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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Venerdi in Monterosso

This morning was a tre cappuccino morning.  I started with my normal due, but the owner of the hotel, comes to the terrazzo asking if I want another, and I say, “Certo!”imageAs I sit and write, I enjoy the comings and goings of the locals.  Each morning I see the same mothers pushing the same strollers with the same older child hanging onto it in tow.  I hear Giovanni, the owner of Locanda Il Maestrale, where I stayed with Mom and the kids, whistle.  I think he is calling a dog, but I watch to see a worker of his bringing something he has requested.  She is much too slow for him.  He runs to her, grabs the burro, runs back to his door, muttering the whole way.  I am sure good help is hard to find and keep here.

You can judge the timing of the trains with the sounds of roller bag wheels on the tiny street just below me.  A group is sad to leave, a group is bubbling with anticipation.

A white haired man has walked by several times, leaning forward with purpose.  I imagine that will be Giovanni in 20 years.

My quiet morning ritual is shattered as an Australian couple skypes (loudly) with their mates back home. Seriously, is this OK?

So I prepare for la spiaggia.  But first a stop down the ramp and 2 steps to the sinistra.  I was beckoned to my favorite focacceria earlier when the baker opened the back windows.  The wonderful smell of fresh bread with onions wafted up to the terrazzo and called my name.  I may have already mentioned, but this little place is such a find.  I just go in and say, “Vorrei che questo e questo”.  The baker’s wife puts her knife down on the one you want and then you can say, “di piu” or “di meno”.  She cuts it, puts it on the scale and then tells you how much.  For what I get, it is usually about 3 euro.  Such a deal!

I looked up the word “farinata” and it means “gruel”…some words just get lost in translation.image

Now for my last morning at la spiaggia.  I have decided not to spend the molto euro on the chairs and umbrella.  I just free beach it again.

It always takes me a while to decide where to land.  I’m a grass is always greener gal for sure.  This time I decide to forgo the cool kid section and go far right instead of far left.  Now, do I claim my spot in the “front row”, not knowing the tide or do I call “back row” with the barrier of the large, large rocks behind me.  Knowing I can’t have it all, but trying anyway, I split the difference.  I figure there is enough room in front for someone to claim, but I think the back is too small for anyone to want.  I am hoping for some shade later.image

For a few, sweet moments, it’s all mine…and then…Down in Front!imageThe fabulous aroma from my lunch could not be ignored, so I dig in.  My choice of focaccia with cipolla and focaccia with salsiccia e funghi was perfetto!  No doubt I could eat this every single day.  imageTwo young boys pass by me searching for the perfect dagger shaped rocks.  When they find a contender, they put it in their pockets then grab swiftly to judge if it is a keeper.  I’m reminded of Dalton playing on this very beach not much older than these two.  One of my most cherished possessions is a heart shaped rock he presented to me here.

And then, as I am minding my own business and focaccia, rocks start to fly.  A family of cinque…CINQUE!!!  is moving into the piccolo spot behind me.imageI know you can only count quattro, but that is because the dad is laying in front of the mom!  His feet are literally in her face…and hers in mine.  Shortly after this I start my scoot to the front row….making sure NOT to crowd anyone else.  The perils of Spiaggia Libera!

Leaving mid morning tomorrow, I pack away my beach attire when I return to the room and dress to enjoy my last evening in Monterosso.imageThe weather is glorious in the shade, but still quite warm in the evening sun.  Not wanting to spoil my appetite with gelato, I try some fresh limone granita.  Blaine would love this.

imageDuring my passeggiata, I stop by Bottega d’Arte to grab a couple more Storie in Italy charms.  image

Each charm features a photo taken by the owner.  I ask her to point out the ones that highlight Monterosso.  When she hears the jingle of my bracelet, she’s tickled to see I have been here before.  This is one of those “one of a kind” (although they do have another location in Vernazza) shops you just want to be a part of.

Talking to a young woman who has moved her life to Italy also gives you an insiders look at Cinque Terre.  We had a conversation regarding how the area has changed since my first visit and her move here.  It saddens her to see the masses passing through, being brought by boats from La Spezia.  I am sure it is a difficult balancing act.  You want business, you want followers, but you want the place you fell in love with as well.

