Sunday, October 21, 2012

Méditerranée, zo blauw, zo blauw*...

Once again, it’s weeks after my return, and months since my last posting.  I’m very bad at staying current, but invariably something happens that foils my plans to post daily to the blog while on vacation. This time? A wonky network card that wouldn’t connect until I was so behind on my postings, that I gave up. That, and I was too busy having fun to stop and futz with html.   But!! I’m back and it’s time to get caught up!

We flew out of Charlotte early on September 12th.  Absolutely NO PROBLEMS. My fear of getting bumped at JFK didn’t come to fruition and everything went off like clockwork.  One day I’ll stop fretting about delays.  But who wouldn't fret and worry after months of planning and years of dreaming of hiking in Cinque Terre-- those five little towns crowded on the mountain slopes over the Mediterranean, with their pastel houses, stepped vineyards and olives groves. I HAD to get there on time. I had reservations!! I'm pretty sure that made me the most important passenger on that plane!!

So, nice flight, no turbulence, decent airline food. Way to go Delta, getting me there on time!!  We landed in Milan bright and early Thursday morning—and the first hurdle to get over was catching a train at the station. Being a (paranoid!) researcher by nature, I knew the train station/connections I needed. I just didn’t know how best to get the tickets. I assumed the guides were correct and speaking with someone in the ticket office was the answer.  Surely someone there would get me going in the right direction! WRONG.  Instead, I met the rudest station attendant I’ve ever encountered ANYWHERE. I walked up to the window, explained that I needed two tickets to La Spezia, via Genoa. HE looked at me slightly annoyed and exclaimed, “Milano Centrale!” very louded.  Dutchboy stepped up then, and said we needed to go to Vernazza. The man said in PERFECT ENGLISH, “I don’t know WHERE that is! MILANO CENTRALE!!! Twenty Euros!”  And he shoved the two tickets under the window. At that point, I should have yelled at him that I wanted to go to CADORNA  NOT MILANO CENTRALE!!!!!  But I was tired—almost nine hours of air travel had dulled my senses and frayed my nerves. I was intimidated. I meekly paid the 20 euros and left. This was a mistake that would influence our entire day.  The trip that should have taken three hours took over six hours.  Milano Centrale was a horrible connection for us, and on top of that, the train, like most trains in Italy, ran behind schedule, so we missed our connection in Genoa. Then, the Genoa train station was under renovation, and we had a terrible time finding the ticket office to get new tickets issued to La Spezia. It was another big delay.  By this time, I have to admit, my good humor and zest for travel was fading rapidly and  I was doubting the wisdom of my insistent choice of Italy.  The Dutchboy and I kept looking at each other on the last leg of our train journey saying, “We PAID to be this exhausted, tired and lost? Are we CRAZY?”  Indeed it seemed we were insane. After reminding me again he had warned me that Italy was a nice place except for all the Italians in it,  Dutch drifted off to sleep on the journey from Genoa to La Spezia, and I watched the world change. From countryside, to mountainside. From industrial grime, to elegant old. Monasteries and towers started appearing on the mountaintops. My thoughts shifted away from my exhaustion. Or maybe I was starting to be delusions. Maybe Dutch was wrong and it wouldn’t be so bad. When the sparkle of light on water came into view, I felt renewed even if we did have another hour and half on a train.

But no, my faith wasn't misplaced, our luck was indeed changing.  We encountered a lovely elderly Italian gentleman with a gift of gab, who helped figure out that the train would stop in Monterosso well before it stopped in La Spezia. If we got off there, we could catch the Cinque Terre train to Vernazza. Else, we would ride well past our destination and have to backtrack, and might possibly have a layover waiting for a train that only runs every half hour, versus the Cinque Terre trains that run every ten minutes between the five towns. What glorious news!  Good fortune, indeed.  Then the Mediterranean flashed brilliant blue outside the train. And nothing else mattered.


At last, we arrived in Vernazza. What can I say about it?? It’s tiny. It’s beat-up. A massive storm brought a deluge of water down the mountainside, flooding the town. Its harbor was in ruins, three townspeople died in the flood, washed out to sea, their bodies washing ashore later in St. Tropez. The Cinque Terre is fighting to recover from this tragedy.  Behind the town’s main street, you can see the rebuilding is still going on-- trying to prevent such a tragedy in the future.

But the town came together, rebuilt their harbor and patched up the holes. As I said, it’s rough. But it’s still somehow, completely PERFECT. Friendly people, one main street.  Mediterranean pounding at your doorstep.  We stayed at the Albergo Barbara, on the Piazza Marconi.


There are many, many stairs up to the room, in our attic. Like 81 steps. And the last flight  is very steep, and twisty, with a rope banister. 
 But once you arrive at this top, if you’ve procured an attic room like we did, you’re greeted with this view out of your window.
See their tiny harbor?
It’s ringed by a few restaurants and bars—pounding surf and amazing views while you dine on the fresh caught anchovies and hand-rolled pasta.  (Didn’t take a picture of dinner that night!! WHAT WAS I THINKING?!!)
This is the view from the harbor, looking back into town.
And the waves crashing against the seawall.
It’s a beautiful jewel of a town, quiet without being sleepy. Cozy. Definitely cozy and inviting, with the one main street keeping things centralized and intimate.
 With the sun setting over our first day in Italy, I was exhausted. But so in love already with this town that I knew leaving in a few days would be difficult.  The arrival in Italy got off to a rocky start but it finished with glorious color and a feeling of anticipation that the Cinque Terre would be everything I had hoped.


Nicole said...

I just remembered our first meal was at Trattoria da Sandro-- not on the harborfront but on the main street in Vernazza, near the train station. A pointless detail to add here, but a detail nonetheless.

Alison said...

Gorgeous photos! So glad the final trip made up for the initial bit.