oh my goodness. i could not believe my eyes as i disembarked from the train in Vernazza Italy.
a little background first. we had traveled from Venice, on the west coast of Italy, in the Adriatic Sea, by train to Florence, a 2+ hour trip. then we changed trains to go to La Specia on the west coast, the Ligurian Sea side of Italy, a 2.5+ hour trip. but, we were not finished yet. our final destination was Vernazza, one of the five seaside towns that make up Cinque Terre. the last train took only 17 minutes, but most of that was in darkness as it traversed several mountains and hills as it hugged the dramatic coast line of Northwest Italy.
a long trip, but we are looking forward to three nights in Cinque Terre, which is noteworthy for the fact that there are no cathedrals to visit, no museums to peruse. all there is to do in Cinque Terre is hike, maybe swim and hang out.
the other critical ingredient to making Cinque Terre so wonderful is its quaintness. its small scale.
for example, Vernazza, where we are staying has only 500 year round residents. it swells to 1,500 in the summer.
with all this as background, you can imagine the shock to us when we got off the train in Vernazza to find up to a thousand people swarming the main street of the tiny seaside community. what was this? where could they have possibly come from?
they were destroying the ambiance of this town. they were in every shop. they occupied every outdoor table at all the restaurants. they were lined up ten deep to get their gelato. they made it almost impossible to walk down the main street, there were so many of them.
where did they come from? the answer is cruise ships!
how is that possible? they anchor their cruise ship in a community that is not in Cinque Terre, some 10-15 miles away, but then take day trips by train to the 5 towns in Cinque Terre. they usually arrive by 11 and leave by 5 to get back to their cruise ship.
in the process they DESTROY the very essence of the communities they are traveling to.
as Rick Steves says, cruise ships and Cinque Terre do not mix.
I have traveled on several cruise ships, and I realize the benefits of cruising. the ability to unpack your suitcase just once. the lack of hassle of having to make arrangements for transportation, lodging and meals at every stop on your itinerary. always good food that you don't have to worry about. a great way to relax.
having said that, cruise ships do not contribute anything to the locations they stop at. thousands get off the ship, buy some souvenirs, and get back on the ship. what do they contribute to the real local economy, to its culture, to anything?
in fact, they cause considerable environmental damage by imposing thousands of people on small, isolated, out of the way locations. they reinforce the old 60 year old image of the ugly American. they do not in any way try to spend time, get to know the people, understand the culture of where they are going to be for up to 6 hours in a day.
there has to be some balance here. why should cruise ship operators and owners and their patrons get to decide where they can alight for six hours every day without taking into consideration the desires of the local citizenry?
why shouldn't the local citizenry have as much say as the cruise ships corporations in who gets to visit and how they visit their locations?
I can assure you that the citizens of Vernazza, with the exception of a few souvenir and eating establishment owners, do not want this daily INVASION of cruise ship passengers.
as one local resident said to us, "they (the cruise ships) make life for us a living hell."
for the sake of the special places in the world, that are difficult to get to, let's agree that their wishes are just as important, in fact, more important, than the desires of the cruise line corporations and their passengers.
no more cruise ships in Cinque Terre!!!!!!!!