The Log of Moira
These are mostly Susan’s remarks. Larry’s notes are indicated thus <Larry: blah blah blah.>
We flew from rainy, cool London to the sunny, bright blue sky of Pisa, Italy, a remarkable transformation that helped me understand more about the Mediterranean. One of our objectives for this trip was to explore a little bit of the Mediterranean as a possible future sailing ground. Good weather is one of our prime criteria for good sailing grounds!
Our immediate destination was Ripertoli <Larry: pronounced “re-PAIR-toe-lee”> a lovely, 1,000-year-old farmhouse-style villa in Tuscany, between Greve and Panzano. We got there with the ease that results from good organization and planning <Larry: though not on our part!>. As we stepped out of the baggage-claim/customs area at Pisa’s Galileo Airport, Elena, our driver to Ripertoli, easily found us and off we drove. After picking up one of the other couples that would be joining us for the week, we headed down autostrada and backroad to our villa.
The planning and execution for the week were the responsibility of our hosts and good friends, David and Kathy Jackson. David and Kathy have started a business (Ripertoli Wine Adventures) of hosting wine trips to Ripertoli. They organize, staff, and execute a weeklong adventure in the Tuscan region including lots of delicious food and drink, and a good education in the Italian wines of Chianti, the major wine region of Tuscany. The three couples who took part in this week were the inaugural class. We had a magnificent week, full of marvelous food and wine. We all learned a great deal about Italian wine from Tuscany. It was very successful trip. I know how much work is involved in organizing a week like this: the tours, food, accommodations and travel. It would have been difficult, expensive, and time-consuming to plan such a week on my own, outlays that we were spared by the efforts of David and Kathy. Having a personal host is a very good way to travel. Look at their web site to get a feeling for the week.
We were a group of three couples plus David and Kathy, three couples who, with the exception of our previous associations with David and Kathy, had never met before arriving at Ripertoli. The group was amazingly compatible, with much thanks to Kathy, our social coordinator.
It appears that Tuscany is a well-managed natural resource of Italy. The first thing that strikes one while traveling in this area is the landscape. Well-managed forests, protected by law, flow into olive groves in crisp rows, and the remaining property is divided into well-organized vineyards, well-maintained, weed-free and nicely pruned for the season. Beautiful old farmhouses or villas are spotted throughout the area, of granite and brick, and mostly well-kept. Elena told us that areas of Tuscany are now protected by prohibitions against changing the look of the landscape or adding modern farmhouses. Two reasons are behind these protections. First, the area is a booming tourist area and the Italians now understand that the tourists are expecting to see a certain look…like the landscape that exists. Second, the quality of the wine is seen to be a function of the amount of the countryside that is planted with wines. Too much planting, or too high a yield per acre, may lead to a reduction in the quality of the wine. The regional planning and control process has been in place since the early 1980’s.
After the World War II, the countryside of Italy was depopulated as workers moved to the cities seeking jobs and food. As the economy improved, workers starting returning to the farms, and the production of wine and olives began to increase once more. In the late 1960’s, foreigners seeking the sun and the wine began to buy up the old farmhouses and re-populate the area. <Larry: Enough English tourists moved in that the region became known, sarcastically, as “Chiantishire.”> As the population of tourists increased, the Italians wisely saw the need for controls to protect the area, both the countryside and the small towns. For example, there is careful control of the “old town” areas in small towns, assuring that the architecture will be preserved and that no new development will be allowed except for designated areas around the outskirts, usually set aside for housing of workers for the vineyards or for wealthy tourists seeking a modern “villa.” In Tuscany, the developmental controls allow for a well-manicured landscape and charming, well-preserved towns scattered throughout the region. Of course all of this enhances the value of the wine. <Larry: Trash pickup in the villages appeared to be centralized. There would be a cluster of dumpsters, color-coded by recycling category. A property owner would park briefly in front of the bins and dump his trash bags in each before speeding out of town.>
Most days, we had several tasting sessions at local wine enotecas or some of the better vineyards, including Castello Di Querceto, a family wine business since 1896. They produce over 600,000 bottles every year, and over 90% of the production is exported. The enotecas were small wine bars in which the owner sat down with us to assist us in tasting several Tuscan wines.
There are three main sub-regions in Tuscany: Chianti, Brunella, and Nobile. Wines from these areas—all red—are made primarily from sangiovese grapes, with differences caused by soil, sun, micro-climate, and blending with other varietals.
