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Tag Archives: Cinque Terre

The silver lining trip

28 Oct
Call it licking our wounds, making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, or the silver lining to the storm cloud, we took refuge in a trip to the Cinque Terre in place of our long-planned-recently-aborted trip to the U.S.
In October of 2010, 2012, and 2013, we made sojourns to the Cinque Terre, but 2014 was to be the 2+ week trip to America to see friends and family, as well as attend our nephew’s wedding.  We would skip the almost-annual fall hiking trip. Since we could not go to the U.S., and since the weather in October was not only holding steady in Rome but improving in the north, we found a last minute rental in Manarola and headed out last Wednesday, with promise of sun and moderate temps.
Wind-whipped day on the Belvedere, Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy.
Wind-whipped day on the Belvedere, Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy.
We were not alone: the hoards have not let up their hold on the cute little villages. First clue was the mobbed train from La Spezia to Manarola on a Wednesday. The sea was rough so the boats that relieve train congestion did not run, making the train all the more fun. Luckily we had only an 11 minute train ride as we had to stand in the vestibule of the train as it chugged through the tunnels. In Manarola we found Andrea waiting as promised to lead us to our apartment. What providence for both of us! For Andrea to have a five night end-of-season rental, and for us to find such a great place that met or exceeded all of our criteria: Less than 100 Euro per night, WIFI, clothes washer, view of the sea, less than 50 stairs to climb, and a place to make coffee in the morning before the bars open. (I added the 50 stairs criteria after a couple of trips where we had 70 or 80 stairs to climb each time we came-and-went from our room or apartment and we decided we prefer spending our energy hiking or exploring a city, not in climbing to and from our lodging.) Andrea’s place is a large one bedroom with two matrimonial beds, and the possibility of renting two additional bedrooms one level down. Could be great for a large family.
People complain that the Cinque Terre is too crowded and touristy. It does seem these little villages are loved a bit too much by non-Italians. Interestingly, the majority of travelers here right now are French, German, Australian, and British. We have run into very few North Americans. While the five villages are cheek-by-jowl with tourists during the daytime, evenings are serene, restaurants can accommodate those of us staying the night, and we have once again found places to venture where few of those passing through bother to tread.
Instead of the famous Sentiero Azzuro between the towns, we headed up up up to Il Santuario di Nostra Signora di Reggio (The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Reggio).  We saw one person at the top, and four on the way down. A far cry from the masses on the coastal trail.  Click on any picture for a slide show.
We also headed to Portovenere, which has been on our list for the past three visits. The best way to Portovenere is by ferry, and when the wind is up they do not run. Friday there was a nationwide train strike from 09:00-17:00, so it seemed like a perfect day for a boat trip. We heard nothing but Italian and German in Portovenere. That is to say the tourists were European, not North American, for the most part. It is a fascinating little city with 2600 years of history. The Romans had huge influence, of course. There is a castle, a cemetery with a view, and the lovely Church of San Lorenzo, complete with fresco of his gruesome martyrdom. Returning to our little base in Manarola we could not believe how teaming it was with people after a peaceful day in Portvenere.
Another bucket-list location for us in Liguria was Camogli. I wanted to do the hike from there to the Abbey at San Fruttuoso. Alas, it will remain on the bucket list as the weather report for the planned excursion day showed temps barely above freezing and light rain. We are not sure if the weather report we pulled up was wrong, but we dared not take the chance on a 75 minute one way train trip to find we could not hike. So we headed to La Spezia, which is “the big city” in these parts. Only 11 minutes from Manarola by train, it is of a decidedly different character, but has some redeemable charms. There is an excellent Naval Museum, a beautiful waterfront passeggiata, and a significant pedestrian shopping area no doubt designed to attract the cruise ship visitors that spend the day there. All-in-all we had a good city hike, logging almost 16,000 steps on the pedometer.
Our final day was spent repeating a hike we took two years ago, a hike that gave us some problems at that time. We took a little bio-diesel bus from Manarola up to the tinier hillside village of Volastra. From there we hiked mostly level through vineyards and forest, although our mostly level track had a precipitous drop-off. The final hour was a somewhat technical descent due to a rocky path and awkward footing. Luckily we had good hiking shoes and our walking sticks along.
The special trail shoes and sticks are newly added to our gear, partially as a result of hiking this route two years ago. We had hikers on then, but not trail shoes made for this terrain. The shoes we had then tended to slip and made for some scary moments. The hiking sticks we have pooh-poohed in the past suddenly seemed like a good idea, and we adopted them as well as good trail shoes. We were very proud of ourselves for making this hike again and with proper gear. It was a hell of a workout, but we were safer for the gear. Once again, a lightly traveled route as so few people make their way to the higher trails.
And so we close out a fourth trip to the Cinque Terre. I cannot imagine coming here in the summer when it is even busier, when it is hotter.  It’s lovely to be recognized in restaurants that are not completely slammed, to have servers take their time and be able to linger a bit, to get an off-season rate on an apartment. We would have preferred to be in the U.S. as originally planned as we will not be able to make that trip now for several months, but we found this a nice way heal our disappointment.

