Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Italian Riviera at Santa Margherita ..... Aug 2010

18 - 23 August 2010

Buildings of Santa Margherita
We arrived into the harbour at Santa Margherita after a steady sail up the Cinque Terra coast from La Grazie. The wind was from the south east, straight through the entrance gap so we tucked in as close as we could next to the moored boats to get out of the swell. We were amazed there were no other boats at anchor but happy to have plenty of room.

Santa Marghertia is a a lovely town, it is centre piece of the Levente Rivieria, the area between famous Portofino just to the west and Rapello to the east, known as the playground to Italy's very rich and famous, especially through summer. We spent 5 nights tucked up in the harbour, the weather still not completely settled after the big storm we had had days earlier in La Grazie. We enjoyed excursions ashore, wandering the streets and promenading on the waterfront with hundreds of Italians. Again we heard very few non Italian speakers, where have all the foreign tourists gone?
More great nibbles for happy hour

One afternoon, between showers, we caught the bus the short distance to Rapello, although in an attractive spot it had very busy shopping area and everyone had come out to play while the sun shone. We returned to the more sleepy Santa Margherita and enjoyed a harbour view table for happy hour, but of course the harbour view is included in the drinks price, 21Euro for 2 large beers and a wine, but we saved on dinner as the free nibbles were so good we didn't need anything else to eat!!

When the clouds cleared one afternoon we grabbed the camera and took to the streets. The buildings here were quite unusual, in the top photo you can see they are freshly painted, with the stone corners, window arches and facades all painted in complementing colours. However, these facades are all painted on and the buildings are all plastered and flat, and they just paint all the designs on them, even very old ones that hadn't been restored were the same, all just painted on. They must have some very talented painters around here, it must take months to complete each building.
Cute changing sheds in Santa Margherita

On another afternoon we did the coastal walk around to beautiful Portofino. The walk is just lovely, the houses are tucked away discreetly in the trees. Actually to call them houses does not accurately describe them, most were castles, converted forts, villas, and most set back with total privacy afforded by the dense tree cover in the whole area. We followed the quiet coast road around, in and out of the few small bays enroute until we were above Portofino and looking down through the trees into the small harbour there. It is just so so beautiful and will be displayed fully in the next blog update.

Balvenie in Santa Margherita's harbour
Eventually we moved on, the clock is ticking and we need to keep making progress further west. We tied up to a mooring buoy in the small bay of San Fruittuoso, and took the opportunity to dinghy across and snorkel over the 4 metre high Statue of Christ which has been placed in the bay in about 15 metres of water. Visibility was good so we were able to see the statue, no one seems to know why it was ever placed there.

Enroute back to Balvenie we were intercepted by the mooring ball fee collector, Mark played his "but we have sailed all the way from New Zealand to see your beautiful country" card, it has worked time and time, - no charge again today!

Cruising info for Santa Margherita and San Fruittuoso, Italy:-
Santa Margherita - 44 20.029N 09 13.005E 5.7m sand We kept close to the moored boats for better protection and it kept us out of the way of the ferries, they are frequent all day but don't create much wash
San Fruittuoso - 44 18.832N 09 10.364E There were several big white mooring buoys with lines attached in that area. Over the other side of the bay are several little dinghy moorings where we tied the dinghy while we snorkeled. The statue was easy enough to find. Normal charge we think was 10Euro for an hours stop for the mooring buoy
Communications - WIND Dongle and TIM on phone worked well
Ashore - Take dinghy in to the right of where the ferries are going and tie off to concrete wall close in (too shallow for bigger boats so out of harms way). Everything you need, 2 ok supermarkets quite hard to find and describe (go walkabout!!). English newspapers. ATM machines. Diesel pump end of harbour on right 1.25Euro per litre. 500ml beer 7Euro on waterfront but heaps of free nibbles. Dinner of 2 Pizzas half litre carafe wine and service 35Euro on waterfront. Pre purchase bus tickets from kiosk on main road running along waterfront - 1.20Euro each for Rapello or Portofino

