Saturday, September 20, 2008

Buon Giorno from Vernazza (Cinque Terre), Italy!

Wednesday, September 17

Robert and I left a small tree’s worth of instructions and notes for the sitter and the kids before departing DFW on a noon flight bound for JFK. After a short layover, we were on our way to Milan. The flight was uneventful, save for running into a girl from my class at SMU who lives in New York now and was jetting off to Lake Como for a long weekend (I gathered this was something she does often and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she owns a villa there).

Arriving in Milan

Thursday, September 18

We landed at Malpensa airport, about 30 miles outside Milan, retrieved our bags and made our way to the Malpensa Express, a train that carried us to the Cardorna station. On the map this station appeared to be close to Milan’s Duomo (their beautiful church) so we wandered outside in hopes of seeing it. We had no idea which way we were oriented, however. Since we were schlepping our suitcases, when we didn’t find the Duomo after venturing down a couple of streets, we elected to return underground and take the Metro (green line) to Milan Centrale station.


Milan Centrale is a beautiful, grand old train station. There’s evidently some renovation going on right now because there was a lot of scaffolding on the exterior, but it was still very pretty. I purchased our train tickets to Vernazza at a self-serve kiosk, and after a little confusion about which platform we were seeking, we found and boarded our train.


The journey from Milan to Vernazza took about 4½ hours and involved several changes of train (in Genoa and Sestri Lavente). We were able to sleep intermittently on the train (especially on the last two legs when the train was less crowded), but Robert had to set his cell phone alarm for 10 minutes prior to our scheduled stops because I was so afraid we would sleep through the town where we were supposed to disembark!

The last leg of our trip looked to be a short one, but that train stopped in every tiny town between Sestri Lavente and Vernazza so it took about 45 minutes. It was a pretty ride as the train meandered along the coast of the Ligurian Sea, but I began to wonder if we were ever going to reach the Cinque Terre. Finally we came to Monterosso al Mare, the first of the five picturesque little fishing villages that compose the Cinque Terre. We just barely caught a glimpse of its beach before we continued on to Vernazza.

First view of Vernazza from the train station

Vernazza is a tiny town, population 500, but as we disembarked the train and set foot onto the main street that winds from the train station to the harbor, it felt like the population was 5000, with 99% of the inhabitants being senior citizens dressed in cruise wear! The streets were packed. I could tell Vernazza was a cute town, but it was so overrun with tourists on our arrival, that it held little charm for me.

We checked into our room at Albergo Barbara on the main square. It was not fancy but very clean with a nice modern bathroom and a fabulous view of the harbor. I was SO tempted to take a nap, as it was now 3:00 and we had been up for some 26 hours, but I was afraid I would sleep too long and miss out on our precious time here.

View from our room - wow!

(I should note that I did VERY well hauling my suitcase and grossly overpacked carry-on duffel on and off trains, through the streets of Milan, and up and down stairs in Vernazza, including the 63 steps to our room. This is significant as I am usually the first one to let someone else carry my bags or to suggest that we use a valet. Kathy, I’m glad we’ve been carrying hand weights on our walks. I just wish we’d worked a little on stairs!)

We left our room and set out to explore Vernazza. We stopped first for a piece of focaccia bread with pesto, a local specialty.

Robert bought a beer and I picked up a glass of wine in a little bar on the main square called Burgus Bar. They let me carry the glass outside so we could sit by the water. We enjoyed the people watching – lots of scantily clad swimmers and sunbathers in the little beach and harbor. We especially liked seeing scores of tourists boarding tender boats and departing Vernazza!


As the crowds thinned, the charm of the town began to peek out from the shuttered windows and alleyways. We climbed up to the town’s old castle, which afforded sweeping views of the town and sea. As we descended from the castle, we purposefully wandered through a warren of tiny alleys. My guidebook said that this interior arcade below the castle was designed to aid in fleeing attacks. I was delighted to discover that a real and vibrant town lay behind the façade of the main drag. There was laundry hanging between buildings back there, bowls of pet food set outside beautifully painted doors, mismatched pots of plants and flowers on front stoops, even little Italian ladies toting home fresh loaves of bread and bags of local produce.


By the time we emerged onto the main street again, the crowds had dissipated and we enjoyed walking around the square. We ran into a couple who had been on our trains from Milan, and they agreed that the scores of people we experienced on our arrival had been a bit overwhelming.

We walked into a pretty harborside church, and I lit a candle for my dear friend Amanda who died six years ago this week. I also knelt to pray in one of the pews. Four or five ladies were also kneeling and reciting prayers in Italian. There was something profoundly moving in just silently listening to them, their words echoing off the old stones and beams, and praying along, even though I couldn’t understand anything they said.

We watched a beautiful sunset over the harbor and then did our best to stay awake until a reasonable dinner hour (I typed on my laptop while Robert watched a Heroes episode on his computer).


We dined al fresco at Trattoria da Sandro, a small café on the main street close to the train station.


Sitting next to us were two delightful ladies from South Africa and England. We conversed congenially with them while enjoying a very good meal and a bottle of local red wine.


The spaghetti ai frutti di mare, served for two in an enormous bowl, was delicious.



After dinner we bought some hazelnut and pistachio gelato and walked around the town square.

I fell asleep quickly to the sounds of waves gently lapping against the shore outside our window.


Hopsy said...

What a fabulous time you are having! I love all your photos and cannot wait to see more!

Anonymous said...

Squeeze - who from SMU did you run into in NYC?

Anonymous said...

I am SO jealous. I hope you ate a plate of pesto pasta somewhere in Cinque Terre. Continue to have a blast!

daniel said...

Enjoyed your narrative and photos
nice job.