From wakeup at 3:30am local in Rome, taxi to the airport, flight to Amsterdam, layover, an 11hr flight to San Francisco, collect the car and drive back home, we came in the door about 21 hours later. Rather than sleep on the airplane (I normally can't), I watched four in-flight movies on the KLM Boeing-777 and played countless games of solitaire on my iPad. Consequently, I got about 12 hours of restful sleep and feel rarin' to go, except that I don't have anything planned to blog, right now. So let me just throw something together.
I don't know how people do it who have to fly internationally on a regular basis. I guess you make sure to sign up as a frequent flyer, fly the same airline or partners and get upgraded to business class where you have a decent chance of actually getting some rest.
It was interesting, four years later, to visit the same places with a completely different perspective on food, relaxation, and activity. This was me then at a beach cafe just down from the same hotel (same room, even) we stayed at in Monterosso on the Cinque Terre.
Well it was certainly nice to tip the scale about 60 pounds lighter.
My overall impression, given my new attitude is that even though the food isn't primal or paleo, they nonetheless care vastly more about quality than the average American. Rather than fast food chain, frozen yogurt chain, sugar-smoothie chain establishments dotting every avenue and intersection, they have mom & pop joints with hand made sandwiches and other fare with obvious care taken to produce it and select for quality ingredients. Even the pizza shops, of which there are many, feature a vast selection of artisan fare in modest sizes and quantities for a serving. Quality over super-sized quantity is the name of the game.
And it shows. While I had the impression there were a few more small "pot bellies" on the men and hips on the women, it's still remotely nothing like what you see here in America. Perhaps 1970s America. And here's what you never see: people walking down the street eating or sucking on some quart sized sugar drink. No, they sit down at a sidewalk cafe and take the time out to eat and drink.
Of course the same holds true for much of the rest of Western Europe. No, a primal diet is far superior, but at least you don't have to walk around being totally disgusted at every moment, as I am when I go anywhere in the USA.
Bea & I were pretty active. We walked miles and miles and hiked miles and miles. Here's a few shots from our hike from Monterosso al Mare to the other four villages (Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore). You can read all about hiking the trails here, and click on the images below for the hi quality versions.
Yep, in spite of my general reservations about Vibrams, they are really suited to this sort of thing. We got tons of looks and at least a half dozen people stopped us to inquire about them, most being aware of them already. I had to really talk Bea into giving them a try but she was sold almost immediately. She understood how they connect you with the ground and give you continual feedback about what you're doing.
The first stop along the way after a 2-hr hike, ascending to over 1,000 feet in elevation and back down (thousands of stone steps instead of switchback trails). This is the toughest leg. When we arrived we were more than happy to jump right off that seawall at the lower right into the cool water. Thankfully there was a fresh water source for hosing off afterwards.
It's as though the rocks grew a village on top, like a crop of mushrooms. Some of the buildings even make use of the rocks as part of the structure, such as one or more of the interior walls. Quite organic. This was the beginning of the 2nd leg of the trip and the 2nd most difficult. In the far background you can see Monterosso, from whence we came. About the same level of ascent, but Corniglia is on a hilltop and doesn't go all the way down to sea level. As such, it's the least robust and interesting of the five villages, in my view. It was about time for lunch and because of that aspect, we decided to press on.
The 3rd leg took only about 45-minutes and was pretty flat, with a net downhill to sea level. The difficult part is that it was 1-2pm in the afternoon and there is zero shade on the trail. We were pretty hot & bothered by the time we got to Manarola and so took our second dip in the cool ocean.
We jumped in right in front of those boats you see at the lower right. As with Vernazza, there were lots of people and their families out enjoying the clean, crisp water. You can see to the bottom, 20 feet or more down.
We had lunch in the little cafe right under the yellow awning.
It's interesting how the Italians enjoy the water. First, it's a family affair and Bea & I both noticed how different the Italians are with their kids and how generally well behaved the kids are. For one, they pay a super lot of attention, and not simply for the purpose of ordering them around: don't do this, stop that. They play with them, and they do so with genuine interest and actually seem to enjoy it immensely. I'm not saying Americans don't do that but what I see here is people heading to the beach with all manner of supplies, beach toys, huge coolers and so on. The kids are given a beach toy in one hand and a sugar drink in the other and are then expected to leave the adults alone to enjoy themselves and stuff their faces with hotdogs, chips, potato salad & "cold ones."
By contrast, the Italians show up with a small bag for a towel and maybe a change of clothes. The water is the toy for all. It's the point. I did not see a single person eating or drinking a thing at any of the villages, or on the Beach in Monterosso. When it's mealtime then you go and sit down and have a meal in one of the many beach cafes.
I couldn't get a great picture of the last stop on the journey, Riomaggiore, because of how it's situated. Here's what it looks like from sea. This was the 4th and easiest leg; all flat, lots of shade, and only 20 minutes.
In all, we spent 8 1/2 hours on the trek, including our stops along the way: including this one, mid-way between Vernazza and Corniglia.
What a view from that little bar/cafe! We split a beer.
After all of that, it took a total of only 8 minutes to get back to Monterosso on the train from Riomaggiore, thanks to 80% of it going right through the mountain via their many tunnels.
Later: I forgot to mention that all the above photos as well as all the other photos for this trip were taken with the new iPhone 4. I didn't even take my advanced camera rig as I travelled light -- a single carry-on duffle only half full.