Sunday, September 25, 2016

Honeymoon: Vernazza

Cinque Terra

When we were deciding what type of non-city, small town, by water perhaps, place to visit on our honeymoon, we found ourselves needing to choose between the Amalfi Coast and the Cinque Terra. It didn't take us long today to fully appreciate how right our choice was for us.

We had a chill start to the morning. I had the impulse to see if I could take the stairs up to the Duomo before we caught the train. Todd helped to talk some sense in to me, so I just chilled in the morning, finished my blog, and enjoyed the awesome in-our-room breakfast.

Getting to the station was easy, and the train left on time. Most of the people on the train were clearly going to the Cinque Terra for a day trip or longer visit. We had a five minute layover to find out next train. So, we along with a hundred or more other people filed into the tunnel and out onto the platform and on the next train. We sat there for about 20 minutes with the train not moving. Finally, an announcement came on that the train was only going to Corniglia now, and we needed Vernazza. So, off we went and found another train on another platform and squished in with others already on it. We made friends with the older couple next to us who were from the Toronto area. When we got off the train, they reminded us to vote for Clinton. I said they might see us in Canada if she didn't win.

We stepped off into a busy platform and made our way down the stairs and down the main street of Vernazza. The only way to really get lost is in the small side streets. There is really only one street in town that leads from the train station to the Harbor. Rick Steves and his guides are not happy about the traffic of people that come into the Cinque Terra, and I can see why. It was crowded on the street and there were so many touristy shops in between restaurants. I was excited to see the town when the last day trippers and cruise ship tours were gone.

We checked in at the restaurant on the main square that runs the hotel. She said it was 100 steps up to our hotel and did we want a luggage for 3€ a piece? Oh, absolutely. Our bags aren't too heavy but after 100 steps we might throw them over a ledge. We chose this hotel because of the views. We have a town view the first two nights and a sea view our third night. The trade off is that we have a private bathroom now and a shared one on the last night. The breakfast is served on a patio overlooking the sea, and there are common areas built on terraces along the sea. The perfect way to spend a few hours or days, I'm thinking.

We dropped off our stuff and meandered down to find some lunch, find the post office and laundry, and get a feel for the town. It is small, so it didn't take long. We had a simple meal at the harbor, and I ordered a vegan burger, which was a nice change of pace. Todd had seafood lasagna. We also ordered a spinach, carrot, and fennel salad, which was just right. We meandered to the harbor, where people were lining up to catch the boat to the next town. We booked lunch at the restaurant atop the harbor (can you eat next to the water too often? We don't think so). Todd found a hat, which he has wanted since Venice. We picked up a few snacks, and we meandered up to our room for a mid afternoon nap, followed by a game cards on the communal deck by the sea.

Dinner we booked up at the restaurant by the castle for 7pm. It was mentioned in Rick Steves book as a good view of the sea. It seemed the perfect place for our first night. We arrived about 15 minutes before the beautiful sunset and it was a perfect place to be. The food and service were lackluster, and we probably won't eat there again, but I'm glad we did once.

 The strangest thing was how we paid. It was cash only, and we were instructed to bring it into the back room. It looked like the kitchen, so I came back out and looked quizzically at the waiter. He clarified and said "second door on the left." I went back in and through the second door. There sat the grandma with a metal tin in front of her and the daughter and granddaughter watching tv and eating. The daughter welcomed me in and the grandma took the bill from me, opened up her tin, and gave me change. This is a small town, and this is a family run affair.

We decided to see if we could find dessert, so we ambled back down into town. It's so quiet up top, and you couldn't hear any town noise. As we emptied on to the main plaza, it was clear that the town was still hooping. All the restaurants seemed full, especially on the harbor. We couldn't find a place to sit, so we went to the gelateria. Todd bought a cannoli, and we sat on the bench and people watched.

We closed off the day in the communal area of our hotel, with everyone else who needed wifi. We played cards and chilled.

Saturday, September 24

We slept fairly well and slept in, which is always a perk of vacation. We ambled down the 20 meters to the balcony where breakfast was being served. It was just as perfect as we had hoped. Not a cloud in the sky and a beautiful gleam off the sea. The hotel had bought rice milk for me, as well as a bowl of amazing fruit. The peach was ripe to perfection. (So many seaside views cause me to overuse the word perfect.) we had two espressos because we could, and we just enjoyed taking our time.

Not much to do today except do some laundry, see the castle and churches, buy some postcard stamps, wander around the town, and eat. We slow down. It feels strange after days of city walking and museums.

Laundry takes an hour and a half, and we take turns meandering the town. I sit at a cafe and order a tea, which wasn't the smartest idea I've ever had. We finish laundry just in time for our 12:30 lunch reservation at Ristorante Belaforte atop the harbor. It's one Rick Steves mentions, and we couldn't get a dinner reservation.

We sat in the little turret up top, away from the sun, but in full view of the water and town. It was an epic long lunch. What we have noticed here is that everything centers around seafood (obviously), but little thought is given to variety. For example, it's fish salad, fish spaghetti, mixed seafood platter, fried seafood, risotto with seafood. For non fish eaters, there is some spaghetti bolognese or spaghetti pomodoro. The pesto here is made with cheese, so I stick to the spaghetti pomodoro. I've had it three times out of the four meals I've had here. I look forward to the variety again in Florence.

