Friday, 12 June 2009
Yesterday (Tuesday) we made our way from Pisa to the countryside of Tuscany. It was a welcome change. Pisa was a somewhat grungy city, grey and graffiti ridden, lacking the joy of Cinque Terre. We hopped a train at Pisa Central and an hour later we were arriving at Gallicano, a quiet little Tuscan town at the base of a beautiful mountainside.
The train station appeared to have only one employee who sold the tickets, provided information, called the taxis and whatever else was needed. When we inquired about a taxi she offered to call the owner of the Bed and Breakfast where we held our reservation. Not long after Umberto, the owner, arrived to personally take us to his home. It is a beautiful, old house, 7 km up the mountain, with a breathtaking “panoramic view,” as Umberto proudly describes it. There are beamed ceilings, antique furnishings, a pool and patio. After settling in our room we headed out to find the pizzeria Umberto suggested for dinner. It is in fact the only restaurant near his little village, a 1 km and 600 meters walk back down the mountain.
I suppose the food was worth the hike, delicious as usual, but I did not look forward to the trek back up. We passed several B&B’s on our way and I wondered aloud why we didn’t stay at one that was closer to the food. We made the hike without stopping since night was falling fast and the little road had no streetlights. I’ll take the sirens, barking and occasional loud neighbors of the city over the silent, pitch-black darkness of the country any night. Several of the places we passed had grapevines growing in the yard which prompted Leroy to again insist how easy it would be to start a vineyard in our inner city neighborhood. Oh, Lord.
Monday, 8 June 2009
Plans for Sunday were to continue our hike of the cities of Cinque Terre but fortunately Leroy agreed to spend the day at the beach instead (enough with the hiking already!). Our first day of blue skies and sunshine since our arrival at Cinque Terre demanded a day of play in the water and lounging in beach chairs along the rocky shore. Thankfully, a relaxing paperback provided a welcome distraction from the numerous grey-headed men in Speedos.
Later we enjoyed another delicious meal at a beachside bar. In Italy a bar is a small local shop serving a light meal, snacks, drinks and coffee. Meals are different here. Food is savored, conversation enjoyed. There is no hurry. Waiters come only when called. “Happy Hour” includes an assortment of folks gathered in the village square to laugh and converse. Children run and play. Groups of women and groups of men are seen chatting leisurely, seemingly enjoying the company of friends and family.
After sunset we walked some interesting trails, taking pictures of the full moon and nightlife. At one point Leroy disappeared up a dark path, curious about where it led. I declined to follow. I don’t have that kind of need to know. After a few minutes I called after him with no response. He reappeared just as I was planning how to break the news to the children. I’ve seen enough movies to know how these things can turn out. I’m an American city girl. We don’t go into the darkness looking for the man you warned not to go there. Fortunately it all turned out well. Ciao Bella.
Monday brought a change of scenery from the beautiful beaches of Cinque Terre to the fast life of the city in Pisa. We arrived into Pisa and the familiar sounds of the city, we checked into the hotel and headed to the leaning tower. The 20-minute walk there from the Hotel was interesting as we passed many street venders through the familiar small streets. We crossed the river and there it was the leaning tower of Pisa. It was leaning a lot more than I expected. I don’t know what I thought it would look like but it was another great site. It is hard to believe this structure was built in the 15th century and still stands tall (except for the lean) today. We headed back to the hotel after viewing and took in Dinner with more amazing food and wine. I have no idea how I am going to eat Italian food in the states again after the great meals here. We are off to Tuscany tomorrow.
Sunday, 7 June 2009
Saturday we decided to walk our way through Cinque Terre, which is 5 cities all within a few miles tucked into the mountains along Italy’s coast. The scenery is amazing. There is a path that leads to all 5 complete with murals (although not as good as the Sweet South Atlanta mural but they were ok) We started in Riomaggiore walked through Manarola and ended up a few hours later in Corniglia. Once we got to Corniglia we decided to call it quits and hopped on the train back to Monterossa. These cities are small yet full of beauty, and culture. We watched children playing soccer, women working in small shops, and men in the Barber shop all nestled into small winding streets with clothes hanging out to dry from the porches of most homes. It’s like beauty and simplicity are tied together here in a wonderfully creative way that leads one to dream. You almost lose track of time except it were for the wonderful chimes reminding you that the day is moving along as they ring each hour from the clock towers in each city.
Leroy (the King)
Of course, as we hiked along the footpath between the villages of Cinque Terre, Leroy got to dreaming. At one point, upon noticing the vineyards planted up the side of the mountain, there was the epiphany that we could plant grape vines in the south Atlanta community garden and produce our own neighborhood wine. I insisted that it was improbable since none of us know anything about planting or caring for vineyards. As usual he failed to see any problem with his idea and was certain that it could be done. Personally, I don’t think a vineyard the size of our small plot could produce enough grapes for even a good glass of wine. But, again, what do I know?
Saturday, 6 June 2009
Day three in Paris was a slower one Donna needed to sleep in because of our walking and 4 hour bike tour yesterday that was amazing. We got to see a lot of Paris. Bikes and scooters are a part of life here. We biked through the crowded streets for hours and the tour guide seemed amazingly comfortable with the cars and traffic. There were no helmets either. You can rent a bike anywhere in the city and it does not seem odd to drivers.
This is an amazing place and looks just liked it is portrayed in movies’ and books., Small streets, sidewalk café’s, small cars, and great French bakeries everywhere. The open-air market was really cool. I hope our market in South Atlanta can have the same community feel.
I am struck by the history here as well, we went to the champ-elysees which is what the Ben Franklin parkway in Philly is modeled after it was a bit eerie to see how much it looks like the parkway in Philly where I have watched fireworks on the 4th of July many years. This is a lot older than the parkway, and the pictures of Ben Franklin create a different perspective on him, to know he was duplicating what was a piece of home to him in a new place called Philadelphia changes things just a bit.
Then there was the monument that looks exactly like the Washington monument that leads to a walk past a reflecting pool up to the Louvre which is where the King’s of France lived, also looks exactly like the Washington monument and walk to the Capital, also not original. This doesn’t take anything away from those things just let’s me know that even the great US has a foundation from which it came like all of us, although we don’t like to admit it; where we come from plays a huge role in our lives everyday.
The Eiffel tower sits as this overwhelming structure in the midst of the city. The elevator up to the top is worth the price alone. Then there is the view of Paris that just gives you goose bumps. It made me feel really small. Donna says it helps me to know I can’t really take over the world, perhaps but I sure felt like I was on top of it from there.
The place of the day had to be Note Dame. It was incredible to stand in front of this massive Church and almost feel the history touch your soul. Its presence alone was enough to take your breath away. The idea of presence takes on new meaning when you look at this Church. It has stood in this place as a refuge for centuries. The massive wooden doors give the sense of safety. I can see why people ran here for protection. The parish of Notre Dame is quite visible and a major part of the history and community of this city. I know we are not into buildings, but you can feel the power of this place by just standing in front of it.
Well we are off to Italy. Au revoir.
The King (leroy means king in french) please refer to me this way from now on.