Friday, May 23, 2008

Cinque Terre: Monterosso al Mare

Deiva Marina, our temporary home away from home in Liguria is just 18 minutes by train to Cinque Terre’s Monterosso al Mare, making the sea side town a perfect place to use as a base to explore UNESCO’s world heritage Cinque Terre and Portovenere, and the jet set bay of Portofino.

So for the day, our plan was to do the trek from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza. We first went around and enjoyed Monterosso, the only village in Cinque Terre that is not hanging from a cliff and has a beach shoreline. It is also the least authentic among the 5 villages - we saw cars passing through! Who said Cinque Terre is car less? Maybe it is in the other 4 villages but surely not Monterosso al Mare.

The Centrum, like any Italian village, is old but what makes it interesting is its collection of impressive antiquated petite churches. While staring at this black and white edifice in front of me, a middle aged woman passed by and said, breaking my thoughts, “Its marble. Everything is marble.”

I smiled back at her, nodding and saying – Si, which means Yes in Italian.

So I stepped inside St. John the Baptist Church and was brought back in time, fleetingly during the time of Cleopatra. Strangely, the black and white patterns on the pillars remind me of Cleopatra and Egypt. As a little child, I have watched tons of historical movies, and I guess some things and scenes just get stuck in the recesses of the mind. But also, the marble pillars bring to mind the beautiful churches in Siena and Orvieto.

The popular usage of marble in construction within the region is really no surprise as during the train ride to Pisa where we stayed over for a night before catching our flight back to the flatlands the next day, we saw this mammoth sized white mountain range. Blondine and I debated for a moment -- Is it snow? The Dolomites surely is not situated in Liguria?

Then, from our moving fast intercity train, we saw vast marble job sites along the railway. Huge industrial plants specializing in cutting and glazing marbles one after the other. The white mountain we saw was actually a marble quarry site. Italy is rich in mineral and natural resources while the Netherlands – the Dutch had to reclaim land.

Here are fotos of Monterosso al Mare:

Here, the church scene:

Again, the beach area:

Anywho, after our visit in Monterosso al Mare we were ready for our trek! We walked along the cemented snake path suspended from the rock cliffs. After reaching the end part of the cemented path we were thrown into a much more challenging journey. And little did we know what we have to endure past the Cinque Terre National Park kiosk controle (a little kiosk that sells and checks Cinque Terre tickets).

Needless to say, this is where our ultimate challenge began. It was also a very hot day and I was glad I had a bottle of water reserve with me. For half an hour I mounted this rugged staircased mountain. I was panting, heavily. There seem to be no end to the flight of steps. Step by step, I was was gasping desperately for air. I am not exaggerating, OK.

Halfway through the mount I reached to a serious point of crisis. I just know it was critical for me to stop. I was so out of breath, dehydrated, my fangs were already showing due to the non-stop wheezing, and more importantly, my heart palpitations was running at 300 kilometers per hour which would definitely send my mother up the wall screaming HALT! So I stopped for a 15-minute tank and rest. Heaven forbid you know, that I faint and roll down over back to Monterosso, lol. We definitely don’t want that to happen, don’t we?

Blondine was surprisingly faster than I. She was a few meters ahead of me and was unstoppable, although she was also panting like a hyena and struggled a bit with the climb. Sigh, sigh, sigh, I realized what an old cow I have become. At almost 38 years of age (in about 4 weeks), I seriously need to better my condition.

After the grueling half an hour constant climb, we reached the top and thought it could not go worse from here on. We were right on our deliberation as the next hour was spent hiking through rows of vineyards, terraces of vegetation, forests, and one-way traffic cliffs (other hikers have to wait and give way) where we had to lean back, grab the protruding slabs of stones close to us like our lives totally depended on them, and tread slowly and carefully watching our steps as the overhangs were quite steep! Scary.

A few fotos of the hike:

I personally loved the variety of flora we saw along the trails. Beautiful flowers, interesting plants from species I have not seen before, the vineyards, the view to the Ligurian Sea, and how could I forget the romantic little creeks flowing like gentle hymns in the forest? They all make the hike really worthwhile.

It took us 2 hours to reach Vernazza and when we looked back at the mountain we scaled, we marveled for a moment at what we have done and our close encounter with nature and crags. You see, there are no mountains in the Netherlands to mount and there are no steep cliffs to hoof it sideways.

Travel Period: May 2008
Destination: Cinque Terre (Liguria), Italy

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