The beauty of flexible plans
The beauty of flexible plans

The best-laid plans of mice and men, often go awry, especially when travelling. So, it pays to be flexible.

I planned to visit the Cinque Terre but arrived at the tourism office at La Spezia station to find the only paths open were the 20- minute walk between Riomaggiore and Manarola and the spectacular hike from Vernazza to Monterosso. "Those are not good enough," said the office clerk, looking at my walking shoes. A change of plan was required. Why not walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola then take the train between Vernazza and Monterosso?

The train to Riomaggiore was packed and, put off by long cafe queues, I set off for Manarola on the paved via d'Amore, the Love Walk along which lovers scrawl their names on the rocks or etch them into foliage and tree trunks. Not quite the country walk I'd imagined, but the view was beautiful.

Buskers entertained the walkers. A group of Spaniards sang along to Eviva Espana while Germans were danced a polka. Senior citizens shuffled along on zimmer frames, some were in wheelchairs and other people even brought their dogs.

At Manarola, I ambled along the main street to the little harbour, past fishing boats and souvenir stalls. Did the boats ever get any sea water on them?

It was getting very hot as I jumped on the train, setting off for lunch at Corniglia. One look at the scrum leaving the train and joining the throng already swarming all over the steps, led to another change of plan. Why not take the train to Vernazza, the next village along and eat lunch there? Great idea. Feeling smug, I dashed back on to the train.

What a shock! Vernazza was the worst hit of all of the villages last year and the flood damage was still obvious. Some buildings had a mud line 2m-high and there were piles of bricks and building materials, chain link fences, warning signs and safety barriers. Tourists resolutely picked their way through the obstacles on their way to the port. Full to bursting, happy, noisy bars and cafes competed with groaning cement mixers and shouting tradesmen.

Another change of plan. Forget lunch. After buying some fruit and a couple of Mars bars, I wandered the back streets through narrow alleys with brightly painted houses. Occasionally, I came into a dead end, but it didn't really matter. The cooking smells from the houses reminded me how hungry I was. Sitting on a low wall, I munched contentedly on a Mars bar.

Although this wasn't what I had planned, I was enjoying myself. Here, away from the harbour, it was peacefully quiet. Out of the sun, in the narrow passages, it was so cool. The vistas were breathtaking, the water was sparkling and a couple of shiny white yachts were approaching the wharf. It looked like a James Bond movie. Why not take a boat ride up the spectacular coast? I found my way back to the harbour only to see the last boat of the day pulling away from the wharf. OK. Change plan again. Off to Monterosso, the last link in the chain.

Back at the station, my knees were creaking as I climbed the steps to the platform. The heat was stifling and my shirt was stiff with salt and dried sweat. Perhaps it was time for a last change of plan. Did I really need to see Monterosso? If I never saw it, would I know what I had missed? An icy cold prosecco in a piazza in Lucca beckoned seductively. Scolding myself for being weak, I gave in to temptation and headed back.

A couple of weeks later, a friend told me that she had just visited the Cinque Terre and that parts of the other two walks were now open. Grrrr. Still, I had no complaints and had very pleasant memories of my higgledy piggledy day.

John Georgeff

The West Australian

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