Road Trip to Cinque Terre

By Megan Hulshizer

Anke picked me up from the Munich airport and away we went! We stopped to buy some necessary road trip chocolate and the pass needed to use the Austrian highways. Our goal for day one: Verona. The city is about halfway between Munich and our final destination of Cinque Terre. Google estimated around five hours, but of course there was an unusual amount of traffic for a Wednesday afternoon and we hit a lot of traffic. Fortunately the drive takes you through the Austrian Alps and the Italian Dolomites, so the views were pretty spectacular. Our car went from low valleys to high passes and we watched the sun slowly descend behind the mountaintops. Anke and I have known each other for ten years, and we never run out of things to talk about. We rocked out to some 80s classics and Blink-182 during the ride. We finally arrived in Verona around 9 pm. We checked into our hostel/bed & breakfast, and we were immediately greeted by the most incredible Italian man of my life, he was almost a caricature, fabulous and rocking out to Katy Perry nonstop. The bathroom had a hilarious sign that requested only “perfumed” guests were allowed, and our room was decorated with books and Louis Vuitton bags on our walls and ceiling.

In the morning, after breakfast on our balcony, we got an early start to get to La Spezia. We would park our car there, then take the train to the first town of Cinque Terre. After encountering more traffic, we finally got to La Spezia, and had to wait almost 45 minutes for a parking spot to open up. Finally, one did, and we parked and went inside to get tickets. We did our tickets all the wrong way, but in the end it sort of worked out. We didn’t have to wait long for the train to Riomaggiore. Anke and I lathered up on sunscreen – it was a gorgeous day outside and we are pretty fair skinned people. We departed at Riomaggiore, not a long ride at all, to walk around. Trying to avoid the crowds of tourists, we found a sort of dirt path through some foliage that led us to a great overlook of the town. Pretty sure we shouldn’t have been there, but hey, it was gorgeous. After exploring the small town for a bit, we stopped to share a plate of pasta to carbo-load for our first hike. We were hiking the trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola. The coastal trail that’s much easier is closed for the year (I think it’s falling into the ocean or something) so we took the much more difficult inland trail. It goes up and up and up, big steps that really make you work for it. But the views were incredible and somehow we managed to survive. It wasn’t a particularly long hike when it came to distance, but going straight up and straight down took maybe two hours.

We arrived in Manarola sweaty and ready to cool down. We treated ourselves to gelato and sat on a little bench to overlook the city. After my face redness subsided as much as it could, we took some pictures and checked out the many views. Anke and I ended up at a cute place overlooking Manarola and split some wine, which came with a huge complimentary tapas plate. We love Italy! Then we changed into our swimsuits and swam in the little bay of Manarola. Unfortunately we had to take turns swimming so someone could watch our valuables, but the water was crystal clear and refreshing. Anke and I napped on our towels in the sun until almost six pm, when we decided to head back to get our car and find our hostel.

I’m glad we didn’t try to find the hostel in the dark! First we thought it was very close to the town of La Spezia. But due to the numbering system of the road, we kept following the twisty turny road up a hill until we arrived in an even smaller, more remote town of Biassa, that looks down on La Spezia. The hostel had a great view over La Spezia, and we had pizza overlooking the bay as we watched the sunset.

The next morning, we ate breakfast at the hostel before taking the hostel shuttle to Riomaggiore. This time we were taking the train to Manarola and hiking a new trail that would take us through Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia, and Monterosso.

Since we were starting nice and early, there were hardly any crowds and the weather was still cool. Anke and I both agreed that the hike between Manarola and Vernazza was our favorite. It had the best views, the best trail, and was just overall incredible. We hiked through vineyards and a small town, found complimentary lemonade on the top of a hill with a cute guestbook to sign, and once you were up, it wasn’t impossible hiking. We arrived in Corniglia and decided to have lunch at a place overlooking the water. We could watch the boats pass over the crystal blue water, and had some reasonably priced sandwiches. It was very relaxing to write some postcards and enjoy the view. By the time we started hiking the next trail, Corniglia to Vernazza, both the sun and the tourists had come out in full force. The views were still fairly beautiful but the trails were starting to get really full. Also during this trail you should have a trail pass, but we managed to slip in with a huge tour group so that worked in our favor!

We arrived to Vernazza to endless crowds. We barely stayed and checked out the city for 15 minutes before we got overwhelmed and decided to just get gelato at the next place (Anke and I also had a great discussion of the English language about how you can be underwhelmed and overwhelmed, but not just whelmed). It was the heat of the day, I was tired and hot, and I felt a sunburn coming on. Vernazza to Monterosso is an incredibly narrow trail and often you must stop to let others by. It was also a lot more in the woods so there weren’t as many views. It was a great workout though! I was so happy when we got to Monterosso, got some gelato, and we were finally able to cool off at the beach. We had started hiking at 9:30 am and arrived in Monterosso around 5. Hiking Cinque Terre is a full-time job! My Fitbit had us at 30,000 steps and 300+ flights of stairs. That’s an incredible number of stairs.

We laid around in Monterosso for a while, swimming and tanning and napping, before taking the train back to have dinner in Riomaggiore. The line to get train tickets was insane and wrapped up around the stairs but we made it in time to split pasta and salad before catching the hostel shuttle back.

Our final day we were told we should visit Portovenere. It’s a town on the end that’s super close to some islands and has really interesting churches and ruins. We hoped to kayak or canoe but apparently they don’t start that until June, and we were there in May! Seemed like a large oversight to not have those things available when there were plenty of tourists around. Instead we enjoyed exploring the church (a wedding was happening while we were there!), the cemetery, and explore the tiny streets. We stopped for an apple on this tiny, empty side street that overlooked the city and the bay, and split some pesto pasta that was cheap and delicious. Finally we decided to lay out and tan at the beach near where we had parked our car. After relaxing (despite very loud children), it was time to get into the car and head to Verona. I was sad to leave Cinque Terre, as it was an absolutely beautiful experience and I could haven spent much more time exploring each town and the different trails.

We got back to Verona and checked into the same hostel but this time we had an underwater/nautical themed room that again was hilarious. Anke and I had stopped for groceries so we had snacks for dinner and our drive the next day. Since it was still early we decided to explore the town. There was some sort of fun-run or 5k happening, but it was hard to tell because many people were walking and chatting casual and then some people were running very seriously, and the finish line wasn’t clear. We ended up having some wine by the famous bridge of Verona and talking and chatting until late in the night. The next day we met Anke’s Italian friends to walk around the city, see the famous Romeo and Juliet balcony, and have some lunch. Her friends were so nice, their baby was so cute, and the mom was only a week away from having their second child! I spent the whole time terrified she was about to pop.

Finally it was time to drive back to Eichstätt. After more driving, more traffic, more mountains, and some car naps, we arrived, and I was able to see Anke’s family again! Fortunately I had last seen them a year ago when my family visited Europe, but it’s always great to see them and be welcomed by her lovely family. We had a late dinner and dessert, and a few drinks with her parents before retiring for the night. Anke had to work the next day, but once she was finished with work, her mom and I met her to play mini golf and swim at a gorgeous lake. The water was so clear that we could see the HUGE fish swimming right by our legs. For dinner we had a delicious German barbecue with lots of sides and salads and most importantly, meat. I always enjoy spending time laughing and talking with her family.

The next day was my train back to Hamburg, so I took a walk with Anke’s mom around a little (it was very hot, so we didn’t last long) and then her younger brother drove me to the train station. They are so lovely and kind, and are always the best hosts. Hopefully they can come visit me soon, and I am looking forward to Anke’s trip to Oklahoma in January!

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