Saturday, July 21, 2007

Europe: Cinque Terre, Italian Riviera

Oh my gracious sakes alive. I've died and gone to heaven.

Five little hill towns. Villages. Perched on the edge of the most dramatic Mediterranean blue sea, practically falling off the edge of the vineyard-covered mountains. Grapes, apples, apricots, olives, kumquats, cactus and a plethora of glorious vibrant flowers, a hiking path out of "The Best Views in the World" linking it all. The horizon completely indiscernable between sea and sky. Pebble beaches (our town has the largest one) and great cafes (village #3). Difficult hiking (the steps that never end, ascending half the mountain) between village 1 and 2, boats that take you to all but one of the villages in the slow pace of life in the Italian Riviera, or trains that zip you between villages with grace and economy. I am in the Cinque Terre.

Marble floors in our hotel, air conditioning, terraces and balconies, extra pillows and absorbent thin towels I could wrap around my body twice. A breakfast worthy of any five star luxury hotel. Dinner outdoors, overlooking the bay as the sun sets.

We three hiked together with Wayne, Kathy, Katie and Tim (our new friends from Florida). We took the first leg between Monterosso and Vernazza, estimated to be 1.5 hours. We stopped lots with the younger boy in tow and the kids' grumbling finally subsided when we got to the top of what had to be at least 600 steps and began the most fabulous hillside walk with a photo op around every corner. It took the group of seven two hours to complete, then we had lunch and boated back to Monterosso. The temperatures have been in the 40s, which was brutal in Rome on the hot pavement and noisy traffic, but here in the sun with the ocean crashing below and sea breezes combining with the trees to provide some cooling relief, we survived.

We got the kids and Kathy set up to go to the beach and then Wayne, Brent and I boated to the last town of the five and started our further adventure. We hiked between three of the towns, exploring each along the way and getting many more photo ops. I decided to return by train from the middle town, leaving the two men to finish the last leg, another 1.5 to 2 hour jaunt.

The group had an optional get together after I got home, sharing wine, cheese, bread, crackers, juice and strawberries. The fruit here is so fresh, I cannot explain....

After the "happy hour" I joined our hiking group (minus Wayne and Brent) and we all went for dinner, then I joined the kids for a swim. No one else was on the beach. After 6 everyone disappears. I guess it gets too cold for the Germans and Italians who spend their time on the beach primarily to get sun. The water was absolutely perfect. I could float beautifully. The beach was not sand - it was pebbles and was hard on the feet. Flip flops came in handy. I climbed a very large volcanic rock - will post pictures when I get home. Then I floated, watching the quarter moon waxing and we ended up with a stop at the cappucino bar.

Last night we had the most lovely dinner - I had an unusual seafood dish that was baked in a large terra cotta urn and fed four of us. It included an octopus, whole prawns, lobster, mussels and something that looked like a mini stingray. So tender, so fresh, so tasty = a great eating adventure. Then there was a very sweet dessert drink called sciacchetrá, served with biscoti. Sigh.

Wish you were here.

Relive the memories with me by visiting the photo album here.

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