 

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By the sea

6 May
We are drawn to the sea. I guess growing up in the land-locked Midwest made the sea particularly mesmerizing to us. When we moved to Portland in 1987 we became frequent visitors to the Oregon Coast, and were especially fond of going to Cannon Beach with the dogs. Yet we are not beach people, per se. We are ramblers and hikers who enjoy the fresh sea air and great seafood. So we gravitate to the coastal areas not in the height of summer with normal people, but in the shoulder season, and occasionally in winter. We made a trek to “CB” each fall and very early spring for many years. Never got close to getting sunburned at CB.
Early morning view from our room in Porto Santo Stefano.

Early morning view from our room in Porto Santo Stefano.

And so we a passed a long weekend in Tuscany. “Tuscany?” you ask. “Isn’t that hill towns, Renaissance art, sangiovese and wild boar?” Yes, it is all that, but it also sports a fabulous coastline in the Maremma area. It’s a little bit like the Cinque Terre, but closer to Rome, easier to get to, and less well-known among North Americans.
Ric’s contractor friend Dario recommended this area, particularly Porto Santo Stefano, as he knows our interest in hiking and our affection for the Cinque Terre. Isola del Giglio,  which has intrigued us since the Costa Concordia capsized off its coast more than two years ago, is only a short ferry ride from Porto Santo Stefano. Lacking enough time to make a Cinque Terre trek, and always interested in places our countrymen seldom visit, off we went. After talking to some Italian friends it seemed we might have been better off actually staying on Isola del Giglio instead of in PSS, but by the time we came to this knowledge, it was too late to secure a room that was both acceptable and affordable on Giglio. This was a holiday weekend – the third in a row! – for Italians. So we stayed in a quaint B&B in Porto Santo Stefano, with a fine terrace overlooking the sea. The price we had to pay for the view is a four-floor walk-up. Ugh.
Cute little Giglio Porto. The ugly shipwreck is behind me, just outside the harbor.

Cute little Giglio Porto. The ugly shipwreck is behind me, just outside the harbor.

It’s been a chilly spring in Italy, but the lack of oppressive sun makes for good hiking and small crowds. An hour-long ferry ride took us across the channel. Giglio is part of the Tuscan Archipelago, a national park. We secured a map and a brochure and a little information from the guy at the Tourist Information Center who knew slightly less English than I know Italian (always a rewarding moment for me). We wanted a hike of 60-90 minutes, leaving time for lunch and to return to the harbor to catch our ride back. “Up to Castello,” he said, confirming what we’d read online and heard from a local diver the day before. “It’s steep, but go slowly. And there’s a restaurant. You can take a bus back down.”
It is difficult to imagine the industrious people, probably Romans, who built this path over the island so very long ago ago.

It is difficult to imagine the industrious people, probably Romans, who built this path over the island so very long ago ago.

Steep it was, and deserted. We only saw four people during 90 minutes, quite a different scenario than the Cinque Terre. We trudged up the mountain, glimpsing the castle high above us, and rewarded with beautiful views below us.  Wild flowers as one can only find in spring are abundant. We traversed oak woods, through scrubby pine, and finally some classic Italian Cyprus, emerging 1300 feet higher at Giglio Castello. Not bad for old people. We weren’t even panting (too much). And there was a restaurant. Not just a “restaurant” but one serving fabulous food. We got ourselves into a very fine lunch indeed! In the U.S. in all of our hiking for years and years in Oregon, we could never have dreamed of such a lunch at the end of a trail! Maybe a stale granola bar, or perhaps a hot dog at the Dairy Queen in some small town on our way back home, but fresh seafood pasta? A Tuscan salumi platter? Fine, crisp vino bianco? Yup, here at the highest point of a tiny Mediterranean island, alongside a castle from the 13th century, after hiking a path used for millennia to cross the island, we find superb cuisine.
Ric on our steep steep hike at Isola del Giglio.

Ric on our steep steep hike at Isola del Giglio.

