least we were fed, and it was cheap.

We spent the rest of the evening packing and getting ready for our epic journey by train tomorrow morning to Siena.

One final point about the Cinque Terre: as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as the Cinque Terre villages and surrounding region are, I couldn’t help but notice how it’s definitely gotten more expensive since my last visit in 2007. For example: in ’07, you could buy a 3-day trail and train combo pass for 20 Euros, which gave you unlimited access to all the trails and Cinque Terre trains for three entire days. It was a good deal, and more than paid for itself if you took the train a couple times a day and did lots of hiking. Sadly, those days are gone, as they’ve done away with that, and instead they only offer a 2-day train/trail pass, but for the same price as the old 3-day pass!!! If you do the math, that’s a terrible deal! Another example: a 1-day trail-only pass costs 5 Euros, but I found out this morning that the same pass costs 7 Euros on Sundays! Is that really necessary? Now, I don’t want to complain too much, given that this money is supporting the towns and the trails, but at the same time, I can’t help but notice how much they’re milking it. Most of the food options and gelato here is already pricier than, say, Florence. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to “do” the Cinque Terre if you’re on a budget, and I hope it doesn’t turn into the kind of place where only Portofino yuppies can afford to visit it.

11-4-11 Update: So, having found out about the massive and highly destructive flooding that occurred in Vernazza literally the day after we left, I no longer give two shits about paying extra money to hike the trails on a Sunday. Vernazza is going to need every dime it can get. Vernazza is such an old town, and it has undoubtedly survived catastrophes in the past, though I don't know if any were on this scale. I just hope its residents have the resilience to pick up and rebuild. They have a long and hellish road ahead of them. Terezia and I feel deeply saddened that such a beautiful town that brought us so much happiness is has faced such horrid devastation. 

One other gripe – a message to my fellow Americans: I know that many of the people in Italy who work at train stations, information centers, and restaurants speak English, but would it really kill you to at least try and speak Italian a little? Even just to learn a few phrases for ordering train tickets or food? Is it really that hard to say, “due biglietti per Roma, per favore,” or “prendo un cono con cioccolato e nocciola, per favore”? Or even “buongiorno” or “buona sera”? Honestly, you can nab useful phrases like these out of a little pocket phrase book. If whomever you’re speaking to can and wants to speak English with you, that’s fine. But just out of respect, couldn’t you try to at least approach Italians using their language first? Okay - rant over!

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