Back in the Loop With Some Odds & Ends

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.

Fat Guy
Fat Guy

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.

Vibrams Rocked
Vibrams Rocked

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.

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.


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.

Pit Stop
Pit Stop

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.

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  1. Todd S. on July 31, 2010 at 09:26

    Absolutely unbelievable scenery. I know now where I must get to before I die.

  2. Dave Fish on July 31, 2010 at 09:44

    Your pictures made me smile, remembering what a great time my family had in Cinque Terre back in June. Corniglia is definitely the smallest, quietest village but therein lies its charm. We rented a top floor apartment with a patio that had a fantastic view of the vineyards, the village, and the Mediterranean.

    All your observations about the food, Italy, people, etc. are spot on. We arrived late in the day on our first day and my non-primal travelers wanted some bread. The owner of the shop didn’t want to sell it to us because it wasn’t fresh. He said, “come back tomorrow morning and we’ll have good bread”. He finally relented and it did make for a good bruschetta, but he was right, the next day the bread was better.

  3. gallier2 on July 31, 2010 at 09:47

    The observation on the Italian beach are spot on. I was last week also in Italy but on the Adriatic coast, at Riccione to be exact. The adria riviera is in no way comparable to the mediterranean coast from the point of view of landscape, but it is really extremely well organized for beach holidays. They have there really good beaches, perfect if you go with small children (I found the costa del sol in Spain rather dangerous for small children and the French coast overcrowded).
    And the beach is really a family thing there, the Italians go to the beach in family, with the Nonna and Nonno (Grannies) and children and you’re right when noticing that noone eats at the beach. There’s the odd Coconut and drink seller that goes around, but it’s really not much. People either skip the noon meal or if they have full pension at the hotel they leave for the midday break. I found that the children here were often overweight (similar to what I saw in Spain 2 years ago) and many people (Italians, the tourists from the north have different physiques) have typical wheat guts. It was really difficult to avoid wheat and sugar during our stay. I understand now why Italy has worse cardiovascular numbers than France, everything is sweeter and softer than in France and while meat is extremly well prepared, the portions are smaller, therefore the anti-pasti are part of every meal.
    PS: for info I’m from France living near the Belgian, Luxemburgish, German border which makes holiday in Spain, South France and Italy a trip to a different culture.

  4. Jeff Montgomery on July 31, 2010 at 10:16

    Thanks, those are fun pictures and details. What a beautiful part of the world. I visited the Sorrento area and was stunned at how scenic it was. And the climate…

    I know what you mean about quality of life. Despite the deep-seated mysticism of Italy, in some ways they have us beat hands-down on enjoyment and appreciation of this life, in the here and now. I find that paradoxical.

    There are a few places in the U.S. that also seem to have that attitude: New Orleans (aside from certain peoples’ mindless quantity drinking), where food and music are hugely important, in an almost sacred way. Some of the more laid-back coastal areas. Boulder and other parts of Colorado have that vibe too. There are lots of others, but I think in the case of Colordao, they are often places where the outdoor beauty is so in-your-face that people move there purely because they place a high value on quality of life.

  5. Sonagi on July 31, 2010 at 16:44

    So Italian parents enjoy interacting with their children when they go places. I’ve noticed the same about Hispanic immigrant families in my community. The parents and grandparents take children’s energetic play in stride and rarely yell at them. The children at my school are mostly happy, normal children who look well-cared for. One Puerto Rican girl of African heritage wears her hair in a different style every day, crafted by the hands of a loving father at home. Unfortunately, the Hispanic children in my community, like other American children, are overfed with snacks and junk food. Whenever I eat lunch with the kids, half of them have cookies, nacho chips, or other ala carte snacks on their free lunch trays. Grrrrr. I blame the school for peddling junk food and the parents for indulging their kids.

  6. Jorge on July 31, 2010 at 17:42

    Great trip report; you two really know how to have a good time :-)

  7. Annon on July 31, 2010 at 17:48

    Thank you for the tour, I enjoyed it immensely. It all looks lovely.

  8. john on August 1, 2010 at 05:02


  9. Ned Kock on August 1, 2010 at 07:33

    Great post and very nice photos Richard!

    You have a style of writing that makes a lot of readers feel like they are very close to you. They wouldn’t be excited by seeing photos from just anyone. There are lots of photos on the web.

    The issues of sleeping on the plane and jet lag are somewhat connected, I think, and one possible solution to sleeplessness is power napping:

    It is actually the regular practice of power napping that helps one induce deep sleep fairly easily almost anywhere; power napping on the plane per se will not help much.

