Cinque Terre

Oops I found Manarola…

Confession. Took a train ride between villages without a ticket! It was a ticket machine malfunction officer.

La Spezia to the first of the five villages of the Cinque Terre – Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Corniglia, Monterosso and later, on to Genoa. Meanwhile just one last village to conquer…Manarola.

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20130822-114204.jpg20130822-114357.jpgThe ‘Via dell’Amore‘ was closed due to rock slides. A shame. The Lovers Walk, a narrow pathway linking Riomaggiore and Manarola, clings precariously to the rocky cliffs along the ocean front and provides the perfect platform for viewing spectacularly romantic sunsets. Hence the name.

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20130822-114844.jpgThe village, again tucked into a tiny crevice has quaint lanes so narrow, the jumble of tall buildings clinging one atop the other almost touch, held strong only by random stone archways. Cool, dark and perfect for dodging the drips from washing strung high above, smiling at Nona’s sweeping doorsteps and searching for the little surprises that whisper of the village personality.

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Emerge at the top of the main thoroughfare, quick glance in the local church, light a candle then on down the promenade past the same linens, lemons and lazy diners as the other villages, and on to the harbor.

20130822-114636.jpgQuaint, sheltered between large jagged rock formations, smeared with bright towels and sunbathers and topped with teens daring to dive into deliciously cool water between rowboats of softy hued blue yellow and red. They do, to the raucous cheers of folk lining the narrow side steps leading to the cliff walks.

Continuing around one of the cliff paths, discover a whole other little world tucked in behind steeper rock formations, again hosting swimmers as well as a number of large yachts anchored in the still waters.

20130822-114928.jpgExhausting the camera’s battery, indulge in a Ligurian style pasta brimming with seafood followed by a tiny scoop of Lemon Gelato then, with a satisfied smile, slip discreetly into a tourist wave and back onto the train.

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And thus concludes my dreamy days in the Cinque Terre…have I inspired you?

Stay tuned for the French Riviera!

Bragging rights in Riomaggiore…

OK! Gonna brag. No. Not the Instagram ‘here are my red lacquered toe nails on a beach in the Bahamas’ kind of brag. No. This is the ‘here are my Coral lacquered toe nails on a sunny terrace overlooking the magnificent Mediterranean’.

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My new home for 7 days is a small studio with a big view, sitting atop a steep winding road just above the castle behind which sloping steps sweep back down to join the start of Via Colombo, the main thoroughfare that leads down to the harbor.

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Riomaggiore doesn’t have quite the same ‘distressed’ antiquity as Vernazza and Monterosso; more fresh paintwork, wider walkways, yet the same tall houses resting against each other like drunken sailors in shades of terra cotta, soft pink and dusty green complemented with moss green shutters, washing lines and flower pots bursting Geraniums. But where are the cats?

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Via Colombo is steep and wide, two or three deep steps down the sides into shops serving fried seafood cones, pizza squares and colorful gelato; Italian linen shirts, sarongs and sunscreens, Limoncello, local wines and home made pasta. As well, little bistros and restaurants, some with outdoor elevated seating. Still haven’t found a cat.

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The road slides to a halt at the tunnel junction – to the right a very long one lined with a beautiful ocean blue mosaic leading to the train station and to the left down steps and under the railway tunnel to the harbor, ferry access and beach.

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The harbor is a sheltered enclave much like Manarola, smaller than Vernazza and crowded with colourful little boats and mossy rocks upon which bathers recline. The tiny crescent beach, accessible via a path carved into the cliff face, has bigger pebbles, smaller space and is wall to wall sunbathers, some attempting to wobble across unsteady terrain into water so crystal clear it belies the depth. A good thing for kids are diving in off the cliff. Easier and much less embarrassing access than the pebble wobble but I ain’t gonna try it. No cats.

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Unlike Vernazza there’s an absence of cats. Like Vernazza there’s the presence of church bells. Right below my door. Thankfully someone sent the memo…keep it down will you? Jane’s in residence.

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Coming soon: Another, possibly fateful, definitely horrendously steep walk from here to Manarola. Fortifying strength as we speak with a pleasant little local (wine that is) over another spectacular sunset. Oops! There I go again….

Day in the life (brain overdrive)…

Trawl La Spezia’s Friday clothing markets – malls of stalls heaving fluorescent jewelry, bikinis, Nonna house coats in 70 shades of blue, Nonno singlets in 50 shades of white, enough cork platforms to stopper Europe’s entire wine harvest, cheap perfume and rhinestone ‘I heart Italy’ tee-shirts (curse at wasted fare, console with large glass of wine)

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Admire deftness with which Nigerian hawkers foist their cachet of designer knock off bags into sheets and turn to shadow within the whiff of a cop (and the styles were all so last year)

Puzzle over chappy cycling by with a plastic shopping bag knotted on four corners over his head (alfalfa sprouts cheaper than hair plugs?)

