Sunday, 1 May 2016

Cinque Terre: invasion of the hikerish, and the validation of the picturesque.

Tuesday 26th April, 2016

"Well, it might be a lot quieter tomorrow after the Bank Holiday." We speculated, sitting in the sun on a bench outside of Deiva Marina station waiting for the camp site shuttle bus. 

When tomorrow came, and we alighted at Vernazza, our prediction proved somewhat optimistic. The hoards of holidaying Italians had disappeared only to be replaced by a glut of tourists bent on experiencing the last scrap of pristine coastal scenery on the Italian Riviera. A small vegetable market had been set up outside the station. We stopped for a moment to buy tomatoes before facing the scrum.


Grey haired French randonneurs predominated. They were unmissable, partly because in the excitement of the moment they had taken to talking very loudly and shrieking with 'rire forcé'. Mainly however, they were identifiable by their uniform - lightweight 'cargo' hiking pants, bright coloured shorty cagouls, day glo hiking trainers and day-sacks, white baseball cap and hi-tec folding walking poles with ergonomically sculpted handles. We wondered if Decathlon had some kind of discount Cinque Terre walking kit, or if having the right gear was as important to the French hiker as the walk itself. Sticks featured strongly amongst Chinese tourists too. These were of the selfie variety which they wielded as a martial art weapon in their single minded search for most loved Instagram shot.

The crowded quayside resembled a 'Where's Wally' puzzle
The Americans seemed unusually out of sorts. The village streets are steep, mainly narrow steps. As we edged our way downwards from the castle a string of disconsolate Americans 'of size' trundling bags struggled upwards towards rented rooms with panoramic views. These must have seemed like a great idea on Homeaway, when booked on a snowy Sunday in Wisconsin. As each one struggled past we assured them, 'You're nearly there!" This was a complete lie, but at least it was encouraging.

Only 300 steps to go!
At the foot of the steps fishing boats were drawn up in front of a row of cafes. Since yesterday a strong onshore wind had blown up, even the harbour behind the sea wall was choppy and the sea dashing against the rocks exploded every so often in a plume of white. There would be no fishing today, and no tourist boats either, so our plan was scuppered and we had to revert to entertaining ourselves people watching - always fascinating.


Swept away in the moment...
As we sat on a bench enjoying some patisserie we had bought asan after lunch treat a group of American students stopped beside us. They were being shepherded about by an older tour guide who bore an uncanny resemblance to one of the lone guns in the X Files. "OK guys," he began in a high pitched whining tone, "A quick heads-up on what's cool in fur NASA...." It took me a moment or two to realise that 'fur NASA' was how Vernazza was pronounced in Minnesotan or Illannoyish.

Awaiting the inevitable espresso macchiata
Of all the exotic creatures in this tourist zoo, perhaps the most intriguing is the lesser spotted amateur photographer. They hunt alone, their only weapon a snazzy Canon DSLR with drainpipe sized telephoto. Slipping through the crowds stealthily, hunting the killer shot, observe them perform a slow motion Tai Chi ritual before balancing on one leg in a semi crouched position to to frame the scene perfectly. In actuality the crowded piazza may resemble a 'Where's Wally puzzle, but somehow these photo sleuths' pictures capture a fishing boat's prow framed within a dark archway, a wall aglow in burnt umber tones with a pot of geraniums in the foreground. So the myth of the Cinque Terre as a terrain of quiet fishing villages linked by a lonely pathways is perpetuated. Nobody wants to see photographs of a tourist scrum.

Gill successfully 'photobombs' my artistic pretensions.
That's better, a bit of judicious cropping will soon eradicate those annoying people in the background spoiling the shot....
You have no idea the lengths I had to go to, hanging over a precipice with three other chaps (always chaps) wielding DSLRs to lose the row of satellite dishes on the roofs just below us...
but look! some bastard has plonked a giant plastic climbing frame right in the middle of the shot - I do love the inadvertently anti-picturesque!

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