Tag Archives: walking

Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre — a series of small, connected coastal villages — has been on my, admittedly rather long, list of places to visit for some time, but when I first flew out to Tuscany I didn’t quite know how achievable it would be. Sure, Google Maps said that it would be a two hour drive from the villa, but I wasn’t completely sure that I was using the right address and I have been late several times when relying on directions cribbed from the Internet.

Having been there nearly a week and roughly established the time required to get to Pisa, more or less the half-way stage to the Cinque Terre, I decided that I might as well try to get there.

By the time I got past Pisa I was questioning my sanity. I’d had to get up early which is something that I never consider to be a good start to a day. I’d have been willing to overlook that had it not been raining. Heavily. It was the kind of rain where the water bounces from the bonnet and the wipers running at full speed still result in a blurred windscreen and visibility barely beyond the front of the car ((I may be slightly over-dramatising events here. Nevertheless, the rain would have made walking from village to village incredibly soggy and miserable.)).

Still, having made it that far I decided to continue.

As I approached La Spezia — the last big town before the five villages — it cleared up and when I got to the first village, Riomaggiore, the clouds had lifted slightly and there was even some blue sky. How lucky could I be?

Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy

Not lucky enough! When I pulled off the highway I found that the car park was full. What to do next? Head back to La Spezia and get the train or continue on to Manarola hoping that the car park was less full?

I decided on the latter. Taking the turn off the SP270 I was surprised to see plenty of parking by the side of the road. At the bottom of the hill was a car park which is where I stopped.

Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy

The route down to the water-front was further than I was expecting. First I passed a church which was perched over a great view. The path continues, looking worryingly residential for a while. Am I going the right way? (Given the lack of other options I assume so.)

I round a corner and a long stream of cafes and restaurants starts, pausing only temporarily for a slightly raised square. Many of these places have greeters encouraging passers-by in, and most have pictures of the food on the menu — always a bad sign in my book. I’m pretty hungry by this point and am forced to stop in one for a quick sandwich, which the waitress somehow manages to drop in my drink!

Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy

By the time I finish my latte the sun is out properly and it’s getting comfortably hot. I decide that I’ve come all this way so I will, at the very least, walk along to the next village. There are no obvious signs but there’s only one path along the coast so I guess it must be that one.

It is. And it’s beautiful. Before long I can see back to Manarola, and from this distance I can’t see the pushy waiters and the postcard stands. The walk is along a decent path and is fairly flat, which means that I can concentrate on the views rather than my breathing.

Beer bottles in Corniglia, Cinque Terre, ItalyThat is right until the final approach to the next village, which I now discover is called Corniglia. Just past the train station ((All the towns are connected by a train line that starts in La Spezia.)) there are approximately a million steps heading up a steep hillside.

By the time I get to the top I am desperately in need of an ice-cream. Perhaps it’s just the locals way of keeping the good stuff for the worthy, but the gelato here looks much better than that in Manarola.

Corniglia, Cinque Terre, Italy

I sit and relax, looking out over the sea, admiring the view and thinking how happy I am that I made it here. True, it was a long drive and I only managed to quickly have a look around two of the five villages but it was worth it. I’d happily come back and try to give the area the time in deserves.

The Great Outdoors

Walk from Sermano to Corte, Corsica

Like many people, I take the vast majority of my pictures outside. Yet, how do you get across the greatness of outdoors? I wanted the picture to show the scale and grandeur, the exhilaration of being in the middle of nowhere. It was a tall order so instead I picked this image which was taken on the walk from Sermano to Corte in Corsica.

Please also vote for my entry in last weeks challenge, “Movement.” I’m entry 211.

Egypt: Mount Sinai

The alarm call comes much too early at 1am. I head down for some tea and then to the mini-bus for the short ride to the start of the walk up Mount Sinai, the location believed by the three major religions, to be where Moses received the ten commandments from god. No such grand scheme here: by leaving at this ungodly hour I should see the sunrise from the top.

The trek, lit only by torches, takes me up a camel path, past St Katherine’s monastery (which I’ll visit later in daylight hours), up, past various stores selling refreshments, up, past camel owners offering “taxi” rides to the top. Of course, I know it isn’t the top anyway. There are 750 (or more depending on who you ask) steps to the very top that the camels are not prepared to attempt.

People viewing sunrise from top of Mount Sinai, Egypt

I get to the top of the camel path with an hour before sunrise and stop in one of the three cafes for a warming hot chocolate and to hire a blanket — it’s been warm on the way up but now I’ll be sat still in the morning cold.

I stay a little longer than I should have as by the time I make my last push to the top there is no space for me to sit and I end up bobbing behind a couple of rows of people, trying to get a decent view.