The castle high above us. The hike was from sea level to about 1300 feet.

The castle high above us. The hike was from sea level to about 1300 feet.

After 90 minutes of uphill hiking, we are at the last bit before achieving Castello. Lunch is in range!

After 90 minutes of uphill hiking, we are at the last bit before achieving Castello. Lunch is in range!

Don't tell Dr. Rosa what we had for lunch! Lovely Tuscan salumi platter. I like to think the hike caused us to wear off the fat before we even ate it.

Don’t tell Dr. Rosa what we had for lunch! Lovely Tuscan salumi platter. I like to think the hike caused us to wear off the fat before we even ate it.

As we hiked to Castello, we were seldom out of sight of the Costa Concordia. We are probably at 800 feet taking this photo.

As we hiked to Castello, we were seldom out of sight of the Costa Concordia. We are probably at 800 feet taking this photo.

We found Isola del Giglio interesting enough to return a second day, allowing us to check out the windward side of the island at Giglio Campese. An efficient bus ferried us from the port, up-and-over at Castello, down the opposite side to the beach.  Here we found an almost Hawaii-like locale, but not so posh. Also, Hawaii lacks 19th century turrets as far as I know. Our planned ocean-front hike turned into an inland trek when the rock climbing became a bit challenging. Not wanting to risk a broken body part, we opted for forest, wild flowers, and bees. Once again our efforts were rewarded, this time with fresh salads and crisp Ansonaco, (the local wine) on the beach.
The beach at Giglio Campese, a little like Hawaii.

The beach at Giglio Campese, a little like Hawaii.

A little like Hawaii, but with a 19th century tower.

A little like Hawaii, but with a 19th century tower.

Wildflowers are abundant in May, and the bees made industrious.

Wildflowers are abundant in May, and the bees industrious.

Porto Santo Stefano is a very peaceful location with a number of good restaurants at all price levels, a fantastic lungomare and piazza with a 5-star hang-out factor. We could see the stars from our terrace and nights were so quiet that our sleep was uninterrupted. Bliss.
Porto Santo Stefano sports many restaurants along a fabulous lungomare, prime for the passagiata.

Porto Santo Stefano sports many restaurants along a fabulous lungomare, prime for the passagiata.

Lovely piazza in Porto Santo Stefano. Great hangout factor.

Lovely piazza in Porto Santo Stefano. Great hangout factor.

Year in Review

1 Jan

The older we get the faster time seems to move. (It’s an actual phenomenon that has been scientifically proven: the older you are the faster time seems to pass.) Only yesterday it seems we were dying of the heat in Rome, taking refuge in the mighty Dolomites enjoying brisk mountain air and alpine meadows. But that was July. Looking back over our time in Rome – now 19 months and counting – we have experienced so much, and yet my list of to-dos in Rome (not to mention all of Italy)  has more things on it that we have not accomplished than ones we have managed to check off. There’s a wonder around every corner and we shall never get to all of them. Roma: Una vita non basta!

New Year's Eve Vespers with Papa F! We were right on the aisle. Ric snapped this pic with his phone.

New Year’s Eve Vespers with Papa F! We were right on the aisle. Ric snapped this pic with his phone.

We managed to see a bit more of Italy this year, visiting some old favorites as well as new territory.

  • March saw us in Sicily for our 28th anniversary, where we were constantly cold, but where we ate magnificent food and saw our first-ever Greek ruins. Stunning! Must go back in warmer weather.
  • In May we ventured to the heel of the boot, Puglia, with my brother and sister-in-law. More great food, a fantastically different Italy, and lots of kilometers covered. Can’t count the bottles of wine consumed. Rick & Jane, we had so much fun with you those 10 days in Rome and Puglia! And we “discovered” Abruzzo on our way back to Rome. Wow!
  • In fact we were so enchanted with Abruzzo we went back for a weekend in July. Not many North Americans (or non-Italians) go to Abruzzo as it is not chock-a-block with must-sees, but it is an amazing place to escape the city, practice one’s Italian, and relax.
  • Later in July was our week in the Val Gardena. If only we could figure out a way to live there all summer.
  • Like most Italians, we got away for Ferragosto but only as far as Orvieto for a couple of nights.  It’s always nice to get on a train, and only an hour away is this charming Etruscan hill town.
  • Our youngest son came to visit in September and we made our 4th trip to Venice in less than three years. Three days there flew by and in wonderment Derek observed we still had not seen everything we intended to. Venice has a lot to offer and so many people try to “do” it in 2 nights and one day. We’re going back for the 5th time in April with friends who have never been.
  • The Cinque Terre calls to us each autumn and we made our third trip there in October. Hoping we can squeeze in a weekend there again in 2014.
  • After the Marine Corps 238th Birthday Ball in early November, we made a trek to Ravello just as the town was closing for the season. This is a must-go-back location sometime during the concert season.
Kids, don't try this at home. Our neighbor across the street shot off Roman Candles from his oh-so-tiny balcony on NYE. Note the Santa figure climbing a ladder hanging from the balcony. And this goes on all over the city!

