Three Trains to the Italian Riviera

11 July 2013

Welcome to Cinque Terre!


It’s actually the 12th today, but I have almost caught up, travel-diary-wise. Three days of no wi-fi meant I could type up posts as I went, but couldn’t add images to the drafts — hence creating a backlog to clear once we got here, to Manarola.

Yesterday was a Day of Three Trains:
3052 from Lucca to Viareggio, scheduled 1030-1050
9764 from Viareggio to La Spezia, scheduled 1117-1151
24492 from La Spezia to Manarola, scheduled 1200-1211

After our experience getting to Lucca, we started the day with a degree of trepidation. However, it got off to a good start, with train 3052 operating precisely on time. A different sort of train this time (a Regionale), so no little cubicles with ridiculously narrow aisles to navigate. The luggage space was still entirely inadequate for travellers carting a month’s worth of stuff, but at least the train was mostly empty so we could put the bags by our knees between the seats.

Not so much luck with Freccia Bianca train 9764, though. It was running 25 minutes late. Then 30 minutes late. And then 35 minutes late. Train stations here are a never-ending stream of PA announcements: “Attenzione,… blah blah blah,” as delays are announced; and then, as a consequence, platform changes follow. Each train station has a ‘sottopassagiare’, which is labelled in English also as a ‘subway’. It is actually an underpass to go from one side of the train tracks to the other. To get up and down to the sottopassagiare requires navigating steep steps. Some stations have lifts, but they are small and slow. I elected to get some resistance exercise and carry my 20kg suitcase as well as my 7kg backpack up and down; down and up as the platform number for train 9764 moved around the station. Got to fill up the time somehow!

Or you can have another unique Italian toilet experience!

Viareggio Stazione had coin-operated, self-cleaning toilets. The user is confronted with a closed door, an operating panel to the right with a coin slot, push button and three lights. Wait until the green light illuminates (to indicate the wash cycle is complete), put the 50 cents in the slot, wait, push the button, and the door opens. The toilet room (clean, but wet pretty much everywhere) has various buttons: toilet paper, water, soap. Oh, and, of course, no toilet seat. Once your business is done, push the exit button to open the door. Or pull the big red handle if you find yourself in a blackout! Once you have exited, a comprehensive and vigorous auto-wash cycle begins (much sloshing and squirting behind the closed door) and the red/orange light indicates a do-not-enter condition. All of this went to plan for me, luckily, but whilst I was waiting one poor woman suffered the indignity of the automatic door opening — twice — whilst she was mid task. At least she could see the funny side.

Train Two, however, was very nice. We had big, spacious, leather-covered seats with good air conditioning: first class, and assigned seats. (The tickets for Freccia Bianca trains are not of the four-hour validity type, as for the Regionale trains. Freccia Bianca trains also allow you to reserve specific seats, which we had done online.) Still not enough luggage space but, again, a very empty train, so blocking off the two seats next to us with bags wasn’t an issue.

The delay on Train Two meant we missed Train Three — which we had figured out was going to happen after our shambles getting from Pisa to Lucca. But, seasoned travellers that we are now (!) we realised that train 24492 was a Regionale train, and hence the ticket we had was of the four-hour validity type. So, a quick check of the partenze (departures) board and we found the next train that stopped at Manarola.

And who should we meet on that train but an Australian (NSW) professional photographer (and part-time serious cyclist, who had just finished a 900 km mission). He was staying in Riomaggiore (southernmost town of Cinque Terre) and had hopped on a train to have a sticky-beak at La Spezia. After 20 minutes he pulled the pin: too much Nazi graffiti and too many slums. I have to say, from the train we could see a pretty grim-looking environment: large, scungy, modern (ie not centuries old, just decades) apartment buildings very close together. Don’t think we’ll bother trying to get there.

Once we arrived in Manarola (through a lot of tunnels — there are big hills) we had to walk from the train station to our accommodation, the Carugiu B&B on via Ettore Cozzani (should you care to look for it). This is not very far at all, but the road is steep. And we were carrying 25+ kg of gear each at the hottest part of the day. And I was wearing a long skirt. Dumb idea.

We found it, no trouble, thanks to Christine. Christine is the owner/operator of Cinque Terre Trekking in Manarola. She is originally from Missouri and is the daughter-in-law of Isobella, who owns our B&B. We stopped in to see Christine on our slog up the hill, as Isobella doesn’t speak any English.

Our wee B&B is just that: wee. Bedroom, bathroom and room with tiny table, tiny fridge and tiny microwave. But it’s beautifully appointed, clean, fresh and well ventilated. (But boy, were the (marble) stairs steep. That 27 kg of luggage was nearly my undoing!) Isobella showed us around and explained how the coffee-machine worked (charades) and we managed to understand when she asked what time we wanted breakfast, and communicate the response successfully in Italian. (Learning my numbers helped after all!)

So we had half an afternoon to get our bearings.

We spent the afternoon and evening looking around — from the ‘vineyard’ walk up behind (to the north of) the village; to the gentle walkway that afforded a wonderful sunset view of Manarola itself. (We stuck around until 2030, about half an hour before official sunset.)

Dinner was spinach and feta ravioli with walnut sauce (takeaway!) from a wee shop with an owner with a kind smile and an enthusiasm for sharing his local cuisine as well as the patience to tolerate tourists who attempt to order dinner in atrocious Italian!

We paired the nice man’s ravioli with a no-expense spared (5 euro) local wine, identified only as vino rosso. What more do you need?!

Pics from the day.

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Our door, just to the left.

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Our alleyway, from across the way.

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Our balcony — between the ones with the washing.

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The stairs to our room

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The view out our window.










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