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Saturday Fun: World Travel; Italy and the Cinque Terre

It's been nearly two years now since we took a trip internationally. Far too long. It's not in the making this summer—so far, anyway—so I thought I'd review the last trip, July 2010. It's for myself to relive it a bit, but also for those readers who weren't around at that time, perhaps to inspire and encourage to get out there and see the world a bit.

The story of how this particular trip came about starts in the summer of 2006, when Beatrice and I headed off for a 3-week tour of Europe by car, no hotel reservations. We touched down in Paris, got the car, stayed the night, then headed south towards Barcelona. From there, we hugged the Med all the way up through Spain, across France, down into Italy, all the way to Pizza. After a couple of days in Firenze (Florence), we headed north, passed through Switzerland and just a bit of Germany, then west back to Paris for the flight home. In all, about 6,000 km. Each afternoon, we'd stop in a place we couldn't not stop at, I'd drop Beatrice on the waterfront, and she'd go from hotel to hotel until someone could show her a nice room with a view she liked; she'd ring me on the phone, and we'd have a place.

I've travelled this way—no reservations—a number of times and it's my preferred method of vacation/touring travel. So much better when you can see the whole context and decide accordingly. Those wanting to follow along with our Eurotrek 2006, posts begin July 3, 2006 in the archives, and run through July 26.

In one of those posts I wrote this:

Upon departing Nice we took the auto-route and headed straight for Italy and its Cinque Terre region. I was due for three days of relaxing on the beach, so we decided to forgo Rome this trip and take a breather. We chose Monterosso and I loved just about everything about it -- especially the part owner of the hotel we stayed at. 35 years on the job and you get good at it, and he is.

monterosso
Monterosso

...And so it was sometime in June a couple of years ago that I decided, spur of the moment: let's go to Italy for a week and, let's go to back to Cinque Terre. So here's a little summary of the trip, excerpts from each post. Kind of a virtual revisit.

Arrivederci

Heading off to Italy tomorrow. Monterosso, in the Cinque Terre region. Returning next Thursday. We'll be spending time on the beach, hiking the trails (4min video) between the five villages, and eating lots of fresh seafood.

The Beach at Monterosso
The Beach at Monterosso

At the Beach

Arrived yesterday in Monterosso after a drive from Rome. Lots of fun.

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  A look at the waterfront

The Drive: Rome to Monterosso

Here's a video I put together -- mostly for my family and close in-person friends -- but thought I'd go ahead and post it on the blog. Plus, there is at least a reference to "Primal driving." [...]

Another reason to toss it up is perhaps to encourage world travel in general for those who haven't, yet, and to really get in there and travel, and to do so by car when you can. Trains are fine for getting from A to B, but with a car you can get to and see many surprising places off the beaten path that you might not otherwise see.

Comment: I think some of you may enjoy this video. The first part is to demonstrate the amazing engineering of the tunnels and bridges along the northwest coast of Italy and the second part is the drive down the windy road to Monterosso in a fun little Fiat 500 with a stick shift. Beatrice was a bit scared, as you'll hear.

That entire video was recorded, then later edited down from 18 minutes and uploaded to YouTube on the iPhone 4 with the iMovie app—while laying on the beach.

The Food (PGP: Pretty Good Paleo)

Comment: Here's the one we've all been waiting for. I'll just go ahead and post them all. Click for the higher-res versions.

photo4
Octopus & Olives in Oil
photo5
Seafood Salad with More Octopus
photo6
Oops!
photo7
A Beautiful Setting
photo8


Tuna Tartare

photo9
Sea Bass

Back in the Loop With Some Odds & Ends

It was interesting, four years later, to visit the same places with a completely different perspective on food, relaxation, and activity. [...]

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. [...]

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.

Vibrams Rocked
Vibrams Rocked
Vernazza
Vernazza

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.

Vernazza from the other side
Vernazza from the other side

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.

Corniglia
Corniglia

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.

Manarola
Manarola

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.

Riomaggiore
Riomaggiore

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.

Pit Stop


Pit Stop

~~~

Well, I hope you all enjoyed the virtual trip to Italy as much as I enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

Comments

  1. Michael Field says:

    Wierd that you post this….I am vacationing in Cinque Terre now. It is wonderful, although some of the hiking trails are closed and Vernazza has yet to recover fully from the flood from 25 October 2011. The food is amazing!

  2. Just so you know Michael, Beatrice and I hate you right now. :)

    Had not heard of the flood. I’ll have to look it up.

  3. BTW, Micheal, not sure which village you’re at, but of course the train is too easy. The restaurant titled ‘nice setting’ or something like that is between old and new Monterosso, and it’s on the trail that goes over and around the tunnel between the two. Highly recommended. That’s where I took the shots of the tuna tartare and the sea bass.

  4. I’ve stayed in Riomaggiore several times with the relatives of a pal of mine. Such a beautiful part of the World. If I remember right they speak different dialects in each of the five towns as close as they are to one another. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Damn, I envy the French and Italian culture! I try to incorporate their principles as much as possible at home.

    I like to look up classic cookbooks from great food cultures such as Italy. Most of the time I find that the new mainstream recipes are dumbed down and compromised. Convenience always trumps everything.

    A traditional recipe for lasagna sauce (ragù) takes 3 hours to make. Most people I know think that’s crazy. Guess I’ve turned into a foodie by accident after discovering “paleo” too. No science needed.

  6. Sonagi says:

    I jjust came back from a week-long stay at Fenwick Island, DE, and wasted half a day making my first and last visit to vastly overrated Ocean City, MD. The long stretch of sand is a terrific natural asset, the beach waters off Va, Md, and De among the cleanest in the US, and OC is visitor-friendly with decent public transport and free beach wheelchairs, but the boardwalk itself was a HUGE disappointment, a forgettable string of little stores selling overpriced trinkets, tacky clothing, and fast food joints selling oversized, overpriced crap. I have friends and colleagues who love OC. Have no idea why. The US has some fantastic coastline, but sadly much of it commercially cheapened like OC. One of my favorite places for a summer beach trip is northernmost the shores of Lake Michigan or Lake Superior. Small lakeside resort towns have shops and restaurants that are mostly locally or regionally owned.

  7. Sonagi says:

    Correction: along the northern shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

  8. Great photos! The seafood salad looks amazing! I got married in Italy in May and went to Florence for our honeymoon. Wished we had done the Cinque Terre tour. Will definitely go next time I’m there. Your right about the culture, it’s great to see people caring about the quality of food they eat.

  9. I just got back from a 17-day Italy vacation. We(family) did the Cinque Terre tour and stayed in Montorrso for a few days. I have an Uncle who lives just outside of San Gimignano which is an old Tuscan medieval hill-top town. Good mix of being a tourist and living the local life.

    • I forgot to mention I tried to gain weight by eating lots of pizza and pasta (and meat and veges) and I suceeded – 7lbs in 15 days!! I was fucking starving all the time as well. I think lower-carb works…