Kids, don’t try this at home. Our neighbor across the street shot off Roman Candles from his oh-so-tiny balcony on NYE. Note the Santa figure climbing a ladder hanging from the balcony. And this goes on all over the city!

Other highlights in 2013:

  • I turned sixty. Can’t believe it, but my mother is there in the mirror every morning, so I guess it’s true.
  • We had a blind date with Nigel and Carol, new friends from England that we met through the Rick Steves’ Helpline and this blog. Hoping to see them again in February!
  • Made Thanksgiving dinner for 11 Italians. We had so much fun doing this! I only hope they will let us do it again next year.
  • Seeing our youngest son (not very young anymore, but still il mio bambino al cuore) after 16 months away.
  • Getting fit(ter) in the gym. I’ve lost about 45 pounds since moving to Rome and had to buy a whole new wardrobe last summer and again this winter.
  • Becoming more comfortable speaking Italian. I am “advanced intermediate” (B2/C1 for those that understand the scale) according to my teacher. I should be fluent by the time I am 85.
  • Seeing Tom and Karen, our in-laws, when they visited Rome after their cruise.
  • Visits by Michael Horne for gastronomic exploration of Rome. (Thanks for the intro to Vino Roma!)
  • New Years’ Eve Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica with Papa Francesco. He was right there, not 2 meters from me during the processional and recessional. The energy in St. Peter’s was palpable, the love for this man overwhelming.

As I wrap up this post, we are aboard a train that departed at 07:20 New Year’s Day, leaving

St. Peter's, NYE 2013. I read today that shortly after we left Papa Francesco came out in his Popemobile to see the Nativity in the square. Purtroppo we had left the scene!

St. Peter’s, NYE 2013. I read today that shortly after we left Papa Francesco came out in his Popemobile to see the Nativity in the square. Purtroppo we had left the scene!

Italy for the first time in 19+ months. The sun is just coming up, outlining the Apennine Mountains in gold. We are headed to Switzerland where, magari, we will do Winterwandern (alpine snow hiking) to wear off the cheese fondue we plan to eat. We have many trips planned this year including a return to Venice, the Dolomites, Florence, Lake Como, and Abruzzo. We have guests coming, too: Kim, John and Aubrey in April; John, Susan, William and Elizabeth (aka JSWE) in July; the Omaha Bartons in August; a return by Derek in September; Rick and Jane in November; and hopefully Helen, Eddie and Debbie will make it over too. Anyone else? Would love to see you!

Buon Anno 2014! 

Up one side and down the other

15 Oct

Saturday it was supposed to rain, a rather large disappointment when one is in the Cinque Terre as the major activities here are out-of-doors.  Luckily the day dawned partly cloudy and we refused to believe the forecast pushed out to our cell phones.

The path begins climbing gently from Monterosso al Mare, but the climbing continues for 2 km.

The path begins climbing gently from Monterosso al Mare, but the climbing continues for 2 km.

The Sentiero Azzuro or “Trail No. 2” is still closed in some sections, plus it is the trail most tourists gravitate to, so we headed in another direction, north out of Monterosso al Mare to the town of Levanto.  As we were staying in Manarola, we had to take a train to Monterosso, about an 11 minute ride. Any adventure that begins with a train ride scores extra points with Ric.

Train station with a view, and Ric.

Train station with a view, and Ric.

The fact that we also started the day with freshly-baked, flaky pastries filled with chocolate,  still warm from the oven… well, need I say more? Yes, I must say more, because we topped off with a torta di noci e marmelada di albicocchi (pie-like pastry with walnuts and apricot jam) before leaving Monterosso. SIGH, I love vacation.

Tower above Monterosso, along the path. A residence? A hotel? Non lo so....

Tower above Monterosso, along the path. A residence? A hotel? Non lo so….

We enjoyed almost complete solitude for the first 2 kilometers of the hike, only encountering three people.  This was a tough trail with steep and unending stairs placed into the hill.  Some scrambling was required where hard rock refused to yield to trail building.

