Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cinque Terre

Well, as much as I hate to say it, Good Job Rick Steves. The Cinque Terre was about as beautiful a place as I have been in Italy. It was picturesque. The narrow streets and the pastel colored buildings and houses were absolutely gorgeous. We had to cut our visit down to a quick two day whirlwind tour. The Spanish class finished their course and we had a great party for them Ole and I turned in early but we apparently were lucky. From the look of the aftermath, Tables turned over, bottles everywhere, everything covered in a fine dust from the fire extinguisher that they ran up and down the halls with spraying everything and each other. I will miss my wild bunch of Spanish friends but I have been able to get their contact info so I can write to them. If only they could read English, but that’s why they invented Skype.
Back to Cinque Terre, after four hours on the train we arrived at the train station in Deiva Marina. This is kilometers from the Cinque Terre and where we would be camping for the night. Once again, the Italian way with photography gave us the false hope of a beautiful campground with a pool, restaurant, and market. The pool was there but, if they had Alligators in Italy, I would expect one to be hiding in the murky algae filled water. The restaurant was closed and would not open until about 7:00PM as it was about noon we knew we would have to go elsewhere for a meal. The Actual camp site was a small patch of grass nestled between the little cabins that rented for four times as much. There were people from all over the world staying in the campground, Dutch, French, Germans, and many more. The lady in charge of the campground was extremely nice. She spoke a bit of English and would allow us to leave our bags near in the office after we checked out the next day and would deliver them to the train station when we returned from Cinque.
With nothing to do in the town, because like most towns it shuts down from 12:30 to 3:00 every day we decided to catch the train to Monterosso. The Largest and northern most of the five cities. Our first look at the Cinque Terre did not disappoint. From the moment we exited the train station we walked out on to a beautiful coast with sandy beach and little shops and every other person toting a copy of Rick Steves’ Italy 2010. We would soon find out that there were two Rick Steves’ Tours in town for the weekend and the Lemon Festival which we were never able to find. We found a small Focacciaria and ordered some Focaccia Bread made up like a pizza and two cokes. Batteries recharged we set out to explore everything that Monterosso had to offer. There was a breathtaking church of St. John the Baptist. A church which has Black and White stripes on the walls to signify the two different sects of monks in the town. The white are charged with protection of the living and the Black who care for the dead. The two sects worked together to build the church and protect the souls of the Monterosseans. Overlooking the town in a monastery of the cappucin monks. We went into this holy place and were transported into a movie. The Church was brilliantly lit up though the sky outside had grown dark with rainclouds being the altar the monks were practicing their chanting. It was a reverent experience to say the least. Close to the Monastery there was a cemetery that was beautifully adorned to honor the dead. Around the front side of the hill there was a beautiful view of the Mediterranean and looking down the coast it was possible to see all five of the little villages hugging the coastline. As dinner time approached we picked a restaurant out of the Book (when I refer to Rick Steves Italy I will address it simply as “The Book” to save some time.)

It was called L’Altre Mare and specialized in the seafood of the area. We ordered an appetizer of steamed mussels. First of all the bowl was freaking huge, easily over a hundred muscles which we greedily ate in a matter of minutes. But most interestingly is that they were amazing without butter and white wine they were steamed in their own liquor and were as fresh as can be gotten these days. For the next course Olesia ordered handmade Trofie pasta alla Genovese pasta with pesto to the non-Italian, Genova used to rule over the Cinque Terre and the rest of Liguria before the unification of Italy in the 1800’s. It was simple and delicious and tasted of fresh Basil, nothing else needed. For me, my inner-American yearned for a steak and I found one that I was familiar with, Bistec di Manzo con Pepe Verde. A juicy Filet of beef tenderloin smothered in a sauce of Ricotta, garlic and green pepper corns. I ordered the steak Al Sangue, Italian for bloody and as not displeased when I cut into the steak and saw a perfectly cooker blue steak. The sauce on top started out a brilliant white and when the steak was gone had taken on a pink hue. I was in heaven. To go with the dinner we had a half liter of the house table wine which was exquisite and matched the meal perfectly. After dinner we stopped at Enoteca Ciak (Chee-awk) where we purchased a bottle of the locally made Limoncino the local version of Lemoncello that some are familiar with. The recipe is; 1L of water, 1Kg. of Sugar, 16 Lemons zested and juiced, and 1L of High proof alcohol AKA moonshine. The whole lot is mixed together and set in a cold place to infuse then strained and bottled. When I get back to the states I will definitely be trying this one out and maybe before. We stopped and Ate Gelato in a little café deserted probably because it was not mentioned in the Book. The locals were bitching about the beginning of tourist season; I’m starting to understand a lot of Italian, but were at least happy that the rain which had been so constant over the winter and spring that most of the trails between the towns had been washed out and would have to be rebuilt was beginning to let up. A cost no one really wanted to bear but would because they didn’t want to have to take the trains with the damn tourists. After Gelato we headed back to the train station and for the campground. A day well spent, we had a nightcap of limoncino and sprite watched Sherlock Holmes in our tent and went to sleep preparing for the next day...