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Rainy days with Friends and Candlelit Port Venere

Sipping on Rothschild Champagne with Helen and David
13 - 18 August 2010

We were still in La Grazie, and despite the recent dreadful weather, still enjoying it. After the mega thunderstorm we hoped things would improve but we awoke Friday morning after just a couple of hours sleep to overcast skies, drizzle, the muddiest anchorage you have ever seen, but rather a nice clean boat! By midday our friends Helen and David arrived, the skies had cleared enough to have a catchup cafe latte ashore and dinghy back to the boat without getting wet. This was not quite the experience we were hoping to give them, and late evening they learnt first hand that this is not all "boozing, cruising and snoozing", when a nearby yacht took off in a violent gust of wind and all hands were required on deck to fend them off.

Saturday's weather was no better, but we are all waterproof so before cabin fever set in we headed around to Porto Venere in the rain. It was chaos ashore, the roads were washed out in several places with landslides and flooding, large trees had fallen, everything was covered in mud - the storm had been very severe. We soldiered on in the rain, amazingly there were other hardy tourists out as well, and we enjoyed our excursion despite the weather. We even ventured out again for pasta in a local trattoria for dinner, making the best of the inclement weather. On Sunday it was marginally better, sadly this hadn't been a great long weekend break for Helen and David but they excepted it well and it was great to have time to catch up with them. Next time we promise them sunshine and clear blue seas.
The best ever pesto in Porto Venere 

We thought about leaving but there was still quite a swell running plus a festival advertised on Tuesday night in Porto Venere, such a shame to miss out, so we had a couple of days at leisure. So on Tuesday we joinedJohn and Robin off Panthera and their guestsRoger and Judith, all kiwis from the Waikato, and we got the bus back around to Porto Venere and joined in the festivities. We started with happy hour on the waterfront, it was very big mistake to order the drinks without checking the prices first but you learn the hard way (we really all should have known by now), 2 rounds of drinks comprising in total of 6 medium tap beers and a litre of house wine set us back 66Euro, but you should have seen the nibbles - they were amazing, we had a great drink, in a lovely setting with excellent company and didn't really need dinner so we didn't moan .... too much!!!
Judith, John, Mark, Robin and Amanda, Porto Venere

It was a religious festival involving the carrying of cross through the candlelit village, but it wasn't just the village lit by candles, it was all the headland, down the cliff face to the water, out to the church and up to the castle, it just looked like a fairyland. We were so lucky with the weather, although still very cloudy there was no rain or wind. We decided on a picnic dinner and while we queued with hundreds of others for takeout focaccia slices topped with various tasty ingredients the men bought local wines, had them opened and even got plastic glasses. We found a spot with a great view of the celebrations, settled in and enjoyed the evening. Stopping for gelatos on the way home finished off an excellent night out.
Porto Venere by candlelit, magic

There were no more excuses to stay, we had spent 10 nights in La Grazie, the worst of the weather had passed and there was enough wind forecast on Wednesday for us to sail up the coast. We said our farewells to all aboardPanthera we had very much enjoyed their company but we were heading in different directions, sadly more ships that pass in the night! Wednesday morning was gloomy again but it was time to move on so we lifted anchor and headed once again for Porto Venere, this time by water. We had already watched many yachts go through the pass there but it was very shallow so we took it slowly and made it through. Unfortunately we were then out of the shelter of the land and hit the swell and waves which had definitely built on those we had seen the the previous night. We motored out to sea, raised sails and headed north up the Cinque Terra coast. The wind was on the beam and the seas not so bad once we cleared land, so we sailed the 33 miles to our next destination of Santa Margherita.

Cruising info all on previous post

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Leaning Towers and the Cinque Terra..... Aug 2010

08 - 13 August 2010

Mark cuddling up to the locals

We were expecting friends the coming weekend so had decided to make La Grazie our base during their stay. There is so much to see and do in the area we had no trouble filling our days.