Unending stairs.

Unending stairs.

By now the path is steeper. Ric says try not to show how much he is sweating.

By now the path is steeper. Ric says try not to show how much he is sweating.

Monterosso from above.

Monterosso from above.

After an hour of constant uphill trekking we reached the ruins of the Eremo di Sant’Antonio, a 13th century monastic hermitage at Punto MescoStupendissimo!

Eremo di Sant'Antonio. Imagine buidlng this in the middle ages?

Eremo di Sant’Antonio. Imagine building this in the middle ages?

Ruins of Sant'Antonio

Ruins of Sant’Antonio (Not me! The rock walls!)

Three years ago, in October 2010, we first traveled to Italy and were in the Cinque Terre about this time. We were daunted by the 60-or-so stairs we had to climb to our room in Vernazza! We hiked a portion of the Sentiero Azzuro that trip but nothing nearly so ambitious as this 10 km hike-and-scramble. Now, with a level of fitness we never thought we could achieve, it was a challenge but one we knew we could accomplish.

On the way down, different surfaces through a piney and then deciduous wood.

On the way down, different surfaces through a piney and then deciduous wood.

This is not an environment of “groomed” trails and sometimes it was difficult to tell where the trail was.

At a junction we couldn't decide if this was a stream bed or a path.... The path was in fact hidden to the right and then merged into he stream bed.

At a junction we couldn’t decide if this was a stream bed or a path…. The path was in fact hidden to the right and then merged into he stream bed.

Where's the path? This rock formation presented right in the middle of the path. Where to go? Upon scrutiny, there was a "path" to the right...sort of.

Where’s the path? This rock formation presented right in the middle of the path. Where to go? Upon scrutiny, there was a “path” to the right…sort of.

From Punto Mesco most of the 2.5 hours was in descent, but the extent of trail maintenance seemed to be clearing off fallen trees. Not that it was a bad trail, but in some places it required some creativity in finding the best path. We encountered a number of people hiking up from Levanto, intent on reaching Monterosso.  Looking back at our route, we were happy we hiked Monterosso to Levanto, and equally happy we started quite early as we hit Levanto at just the right time for lunch, allowing us to call this hike yet another Path to Lunch.  And how nice is it to start with pastry and end with wine?

How cute is this? On the outskirts of Levanto, a little cat-feeding station protected by an umbrella.

How cute is this? On the outskirts of Levanto, a little cat-feeding station protected by an umbrella.

Boardwalk in Levanto

Boardwalk in Levanto

It was windy that day.

It was windy that day.

On the sanctuary trail in the Cinque Terre

14 Oct

GIOVEDI

We arrived home Friday, and I am finally getting around to the last part of our trip report.

Our last full day, Thursday, we went back to the high trails, this time from Riomaggiore to the Santuario della Madonna di Montenero, one of five religious sanctuaries linked to the five villages. It is possible to hike between all five, although it is a very long hike.  We chose a hike to a magnificent vista that stretched from Monterosso al Mare to the north to Portovenere in the south. Breathtaking!

Also breathtaking was the  1,110 foot climb. Some people apparently had no idea what they were in for. On what planet is it OK for a woman of 60+ to open her shirt to cool off while hiking? Thank God she was wearing a bra. (That was a rhetorical question. The answer to “on what planet” is Germany.)

While the day was partly cloudy and rain threatened, it did not start to rain until we were done hiking for the day. Torrential rains in the afternoon must have made the locals fear a repeat of last October’s flood. Luckily, by nightfall it was  dry and we enjoyed another fabulous Ligurian meal overlooking the harbor at Manarola. We might have to come back next year….

The way up is far steeper than this looks. Many many stairs created and maintained by volunteers.

All along the trail, the “Via Grande,” were shrines to the Madonna, donated by various families. The “Via Grande” is described as “an ancient road.” These footpaths were essential transportation routes for centuries.

At the top, a church more than 119 years old. And few people.

View from the top looking south, all the way to Portovenere. Worth the climb!

The path is “paved” in many places, especially where it might wash out. But it is very rough and footing is tricky on the downhill portion. Sturdy hiking boots are in order.

As you can tell, we had a wonderful time in the Cinque Terre.  Walking and eating: What’s not to love?

There are so many daytrippers who do not have time to explore the  National Park. They merely get off the train, spend 37 minutes looking at the souvenir ships in a town, then move on and do the same thing in the next village. I actually overheard a woman telling her husband “We have 37 minutes here. That should be plenty of time.” Seriously?

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