The Italian government has a classification scheme to grade and maintain the quality of Italian wines. Fine wines, most of which are exported, are labeled as DOC or DOCG (Denominazione d’Origine Controllata or DOC Garantinata) the difference being the degree of on-site inspection that is required. Either promises a fine wine. <Larry: Qualification for the DOC or DOCG label requires adherence to maximum grape yields per acre, no irrigation, and so on. At the bottom of the classification scheme, there is “table wine.” In between, there is a newer class, IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) introduced to provide a respectable appellation for fine wines that don’t fit into any of the other classifications.> A label with a black rooster (Gallo Nero) guards the bottles of Chianti Classico, which may be DOC or DOCG.
The finest red Italian wine from this region is thought by some to be Brunella di Montalcino. One tasting was in an enoteca in Montalcino, but not from the $200 bottle! It was a fine wine but by the time we tasted it we were exhausted from the day’s adventures and couldn’t really tell the difference from the other twenty wines we had tasted. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is the third “generic” wine of Tuscany with many variations, all of which we rated A+. While we had fun tasting a variety of wines, many of them excellent, it was just as easy to go to any local enoteca and enjoy an ordinary wine with no appellation and fine it very good. After all, that is what most Italians do!
By the way, language was no problem. Larry found that speaking a mix of Spanish and Italian got a response in Italian and was understandable, mostly. The Italians would laugh and say “Italian, Spanish, English, whatever!” We’re not in France anymore, Toto!
Italians eat very well, and we were the lucky beneficiaries of their tradition. We discovered that Sunday dinner is the food highlight of the week. We began with a varied antipasto, particularly enhanced with crostine served with different pates. Next, Italians chose a primo, usually pasta, followed by the secondo, often red meat such as wild boar (very delicious), pork, or steak. The secondo is often served with a contorno or vegetable side dish. The insalata or salad follows the secondo. Not to be forgotten <Larry: groan!> is the dolce or dessert served with a variety of coffee or café.
Toward the end of our week we discovered that this lineup was the exception to the typical Italian family’s dinner. The more typical Italian eats a much lighter dinner with a primo or secondo course, a salad and a light dessert. Of course there is lots of wine. However, we did not see many overweight Italians. But we enjoyed too much the varied courses each evening to change, courses prepared either by the excellent country-style cook at Ripertoli or at one of the wonderful restaurants we tried.
Usually, the housewife buys fresh food every day or two from the many small shops, each specializing in one or a few major food items. So, much as in France, one shops for bread, meat, cheese, pasta, and dessert in different shops, usually located side-by-side on the main street of the village. The shops are loaded with varieties that are outside our typical American experience. Wild boar, which I discovered to be delicious, contrasted with tongue, which I already knew I disliked. The butchers were talkative comedians, dispensing advice about every aspect of Italian society, and very helpful about educating us about the different cuts of meat. They were sometimes willing to have us try something just off of the grill.
There were two food adventures I would not have missed. First, on Sunday we traveled by van to Lamole, a small town slightly south of Greve but higher up in the hills. Ristoro di Lamole, family-owned and operated, was a rare treat (pasta with truffles was the primo) and came with a beautiful view of the surrounding hills from our seats on the terrace of the restaurant. Second, mid-week, Mimmo Baldi, the owner of the enoteca where we had first tasted Chianti Classico, came to Ripertoli to conduct a cooking class. What an experience! Of course, I am usually enthralled with cooking classes. This gentleman not only was an excellent chef but also an entertaining raconteur. His menu included handmade egg pasta with asparagus and shrimp, deep fried zucchini flowers as crudités, and delicious roasted pork. And of course there were the bottles of wine. I was glad that no one had to drive afterward!
By the way, Italian ice-cream, gelato, is delicious. It is available everywhere, and inexpensive (except in Venice, where everything is expensive!). Definitely try it! This ice-cream is the best we’ve had in our journeys. It is better than Haagen Dazs…way better!
During our week at Ripertoli the schedule included brief visits to Siena and Florence. While we spent only several hours in Siena, both Larry and I were enthralled. The old medieval city shows off well its gothic architecture in contrast to Florence’s Renaissance heritage. Siena is built on hills, resembling in this respect Lisbon or San Francisco. There were fewer tourists in Siena than in Florence, so Siena felt more like a lived-in city than a museum. An intense rivalry between Florence and Siena has gone on for hundreds of years. After hearing of this rivalry from our Sienese tour guide, it began to become clearer why the city-states of the Italian peninsula took until 1896 to unite as Italy, rather retain their jealously-guarded independence.