I ask her, just between us, where is the “New Monterosso”?  Meaning, where is the new, beautiful location that has not been “Touristized” yet.  She looks around and then says, “I think it’s Puglia”.  Perfect, Puglia has been on my radar for my next Storie in Italy.image

I also say Ciao to Federica owner of lanapo where I got my fab sandals and cute Cinque Terre t-shirt.  If the Ferrari could handle it, I would get a little heeled pair as well.  More on my new and improved packing plan later.image

At 7:00, it is early to eat dinner by Italian standards, so I am the first seated at Il Casello.  This is another favorite restaurant of ours.  We have seen it change over the years.  When Mom and Jim and I were here (was that ’99?) it was a walk up panino and birra spot.  Loved it then!  Now it has grown.  The owner is Italian and married a girl from Austin.  He lives here in the summers and there during the school year.image

As I sit with a bird’s eye view of my spiaggia, I notice many are still there from earlier…talk about making a day of it.

When I look over the menu wanting to order the Fritto Misto, I notice it says Shrimp and Calamari.  I ask my waiter what happened to the fresh anchovies?  He says, “Americans-a don’t-a like-a anchovies”.  Here is another example of the way things are changing around here…this and the signs that advertise “American Breakfast Served”.

I tell him that Americans don’t know these anchovies.  He takes a step back, gives me a sideways look and begins to clap saying “Brava!  Brava!”  He says he understands that but, “Some-a times-a eeeta eeesa just-a more-a easy-a to say yes-a than to explain-a”.  I tell him I think that is sad-a and I want the Italian Fritto Misto…he ways “Certo!”

This may have been my favorite meal yet.imageAfter dinner I walk around taking in the setting sun and the local color.  Change, I guess, is inevitable.  All in all, Monterosso is still one of my favorite spots in Italy.  One I know I will return to.  And with views like this and seafood like that, I think I can even convince Blaine to give it a try. imageimageimage

What must it be like to have lived your entire life here, watching the world walk by?  These women’s heads would move in unison as someone worth evaluating would pass.  I love seeing these groups of locals chatting evening after evening.  Although full of change, there is a stability here.  I’m reminded of this as I decide to end the night with some dolce and there is the same person behind the gelato counter who was here in 2007…and she’s still smiling.image

Mangiare, Bere e Divertirsi

My morning began with laughter, which is good.  At breakfast (yes of torta e caffe), I asked if I might borrow a knife.  They agreed.  I used said knife to attack the melone I bought last night.  Mom would have croaked!  There was melone everywhere.  Later I found a lone seed and chuckled.  Daddy would have not been happy about the choice of my “cucina”…but the bathroom sink was all I had and I was craving some melone.  A dull knife and a bathroom sink was all I needed…luckily.image

Heading down to la spiaggia, my backpack runneth over with goodies, but my plan was to enjoy most of the day there.  Yesterday I had spied a nice rock at the far end of the spiaggia libera, today it was to be mine.image

Not wanting my treats to get warm, I did not wait long to enjoy my spread.  Napkins were not part of my planning and that melone was juicy.imageThrough observation, it was clear that the far end of the beach was where all cool kids hung out.  Which was entertaining…for a bit.

Groups had met up here, thrown down their black backpacks, and swum out to the distant rocks.  There they taunted and leapt, shouted and splashed, each trying to outdo the other.imageimage

As you have probably noticed, the beaches here are not sandy beaches, they are rocky.  Walking is a painful experience (funny to watch others but painful for you).  At first I thought it was just us foreign tenderfoots, but as one of the cool kids walked by complaining, his friend bent over and with a flourish, starting clearing a path, which of course, revealed MORE rocks, then told his friend, “vi, vi, vi”.

The cherries are as good as I remember!imageTo my left, the cool kids, to my right, far right, the boats full of daytrippers continue to come in one after another.  Monterosso is definitely busier during the day than I remember.  This year was the first I witness antena with scarf tied atop, as a guides scurried through with their chicks.  More on “Changing Monterrosso” later. imageAfter la spiaggia, I return to the room, throw on my now favorite Firenze dress and notice that it is “Spritz O’Clock”…well whatya know!

