Thursday in Cinque Terre ~ Part 2 of 2
After taking a slightly wrong path and losing even more time, arriving into the town of Manarola extremely later expected, I was exhausted. My legs trembled. Clearly, my muscles were trying to tell me to lie down or jump into a jacuzzi to chill the heck out.
I had had a short break in Corniglia, the third town after the first hike from Vernazza, but even then I was walking and exploring. It was super cute on the inside, maybe not the most beautiful of all the towns from the outside, but of course worth spending time in. My breakfast had surely burned off by that point and I took shelter at a cafe to have a glass of freshly squeezed orange and lemon juice (to soothe my looming illness) and some bruschetta – a classic Italian dish ;sliced toasted bread, drizzled with olive oil, garnished with tiny pieces of mozzarella, fresh chopped garlicky tomatoes and pesto, respectively, so as to create an Italian flag with the pieces of bread – this made me way happier than it should have (or maybe I was getting sunstroke).
With a “Ciao Bella!” and “Arrivederci!”, I meandered through the tight roads and paths of the town, peering into little grocery stores, gift shops and finally stopping and having an incredible basil flavoured gelato; unlike ice-cream, gelato is made with a higher proportion of milk to cream and is churned way slower than your average ice-cream, which gives it its thicker, velvety soft texture. I love gelato and I ate enough in Italy for it to nearly be coming out of my ears. Sometimes I forget that all the flavours are incredible as I compulsively go for pistachio and hazelnut. Most Gelaterias (gelato shops) will always be good, so it’s unlikely you’ll get a bad scoop. But this place’s basil gelato in Corniglia, “Alberto Gelateria”, made with fresh olive oil and basil picked straight from their garden, was divine. Famous former celebrity chef, Rick Stein, had even visited this place, so you know it’s got to be good.
It was at this point I went on the hike from hell/heaven, enduring a rollercoaster of emotions I really wasn’t very prepared for. Fast forward, I arrived in Manarola, absolutely starved again, but not quite ready for dinner. I hadn’t eaten focaccia yet, and it seemed fitting to inhale a slice or two upon seeing a focaccia store I had eyed up on the internet a couple of days before: you’ve heard of Gelaterias, now get ready for Focacciarias; think a bakery, but dedicated particularly to focaccia – pizza and various panini sandwiches can also be discovered here. Focaccia is a fairly flat Italian bread and has a spongey, cake-like texture but is topped with a variety of savoury garnishes. Commonly, you’ll find toppings such as parmesan, pesto, olives, capers, tomatoes, onions and plenty more. Here, I had a slice delicately flavoured and decorated with olives, capers, tiny slivers of anchovies, a little fresh tomato and onion.
I walked up and down Manarola for a while, watching people bravely jump off large rocks into the waterfront whilst I ate my focaccia. I was too early here to wait to see the sunset, having a few hours to go, so I, rather counter-intuitively, hopped on a train back to Vernazza to see if I could get a better view of the town than I had in the morning.
I sat on the rocks at the front-edge of the town’s waterfront, stripping from my Dr Martens and peeling my sodden socks from my burning feet. I could almost hear a sizzle and hiss as I dipped my toes into the, seemingly, icy cold water, which others seemed to be bathing in with ease around me. I dared not look at my feet and their sorry condition, so I looked ahead, people watching and admiring beautiful Vernazza as the sun began to slowly fall. It was meditative, just thinking of nothing, breathing in the sea air, listening to the waves and feeling the water against my fingers and toes.
Alas, my plan to see the sunset failed once more as the sky became hazy and cloudy at sun-fall by the time I reached Manarola again. I caught a glimpse of the bright magenta-red sunbeams glowing across the sky, trying desperately to cut through the haze – it was something at least. I had reached a great viewing point in Manarola, the view really being awe-inspiring; this town is definitely the most beautiful town of the five (‘cinque’+’terre’ = ‘five’+’towns’ in Italian), especially at this time of day, as window lights begin to flicker on and the sky begins to turn a rich dark blue.
At the viewing point, higher up on one sort of cliff-face, was a highly rated restaurant that was on my list to visit, and so my time in Cinque Terre ended with style; a Caprese salad and a Campari Spritz accompanied my lone dinner date. The Caprese salad was the best I’d ever had, gigantic fresh capers and kalamata olives being generously sprinkled over large slices of fresh tomato layered with tender mozzarella slices. Once drizzled generously with olive oil (but forget the salt, the saltiness capers and olives would give your doctor a seizure) you have an excuse to eat the whole basket of brown sourdough bread chunks on the side – olive oil and tomato juices need a friend you know.
Slightly tipsy from the spritz and delicious food, it made the next hour of my adventure all the more dramatic:
Being semi-drunk didn’t help my body when I realised there were no more trains back to Riomaggiore, the first town I had to go to to get the shuttle bus back to the hostel in Bassia. My heart tumbled from the Cinque Terre hills right into the sea. Trying not to panic, I thought I’d just do the last hike trail (in the middle of the night… alone). I used the torch on my phone as a headlight and I followed Google maps to the trail, but to my shock horror I spotted a sign at the gate of the path: “CLOSED DUE TO LANDSLIDES”. I burst into manic tears and flusteredly ran back to the train station, where it was well-lit and not accompanied by spooky noises coming at me from the dark. The hostel, not-so-helpfully, told me I’d miss the bus if I didn’t get to the town, so I had no option but to call a taxi. This didn’t seem like the best idea as I had seen not one taxi around the Cinque Terre towns today – for sure, in the moment, I thought I might die that night.
I called the taxi in panic, trying to communicate in broken Italian (on my side) and broken English (on his side). Knowing this trip would cost me an arm and a leg, I withdrew more than enough euros in preparation, still quietly sobbing in panic. After the longest 15 minutes of my life, the taxi came to my rescue. Trying to put me at ease, the taxi driver tried to converse with me, which I deeply appreciated amidst the mad panic, whimpering sobs and heavy breathing. My night had a turn of events, the driver turning out to be hilarious, telling me about how his wife’s sister is from the UK too, how he hates flying (like me) and would rather drive everywhere in world (even to the UK…) – it’s funny how the best experiences you have tend to be the ones born out of having to do the alternative/least initially desired option.
He asked me if I enjoyed my time in Cinque Terre (aside from the last 50 minutes of terror) and we had a great time chatting on the way to Bassia. Whilst on the last few minutes of the journey, he suddenly proclaimed “-and now, we do a safari!” The car stopped on a dark winding path in the middle of the forest. My heart stopped; “this is where I die”. He turned to me and said: “we have a lot of wild boars here!” Just at that moment, some baby boars skipped across the road in front of us, briefly illuminated by the taxi headlights. As we drove on, the taxi-driver told me the story of how he would often go foraging in the forest for wild mushrooms to cook and how one time he was suddenly surrounded by about ten wild boars, fully grown. Luckily, wild boars seem to fear mobile phones so he was saved when his iPhone began to flash and jingle. I laughed, he laughed, we reminisced, and parted with deciding he should combine his safari business with his taxi business. He agreed, and I headed to bed, my head swirling from the cacophony of events of the day.