Even lacking prime position the colours are beautiful and warm, the sight inspiring even without its religious significance.

Sunrise over Mount Sinai, Egypt

The walk down looks and feels completely different in the light. It seems longer (I heard 7km but it didn’t feel like a ten mile walk in total), the scenery unfamiliar.

Saint Catherines Monastery, Egypt

After breakfast I head back to the monastery. This is reportedly on the site of the biblical burning bush. It’s named after a saint who was tortured and died because of her faith, and was ushered to heaven by angels for her efforts.

It’s the longest continually running monastery (they claim) and has been up and running since the fourth century. Over that time, as I see in the chapel, they have accumulated considerable riches, with paintings and gold in every nook and cranny.

The burning bush, it turns out, is only descended from the original, but the setting is nice. Most of the place is closed for the public, leaving only the ossiary, which I skip partly because I’m not enthusiastic about seeing a pile of bones and partly because of the queue. There is also a small museum with illuminated documents dating from before icons where temporarily banned — making them virtually unique.

From St. Katherine’s I take the minibus to Cairo.

Jordan: Wadi Rum

A friend, far more well travelled than I am, told me that her favourite place on Earth is Wadi Rum so to say that expectations were high for this part of the trip would be an understatement. Of course viewing the world through someone else’s eyes can be a curse as well as a blessing.

View over Wadi Rum, Jordan

The day started from Petra in four wheel drives, rumbling along tarmac for a while. We nipped off road a couple of times to take in some views and the tame conditions just off the main road made me question how rough things were going to get.

Inside the jeep/4wd, Wadi Rum, Jordan

I need not have worried. Shortly afterwards we dove off the road and into the desert, the whole car jiggling around and throwing the contents — anything unsecured — around. Did I mention that there were no seat-belts in the back? Hanging on for dear life, this part of the drive turned out to be relatively short.

It didn’t take long before we stopped at the Wadi Rum visitors centre. Tickets were purchased, visits to the bathroom were made and a video was watched, although, for me, in partial darkness as I only belatedly realised that I’d left my glasses in my other bag and had to watch it wearing my sunglasses. Also visible from the visitors centre are the seven pillars, of T. E. Lawrence and Seven Pillars of Wisdom fame.

Back in the 4WDs, the “meat” of the journey started. If the first part made the car shudder, this made it creak and threaten to come apart at the seams. We made a couple of stops en route to soak in the atmosphere and see specific sights, including an natural and gravity defying sandstone arch.

Our lunch stop was abrupt. The driver made a valiant attempt to reach the top of a sand-dune but failed, leaving me to climb to the top myself.

Camel ride, Wadi Rum, Jordan

After lunch we took to a rather more sedate form of transport: camels. Now I’m not the first to note that camels are rather odd creatures. They are not on the cover of Programming Perl for no reason. With long gangly legs, outstretched necks and heavy use of eye-lash volumiser, they’re not going to win any prizes for for aesthetics but for practicality in the desert they’re almost unbeatable.

That’s not to say that it’s easy. When you get on them they lurch forward and back, risking hurting your back and squashing your… delicate areas. And they don’t so much walk as lumber forwards. It’s not elegant, but they keep the same slow, steady pace regardless of the terrain. They get up dunes that the cars would have had difficulty with.

Mine is very sociable, always walking head to haunch with the camel in front. Most of the others are hungry, stopping to munch on as many of the dry-looking bushes as they can get away with before their handler encourages them onward.

Camel Handler, Wadi Rum, Jordan

My camels handler was a real character, dancing and singing the whole way. The language barrier didn’t stop me laughing half of the time, especially when he offered ten camels for my wife. I tried to negotiate him up to at least twenty but my Arabic wasn’t quite up to the task.

We stayed in the desert over night, watching the sun set, camping by some of the rocks, eating dinner under the stars and sleeping under canvas.

From here we headed south to the coastal town of Aqaba and then hopped over on the ferry to Egypt.

Corsica: Back to Ajaccio

Today really marks the beginning of the end as I return to Ajaccio in preparation for the flight home tomorrow. It’s kind of odd not to have to get up early in order to cram in five hours walking, but, given this is a holiday, it?s also rather welcome. (Well, I could have gone for the early bus to the capital, but I decided to relax in laid-back Porto instead.)

Genoese fort, Porto, Corsica

The curse of the low season strikes again, as the tower is closed at ten in the morning despite the sign saying that it opens at nine. I am told it actually opens at eleven, but at five past the gates are still chained shut.

I head for a coffee in one of the few open cafes. While I wait, the tower opens. Indeed, now the sign says it opens at eleven.

