When things don’t go according to plan ….
After a wondrous 3 days in magical Venice, it was time to move on to our next destination – Vernazza on the Cinque Terre. It had been my dream to visit the Cinque Terre for many years – in fact after seeing a segment on Getaway about 4 years before, it was one of the must-see destinations for our trip.
Never heard of the Cinque Terre? It means 5 villages – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Each of the villages features stunning, colourful buildings perched above the Ligurian Sea in Italy. There isn’t a direct route between Venice and the CT, so after doing some research, we decided to take the train from Venice to Milan, head south to Genoa and then along the Ligurian Coast to Vernazza.
The main reason we chose to go via Milan and Genoa, rather than the alternate routes, was because we could book in advance on the trains which take this route and the trains are the faster Frecciabianca trains, as opposed to regional or local trains.
After another sumptuous breakfast at our Venice hotel, we walked outside, leaving luxury behind, then reality struck. We had to negotiate two stepped bridges with our heavily-stuffed suitcases in two in order to reach the Palanca vaporetto (waterbus) station. This took us about 15 minutes, but we made it with enough time to buy a ticket and validate it before the boat arrived. We scrambled on board the crowded boat and struggled to find a place we could stand with our suitcases. As it was still early, the boat was full of locals commuting to work for the day – and they weren’t very impressed that we had suitcases. One man shoved past me mumbling something in Italian under his breath. Oh well!
We got off the vaporetto at Ferrovia, which adjoins the Santa Lucia Train Station, walked up to the main entrance and through onto the platform area. We had plenty of time, as our train didn’t leave for another half hour, but we had to find where to go, which can be challenging when you don’t speak Italian!
After about 10 minutes, we found the right platform and boarded the train. The steps up to the Italian trains are quite large and steep. Dragging heavy suitcases can be rather difficult – trust me. Thank goodness for The Bestie – it would’ve been a real struggle alone! We located our seats, stowed our luggage and sat down to enjoy a comfortable train ride to Milan. It’s great to get there quickly on the fast trains, but the downside is that the countryside whizzes by without an opportunity to take it all in. We did see a few local fisherman heading out for the day when we crossed the causeway from Venice to Mestre on the mainland.
We arrived in Milan by 11.30, got off the train and went to find a panini for lunch, as we had 45 minutes until our train to the Cinque Terre. We had a bit of a look around the shops, then found the platform we needed and boarded our next train. The seats were face-to-face, which meant I was going backwards, but there was little choice. We discussed swapping part way through the journey if I was feeling unwell.
When the departure time passed and the train hadn’t moved, we started to wonder what was happening. About 15 minutes later, an announcement came over the loud speaker, “Questo treno subirà un ritardo 30 minuti.” We looked blankly at each other, wondering what the announcement was – we figured 30 minuti was 30 minutes. By the groaning and mumbling from fellow travellers, it seemed there was a delay.
A pleasant young man had seated himself next to The Bestie. He saw our confusion and chimed in, “The train is delayed for 30 minutes.” We thanked him for explaining that to us, and that started the conversation. His English was quite good, so we were able to talk for quite some time. He asked where we were going, and then told us Vernazza is very beautiful. He lived in Genoa and had been to see his girlfriend, who lives in Como, north of Milan. He asked where we were staying. We told him our B&B was called Maria Capellini Rooms, and the owner, Giacomo, was meeting us at the station.
About 45 minutes passed and another announcement came, “Ci scusiamo per il disagio, questo treno sarà ritardato uno ora.” Our new friend said they apologised for any inconvenience, the train was delayed for another hour. By this time we’d worked out the word ritardo or ritardato means delay!
Our scheduled 12.15 departure eventually became a 2pm departure. If we’d been on schedule, we should have been arriving at Monterosso station, on the Cinque Terre, at 2.55pm. There was no way we would be there by then, as the journey takes almost 3 hours. I tried to call Giacomo, but couldn’t get an answer. I decide it was best to text him to let him know of our delay.
Due to further delays along the way, by the time we reached Monterosso, it was 5.30pm. Monterosso is the largest of the five Cinque Terre villages, and the only one where the Frecciabanca trains stop. We needed to catch a local train for the 4 minute journey to our final destination, Vernazza. We quickly called Giacomo to apologise again for the delay and to let him know we would be on the next train to Vernazza.
I went to purchase the tickets while The Bestie minded the bags, as it was two flights of stairs down the platform and two more back up on the ticket office side. I asked the attendant for two tickets to Vernazza and also asked which platform and time the train was. She shoved the tickets through the window, curtly replying, “Plataforma three, nexta train!”