The visit to Siena ended at the amazing, large central plaza, the Piazza de Campo, home each year to the Il Palio horse race, featured in the James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. Our tour guide was a resident of one of the 17 town districts, or contrade, ten of which compete every year for the palio, a silk scarf signifying winning of the palio horse race. The race is put on each year with fierce competition among the districts <Larry: do you see a theme emerging here?>. It was heart-warming to hear about and see their pride in their neighborhoods and in the city. <Larry: Houses and businesses on the narrow, hilly, twisting streets of Siena are served for deliveries and trash pickup by tiny trucks not much bigger than golf carts.>
You have heard, I’m sure, the phrase “Florence is a gift” but perhaps without understanding it fully. I had read and seen much about Florence in books. Until I spent time in this magnificent city I do not think I understood the depth of the gift to the world that is this exquisite city. Our day-trip to Florence from Ripertoli gave us a valuable overview for our planned week in Florence later in our stay. The day-trip also gave us the clue to surviving a trip to Florence and Venice: make reservations at all major museums and galleries! If you do so you may save hours and avoid the long lines at the ticket-booths that we saw even in early May. Making reservations should be easy through your hotel. We stayed at a mini-chain of B&Bs in Florence, Johanna I and II. Through an email to the hotel we were able to request a specific time and day at the Academia and the Uffizi, and the hotel made the arrangements. In Italy, museums and galleries are not free, but Cathedrals and churches usually are free.
After our week at Ripertoli was over (thanks, guys, and well done!) we took a local bus from Greve to Florence. It was an easy two hour trip that brought us into the center of Florence. The bus system was easy to use. Tickets were available at any tabacchi (tobacco shop, selling bus tickets, small personal items, and often gelato and coffee). Once we arrived in Florence we either walked or took a bus wherever we wanted to go. Our B&B was about 15-minute walk from the center of town, which was easily recognized by the hordes of tourists and the beautiful and awesome Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore in the Piazza del Duomo (the “Plaza of the Dome,” i.e., the Cathedral).
To put the Duomo (“dome”) in perspective, remember that it was finished in 1436, represents a major achievement of Renaissance architecture, and allows Florence to boast of Brunelleschi’s remarkable, enormous dome (the largest in the world when it was built), which is now Florence’s emblem and gathering point. The red brick of the Dome is visible from many points of the City and is a geographical marker for visitors and residents. While the red, white, and green marble façade is remarkable and iconic of this age of cathedrals, the façade was not added to the cathedral until the 19th century.
And, of course, there is the baptistery adjacent to Duomo, with its famous Doors of Paradise by Ghiberti. The Baptistery no longer has the original doors. The Arno river flooded in the mid 1960’s, and the Italians found the doors loose in the muddy flood waters. But praise to the Italians. The doors were relocated permanently to the Duomo museum. They are shown beautifully in the museum and sometimes loaned for exhibits around the world (we first saw two of the doors in an exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute). We were glad to see them again in Florence, safe and protected.
The Duomo, like other churches in the city, is not light and airy. While awesome to look at, the art tends to be dark and dreary, with an occasional piece gloriously restored. The ceilings have much artistic decoration, with mosaics which glitter and add brightness. The look and feel of much of the art is a mixture of Byzantium with what we westerners see as Renaissance art. It may be that I am just an unreformed Protestant unable to appreciate fully the world of the Renaissance.
<Larry: We spent several hours at the Museo della Opera Duomo, located just out the back door, so to speak, of the Cathedral. The museum houses sculpture and other art works taken from, or associated with, the Cathedral. I found the most remarkable piece to be Donatello’s sculpture in wood of the penitent Mary Magdalene, which I would have sworn was a 20th century piece!>
My favorite place in Florence was the Piazza della Signoria. The Piazza is not only a magnificent plaza in the center of the city, but also an open-air museum of sculpture, once the home of Michelangelo’s David. David was moved from its place guarding the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio (City Hall) in 1873 to the Galleria dell’Acacademia to protect it from deterioration. Today, a plaster copy of the original stands outside City Hall. (The copy in the Piazza is the third plaster study which was made in preparation for execution of the final version in marble. Another copy of the David, done in bronze, stands in the Piazza Michelangelo high above the city.) Also in the Piazza della Signoria is a huge bronze statue of Grand Duke Cosmo I on horseback, and also Ammannati’s Neptune fountain. The Piazza itself is lined with restaurants with lots of outdoor seating. The Piazza is a natural people-watching venue, as the City Hall defines the plaza on one side and close by are the Uffizi Galleries. One side of the plaza is the Loggia Della Signoria which houses sculptures and allows tourists to escape the rain. I stood frequently in front of the Loggia looking at Celline’s beautiful bronze statue of Perseus holding high the head of Medusa. A copy of The Rape of the Sabine by Giambologna was nearby.
