Walking to Vernazza

Corniglia after sunset
Corniglia after sunset

I feel a bit of the crazed tourist this morning. We are in Cinque Terre for two short days and for me to be acclimated to a place it takes at least that amount of time. There is is no Silvia to ease my way and provide ideas and directions, not to mention understand which restaurants are closed on any day. Nothing seems as clear as described in guide books and online and I have a mission today–the hike to Vernazza.

The cafe I planned to go to breakfast was closed but a gelato seller recommends somewhere to have coffee and we go for cafe con leche and croissant con jelly. Caffeine plus the sound of waves beating on rocks adjusts my mood. We walked down the 377 steps to buy a hiking ticket only to find out that the path to Vernazza is officially close for some “small Renovation.” We can hike the path without a ticket at our own risk. But the path begins at the top of the 377 steps and so we wait for a van to take us up to town again.

Slowly, I let go of my grand plans and accept the adventure of the day. So many lessons in letting go. As we walked, I never figure out where the renovation is taking place. Some of the trail is rocky and feels risky but none is roped off and none of it appears to be particularly treacherous.

We have an hour to wait for the van and we read/work on more of the Italy kids workbook that I’ve brought along.

Ok, first gift of the day, the van driver takes us to town before she meets the train. Grazie mille.

We walked/hiked the second easiest trail of the lower trails. The upper trails are all more difficult. If the easiest trail had been available from our town that would have been a better choice but we made it all the way to Vernazza. This may be an easy trail but it is a challenging walk especially for Julia who has never been perfectly balanced on her feet. I am not sure if it was the stress of the journey or just a challenging walk but she took stairs with only one foot leading much like she did when she first came home. The trail was, however, excellent therapy. As soon as she got used to one kind of stairs or one sort of rock path, it changes and then changes again. Julia finds this frustrating but she copes. We have added an hour of walking time to the trail which is supposed to take an hour and a half. We talk about challenges along the way, how when you are taking on challenges that the trail may feel dangerous and risky. Julia is ready to celebrate when we walk into the busy street of Vernazza.

For lunch, We sit in a restaurant high up on the cliffs of Vernazza. It is not the restaurant that I was trying to get to but we have climbed too many stairs and we had to stop. (Later, we find the restaurant that I was looking for. There are limitations to goggle maps and I am finding them in this impossibly unlevel town) I have a glass of house wine and we start with stuffed anchovies–I am wild about anchovies! Julia realizes that she is eating fish bones and I need to assure her that she need not separate the bones from the meat. We eat the course and then both retire to our iPads. At one time I would have criticized a couple like us. Julia has needed to be present to me all morning. She needs a break from the intense real and from me. Today, and perhaps for many days, this writing passes for communicating with someone outside myself.

It is a grey and almost rainy day. Perhaps that is why the trail was pretty empty. I heard two Australians explain to someone that they were moving on sooner than expected because of forecasted rain. I’ve carried ponchos and Julia’s rain jacket. We’ve had sprinkles but no down pour although I’ve told her about the possibility.

This touristy restaurant is filled with Americans, Germans, French, and Australians. Only the waiters and cook is Italians. We can see the waves crash over a protective jetty where boats are tied. It is all very dramatic–loud, crashing waves and a liquid fog over the sea. I can think of David. With some sadness, but I toast myself for making it here. Again! I have come back to Vernazza and I can love it and take it in. I am very aware that there are new memories to be made here.

Italy was so much the correct choice for travel this year.

The waiter brings spaghetti con vogele (with clams). Julia makes a face and says, eeww. I show her what to do with the tiny clams and soon she is eating faster than I am. “This is a good restaurant,” she says. She was not crazy about climbing MORE stairs after we arrived in Vernazza just to get to a restaurant. I am lightly buzzed from my glass of house white, probably a bit dehydrated as well.

The fruitti di mare, fruit of the sea, arrives with fried shrimp, octopus, squid and anchovies. Another eeww from Julia but soon she is claiming more than her half share of the shrimp even though it was fried with heads on. And the squid. My shirt that was sweat stained an hour ago has acquired trophies of our greasy lunch. I have an espresso. The bitterness cuts the grease that remains in my mouth and it is time to explore Vernazza.

A very old church, a very crowded seaside-the day had turned sunny and trainloads of tourists descended on the town making me very glad we had come when the rain was threatening-and a gelato and we were on the train back to Corneglia. For a few moments when we first arrived in Vernazza, I wished we had found rooms there. As we joined the crowds walking the streets I was happy that I choose smaller and thus quieter Corneglia.

Much later, we are sitting on a terrace, drinking sangria and Fanta, eating prochuitto and mozzarella on a warm focaccia round. Julia is drawing and working on her Italy workbook, I tap away. I am waiting for sunset but it is already 8:45 and there is still plenty of light. I promised Julia some cake and we are closing in on bed time. As we walk and climb the very quiet streets of Corneglia, I am again very pleased that we made this our home for a brief time.

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