From my perspective, the only heaven of interest is right here on earth. While Noosa comes close, I think we have just found a slice of it in Italy. It just takes a bit of effort to get here.
I have always said that stairs are your best friend. I used to run them in the high rise buildings in my days working in the city. It was a great way to stay fit and break up the monotony of the sometimes mind numbing nature of the public sector. Why choose the lift when stairs are available? There are no lifts in Vernazza, just lots of stairs.
We are in Cinque Terre, characterised by extended terraces whose edification started in the 12th century, and five villages that cling to the cliffs on the West Coast of Northern Italy. The area has been declared by UNESCO as a patrimony of Mankind. It is also a National Park and a very special place visited by millions each year. Just think, eight million in August alone.
For centuries the only transport between the villages was by track and lots of stairs. The tracks and stairs are still there, well some of them anyway, but most of the millions are ferried in by train and boat.
We arrived by train, walked down the main street with our packs on our back and were greeted by our host outside the local gelato shop. Roberto is as brown as a berry and has a cigar permanently attached to his mouth. Not sure whether the sun or the smoke will get him first. Then we started to climb. It was at this point that I was very grateful for the back pack. You should see those with their wardrobe on wheels trying to negotiate the climb. Up through the back alleys of Vernazza, in through a large green door, more stairs and then out onto an open balcony. We were right on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Med. We had arrived at our apartment. Well almost. To get to our abode, we went through another door, climbed down a cross between a ladder and a staircase and arrived in a room built into the rock face. It was fantastic and was to be our home for the next five days. Karyn said she never wanted to leave.
But leave we did. Every day we would venture out into the mountains, climb lots of stairs and then drop down into a village for a swim in the ocean and a taste of the local food produce. The weather has been absolutely perfect. We are in heaven.
The view from our balcony is straight into the Med. If I was stupid enough to jump, I would hopefully land in the water at least 30 metres below. There are a number of boat moorings just outside the small Vernazza harbour that I have taken some interest in. Just for old times sake. They are the locations where cruising yachts tie up for varying lengths of time. As I watch, I go through the tasks to be performed in the process. It is a long list. I then go through the process of what it would take for the inhabitants of the yachts to come ashore. It is another long list. The possibility of getting very wet is high. The swell from the sea has been increasing each day and the yachts lurch about like pendulums. I am thankful we are on dry land and all I have to do is walk down a few stairs to have a bite to eat and a beer. Karyn is not so sure.
It finally came to our last day to go for a walk. We decided to head up the hills into the mountains and take the high alternative track. This is the non tourist trek and it was absolutely wonderful. We were alone in the mist and the beautiful vegetation. The return journey from Monterosso via the much used coastal track was like a conga line. Cinque Terre is in danger of being loved to death.
The other problem is that Cinque Terre is in danger of falling into the water. In October 2011 a wild storm lashed the coastline and much of the landscape was washed away. The main street of Vernazza became a river of mud and rock and lives were lost. It is still in recovery mode and many of the tracks are closed.
It is now time to pack and leave this little slice of heaven. We are heading back into France for another adventure in the Alps. I think we are going by train, though the way Karyn keeps looking at the yachts, she may have an alternative plan.
As we depart our little hole in the cliff face, I notice that the harbour has turned into a washing machine from the increased swell in the Med. All the tiny boats have been stored on dry land in the market square. There is not a yacht in sight. Yes! we are going by train.