Cinque Terre, The Italian Riviera

Vernazza from above
May 16: Vernazza from the path to Monterosso, Cinque Terre

In May, 2007 we visited Italy with a couple of long time friends. We stayed centrally in Rome for a few nights before joining our Insight Vacations bus tour of central Italy. When the tour ended Anita and I did more self directed travel:

  1. Bus to Siena, not in our Insight itinerary.
  2. Bus Siena to Florence mainly to see the Ufizzi Museum and wander that fabulous city on our own using a day bus pass.
  3. Train Firenze to La Spezia, the rail connection for the five towns on Italy’s riviera, the gorgeous Cinque Terre.

May 16: We got off the Cinque Terre train from La Spezia in Vernazza, the 4th Terre from  La Spezia, found a nice B&B and then relaxed and watched the huge waves crash into the breakwater. They sometimes flowed under the restaurant tables, forcing the patrons to raise their legs and, gently cry out, “Ooohhh.” We watched an ambitious photographer who recklessly stood on the wall get drenched. She was lucky not to be knocked down. Vernazza is Rick Steve’s favourite terre. After we walked a little distance along the slopes N and S of the town. The next morning we ate an early breakfast and took the train S to Riomaggiore.

May 17 – THE Breakfast: Our host at Camera Fontana Vecchia had recommended a few places nearby to eat. We selected one, called Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre, that was run by two Sicilian brothers. It specializes in pastries. We stood at the counter and Anita pointed to what she wanted. Massimo, one brother, said to wait. Anxious to start our day, we pointed again to what we wanted. Once more he pressed us: “Wait 5 minutes, then you can have what is in there!” He pointed to Rick Steves’ Italy Guidebook in my hand. I didn’t know Il Pirata was even listed in Rick Steves! We waited for the cannoli with risotto cheese. Sooo glad we did. We had stumbled into one of the best Italian pastry spots on the Planet and the best restaurant in Vernazza!

After the train S to Riomaggiore we walked back N on the path that leads through all five Terres and visited Riomaggiore’s neighbour, Manarola. Waiting for the train to Corniglia in Manarola I was impressed by the speed, wind and noise with which a train passed through – so close to us. I had my VCR ready to catch the next one when a man on a bench pointed South and said “There. Now!” In less than a minute I shot the next northbound train rocketing through and thanked him. We conversed until we got off in Corniglia, having learned that he was Corniglia’s stationmaster. He told us we had time to take the small bus to the upper village and still catch the train for Vernazza. So we did. Then, around noon, back down at the station waiting for the Vernazza train, we met a Californian woman named Teresa and, before the train came, I heard “Bob” shouted from a window in a nearby apartment building. The master, Valerio, was beckoning us to come and eat lunch with him. We asked if Teresa could come and he said “Yes.”

The Two “Sisters”: He served us a delightful pasta and salad lunch that he had cooked and offered us homemade red wine. Teresa, wearing a loose, modest white dress and behaving a little cautiously, also declined the wine. He asked if she was a Sister. Anita laughed, since our tour guide in Pompeii had asked her, dressed modestly, and coolly, in white, the same thing before taking us through the brothel, not wanting a religious nun to be surprised by the visual menu offered in racy murals on the ancient whorehouse walls.

Pompeii Brothel Selection
One Pompeii Brothel Selection – May 12 – With Tour Group

After lunch Teresa, Anita and I caught the next train for Vernazza. Facing a sea of tourists at the station wanting to board our train so anxiously that they were preventing our exit, I assertively called out “Please let us off! I have two “sisters” with me.”

We collected our luggage and caught the train back to La Spezia. From there another train brought us, past the famous marble quarries of Carrara, back to Rome for our last night in Italy.


Camino Santiago – April 2013

Pyrenees Horses, April 26
Last photo taken in the French Pyrenees on April 26, 2013. After snapping these horses I put my camera away. We were soaking wet.

Our Camino Santiago began on April 25, 2013 in St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, French Pyrenees. The weather April 25 was beautiful. Perfect for hiking, meditating and snapping photos. We spent the  night of April 25 in the “honeymoon suite,” a tiny but private room at the Refugio Orisson, eight kilometres from, and about 800 meters higher than, our starting place in St.-Jean. Note: we did not ask for, or even have a clue about, the “suite,” the boss at reception just gave it to us.

April 26 was a mystical, but scary, experience. We set off very early and were careful to follow the well-marked trail with its yellow arrows. A mistake could have caused a sad mishap. Anita had sent her pack ahead to Roncesvalles’ public refugio; a wise decision that turned out to be…

Camino marker - French Pyrenees
Camino marker West of Orisson

Photos 3 and 4 in the set below show just the start of our walk from the Refugio Orisson across the mountains into Spain, where we had a night booked at the Hotel Roncesvalles. It was cold and very wet – a fine, persistent rain that did not let up. I put my Sony NEX-5N DSLR camera away after shooting the beautiful horses. It was already damp just from condensation when I removed it to shoot. Terrible visibility caused us to miss the Statue of the Virgin, a landmark that overlooks the valley no more than 30 metres from the trail, even though I knew when we were passing it! Continue reading “Camino Santiago – April 2013”

48 Christmases Ago…

Living in Vancouver, cash-strapped, in 1968 I wanted to get home to Montreal for Christmas. My sister had a brand new son born on December 10 and my parents lived on Queen Mary Road.

I and another young fellow named Don traveled with Dave and Kathy B. from Vancouver to Toronto in their VW station wagon. Don and I had answered a posted ad offering a ride if gas costs and driving were shared. Only Dave and Kathy knew each other prior to the trip. The drive East to Toronto was completed in just 61.5 hours!

On the way there Dave wanted to avoid the Trans Canada Highway north of Lake Superior and suggested crossing to the American side and going south of Superior through N. Dakota and Duluth, Minnesota crossing into Canada at Sault Ste. Marie. Don argued that the road would be hellishly icy either way – and he was right but Dave was the boss. It was a white-knuckle ride all night. The VW had tires with metal studs, still allowed everywhere in Canada in those days. This did not make it safer – the studs simply allowed us to drive fast without facing certain death.

Dave dropped off Don and me, both from Montreal, at Union Station. The two Montrealers then rode together on a CN train from Toronto to Montreal. On that part of the journey Don told me that he was carrying marijuana. He then revealed that, during our two border crossings and our time south of the border, I had been carrying it in my left jacket pocket! Continue reading “48 Christmases Ago…”

Fidel Castro

Rebelde Fidel
El Morro – Santiago da Cuba (photo from 2010 Cuba Trip)

I have long admired Fidel Castro, who did much to bring world-class literacy and health care to all Cubans and to countries in need. Fidel, who died on November 25, was no saint, but I believe a pure idealist would never have had the strength to withstand the pressures, the attempts on his life and the crippling, decades-long embargo applied by the USA.

I have been to Cuba twice. The second time, in 2010, my wife and I traveled widely on the island by public bus and stayed with local people in their homes.

I have posted on Cuba and on Fidel Castro previously here:

Cuba – A Reflection in 2010 (Re-posted in 2012 from a blog since closed)

On Fidel Castro