First off it was an excursion by bus around to the unofficial "6th Village" of the Cinque Terre (Five Lands or Five Villages). Porto Venere lies at the end of the headland past La Grazie and it is a delightful, colourful, scenic and historical place, everyone has been here - Romans, Byzantines, Lombards, Genovese and Napolean (of course!). We sampled fresh pesto, for which the village is famous for, on still warm focaccia bread in tiny backstreet lanes, climbed high up behind the houses to the towering 16th century Castello Doria, and stood in silence inside the most beautiful small 12th century Gothic style church, Chiesa di San Lorenzo. What a wonderful place.

Sadly it was time to say goodbye to our very dear friends Annie and Liam and their beautiful catamaran Gone with the Wind .  For those of you that have followed our journey you will know that we have been with them on and off now since 2006 in Darwin and we have spent over 50 anchorages in their company.  They are crossing the Atlantic this year so need to carry on faster than us, we will miss them very much and wish them very safe sailing and look forward to meeting them in a lagoon with gin clear waters, coconut palms ashore and the sound of steel drums in the distance.  A quote from Mark on their leaving "The only part of me that isn't sad to see them go is my liver!!!".  Farewell to our party friends.

Porto Venere's Castle and Church

Next up was Pisa, neither of us had been there before, so it was on "the list". We caught the bus to Le Spezia and then a train down to Pisa. We walked from the train station down through a main pedestrian street, the old buildings had deep overhanging stone canopies, making it all very cool and dark with an ancient feel it to. We carried on in the general direction of the tower on our map. We don't ever remember seeing photos showing the setting of the Leaning Tower, just the tower itself, and were totally surprised to find a huge open area outside the town centre, with the most beautiful white stone buildings gleaming in the sunshine.

The Leaning Tower is sited in la Piazza del Duomo, along with the buildings of theBapisteryCatherdral, Camposanto (indoor cemetery) and Museum, all circa 1064AD. The entire area is grassed, so the white stone shows brightly against the green grass and vivid blue skies. All the buildings were equally impressive but for some reason only the tower decided to fall over, therefore over the centuries making it very famous indeed. The Sinopie Museum had an excellent short video showing the work that has gone on trying to 'save' the tower from falling over completely, many years of labour have gone into stabilizing both the surrounding ground and the tower itself.
Pisa's tower is definitely still leaning!

We sat in the square, taking in the vista and enjoyed pizza in Pisa for lunch, then we bought a pass for the buildings and slowly made our way around them enjoying the architecture and history. In the Bapisteryevery half hour the door is closed and the ticket collector goes in the centre of the circular domed building and hums, the acoustics were just amazing - quietening even the noisy children!  The Camposantowas an interesting 'open air cemetery' enclosed by four walls but with no roof.  It held a collection of graves set into the floor, some as recent as this decade, of the very rich or famous we imagine.  It also housed some some beautiful statues,ancient headstones and sacophagus. The museum also showed statues, sculptures and artwork - the whole area held so much more than just the leaning tower and was really worth the visit.  We relaxed overlooking the square enjoying a local vino bianco before making our way back to the train, then bus to Balvenie.  An excellent days excursion.

Still so much to see in this wonderful area.  The following day we headed into Le Spezia once again and caught the train to Monterosso, the most northern of the five villages.  We stepped off the train and headed into what we expected to be a cute little remote village, accessible only by foot, boat or train.  The look of disbelief on both our faces was quite evident, the road ran along the shore, cars beeping at each other, a packed beach with everyone on sun loungers under matching sun umbrellas - this was not the Cinque Terra we thought we would see.  So we hit the trail south to the next village of Vernazza. 
Cinque Terra's very cute village of Vernazza

At this point it would have been good to remember that the Lonely Planet had mentioned that this 4km stretch of the walk "is particularly difficult with lots of ups and downs", oh well too late now.  Some time later, very hot and sweaty we arrived in the absolutely delightful village of Vernazza, now this was more like it.  Words really can't describe some of these wonderful little villages we have seen, they are ramshackle, falling apart, in desperate need of some tender loving care but that is the total charm of them, they are just wonderful - they would just not be the same if they were all replastered and painted, we love them and this one was great, even with the August crowds.

