More touring in beautiful Liguria.....

Trip Start Aug 28, 2012
Trip End Oct 02, 2012

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Flag of Italy  , Italian Riviera,
Friday, September 21, 2012

12 September 21 - Friday

I woke up at about 07:15 this morning, but decided to "sleep in" until 07:45. When I went up for breakfast there were only a few people there, but the tour group and others started to arrive fairly quickly.  I started to get my breakfast but then went out on the patio to chat with the Guide and some of the tour members, which took about 20 minutes.

I haven't definitely decided to go to Porto Venere today, but it’s on my list so I should try and get it done today.  After breakfast I decided to do some housekeeping and went out to buy some toothpaste and also get more money to pay my Hotel bill.  I bought the toothpaste at a small Pharmacy at the bottom of the steps from the Hotel.  I tried an ATM at one of the Banks with my TD ATM card but it wouldn’t work, so I then tried the Poste Italiane and that worked on the first try.  As on previous mornings, I noticed the delicious odours of food cooking when walking through the narrow streets, and even though I wasn’t hungry it made me want to sit down and have something to eat.

I walked back to the Hotel and paid my bill and then got my gear organized for the day.  I had missed the 10:30 boat so would have to wait for the 12:10 departure.  I walked down to the docks at about 11:30 and that turned out to be a perfect time.  I bought a ticket at the small booth on the dock and then proceed to the boat, which was now loading.

As the boat pulled away from the dock into the open sea, I was so absolutely content with everything I was experiencing at the time.  I was enjoying the low rumble of the powerful diesel engines, the sun and wind on my face and the beautiful turquoise waters of the Ligurian sea.  There was nothing I had to do, nowhere I had to go and no responsibilities so I could just enjoy the moment.  The boat stopped in all the towns except Corniglia and arrived in Porto Venere in about an hour or so.  I tried to get pictures of all the towns from the water, but given my current Camera situation, I’m not sure how good they will be.

As the boat rounded a large rock bluff, the town of Porto Venere came into view.  The buildings in the harbour have the same type of pastel colours as other towns in the Cinque Terre, and it’s a beautiful location.  There were a couple of medium sized yachts backed into the harbour, with one being larger than the other.  The harbour front seemed to be nothing but restaurants, which is good as I’m about ready for lunch.

Porto Venere is actually comprised of three villages, Fezzano, Le Grazie and Porto Venere, and includes the islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto.  The town reportedly dates back to the 1st century, and the name of the town may refer either to a temple to the goddess Venus or to the hermit Saint Venerius.  Although there is some industry, including a regasification plant near the town, the main industry is tourism.  Porto Venere is somewhat of a "posh" resort town, similar in some ways to Portofino.   This is a popular stop for yachts and those that sail in them.  Some of the local sights include the distinctive Church of St. Peter and the Doria Castel.  As with the towns in the Cinque Terre, Porto Venere has also been designated at a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

After disembarking from the boat, I walked to the end of the harbour and had a look at the larger of the two yachts.  It had the name "Riva" on the side, but I’m not sure if that’s the manufacturer or the name of the boat.  As I walked next to the gangway, a couple of crew members disembarked, each holding a drink.  I had an interesting talk with them for about 10 minutes, but then they had to carry on with their work.  One thing I noticed is that there was a small mat at the end of the gangway, with several pairs of shoes there.  It seems that no one wears shoes on the yacht.  The same was true of the smaller yacht in the next berth.

I did more exploring in some of the back streets and encountered a large group of 50 with Contiki Tours.  The Guide indicated that they were a branch of Trafalgar or one of the other large companies.  After that I made a loop back to the harbour and started reading menus.  I finally stopped at a tacky looking place on the water which had a yellow statue of a Fisherman out front, as they were the only ones that seemed to offer non-seafood menu items.  I ordered the Spaghetti al Ragu and wine.  They only had white wine by the glass, so I had to settle for that.

When the food arrived, I found that it was barely lukewarm and really only mediocre in quality.  The setting was nice but other aspects of the restaurant left something to be desired.  I ordered  after dinner coffee as usual, but the waiter said the machine was “broken” so they couldn’t serve any.  When I asked about the washroom location, the owner mumbled something and pointed inside so I made my way in there, but it was a bit hard to find.

I had thought about going to Palmaria Island, but was starting to get worn out by about 15:00.   I was also too tired to hike up to the Church to have a look, so just made one more pass around the harbor and then found the location where the boat would be leaving from and waited there.  The first boat that arrived had a large tour group on it, so it took awhile to empty.  The crew said, “wait for next boat” and then proceeded to park that boat in another berth.  The other boat fortunately arrived a few minutes later.

