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.

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