We wake up to more blue skies and sunshine. Mr Fletche’s trusty weather app says “intermittent cloud” – at the moment there is not a cloud in the sky. Intermittent or not. We amble down to breakfast and discuss our plan for the day. Today we’re going to use the handy train to village-hop, spending a little time here, having a drink there, having lunch somewhere else… we’re going to expend as little energy as possible today, letting the local trains do all the work.
Unfortunately, no-one tells the local train drivers this. Instead they are enjoying an unscheduled Tuesday off in the sunshine. Yes, today, on one of our two days in Cinque Terre, there is a train strike. And a ferry strike (just in case we thought there was another way out). The women in the ticket office thinks that trains will run from 5pm. But maybe they won’t
Now, if you’re stranded in a town, then Monterosso isn’t exactly a bad place to be stuck in. But it seems such a waste of our short time here to spend the day doing nothing (although after such a hectic 10 days it doesn’t seem that bad an idea). So that leaves us with one option. The only way to our neighbouring town Vernazza is to walk. We study the handy hiking trail map. It’s around 4km. We have plenty of water, suntan lotion and a full camera battery. I am wearing sensible(ish) shoes. We decide to make it to the first headland, and then decide whether to continue on further. And anyway we can see Vernazza from here – so it can’t be that far…
The first set of steps out of Monterosso are a killer. There’s a hotel up here – despite the beautiful panoramic views from its terrace I’m mighty glad we didn’t stay here (although I possibly would have come home with thighs like Beyonce’s…). We pass the point of no return – also known as the point that we have to pay for a hiking pass. Yes, you have to pay 7,50 euro each for the pleasure/torture that is hiking. Once we’ve handed over our precious money, we know we can only stubbornly continue onwards. And upwards.
Surely the steps/incline must level off soon anyway. Nope. The steps keep going up and up, and the Fletches keep going up and up. We stop regularly on the pretence of taking another couple of photos. Monterosso is slowly disappearing into the distance, but there is no sign of any descent – or even a nice level pathway that doesn’t get our hearts racing at an alarming rate. Not only do the steps continue to climb upwards, they seem to get bigger and bigger, with athleticism and flexibility essential skills when I find steps which are at waist-height. Finally, we’re at 150 metres elevation, we can no longer see Monterosso and we are surrounded by citrus trees and vineyards (grapes, grapes everywhere and not a drop to drink!)
Whisper it quietly, but I’m quite enjoying myself. Even when the path is so narrow you have to pray you don’t meet anyone coming in the other direction. Even when we do meet someone coming the other way and we have to press ourselves against a tree, cliff or fellow hiker to make room. Even when loose shale underneath my pumps threatens me with plummeting to my death over a clifftop. Even when the sweat is dripping down my face, stinging my eyes, leaving me blind to any obstacles. I even start to think about how it’ll be no problem to hike back later in the day…
Eventually, we get our first view of Vernazza, with its inviting blue-green sea and pastel coloured houses. Surely now we must descend? Nope, there’s still a few more steps to climb… this is where it starts to get tough, knowing we must be so close, and yet showing no signs of descending. Finally though, we reach a series of uneven steps, the type where you have to watch every placement of your foot, where a waist-high step is followed by one just an inch high. Coming down is every bit as intense a work-out as going up. More so, as it’s as much of a mental challenge as physical. Every glimpse we get of Vernazza coming ever closer spurs us on though, and eventually we’re passing the checkpoint at the other end, and descending a narrow staircase through pink and orange alleyways.