The trip back to Monterosso was tranquil and beautiful in the late afternoon sun.  When I disembarked, I walked over to Ristorante Belvedere to have a look at their menu, as that’s where I’ll probably be dining tonight.  I also stopped at a small art & jewelry shop about half way up the hill (on the right) and had a chat with the girl working there.  Her name was Gina and she was an American ex-pat, now married to an Italian, and I really enjoyed having a short visit with her.  I then went back to the Hotel, had my “welcome” glass of Prosecco on the patio and then headed out for dinner.  As I was leaving the Lobby, I spoke with a couple from France that were just arriving at the Hotel.  They operate a winery and B&B in southern France (possibly Provence).  He was originally from Switzerland and she was from France.

When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I noticed a couple there looking very puzzled so I asked if they needed help.  It turned out they were from Comox and would be renting an apartment in the area but couldn’t find it.  They wouldn’t be needing it until tomorrow so there wasn’t a bit hurry.

On my walk to the restaurant, I spotted a great photo op and fortunately had my P&S Camera with me.  It was a Cat sitting at the window to the kitchen at Ristorante CIAK, eagerly looking at the fish and other “goodies” inside.  I'm sure he was most anxious for the Cook to look away for a minute!  The Cat seemed to be totally oblivious to the fact that she was the centre of attention for a number of tourists.

When I got to Ristorante Belvedere, it was mostly empty so I had no trouble finding a table (it was still early).  I decided to sit outside tonight (hopefully there won't be any smokers in the vicinity) and ordered the “special” which was Ravioli stuffed with spinach leaves and meat, with a meat sauce, a mixed salad and wine.  It was very good but very filling!  Before long some members of the tour group sat down nearby and the Guide eventually showed up.

Shortly after my meal was delivered, two couples were seated beside me and it turned out that one was from Garmen-Partenkirchen in Germany and the other from Nanaimo.  The guy that I was talking to mostly (his brother from Germany didn’t speak English) was a retired Chef and cooking instructor at the University in Nanaimo, and we had an interesting talk.  We were all very interested in the large steaming pot of seafood that was delivered in a large ceramic crock to the RS tour group.

The restaurant had become VERY busy by this time, so it took the girl some time to bring my coffee and also the bill.  During the time I was there, several vendors stopped at each of the tables, offering their wares.  I recognized one guy who was selling artwork from one of my previous visits.  Before leaving the restaurant, I stopped for a short visit at the large table with the RS group and also a smaller table with three people.  None of them seemed overly anxious to visit at the time, including the Nurse I had spoken with at breakfast at the Hotel.  I’ve never seen my tour groups behave like that with others.

After dinner I walked back to the Hotel and again finished my day with computer work.

12 September 22 - Saturday

It’s hard to believe that this will be my last day in Monterosso and the Cinque Terre.  The time seems to have passed so quickly.

I woke up early and went for breakfast about 07:40, but had forgotten that breakfast starts at 08:00.  Matteo offered to get me a cup of coffee so I waited.  It wasn’t long before the tour members, the couple from France and others started to arrive.  There was lots to eat and a good selection so I filled up as usual.

After breakfast I stayed in the Lobby for a few minutes and visited.  The two couples from Norway will be leaving today, as well as the RS group (their train to Volterra departs at 09:55 and they’ll be in Siena tonight).  It seems there will be a few groups heading to the beach today.

I went back to the room and did some laundry in the sink as I’ll be leaving early tomorrow.  I wanted to take advantage of the warm Ligurian sun to hopefully dry the laundry quickly.  There was a light breeze blowing, which should help also.  After that I got busy with some computer work and a Blog entry, which took some time to complete as I didn’t finish until about 13:30.

On my walk down to the station, I noticed that the streets seemed to be busier than usual.  I suspect there are some cruise ships docked in the area, as some of the people are wearing “whisper” receivers.

When I got to the station, I noticed a couple of guys on Platform 3 that were apparently wanting to get to Platform 1.  One of them followed the rules and went down through the tunnel, but the other guy appeared to be an arrogant a$%hole and he just crossed the tracks with a smirk on his face.  They eventually sat at the station café and had a beer.

I decided to buy a Panino and coffee in the station rather than having lunch in Vernazza.  For "station food", it was surprisingly fresh and good.  When I got over to Platform 3, there were only a few people on it to begin with, but before long several large tour groups arrived with their umbrella-toting Guides.  I estimated at least 50-80 in each group and there were at least four of them.  A similar group also disembarked at Platform 1 during the time I was waiting.

As might be imagined, the train was extremely crowded, with passengers packed in like sardines.  I chose to stand the in foyer, as there was absolutely no way I’d get a seat and for such a short ride (3 minutes), it wasn’t worthwhile to sit down anyway.  When I disembarked in Vernazza, it was an exercise in frustration trying to get to the stairs and down to the main street with so many people.  The main street in Vernazza was also packed.

