I could not believe it was almost 5 years since my first visit to Cinque Terre and almost 2 years since my last visit. Le Cinque Terre are 5 small fishing villages located along the Italian coast just before La Spezia (if you are coming from Genova). Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore are connected by an often times beautiful footpath and by train if you don’t care for hikes ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours plus lots of stairs and rocks to climb. We started our hike in Riomaggiore and walked until Vernazza, which is the same path we took 5 years ago when we first went to Cinque Terre.
One good part about doing this beautiful hike on a Friday in January is the lack of people. We could probably count the number of people we saw in the towns and on the path on two hands. Of course, there were more people eating in Corniglia at what was probably the only restaurant open in the whole region.
We did the walk in about 5 hours including time for a long lunch, plenty of stops for pictures and to play with various cats we saw along the way. Most of the walk is easy enough, but walking to and from Corniglia is tough because of all the stairs getting up to the town and going down to Vernazza.
Our next adventure was Siena. I had never been to Siena and Emily was briefly there while she was in college. I had the opportunity to study there while at UMass but chose Torino because I didn’t want to be confined within Siena’s medieval walls. I had seen pictures of Il Campo, which Beppe Severgnini calls “the belly-button of Italy”, we watched Il Palio last summer, and you know you’re going to have a nice trip everytime you travel to Tuscany.
Walking around Siena almost feels like walking around the narrow alleys of Genova, except Siena’s are a little wider and cleaner. There’s also an anticipation about seeing Il Campo for the first time that is increased by the foot traffic in the streets, but what I didn’t know is that from many parts of the town you must go down a small staircase or ramp to get into Il Campo, which then presents itself to you in an amazing way. Pictures, no matter how big or well taken, cannot do Il Campo justice. You have to be there and see the people sitting at the cafes, walking their dogs around the outside of the scalloped ramp, and kids playing on the gently sliding square.
Now that’s the beauty of Italy that I know and love… here’s the flipside.
We arrived in Siena on a Saturday afternoon and were planning on staying until Sunday evening so we could have a full day of walking around the town. Upon arrival, I went to the ticket window at the train station to get the schedule of trains on Sunday. The woman’s response, “there are no trains tomorrow, there is a strike from 9pm tonight until 9pm tomorrow night.” Great! I then asked, “will there be any trains AFTER the strike to get me to Genova?” Her quick response, “who knows.” After checking into the hotel, we went to the bus station in the main square to see about any buses that could get us to Genova… nothing. So we figured we were screwed and almost booked another night. On Sunday I walked to the train station to see if anything had changed because almost always, there are a few trains running during strikes. The gentleman at the window informed me that there was one leaving in 10 minutes, but I don’t think Emily and her sister could hoof it to the station that quicky. Our next possibility was 4:41… which was later cancelled and the 5:41 became our target. The fun thing about strikes in Italy is the ticket windows will only sell you a ticket for your next destination, nothing after that, and you don’t even know if the train you’re planning to catch is even running. So having to change twice was quite difficult. We took our ticket to Empoli and arrived at 6:50, the next train to Pisa was at 8:14 getting us there at 8:59. I saw on the ticket office’s computer screen that there was a 9:02 train that could bring us to Genova, but we didn’t have a ticket and didn’t want to wait in Pisa for the 12:38 train to get us in at 3:38am. Once we arrived in Pisa, surprisingly on time, we ran to the correct train platform and begged the conductor to let us on without a ticket. He, again surprisingly, agreed to let us on and charged us the regular fair only because there was the strike, which was only in Tuscany. We made it home by 11:30, which is an hour before we would’ve even left Pisa.