Somehow, a Calder in the center of Chicago does not strike me as comparable to these beauties. To see the art, architecture, and technology that came together in this one city in one 25 to 50 year period in the early 1500’s is amazing and awe-inspiring.
We went twice to the Galleria dell’Accademia, the current home of David by Michelangelo. I think I could see the David every day and not tire of it. The museum provides a buildup to the David by placing it at the far end of a long gallery, such that the visitor first walks past his sculptures of the Quattre Prigioni (Four Prisoners), huge granite blocks from which the a human form encased in the granite is trying to escape. Then at the end of gallery under a well-lit dome built for it stands the David. There is much more to the Accademia but after David, it is mostly dreary religious art, and the rest pales quickly.
The Uffizi gallery, the greatest art gallery in Italy, holds the Medici art collection, which was given to Florence by Anna Maria, the last of the Medici, who died in the late 1800’s. Two paintings stand out to me. First, Michelangelo’s Holy Family, which was the first Renaissance painting to show Jesus not on Mary’s lap. Beautifully restored, the colors just glow. Second, Botticelli’s Primavera was extraordinary to see in the original. <Larry: We also enjoyed the Museum of Science along the Arno. Alas, a number of the exhibits were closed for renovation.>
One afternoon we took a bus to the Piazzale Michelangelo, above the city, home of the bronze copy of the David mentioned above. From there, we walked about three blocks to the 11th century Church of San Minato, Florence’s oldest church, which dominates the highest hill of the city. We came for vespers, the afternoon mass sung by the monks who still live in the adjoining monastery. Of course, the mass is sung as a Georgian chant, in Latin.
Florence looks and feels well cared-for by the City government. It is clean, well-maintained, and with little graffiti. The trash is picked up twice a week, and the bus system runs on time with well-maintained buses.
Private cars are generally kept out of the old city center. Special permits are required to drive in the old city, and are not given out frequently. We felt safe in the city walking around even at night. The city has installed chargers for electric motorcycles and cars; the chargers look a bit like parking meters and are located where you would expect to see parking meters, but you soon notice wires coming from the “meter” to the cars and motorcycles clustered around it. We were impressed. Of course in the Italy we saw, the cars are small. Some of them could be carried from one parking site to another by Larry and me. We were in Italy during the discussions about GM and the government’s involvement. We kept asking ourselves if the US Government intervenes with federal money, shouldn’t there be a discussion of developing small cars which sip gasoline or diesel? We never heard that part of the discussion. Apparently it did not go on in public, though there was lots of discussions regarding fuel efficiency. This was difficult to understand standing amidst these small, very efficient cars. Somehow the concept of a fuel-efficient SUV just does not do it for me.
As we traveled by train through the northern area of Italy, I was surprised by the number of mid-rise apartments. Anywhere near the cities and villages, at least outside of Tuscany, we saw mostly mid-rise apartments We saw few neighborhoods with detached, single-family houses. Even in the hills and valleys between Venice and the western coast, mid-rise apartments were everywhere, though in the more rural area we did see single family-houses and farmhouses. The age of the apartments seemed to be late 1950’s and newer. It appears that there was a great deal of damage from World War II in Italy and the housing was replaced by mid-rise apartments, easy to build, and providing housing for, many quickly. The buildings often now have a drab look to them, though the closer to the center city new development is also obvious.
From Florence we took the train to Venice. The trains in Italy were reasonably on time and reasonably comfortable. A reservation is important if you want to be sure to get a seat. A coach would often have a narrow aisle down one side of the car, with a line of compartments with four or six seats each filling the remaining space. Seats in the compartments were protected from the traffic in the aisle. If no seats were available in the compartments, there were push-down seats in the aisle for those without reservations. The train from Florence went through Milan and then on to Venice and took about three hours. Hills and valleys predominate from Florence to Milan and on almost to Mestre, the last stop on the mainland before Venice.
