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Spring Break at Cinque Terre Italy
Spring Break at Cinque Terre Italy

Cinque Terre ~ Italy in a roundabout way #5

Another leisurely German style breakfast was spoiling me while I enjoyed the view of the Bozen Valley below from high above on a Dolomite peak. I felt as though I were slipping into the leisurely European traveling style, it was time for a double espresso with a café Americano chaser and get back in the groove of my hyperactive American angst.  Hmmm, first though, another freshly baked Bavarian roll smothered with locally made jam.

I had planned to exit the Dolomite region on the village roads that paralleled the autostrada down the Adige River Valley so I could shoot vineyards, farmers, villages, and castles, but I had a fresh unplanned destination I was anxious to see. A destination I knew would be rich with opportunity so because of its speed and expediency; the boring autostrada it was.

I left the Dolomites behind and entered the giant Po Valley that stretched from Bologna in the east to Milan and Turin to the west. I was already with a longing for the alpine air I left behind. It looked like great farming country, but short on scenery lacking the rolling hills of Tuscany, the cliff side domiciles and hotels of the Amalfi Coast, or the towering peaks of the Dolomites.  It reminded me of California’s monotonous Central Valley except with interesting architecture.

After a couple of hours of boredom relying on the maniac drivers to keep me engaged, I found the autostrada too La Spezia the port city south of Cinque Terre. I was soon into rolling hills that made me curse the autostrada as I was again seeing possible photo opps of an increasingly interesting countryside, but no way to shoot them in a time efficient way.

La Spezia is an interesting looking city in the Liguria region of northern Italy. The area has been settled since prehistoric times, up through the Roman Empire, and Renaissance. Too bad I didn’t have time to look around.  Amazingly it didn’t take me long to negotiate the city and get on the route to Cinque Terre.

Upon cresting the hill that reveals Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre, I was excited about the locale which I had just arrived. The weather wasn’t optimum for shooting, overcast and humid.

Cinque Terre is a rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera. Cinque Terre means "The Five Lands" that comprise of five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Rooted in antiquity, Cinque Terre's five villages date from the early medieval period. Monterosso, the oldest, was founded in AD 643, when beleaguered hill dwellers moved down to the coast to escape from invading barbarians. Riomaggiore came next, purportedly established in the eighth century by Greek settlers fleeing persecution in Byzantium. The others are Vernazza, Corniglia, and Manarola. Much of what remains in the villages today dates from the late Middle Ages, including several castles and churches

Each village tenaciously clings to the rocky coast, defying gravity, and, most of all, defying time. Over centuries, people have carefully built terraces to cultivate grapes and olives on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the Mediterranean Sea. Until the advent of tourism in the recent decades, the towns were poor and remote. Today, tourism stokes their economies; the area has become a very popular tourist destination. The breathtaking views of harbors far below, the wild coastline, medieval fortresses, and plentiful vineyards, and orchards, and their vibrant colors are a photographer’s feast, but a treat to anyone who sets their eyes upon them.

The village of Riomaggiore was my first drop off the cliff where I found some reasonably priced parking walked down the hill to the heart of the village. After a quick reconnaissance of the village, I headed to the waterfront where I was sure to find cool harbor/villagescapes. The small harbor didn’t disappoint.

The village, known for its historic character, wine, produced by the town's vineyards and its beautiful waterfront. It has a small beach, some cliffs for jumping into the sea and a wharf. The village climbs along the ridges overlooking the sea, and it is characterized from the typical stone houses with colored facades and slate-roofs. Many visitors were enjoying the both the views and the water, some twenty somethings were doing some cliff jumping and providing a show for all.

I still didn’t have a hotel and before I shot anymore I figured I should find one.  I inquired in a couple of village hotels, but there was only one room available, and it didn’t have WiFi, so I continued the search.  I headed toward the exit of the park and found a cliff side hotel, and they had a room. As rapidly as I could I was on the road again heading north, the next stop was Vernazza. I dropped off the hill to find unaffordable parking, it was the end of the day and they wanted a full day's parking fee.  I declined, then drove to the next village Corniglia, but the parking was too far away to get any shooting done before dark.  I continued to the north end of Cinque Terre, to end the day Monterosso al Mare. The tiny port is surrounded by subtle colorful pastels and the charming piazza is lined with good restaurants and bars. It was now too dark to shoot or buy any parking. It was time for bed.

