Arrivederci Monterosso, Buongiorno Lucca

During my stay in Monterosso, I never unpacked, so repacking was pretty easy.  Last evening, I decided to purchase an earlier treno to La Spezia.  My connection there was only 10 minutes and that makes me a bit nervous.  So instead of spending the morning on the terrazzo, I will make a quick exit and spend my time at the La Spezia stazione.  Not apples and apples I assure  you.

Checking out at Hotel Margherita, the desk girl was her rude self.  I usually try to consider that a person might be having a bad day, but the due desk girls this year are the same due desk girls as two years ago…so, I think it’s them.  She would rather twirl her hair and look at her computer monitor than clarify the treno schedule.

Although I like the location of Hotel Margherita and I LOVE the terrazzo, between the maddening internet connections (and reconnections and reconnections and reconnections and….you get the idea.  If I had a euro for every time I had to reconnect, I could buy this place and have all hire my congenial friends…who’s in?) and having to put out the desk girls,  I might research a different place for a return trip.  In the hotel’s defense, the manager/owner is very attentive and kind.  My assumption is that the majority of the staff here are family.

But another point in the + column is it is down the ramp and due steps to the sinistra to the focacceria.  I grab a couple plain pieces for the treno.imageimageJoining the roller bag group heading out, I dodge the roller bag group heading in.  When stopping to take this parting shot of la spiaggia, I hear a girl declare, “THIS is what heaven looks like.”imageFor those of you who followed in 2013, I know this very similar to my “National Geographic” shot then.  Sorry…it’s hard to take a bad photo here.  The water is especially clear today…certo.imageI board the treno to La Spezia, standing in the baggage area for the 15 minute journey.  I intend to say Arrivederci to the sea at the last Cinque Terre stop, Riomaggiore, but my carriage was stops in the tunnel, so this shot through the grimy glass will have to do.image

My “reserved” spot.image

Two couples board the train in Vernazza.  They stand in the baggage section as well.  They are German.  When the ticket guy comes around to check our validations, theirs are not validated.  Remember a tip I gave you from the last trip…ALWAYS validate your ticket.  Even if no one has checked your tickets in your last tre treno rides…ALWAYS validate.

This shot shows his weariness from listening to every excuse under the sun, in every language under the sun.  He is SO not interested.  Each of the quattro try their hand at an explanation.  He keeps the same look and the same posture.  He points to the sign that says there is a 50 euro fine, but tells them he is charging them 5 euro each.  They finally pay.  When he leaves, although I don’t understand German, I am sure they are talking about him.  And I’m thinking “ya,ya, ya” and chicken sounds can’t be a compliment.image I arrive in La Spezia and wait.imageOh, have I shown you my new charm from Storie in Italy?  I got mom one too.    It is the window at Chiese di San Giovanni Battista.  Bella no?  It adds a bit more jingle to my jangle.image

I arrive in my connecting stazione of Viareggio.  Boarding here to Lucca seems the most hectic yet.  People hesitate to board.  People hop off once they have hopped on.  Everyone is asking someone.  I realize all it takes is for one person to say, “Si Lucca” and we all end up somewhere else.

A woman in a Trenitalia jacket walks by.  She is on the phone and gives me the universal signal of “NOT NOW” when I lean out the carriage.  I blurt out “Lucca?” anyway and she give me an almost imperceptible nod.  That’s going to have to be good enough for me.imageArriving in Lucca, I walk out of the treno stazione and make a decision not to grab a taxi.  WIth no mappa, and no prior knowledge of the town…how hard can it be?  Oh silly Paj!

