Upon leaving Marseille, the plan was for a day’s train travel along the French and Italian Rivieras, finishing with a night in ancient Genoa. But, in Nice, half-way across, I had my first experience with a French rail strike and all the uncertainty that brings. I finally arrived in Genoa several hours late, in darkness, getting temporarily lost once again. Besides the unions hitting the railways, trains were also being severely affected by flooding in Provence and northern Italy, and I wasn’t aware of the situation. Leaving Genoa early the next day for Monterosso in the Cinque Terre, my train was delayed one, two, three hours and finally, with the aid of a fellow stranded traveller, did I find out it was because of flooding in the mountains. Genoa had been hit very hard only days before, and again, I did not know.
I did arrive in Monterosso in late afternoon, my reservation for the night still intact, but to a town with sandbagged roads and large warning signs posted on the streets, which even with my very limited Italian, I could tell were flood warnings. The weather was still unsettled, though the storm front was for the most part moving on. As I walked the town’s streets, a final deluge descended from the skies, and in only minutes I could sense how much of a real danger this was to these communities. Small rivers of rain poured down the pavement and I could hear the water underneath the roads moving quickly, too. It didn’t last more than fifteen minutes and then the sun shone over the sea skies and the town took a deep breath.
Monterosso and nearby Vernazza were devastated by October floods in 2011. For a vivid sense of that tragedy, watch this documentation created by a couple on holiday in the Cinque Terre. It’s easy to forget that while we are on holiday reality doesn’t cease to exist.
As the sun glowed on the distant horizon, some cafes and restaurants reopened. I sat down for local pasta and sardines in a plastic-covered patio on Monterosso’s lovely bay. But the rains hadn’t finished. A quick squall blew up and rain began pouring onto my dinner and table and other guests and I took refuge on the far side of the tent. It was gone almost as quickly as it had come and the evening settled into lovely peace.
Monterosso is much more accessible for walking than the other Cinque Terre villages, all UNESCO-protected. It is flat and has a sand beach and feels more like a grand old resort town, but on a small scale. It is a graceful, easy town with no visible sense of the hardship that struck it only three years previously to my visit.
My time there was too short. The Cinque Terre fills my soul. I left the next morning by train — on schedule — for a night’s stay in Torino and my flight back to the UK.