This has turned into quite a hiking vacation! Which makes me happy (Joel’s knee is somewhat less happy, but it’s being a trooper). This is partly due to some of the main paths being closed forcing us to either take the train or the back routes to get some places, and choosing the back routes. And partly due to a desire to get away from the throngiest throngs of tourists (I can’t even imagine what this place is like during peak tourist season!).
We’ve been exploring the Cinque Terre area, and though each day we’ve been hiking only 7-10 or so kilometers, the nature of the trails still makes it pretty strenuous. The builders of the paths seem not to have believed in horizontal traveling, only vertical. So, going for a walk is like going on a Stairmaster, except with scenery that’s about 571 million times more spectacular.
The five ancient villages of the Cinque Terre are balanced like intrepid sentinels facing out toward the sea from craggy, tumbling, rocky outcroppings. We found ourselves really wondering what had been in the minds of the original builders of these towns, choosing such unlikely building sites. Safety? Necessity? The desire for a million dollar view? (probably not that one!)
Each town, while picturesque and swarmed with visiting tourists, felt eerily abandoned, as though the medieval people who lived there had fled suddenly. I kept expecting a man in tights and a tunic, or a woman in a coarse woolen dress carrying a basket of something, to round the corner in front of me and to panic at the bizarre scene of people in sunglasses snapping pictures and buying souvenirs.
I fell in love with the boldly terraced, narrow fields of grapes and vegetables, stacked high up into the hills behind the towns, like striped mountains in a Dr. Seuss story. This is where we hiked, holding our breath as we skirted along narrow ledges above fantastic, precipitous drops into the cerulean blue water far below. I was very happy not to be hauling buckets of grapes or farming tools.
This region, Liguria, is where focaccia originates, and it still seems to be the favorite snack. I was suspicious that the packing of so many focaccerie into such short main streets was an act for the tourists, but I’ve noticed that it is, in fact, all the locals seem to snack on, morning or afternoon. Un etto di focaccia per favore! You can get it with a small variety of toppings, cheese or a small subset of vegetables, and trust me, we’ve been doing some heavy duty research to scope out the best.
But, as much as I do love focaccia as a snack, I’m starting to feel like I may soon turn into a dimpled, olive oily rectangle of bread. We’re thinking we’ll have to venture out into another region to uncover their local snack!
Oh, and did I mention gelato? We’ve been eating that too. The array of flavors, displayed artfully in their metal canisters, is a little overwhelming for someone who struggles with the choice paradox. Rumor has it (and by rumor, I mean Rick Steve’s guidebook to Italy!) that you can ask for tastes of the flavors, but I feel bad holding up the long lines (a compunction with which I do not struggle at all when ordering ice cream in the US, hehe). So if we want to try more flavors, I guess we’ll just have to get more cones.
Except, we’ve run into a problem (at first I wrote that as we’ve fun into a problem, which actually seems the most accurate way of describing it!), which is that both of us tried an affogato – espresso dumped over a scoop of gelato – in Portofino and have become obsessed. We’re talking about and dreaming about affogato pretty much all the time now. It makes it hard to want to order gelato any other way. Life is rough, eh?