I cross a couple of streets and head towards the wall surrounding the old city.  I seem to remember my hotel is inside the wall.  imageAs I approach the wall, it curves and from a distance, looks like it deadends.  Then I see a girl stoop and go through a small opening.  I feel like Alice in Wonderland.  I follow.  That leads me to a tunnel…you might remember, I’m not a fan of tunnels…through a small courtyard, up a couple short staircases that zig-zag.image

And I arrive atop the wall.  Now, destra or sinistra?  A girl passes me dragging her roller bag along and asks if I need her to look up my hotel on her phone.  How kind.  She does, and it says to head straight.  After she heads left, I decide I’ll head that way too.  I’d rather have an overall view from the wall, than get in the mix of the buildings just yet….Anyway, straight over the edge of the wall is not an option I’m entertaining… at this point.image Around the wall I go, note a little trattoria I might want to come back to, and then approach a gelato vendor for guidance. imageThrough his very italian directions, I do get “canale” and his arm pointing forward and forward then “grande statua”.  So I head straight looking for the large statue.  image

Straight along the canale, by the family of anatra, past where the lady lives that likes pink, and sure enough, there is a grande statua.  Sinistra there. imageI wind around a bit, ask a few more locals, consult my italian phone (by the way, every time I try to use google maps, it closes down) and there…it’s that easy.  B&B Anfiteatro.imageI told you I had not researched Lucca at all.  Well I had found out there were Puccini music festivals here and have a ticket reserved for tonight…but that is ALL.

The owner of the B&B marked the ticket office for the concert for me on a mappa.  While I am waiting to be checked in, I also grab a leaflet for a night tour of Lucca.  They are offered Thursday and Saturday nights…today is Saturday right?  I think if it works into my plans, I will pay the 10 euro to get acclimated a bit.  The concert is scheduled for 7:15 and suppose to last about an hour.  The tour meets at 9:00 in front of one of the major chiesas.  That might just work out.

On my way to the Puccini ticket office, there is plenty to look at…although I don’t know what any of it is… image

I pay 18 euro for the Puccini biglietto and find a spot to wait.  I order a spritz and watch and listen for the next 45 minutes.image

I arrive at the concert one of the first 10 or so.  I choose a spot in the front.  Within minutes the church it is held in is full.  We are given a program which includes bits of operas from other composers along with Puccini.  Lucca is Puccini’s birthplace.  But from the information, it sounds like his success was not welcome here for years.image

First the pianist enters from behind the panels, then the first of the due tenors we will be hearing.  The acoustics in this small chiesa are amazing.  The strength of the performers’ voices doesn’t hurt.  The following video is poor visual quality.  I think photo were allowed, but most people were trying to be discreet.  This was the encore of the evening.

This was a special experience.  I suggest working a concert in if you are visiting Lucca.  They perform every evening of the year.

Now for some cibo.  I have not eaten since my torta this morning.  Earlier I passed this pizzeria and there was quite a crowd.  I have learned that crowds indicate good food…most of the time.  So with 30 or so minutes before the night tour begins, I pop in.  I tell the older woman behind the counter, “Due pr favore.”  Luckily she did not ask “due what?”, because I do not know the italian equivalent to “Whatever”.image

She hands over two piping hot pieces of margherita on a little silver tray, I add a piccolo Moretti to my bill and it comes to under 5 euro…my kind of place!  I sit on a stool in front and enjoy.image

I look at the time and it is 5 til 9:00.  I walk around to the front of the church to see if I see anyone congragating.  My plan is to ask if it is not too late for me to pay and join those who have reserved.  I’m still not 100% dedicated to the idea.  I do not know the area well enough to find my way back to the B&B in the dark, so that is a question I will need to ask as well.

When I arrive there are about 7 or so women standing near a woman with a little guide sign.  I walk up and ask if I might join.  The very friendly guide tells me, “certo”. I then ask the 2nd question of where the tour ends.  She tells me they end at the Anfiteatro…perfetto!

