And on to Vernazza…where we slow down.

22 01 2009

We left Barcelona early in the morning on September 6th and spent the entire day on trains.  The first train took us from Barcelona to Montpellier, where I found an internet café and was able to get us a room in Nice and touch base with the families for the first time.  On the train from Montpellier to Nice I somehow ended up sitting in the backwards seat and I hate that (okay…I lost rock, paper, scissors), but either way you face, the scenery along the way is breathtaking.

Once we got to Nice and checked in to our hotel, we ate dinner at L’Ybane.  We started with a big salad Nicoise that probably could have been enough — but we ordered more.  I had spaghetti with shrimp and Chris ordered a variety of mezes.  The restaurant seemed quite trendy but the food really was just average.  It was nice sitting outside though…and getting to hear a little French on this trip.  We strolled around after dinner, down to the water, then up to a place called Pinnochio for ice cream.  The next day, after a café au lait and pain d’ chocolate we boarded our first train of the day.  We stopped for a bit in Genoa and boarded a different train to La Spezia.  In La Spezia, we got on our last train of the day — the Regionale train that would take us to Vernazza.  

We finally make it to Vernazza– and it is simply wonderful.  When we arrived, we walked around the Piazza Marconi and located each of the places I had checked off in my guidebook as good lodging options, but they were all booked.  However, one of the people who had no rooms hooked me up with someone else who did have a room and, after checking it out, we agreed to take it.  It was perfect — Catarina Rooms.  The room is just off the square, through a passageway, up many steps. 

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When you open the door you walk immediately up a bunch of steps and there was a bed, a sofa, a table and chairs, a bathroom, and a window looking out into the carruggioor alley between the buildings.  No TV,  no AC, and I wouldn’t have it any other way — both of those would be completely unnecessary here. 

After setting our stuff down we put on our swimsuits and headed out to the water.  Even though there’s no real beach — just big rocks going down to the water — it’s full of people.  There are kids and adults alike lounging in the sun and playing in the cold water.

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The first night we ate at Ristorante al Castello.  First, this is the most amazing view I’ve ever enjoyed at dinner, surrounded by the sea, on a cliff…the floor was even sloping a bit.  I took this shot from the table (made Chris get out of the way).

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This is looking out to my right.

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Here is a view of the restaurant from the piazza — the red and green at the top.

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We had delicious DELICIOUS anchovies marinated in lemon juice to start and a fantastic Vino de la Cinque Terre (white).  Already at this point I know that life is good.  For my main course I devoured a plate of pesto spaghetti and Chris had spaghetti “on the rocks” (shrimp, mussels, clams).  For dessert we shared a tiramisu-like cake — not really sure what it was, but the waiter told us we’d love it and we did.

On our first full day in the Cinque Terre, we woke up and enjoyed a pastry and cappuccino on the Piazza Marconi then took the boat over to Monterosso.  We had read this town was great for lounging on the beach and it did not disappoint. 

I took this photo from the boat as we were leaving Vernazza.

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Getting further away from Vernazza…the hillsides are terraced and covered with grapes, tomatoes, lemons…

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I took this photo in the direction of the other three Cinque Terre towns.

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And now we are approaching Monterosso…

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We rented two chairs and umbrellas and planted ourselves on the beach for the day, getting up occasionally to take a dip in the cold water — so invigorating — or to walk into town for nourishment.  For lunch we got a few slices of pizza from Il Fronteio.  Simple, and absolutely fantastic. 

We hiked back to Vernazza along the trail that connects all of the towns.  The hike was long, hot, and a little strenuous (lots of steps!!) but absolutely beautiful.  I know I keep saying that, but seriously, it is breathtaking here.  Here are some shots from the hike.

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And here we have almost made it back to Vernazza…

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We had dinner that night at Ristorante del Capitano on the square, and not to sound like a broken record, it was fantastic.  I don’t know if environment can make food taste better, or whether spending the day on the beach and then getting in a good hike can do the same, but it was fabulous.  Our waiter must have been in his 80s – he was this adorable old guy who started us off with a carafe of white wine which, he told us, “I make-a myself.”  We started out with a fruti dimare plate — mussels, anchovies in lemon (I love what they do to anchovies here), stuffed anchovies, fried octopus, and seafood salad.  For the first time I realize I actually love octopus.  I have never liked it much before despite trying it many times — it has always been chewy.  Not this.  Not at all.  For my main course I had big raviolis filled with spinach and ricotta in a walnut sauce.  Chris had octopus with potatoes, olives, and butter and olive oil.  SO GOOD!  For dessert, we both had a sciacchetra, a local dessert wine (I must figure out how to get this here, oh my) and shared a panne cotta with strawberries and gelato with almonds and chocolate sauce (as the waiter said, “we make-a 2 times a day”).  Then the waiter, who would stop by every so often and say something like “You good?  You stay as long as you like” brought us two limoncinos — he said we had to try this as well because it was not so fancy and expensive as sciacchetra.  I like the sweet lemon too.    What a great dinner, and a great dining experience.  As we were winding down, we were lucky enough to catch a performance on the square — looked like all of the little girls in the town doing songs and dances for their families, including a song from the Little Mermaid in Italian.  It was great!  After dinner, we dragged ourselves up the many steps to our room and crashed, full and happy.

The next day started out exactly the same as the first day…after cappuccinos and pastries we took the boat to Monterosso, lounged in the sun, swam in the cold water, and ate pizza for lunch.  This time, however, we took the boat back to Vernazza.  After gelatos and a nap, we headed to Gambero Rosso for dinner, eager to see if our streak of amazing meals will continue.  Gambero Rossowas not quite as good as the other two dinners we’d had here, but in many ways I wonder how it could be.  The bar had been set really high.  We started out with a mixed seafood appetizer — five separate plates (anchovies with lemon, stuffed mussels, fried anchovies, and two others I forgot to write down).  For my entree I had five different fried fish.  As I write that down now I wonder how that could have been true — but, it’s what I wrote down!  I also wrote down that it was really only so-so.  Chris had a short pasta with pesto.  Also so-so.  We enjoyed sciacchetras after dinner and Chris had a cake soaked in sciacchetra and lemon ice cream with chocolate sauce.  I got a gelato from one of the many gelaterias off the square for my dessert and enjoyed it while strolling about.  Tonight is our last night in Vernazza.  I must figure out how to spend about three months a year here.  I feel as if I have arrived at a level of relaxation I have never before known.

One last thing I love about Vernazza– the cats.  Of course I took photos of them!  If you look closely in this first one, you’ll notice a sly cat who thinks we can’t see him sitting on the other side of the door.

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I just noticed…is this the same one?

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Even the cats are relaxed here.

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The Cinque Terre — you relax, swim, sun, eat, drink, stroll, nap, there are no cars, no loud noises…can life get any better?