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