Day 28 – Cinque Terre
- Barb: Precipitous
- Mike: Washout
- Jen: Landslides
- Barb: Sea views
- Mike: Barnacle towns
- Jen: Michelangelo’s marble
Three or Four Words
- Barb: Miles of marble
- Mike: Brake and clutch workout
- Jen: Cinque Terrible autostrade tolls
- Barb: The GPS giveth, and the GPS taketh away, but in the end, the GPS gets you home.
- Mike: It was cool to see giant blocks of raw marble from ancient quarries patiently waiting to be turned into the next David…or suburban McMansion countertop.
- Jen: Trails closed, roads closed, pea soup fog—I’m still glad we went.
Time’s up: It’s now or never—or not for the foreseeable future anyway.
We were waiting and hoping for a good-weather day to visit Cinque Terre, but that day has not come, and we are out of days. We could go back to Florence and take refuge from the rain in museums and churches, but I voted to go to Cinque Terre despite the weather. Weather is fickle; we can’t know for certain how the day will evolve, and I’d really like to see whatever I can of the area, so I was willing to take my chances. Barb, Mike, or both agreed.
“Suckers!” said Rain and Fog with glee.
The autostrade took us past Carrara, an area renowned for its marble quarries. Three hundred or more quarries around here date back to Roman times, making this one of the oldest industrial sites in continuous use in the world. The rock for what became Michelangelo’s David is from here, and Michelangelo had a house here.
We were able to see some quarries from the highway, as well as market-ready marble blocks stacked in piles like lumber at Home Depot.
If I were to return to Italy, I think I’d add Carrara to my list of places to visit. Rumor has it at least some of the quarries allow visitors, and there’s a Museo Civico del Marmo, marble museum. As you know, colorful rocks are one of my favorite parts of the churches we’re visiting.
Somewhere in the sizable industrial area we passed through, we got lost, just getting from one autostrade to the next, I believe, which is ridiculous because these major highways should be well signed and well known to the GPS. However, the GPS screen showed us humming along, and then it went blank. At times like that, I think it needs a cartoon face with a confused expression and a hand scratching its head. We drove down narrow roads between warehouses and empty lots, occasionally passing a semi, the driver of which was no doubt wondering what the heck we were doing there. The GPS would come back to life with a new plan. We’d follow, and it would suddenly go blank again. I thought I heard it say “dang!” once. It’s not the GPS’s fault: It’s Italy. We know this. We’ve seen the nonsense that is Italy’s roads and signs and way of doing things.
We kept driving and waiting for the GPS to come up with a new idea. It always did. One idea, however, pushed the boundary of believable. It told us to go left up ahead, but there didn’t appear to be a left turn option. After driving past a…we’ll call it a single lane road, but that’s overstating it…it said we’d gone too far. It wanted us to take that single lane to the left which led into a hole in a wall. No, really, it did. It was rather like a walking path that entered a tunnel beneath a road.
We’ve been on major highways that haven’t registered on the GPS, but this hole in the wall is in the system. When our eyes were dry enough to focus again, we did what the GPS wanted. Here, you can see for yourself. (It takes less than two minutes.) Note the major thoroughfare we’re on at the start of the video.
We eventually made it to Riomaggiore, the first town of the Cinque Terre, which means “five land” or five villages. My sense is that these villages may be even less accessible than those on the Amalfi Coast. They were originally only accessible by sea, and there is still no road that links all five villages. To complicate matters more, the severe winter weather has caused landslides in the area, closing what roads and trails there are.
Nonetheless, Riomaggiore is one of the two most accessible-by-road villages and thus better able to handle tourists, but I did not care for the way they handled me. We were tricked, by means of tiny crowded roads and no signs, into an expensive parking garage with an out-of-service WC (water closet, otherwise known as a toilet) and had to walk through a terribly stinky tunnel to get to the center of town. Even allowing for the gray, drizzly day and it being not quite the tourist season yet, this was not a fine how-do-you-do.
We got the info we were after: The Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane) trail that connects Riomaggiore to Manarola was still closed. It is supposed to reopen in the next couple of days, according to the website, so we hoped maybe it was passable. Not so. So we left. Take that, Riomaggiore.
We continued on the narrow, twisty, turny, in-the-fog, Amalfi-like road to Corniglia, the middle village. Thankfully, this road doesn’t get the traffic the Amalfi road does. We wouldn’t be driving it if it did. There were signs warning us that this was, indeed, a two-lane road. Those signs are important because the width of the road might make you think otherwise. It reminded me of Outback roads in Australia—single lane, and when you meet an oncoming car, both cars move to their respective shoulders, so both have two wheels on the road. That works in Australia, but here on the Cinque Terre road, there is no shoulder on either side, just a rock wall on one side and a drop off the other.
When we dropped below the fog, we had views of terraced hills with miles upon miles of human-made rock walls. Lots and lots of grapes grow here.
Parking was easy and free in Corniglia, so I liked it immediately. The village is a cluster of medieval (I presume) buildings huddled together on the coast. A few are painted bright colors, another point in its favor. The buildings were mostly boring rectangles rather than a mish-mosh of crazy shapes, and they looked a bit slummy, but the interior maze of narrow passageways was tidy and welcoming.
The town has a small patio overlooking the Mediterranean. Cacti and flowers flow down the cliff toward the water.
We passed a teeny-tiny shop selling knit items (no skeins of wool). The back wall, some three or four steps away from the front wall, was half natural rock from the cliff. It was a tiny, adorable space. I wonder how many homes in these buildings also have natural rock walls.
We attempted to continue on to Cinque Terre #5, Monterosso al Mare, but the road that was open got sketchy (mud, rocks, downed trees), and we had no desire to attempt the road that was closed; although, according to the locals it’s only “officially” closed, suggesting we could give it a go if we were so inclined.
We didn’t get to see Cinque Terre at its best, but I’m glad we went anyway.