Cinque star review: Cinque Terre

Happy Anniversary WordPress! Today the darling blogging website & I are celebrating our 4 year anniversary. Together we have traveled the world, gone through periods of neglect and apologizes, and decided to tie the knot when I purchased my very own web domain name. Thank you, dear WordPress, for always standing by my side and giving me the confidence to send my words out into the big wide Interwebs.

Cinque Terre

I’ve wanted to go to Cinque Terre (Five Lands) for years. I remember putting it at the top of my list four years ago when I decided not to go to Italy during my two week travel break while studying abroad. I will save that country and that trip for another day. And when that day finally came, I couldn’t have been more ready. P1020989

Cinque Terre has gained popularity with American tourists in the past couple of years. My friend’s Italian boyfriend asked me at dinner why people are so obsessed with these coastal towns and I didn’t have a good answer. Maybe because the hiking is amazing. Maybe because pictures of these villages are all over the Internet. Or maybe it’s because when someone goes there, he or she cannot stop talking about the visit for months. Either way, it was a must see destination for me and it should be for you too. P1030072

The coast is comprised of five villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore. I stayed in Levanto, the next town over from Monterosso and found it extremely easy to take the train there and back. A variety of trails crisscross the mountainous coast connecting all five villages as well as the train system for those who don’t want to trek on foot. Landslides in the last year or two destroyed some of the popular coastal trails and the main route connecting Corniglia and Riomaggiore through Manarola is still closed to the public. Still there is no bad trail since every path and series of steps lead to amazing views overlooking the Ligurian Sea. P1030026

IMG_0877If you are going during high season, be prepared for many MANY people. The morning trains are the best because they are pretty empty and run on time. By the afternoon, the trains are 20-40 minutes delayed and each car is jam packed with people. But it’s worth it. Since many people opt to use the trains, the trails are pretty clear and there are so many options beside the coastal route that weave up into the hills. The beaches are very popular too and something I would have loved to enjoy if I had stayed more days.

With just 3 nights and 2 days, these were my top six favorite things:

  • Watching the sunset from the water in Riomaggiore
  • Eating fried fish at Il Pescato Cucinato (more than once)
  • The difficult yet short (1 hour) mountain hike from Manarolo to Riomaggiore
  • Grabbing ice cream at Alberto Gelateria in Corniglia
  • Taking millions of pictures in Manarolo
  • Getting wildly lost walking from Monterosso to Levanto

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P1030018My favorite part of blogging used to be writing about one thought or one event. My words were focused on trying to pull out one idea that was bouncing around in my head and make it bounce around on the page. Now I have a zillion bouncing thoughts all at once. I spend 48 hours with just one or two people before jumping on a train not knowing if or when I’ll ever see them again. I download hundreds of pictures to my computer every day before planning my next destination and booking my next hostel. It’s amazing and crazy and a 24/7 adventure. 

But maybe I can slow down life just a little bit. Give descriptions of just one day or just one person. Because I’ve found the people and the individual fleeting moments have made this trip unforgettable. 

 

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On Hiking

Hiking can be intimidating. First there is the gear: Camelbak packs or Nalgene water bottles, Columbia hiking boots , the North Face wind resistant pants, and obscure maps with contour lines like thin strands of hair marking the receding elevation. You need necessary snacks, torn between Cliffbars, trail mix, and varieties of dried fruit that you imagine other experienced campers eat on a daily basis. One must also choose the location. Do you travel long distances to the Rocky Mountains or attempt to navigate the trail behind your house in upstate New York, hoping your deer hunting neighbor will not mistake you for a young doe.

Of course, the real fear is not the brand names of waterproof clothing, the food or the specific location of the trail. It is nature itself. Weather is unpredictable, bugs are prevalent, and Googling “beautiful nature views” takes a fraction of the time it takes to actually go out there yourself. But stop for a moment and think. Think about the most beautiful sight you have ever witnessed or the most beautiful place you have been. How many of those memories took place in nature, watching the sun slip behind the gently rolling waves or smelling the violets on the first day of spring? We have become so removed from nature that outdoor adventures are increasingly unknown and dangerous experiences, saved for mountain men and expert campers. Go ahead. Reclaim nature for yourself.

My college roommate and close friend is not a hiker. While Jen is outgoing and very athletic, her favorite experiences in nature are laying on the beach and reading a good book. However, she dressed the part and was more than willing to try a number of hikes during our week in Aspen. The Maroon Bells are some of the most photographed mountains in Colorado. Towering over 14,000 ft, they are a magnificent sight seen with ice patches at all times of the year. Jen and I did the Crater Lake Hike get a special view of these natural wonders. The 3.6 mile hike was a moderate trail, taking less than 2 hours. Our pictures were spectacular and our memories were unforgettable. 

Two days later, I attempted Aspen Mountain which begins at the base of Little Nell and climbs 3267 feet up the Aspen Mountain ski area finishing at the Sundeck Restaurant at an elevation of 11,212 feet. The benefit of such a climb other than the incredible view is the free gondola ride, bringing you safely down the mountain back to where you began your journey hours ago. Our four person group became two about halfway up the steep ascent. The combination of unyielding vertical climbs and high elevation made me question my sanity and physical conditioning more than once as I continued to the top. Many Aspen locals and expert athletics jog up the mountain for exercise, racing during the America’s Uphill spring ritual. Who are these people with the lung capacity and mental stamina? In my mind, they tower over me like gods with large wings and a golden aura around their dusty running sneakers. 

Most of us will never reach this caliber of hiker/jogger/athletic extraordinaire. But each of us can look on a map and pick out a trail that is right for them. Look for opportunities locally. Hike a mile to a nearby waterfall or walk through your local bird sanctuary with a bottle of water and a pair of binoculars. The natural world has sights, sounds and wildlife for everyone to experience. Even if you don’t want to run up Aspen mountain.