I eventually got down to the street and harbour, and took a few minutes and sat on a bench just to cool off and rest.  There were a few signs of “abnormality” in the main part of the beach area, but it was hard to imagine the way it looked last October.  There were many happy people laying on the rocks and swimming on the far side of the harbour.  The fishing boats were neatly lined up, as always and the restaurants were “steady” but not busy.  On the hillside above the harbour, people could still be seen arriving and departing on the trail to Monterosso.  It seems a bit late in the day for that, but perhaps they started at Riomaggiore and were just getting to this part of the trail?

In the main part of town, some of the buildings appeared to be “stained” by water marks, but unless one had seen it before, that could be attributed to normal wear on old buildings.  I looked into some of the boarded up areas and there were lots of subtle signs of the damage.  Some stores were still boarded up and looked like a disaster area inside (which it was), all the gas lines that I could see were disconnected, some of the wiring in the entrance foyer of buildings was new and in other areas the wires were disconnected.  Some of the neatly bundled wiring on the exterior of the buildings appeared to be brand new.   However, the streets were completely clear and normal looking, with little visible damage.  I expect the local residents will continue getting things back to normal when the tourist season is over at the end of October.

Once again I noticed that the prices in Gianni Franzi and other restaurants were considerably higher than in Montrerosso.  As an example, one menu item was priced at €12 in Vernazza and €8 for the same thing in Monterosso.  That’s a considerable difference and needless to say, I'm glad that I'm staying in Monterosso!  I eventually walked back to the main street, looking for the small art shop owned by one of the American ex-pats that now live here.  She was one of those that started the Save Vernazza website, and I was hoping to meet her and get an update on the current status of repairs.  The girl working at the shop said that she’d be here at 17:30 so I decided to wait.

While I was waiting, I took a few more pictures and had a Gelato and coffee at the Blue Marlin Bar.  I also bought an Italia T-Shirt and some Trofie in some of the local shops.  I also walked up on the other side of the station and explored that part of town, something which I haven't done on previous visits.  Most of the shops in that part of town appear to be brand new, and I suspect  that’s an area that was heavily damaged as that's where the floods would have hit first.  There were a number of small Loaders and other construction equipment parked on a small platform on the side of the street.  That part of Vernazza seems to be a bit "ignored" by tourists, as it was very quiet there.

While I was standing on the street just looking around, a guy tapped me on the shoulder and said “I saw you in Cortona a few weeks ago with another person”.  I said that must have been the other photographer I was talking to.  He’s an American but now living in Cortona and arranges workshops and seminars, mostly for art and photography.  I thought that was an interesting coincidence, and more interesting was the fact that he remembered me!

There was a very photogenic Cat at one of the gift shops on the main street, and I took several photos of it, as did many other tourists.  I'm not sure the Cat was entirely enjoying the attention, as her ears appeared to be "flattened" at the time.  She seemed to handle her celebrity status well though, and didn't take a "swipe" at any of the Papparazzi.

I also observed another classic scene from daily life in Italy.  Several of the older ladies from the town were seated on one of the benches on the main street, having a visit with each other in the late afternoon.  I suspect this is a scene that's repeated on a daily basis, at least when the weather is reasonably good.

The shop owner that I was waiting for never did arrive and by 18:15, I decided to head for the station.  I had hoped to get some first-hand information, but I'll have to report on the current status of Vernazza based solely on what I've observed.  As I approached the station, the Gypsy woman was waiting at the bottom of the stairs as usual, begging for "donations".  She looks like the same one that “works” at the station in Monterosso, and the same one that was here on my previous visit to this area.

The train arrived on time and thankfully it wasn’t too crowded.  The trip back to Monterosso was easy, and as soon as I arrived, I walked straight to Cantina di Miky for dinner.  I had dined here on my first night in Monterosso, and wanted to also dine here on my last night.  I didn’t have long to wait for a table, but I was wondering if I should have chosen to sit inside as the weather was looking a bit “inclement” at the time (fortunately the rain never materialized).  Tonight I decided to order the Lasagna al Ragu, wine (of course) and coffee.  It was excellent as usual.

After dinner I said goodbye to Christine and Manuel, the wonderful couple that own the Cantina.  It was great to meet both of them.   As I was leaving, the B.C. couple from Comox that were staying in the apartment arrived at the entrance to the sidewalk patio, and were seated at my former table (I assured them that they'd be having a great meal there).

I walked fairly briskly back towards the Hotel, said “hello” to the girl at the front desk and then went to the room to shower and get my packs loaded for the trip tomorrow.  I'm not looking forward to getting up at about 05:30, but unfortunately it will be necessary on this occasion.  It's a fairly long trip to the Berner Oberland, and I'd prefer to arrive as early as possible so that I'll have chance to do a bit of a "walkabout" to re-familiarize myself with the area before it gets dark.

I've really enjoyed my visit to the Cinque Terre, and although I'm looking forward to the next part of my adventure, leaving this area comes with a bit of sadness.

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