Hotel Margherita, as many places do, offers an aperitivo deal.  Here I can pay 5 euro for a spritz and a cute little tray of snacks accompanies it.  So I sit, read, snack and enjoy.imageWhen it was time to make a dinner decision, I turn to tripadvisor.  I do not do that much here, but had already heard where the hotel staff recommended, visited my usual haunts and wanted to see if I was missing anything.

The two top recommendations were here in the “old” section Monterosso.  So I went to scope them out.

The top choice is Da eraldo, but as the 20 seats (max) are currently taken and people are being turned away, I figure I am in for a bit of a wait.  I approach the waiter, greeter, chef’s helper and say, “Tavolo per uno?”.  He says in a very soft-a voice-a, “There-a eeesa only one-a of-a you-a”. Solo uno.

He tells-a me-a….sorry, I mean, he tells me that if I will go-a and sit-a in-a front-a of-a heeema, at Eliseo’s, he will come get me when there is a tavolo.  As luck would have it, Enoteca da Eliseo was number 2 on tripadvisor’s list.

I order a bicchiere di vino rosso and watch Da eraldo turn disapointed people away.  The couple seated at the same tavolo as myself, has a conversation using about three languages.  It is fun to be able to understand a bit more of italian.  I still do not know exactly what they are talking about, but I can get a gist at times.  And for added enjoyment and ambiance, Pavarotti sings from inside the enoteca.imageimageimageAs always, I hope to secure an outside tavolo, but am instead shown into the piccolo, piccolo area inside. It is kinda fun watching the world go by framed in the doorway.

Inside, my back is basically IN the kitchen…so the seats you see here and the ones outside are all!  If you plan to visit, lose all but 2 or 3 in your party and prepare for a wait.

In this small area, you cannot help but hear (and understand as they are all speaking english) other’s conversations.  The young students are all discussing their adventures on this trip so far.  Most are in Italy for a short time with other countries on either side of their trips.  I so wish my kids could take advantage of an experience like this.  Travel is the best educator I know.

imageThe chef and my guy (very tall for such a soft voice and demeanor) were more than happy to pose when I brought out my camera.  Here, the musica is more upbeat.  An italian version of “Gloria” blares from the rigged speakers.   They-a do-a love-a our-a 80’s musica.imageFor my dinner, I chose a sample piatti tre pastas.  Pappardelle ai frutti di mare, Testatoli in salsa noci and lasagne al pesto.  I had read not to miss the pane here, so I made sure to request it.

When my guy presents my dishes, he says, “May-a I-a suggest-a beginning-a  weeth-a the seafood-a paaasta primo.  Eeetsa flavors are-a the most-a delicate-a.  And-a then-a end-a weeeth-a the pesto, as eeetsa flavors are-a the most-a strong-a”.

I am so very thankful I chose the sampler portions.  It is all molto buono but I cannot finish any of it.  When He comes to clear my piatti, each dish has some left.image

I am sitting watching the world go by when I feel a tap on my shoulder with a “Signora” attached to it.  I turn to see the chef.  She is leaning down, still with her hand on my shoulder.  “Eeessaaa there-a errors in-a my-a dish-as?”  I feel awful.  I assure all was molto buono but I wanted to make sure I got a chance to try and enjoy them all.  At this she grabs her chest and makes this, “Oh I am so grateful to hear that” pantomime.  The girls in front of me turn, smile, and begin to take bigger bites.

I would recommend coming to Da eraldo and ordering the appetizer sampler plate.  Unfortunately it is suggested 2 or more share this fabulous looking spread.  My friend will tell you he’s a glad-a you-a chose-a theeesa plate-a.  Eeeata eees the plate-a which-a theeeesa trattoria began-a as well as how to go about enjoying it.