We wisely caught the train and connecting uphill bus to the next village of Corniglia set ever so high up in the hills, a tiny village with a huge vista, just a couple of very cute teeny lanes and not much more.  We had recovered from our morning exercise enough so walked the rest of the trail, next onto Manarola a reasonably flat walk hugging the coast and then finished off on the broadwalk "via dell Amore" (lovers lane) to the final village ofRiomaggiore. There have been thousands of padlocks placed on lovers lane, on the handrails, on the wire netting protecting walkers from the crumbling rockface, and any other spot a padlock can be locked.  The story goes that you show your love for your loved one by "locking it in place on lovers lane".
Time for pesto focaccia in Vernazza

We arrived in Riomaggiore just minutes before a train was due back to Le Spezia so didn't do the walk uphill (someone said there is a lift somewhere) into the village, we had had a great day and had seen nearly all there was to offer so decided to head on back and rest our weary bodies.

We were expecting a change in the weather with severe thunder storms forecast overnight, the anchorage was not very busy and we were happy that we would be ok to sit out whatever came our way in La Grazie, and so we waited.

By early evening the rain had started, the winds were not too bad, but we sat and watched the storm clouds getting closer and closer.  We could see the lightening, both sheet and fork, in the distance, willing it not to come our way, but with each crack of thunder it got closer and closer.  By now it was absolutely pouring down, probably the hardest rain we have ever had on the boat, and it went on and on and on.  The storms came closer, and as the lightening electrified the sky in time with the loudest crack of thunder overhead the wind died completely, the rain pelted down and we just sat and waited for it to pass.   Our friends were driving enroute from Switzerland, also experiencing severe flooding and thunderstorms, we hoped the storms would pass and Friday would dawn a brighter day.  

More to come on this wonderful area in the next installment ...
Padlocks on the "Via dell Amore" Cinque Terra
The Cinque Terra coastline

Cruising info for La Grazie, Italy:-
Anchorages - La Grazie 44 04.199N 09 50.413E 9.0m mud
Communications - Dongle and phones all had good signals
Ashore - La Grazie is very small but has an average supermarket, bakery (open mornings only and runs out of bread early), fruit and veg shop, deli, butcher and laundromat (5.50Euro 7kg or 8Euro for 14kg wash, 4Euro for dryer) There is a fuel dock but Mark tried 5 times and it was never open.
Sightseeing - Local bus tickets 1.35Euro each per trip, either to Porto Venere or Le Spezia, buy from Tabac shop on main street. Can buy on bus if its closed, cost 1.50Euro
Entrance fee to Castello Doria 2.20Euro each 
Train to Pisa Intercity to Pisa 8.50Euro each one way. Local train back 5.20Euro each one way. (Other cruiser info - Ventana report that if you get off at the first Pisa station it is a very short walk from there to the ruins. We were on an intercity train so it only stopped at the main staion but our return one did stop at the other station.)Pisa Entrance Fee pass10.00Euro each, does not include climbing the tower (I don't like heights!!)

Cinque Terra Park Pass 8.00Euro each. Includes return train, any village buses and walkway fees. Trains depart Le Spezia 07.12, 07.55 (weekdays only), 10.07 and 11.10 stopping at all villages and 10.01 stopping only at Riomaggiore (No 1) and Monterosso (No 5). If aiming for the 10am ones allow AT LEAST 30 minutes to queue for ticket, probably longer - not sure how busy earlier ones are. Can not buy ticket on train or from machine. Must queue at seperate Cinque Terra office in train station, not regular counter.