First stop on the way up is a small museum. It starts with a bible passage and heads downhill from there. It?s difficult to tell exactly what it?s for. It?s not exactly about Porto, it’s not all religious or historical. I guess it adds value-for-money to the entrance fee for the tower. Inside the tower is nearly as disappointing — and also only in French — but, fortunately, the same cannot be said of the view from the roof.

View over Porto from the Genoese fort, Corsica

The stop for the bus back to Ajaccio is in some doubt. The tour notes say not to believe the tourist office but it seems slightly implausible that it should leave thirty minutes walk up-hill away from the town centre. Implausible or not, it’s true and I leave Porto with the rumble of my wheely-luggage. Once on the bus, the trip is surprisingly quick and efficient. The roads start very narrow, with magnificent views over the coast and horrifying drops to the same. Once past Piana the roads remain twisty and narrow but are less likely to induce travel sickness.

Ajaccio seems very different on my return. Somehow smaller, but familiar and busy. I’ve spent most of the week seeing almost no one else, just the odd walker and a regular at a hotel bar. Seeing cars zipping in and out of traffic is a shock.

I take a quick wander around before heading back to the airport. On the first night it seemed large and alien. Today it seemed much smaller and more manageable.

Ajaccio harbour

I took Cours Napoleon as far as the beach, took a detour via the the Citadel, which was much more closed than that in Corte. Still a military base, the place is surrounded by barbed wire fences. Nearby is the restaurant I ate at on my first night here — that seemed miles away at the time!

Ajaccio street

I meander back up to the main shopping street, Rue Cardinal Fesch, which at this time on a Saturday is still largely closed. I had hoped to bring back a little something but ended having to go into a super market for a bottle of local wine — not exactly what I’d been planning. (Typically I picked the only bottle in the whole store that would not scan. My French wasn’t really up to the ensuing conversation so I just nodded and smiled until they took some money.)

Overall it was a fairly relaxing end to a great walking holiday. Some of the hikes had pushed my abilities but, ultimately, that’s a good thing. Even at the time where I was totally exhausted, the magnificent sights of the country never let me down. The food and hospitality were a bonus, and I loved the fact that Corsica is not just an extension of France. Despite the links, it truly has its own identity. It’s surprises like this keep me travelling.

Corsica: Evisa to Porto

Today is the last day of walking, and is a relatively east stroll from Evisa to Porto via Ota. The first half is, according to the guidebook, one of the highlights of this part of Corsica.

Walk from Evisa to Ota, Corsica

I’m not entirely convinced, though. Mostly it’s descending through pine forest, which is pretty but not stunning. I’d probably have been more impressed had we not experienced the scenery on the first couple of days. I cross a couple of old bridges. Pretty and something that I’ve not seen yet this week but I’d hesitate to call it a highlight of my week here.

Walk from Evisa to Ota, Corsica

I stop for a drink in Ota, a beautifully situated village about half way on our walk.

Ota (half way from Evisa to Porto), Corsica

The rest of the walk was on a tarmac road. Cars travel quickly even considering the narrow lanes and significant drops to the side, meaning that I tended to dive to the very side of the road whenever I heard a vehicle.

I entered Porto on a main road and head right to the sea-front, here my hotel is located. I get there and I see a “Hotel Ferme” sign, which I initially take to mean this entrance is closed but actually means the whole hotel. Not good.

I eventually find that I am booked into another hotel not far away, unfortunately it’s at this point that I realise that my bags were supposed to be heading by taxi to the closed place. I am assured that the taxi firm knew where to send the bags. I am less sure.

Walk from Ota to Porto, Corsica

At the second hotel I find the receptionist doesn’t speak English and is not terribly interested in finding my bags. (Or maybe doesn’t understand, so I may be being mean here.)

I call the taxi company. They note that the first place is shut. (I know!) I’m currently panicking — a delay to the bags could screw up onward plans from here — and so am not entirely sure whether they commit to send the bags to the new hotel or not.

I decide to take a wander around town while I wait; there’ll little I can do and fretting is not helping!

Genoese fort, Porto, Corsica

Until the 1950’s there was little here except a Genoese fort on a rocky hill overlooking the bay. In 2007 there is the same tower, a few hotels, restaurants and cafes. In high season the place is overrun with tourists but in October it’s pleasantly laid-back. So laid-back, in fact, that most of the hotels, bars and restaurants are closed.

Still, the harbour is pretty and there’s a little excitement as an ambulance hurtles down from the mountains to a waiting helicopter.

Meanwhile, the bags do arrive and panic abates.

The guide book suggests two restaurants, noting that the others are generic tourist traps. Of course, out-of-season the good places shut. In fact, as noted above, most of them are. I end up in one slightly secluded place, hidden in the rocks below the tower right by the sea. It’s actually quite good and makes a pleasant end to the weeks walking.

Tomorrow I head back to Ajaccio.