1 July 2009
"You did very well today, my dear," said Ian, as we were returning to our hotel this afternoon. The unsolicited compliment made me feel like I had just completed a triathlon! I HAD done very well.
The day started with climbing aboard our bus and having Antonio drive us to Portovenere, kind of the door to the Cinque Terre area. "We'll get off here, ladies and gentleman," Ian said. (we only have one man left in our group, the others having headed off to Spain) He explained that the bus could not actually go into the town of Portovenere, so we would "have a little stroll" into town.
Portovenere has a fascinating history going back to pagan times. The village site used to be a temple to Venus Erycina, from which the name Portovenere is derived. It was a maritime center even then, and has been involved in many conflicts through the ages. The longest was the war between Genoa and Pisa (1119-1290). The castle that overlooks Portovenere from a rocky elevation above the village was an important defense tool during that war. Today Portovenere is the gateway to the Cinque Terre. Ferries cruise along the coast each day, offering passengers a chance to have a view of one of the most evocative landscapes of the Mediterranean.
I was feeling pretty good. my knees were OK. My legs were getting used to Ian's "little strolls" and all was well until I saw the group make a turn and when I reached him, Ian told me "there are a few steps, I'm afraid." A FEW steps? Jeri guestimated about 220 and Char thought it was closer to 250 to 300 steps. Fortunately all down, but STILL.
I was at the midway point of the stairs when I took these two photos.
It took me awhile, but I DID make it all the way to the bottom and then we had to march half a mile or so to the center of town, where Char, Pat, Jeri and I stopped for beer and gelato (that's 3 beers and 1 gelato). Then back to the boat to take the sea tour of the five hamlets of the Cinque Terra.
This is an absolutely gorgeous area. The villages are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. We were taking the boat to Monterosso, where Antonio would pick us up in the bus. Many, many photos were taken. Each town clings to the cliffs and as you look up to the top it is amazing that anybody actually built "a" house there, much less a collection of houses...and that they grow crops on the terraced hillsides. We couldn't figure out how they GOT there.
Some of our group (including Jeri) got off in Vernazza and planned to hike to Monterosso, and we went on with the boat. (It turned out that because you had to pay to walk the trail and some thought it was too much, they ended up hiking and then catching the next boat)
In Monterosso we had a lovely lunch at a cafe overlooking the ocean (I just ordered bruscetta), wandered around the town, had some gelato, and got more money from that nice machine that just gives you whatever you ask it to.
Then Ian suggested we "get a head start" walking to the bus, which was over half a mile away. NOBODY can say I didn't get my walking in today! And the best part was that I really felt ok, once I had made it down those damn stairs.
When we came back to the hotel, Char, Pat and I went to the rooftop pool and had a swim. I can't remember anything feeling so good in a long time. It was heavenly swimming around and looking out the side of the pool to check the activity on the beach below. Jeri and Char's girls had gone swimming on the beach.
When the swim was over, we cleaned up, met Ian in the lobby and took the city bus to nearby Portofino, which is another playground for the rich and famous. Huge yachts in the harbor and people dressed up to the nines (with women in 3-4" heels) trying to walk down the cobblestones to the boat area.
We went a little less upper crust and found Da Nicola, a cafe some woman on the bus had recommended. It was my favorite dinner of this trip so far, a simple lasagne with pesto. Fabulous. Pesto is the specialty of the region and lots of basil is grown here.
After we returned to the hotel, we sat around with Antonio, and later Ian, drinking and laughing. I'm not drinking much other than water this trip, so I didn't join in on the drinking, but really enjoyed the laughter and camaraderie.
Now it is time to pack up and head for Pisa tomorrow morning and Siena (and a new hotel) tomorrow night.
Oooo...as I am sitting here there is a lovely fireworks display outside the window. They say this is the anniversary of some battle..but Ian told us that this morning and what battle against whom has lng since disappeared from my memory banks. But the fireworks sure are pretty. [Later Note -- it marks the ousting of the French from this area, so really it was the equivalent of their 4th of July] Twenty minutes after the grand finale of the fireworks, the whole thing started again!
Oh, and BTW, if anybody has sent me mail on my DCN account, I won't see it until I return on the 5th. DCN mail is ridiculously slow on the internet and at these prices, nothing non earth shattering can wait another few days. If it is vitally important use firstname.lastname@example.org
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Santa Margherita Ligure