Friday, December 27, 2013

Cinque Terre: No Parking

Picturesque Manarola, Italy.
(Click images to view larger)

I'm enjoying the holiday and trying to catch up on processing images from the last year, including many from our trip to Europe.  And I'm looking forward to blogging more regularly.  The fall semester overwhelmed me.  I'll start here with a brief description of Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera.  We visited this at the very end of our summer trip.  I'll post about other European adventures as I get images organized.

The very tiny downside to an academic appointment is that one can travel only in the "high season." In the Northern Hemisphere, this means summer temperatures and summer crowds, and in Europe, where the vacation mentality is saner than in the U.S., it means that every location even hinting at fame becomes overrun with European tourists mixing with those of us from overseas. 

Perhaps I should have known that a place that popped up during a web search for interesting things to see in Northern Italy would not be a great high season choice.  But the pictures of Cinque Terre were so compelling(!):  five lovely little towns pasted to a steep rocky section of the Mediterranean Coast and connected by a hiking trail that could be traversed in a day. What a perfect place to finish a lovely trip!

Cinque Terre has a long history, with towns dating back to at least the 11th century, but for most of this time, the area was isolated by the terrain and a difficult place to live.  While fishing may be a viable way of life, farming doesn't seem to make much sense, and yet the locals over time hacked an elaborate system of terraces into the slopes and planted olive trees and vegetables.  Eventually, a railroad was built along the coast, connecting the five villages to the larger city of La Spezia to the south and providing tourist access, which has transformed Cinque Terre since the 1970s from a backwater to a bustling collection of hotels, restaurants, and shops.  Remarkably though, the original charm of the villages largely remains, at least visually. 

We spent 3 days at Cinque Terre before moving to Lucca, a little farther south, our last stop before flying home from Milan at the end of our month in Europe. Though Cinque Terre is beautiful, I'd avoid it during the high season.  We drove our rental car to a small village high above the coast (Volastra), the only place where I could find a place to stay on late notice.  Avoid that if you go.  Instead, make a reservation in one of the seaside towns (Riomaggiori, Manarola, Vernazza, or Corniglia are best--book early), park in La Spezia, and take the train to your destination.  Check on the status of the hiking trail, damaged by a 2011 landslide and not completely open while we were there, dashing our hopes for a nice hike. And avoid mid-summer crowds and heat if possible.  I was told that the scene in the fall is completely different.  Still, I'm glad to have seen Cinque Terre.  

A few images...

The town of Vernazza.

The harbor at Manarola.  The cool water was a lifesaver if you avoided the jellyfish.

Rock diving at Manarola.

Bei (L) with her cousins Lauren and Leigh, gazing at the Mediterranean.


Boats at Manarola.

Bei was in her element, which is the element where you eat pasta for every meal.  

The coastline is probably too rocky and steep for traditional cemeteries.

Fishing in the Med.

Railway at the edge of the sea.


Ellen hiking into Vernazza, after sweating it out on the trail through the olive groves between here and Corniglia.

Decoration in the Volastra cathedral.

A disgruntled cat in Volastra, perhaps unhappy about the tourists?

No parking.  
The five towns were nearly impossible to access with a car, because parking is so limited.  Take the train!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Christmas in China -- 2005.

Merry Christmas!  Here's looking forward to 2014 and a more active blog.  I hope you have a fantastic holiday.  

Christmas in Laramie -- 2013.