After dinner I walk enjoying the pink sunset over the sea.  I know you have seen similar photos last year, but…can ya ever get tired of this view?imageimage

The sea-a….sheee-a eeessa very calm-a tonight-a.image

A Meta Strada

I started my Wednesday with torta e caffe.  Ya gotta love a country that starts their morning with cake and coffee!  Afterwards I sat on the terrazzo and wrote for a bit.  As I may have mentioned, and will undoubtedly mention again, the wifi here is maddening!  Truly, I know I am in paradise and should just let it go, but being able to attempt to catch up with you was a goal. So when I had had basta, I took my frustrations to the sea.  The sea is always good for that.  I intend to pay the 40 or so euro one day for the chair and umbrella, but today, it’s the spiaggia libera.imageThe water was freddo, but I’d ease in the shallows every once in a while and look for sea glass.  A cinque minuti hunt proved profitable.  My cappello has seen better days.image After a few hours in the sole, I returned to the room, cleaned up and commenced to roaming.  I was not sure where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. I headed through the tunnel enjoying the guitar music the closed area amplified.  The guitarist was quite good.  He was playing Carly Simon then segued into James Taylor, certo!imagePast the tunnel and through new town I roamed.  As you can tell, yesterday’s questionable weather is a thing of the past.imageWalking along a park, I am sad to see what it has turned into.  Instead of kids running and playing on the equipment, it is now simply a place to find shade to play on their phones, che triste!imageOn the first pass by the stazione, it is very crowded.  On the second, not as much.  I enter and buy 1 ticket on the regionale treno.  My plan is to head to Riomaggiore.  There I have due goals.  Uno- fritto misto in a cone.  Due- find Bar e Vini a Pie de Ma and have un bicchiere di vino con una vista!  Andiamo!!image Goal uno- check…well kinda.  I could not find the piccolo, very local shop I stumbled across last time.  Instead there was a slicker place.  The kind with a company sign outside and instead of paper cones, a factory made cup kinda thing….gasp!!  On the up side, the calamari was pretty good.image Goal due- Although this was one of my favorite spots before, I could not remember how to get to it.  On my last visit, I was told about it by a guy that worked at my hotel.  He said you would not find it if you did not know where you were going.  Well, this time, I know where I want to go, but I still cannot find it.  I go through the long tunnel from the stazione that leads to the village.  The whole time I am thinking, “This doesn’t make sense.  It is ON the water.”  So after I bought and ate my fritto misto, I remembered the bar was on or near Via dell’Amore, and I asked the way. Sure enough, back through the tunnel and up a couple flights of stairs and I arrived.imageThis has got to be one of the best bar views around.  The place is super low-key.  They don’t come up to you, you go in the small building and ask for what you would like, then you choose your spot, sit back, relax and enjoy.  It is simply a MUST if you are in the area. I enjoyed il vino bianco, il sea, la vista and the uccelli che ballano nella brezza.imageBack at the stazione you can look up and see where the bar is.  This time I will not forget.image Being in a place like this for several days is very special.  It is wonderful when you can find a rhythm.  It is even more wonderful when your visit coincides  with an event in town.  Something I have learned in my travels, when you hear a band playing…find it. I followed the sound of a 3rd string band playing a slow march.  When I caught up with it, there were two groups of people; onlookers like myself and those in a procession.  Today is San Giovanni’s Feast Day and he is the patron saint of Monterosso….didn’t know that.  But there he was, being carried through the town (twice) by locals dressed in ancient garb and with the strongest of the group carrying a large, large crucifix.  Included in the procession were visiting priests and bishops.  One boy walked with a PA system rigged to a beam.  Through this, the faithful would follow along reciting prayers with their priest.  imageOnce they made their way down (slowly) to the port, I thought the festivities were over.  I went to a family favorite restaurant Al Pozzo.  The dish I love is on the menu as only being prepared for due, so before being seated, I went in the area before the kitchen and asked if I may be granted the favor, again this year, as to have the Gnocchi con Gamberi e Crema di Pomodor prepared for one.  The waitress inside agreed. However, when I was seated and ordered a mezzo portion of this, as Avery says “Heaven on a Plate”, my waiter told me “No.  Solo per due.”  “But in the cucina, they told me certo.”  He then cast me the funniest, “if you say so” look in pure italian. Bottom line, my wish was once again granted!  imageWhile enjoying every bite of my gnocchi, the procession strolled by again.  And then, a loud, loud boom was heard and felt.  Just as I know  what to do when I hear a band, I likewise know what to do when I hear a loud boom…look skyward.

