Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cinque Terre

After Lake Orta, we spent three nights in a small Wimdu flat in the "new town" section of Monterosso, the northernmost town of the Cinque Terre. The other four towns, heading south, are Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

Cinque Terre is the land of humongous lemons. There were lemon trees in yards all over Monterosso, and giant lemons for sale in many stores. E and I shared the world's best lemon granita from a shop near the church in the old town (secret ingredient: copious amounts of lemon zest).

A private beach in Monterosso's Old Town

Phone cables hanging outside our apartment
On our first full day, we arose early and hiked from Monterosso to Vernazza and Corniglia along the Cinque Terre National Park lower coastal trail. We started too early to purchase a trail pass, but when we emerged in Vernazza after the first leg, the trail monitor told us to forget about it, since we wouldn't be using that part of the trail anymore. The second leg, between Vernazza and Corniglia, wasn't officially open yet, so we didn't need a pass for that either.

The amazingly clear Mediterranean 


Prickly pear

Looking back at Monterosso


Europe grows big snails

On the rugged trail between Monterosso and Vernazza, we encountered some homeless and clearly unloved cats.

"Please, use the food inside this container to feed these homeless and unloved cats. Thanks!"

A homeless, clearly unloved cat on the trail

Another homeless, clearly unloved cat

Coming into Vernazza

There were homeless, clearly unloved cats in Vernazza too

Vernazza pigeons

Coming into Corniglia

A street in Corniglia

Steps from Corniglia down to the train station. It's a long way down. 

Sweaty menfolk

Floods and rock slides made Manarola inaccessible by the lower trail, so we viewed it from afar from the Corniglia train station and headed back to Monterosso.

Manrola, from the Corniglia train station
Back in Monterosso, we took a midday break; then S and E went to the beach.

This public beach in Monterosso had mostly cleared out by late afternoon. E is building a sandcastle.

The second day, we took a ferry from Monterosso to Manarola, then hiked an upper trail back to Corniglia. We got a late start, so it was a mighty hot hike, but the views were spectacular.

Corniglia, from the ferry


Heading up and out of Manarola

Vineyards helped protect Manarola from the floods that devastated Vernazza and Monterosso in 2011

Looking toward Corniglia

Water awaited us in Volastra

Mid-trail, looking down

Mid-trail, looking up

Up and up and up

The trails skirted the edges of vineyards

Shady woods were welcome

Heading down into Corniglia
We met lots of people on the trails. We were shy about talking at first, since we speak only minimal Italian, but it quickly became clear that pretty much everyone on the trail was a tourist, and 80% of them were English- or German-speaking. The three northernmost towns seemed mostly occupied by Americans, British, Australians, New Zealanders, and Germans, while Manarola was preferred by the French. We never made it to Riomaggiore, since the lower coastal trail (Via dell'Amore) was closed, and we couldn't easily hike there. Maybe that's where the Italian tourists go.

This mattress

S and I have a long-standing joke that dates back to ~1993, when we visited H together for what was, for me, probably the second time. H lives in what used to be a summer cabin in a farming village outside of Munich. Both the house and the village have grown over many decades, but the house remains tiny even by German standards. Consequently, H put us up in the Nebenhaus--a former stable that had evolved into two extra bedrooms. (Shortly after that visit, H renovated it into a bright little studio apartment to rent out.)

The bed we slept in consisted of a thin, narrow foam mattress atop a hard wooden board--at least, I like to recall it as foam. It might have been something more archaically austere, like a lumpy sack of straw or horsehair. S and I were still newly in love and happy to squeeze close together, but the bed was nonetheless the most uncomfortable thing I have ever slept on that could still reasonably be called a "bed" (as opposed to "camping gear" or "ascetic's impedimenta"). We were not happy campers.

At the time, we were bright-eyed, bushy-tailed grad students in Madison, WI--futon capitol of the Midwest. After a respectful number of painful nights in the Nebenhaus, we suggested to H that perhaps the hard wooden board would be much more comfortable with a nice new futon mattress on it, rather than the thin lumpy thing we were attempting to sleep on.

H bristled at the suggestion. Drawing herself up with an incredulous huff, she said,
This mattress has served our family well for 20 years, and now you have a problem with it?
S and I have quoted H often in the two-plus decades since then. "These [hole-ridden] dish towels have served our family well for 19 20 years!" "This sweater [that has been reduced to a pile of detritus on the closet floor by case-making clothes moths] has served our family well for 12 20 years!" "This [oil-leaking, smoke-spewing, ant-infested] car has served our family well for 14 20 years!" It's a very handy phrase.

So you know what we said earlier this week, when H asked us to take her on an IKEA Pilgerfahrt to get her a new mattress.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Isola San Giulio, Sacred Mount Orta, and a dinosaur

We had one morning in Orta San Giulio. We began by taking a taxi boat out to Isola San Giulio, a small island in the lake. A chapel was first constructed there in the 5th century. The island is now dominated by a Benedictine monastery, built in the 19th century, and a basilica that was updated in the 12th century.

We weren't able to enter the basilica because we were scantily clad. Forget "Just As I Am" in Italy: God likes your shoulders and knees covered when you're in his house.

We contemplated our scanty clothes as we walked "The Way of Silence," a loop path that took us around the island. We chatted with a sparrow as we waited for the next taxi boat.

Once back in Orta San Giulio, we walked up to Sacred Mount Orta, a UNESCO World Heritage site with 21 chapels, built between the 16th and 18th centuries. The chapels contain 900 frescoes and 366 statues depicting the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

The frescoes that I enjoyed the most were the cherubs and angels on the ceilings. They came in small numbers initially, but eventually grew to quite the angel hoard.

That visitors might visit the chapels and dioramas in their proper life-of-Francis order, each chapel exterior has a handy sign:

I will observe that the hands painted outside the chapels are very well clad indeed, while many of the cherubs and angels on the inside are next to naked. Just sayin'.

We hit the road after lunch, pausing to take a photograph of a dinosaur outside a kitchen design store.

Next up: Cinque Terre.

A room with a view of one's own

We stayed at a bizarre, ridiculously expensive little hotel in Orta San Giulio. We had the "penthouse suite," which meant riding the mirror-walled elevator from the mirror-walled breakfast nook up four flights to the attic (watch your head!). Unfortunately, the AC wasn't working, so it was mighty toasty, and with the windows open, we got to listen to the mad revelry on the street below until 3 a.m., when the bars finally closed.

Our suite was named "A Room of One's Own"--one of those literary allusions that demonstrate someone knew enough English to recognize the poetry of the phrase without understanding what the words meant. (My all-time favorite in this category was a Thai T-shirt my parents gave me that said, "? What are the No problem!")

The room had two futon mattresses and two shower heads, with two glass plates separating the stone-lined shower from the rest of the room. The shower heads were made out of geode halves, which was pretty sexy, and the glass partitions meant one's party of two or three or five or ten could watch each other shower--or all shower together, since the open spaces between the glass allowed water to spritz everywhere. I think perhaps the room was supposed to have been named "A Room with a View," or perhaps "A Room with a View of One's Own."

Speaking of views, the room did have a nice one out the window...