For Todd, it's a bit more of a culinary adventure. This lunch he had breaded calamari as a starter. I ate my spaghetti and very nice roasted vegetables slowly. We ordered some olives to go with the bread. His main course of fish was made to order, so it took a little longer. Finally, the waiter brought up a beautiful platter with roasted potatoes on one side, roasted tomatoes on the other, and a beautiful (in presentation anyway, not in its deadness) filleted whole fish in the center. He showed it to Todd, I photographed it, and he took it to a side table to debone it for him. I have to say, it was a gourmet meal. He was one happy, contented eater. He has come to th inclusion that this is how he likes fish, done right by real chefs.

I decided I might as well order dessert while he ate his second course. There was lemon sorbet on the menu, which they said had no milk. So I ordered that and a glass of Vin Santo dessert wine. I first had this wine back in 2004 when friends and I were on our 30th birthday trip to Tuscany. At a little enoteca at the top of the town, we were introduced to this amazing wine. What the waiter brought was a glass of the vin santo and another glass with a white drink in it with a straw. I asked the waiter if this was the lemon sorbet, and he said yes, it was made of lemon, sparkling water, and prosecco. So I had two drinks to finish. This time Todd had to wait for me, so he ordered tiramisu. We finished lunch almost two hours later.

We weren't feeling much like walking around, but we did go to the church and explore the harbor a bit before heading back to our place. The church is a small, simple village church with yellow paned Windows and a great view of the harbor.

We returned to our room and packed up patio stuff and sat under the pergola for two hours. We napped, we read, we played some cards. Todd spotted schools of anchovies breaking the surface of the water.  Due to the stone cliffs, wifi doesn't travel very far, so we were happily disconnected until we meandered through the common room.

Around 5:30 we decided to freshen up and meander through town for an appetizer (we were feeling nibbly if you can believe it). We had seen a little take out bar where you could get fried veggie tempura and fried fish pieces in a little brown cone with a lemon on a stick. So we ate our fried stuff and sat in the harbor to wait for sunset. It was another beauty. The sailboats out on the water added gorgeous texture to the shots, and between photos (with my manager pointing out I should switch lenses and take certain angles), we snuggled up and watch the orange turn to pink, spreading across the sky.

We had 8pm dinner reservations at a restaurant at the harbor that rents our rooms, Gianni Franzi. Todd decided he wasn't super hungry for a big pasta meal, so he ordered the fried mixed fish. It included shrimp, calamari, anchovies, and something rather indistinguishable that he decided wasn't fully to his taste. But now he can say he had anchovies, which is a specialty here. I had spaghetti pomodoro. We'll leave it at that.

After dinner, we meandered through town, looking at little souvenir shops along the way. Mostly tacky things, but it seemed the thing to do. Todd got some gelato, and we sat on a bench, watching the people go back and forth, including a woman who seemed to be walking various dogs, one at a time. It was a peaceful way to end our day, and our doing not-much-of-anything had made is quite tired.

Sunday, September 25

After a somewhat restless sleep for us both, we were up and at breakfast earlier than expected. There was a slight chill as the sun hasn't come up past the outcrop, so we ate out yummy breakfast with jackets on. Until, suddenly, it was full sun and the water sparkled all around us. We were mesmerized by the sole fisherman in the water below us; he let out his net, reeled it back in, repeated it again and again. He was just far enough away that it was hard to see if he was catching anything.

We have to switch rooms today, so we packed things up and left them in our room to switch after lunch. We went up to the castle for great views of the town. 600 years ago, this town needed a tower to protect itself from the marauding Pirates, or at least warn people that they were coming. The tower was bombed in WWII and rebuilt. It certainly satisfied my castle fix, even if you could do it all in 15 minutes and nobody was in costume.

After an hour camped out on the patio, we got the key to our new room. We couldn't get a room with a view for three nights, but we have it for the final night. It's just the right size for us and a great little patio with two chairs if we wanted to sit on our mini balcony.

We went to find lunch at the harbor and hop the boat to Riomaggiore. The plan was to take the boat there to see two other towns (Rio..., Manarola) and train it back. The boat was crowded but fast. We walked up into Riomaggioreand through the town. The sun was beating just a little too hot today. We were going to take the path from Rio to Manarola, aka the Lovers Way, but it was closed. The heat was feeling a bit much and a train was coming to Vernazza, so we said to hell with it, and went back to our home town. We stepped off into a very busy town and went back towards our house, stopping to buy some souvenirs and snacks.

We hiked up to our room and took a break on the benches to eat our snacks by the sea. It really is a good place for us. There are lots of food options in town, but our place is just far away from town that we feel like we also have quiet space on our private and communal patios.

Tonight we meandered back after a chill early evening on our balcony. We had amazingly good pizzas and onion focaccia at a small takeaway place on the strip. It was quieter in town tonight and it was before the 7pm opening hour of other restaurants. We went to he harbor and caught the last light of sunset into dusk, but a terrible electric guitar player started in the square. It was time to head up.

As I type this in the communal lounge, I am surrounded by some very boisterous Australians in their 50s and 60s, drinking wine and pizza. Good to see people having  fun, but quiet is golden.

We are up early and on the train back to Florence tomorrow. I've been daydreaming about the vegan chocolate gelato next to the duomo.

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