Sunday, June 12, 2011

Italy: Part One

My travels to Italy in late May 2011 were a combination of business and pleasure. I had to teach a watercolor workshop at Il Chiostro in early June, so I decided to make my second trip to Italy more comprehensive. The first time I saw the country was as a chaperone for my daughter's Latin club trip during spring break; the teacher had an itinerary that would make a soldier quake in his boots. We saw a LOT of Italy in five days, but we marched from 6 am until midnite, swooping past towns like birds in flight, dropping a few Euros along the way. While the trip was grand, and the kids were fantastic (seriously, they were too tired to misbehave, but the teacher knew what he was doing), I was exhausted. This time, I decided, I would do Italy right and take my time to enjoy the scenery, the gelatto, the wine and the people.

I flew into Pisa with my husband, John, and my good friend, Eleanor. The Pisa airport is small, manageable, and easy to understand, plus, it's closest to the Cinque Terre,along the Italian Riviera, where I planned to go first to relax and wind down before my workshop. Like every other tourist, I had to save the leaning tower from falling into a crumbling pile. Here's an obligatory shot.....

After one morning in Pisa, which is all the traveler really needs, we boarded a local train to the Cinque Terre. I don't really want to expound upon this too much, because I'd like to return to these villages along the sea, and I don't want too many tourists to discover the magic beauty of the place. We rented an apartment at the top of the little village of Vernazza from Franco. The apartment was lovely, clean and....very high. Thank goodness Franco and his strong friend, Marco, helped get our luggage up to the top. After that, though, we were on our own. Up and down, and down and up and back again we climbed and climbed and climbed. At the end of the day, we would reward ourselves with the best gelatto around (it's at the Gelateria Stalin); we also enjoyed the food and entertainment at Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre, which is owned by twin brothers from Sicily who missed their true calling as stand up comedians. The food at Il Pirata is very good, and the Sicilian desserts are even better. The breakfast at their restaurant is supposed to be stellar, but since we were in Italy, trying to live "la vita dolce," we never found the energy to walk down from the top of Vernazza to the other end to try the morning menu out. A final night was spent at the very top of Vernazza, at the Ristorante Al Castello, enjoying wine with a view of the mountains dipping into the Mediterranean sea.

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