Laugh at supermarket lady going sparko over exploded coke bottle (whole shop sprayed a pleasant golden brown, matches her tan)

Cringe when same screams ‘Peach you NOT squeeze!’ ‘Get OFF the banana!’ as a hapless Swede attempts to buy a fruit snack (mass exodus of terrified tourists)

Perfect mantra while puffing up countless steps to cemetery for super photo moment (‘buns of steel, burn pasta carb, buns of steel, burn…’)

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20130813-183458.jpgSip ‘Aperol Spritz’ (Prosecco, Aperol, soda water), appears de rigueur, tastes like Campari (gak!) and settle in to admire sunset (and hoover complementary chips and focacia cubes, cheap nosh)

Marvel at the volume of cats under the restaurant chairs (good thing they’re not rockers) waiting for the chips to fall (haa haa)

Hear a beat, explore, get swallowed by a thumping, smoke shrouded, strobe splattered dance party squeezed between the rocky outcrops of the harbor forecourt (say what?)

Gasp at volume of black eye patches (a load of lost eyeballs for such a small village?) learn it’s a Pirate theme (someone forgot to send the memo)

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20130813-183626.jpgStare (discreetly) at skinny brown women usually found standing in doorways smoking, tittering and yapping Chow! Chow! into their mobile phones (until tourists waving money lure them back to their shops), now teetering on tall cork platforms, sporting black on black body cons, blond bouffants and enormous fluorescent chandelier earrings (Er? Fashion police, we have a ‘situation’)

Observe Nonna’s on the benches eating ice cream, old chaps throwing back Nastros and Peronis (not one of ’em pinch my bum, what is that?) and kids trying to set fire to a boat (candles lining the street prove irresistible)

20130813-183518.jpgPonder the fire twirler’s choice of music…a song about Monday when it’s Friday (who cares?) Brain explosion.

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Hear the beat ratchet up a notch, hear Romeo calling ‘Where for art thou Jane? Thou hath warmed the bed for thee!’ (yeah right). It’s 3am and I have 4 hours to cram a sleep before the 7am bells start clamoring again. Twice! Right outside my window (bloody Village alarm clock)

Just another day…

 

The thrill of a shrine find..

From the simplest to the most elaborate, there are countless shrines peppered throughout Italy – on exterior walls, in Grottos in the squares, along obscure pathways and by busy main thoroughfare. I love the thrill of finding them. Each one unique in both detail and the loving and devout attention bestowed upon them. Most I’ve found so far have been devoted to the Virgin Mary though various saints are also honored. I am now on a mission to capture more…meanwhile enjoy!

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Corniglia and cactus toes

Cactus!

That’s what I am, cactus! Don’t you love that expression? Just trekked 4k up mountains, past cactus, through olive groves and down dales then back up more mountains to the dear little cliff-top dwelling village of Corniglia. A pathway so well travelled the erratically placed stones are shiny with wear, or is that sweat?

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Breathtaking! And I’m not talking view. Though you will see that was quite spectacular by the photos, taken at intervals, for self assurance really. Over there on that distant mountain the reward awaits! Of the alcoholic kind.

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Meanwhile Germans with thick brown ankles, backpacks and ski poles are zooming by. A clutch of teens in thongs (Jandals/Flipflops for the non Aussies) are literally skipping up the path chattering away without even drawing breath. With no breath to draw of my own I bleat ‘Ciao!’ No niceties today. I pretend I’m Bear Grylls. Invincible. Nope. Not working.

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Stagger over the threshold of what I assume to be the start of the village, thrusting fist in air in defiance, I am champion!!

The rocky song running through my head I look around for a can of Solo to throw over my face and ‘slam down fast’, just to lend weight to triumph. And then I see the sign. ‘Congratulations! Your half way there’.

 

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Was it worth it? Absolutely! Did I reward myself? Yup! With a double raspberry Frappe, don’t really like Solo! The alcohol? Well that will be my reward for floating down the 450 steps to the train station on the other side of the village without once smugly telling the tourists gasping for breath as they climb heavenward…’Congratulations! Ya half way there mate!’

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Oh Vernazza…how I love thee

Utilizing ancient crumbling cliff top fortifications to stow and revere the dead? Honoring them with the most spectacular view the village has to offer? Keeping their feet dry to be sure. The view from the window of my latest digs, tucked in midway up the Doria Castle, spreads across the whole lower village; its cliff side protection striated with grape vines and olive and fruit groves, tacked on and shackled thanks to dry rock walls held strong by an agricultural history that, day by day is sadly succumbing to abandonment for the more alluring tourist dollar. And right up there at the top, in the most prime real estate, sits again, a cemetery.