After Mestre, Venice comes quickly. Water is on either side as the train travels on a causeway from the mainland to the archipelago of 117 islands in the lagoon we know as Venice. When the train comes into the Venice train station, the traveler walks out of the front of the train station and is confronted by the Grand Canal. From this point, travel around Venice is either by foot or by one of the water vehicles: vaporetto, ferry, taxi or gondola. There are no cars, trucks, bicycles or scooters in Venice. <Larry: Even the ambulances are powerboats.>
We stayed at a Swiss hotel, the Star Hotel Splendid in the San Marco district, about half way between the Piazza San Marco and the Ponte de Rialto. We found the hotel chain on the internet, with a discount rate for Venice. The hotel was located on a minor side-canal off of the Grand Canal, and had its own dock. From the train station we took a vaporetto, a Venetian bus-on-the-water, to Ponte de Rialto. Once at the Ponte we tried to get a water-taxi (very expensive but very nice when burdened with luggage) to take us to the hotel. The taxi man declined, saying it was too close and that we should walk. Well, his assessment was not quite accurate. The distance was about one-half mile, fine with no luggage but a bit of a trek with two heavy bags and two backpacks. The lesson here is to pack light for Venice: transportation is on your feet unless you stay right on the Grand Canal. Our room was very comfortable. Although we were on the fifth floor, we could hear the tourists passing by the hotel in the alleyway below our window until late at night, so it was a good thing that the windows had heavy drapes in place.
The large lagoon and canal are rimmed with colorful Renaissance and Byzantine buildings, some of which are gorgeous, while others are twisted by neglect and the abuse of the weather, water, and subsidence. At the low tide the abuse by the elements and age are very evident.
Green seaweed and growth stands out on the granite and wood piers which are the foundations for the buildings. The biggest church in Venice is built on one million wooden piers. Mangled, neglected facades are everywhere, with peeling plaster and closed-up windows and doors. Often a ground floor is closed but two stories up renovation has happened and a tenant is in place. Some building are slightly slanted but in use; others are abandoned. <Larry: Rectangular doorways or windows become parallelograms. In some cases, a new, square, vertical door has been set into the askew doorway, creating a kind of fun-house effect.> There is also much renovation going on, with many of the old, big mansions becoming hotels, museums, and apartments to house tourists. The world has not forgotten Venice.
The mayor of Venice is outspoken and informative. He claims that Venice is broke and does not receive its fair share of funds from the federal government of Italy. Each year, Venice becomes more of a museum or tourist attraction and less of a residential city. Since the 1950's, the residential population in Venice has decreased each year, with the middle class moving to live on the mainland. Many of the nobles have abandoned the city as well, no longer willing to heat or care for the large palazzos which the tourist industry would absorb and use for tourists. The poor stay because of housing subsidies. Venice obviously needs relief and is not receiving the care it should be getting. The mayor talks abut 20 million tourists each years. Half of the tourists may be day-tourists who don’t stay overnight. Even so, it would appear that the tourists could and should be bearing more of the burden of maintaining the city that so many enjoy. We were surprised that there is little discussion about having the tourists pay a fee per visit to the city, much like an airport departure or entrance fee. Maybe Venice should be turned over to an international non-profit to be run as a museum rather than trying to be a normal city but never succeeding.
Venice is made up of six districts or neighborhoods, the most famous of which is San Marco. Here is the famous pigeon-infested Piazza San Marco, the very-Byzantine Basilica di San Marco, the odd-looking Campanile, and the magnificent Palazzo Ducale in which lived the Doges or rulers of Venice until it joined the then-new Republic of Italy in 1896. We spent the first afternoon seeing the buildings around the Piazza and enjoying the views across the (very) Grand Canal. Occasionally, a sail boat came past in the Canal.
Venice is a very different place from Florence. By trade and politics, Venice was more closely aligned with the east, say, Constantinople and the middle east, while Florence was more aligned with and comfortable with the west. The contrast is easily visible in the art and architecture. We were glad we started with San Marco, but found that we enjoyed Venice more and more as we left San Marco behind and explored the other districts. Of course, most of the tourists are in San Marco and its close neighbor, Dorsodura, so the crowds thin out as you leave San Marco.
The views of the Grand Canal are best enjoyed from a grand hotel right on the Canal. One of the best is the Gritti Palace, because of its terrace overlooking the Canal. It is old, stodgy and very grand. We spent a pleasant afternoon there drinking champagne cocktails (me) and Johnny Walker neat (Larry), watching how the over half lives on the Grand Canal. Even with a bar bill of $80, it was a very fine afternoon.