Then, the really lucky news comes.  I am the only english speaking member so the others will go with another guide and I get this one all to myself.  Another great decision Paige!image

My guide’s name is Ilaria (Hilary in English).  She is a middle school English teacher and part time guide.  Our first stop is to find a restroom.  She takes me into this way cool enoteca.  They are kind enough to allow me to use the facilities and take a couple of photos.  I will definitely return here during my stay.image

Love their shelving system!image

During our “tour” Ilaria and I basically just walk and talk.  To tell you the truth, I don’t remember much about Lucca.  I do know one of their symbols is the tower with the trees growing atop it.  Also, there is this symbol by one of the churches.  It was a reminder to the merchants and bankers that use to deal here to keep a straight, honest path. image

This, Ilaria says is a version of the Volto Santo or Holy Face of Lucca.  There were several of these decorating a medieval wooden door.image


Ilaria also pointed out a few places I might want to eat and recommended some of Lucca’s traditional foods.  Our entire walk, I kept telling her how lucky I was to have this private tour.  She said it was nice for her as well.  I did consider she might be missing out on tips from a larger group, so I made sure to share my appreciation in euros.  At the end of the tour, Ilaria deposited me at the door of by B&B and bid me a buonanotte.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”.


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- 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.


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.


This marks the halfway point in my adventure. As I look back through the MANY photos. I cannot believe all that I have seen and done. I am so thankful for this venue for without it (and you) I can’t imagine being able to keep track of my days.
Besides stalking the Red White and Blue, today I decided to spend the morning at the beach. My rhythm in Monterosso is quite different from my other stops. First of all, to this point, 6 days is the most I have spent in one place. I am thankful for that, but at times, a bit sad for the reason. My original block of time here was meta of this. Then we toyed with the idea of Avery coming to visit me during my time in Italy. When asked where she would want to join me, Monterosso had no other rivals. So, I doubled the time here.
The amount of days coupled with the fact that the pace is just slower here, allows for more relaxation and less decisions of how to spend your time. So today, I decided to tagliare a metà. Meta at the spiaggia and meta visiting another of the terras.
A morning at the beach on the 4th of July seemed fitting anyway.
As I walked toward the beach, I remember that today is Thursday and Monterosso has a traveling market that visits on Thursday.


20130705-112344.jpg Roast Chicken anyone?

20130705-112413.jpg formaggio?

20130705-112459.jpg It was HARD to pass these dishes up!

I was excited to find a handmade, olive wood gnocchi roller thingy. We had used them in Chef Andrea’s class and now I will use at home…doubling the memory.
And I bought more cherries to enjoy at the beach. Cherries get destroyed in all the processing…I cannot figure out how their natural flavor is manipulated so. But I have enjoyed them fresh from the tree here in Italia!

And finally, la spiaggia.

I have chosen the free beach as I plan to come several mornings.

20130705-113057.jpg This game is endless! AND everywhere.

20130705-113139.jpg Mmmmm…cherries warmed by the sun.




After a couple of hours in the sun, it is time for lunch. I head right off the pebbly beach to Il Casello and the best Caprese I have had thus far.


As I walk back to the room, I stop into a little ceramics shop. On our last visit, I bought a tiny salt bowl from them. This year, and since I am no longer a Anchovy Virgin (as Rick Steves says), I think these will be a must.

I clean up, put on my “Vatican Skirt”, and for the FIRST time, I change my purse from my big black borsa to a little red and white clutch. This change makes me a bit nervous, I am use to the feel of my other. But as long as I have my wallet, passport, phone and camera I am good right?
Down the steps I think, “I DO have my wallet, passport, phone and camera….right?….yes, yes I do.” This question haunts me for the rest of the day!!

I catch the commuter train to town #3 (skipping Corniglia for now) Manarola.

I enter the tunnel that leads to town. It is said that this is where, during World War II, the villagers would sleep and find some comfort from the air raids.

20130705-114233.jpg Can you imagine the memories here?

I have looked over my Rick Steves’ orientation to Manarola, but my short term memory is pathetic, and I refuse to walk around with a gadget (ok…besides a camera) in my hand, so I just wander…up hill.

At the top of the town, I find a beautiful church, the parish church of San Lorenzo. This beautiful structure dates back to 1338.