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The vista personifies exactly what one would expect of an authentic fishing village. Population 1,000; founded around 1080AD, originally a maritime base, later a fortification against Pirates and with a solid little rock protected harbor full of colorful little boats (and swimmers too, the water’s divine). Just one major thoroughfare, the Via Roma is strung with massive daisy shaped fairy lights and lined with bistrot, bars and pizzerias and the usual touristy lures, paralleled by narrow lane-ways between the multi story, multi colored villas. And then there’s the tiniest beach tucked in right behind the peninsula, access via a cave.

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20130801-102333.jpg20130801-102535.jpgTourists swamp the place by day but most disperse to the bigger villages in the eve leaving room for the dedicated, the locals and the lights of the restaurants lining the harbor to sparkle across water the color of ink.

Vernazza suffered the same fate as Monterosso in the 2011 flash flooding, here a 4 meter deep mud slide all but destroying yet saved by  the strength and character of the locals who simply and steadfastly got on with reparations. You would never know were it not for the engineers working on the water walls above the village given each of the Terre except for Corniglia sit over a watercourse, the sacrifice of nestling between protective cliffs. The locals’ tenacity reminds me of the willful ‘fuck you floods!’ attitude Brisbanites displayed earlier the same year.

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20130801-102731.jpgAs for the color of the octagonal bell tower above the quaint little church off to the side of the square with its slate scalloped dome? It variegates from a rich king island cream at sunrise to a soft dusky rose as twilight settles. Ah! proprio bella!

I love that tower.

It’s chimes shake me awake each morning!

Twice over!

Da bells! Da bells!

Geez!

 

As Darryl Kerrigan would say…

If you love the soft hazy colors of a twilight, thought you might like a few of my favorite shots from Monterosso. As Darryl Kerrigan would say …ah the serenity!*

20130724-164716.jpg7pm: Cute little house basking in the glow of late afternoon sun

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20130724-164933.jpg8.30pm: Beaches now vacated, folk washing the sand off, slicking back hair, prepping for dinner

20130724-165134.jpg8.45pm: A moment of quiet on the usually crazy ocean pathway, about to reenergize as folk reemerge for the evenings activities

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20130724-165350.jpg9pm:The last of the ferries now departed

20130724-165732.jpg10pm: Dusk

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10.45pm: Nightfall

*from the movie ‘The Castle’

Castrums, Neptune and a votiveship

Conquered! Finally found the narrow stairway* up to the Capuchin Monastery and the medieval castrum that’s since been incorporated into the current cemetery, up there on the mountain side opposite my abode. Worth it? Yessir! And the view? Breathtaking!

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And did you know this dear little Monterosso al Mare village (my current abode and one of the five Cinque Terre villages) actually dates back to Roman times? And the castrum began its defense role in the early 7th century?

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Also checked in on the remnants of the Giant Neptune bearing on his shoulder an enormous shell which was originally, would you believe, a dance stage? Unfortunately WW2 bombings and later, heavy seas, extensively damaged both. He sits above the Fegina beach next to the little harbor in the new town.

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New town? Well the village is spread over two inlets. In that of the Bruanco River, to the East, there is the historical core, while the settlement located in the inlet of Fegina, to the West, there’s the more recently developed ‘new town’. Both have beaches, unique to Monterosso, and thus are layered with deck-chairs, umbrellas and tourists.

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Population 2,000, tucked into the tiny alleys and stairways…plus volumes of tourists, the majority being village day trippers and sun seekers. Few penetrate as far as my eerie; deservedly if they do for they are demonstrating admirable ‘buns of steel’.

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The historic village is heavy on places of worship and despite atheist tendencies, can’t help but be impressed by their history, humbleness and majesty. There’s the Church of San Giovanni Battista of the Gothic-Genovese style, dating back to 1244 with a proud steeple made of green stone and which originally served as a sentinel. The oratory ‘Mortis et Orationis’ (Death and Prayer) which is of the Baroque style and then there’s my favorite, the miniature oratory of ‘Santa Crose’.

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Why my fave? Well there’s a dear little wooden ship suspended from the ceiling (known as a ‘Votiveship’; a handmade offering of thanksgiving from grateful sailors or fishermen for safe voyages) which reminds me of Telly. There’s the ever so kitsch sparkling halo the Virgin Mary’s sporting which makes me grin out loud. And then there’s the towering organ above the entrance which reminds me of my late Grandpa (a magnificent church organist). When resting in one of the pews there today, I could almost swear I heard him whisper…now that’s an organ worth playing my pet! Darling Pa? I suspect you already have.

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*Many of the Cinque Terre walks have been closed for maintenance or repair including the lover’s walk after several people were injured as a result of a land slide.image

Stay tuned for notes from Vernazza!

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