Saturday, September 19, 2015

Trains, trains and more trains

We leave Venice just as the crowds begin to stream into the city. Huge groups follow tour guides waving little flags. Our train from Venice to Florence is filled with tourists, many who have suitcases way too large to fit in the overhead racks and we watch with amusement as people desperately try to fit their bags somewhere, anywhere.  I wonder what is in their luggage and why they need to bring so much stuff! In Florence, we transfer to a regional train to La Spezia, which stops at many small towns. These towns are grittier than the ski towns up north, graffiti art decorates the concrete walls. Air conditioning is weak and occasionally a cool breeze blows through. Passengers on the train are a mix of local residents, students and tourists. I spend my time people watching- the young teen couple sitting across from us, she sharing photos on her cell phone with him; he looks totally disinterested.            
     Some if the scenery looks familiar and we recall that we drove this route many years back. We pass mountainsides sliced off and cleared for its marble and stone and realize that the stone on kitchens and bathroom countertops in the US, and the marble on floors and walls in China may have come from the Carrera area. Large blocks and slabs of stone sit waiting for transport in roadside lots. I feel slightly guilty about our granite countertops and am reminded of those who clear cut redwoods back in the 19th century. Mountains will not grow back like trees. I vow not to purchase any more slabs of rock.
     At 4pm, we arrive in La Spezia, the launch city for the Cinque Terre. Here we purchase inexpensive  tickets for the local train that runs to the Cinque Terre towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia,Vernazza, and Monterossa. We gasp at the enormous crowds of people getting off the train at La Spezia. Rick Steves, you have created a huge economy here and made this place famous to Americans. Everywhere we turn, there are Americans with your tour book in hand! Everyone talks about Rick Steves said to go here, eat here... We meet people from Kansas, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, and more Californians than we can count. Someone comments that it is like Disneyland. 
     We get off at Manarola and pull our luggage up the very steep and winding main pedestrian street all the way to the top church square. The apartment we have rented is Casa Capellini, on the 4th floor of a family's walk up. We later learn that many residents have remodeled and rent apartments out on a cash basis and only about 400 people permanently live here; I think most of them are older. Like many small European villages, families have moved to the cities and local residents are those that work the hospitality industry. We manage to make it up the tall and narrow stairs without falling backward. Lucky all we have are backpacks and roll ons. The apartment is modern with a great balcony view of the town. I spend the evening photographing Manarola at sunset. The town walls come to life in the evening glow and Manarola is now quiet, free of tourists and utterly charming. 


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