Friday, July 22, 2011

Cinque Terre Part Two

A short walk through the fabled five villages of Italy's Ligurian Coast, in which we hike up hill and down dale for five long hours and earn a splendid lunch. Finally.

Let me say with no false modesty my wife are not alpinists we do exercise daily at home and though my wife has severely painful joints she hates yielding to her auto immune disease. So I was a little anxious when we were forced to the hill trail because the coast trail between Manarolo and Corniglia was closed. My suggestions of a train ride were brusquely swept aside so up we went.

At first we were on pavement, walking past the vast parking lots built to accommodate infernal combustion engines in this supposedly car-free land.

And soon enough we found the sole signpost to our first destination.

In Italy where signs are rare I ask directions all the time in defiance of my gender's noted proclivity for not so doing, and this day each local looked down at our unsuitable sandals and repeated the pericoloso mantra, about danger and stones and the narrow nature of the path. Oh well I said we have to earn our lunch to quizzical looks from the hardy sun burned locals. I felt we were fodder for winter stories about the foolishness of visitors.

At first the warnings seemed exaggerated with a steep trail of neatly fitted stone steps leading smoothly up hill through the olive groves neatly marked with blazes which we would find all the way except for a couple of uncertain spots where we cursed the Club Alpinistico Italiano's carelessness.

The sun was getting hotter and the climb seemed endless. My wife asked about the hammocks strung between trees and I told her my own horror stories of picking olives in freezing winter winds on ladders with baskets on Umbrian hillsides. Nowadays they drape nets under the trees and drop the olives into them, and they use machines to shake the fruit loose where they can, certainly not on these steep hillside wherevmanual labor is encouraged by Government subsidies to cover the unreasonable costs of vertical agriculture. The nets spend the idle summers rolled up like sausages.

As we trudged up the endless steps I wove fantasies in my head of a superb bar at the top equipped with waiters In starched white shirts with endless cups of espresso and superb views from a shady terrace table. The reality was rather different as we neared the top and met other groups of walkers.

It seism as eccentric as this sounds, does not believe in bars. There was nowhere to buy an espresso, never mind waiters in attached dickies on sunlit shady terraces. Well bugger me.

I staggered into the inconvenience store (alimentari) and bought the largest available bottle of water, where the Germans and Swedes bought thimble sized bottles and I remarked ruefully to the clerk it seemed I had the biggest thirst. We sat on the steps and watched the better organized parties stumble around looking lost in the warren of alleys.

I translated for them eventually as they trailed back and forth and the local said the wine tasting room they wanted was on the main road halfway down the hill. That was the last time for a while my wife and I felt better about our orienteering skills. We paused at the church (Madonna Della Salute) Our Lady of Good Health- ha!

And eventually tore ourselves away from the park benches. It was early in the season for the grapes that produce an unpronounceable heavy sweet white wine in the Fall.

And on these hillsides the locals use a weird monorail to harvest them. It is very steep out here.

We saw a couple of "trucks" parked for the off season.

Imagine riding these rails straight down the hills:

Hard to believe isn't it? They do have teeth on the underside for the drive wheels to grip...But that's a lot of faith in human engineering.

Most of the labor is still done on foot, hauling and spraying and picking and pruning...

For us pansy amateurs it was just a brisk walk in the sun.

More in Part Three.

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