Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Road to Cinque Terre

Many years ago my husband and I were traveling through Italy with my parents. After visiting Rome and Tuscany and getting our fill of magnificent art, Renaissance architecture and picturesque Tuscan villages we decided a change of pace was in order and headed for the rugged Cinque Terre coast.

Our ultimate destination was the village of Monterosso, one of five coastal villages surrounded by a mountainous nature reserve and, we'd been told, accessible by car only with difficulty. We'd been told that the roads to and between the five towns were not for the faint of heart, which is why most travelers choose to come by train, but we were short on time and we had a car, so car it was.
We got off the Autostrada when we got close and stopped for a coffee. After finishing our coffee we realized we were unsure of exactly how to drive the last few miles. My mother, who speaks absolutely no Italian, decided she would ask directions. She chased down an elderly Italian gentleman walking by the side of the road. He of course spoke not a word of English, but my mother was undaunted. She managed to convey to him that she wanted directions to Monterosso, but of course couldn't possibly understand his response. She was quite clear however on his gestures - he was clearly pointing down a road that headed out from the end of town towards the mountains, and he was laughing. Oh yes, he was laughing alright. My mother, ever the optimist, assumed he was laughing at his efforts at pantomime.
She was wrong.
She conveyed the old man's directions to my somewhat sceptical father; he didn't have anything better to suggest so we headed off in the direction the old man had shown us. The road winding out of town was a small one, one lane in each direction. By the time we'd driven a few more miles, it had narrowed to one lane. It began to occur to us that we hadn't actually seen anyone coming the other way for quite some time, nor were there any other vehicles in front of or behind us. After that, we began passing heavy construction equipment, left idle for the weekend.
Our little one lane road began hugging the side of a narrow cliff, the water shimmering hundreds of feet below. A few more feet and the asphalt itself ended, leaving us bumping along a dirt road. A few hundred feet after that it was apparent that we were driving on a road That. Had. Not. Yet. Been. Built! Moreover, it was too narrow too turn around, and too windy to even consider backing up. We had no choice but to press on and hope for the best. I'm sure my father, a remarkably cool-headed man, would count the next few hours as some of the most stressful of his life. We were surrounded by jaw-dropping scenery but he didn't dare take his eyes off the ever-narrowing track in front of the car, crawling forward inch by careful inch. After nearly two hours we finally reached the other side of the mountain and joined up with a proper road, with pavement and even a sign pointing to Monterosso just a mile or two further. We breathed a deep sigh of relief and headed towards civilization and a well-deserved beer. We hadn't gone a hundred feet further when we saw a sign that made us all gasp - a giant blue sign with huge white letters signalling, what else - the entrance to the Autostrada, just one exit past the one we'd taken!
The moral of the story? Don't ask directions if you can't understand the answer!
The oh so fitting Writers Island prompt for this week was lost highway.


paisley said...

holy crispers... i would have been a nervous wreck... i hate driving in the mountains... don't ask me why i live her!!!!

Whirling Dervish said...

Wow..breathtaking! I haven't met many others who have been to Cinque Terre- wouldn't you say the trip was worth it? Breathtaking, in more than one way..

Gemma Wiseman said...

But the experience gave you a great story to tell! That's worth heaps!


Robin said...

It certainly was breathtaking - and yes, in more ways than one. Cinque Terre itself, once we finally arrived, was an amazing place. Our somewhat spectacular arrival wasn't our only story from that trip. Someday I'll tell some of the others...

Absolutely worth the stress of getting there to finally BE there, but we did choose the autostrada when it was time to head back out of town again LOL!

Rambler said...

hehhe didnt see that bumpy ending coming :)

I generally hate driving :) mountains are even worse

anthonynorth said...

Talk about taking the prompt literally :-)
This one really was lost!

Tumblewords: said...

Love this story and the moral! Amazing trip -

Kristi Tencarre said...

HILARIOUS story! So glad you made it out safely! What an adventure tale. I love that area - it is absoluletly beautiful!!!

rebecca said...

reminds me of the time my husband and i were traveling in mexico and we took a similar, winding, no rails to protect you, road to taxco. i looked out my window and all i saw was a mountain below -- i no longer saw the road, that's how slim it was....and the driver, driving like mad! that was the day i prayed the entire way and i think i lost five pounds just from sweating the nervousness away. not pleasant at all! but, hey, once i got there the silver jewelry was sure worth it.

i loved your story....oh my oh my, how i could relate!

Anonymous said...

great story!!!..

KBDGR8EST said...

hahahahahaha! great travel (trouble) story!

rel said...

We know your father was stressin', but how were you feeling?
I'd have crapped my drawers big time!

Julia Phillips Smith said...

What a surreal experience. Even more so because of that scenery you were too stressed to appreciate! But that picture of the town - wow. Thanks for telling us about it. I had no idea it even existed.