 

I love firework displays.  I especially like them when I am right under them.  I will never forget being on a blanket at Lady Bird Park with mom and the kids.  It was Fredericksburg’s (some special year) anniversary, several years before we lived there.  The fireworks were directly above us.  Before that I remember a 4th of July in Aspen with Blaine.  This evening, I will remember as well. As the little girl continues to declare, “Che Bello!!”. The mezza luna is a sign that I am halfway through my trenta giorni in Italia.  When the luna is full, it will be time to return home.  Until then, there are more adventures to come.imageOn the way home, I followed the candle lined streets to a small market where I bought melone, ciliegie, prosciutto e pane in preparation for tomorrow’s morning at la spiaggia.image

Ciao di Nuovo Monterosso!

Although I had a wonderful evening the night before, my night was a bit restless.  Sometimes your heart is just heavy with “home”.

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My train was to depart soon and Milena and I were STILL trying to figure out how to add each other to WHATSAP-a.  She was determined.  A short while back, Milena had a guest for 14 days.  An older woman named Maggie (I was called Maggie more often than Paige). After 14 days of enjoying each other’s company, they stay in touch for free.  With 30 minutes or so until my treno….Milena has success!

Milena’s oldest, Gaia, took a couple photos of us.  I liked the one on the steps, it is the same place we took our first photo 2 years ago, but Milena was not happy.  So…we took more.imageWe said our goodbyes outside the station, sure we would see each other again.  I reiterated that she, the girls, Roberto, his daughter, could come stay with us anytime.  Roberto had joked that I was going to have 6 guests at Christmas.  As mom said, “What a hoot that would be!”

To arrive at Monterosso today, I will be needing to change trains two times.  Connections make me a bit nervous, but I’m pretty comfortable this year that whatever happens, I can figure it out.

First, Firenze/Rifredi.image

Travel day…the train slows near stations, picks up speed through open areas.  The sounds created by the wind entering the tunnels is creepy.  I think this is where the sound people of Harry Potter movies got the idea for the ghosts and spirits.

I take note of several hillside towns I would like to visit.  Some I don’t know the names so I just write what they are close to- “Hills outside Empoli” for example. Another called “M something”…that one will be easy to figure out.  But one name I know is Cortona…que bella.image

Carrara was not one of the stops where I needed to exit, but I am always fascinated when I pass the mountains where Michelangelo chose his marble.image

Next stop, La Spezia.  And this time I do not make the mistake of exiting at the previous lesser La Spezia station.  I do smile as I watch a couple of newbies that do.  I remember two years ago being so nervous that I would board the train to Monterosso and be thrown off because I possessed the wrong ticket.  This time, not so much.imageExiting the treno at La Spezia, the clouds made it look like the air would be cooler…nix that.

I grab the next treno to the Cinque Terres and position myself near an exit.  It is a nicer train, and many are putting their luggage in the upper areas and getting comfortable.  They must not know it is a 15 minute ride.

As always the first view of the sea, as we zoom in and out of tunnels, is exciting.  This is the first time I have seen the sea with dark clouds above it.

And then….I arrive.  The sea-a…she eeessa not-a calm-a today-a.

I make the walk through the tunnel connecting new Monterosso with old Monterosso.  I am staying at the same hotel I did last time, so no need for a mappa or asking for directions.

I check in, am given the same room as my last visit.  I do not unpack, but just open the suitcase to take out a few items.  With no biscotti to quell my hunger during my ride, ho fame.  So I head for Smorfia Pizza…great memories there.

imageAfter I eat my entire pizza and enjoy 2 piccolo (there really were piccolo…like tester size) birra, I go for a walk through this quaint, little village.

Ooohhh…there’s a new little shoe shop.  I’ll just go in for a look.  I have no room for anything new in my Ferrari.

