Cinque Terre was THE place to cross out of my bucket list this year. As soon as I started planning my six months trip back to Europe, I knew I was not going to miss the Cinque Terre again. So, as always, I started checking flights to start a new adventure in Italy, and made my plans so that I could visit this five fishing villages that were often mentioned as perfect.
I was suppose to spend two nights there, but hostels were quite expensive, with prices between 25-30€ a night, so I made the obvious mistake of thinking I was saving money by spending two nights in Pisa, where I ended up paying 19€ a night – not that great of a saving plan! Seriously, if you are planning to visit the Cinque Terre, splurge a little more and spend the night in one of the villages. I promise it is worth it. I wish I did!
I wanted to arrive early in the morning, but checking the prices for the trains online showed me that I could only pay 10,5€ at 7am or 11am, and all the trains in between had their prices doubled. You can imagine my surprise when I got to the train station and was buying my ticket at the machine, and there were only two prices from Pisa to La Spezia, 10,5€ or 7,5€, which meant I had just lost a couple of precious hours I could have been exploring the Cinque Terre, to save 3€ (when I thought I was saving 10€). Stupid, stupid, stupid!
I got to La Spezia and ran to the information office. Then, the lady tells me I have to pay for the Cinque Terre Pass that costs 16€. Wait, WHAT? Why? She explains that the ticket covers the hiking trails that individually cost 7€ each, and the trains that cost 4€ for each trip too. I tell her that I want to hike between all the villages, no trains, and she says “that’s impossible! Hiking all the way would take you more than 10h!“. Again, WHAT? I have no idea what I’m doing here right now…what kind of idiotic research did I make before coming here? How didn’t I know any of this? I’m in big, big trouble!
I thank her and I start making ridiculous math like the poorest person on the planet. I had made a budget of 25€ for my day trip, being 20€ for the trains to La Spezia and back to Pisa, and 5€ being what I thought I had to pay for a full day on the Cinque Terre train. This lady had just screwed my plans and immediately I went out of budget to DOUBLE! I thought about it for a few minutes, but what choice did I have? I was already in La Spezia anyway, so I there was no other way to play this but to spend the money, buy the pass, and hope the Cinque Terre were worth all this crazy money I was spending in just one day. Seriously, in two years of travels, I never spent so much in a single day. I was outraged! Basically I was already at 30€ and I hadn’t even gotten myself some food!
I looked at the departures screen and I had five minutes to run down the tunnel and catch the next train. I was not going to waste another thirty minutes chilling at the train station. On the train I had only 15 minutes to decide which town I wanted to get off at and start my Cinque Terre aventure. Sooooo much pressure! Ok, I will just start at the first town, Riomaggiore and I will go from there. Wait, but if I start at the last one I think it will be easier. Oh, but then I will have to hike for 2h30 and I won’t have time to do anything else. Shit! Trains stops at Riomaggiore. I don’t get off. Manarola, then? Trains stops and I don’t move. Ahhhhh! Ok, ok! Next stop is Corniglia…Corniglia…Corniglia. YES! And I storm out of the train with dozens of other people. Corniglia it is!
— CORNIGLIA —
I get out of the train and I see a crowd moving all in the same direction, so I follow. The path leads to these crazy stairs that don’t seem to end. I start going up, I stop, and I go up a little more. No joke, over 100 steps after I’m already exhausted and thinking Cinque Terre is about to kick my ass.
As soon as I lay eyes on the first tiny colorful and narrow streets of Corniglia I was head over heels with this place. OH MY GOD!!!!! I suddenly start moving fast, wanting to see everything and I make the promise to myself that I will not leave the Cinque Terre without seeing all the villages. This place is OUT OF THIS WORLD! Thank you for not letting me down! The money spent was worth it right there at the first village and I still had 5 more to see (because on the map they are actually six, as you can also reach Levanto by train!).