We spent a morning checking out the art at the Palazzo Ducale and the Accademia, Venice’s largest museums, with an amazing collection of Venetian masters such as Titian, Tinoretto and Bellini.
We followed that with a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim collection of modern art. Guggenheim spent much of her adult life in Venice, and left her extensive collection of modern art and her palazzo housing the collection on the Grand Canal to a foundation. After three weeks of Renaissance art, the modern collection was a breath of fresh air, and thoroughly enjoyable.
We enjoyed the food in Venice. There was no end of pasta, fish, risotto, and carpaccio. The proximity of Venice to the Adriatic and to Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy, shows in the variety of the seafood. After a week of uninterrupted Tuscan reds, we were pleased to see white wines reappear on the wine lists. The Rialto area (by the famous bridge) is the major market district of Venice. Early morning at 9am or so is the best time to see and to sample from the many stalls showing fresh vegetables, fruit, cheese, meats and fish. Our favorite restaurant was the Ristorante Fiaschetteria Toscana, not far from the Ponte de Rialto bridge, in the Cannaregio district,. It was family-owned and run, and served beautiful food with friendly and helpful service. There was always a line at 7pm when it opened for dinner. We ate there three times, and enjoyed each time.
The Ponte de Rialto bridge is also a great place to watch what is happening on the Grand Canal. Early morning is the time to see the city start to come to life as the supplies come in by the canals. Everything comes in by boat, distribution is by boat, and there seemed to be a specialized type of boat to meet each need.
Within the Venetian lagoon but outside of the center of Venice lie several islands. One of the most famous islands is Murano, the home of Venice’s glass-blowing industry, which was moved to the island in 1291 because of the fear of fire from the glass-working kilns. Murano still thrives. The buildings on the island are a festival of color, each house or building painted a bright pastel color. Murano is easily reached by the ferry system. It has many tourists but does not have the “overrun” feel of San Marco. The glass industry produces an amazing assortment of tourist pieces and some rather beautiful original glass objects. It was fortunate for our budget I live on a boat, with little room for decoration and <Larry: fragile!> art. Some of the shops in Murano sell glass knickknacks made in China, while others proudly repudiate such no-class baubles. Some of the shops authenticated their merchandise, and some did not.
We stayed in Venice for three nights and four days. It was the right amount of time to get started in Venice. We saw enough to understand the uniqueness of this City. We were spellbound by the variety and elegance of the art in this city but we were tired of touring and the fine art of the Renaissance. After a while we could absorb no more. Venice in small doses seems appropriate. Next time, I will rent an apartment and absorb the city more slowly and enjoy its wide-ranging markets more carefully.
Venice obviously needs help. How to best provide that assistance to assure its survival is difficult to assess. After all, this city has gracefully survived 1000 years with hordes of tourists throughout that time. Maybe there is another 1000 years in the old gal yet.
From Venice we headed to our last stop in Italy, the lovely but crowded Cinque Terre, five tiny towns located on the rugged and craggy southern stretch of the Liguria, Riviera easily reachable by train or boat. Cars are restricted to the outside of the towns unless you are a resident. The train got us from Venice through Milan to the town of Monterosso al Mare. We stayed at La Poesia, a charming, small B&B in Monterosso.
We saw the four other towns (Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Rio Maggiore) by foot or by boat. The villages are connected by train and by old but safe footpaths along the seashore <Larry: though hiking shoes are a better idea than sandals>, on the precipitous shoreline face of the mountains, giving the trekker magnificent views of the Mediterranean Sea. <Larry: Until the last century, the footpath was the only land connection between the villages.>
The rumbling of the trains through these small villages will stay with us for a long time. Trains are the life blood of the five villages. Most people come and go by train. For most the low rumbling noise is background but we did not obtain that perspective immediately. One restaurant we enjoyed was right under the train tracks. One overcast evening, with rain in the forecast, we sat down to eat dinner but every so often a loud rumbling thunder interrupted our conversation over diner. We kept waiting for the lightning and then the rain. Others sat on the terrace where we were sure they would get wet shortly. Rumbles continued. Finally, laughing at ourselves, we realized that the thunder was nothing but the rumble of the train over our heads.
<Larry: We needed to do some internet work and sought out an internet café in the village. The only remarkable element to the experience was that Italy seems to have a law requiring one to present a photo ID (e.g., driver’s license, passport) to use the internet!>
We left the next morning on that same train traveling to Pisa, then London overnight and on to Guatemala City. Home at last!
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