We booked a taxi to pick us up from our accommodation at 9am and take us to the railway station. We waited in the piazza for the taxi to arrive. It was cold and wet, but a young Chinese couple were posing for wedding photos in the middle of the square in the drizzling rain. I guess they wanted the Duomo as a spectacular backdrop, but they must have been freezing.

Our train left Florence nine minutes late, which was a problem because we were only going to have 25 minutes between trains in Milan before taking our connecting journey to Monterosso. Now it would be cut to 16 minutes, which meant we would have to be quick in dismounting and changing platforms when we got to Milan.

It was a comfortable journey, but there were further delays and our train finally rolled into Milan with only 8 minutes to spare. We were waiting with our heavy suitcases by the door. Once on the platform, we had to race to the gates at the far end, pulling our cases through the crowd and dodging people coming the other way. Midway down the platform I saw a departure times screen, and a quick check revealed that our next train was only four platforms away. Luckily there were no stairs to go up or down. We found some clear space and almost ran to the next platform and up to the door of the first carriage. Phew! With both cases on board and stowed we slumped into our seats puffing, panting and sweating. Only two minutes later the train was on its way. If we hadn’t made that connection, I’m not confident there would have been another Monterosso-bound train from Milan for quite a long time.

Once we arrived in Monterosso, which is the first of the five small villages of the Cinque Terre, we had to disembark from our train and wait on the platform for the next one coming through, which would take us to Vernazza just four minutes down the track. The problem was that the platform was now very crowded with tourists. There was a crush getting onto the train, and people pushing in, and it was quite a challenge to get both suitcases and ourselves up onto the train. A station attendant started yelling at people to hurry up and get on board. It was all we could do to squash in by the door with our cases to allow a couple more people to squeeze in before the doors shut and the train began moving. At Vernazza station the chaos continued, because no one could open our door. We had to quickly move our cases through the carriage to another door and get off before the train doors shut again. Marg and I just made it. We were the last ones to get down onto the platform before the train took off again.

Even leaving the station was chaotic because of the crush of people. We had to carry the heavy cases down quite a few stairs in the middle of the mob, and try to avoid the crowd of people coming up the stairs in the other direction. I was planning to get my case to the bottom, then fight my way back up again to bring Marg’s case down, but in the meantime a very fine American man saw her with the case and asked if she would like him to carry it down the stairs for her. She accepted, and he came down with it just behind me. What a good bloke!

I had agreed to meet a guy from our accommodation at the post office. He was going to drive our luggage up the hill for us. But there were no signs to the post office, so we just followed the crowd. We ended up down near the boat harbour, but no one was waiting to meet us, so I asked around and discovered that the post office was in the other direction from the train station. Eventually we met him, fifteen minutes late. It was there that we learnt that our accommodation was very high up in the hills. There would be no food up there and nothing to see or do, so he was going to drive our luggage up, but we were encouraged to stay in town and eat dinner and then catch the last small bus for the day when it left the car park at 7pm.

We hadn’t really understood that this was going to happen, although the accommodation was a recommendation from our daughter, Casey. She and Nick had stayed here in June last year. Casey had explained a little about the bus, but even so we hadn’t realised that if we missed it, it would be impossible for us to walk to the apartment so high on the side of the hill. And we didn’t really know that it was going to be such a steep, windy road either. Anyway, after eating dinner in the village and doing a little shopping, we sat on the small ten-seater bus as it climbed into the hills for the next 30-40 minutes. The sides of the hills were quite steep and there were grape vines planted all the way up. I can’t imagine harvesting grapes there would be easy. And there were houses high up on the slopes and even churches.

The day was cloudy and dull, so we couldn’t get many sea views, which was disappointing when we reached the apartment. I’m sure it would have been spectacular on a clear day. Nima, our host, was surprised and delighted to learn that we had decided to stay here only a year after our daughter was also here. Our place is spacious and clean, and we’re just delighted to have got here after all the madness with the trains. Tomorrow we’ll try to see the other villages of the Cinque Terre to find out what makes them so special, but we won’t be doing it on foot.

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