— HIKING BETWEEN CORNIGLIA AND VERNEZZA —
First things first, I have an embarrassing confession to make. Ready? I had no idea what hiking actually was. There, I’ve said it. Feel free to laugh! For some ridiculous reason, I thought hiking the Cinque Terre would simply mean walking in a relaxed path surrounded by nature. I never, ever, imagined it to be an extreme walk in in a seriously exhausting and hard path of little rocks and dirt.
It didn’t take longer than ten minutes hiking to realize what I had gotten myself into. I kept looking back and thinking I should return because I was not cut out for this. I’m not athletic, on the contrary, I’m a lazy and very awkward little person, who can twist her ankle dressing her pants, and this was just a very bad mistake and the train was sounding very appealing to me at the moment.
The more I hiked, the more I kept thinking I had lost my mind for doing it. I was not in shape to do that. The lady had said it would take me 1h30, but as usually my mind was like “maybe it doesn’t take that long. She’s just throwing a random time in the air“. She wasn’t! I kept seeing a village on top of a mountain and thinking “Oh God, please tell me it’s not there” because I walked and walked and the village did not seem to get any closer.
I was not prepared for this. I didn’t have the right clothes, and the sun that day decided to be as hot as 30ºC and I was melting my way up and down hills. Older, way older, people kept passing by me like they did that every day of their lives, and I was a young healthy girl doing the path like I was about to faint and die. Why did I sign up for this again? It just looked pretty, that’s why. And it was! God, it was beautiful all the way! But I no matter how much I tried to focus on the beauty of it, my body was not collaborating, it was shutting down and all I wanted to do was give up every five minutes. Still, I was too far away to go back, so the only option was to push my body forward and try my best to control my breath that at this point was all over the place.
When I saw a little house on the way and people stopping I felt enormous relief! I got in, only to realize it was just a cafe. Still, I was happy it was there, right in the middle of nowhere, because I had ran out of water over half an hour before and I wanted nothing more than something fresh. I bought myself some frozen lemonade that saved my life, and I asked the waitress how far away we were from the end of the trail. When he told me thirty minutes I felt I was going to pass out of concern. I wanted to cry and give up. I felt I had been walking for hours. How could it still be thirty minutes? Oh well, lemonade in hand and off we go. He shouts it’s all downhill from there. Well, at least I don’t have to go up anymore.
I tried to be faster, but my legs did not allowed me to do more than I was already doing. I was running out of strength by then, and my body was screaming at that point. So, I stopped worrying about the amount of people that were going fast, some of them even running down the dirt path, and all I wanted was to reach the end of the trail, alive. I might be sounding too bitchy about all this, but no one really has any idea how hard it was for me to complete this hike. Keep in mind that I had never hiked before, and I hadn’t worked out a single day for the past year!
When I saw the end of the path I felt my legs giving up for good. I saw the town and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was that it? Was it really over? Oh my God, I DID IT! I DID IT! I DID IT! I would do a happy dance, but I can barely keep standing, so I will just go down the stairs and check out my second village, Vernazza, as my tiny heart smiled for accomplishing something so amazing. I had just completed my very first hike. I complained the entire way, I wanted to give up all the time, I couldn’t catch my breath and I knew that was too extreme for a person who never, ever, works out, but in the end what matter was that I made it all the way to the end of the path, and there was this sweet victory feeling inside me.
— VERNAZZA —
Hands down my second (third? God, I love them all!) favorite town at the Cinque Terre!! After two hours of hiking and believing I was about to die under the insanely hot sun, I reached Vernazza, and it turns out it touched my heart, which made those two very painful hours worth it!
I walk into a cafe to buy some focaccia and water and an Italian lady with her tiny dog is yelling at me as she tries to offer me everything. There are food samples she wants me to try, and she opens a bottle of champagne right there and wants me to have some too. In which planet did I just walked into? Oh, Italians! I kindly said no, but thought she was hilarious and it was nice to hear other people after two hours of only hearing my annoying voice complaining.
Vernazza was crowded to the point it was hard to move around, but not even that took away its charm. The streets had perfect colors, people were taking photos of everything, eating pizza and gelatos, and it was the perfect scenery to rest.