Well, meet my new sandals.  I love them!  This was the last pair they had in my size (no really!) so I could not risk them going home with another.  Unlike my sandals I had made for me in Capri, I am going to wear these.  What use are they sitting in my closet?  It is special to have something specific to a town or area.  And it feels great to support local, young artisans.  The oh-so-cute owner, shared a website where the sandals can also be found.  I will post when I, one again, dig the card out of my treasures.  Find her on facebook in the meantime. But REMEMBER…you saw them HERE first!

imageAs I was doing the photo shoot for my nuovi sandali, the vecchiette on the bench did not understand what was going on!  I got a kick out of watching them watch me, discussing with confusion.image

 

During my first evening, I just roamed around, reacquainting myself, already wishing my famiglia were here to share.imageimage

Best of- The Rest

Gallery

This gallery contains 27 photos.

As you can tell I have put off and put off this final post.  I felt as long as I left something hanging, I was still living in the present regarding my trip and not the past. Now that I … Continue reading

Best of- Food

Not that this came as a surprise to me, but a major focus of this trip was food.  Many people seem think that just because you are in Italy, amazing food is going to be all around you and all you consume.  Like anywhere, food in Italy varies.  Not every bite you put in your mouth is worth the calories or the euro….so I tried to be selective.  I researched, talked to locals, checked out plates as I passed.  However, some of my best bites were serendipitous..  Grazie mille San Lorenzo!  As I answer my own “Best of Food” questions, I am not looking back at photos for reminders.  These answers are based solely on sweet (and savory) memories!

Best Pizza– Pizzeria Franco, Sorrento

I’ll start with the question I get most, “Where did you have the best pizza?”  Without a doubt it was  in Sorrento.  Even though Sorrento is not on my list of cities to return to, catching a train just to eat at Franco’s is!

Peperoni, salsiccia e formaggi

Peperoni, salsiccia e formaggi

Best Gelato– CCC, Capri Crema Cafe, Anacapri

Capri Crema Cafe

Capri Crema Cafe

I loved the whole vibe here;  a little retro but definitely cutting edge, clean and crisp. Presentation is spot on and taste….molto buono!

Best Pasta Gnocchetti fatto a mano…..le mie mani!!

Gnocchetti Sardi fatti in casa con Ragu alla Bolognese

Gnocchetti Sardi fatti in casa con Ragu alla Bolognese

I am sure the fact that I/we made this in our cooking class and the love and laughs that went into the preparation flavors my perspective…..but this truly was the best pasta I had during my trip. I could have easily made myself sick on it.  But being in the company of “strangers” and needing to save room for all the other dishes we prepared, tempered my portion.

On my first Sunday back home, I prepared this for my family.  It received rave reviews here as well.

Fatto in my Texas Casa

Fatto in my Texas Casa

Best Street Food–  Frito Misto, Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Fritto Misto calamari e gamberi

Fritto Misto
calamari e gamberi

This is one of those places I roamed into.  The calamari was the freshest I have ever had.  It is pretty much a given now that I love my food in a paper cone.

Best Ristorante– Al Pozzo, Monterosso   Trattoria Mario, Firenze   Trattoria Katti, Firenze

This category has a three-way tie.  All three are here due to the quality of food but also because of the personal attention/willingness to interact,  and for me, both are key in creating a memorable experience.

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Al Pozzo has previous memories attached to it.  I have enjoyed beautiful evenings seated in the street here my family.  I have a photo of Chef Gino preparing his famed frutti di mare risotto (which I have yet to try).  Both of my children fell in love with gamberetti gnocchi here.                                         Wonderful memories can be a tough thing for a place to live up to as well.  On my first night in Monterosso, when being presented with my gamberetti gnocchi, my heart fell…. the gnocchi failed to sport its tell-tale ridges.  I guess as a time saver, instead of hand rolling each gnoccho on the ridged board, they stopped at the step before, creating a less appealing looking dumpling.  I so wanted to inquire, but I knew my question could only be taken as a complaint (which to be honest….it would have been) and I chose to make new memories instead of trying to relive past ones….that’s growth huh!?