I rushed back down the stairs and up the set on the other side, as a train pulled into the station on platform 3. We dragged our luggage up the steep steps of the train carriage and stood in a corner, as we were getting off at the next station. There were compartments in the carriage, which didn’t seem right for a local train. Something felt a bit odd. Just then, a group of teenagers pushed past us, giggling and said, “La Spezia…”
I turned to the man beside me and said, “Parla Inglase?” Do you speak English? He replied, “Espanola, Espanola!” Great, the only person close enough to ask a question spoke Spanish only – no Inglase! If only I spoke Italian – or Spanish!!
Before we could make a move, the doors slammed closed, and as the train pulled out of the station, the announcer blurted, “Prossima fermata La Spezia,” – next stop La Spezia! OMFG – we were on the wrong train – a regional train bound for La Spezia, the next major town… and it was too late to do anything about it. The worst part was that we whizzed straight through the station at Vernazza! I felt like pulling the emergency brake.
We got to La Spezia about 20 minutes later, by which time I was on the verge of tears, as we weren’t sure whether we would be able to return to Vernazza that evening or not. It had been a very long day of travelling and we were both exhausted. We went to the ticket window and asked for the next train to Vernazza, which was in 30 minutes!
Just as I paid for the tickets, our phone rang. It was Giacomo. “Lyndalla, where you are?” I replied, “Oh Giacomo, I’m so sorry to keep you waiting. We are in La Spezia!”
Giacomo replied, “No no, you no go La Spezia, you come Vernazza,” to which I replied, “I’m trying!”
At least there was a monitor on La Spezia station, which indicated that this train was scheduled to stop at Vernazza. When the train arrived, just to be sure, I asked three different people if this was the train for Vernazza. One couple, who were Canadian, said, “We hope so, because we’re trying to get to Riomaggiore.” They had done the same thing as us, and got on the train to La Spezia instead of the local train for the five villages.
A rather large old Italian man with holes in his sweater and muddy Crocs on his feet overheard our conversation and approached us. “This treno, it stop Vernazza, Vernazza!” he exclaimed as he waved his arms about to emphasize the point. We thanked him and he shuffled off to the end of the carriage, where he sat in a corner and ate biscuits.
We chatted to the Canadian couple for a few minutes. It turned out they had only arrived that day – a great start to their Italian adventure!
By the time we finally arrived in Vernazza, it was after 7.00pm – and we were around 3 hours late. Giacomo greeted us warmly when we reached the bottom of the train station steps, there wasn’t a hint of annoyance. I was so relieved to see him. He gave me a hug and said, “Ah, Lyndall, nice-a to meet you.” I introduced The Bestie and he hugged her too.
I said, “We’re so very sorry to keep you waiting,” to which he replied, “No problema, I waita for you.” He said he’d had plenty of time to chat to his friends and have a couple of coffees. He then told us that one American couple went back and forth between Monterosso and La Spezia three times before making it to Vernazza! We felt a little better.
He guided us down the main street of the village, which is more like a laneway, as there are virtually no cars allowed here. We walked about 150-200 metres, past little shops selling souvenirs, fruit and vegetables, a deli, bakery, internet café and several restaurants. Some of the stores remain closed after a devastating flood came through the town in 2011, destroying everything in its path. Before long, we reached the harbour front and Giacomo guided us to the room where we would be staying for 3 nights. Maria Capellini Rooms is ranked Vernazza’s no. 1 place to stay on Trip Advisor. They only have two rooms, one on the harbour, where we stayed, and one located off the main square, up 50 stairs. I’m sure their rating is largely due to their wonderful hospitality.
The room was spotlessly clean, with whitewashed walls, an exposed brick arch feature, a dining table with two chairs, a little kitchenette and full bathroom. The decorating was traditional, we felt like we were staying at Nonna’s house. It was lovely and homely, with a delightful view of the pretty harbour.
We were so relieved just to be able to put our bags down and stop for a minute. We said we needed a drink, so Giacomo waited while we put our things away, then showed us where to find a bottle of wine and the best pizza in town.
We ate, drank and laughed about our mixed up day of delays. We figured something would go wrong on our trip, and hoped that this was it.
The Besties Do Italy series details how Seize The Day Project’s Lyndall and her long time best friend ventured to Italy to celebrate a significant birthday – sans husbands and children. Shhh, don’t tell anyone they’ve gone!
Read more posts in this fascinating series here:
Linking up with A Hole in My Shoe for #TheWeeklyPostcard