To the Sea

During travel, there is the anxious excitement of visiting new places and the happy comfort of returning to places you love.  Today, Avery and I return to a place we love- Monterosso al Mare.  Monterosso is the cinque terra of the Cinque Terra as you enter from the south.

My first visit to Monterosso was with Mom and Jim (1999).  It was my first time to “swim” in the Mediterranean Sea and actually, my first visit to any seaside Italian village.  When the kids and I returned to Europe with Mom (2007), it was no doubt their favorite stop.  That trip gave us funny, sweet memories we still refer to today.  Even Avery getting her bangs cut for the first time, in a small fishing village (not exactly a fashion mecca), where we did not speak the language (what WERE we thinking)…we can look back on and laugh at now.


So when Avery had to think long and hard about where she wanted to go during her fairly short visit, Monterosso was at the top.  We packed our bags and said ciao for now to Firenze and made our way to the train station.

Last night, after our Vespa tour, my throat began to hurt quite a bit.  I was worried, but did not want to dampen Avery’s spirits.  During the night, the pain escalated and a fever developed.  By morning, I was pretty miserable.  Our first train from Firenze took us to Pisa.  At Pisa, I visited the farmacia in the stazione purchasing some spray of sage oil recommended by the guy behind the counter.  He said that was as strong as he could offer without a doctor’s prescription.

When it was time for us to board our 2nd train to Monterosso, we had to rush to get our tickets validated.  At the last moment, we looked around the platform we were on and there was no machine.  Avery went into “Amazing Race” mode.  I stood with the bags in the underground tunnel, she ran trying to locate the validation machine as our train pulled up.  When I saw her running towards me again, validated tickets in hand, she said, “Go, Go!”  I quickly drug my suitcase up the steps to the platform and she followed shortly after.  We were safely on the train, moments before it pulled away.   In the condition I was in, I could not have done it without her.

From Pisa, we arrive in Monterosso and all I can think about is getting to the B&B and asking our host where I can find a doctor.  At this point, I am having to brace myself each time I swallow.  I have a memory of only two other sore throats being this bad.


There definitely was a comfort feeling the way I did and coming to a place I knew.  This is my cinque visit to Monterosso.  However, the B&B I stayed in for my last due visits was not available, so a new place was secured.  We arrived to a small piazza I was very familiar with, but had to look closely to find the street leading us to Casa di Zuecca.


As we listened to Stefano, the owner, give us the particulars of our home for the next tre notti, all I could think of was asking him about a doctor.   When I did, he told me I could have a doctor come today, but the fee would be 50 euro, but if I waited until tomorrow morning, I could go see the doctor at 8:00am for free.  I figured I could make it another night.  I felt awful doing so, but I told Avery I needed to lie down and that she should go out and explore seeing if Monterosso was what she remembered.

I tried to rest in between swallows, drowning my throat in salvia oil.. which did zero good.  Avery returned in good spirits a few hours later and I rallied for dinner.  We both had specific places we wanted to eat while here and to get them all in, we had to begin now.

Il Casello has been a favorite since our first visit, although the fare has changed quite a bit.  During our first two visits, they offered panini and and little more, basically beach fare.  Since my visit in 2013, it has been a full scale restaurant.  This disappoints Avery because she has a memory of a favorite panino there.  However, the disappointment did not last long.  I ordered my go-to,  Fritto Misto and she chose a shrimp and zucchini pasta.  Both were enjoyed on the cliff looking over the old town spiaggia.

During dinner we reminisced and planned our stay.  It was decided I would wake up early in the morning, visit the medico, hopefully get some stronger meds and then we would spend a day at the beach.  There are two main beaches in Monterosso; the one in old town that includes a free beach area as well as paid chairs and umbrellas and the beach in the “newer” part of town by the train station.  We made a plan to hang out at the old town beach tomorrow and the new town beach (my favorite) the day after.

The sun could not rise quick enough for me the next day.  I was miserable all night.  These past two nights were the worst I ever remember physically feeling.  At one point, I got up thinking it had to be close to sunrise and it was only 3…

At 7 I gave up, threw on clothes and headed to the city hall building which houses the medico.  I thought I had better get there as early as possible and secure my place in any line that might form.  I figured on a Saturday in a small seaside village, people might bring their goats and such.