Not to be Missed!

Not to be Missed!

Trattoria Mario is just one of those special places.  Yes it is packed with tourist that have read about it, but it is run by locals that I think are there for the locals….we just happen to be a byproduct of their love of Firenze and its food.

Now Trattoria Katti is all me.  I did not read about it, I did not hear about it, I just roamed into it and I am so glad I did.  As you know, I enjoyed a dinner there twice.  Both times the food was very good, but the dish that put it over the top for me was the Pappa al Pomodoro.  I have since longed for a spoonful often!!  The fact that when I would walk by (countless times…it was on “my street”) and Katti or her mamma would see me and say “Ciao!” didn’t hurt either.

Comfort in a bowl!

Comfort in a bowl!

Best BItes– Fried Calzone, Anacapri     Coccolo, Firenze     Papa al Pomodoro, Firenze       Panino, Firenze

I had a lot of wonderful food during my trip…if I look back through my photos, I am sure I would add more to my list, but again….I am going with my memory and my gut here.

To me, this is what it is all about…that first bite….the moment you put something into your mouth and you are simply sent….the second bite or the second visit may not compare….but it is that first bite that you remember…

When I first bit into the fried calzone in Anacapri, right then, I knew it was the best thing I had eaten in Italy yet….I will admit, when I finally found the bakery the 2nd time, after days of trying to retrace my steps….the 2nd experience did not measure up to the first.  It was still wonderful….but just not the same…

Fried Calzone...need I say more...

Fried Calzone…need I say more…

Coccolo, dusted with salt...

Coccolo, dusted with salt…

OK…there is a trend here….more fried dough.  Hey, I am not proud…IS there anything better!?  I have yet to make these, but I do have a happy hour on the books and am planning to serve Aperol Spritz and these!

I have already shared the photo of Papa al Pomodoro, but it makes the list again….

And last, but certainly NOT least was my amazing panino in Firenze….

All'Antico Vinaio

All’Antico Vinaio

Once again rewarded for roaming on!

You will notice that most of my BEST BITES are from my eats in Firenze…another reason the city is a fav of mine!

Best Sips– A Pie’ de Ma’, Riomaggiore    Caffe Gilli, Firenze

During my previous trip to Italy with my mom and kids, I would look at people just sitting, enjoying a glass of wine or an aperitif, perhaps reading a book….I longed for that experience, that pace.  This trip, I enjoyed many such moments.

a Pie' de Ma

a Pie’ de Ma

I am thankful for the tip to look for a Pie’ de Ma….it isn’t a place you would just stumble on.  Definitely a place to return to.

My first Aperol Spritz...and more coccolo!  Heaven or What!?

My first Aperol Spritz…and more coccolo! Heaven or What!?

During my evening at Gilli, I just kept pinching myself….I was so happy.  Seated outdoors overlooking Piazza della Repubblica…people watching…pretty much heaven for me.

Best New Discovery– Fresh Cherries  and Fresh Anchovies

I know you are probably thinking, “How can cherries be a discovery?”  Well, I am not a fruit person.  As I have gotten older, I have tried to broaden my fruit horizons (remember the fig….).  I tend to be attracted to “pretty things”.  When I was younger, I put a tomato slice on my plate simply because I thought it needed the color.  So with cherries being in season, stacked and piled at every stand…I had to.  And once again…rewarded.  Cherries became my staple snack.  I am sad to say that I bought some here at home…and they did not compare.

It is art!

It is art!

The moral of my italian eating is that fresh is key….my anchovy experiences speak to that as well!

Shrimp, Calamari and ANCHOVY!

Shrimp, Calamari and ANCHOVY!

I know I am leaving something (many things) out…I could probably give everything its own category….my picnic on the beach in Monterosso….so perfect….the limoncello Franco unlocked from his “private collection”….so-a strong-a and-a so-a beautiful-a!….the warm, oily bag of pane in Trastevere…..ALL my CAPRESES!!!…..

As you read, if there is a category you would like me to award…please…let me know…

My plan is one more post from this trip….The Best of…THE REST.