Unlike the airports in Germany and London, the airport in Milan didn't offer any comfortable couch areas where I could charge my phone and camera batteries. So I had to do away with sitting on the floor, near a plug point close to an automatic snack dispenser. Also since the airport seemed quite isolated after 12 am, I kept myself glued to a copy of The Last Song for the rest of the night, guarding my back pack. Around 5 am, when the first bus for the city center arrived, no time was lost in finding a seat for a much needed doze. In spite of being dead tired, I could hardly contain my excitement when I reached the train station because I was about to board the train to this location that I had been dreaming about for days now :) CINQUE TERRE (Chink-wa (five) Terr-ay).
Made of the five colourful age-old villages, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, this place bordering the Italian Riviera is regarded as one among the most scenic European coastlines. To avoid being caught amid 1000s of tourists in summer and the heavy monsoon showers in autumn, I deliberately planned my visit towards the end of winter. Little did I know that there were reasons to avoid visiting the place at this time of the year too. Here's exactly what happened.
Although I had my journey well chalked out, I had decided to seek a little more advise from the tourist information office on arriving at the La Spezia Centrale from Milan. The occasional sightings of the blue-green ocean and the cliff-side towns made the long train ride both pleasant and worthwhile. But it was only after I reached my destination that my worries began.
Due to the off-peak season, the tourist office was closed and not many spoke English. I had no idea how I was going to make it to Vernazza, the village where I hoped to begin my trek to Monterosso (the next fishing village). After hopelessly asking around for a bit and feeling lost, a young girl finally directed me to the underground ticket office, where I bought my ticket to the Levanto train station instead of Vernazza. By then, I was hungry, sleep deprived and tired. I had made up my mind to take a direct train back from Levanto to Milan. Yes, I was out of mind and I was actually backing out of visiting the colourful heaven after having come so far. However, if destiny has different plans then you just can't turn things around. Can you?
In a mere 10 minutes, the train which was on its way to Levanto stopped at VERNAZZA. I barely had a few seconds to make up my mind about reiterating my decision to go back. Luckily, I hopped off onto the platform in the spur of the moment and there stood the little village of Vernazza. Still slightly shaken by the sudden change of mind, I calmed down on seeing a few other tourists around. But as I exited the station, I unfortunately caught sight of a board that described the impact of the 2011 floods. It was one of those moments when you have to give the brave boy inside you a shove!
I can say, it was worth it. After walking a few meters into the village, I found myself overlooking the ocean and the colourful houses that populated the wine yards and cliffs which rose on one side of the coast. There were no words to describe what I saw. But the waves that lashed the harbor distracted me as they seemed a tad bit too high and intimidating. Disturbing images from the boards at the train station kept flashing and no, my imagination wasn't running wild. Here and there, sign boards indicated DANGER and requested tourists to stay away from the rough seas. Instantly I was gripped by fear and my plans of clicking pictures by the shore were all doomed. What had seemed like a dream destination on the internet was turning out to be a night mare!