Monday, October 8, 2007

Levanto and the Cinque Terre, Italy

All is fine here. Drove Friday the 3rd from the Swiss border to just north of the Cinque Terre, at Levanto, Italy, right on the Mediterranean. About 300 kilometers/180 miles. Too tired when we got here to sightsee. Road down here was pretty hairy. Lots of tunnels, but old toll roads, like some of the old California freeways before they knew more about how much distance was needed for access ramps, etc., and awfully curvy....tunnels after tunnels again today, some several miles long, but none like the Swiss one that was 17 kilometers long. Our hats are off to the engineers who managed to build these roads and tunnels through Switzerland, and here on the west coast of Italy. Absolutely amazing work, as the roads either cling to the sides of steep, steep mountains, or burrow right through them.
All in all a very tiring day, challenging road, lots of traffic, and a more aggressive type of driver....I'm glad our comfort zone has greatly enlarged. We had trouble at first navigating in Amsterdam, and now Amsterdam looks like a quiet easy to travel in place next to what we are dealing with now. And of course, Rome is yet to come, the ultimate drive:( We do have lots of experience with Mexican drivers in Mexico, who see medians as excellent shortcuts through and past traffic, and drive like they all have frustrated race car driver instincts, and these Italian ones seem little different. The moped riders swoop through traffic at great speeds. We watched one out on the toll road at about sixty miles per hour, threading his way through a jam of big trucks.....just amazing. Tom was incredibly glad to finally find and arrive at the campground safe and sound, however. He still has his edge, and can drive like an Italian (sort of, but a VW Campervan is no match for a moped or a fast Fiat sedan) when necessary, but it does take a lot out of him these days.
We are now in Levanto, east of Genoa along the Mediterranean in an area called the Cinque Terre (ching-kway ter-ri). There are five villages that cling to the cliffs over the Mediterranean, and a train links them, and the "auto strade" road above them. They are also linked by traditional and now much upgraded foot trails. Saturday we took the train to the southermost one, Riomaggiore and walked about 1.5 km west to Manarola, which is a flat and easy trail. We spent the day sightseeing, walking around observing and enjoying local life and enjoying stops on benches and at sidewalk cafes. The train pops out of a tunnel right at the station, then plunges back into the mountain until the next village. The whole area is terraced with hand laid stone terraces where the houses, the vineyards, gardens and olive groves cling to the mountain sides from the sea upward several thousand feet. The entire area is designated a national park and protected.
This area and much of the province Liguria was a source of early 19th and 20th century emmigration from Italy to the US when blights, fungus and insect attacks destroyed much of the vineyard culture. Today so much is as it always has been, and life goes on in the villages; anchovy fishing was also a traditional staple for several of the villages here in the Cinque Terre and today fishing for the tourists is a good complement.
Everywhere you look is another postcard view. Sunday was spent in much the same manner picking up in another village and walking on to the next and taking the train back to Levanto. Only Sunday, we had lots of company! Not only had some other tourists arrived, but the traditional Sunday "go for a ride" traffic from Genoa and other metro areas brought hundreds of additional walkers and diners. Here in Italy, Sunday meals with family are a real tradition and an all day affair. It was wonderful with lots of music, chatter and laughter in all the seaside village restaurants.
Monday we spent relaxing, catching up on some laundry and taking a nice afternoon swim in the Mediterranean. The water was a bit "refreshing" at probably 75F, and very salty. All around us the only language we heard was German, as they were the only other folks in the water. Many Italians were sunbathing on the beach, but only a few entered the water.
Earlier on the weekend Tom scored an International Herald Tribune and Nancy a Newsweek International Edition, so at breaktime we had a nice pot of tea and a cappucino and a dish of gelato accompanied the reading of the paper in a sidewalk cafes as we made the walks. It also helped a bit with the beginning twinges of those homesick feelings. We both find ourselves thinking of our little home with quite a nice feeling, and the comfortable bed and recliner. Our old 1981 VW Van had a comfortable bed, but this one was designed by torturers! We both wakeup with the creaks and groans from sleeping around the bar and gap in this 45 inch wide bed. Next time we check the bed first before agreeing to long term rental. But mileage wise, this VW van does pretty well with a 4 cylinder turbo diesel that averages about 30 mpg. And at average $6.30/gallon of diesel, that's very important.
That's it for now. Tomorrow we head off for Pisa and Siena before making the final approach to Rome.
Happy trails from Levanto... tom and nancy

Photo 1: View of old Levanto near campground, 13th century church and tower in view; photo 2: Laundry day in campground by our little house of wheels; tom and nancy with Manarola, Liguria, IT, in background.

1 comment:

ourbusandus said...

It looks like you are in a beautiful area, enjoy yourselves! 75 degree water, how nice. Nancy, I hope you're back is doing okay, judging by all the walking you are doing, guess you are.

Hugs, Sharon & Ron