29 May 2008

Pisa Photos, and Hiking in Cinque Terre

Chiavari and Pisa

(By the way, Chiavari is pronounced key-AH-var-ee) Here are some pictures from my first couple of days:
This is the beach at Chiavari. When I was studying Chinese a couple of years ago, my teacher told me that their ideal of beauty is mountains and water in the same view. I agree!

Here’s the Baptistry (the big round one), Cathedral (rectangular one), and Tower (leaning one) of Pisa. Apparently all of Pisa is leaning, not just the tower: the Baptisty and Cathedral are both leaning about a foot, as are many of the houses. However, the tower’s the most noticeable tilt.

The Catheral is incredibly beautiful, inside and out. Any imaginable type of art, from carving to fresco, can be found. Most churches in Italy have fairly simple facades, just striped with differently colored stones or completely plain. This one, however, is very ornate.

Here’s a self-timer picture of me in front of the tower:

This cracked me up-- a parking lot at one of Chiavari’s high schools:

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, which means “Five Lands,” is a collection of little villages along the cliffs of the Mediterranean coast. The five little villages are probably entirely inhabited by the people who cater to tourists and the people who cater to the people who cater to tourists... in short, they’re five of the top ten touristy villages I’ve visited. The most-visited places in Italy are Rome, Florence, Pompeii, Venice, and Cinque Terre (though not necessarily in that order). The real attraction, however, isn’t really the villages: it’s the rocky paths between them. It’s been made into a national park, to control (and charge) the throngs of people who want to hike. In total, there are about six miles of paths, which in rocky, mountainous measurement, translated to six hours of hiking. It becomes a full day when you add in stops in all the villages, and pauses at the beach to soak your sore feet. I hiked three of the four trails, and I concur with the people who had recommended Cinque Terre to me: it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Grueling, but rewarding. The first path goes from Riomaggiore to Manarola, and it is called the Via dell’Amore, the Lovers’ Walk. It’s the easiest: paved in most places, usually flat, and with only a few stairs.
This is the view from the walk. The sea is gorgeous, and mountains are by far my favorite topographical feature, so I was pretty much in heaven.

Here’s Manarola! I didn’t stay for long... I wanted to hike two before lunch.

The second trail goes from Manarola to Corniglia, which is the central town, perched on the top of the cliffs. The walk wasn’t bad, although it took an hour, three times as long as the Lovers’ Walk. I have asthma, but I only had to stop once or twice to calm my breathing... until I got to the end. The end of the trail is a miserable 368 stairs. You do about forty through the trees, and are relieved to see the “end,” but then instead of seeing Corniglia right in front of you, you see seemingly never-ending stairs zigzagging up the hill. I stopped to “enjoy the view,” which is a useful cover for “regain lung power) about ten times. Besides, it had been nearly seven hours since my tiny breakfast, and I was out of water. Luckily, like any discomfort, the memory quickly disappears, and Corniglia charmed the tiredness out of me.

I set off to refill my water bottle at a fountain and find some cheap food. The first place I came across had a Cinque Terre specialty, a mixture of vegetables (notably spinach and potatoes) in a thin crust. I got gelato for dessert before heading back to the trails. Gelato is basically a soft, very rich ice cream. The cones are generally very long and thin, and instead of round scoops, they use a little paddle to put the gelato on the cone. Thus, instead of having your two flavors one on top of the other, they’re side by side. It’s a bit odd, since you get a lot of flavor mixing, but it’s good. My two favorites are chocolate mint and cinnamon.

The path from Corniglia to Vernazza is supposed to be the most beautiful, and it is truly lovely. There are dozens of kinds of wildflowers, trees, and cacti to look at, rocky beaches hundreds of feet below, birds and lizards and butterflies flitting about, and therefore the area around the trail is perfect. The hike itself, however, is torture. Here’s the layout of the trail:
- Hike up about 200 stairs.
- Hike down about 200 stairs.
- Repeat three or four times.
Every time you get optimistic that the end must be near, you turn a corner and see...

...more steps. And since they’re made from loose rocks and dirt, the footing isn’t easy. The view is worth it, though. Here’s one with me in it-- luckily photographs don’t capture smell, because I don’t think I’ve ever been sweatier.

In this one, you can see Corniglia and Manarla, now very distant.

An hour and a half of hiking later, my legs were complaining, my ankle (which has a chronic sprain) was throbbing, and seeing Vernazza brought a sweeping sensation of relief. It sounds unnecessarily poetic, but that’s what it was!

Isn’t it charming? I headed straight for the beach, took off my shoes, and dangled my feet in the water until I felt less dead. Me voilà by the beach and harbor in Vernazza:

Then I climbed around the rocks for a while (there were several colors of granite, some sedimentary rock, and even some porous boulders that looked volcanic), got more gelato, and took a train back to Chiavari. I’ll go to the last town, Monterosso, another day.


Le cinq blog said...

The self timer pics are the best ,aren't they?

Kel said...

I love 'em! They take talent to set up, amuse people in the area who get to see you prop up the camera and then run into place, and you get to compose them exactly as you want :)