Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Paradise Found

When I stepped off the train, I could smell the sea. Seventy-eight steps from the door of my pensione/room and my toes were at the edge of the Medditerranean. I had arrived in Vernazza, one of the five towns of the Cinque Terre.

The sea was rough the evening I arrived, and the waves pounded the breakwater sending spray far up in the air, the foaming white water contrasted against the turquoise blue of the sea and the golden light of the sky as the sun began to set.

Behind me was the town, one building running into the next, tiny back alleys with countless stairways and passages, every building a different colour - red, yellow, pink, white, tan... all with big green shutters on the windows. The yellow clock tower over the tiny church chimes over the village every half an hour, the only reminder that time is still ticking in this little village. The piazza was crowded with restaurant terraces, umbrellas, and countless fishing boats - lined up along the streets and all over the square. The din of conversations and dishes could be heard between the crashing waves. Behind that still were rows upon rows of terraced vinyards up on the steep slopes of the hillside.

I knew right away that the time I had booked here would not be enough.

My first morning, I picked up some fresh fruit and a brioche and ate at the water. It was much calmer than the night before, but still every now and then a particularly large wave would crash over the wall, making people scurry back to avoid getting their feet wet. Restaurateurs were setting up, people were everywhere taking their morning caffe, and a few fishermen were coming in with their catch. I ate slowly, emjoying the sea and the sun, not able to believe where I was.

There is a trail running between all five towns. Vernazza is the second town, so after breakfast, I caught the train to Monterosso, just five minutes down the line, and began my walk. The first thing I saw in Monterosso was the beach: long stretches of blue and white striped umbrellas shading matching deck chairs lined up three or four deep all along the shore. I wanted to stop right then and there and jump in. Again, I couldn't believe where I was!

As I was on my way to the start of the trial, I met another girl - Erin - about my age and we decided to walk together. Up and up along a narrow path, past lemon trees, vinyards, tiny gardens, and little shrines with pictures or statues of the virgin Mary built into the hillside. Every three steps it would seem we would come accross a new view (and so needed to take a new picture!). We walked all the way to Vernazza just marvelling at where we were.

A highlight of the Monterosso-Vernazza trail was coming accross an older Italian man sitting under the shade of a tree selling homemade Limoncello. A few lemons were scattered on the around beside the bottles, I'm sure for effect. I bought a bottle - how could I not?!

Erin had to go back at Vernazza, but not before a great chat at the train station. It turns out that she's a Christian, too! She offered to pray for me before she left, so sitting there waiting for the train, we prayed together. It was such a blessing to meet her and have a chance to talk and pray with someone! Funny how God always knows just what we need.

I continued on to Corniglia, through vinyards and groves of olive trees, past fig and lemon trees, listening to the sound of the sea below me, smelling the thyme, lavender, and rosemary that grows on the hills and in the gardens.

On through Corniglia, to Maranola, and finally along the Via Del Amore to Riomaggiore. Terraced hillsides, colourful towns perched high above the sea, and waves rolling into the rugged, rocky coast were constant views.

When I got back to Vernazza, I grabbed my bathing suit and went for a swim. In the Mediterranean. HOLY COW! (Hey... Church - well, kinda - a hike and a swim... sound familiar? :P)

I asked around in town and easily found a place to stay for a third night, so I spent today just hanging out - another breakfast by the water, taking in some views from the castello on top of the hill here in Vernazza, going down to Manarola again to look around, chill out for a bit, reading and journalling in the garden that it attatched to my hotel, high above the sea, looking down to the next town. Life jsut slows down here in the Cinque Terra. I even have been running into the same people - tourist and locals alike - and have chatted with all kinds of people from all over the world. This has been a vacation within a vacation. I know now where I want to come for my honeymoon one day! :P

I have to say goodbye early tomorrow morning. I don't want to leave. The towns, the views, the sea... and the FOOD! Oh my goodness. Pesto (which originated here!), seafood (yes, seafood! I had pasta with fish one evening!), wine, pasta, gelato, tiramisu... mmmm.

I was worried that I would be disappointed after how much I had heard about this place and how excited I was about coming here. You know, you hear so much, then when you get there, it's good, but not as good as you thought it would be. This was nowhere near the case. I am absolutely blown away. I could stay here forever.

Maybe I will...


Anonymous said...

Hi Hillary,
No time to read all your notes, buth the few I have are great! I envy you your wonderful time, I love Europe and hope to get back again one day.... you stuff is my inspiration. Love the pictures of Paris. Look forward to seeing more here or when you get home. Have fund, you go girl! Love glenda

Jean said...

that place sounds tremendous and very romantic. You are so lucky!!

Dad said...

Wow Hunieeee

I think we are going into the travel-log buisness.... You write so well!! Sounds great...
Maybe "I'LL" go there for a second honeymoon !
See you soon!
love Dad

Anonymous said...

if you stay, can I come and visit? for a long time?

Brian said...

Wow - sounds like an incredible experience, breathtaking and enriching. Great to hear that the hike-swim tradition is carrying on, even if it's on a different continent. It's been cooler here and so the ocean doesn't quite have the same appeal. But hiking and swimming in Vernazza sounds like paradise. I hope the rest of your trip is grand :-).

Anonymous said...

my name is hillary too!