I have to say, getting up and out that early was very nice.  I made my way the short distance to the City Hall building,IMG_1970

and found the red cross on a side door.  I had arrived at 7:15 so I had a bit of a wait in front of me.  At about 7:50, a man passes by me briskly, walks over to the clinic door, tries it without success, and then looks around.  I raise my hand trying to convey, “Yep…I am waiting too.”  He approaches me and says, “Do you-a need-a a doctor?”  I nod and squeak out, “Si”.  He stands a bit straighter and says, “I-a am-a a doctor.  I need-a the key.  I can-a help you-a soon-a.”  This medico is wearing, jeans, flip-flops and a fishing shirt.  He’s about my age.

He looks around a bit and then approaches a little old lady who is busy sweeping the entrance to her shop.  They have an exchange and the only thing I can get from it is that it is about the key.  He scurries off, she goes inside her shop.

She comes out a few minutes later, key in hand, and looks around.  Walking over to me, she asks where he went.  I tell her I think he went to get a key.  She replies in italian, “I told him I had the key!”  I just shrug.  Exasperated, she tells me to follow her.  She walks to the door of the clinic, unlocks it, opens it, sits me down and hands me the key with a shrug before walking out.  So…the clinic is now open I guess.


I sat, alone, taking in the “ambience” as I waited.  About 10 minutes later, my medico returns a bit confused at how I got in.  I handed him the key and this time it was his turn to shrug.  He puts a little white coat on over his fishing shirt, goes behind a desk, opens a box, pulls out a couple of pad and a pen, closes the desk, sits up a bit straighter, folds his hands on top of the desk and announces, “Okay-a…I am ready-a”.  Although I feel horrible, I’m getting a kick out of the memory I am making.

The “appointment” lasted all of 6 minutes.  He began to ask me what my issue was, then realized he had not done some formalities…my age, my overall health…OK…with this behind us, we begin again.  He takes a look at my throat and he feels the swollen glands and announces his diagnosis, “infezione grave”.  I try to ask him about Strep and it is obvious we are not communicating, I think he thinks I am saying it is a medicine.  He writes out due prescrizioni, one for an antibiotic and one for a throat spray, stands up and briskly shakes my hand and I am off to the farmacia by the stazione.  I feel things are really going my way as the farmacia opens right when I walk up.  I get my meds taking one antibiotic and spritzing my grave throat before walking out.  I pray these will make a difference by the end of the day.

I return to our room where Avery is up and enjoying caffe and a bit of breakfast.  Normally breakfast is served on the rooftop terrazzo but Stefano advises us to stay in our rooms because a family with kids who are a bit unruly has taken over.  You can tell he is not happy with the situation.  This however works to our benefit.  He lets us pack some focaccia for the beach and gives us the towels that you usually have to “rent”.

We spend most of the day relaxing and reading at the spiaggia.


After a day of salt and sun, we decide to get dressed and catch a train to Riomaggiore.  I really want to share one of my favorite aperitivo spots with Avery.  Riomaggiore is the first of the terras so it is a 10 or so minute ride away.


If you have followed the blog before, you have been due times to A Pie De Ma with me.


It is a little bar nestled in the rocks above the sea, located up a series of stairs right after you exit the stazione.  If you do not know it is here, you’d probably miss it.  The service is not my favorite and this time it was even more disappointing than usual.  When I was ordering at the small bar, the regular workers were on my side enjoying a break and the girl behind the bar seemed totally lost.  She was having to ask the others how to make each thing I ordered.  In the drink Avery chose, I noticed it was missing a key ingredient which was listed on the menu.  I asked her about it and she blandly replied, “We-a have used-a eeetta” which translates to we are out of it.


With this Spritz I realize the bubbles are not good for the grave throat, but the company and the view are good for the soul.



Joy Ride

Although yesterday was our last full day dedicated to Firenze, we still have another before we pack up and move on.  Today, we are taking a road trip.  Avery’s first choice of activities while in Italia… a Vespa tour…Andiamo!