I sat by the small beach right at the bay and I was in love. There was so much noise all over the place, but somehow I could appreciate a strange silence that gave me comfort. I was in Italy, I was standing at the place I had spent months only seeing in photos, and I had just done something I had never done before, something that challenged me in every way, and that in the end I got to say “I did it“. For half an hour everything was perfect, I had found my balance in life again, and I didn’t want to be anywhere else but there. I was just where I needed to be. I was happy and my face was showing it.
— MANAROLA —
Being at Vernazza, I had to make a difficult decision. The trains were all delayed, and I had the option of getting a train to Levanto or Monterroso, that would be farther away from La Spezia (but I would get the chance to see all the villages, basically running around and having no time at all in each one) or I would skip those villages and see Manarola and Riomaggiore before returning to Pisa. It was already 5pm, I was running out of time, so I had made the impossible of not visiting Levanto and Monterrosso. I was sad about it, but I knew it was partly my fault, because I didn’t catch an early train from Pisa and I started my Cinque Terre adventure too late. Shame one me!
Manarola was another favorite! The village is dazzling and I loved every bit of my thirty minutes walking its streets and getting to the highest point for a stunning view. Again, a lot of people, but what else could I expect when this place is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life? There really is something special about this place.
Truth to be told, the beauty of the Cinque Terre are the streets itself, the views, the shinny water and those colorful buildings on the coast, the food everywhere and the crazy happy people all over the place. There’s nothing to see or do besides walking, hiking, and taking as many photos as your camera can handle, which to me was the beauty of entire experience.
— RIOMAGGIORE —
Oh Riomaggiore, you were the perfect village to end my day at the Cinque Terre. I’m so happy I didn’t start with you, because I ended my incredible day siting by the water and watching the sun go down as I looked around and realized how perfectly happy I was for just being there to witness it.
This village is FOOD HEAVEN! Every step you take there’s another food place. Restaurants are everywhere! If this day hadn’t been the most expensive day of my travel life, I would have eaten everything here, I would have tried all their typical dishes, but being short on cash leaves you with difficult choices. Only being able to choose one place to grab some food, obviously fish – because the Cinque Terre are fishing villages, so fish here is crazy good -, I ended up buying a cone of calamari mixed with fresh fries at Mamma Mia! Take Away. Now, I’m not a big fan of fish, neither calamari for sure, but I had to give it a shot and it was actually pretty good! Still, as my calamari started to disappear from my cone, weird fried purple octopus appeared and for an instant I was ready to give up on that 5€ cone. I hate, hate, hate octopus, I see it and I feel sick, so I had to control some gag reflexes and I took the octopus out of my cone so I could finish my yummi calamari. Worth it!
As the sun was going down, I made my way back to the train station and started freaking out a bit about the time. I still had to catch the train back to La Spezia, and from there another train to Pisa that would be around 1h30. It was almost 7pm, sun was down, and I was so far away from my bed at Hostel Pisa. Freaking out, freaking out a little more, and I get to La Spezia’s train station. I buy my ticket to Pisa, I get confused because no screen says Pisa. I discover my train is the one departing to Florence, I hop on it and I’m off to a relaxing and perfect ride back to Pisa. Still, I had major problems figuring out where I was during my train ride, because the guy would tell the name of the stations, but I could never understand what he was saying (and the name of the station would pop up on a screen for like 2 seconds, but I had my back turned to it) and it was too dark outside to see any sign, so every time the train stopped I would look like a crazy person just staring at people and trying to figure out where we where.
As I was back in hostel in Pisa, I kept remembering my crazy day at this place and I couldn’t help to think I had spent so much money, money I could not afford, only to finally visit this perfect part of the world, but at the same time, opposite to my very concerned me, I felt extremely happy and I could not believe I had just spent the day in one the most beautiful places on the planet, which is a major accomplishment! So, I laid in bed, exhausted, all my body was screaming for some rest, and as soon as I closed my eyes, the only thought:
‘It was worth it’