We woke up to find that it had rained over the night but the sky was now clear and beautiful. We would have a long day ahead of us because as it was Sunday I had School and a test on Monday and we still had four villages to visit before we could leave. The first stop was Rio Maggiore; Big River in the ligurian dialect though today the river has been covered over by the Main road in town was absolutely beautiful and is the southernmost town in the Cinque Terre. We walked down to the coast and had a cappuccino and espresso in a quaint little café by the water. The view was amazing and the coffee wasn’t bad either. Olesia had charged me with the Book and leading the tour of the day. We hiked around the town seeing another church and an amazing cemetery before arriving at the trailhead of the Via Dell’Amore. The road of love was built between Riomaggiore and Manarola the next town over in an effort to expand the gene pool which from the number of last names on the tombstones in the cemetery was getting pretty shallow. The nice walk is about two kilometers and is studded with locks purchased from the local hardware store and left as a sign of commitment between two lovers, there is also graffiti with names of couples from all parts of Italy and the world they have even gone as far as to carve initials and names into the cactus like plants that appear on the trail. The whole thing walks right on the coast offering amazing views and a pleasant walk to the next town.

Manarola, Big Wheel in the local dialect is a small town second only to Corniglia. What is interesting about this place is that like Riomaggiore the river that once flowed through the town has been converted to the main road but the river can still be seen if you look over the edge of the road and heard as you walk along it. Interesting to say the least. Here there is another church just as beautiful as the others and has one of the only frescoes done by a local artist apparently the locals are not known for their artistic abilities. But this fresco was gorgeous it was of Jesus as they took him down from the cross. Truly Awe inspiring. We took a trail near the church that went up and through the vineyards of Manarola everything was just starting to bloom and with a constant view of the sea it really felt like no other place on earth. The trail wrapped around and put us back into the center of town where we caught the train. Unfortunately our adventure was taking a bit longer than expected so we chose to skip over Corniglia and head right into Vernazza. From what we read Corniglia is the smallest town and has very little to do except it offers some very pretty views because it is set on the top of a hill. We’ll save it for next time.

Vernazza, Our last stop and another beautiful town with the oldest church in the area dedicated to Santa Margherita. The breakwater was a great place to lie out and soak up some sun unless the wind picks up and the waves start coming in. Then it gets a little dicey. We saw one group of tourists sunning themselves in the rocks when a rogue wave crashed on the barrier and soaked literally half of them the other half remained dry and laughing at their soaked companions what a difference a few feet can make. We were informed by the Book that in 2007 an American woman was swept out to sea by one of these waves and drowned a sad note for this beautiful town so we kept our distance. We stopped and had gelato at Gelateria Dell’Amore formerly named Gelateria Stalin because the founder had that unfortunate last name but the new owners still have the original sign as a joke about their father because just like most places in the town they are family run. The gelato is fresh made every day and comes in a variety of flavors Olesia had chocolate and cherry and I had Vanilla in Limoncino, a limoncino float of sorts. We hopped the train back to Deiva Marina and as promised the campground owners brought our bags to us at the train station and we headed for home. And of course being Sunday we had to pay the 30 euro to Nico for a cab ride to Cascina. I headed right to bed for the next morning’s test having had a full but restful weekend a much needed and welcome retreat. So once again Ciao for now, Stay tuned.

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