Thursday, January 19, 2012

Vicopisano, day six

Sunday and – could it be possible? – another glorious day. Myles had decided that we must go to the Cinque Terre – five small towns that hug the coast north of us. You can walk between them and sit in the sun when you are tired. We had been warned that, because of floods earlier in the year, some of the tracks between the towns might be closed but we were prepared to give it a crack. The problem with not having the internet is that you can’t check on these things – I can’t remember how I used to research anything – or indeed find things out at all. Perhaps I used to take chances and find out when I got there. Great moments or disappointment. Perhaps that is the way to live anyway.
The Cinque Terre, according to Samantha, was an hour and half away. A decent drive. But it was OK. The landscape is beautiful and we had finally found a radio station that we could all listen to without losing our minds. Sam managed to take us on every road but a motorway so we didn’t make particularly good time, but we were there by about 11.30am. The first town (or land) on this side is Riomaggiore. We dove (I mean this literally, you drive sort of straight down a hill and into a town head first) into the town and found a carpark. The bloke who gave us our ticket was very helpful and headed us in the right direction. It was a bright sunny and clear day, but (as every day is here) cold. We wandered down through the town. It sort of folds into a long footpath (no cars after a certain point) with houses and buildings leaning down into this footpath. The kids had to eat (holy hell; I’m so over this) so we bought them slices of pizza and made our way through the pedestrian tunnel and through to the train station, the ticket office and the beginning of the walk (called, at this point, the Via dell’Amore – the Road of Love). At the tourist/ticket office, we discovered that we could walk to the second town (Manarola) but the paths to the other towns were closed. Oh well. One town sounded fine. And the kids were thrilled because the first town was pretty close, and the others were a long way away, and they are never really happy about long, long walks.
We bought our tickets (these are for the national park, but they check them on your way through to the first part of the walk).
And then we were walking along a path that spread the Ligurian Sea at our feet. It was overwhelmingly blue; the kind of blue that makes you want to dive head first into it; the kind of blue that make you think that the world will go forever; the kind of blue that gives you a thirst.
Myles had been saying that he thought he was becoming immune to new sights of beauty; that he had seen too much. But this was something new, something that he felt he could respond to. The path was even, paved neatly with white stones and as we walked along it, we agreed again at how blessed we have been. The most sublime weather with sun gazing with love upon us, this incredibly landscape and no tourists. We were literally the only people on the path with the exception of some people sitting in the sun reading books or soaking up a tan. It was our solitude to devour and savour and we loved every minute. At every hundred metres or so there was a marble plaque celebrating some great lover, or icon of love – Eros, Paris (I took a photo – it didn’t say Paris actually, but Paride). And on every fence or gate or even wire, there were dozens – hundreds – of locks with the names of lovers. Just like in Paris. I like this idea very much. Zelda is slightly disturbed by it. She worries that if you fall out of love or you are betrayed, that you have to come all the way back to unlock the lock. I can see what she means, but anticipating the end at a beginning is a bit sad.
In about half an hour, we found ourselves in Manarola. It is another little town clinging to the side of a cliff, determined not to slide into the sea. All around the town are terraces growing mostly vines (though I’m sure there are other crops too) and photos of the people who work these fields. It must be back breaking, climbing what looks to be hundreds of metres to cut, by hand, grapes. And the sun must be fierce in summer and autumn. It was strong for us; and this was mid winter. We walked on passed Manarola. We knew that the path was closed but we wanted to see how far we could go. It turned out to be not too far, but we did see more of the sea, the clear water that you can look right down into and see the bottom.
We were forced to turn back and go into Manarola. Not that this was any hardship.
These towns are closed during this time. I can see (and we were told by some of the local people we spoke with when we had lunch) that it would be wall to wall people in summer. Every building it seemed was advertising rooms for rent, and every other building was some kind of restaurant or shop. Most were closed at this time of the year; in Manarola, there was only one place open. So in we went and sat with some local men who were eating and watching the news on the TV. The woman at the counter spoke exceptional English and we ordered lots of food. On the TV, the cruise ship that had run aground because the captain was a first class idiot was all over the news. We couldn’t take our eyes of it.
Back on our walk through the towns, we were charmed beyond belief to see a nativity scene on the hill side that involved not only the holy family and the wise men, but also dolphins and sea horses. There were more boats than cars or indeed people on the streets. The buildings are all painted a variety of colours – yellows and pinks and reds. And the hills all rose before us, with neat stripes organising the farming.
Myles decided that he could live here; all that water and sun, and no cars and the amazing quiet (though probably only at this time of the year). We liked the dogs we saw too; a fantastic sausage dog with a very cute jacket on.
With some regret, we walked back along the Via dell’ Amore and into Riomaggiore. Back at the car we decided to drive to some of the other towns. While they were not accessible by foot, you could drive to them. So we began to do so, along roads that were cut in impossible ways into the side of the hills. It was both breathtaking and nerve racking and after about half an hour, we decided to turn back home. It was a place to explore on foot, we decided. And we would return to do the whole thing at some point. Perhaps when it was hot (with thousands of others) so we could go to the beach in the fourth town (I think) and lie languid in the water after our long walk.
It was getting dark as we drove home. Zelda thought that it took much longer this way around. Perhaps she was right.
It was our last night in Vicopisano. We cooked everything in the cupboards. Inspired by the food in Siena the day before, I did potatoes sliced, boiled and then baked with very juicy cherry tomatoes and onions and garlic, in olive oil. There was fried fennel and an already cooked chicken, and the left overs of salad and beans and a dozen other things. It was great eating; potatoes are such a frontier in cooking. There is never a dull moment.
We watched some courtroom drama about a young woman who had been horribly threated in an asylum in the 1940s in Baltimore. Unlikely, I know, but somehow quite gripping. And then, parking and organising and thinking about showering the whole family, and failing too. And then going to bed; but everyone was wired and Niccolo wandering about for much of the early part of the night, and me and Myles reading until our bells (we have come to think of them as our bells) chimed in their precise and somehow dour way, 12 midnight. It was to be a long drive tomorrow – all the way from Tuscany to the Amalfi coast.

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