The Art of Speedy Tourism
Today I think I became a whole new sort of high performance athlete. The kind that combines a love for sightseeing with a need for the pressure of competition. Although I have retired from competitive sport I still find that whenever I am doing exercise that I am still in competition with myself, always. It is something that I think will never leave me and today as I took on the Cinque Terre it was still very present. Today I was the speed tourist.
With several factors including delayed trains (shock!) and the closure of the main Cinque Terre walking track (Track 2) I couldn’t get my walk under way until 1.45 pm despite being bright-eyed and awake (debatable) at 7 am in Genova. Because of my late start I had to get serious and embrace a new type of tourism if I wanted to complete the five villages by night-fall and in time to catch the 2 hour train back to Genova.
I began in Riomaggiore taking in that well-known photograph of the multi-coloured houses clinging tightly and stoically to the cliff-face like limpets in a rock pool. The Via Dell’amore was closed (disappointment on countless lovers’ faces) so the alternative route to Manarola and beyond to Corniglia and Vernazza, involved trekking back in to the hills and the forests, taking routes that were going to take far longer than I had initially planned.
For me this wasn’t too much of a problem as I had committed to the speedy tourist race. I powered through Manarola incurring some penalties along the way for taking the long route to see the standard viewing points, but it was worth it. That alive feeling of being at the very top of a rugged cliff face as the aggression of the sea’s fists smash up against the rocks below you is something quite special and invigorating.
The road from Manarola to Corniglia became a bit hairy and as a speedy tourist knows, regular tourists can be a real problem once you’re in the thick of the race. I lost a lot of speedy points due to being stuck behind a girl, supported by her boyfriend, as she descended the jagged rocky trail in glittery, bejeweled sandals and a short floaty dress. I was very impressed that she was actually making ground as she was clearly unprepared for the Cinque Terre race. Unfortunately, for me she was nothing more than an obstacle.
When I reached Corniglia I did a spectacularly fast sweep of the town, quickly getting a shot at the panoramic viewing platform and taking the quickest gelato of my life (thats commitment!) Bursting through the door I yelled out my flavour order from the back of the room so the gelato queen behind the counter had it ready by the time I approached. Two euro on the counter and I was off again.
The hardest mental challenge in today’s race occurred when I was leaving Corniglia to get to Vernazza. Because of the path closure I had to ascend the mountainous and rocky stairs that I had just flown down with ease on the way in to Corniglia. Even with a deflated spirit, I carried on, taking in as much of the beautiful costal viewing that I could whilst heaving my now aching feet up each protruding stair, keeping committed to the race.
The path heading towards Vernazza was refreshing as I began to enter deeper in to forest territory. It even felt for a moment like I was tramping in one of the beautiful NZ bush tracks with the ferns, the tall foliage and the rugged path of tree roots. And then a sneaky olive branch would peek through on to the track to remind me that I was hiking on this wonderful Italian coast and that I had a race to finish.
Descending in to Vernazza was a beautiful sight for sore eyes, and feet (and body for that matter) The cluster of old and colourful buildings and the statuesque church standing out above all the rest were lit up as the rain and the dusk came upon me. I think Vernazza would have been the most beautiful of the villages for me and I wanted to explore it more but it was 6.30 pm already and I was against the clock. With a few quick snaps from above and some rapid appreciation of the cacti flourishing with deceptively thistley fruit, I went straight from route 507 to the open section of track 2, leading to Monterosso.
The rain started coming down fairly heavily but I could see the bright and welcoming lights of Monterosso in the distance and I could almost taste the sweet lemony aroma of the local Limoncino! From about halfway to Vernazza and onwards to this point I barely saw a soul, which was perfect for me for this part of the race. I was on the home stretch.
I saw the familiar beach of Monterosso laid out in front of the promenade as usual, minus the bronzed and sun-blushed bodies stacked like tetris blocks trying to squeeze on to every last inch of pebbled sand. I began to quicken my pace to keep myself on track and descended in to the last of the villages with a total time of 5 hours and 35 minutes. Success! I had taken the win, a few hiccups here and there with compulsory viewing stops and poor “oblivious tourist” management but I made it to the end just before the sun had a chance to say it’s final “arrivederci”. To celebrate I kicked off my shoes (ahhh relief) and stripped down to my togs to dive head first in to the fresh, cold sea water. This is probably one of my absolute favorite feelings and it reminds me of my rowing days after full day competitions. Exhausting your body, pushing it to it’s limits and then diving in to a refreshing body of water is simply magic.
The Cinque Terre race was well worth it, even on a rainy and grey misty day like today. I managed to take in some amazing scenery even in race mode, taking it in at pace. Perhaps next time there might actually be some other competitors in my race, that would be nice. For now I will keep up the healthy competition with my inner opponent. She’s pretty fierce. ¡viva the speedy tourist games!