Italy is a wonderful canvas of colors. Traveling through its cities and villages, I sometimes felt that there are no lines in that world, just patterns of color standing adjacent to each other. In those two weeks I felt resplendent, and felt like I had run through every shade I had ever seen reflected, all presented in that place with boldness and pride.
While the little island of Burano was undisputedly the most colorful place I have ever seen, the colors which mesmerised me were those of Cinque Terre. In each of its villages that I visited, a tumble of reds and yellows sprang out of a starkly blue Mediterranean. Sometimes, these villages wore a green cap on their colorful attire, at other times, they were a bit brown.
Cinque terre is five lands, or villages on the western coast of Italy, north of Pisa. These five lands lie along a rugged, rocky coast, and collectively form the Cinque Terre National Park – a UNESCO heritage site, deservedly so. The villages are haphazard but beautiful in their chaos. During my two nights stay there, which felt quite short, I visited 4 of the 5 villages (missed going to the southern most Riomaggiore), and loved each one of them, but particularly Manarola where we stayed.
When we first landed in Manarola, the chaos puzzled us. We walked perplexedly along its steep terrains, searching for the room we had rented, dragging our luggage behind us. When we finally found the way, I was ready to give up on the long flight of stairs, but somehow managed to reach up and meet the eagerly waiting son and dad, who then gallantly took my bags. They didn’t know much English, and I certainly couldn’t go beyond Bon journo and Grazie, so there was much thanking all around.
We went around the little village, which basically meant going a steep way down to the marina. Everything remarkable naturally fell on the way.The village was very crowded with day trippers, who didnt appear very friendly, and I was beginning to have a sense of disappointment. But then, in a local pub, some local grappa and limoncello was had, which helped me recover from the disorientation – and I began to find beauty in the tumble.
After a heartening dinner at Billy’s, which was up in the cliff, we again climbed down to the Marina to see the last leg of the sun. Many day trippers had gone and the place looked serene, in heavy contrast to the day. I was glad that I had decided to stay in this magical place rather than return to La Spezia with the crowds.
Next day, we decided to walk the famous trails of Cinque Terre. It was tough work, and in some cases we climbed down a wrong flight of stairs, to climb about 200 meters twice. The day was hot, and honestly, the only time I enjoyed the views was when we were close to the villages. Climbing down to Vernazza, for instance was a visual treat I will not easily forget. It was like a very colorful strip of land claiming a resolute sea.
Other than this view, and a small bar we encountered between Corniglia and Vernazza, the walk was not too remarkable. A lot of up and down, under a hot sun – not the kind of meditative walking I enjoy (like the Dolomites in northern Italy – but thats a story for another time).
We walked only up to Vernazza, and not to Monte Rosso. The lunch at Vernazza was remarkable, despite what seemed like boatloads of people milling around that postcard village. I would like to go back and stay a night in that perfectly magical place too – something told me it would be like an abandoned Disneyland in the night. I have a fascination for places which people like to visit only during day or during a particular season – I want to visit them when they are taking a breather from the crowd.
The train ride to Monterosso, and then back to Manarola was like being in a sea of people – I felt like I was no longer standing but hanging in the air, always vulnerable to getting crushed by the mass. The constant reminder about pickpockets made me get extremely attached to my camera bag, which I held on to as if it was a lifeguard.
The evening at the Manarola marina was another wonderful one. I refused to move from the shelter of the cliffs, and that reluctance was only partly due to the long climb to the room.
There was more reluctance when boarding the train which was to take us to Como – I wonder if I will ever go back to this colorful land. There is so much more to see, and I have rarely made good on the promises to return.