Notes from Bellagio to Cinque Terre


A lot to relate in this blog. An old writing adage says don’t use 10 words if you can use 3. In Italy it is don’t use 10 words if you can use 300. I’ll try and split the difference. We have discovered in Italy that more is more.

Above is a photo of C at the entrance to our apartment in Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre. But first the journey.

We left Bellagio very early on a misty but warm morning. Our train was leaving Varenna at 10:37 and we had a tight changeover time in Milano Centrale and were worried about missing the 1st train. We remembered when we arrived in Varenna a steep trek down to the ferry that would take ages to climb on the way back. So, we slept little, rose as dawn was breaking, 1st in for brekkie, 1st ferry, steep trek took 5 minutes(!) and we were at the train station by 9:00!!! Only had to wait 1 hour and 37 minutes for the traino!

And when I say Train Station, think Parattah Siding, not some fancy place with 4 coffee shops! We sat there waiting and waiting as other travellers wiser than us arrived just before the train.

Then on a cramped 2nd class Italian traino to Milano. Onto our 1st class carriage for Milano to Monterosso and it turned out to be 2 rows of 3 facing each other in one of those compartments with a sliding door. And what did we end up with? 6 Aussies!

Of the 6, 3 were teachers and one had done volunteer work in a school as a speech therapist. Plus one niceish bloke who was a bit of a know-it-all type whom C said she’d strangle if she spent too long with him!

Our meeting with this group proved fortuitous down the track as unfolding events will reveal.

Then Riomaggiore! We saw the following sign outside the traino station when we arrived and had a bit of a giggle – quite apart from the thought of a town that needed a lift.


975 steps later with a 24 kilo pack on my back, dragging C’s case plus carrying my 5k day pack in the blazing sun we were wishing the ‘whether’ had been better!

However, views like the one in the photo at the top only come with effort. How’s this for the view from our balcony eh?


See the church bell tower only about 50 metres from our balcony? We were rapt until we discovered that Quasimodo was still in residence!

The landlord of our apartment could speak about 10 words of English. They included ‘I donna speaka mucha English.’ Not leaving much left. So the handover was done in sign language. His farewell wave was much better than those I had received from the English & French drivers I encountered. He ensured ALL of his fingers remained upright as he waved!

The tiny town is staggering. 5 mini supermarketo’s within 50 metres. This is something we’ve lost in Tassie. Little corner shops all stocked with local produce and fresh fruit & vegetables. Whilst we have Hill St & the Salad Bowl, they are upmarket, these are for the locals and all are smaller than our living room.

Cinque Terre is a region of 5 small villages literally hewn into the steep, rocky hillsides. (You have to look at some of our photos). Just about every square metre of available land is utilised. They produce tremendous quantities of vegetables and citrus fruits plus excellent quality vino!

Between them they have 7,000 kilometres of dry stone walls! And they are magnificent. That is SEVEN TIMES THE DISTANCE BETWEEN SYDNEY AND HOBART!

Four of the towns are at sea level and wind their way up the hill. The 5th, Corniglia, is on a steep hill you climb to via a switch back ‘staircase’ that rises vertically for 367 steps from the railway station. It’s actually not as hard as it looks or sounds.

Coming back down we met some people coming up. I said to them ‘I’d like to say you are nearly there.’ Quick as a flash they replied ‘Only an Aussie would say something like that!’ Yep they were.

2 minutes later we heard them, immediately above us meet some other other Aussies descending. So of course I called out ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie,’ Quick as lightning came the reply ‘Oi, Oi, Oi!’ In my own impromptu little way I was able to introduce some Aussie culture to the natives. Made me feel all warm inside.

Down on the train station we met the couple who had been behind us. They’d just come from Santorini (we are going there last), and were blown away by it and now Cinque Terre. This bronzed Aussie guy from Perth waxed lyrical saying, ‘It’s like I’ve died and gone to heaven!’

I’ve swum in the Mediterranean! 1st day at Monterosso stinking hot and forgot my towel. Next day, overcast, cool and looking like a storm coming in. Will I? Won’t I?. Another Aussie couple came past and had been in. ‘Freezing mate.’ in answer to my question. Then, ‘You from Tassie? It’ll be like a sauna for you!’ How could I resist?

While I was swimming along came another Aussie group (per capita more Aussies than Americans!) They just laughed, looked along the beach and commenting on the fact that I was the only one in the water said ‘Pick the Tasmanian.’ How rude. Anyway, here’s proof:


By the way, the sand was like blue metal! It really hurt getting to and from the water!

Then things became interesting. We met one of the Aussie couples from our train earlier. We’d bumped into them several times over the past few days and always stopped for a chat. This time, they were looking red faced, harried and hurried. ‘Can’t stop.’ They said, ‘Just found out there’s a train driver’s strike on Sunday and that’s the day we have to leave C/T for Milan.’

Uttering condolences we left them, moved on and then it dawned – we too were leaving C/T on Sunday and had 3 separate train connections to get to Bologne! Aaarrrgghh.

We had 2 choices: 1. Leave C/T a day early and miss our day on the boats traveling from town to town. Also surrendering one night at our apartment, losing money on a paid train trip and having to book an extra night at Bologna (if we could).

2. Stay an extra day in C/T, extra accom costs (if available), re-arrange trains, hope strike ended Sunday and miss Ravenna.

After a lot of to and froing we chose 1. When we reached Parma there were 2 trains leaving. A fast train with 1st class on which you needed to prebook or a slower 2nd class train 15 mins later. We didn’t have time to prebook and as we reached the platform the fast train rolled in.

We looked at each other, said ‘why not?’ and hopped on. We decided to plead dumb tourist if caught. However no conductor came near us on the whole trip!

So, 2 good things came out of it. We managed to get a 1st class ride from Palma to Bologna for free and today (Sunday 22/5) we made an unexpected visit to Florence. Magic.

All for now,



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6 Responses to Notes from Bellagio to Cinque Terre

  1. Gail Foster says:

    HI Jim and Cheryl
    Thanks for the encouraging comments re the 367 steps! We have just booked a Cinque Terre day tour from Florence. It includes those steps and quite a bit of hiking. I bought my walking shoes today and am in training!
    Hoping the whether stays fine for you!
    Love Gail

  2. Rob Valentine says:

    “be sure your sins will find you outo!” Old saying from Roman bible!

    How dare you, how very dare you!

    • Jim Wilson says:

      Hey Rob, I didn’t know you could speak Eyetalian! Well done! Tried it the next day and got caught!

  3. Hurrah, wifi again, with three days to go……

    We met several Kiwis in Italy, but the only Aus couple were in the Uffizi, and whadaya know, when we got talking it turned out that they used to keep their boat at Kettering and knew Steve Brinkoff very well!

    Did you get to look around in Florence?

    • Jim Wilson says:

      Welcome back. Spent the day in Florence, hoping to blog tonight. What a classic story re the New Zealander!

      We’ve met Aussies everywhere plus quite a few from NZ.

      3 days for you, 3 weeks for us. Am dreading work!

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