I scheduled this full day tour with Tuscany Vespa Tours.  I did a little bit of research and these guys received great ratings.  The meeting location was (once again) in the Santa Croce area.  We arrived at about 9:30 for a 10:00 departure, checked in, loaded in a couple of vans and made our way out of town to meet our motorbikes.


The drive took a while.  Now I am beginning to understand the “7 hour tour”.   We first stopped at a castle/winery to take advantage of the bagnos and grab our helmets.


Back in the vans we are off to our second stop which looks kinda like a rec center parking lot.  There are plenty of cars in the circle lot, but this is where we get to know our scooters.  I will admit, the first spin around I was a bit nervous, but to their credit, they make you do many.  While we are all doing laps, they observe.  There is one lady they advised to enjoy riding on the back of a scooter as a passenger and not as a driver.  Luckily, Avery and I both made the cut.  I will be touring with “Spiderman” today.


We are in a small townish outside of Florence, but there is still traffic.  They split us up into two groups and give us a bit of information of how we should follow the leader.  There are six or so of us to a group.  I am number 4 in the line and Avery is 5.

We start off having to merge into traffic, take a couple of roundabouts then head into the hills.

It was such a thrill to putt through the Tuscan hills.  It was difficult to take all the beauty in.  I found myself trying to commit each view to memory, but then the next would rush in.  Varied greens and golds, patchwork sections with vines and orchards creating the pattern play.

During our roam, we made two or three stops to touch base with the leader and take in the views.


At our stops, Avery would have to remind me, “Mom…take off your helmet.”  “But I am just going to have to put it back…..”  “Mom….take OFF your helmet.”


At each stop, we learned a little bit more about the land, the grapes and the towns in the distance.  However, our pace prevented me from taking any notes.  All the more reason to take a tour again on a return visit.


Hopping back on our bikes after a brief stop the air was warm but welcome.

The footage I am sharing here is not the most beautiful we saw.  This was towards the end when I was determined to capture at least a glimpse on film.

You know my family is FULL of suggestions, well I have a suggestion for Tuscany Vespa Tours.  They really should have an employee between the two groups with a GoPro on their helmet.  They could zip in and out capturing video as well as still shots.  Then we could pay a bit extra for a copy of the priceless footage….Hey…maybe I just invented a summer job for me.  This is something Dalton would be great at.  Avery and I know he would LOVE this experience and he would have his GoPro clamped and ready.

I do not advise zipping in and out of your spot in line as a novice though.  I found myself sucking in several times as cars, and my favorite, little transport trucks passed us as we putted.

After about an hour and a half of touring, we stopped for lunch.  A small, roadside trattoria had been chosen.  We parked, raising our seats as to not burn our posteriori upon our return and were welcomed with a lovely, traditional Tuscan summer spread.


You could tell our tour leaders had a fun rapport with the owner/chef.  Our guys kinda double as waiters and hosts.  Towards the end of our lunch, as the last bites and sips were being claimed and plates were being cleared.  I saw the owner come out, prodding Angus, our guide, along.  The owner was laughing about something and began pointing at Avery.  Angus said, “Each time he picks someone to stay behind and help wash dishes.  He has chosen Avery.”  We all laughed as Avery gave prankster the smile he longed for.

Nourished and hydrated, we hit the hills again.



This Vespa tour was SO much fun and definitely fulfilled Avery’s expectations.  If you  knew your surroundings a bit and could roam around on these for a day, visiting teeny towns and wineries…what an adventure that would be.  Perhaps there is a company that does custom tours.  Gee…I keep coming up with sound reasons to do this ancora!

But before we are able to be independent…we (both Avery and I) need to be master getting our scooter up on their kickstands!  I only accomplished it once.  Angus mentioned he knew he “had arrived” when during his first few days in Italia, he witnessed a women perform this in stilettos.

We made our way back to the “rec center” and returned our bikes.


Such fun memories with Avery in my rearview!!


Once our bikes were stored, we boarded the van again and returned to il castello.


We concluded our time together with a brief tour and tasting of vino della casa.

Later that evening we talked about our time in Firenze over un altro bicchiere di vino at Le Volpi e l’uva.


As we passed Vespa after Vespa on our via, Avery throws back a knowing glance…until we meet again…