There is also a bell tower that served as a watchtower when pirates would raid the town.
At the top, I sneak a peak at my phone and find that I am close to the beginning of the “Vineyard Walk”. This I had wanted to do. Andiamo!







20130705-114926.jpg This beautiful piece is in the midst of the vines.
As you make your way along the winding path, the sea begins to come into view again.
Manarola has no beach, but is known for its deep, rocky swimming hole.


20130705-115131.jpg The trail that connects the towns.



Daddy would have loved me hanging out over the edge to get this one…especially in my “hiking sandals”!

20130705-115319.jpg I just love these!!






When I return to Monterosso, I walk the streets deciding where to eat. I run into the couple from New York that I boarded with in Firenze. They are staying in Manarola. We have a nice chat. They said they were so impressed that I knew to get off at that first station and that it must have all worked out….well no, I told them. They were planning to have dinner at Al Pozzo, per my recommendation but it is closed on Thursdays. They give me a recommendation to check out in Firenze. Foster’s (the guy) brother is a professor teaching there for the summer and had taken them to it. I make a note of it in my phone.

I decide to return to Il Casselo for Frito Misto and a glass of the local bianco.

20130705-115944.jpg A fabulous choice!
calamari gamberi e acciughe…Luckily I had watched a couple in Sorrento and “knew” how to attack the anchovy.

During dinner I had a brief conversation with a man and a woman. The woman was from Austrailia the man I am guessing from Germany…maybe. They were playing a dice game while they waited for their meal. The dice were old, some black, some white, mismatched. They were stored in a beat up little tin. The game was “Cosmopolitan” I think. She asked me if I wanted to “Give it a go” as they were playing for who would pay… She said they had traveled together for 30 years and he was apt to change the rules as they played. He said since it was his grandfather that passed down the tin and dice to him….it was his right.

Tomorrow, perhaps Vernazza.

Ritorno a Monterosso

So since my travels have gone perfectly thus far, I though I would fill you in on a few things that made me nervous yesterday.
As I mentioned, yesterday was a travel day. The plan was to leave Chiusi around 10:00, train to Firenze, train to La Spezia, train to Monterosso. With all these connections, I wondered if all could go smoothly.

The Chiusi stazione was definitely my kind of station; clean and free restrooms. The downside was there was not as much people watching, but that is an upside too…not as many people to watch out for.

Travel Tip #1- For train travel days, may I suggest a nice, lightweight travel pant. Mine, Isaac Mizrahi for Target, seersucker, circa 2002. And a nice, wrinkle-free button down shirt. ( Just make sure the shirt’s buttons button securely,,,as being strapped and crossed with luggage….things may shift in transit…Prego Chiusi! ) Nice enough enough to look sharp but not calling attention to yourself…unless of course your shirt unbuttons….

I boarded the train and got myself a seat that allowed the Ferrari to be parked right next to me.
We had been moving for about 15 minutes when I thought perhaps that was all too easy. Was I on the correct train? I asked a group of young students, english speaking, where they were headed. They named a place and I am sure the look on my face gave me away. One of the girls asked, “Where are you going?” I said Firenze. She said that yes this was indeed the correct train. Shweew! Two hours later and molto stops, I arrived in Firenze.

Back in 2007 (I believe) Avery, Dalton, my mom and I came to Europe. We did not stay in Firenze in the true sense of the word “stay”, but we did stay at the train station for quite some time waiting for our connection. We have some funny memories here. For what seemed like hours, we watched a very drunk (picture one of those plastic, segmented toys on a base connected by string. You push the bottom of the base, the string slacks and the person or animal slumps. You release…and it magically comes back to attention) homeless man and his pigeons. This amused, frightened and disgusted us for hours.
I had about an hour between trains, so I tried to look purposeful as I waited. Although the polizia were patrolling…

I think it was more of an “interview” process. Here these….residents…prove their purpose by showing they had purchased a carton of juice from one of the kiosk. This seemed to work…

20130703-093937.jpg so they played on. This image brought to mind “The Old Guitarist” by Pablo Picasso.