Oops, I drank the tap water. I had to take my daily medication and had no bottled water.  I thought about were I was and what the water supply might be.  I reasoned that since the hotel was on a cliff and wasn’t in a village, that the water likely came from a spring or a well.   There I go thinking again, after waking up in the middle of the night with a wrenching gut ache and all the accompanying fun, I started reconsidering their water supply.  OK, sure – they are remote on a cliff. Yes but on a cliff terraced into produce plots and orchards, probably fertilized with local homemade farm dung.  So much for the mountain spring. Time for the emergency medicine, glad the wife thought to send it.

Before dawn I was off for Vernazza, upon my arrival I found the unreasonable parking attendant to still be in his bed.  From my pirated parking spot it was about a half mile down to the village. A nice walk down along the creek each village needs at the time of the founding. A delightful fog enveloped the village creating awesome soft light.   The village was nearly empty, and I had the place to myself.

At this early hour, it was the village was probably much as it had been before tourism. The small fishing village Vernazza is probably the most characteristic of the Cinque Terre and is classified as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.  By the time, I was done shooting the waterfront, some tourists were starting to arrive and the village was starting to come alive.

For obvious reasons, today the main source of revenue for Cinque Terre is tourism. A testimony to the strength of centuries-old tradition, fishing, wine and olive oil production continue.  Adding to its charm is the lack of visible corporate development. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages as well as some skinny roads that mercifully aren’t as crowded as the Amalfi Coast’s knuckle cliffhangers. Few Americans have heard of these tiny villages, set like jewels into the Ligurian Coast. The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This place is one of those places people after visiting once then long for a revisit until the end of their days.

My afternoon, evening, then followed by a morning shoot was a nice little bonus to my trip as this was a spontaneous add on, but I sure wish I had the time to shoot this place correctly.  During research, I saw many vantage points I believe were taken from the hiking trails of which Cinque Terre is known for.  Time to hike them would have been awesome.  There is a train that goes from village to village that could be used to expedite to the next spot without having to navigate the skinny roads to the next destination, and the parking nightmares involved. That said, the trains probably don’t work photographer hours. Cinque Terre is a magical place and deserves some time and effort, I will return.

Upon my departure from Cinque Terre, I made some poor roundabout choices in La Spanza, I failed to hook into the autostrada south, but this would give me the opportunity to see some villages.  What am I thinking, I am sick of villages, their pushy traffic, and most of all their roundabouts! How do I get to the autostrada?

Upon reaching the autostrada I took a deep breath and relaxed, but not for long; Soon I was either stuck behind trucks in the right lane or holding up Mario Andretti wannabees in the fast lane. I have come to believe a relaxing Sunday drive isn’t possible in Italy.

Cruising through Pisa at 110 kilometers per hour, I started looking for precarious looking towers that might fall on me, but could see nothing because here the autostrada had built walls so you couldn’t see beyond the edge of the road.  I speculated they either wanted all tourists to keep their eyes on the road, or they wanted you to exit into the town of Pisa if you wanted to see the famous leaning tower.

About a third of the way to Roma, the autostrada ended and government funded road maintenance should have begun, but that was not the case.   After about five miles, I concluded the exorbitant autostrada toll was really quite worth it.

I arrived at Fiumicino, home to Leonardo da Vinci International Airport where I was flying out of the following morning

I was counting my blessings about the success of the trip, serendipity had been a good partner for the most part and I had achieved many images I was proud of. In twelve days, I had visited three Unesco World Heritage sites, met a couple of medal of honor recipients, dined with country stars, had a romantic interlude through the Tunnel of Love in Capri with my camera, met and photographed a panoply of performers, CEO’s and Admirals.  I had captured the light falling on a panoply of Italy’s greatest landscapes from fishing villages to Bavarian castles.

I hadn’t been robbed, and more surprisingly nobody had given me an Italian kiss, 2,200 Italian miles and not a scratch on the car. Considering my fatigue and good luck I decided to return the car tonight which would circumvent Murphy’s Law ability to blemish my trip.  I would not drive into Rome.

Good thinking Daryl; of course, I got screwed up at the roundabout to the airport, and yes there was the normal difficulty getting back on course.  It also took two trips around the airport to find the parking building for Avis.  When I presented my undented, unscratched fiat to the return inspector I was expecting a medal, or at least a certificate of accomplishment driving so far, so long in such a dangerous place. Driving in Italy was quite a challenge, but it was half the adventure.

I was a bit wistful about not having time to see Pompeii, the Coliseum Vatican City or the Sistine Chapel, nor eaten a fine Tuscan dinner, but I can’t complain; it had been quite a trip.

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