    • Richard Nikoley on August 1, 2010 at 11:46

      I recall reading that post, Ned, and thought at the time that it seemed very evolutionarily plausible. I note that my dogs seem to take cat naps more than they do all out sleep. Out in the wild it seems unlikely that we were consistently able to get 8 hours of uninterrupted blissful sleep.

      But I definitely have experienced the condition where if you let a nap go on too long you end up feeling far worse. So, usually, I try to stay away from napping.

  10. Mike Gruber on August 1, 2010 at 09:50

    Interesting snippet re: the physiques in Italy are like the US in the 70’s. My wife is a high school teacher, and she recently looked at a picture of my high school graduation class (taken in ’77). She said “hey look, no fat kids!”. A very substantial percentage of high school kids today are noticeably overweight.

  11. Ben Wheeler on August 1, 2010 at 10:10

    Looks like you had a great time Richard! I had the pleasure of staying in Riomaggiore a few years ago! I completely fell in love with Cinque Terre! It is so amazing! Thanks for bring back the memories!

  12. Rod on August 1, 2010 at 22:15

    I have been reading your posts lately, since I’ve become interested in the primal approach. Since I’m going through this transition right now (which is first and foremost a transition in belief-systems!) what actually caught my attention in this post was that little sentence “I had to really talk Bea into giving them a try but she was sold almost immediately”.

    I think the way to this transition to primal is a little more difficult in the context of a family, since, of course, many activities are performed together. Maybe you can devote one of your blog entries to this aspect of “going primal” with your partner/kids?

    Thank you for your insightful blog!

  13. William on August 1, 2010 at 22:26

    Beautiful photos, and I wouldn’t mind if you turned your site into a travel blog for a few days.

    Having grown up in Mendocino County, California, and currently living in Oregon, both places are tough acts to follow in terms of beauty. But there is just something about Italy… the architecture, combined with natural splendor is not to be compared.

  14. Chris on August 2, 2010 at 07:03

    Great pictures and I couldn’t agree with you more about the portion size and quality of food in European countries, regardless of the “paleo-ness” of it. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people recommend a restaurant. Whenever I ask “how’s the food” and I get “oh the portion sizes are really big!” I want to scream. I don’t care if I get a ton of crap, it’s still crap. Give me high quality food that tastes great and I’ll glady pay more for it.

  15. Bryan E on August 2, 2010 at 08:40

    My wife and I make an annual trip to Germany each year and sometimes wonder into France. You were spot on with the size and weight of people in Europe compared to most Americans. We often sit and wonder how the German and French people eat such wonderful foods but are not fat bodies. Finding somewhere to eat is not as simple looking for a tacky over sized sign or neon lights flashing. After two or three weeks of observing Europeans once you come back home and walk through the airport its clear we are a nation of over eaters. Im ALL American but really its sad that the people of the wonderful country cant take the time to take better care of themselves.

    • Sonagi on August 2, 2010 at 11:53

      ,i>”We often sit and wonder how the German and French people eat such wonderful foods but are not fat bodies. “

      Rather than contrast, I see a cause-effect relationship between the high quality of the food in terms of taste and presentation and the moderate portions. Good food satisfies the eyes and the palate, so you don’t overeat.

  16. Gary on August 3, 2010 at 15:17

    I was in Italy just over a week ago, including a visit to Riccione, like gallier2. I wrote a blog post on the food I ate there (needless to say, not entirely Paleo) and the fact that the Italians manage to stay slim and healthy despite all the grains and sugar: their diet also includes plenty good stuff (protein, fat, fruit+veg) and they practice moderation : (sorry if this is considered spam; my blog’s just for fun, doesn’t make any money and probably never will). The fact that they don’t walk around drinking soda and eating snacks on the beach is also obvious now that others have mentioned it.

  17. Primal Toad on August 5, 2010 at 12:04

    I am incredibly jealous Richard. Absolutely beautiful scenery. And, you have a great attitude about the food. Sure, its not primal but its A LOT better than what is offered here in the US and it shows by how the people look.

    Its just like Jamie Olivers Food Revolution. He is not primal but what he is trying to do is pushing us in the right direction – taking a HUGE step. It all adds up.

  18. Mat on September 1, 2010 at 17:29

    Great pictures. I took a lot of the same pictures but it looks like you were there on a clearer day. Such a fun (but really hot) trek. I will never forget it.

  19. Jay Knick on September 10, 2010 at 13:51

    Who would have known the Vibram Fivefingers so different so ugly would become our number one selling footwear
    in our store and web site.

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