At one point, I saw “officials” run off two girls, apparently for hassling travelers.

Travel Tip #2- Go to the restroom when you arrive at the station AND then again….no matter if you need to or not…as they post your train. This will, hopefully, prevent you from using the train’s facilities. Worth the 2 euros!

When they posted my train to La Spezia, I walked over to platform 3. There was a train, there was a “conductor” but there was also this guy standing around. When I would approach a car, he would approach, when I would move down, he would move down. When I would stand back, he would enter an empty car and watch through the window. So, I am thinking, “What the heck”. At one point he says, “Signora…La Spezia?” and waves his hand at the train like, “Yes, this is it, welcome.”
I continue to stand around. Finally, an American couple boards and I board along with them. I was sure they were wondering why of all the cars I chose theirs, so I explained. “Good instincts!” the woman said. Oh and when I did board, a woman magically appeared to “help” me with my luggage and then ask for money.

As the train moves along, often the rail attendant comes by to check your ticket. I have been using the same method with each leg of my journeys. I noticed the time before last, the attendant looked and looked at my printed pages, flipping, reading, mumbling… and then he returned it. The woman next to me just shrugged. This time, the attendant asked me which of his many languages did I speak….english (I feel ashamed), he tells me that next time I need to print off the ticket. Although he was very nice, this makes me nervous for my next leg.

Italy is famous for its lovers. Young lovers are everywhere. On benches, in Vespas, in parks, on fountains, on a train in the seat 2 feet across from you….seriously. How many places can I find to stare? At this point, I am thankful I do not understand the language! My theory is that the men live with their mammas so long, they can not bring their girlfriend home, so, the streets (or seats) will do.

Travel Tip #3- Choose a seat facing the direction you are traveling…if not the motion can cause issues. **Take this opportunity to leave the giovani amanti and relocate yourself facing forward.

Out the window, the hills, towns, trees blur by like something from a movie. Village after village is perched into the mountains of this beautiful region. I write down the names of our stops so I can research later. But one I am already familiar with…

Pure, white marble from the quarries of Carrara is what Michelangelo used to carve his most famous sculptures. A visit to Carrara, a town in northwest Tuscany, allows travelers to see the marble quarries and see the type of tools Michelangelo used in order to transform pieces of rock into artistic treasures.
The American woman I had boarded with kept taking photo after photo. She thought it was snow. I told her about Michelangelo….more photos followed.
During this leg of the trip, more beggars. One would sit for awhile then move to the next group of people and simple whisper noises….Avery would have loved this!! It was definitely creepy.

Travel Tip # 4- Always have either earphones in (thanks Avery) or something to read in front of you. It can create a barrier if needed.

So we finally (2 hours) arrive at where my ticket says I get off. La Spezia but with another “M” name after it. I am the only one moving. The American couple says, “No this is not La Spezia Centrale.” But I say this is what my ticket says, so I de board. The station is closed, there is a man sweeping. I approach him showing him my ticket. He looks at it, regarding it as foreign, and tells me to re board the still sitting train. “But…” Ok , I figure the chances of making another connection here are much less than at a “Centrale”…so I hurriedly hop back on. (hop- read dragging my Ferrari against my already bruised thigh)
I stand in the area between cars knowing the next stop cannot be far. We reached La Spezia Centrale and yes, much more action here. I wait in “information” line, show the attendant my stapled copy of information, he barely looks at it and says something. “Scusi?” I reply. “Due” he snarls “Due”. OK, due at 17:00. I am still nervous. Is this the correct train? Will “the note from my mommy” work? Will I incur a fine (this stretch is notorious for issuing fines to silly travelers)? Do I have time to go buy another ticket…I could go on and on…
I start comparing notes with others standing around…we ALL have a story; this couple missed their train and will try to use their old ticket, this group has no clue, and so on. A nice couple from Australia says, “We’ll all get lost together.” In the meantime, I am scoping out La Spezia and thinking I do NOT want to spend the night here.
A crowd is gathering. The Australian once again declares, “What can happen in 16 minutes?” That is the time of the short ride to Monterosso. He says this as he gives me some sort of blessing or absolution with his ticket in hand. I’ll take whatever I can get…
A train arrives….we ALL board. “Every man for himself” someone adds. I again stay in the area between cars. The 4 steps with Ferrari are not worth it.
During this short ride, we are in tunnels most of the time. At one point we emerge for a fleeting moment and the blue, blue waters of Cinque Terre lift my spirits. I look to the Australian couple, this is their first visit here, and we all smile! With our goal in reach, I share with them some recommendations. This of course makes me miss my famiglia. We have beautiful memories here.

