Saturday 8 November 2014

Cinque Terre - CHEENK-Ka-TeRRe- five lands

Have you ever fallen in love with a photograph?

I have.


Once, about twenty- two years ago. It was a group photo and I thought I'd spotted my soul mate in that picture. I was young and naive and full of Indian movies' notion of romance.

And the second time was in June this year when I was trying to figure out our Italian road trip. This time, it was a shot of a village in the Cinque Terre region of Italy. 

This was our last port of call after leaving Siena and before getting back home.

We made Levanto, a seaside town just outside the Cinque Terre region, our base. Levanto is a great place to spend a few nights. This is a friendly little town. The pace of life is perfect. We went exploring after midnight on a Wednesday night and the entire town was buzzing with young families playing in the park, a local band was playing tunes and the seniors were waltzing in beautiful shoes. Groups of teenagers were hanging out and restaurants were packed with customers. Levanto buzzed happily.

We stayed at Villa Margherita which has a gorgeous garden. 

The train from Levanto took us to our choice of village every morning. We started our exploration with Vernazza, our first Cinque Terre village.

Getting on the train felt like entering a 'night club'...WHY? Because, I was surrounded by young back packers - in their late teens or  in their early twenties. It felt, only for a few minutes, that I was gate crashing a beach party. But soon the intoxicating energy of the train packed with people and the heart stopping beauty of this place made me feel right at home. 

The train journey felt like the ones I used to take with my parents (when I was a wee kid) from Dehradun to Haridwar...where everyone on board is chattering away and you establish eye contact, smile, ask about the plans for the day. It almost felt like the happy train journey from the film 'Tanu weds Manu' when all on board break into a song. Suffice to say, this was not one of those cold and strictly no eye contact train journeys I've been on in some other parts of Europe. I loved it. 

I'll stop babbling and let you soak in Vernazza's beauty.

We decided to climb up to eat at a 'recommended' restaurant called 'La Torre', but it was full. So we continued climbing and found a little place carved out of rocks, hugging the hills and decided to eat there.

The views were stunning. The food was a bit heavy for my liking but the wine made it all taste better:) We watched the sun go down ...


The next day, I decided to lure the family into a hike. I had read about a trek called Via dell'amore or 'the lovers' lane' or 'the road of love' connecting Manarola and Riomaggiore which is supposed to be gentle and fun. Some sites even suggest that one can take a  baby in a stroller on this path. My secret plan was to take the train to Riomaggiore (the furthest village for us) and then hike all the way back. Ha!

After a light snack of fluffy fried calamari (yum), I led my troop- onwards and upwards!

Sadly, the lover's lane was closed off but another 'path' to Manarola was open. Just as we were getting ready to start, we saw a very fit looking couple descending the steps we were about to take to climb up.

'How is the trek?' I enquired.

'It's really hard,' huffed the extremely fit looking twenty year old. 'Coming down is very tricky', she said, wiping her hot cheeks with her sweaty hands.

'How long did it take?'

'An hour and twenty minutes'.

I could sense the resistance building up around me. What hope did we have of completing this hike? We weren't kitted out- we'd come for a stroll in the village not to go on a hazardous hike!

To go or not to go...was the question. I decided 'to go'. The husband had to oblige! And the teenagers followed dragging their feet and muttering under their breath.

I tried everything to make it pleasant; even a bit of clowning but all my efforts were met by the usual rolling of the eyes and the expression that says, 'Really? Mum! Are you being serious!'

At times like these, yoga comes to the rescue and I focus on my breathing and carry on. Everything sorts itself out eventually.

 I found a door just as we started our climb.

The steep climb propelled us to take frequent breaks. This meant that we could enjoy the views for much longer than usual as we waited for whoever was lagging behind and then some get our breath back.

Most of the grape vines were growing in people's yards and gardens, which we passed by.

At about this point in our climb, we met a group of twenty somethings who had climbed up from Manarola and were making their way to Riomaggiore. They looked shattered. But they stopped and gave us a big 'well done' for doing the hike as a family. I think I earned a few brownie points with my children. There was much less whining after that! In fact, I recall a pleasant banter:)

Unknown to the family, a snake slithered across the path just in front of me. I kept mum till we were back in Doha:) Let's hope the teenagers forget about it by the time our next walking holiday season starts!

Floral treasures...

We knew we were coming to the end of our descend as the sea level seemed closer. We had done the trek in an hour and twenty minutes! It felt good. I think the children were quite impressed.

We did alright:)

The Village of Manarola...

In an ideal world, I would happily live out the rest of my days here. How perfect is this?

All that hard work meant a guilt free treat time...

And that my lovelies is the very last of our Italian adventure.

Wishing you all a happy and sunny weekend. Make sweet memories and see you soon:) xx