Villefranche sur Mer

Villefranche sur Mer
it all starts with a beach

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Vernazza & the Cinque Terre - 3 Vignettes:


I'm in room 2 at Gianni Franzi, with a balcony looking out to sea - up exactly 100 old, weathered stone steps from the piazza. I got lost yesterday, making my way back to my room with bags of fruit, water, wine. Lost for fifteen minutes on old stairways and back alleyways, climbing (and climbing), viewing a box of geraniums here, a Madonna on the wall there - just enough to think I'm in familiar territory, then I realize I AM LOST.
            I was mapless coming down from Nice and the (now familiar) French coast...into Italy. Sanremo, Savina...where am I? Am I close?? I come to rely on the kindness of strangers. At Portofino I jump to, Levante I jump off, into a waiting train to La Spezia, hopping off at Vernazza.
            So much of this trip has felt disjointed like this. Too much unknown, too little planned, a stretch of adventure, pure and true, as we adventure junkies like it. My life too now is mapless. Having left my last home, I am on the road, letting each day, each week, take me where it will. It is more than enough. I take my cameras for a walk around the village of Vernazza, one 'money shot' after another, the beauty felt to my core. Rumi reminds us to "live life as though everything is rigged in your favor." It is sweet to live with such grace.
            By 9 am the village comes alive. Delivery trucks bring goods via a tight street(open to certain vehicles only until 9:30), shopkeepers hang their wares out to entice tourists, fishermen head out on their boats or toss a line from the rocks, tour skiffs jockey for position, and everyone gathers for espresso. The bell tower chimes loud and long.
            Following the thunder of this morning's storm, I am reading Ruth Reichel's Delicious! when the bell tower rings at one o'clock, and I remember I have an unfinished pizza from the night before - artichokes, mozzarella, pesto...on a thin crust. Benissimo! I open a bottle of red, recommended by the shopkeeper in the Enoteca up from the piazza. It smells of the stairs leading to the bell tower but tastes like currants and blackberries - all rich and earthy and dark like a wine cellar in Calcinara. Re de Peiu - Golfo dei Poeti, Rosso 2010. It's  almost too good for lunch, but it's Italy so I indulge.

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By afternoon the dark skies have cleared, the sun is strong, and I decide to hike the hill that leads out of town along the path towards Monterosso al Mare. The Cinque Terre is a special landscape unique in the world, with a rich history in the region of Liguria, and declared a World Heritage Site in 1997 by UNESCO. In 1999 the National Park of the Cinque Terre and its Protected Marine Area (enlarged in 2004) were instituted, bonding the five towns of the area. Today tourists come to experience sustainable tourism, hiking the wine trails above the towns and staying to experience the rich cultures and gastronomy of Vernazza, Monterosso, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
            Ferries and trains transport tourists and locals from town to town. Spend some time here, and get on Cinque Terre time. It's been discovered, but if you stay awhile, you can make your own discoveries - get to know the people, the birds, stones, cloud formations...which focaccia you like the best, which prosecco. Gianni, Michela, Alessandro ... and the experiences that make the Cinque Terre come alive for you.

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            In the morning birds own the cliff. People gather on the terrace for breakfast and forget for awhile their cares of the day, lost in watching gulls soar and sweep, listening to waves crashing below, caught up in the magic of sea and sky and a horizon in deep contrast as far as the eyes travel.
            Last night, as fate would have it, I head up the main street to the Blue Marlin Bistro. I have skyped Emily to meet there, hoping she has wifi somewhere and gets my messages. As I arrive, before finding a table, I look up towards the train station...and see Kate lugging her suitcase down the stairs. We greet then find their place, up another back alleyway, and head out for a bite. I end up with a bad excuse for a capr├Ęse salad, but am happy to be with friends, sharing travel English.
            Later, we're back at the Blue Marlin after finishing the bottle of wine on my terrace, for the France - Equador game with the two daughters from Georgia. During six weeks in France I met two North Americans. Here only one day along the Cinque Terre and they're everywhere! I begin to miss France.
            We girls need a beach day, so we head to Monterosso by train. It's late, the second never arrives, and we wait for over an hour then smash into an over-crowded train...for a 3-minute trip. It's worth the wait :-) We settle into beach chairs and order a walnut-stuffed pasta and beer. The sun plays peek-a-boo for an hour or two as beach vendors target us. We get used to saying "no, grazie, ciao." When the sun finally blasts, we swim and sun...and have another beer. At dusk we'll walk into the historic town for appel spritzers and dinner before taking the train home to Vernazza.

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