20130703-101645.jpg We have arrived!
But first….another tunnel…this one though, I am familiar with…I know what awaits me on the other side.


20130703-101754.jpg Monterosso!
First to find the hotel. I walk from the station passing those that are unfamiliar with the layout. Since the 2011 flood, a few things have changed but I walk with confidence.

20130703-101949.jpg Past the hotel I stayed at during my first visit. This was with my mom and brother, Jim. I remember Jim and I enjoying the beach below looking up to the open window where our mom took her riposo. I remember ordering beers on the beach with my toes in the pebbly sand. I remember my first “rapido” panini from Il Castello.

I see the hotel where mom and I stayed with the kids…and cannot believe it when I realize my new hotel is directly across the street. It looks familiar. I remember admiring it during that stay. So here I am. My home for the next 6 nights.



20130703-102600.jpg I know a photo of the bathroom might seem…silly…but if you are ever making travel arrangements, it can help with the decision.
As Francesca checks me in, she continues to tell me all my perks that come with my booking. Free wifi, beach towel for days at the beach, wonderful breakfast each morning in the dining area or on the terrace…the people that are checking in after me pay extra for all this…not sure how I swung this, but…ok…

I quickly shower off the grime of the day and hit the streets looking for food (breakfast in Chiusi has long worn off) and memories. Of course, I find both.

20130703-103040.jpg It is funny how people can unknowingly become a part of your experience. How their words or actions can be copied by your family for years to come….”Do they have salads!!?? *&%$@@!!!” this was the spot. This memory is for no one to get or enjoy but Mom, Avery and Dalton…
And then I make the big decision to eat at our favorite restaurant on the first night…bold move.

I am so disappointed when I read and remember that our favorite dish, gnocchi with gamberetti can only be ordered for 2…but as seems to be the rhythm of this adventure, things go my way. Yolanda says yes, it is possible for just one…for me. Little does she know that it is really to be enjoyed by 4, Mom, Avery, Dalton and myself.


I remember we ate here twice during our stay. The first time Dalton ordered the spaghetti bolognese…his favorite. I believe we ordered the gnocchi gamberetti for three. When Dalton tasted ours. He loved it and ordered it the next visit. I watch as a mother tries to share a bite of hers to her young son (3 ish) He is reluctant at first,then finally tries it. I watch his eyes light up as he chews. After each following bite he licks his lips…another convert! Avery says if she were ordering her last meal…this would be it.

20130703-104004.jpg I enjoy the piccolo bottle of the areas wine just as mom and I had.
Although I am the 2nd to be seated that evening. When it is time for me to leave, the place is packed and people are waiting. I would love to order the risotto al mare another night, but alas, Yolanda says ” no, questo solo per due”….hhhmmmmm.
My pasta pooch says it is time for a walk.

20130703-104335.jpg I take this one for Blaine.




20130703-104451.jpg The Nazi pillbox bunker that so intrigued Dalton. When he crossed over these steps to stand on top, the sea would crash over them. His timing, and courage had to be just right.




20130703-104814.jpg The beach where Dalton played games with the rocks…and presented me with a perfectly shaped heart one I treasure to this day!
As the sunsets, I decide to follow the sound of the music. “Misty” on the violin is coming from the tunnel.


Him, I tip. What a peaceful ending to a hectic day.