Saturday, October 26, 2013
Just beyond the village we looked out to where the bay meets the sea and there was the mystery ship with huge mounds of hay on the deck. With the help of binoculars we made out the name, Youzasif. Back home we checked on marinetraffic.com and discovered that Youzasif was a livestock carrier, which explained the hay. The ship came from Sete, further up the coast in France but before it left there it did the same thing going back and forth hardly moving. This was quite disturbing given the fact that the ship was carrying livestock. A quick look at the ship's website showed how hundreds of goats, sheep, cattle or even camels might be crammed into pens on the ship. We found it it disgusting although it is apparently a normal means of transporting livestock around the Mediterranean.
Finally, the ship moved on at a slow pace down the coast and then picked up speed. It passed the Balearic Islands, Sardinia and sailed through the Straits of Messina between Calabria in Italy and Sicily to an unknown destination. Just think of those animals on that hot boat for at least a week.
With all this excitement over, the village returned to its tranquil state. Visitors are still arriving to spend some time enjoying the warm weather. In fact we have had a few other people joining us swimming at the beach this week. We aren't the only crazy people here. The water has been warm and as we enjoy ourselves we do feel lucky that we are still swimming at the end of October.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
After lunch our friends came out to the open air hallway to wave goodbye to us. Meanwhile their door blew shut with the lone key to the apartment inside. Even the estate agent renting the property didn't have a spare but we couldn't get in touch with her anyway because our friends' cell phone was also inside. Normally, this wouldn't be such a problem but in a four story apartment building, they were the only people staying there. Panic started to set in.
Seamus assessed the situation but it was impossible to climb up to their first floor balcony. The good news was that they had left the door to the terrace open. We sent our Italian friend over to the school next door to see if he could borrow a ladder. The answer to that was no.
I discovered a nearly intact old gate in some scrubland nearby. The only problem was that at one side the wiring part had come away from the pipe but the other side was still good. Thank goodness for Seamus, who moved all the plants from the high wall of the main floor apartment below before scaling the wall. He took down their satellite wire and the clothes line as well as moving the table and chairs on the patio. Then we lifted the rickety gate over to him. Eventually it was leaning against our friends' terrace and Seamus started to climb. I must admit my heart was in my mouth. I had visions of the flimsy gate just falling straight backwards but slowly, slowly Seamus made it to a point where he could climb on to their balcony. The day was saved. Our friends returned to their apartment vowing to put a shoe in their door to stop it closing on future occasions. Everything was replaced and Seamus and I headed off for a well deserved beer at least well deserved for Seamus.
Later in the afternoon we took the forty-five minute drive up the twisty road to the hill town of Ceriana. We were greeted like long lost friends by Antonia and her husband at Pellegrin's bar. The hill town Ceriana, which dates back to the 1100s and probably before, is in a beautiful spot surrounded by mountains and picturesque valleys. Unfortunately, unlike other neighbouring small towns it doesn't seem to benefit from money from either Italy or the EU or perhaps no one has bothered to apply for it. As a result it is not in great shape with old cobblestone pathways in poor disrepair. There are lots of abandoned houses. Now immigrants from Albania, and US and European expats have bought a few houses and fixed them up beautifully. It is difficult though, as the young people want to live in the cities, where there might be work but certainly they would be more lively. The population is in a slow decline leaving more unoccupied houses.
There are five bars but not one restaurant in town. It's a shame because there is a lot of history dating back to Roman times, that is if you can find it because even with a map in hand some of the places are almost impossible to find and aren't marked. It could be a lovely little tourist destination, a short drive from San Remo and a real slice of authentic Italy but petty jealousies seem to hold the town back. Even if you came to hike for the day you could get a coffee, glass of wine or even a gelato but no meal. The good news is that the several-hundred-year-old bake shop has reopened again with the third new owners in 18 months.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
|Photo by Jens Juhl|
The outdoor market held three days a week is extremely popular with bus loads of people coming from France to shop. It has the usual knock-offs of any market but it also has some lovely cashmere sweaters on sale for reasonable prices. For any of you who are fashionistas, sweaters with zips at the neckline are popular this year. There are lots of leather stalls with handbags, wallets and shoes for sale. We managed to leave the market without making any purchases.
There are a lot of high-end and haute couture shops in San Remo. Seamus was looking for a scarf and we spotted an exquisite one in a shop window with shades of blues, greys and pinks. We asked to see it and the assistant carefully spread the beautiful cashmere scarf in front of us but at a staggering €350 we exited rather quickly. I was fortunate in finding some black jeans I had been looking for and as a bonus they shortened them free of charge. All I had to do was return in a few hours. This was a plus as everyone here just rolls up jeans that are too long for them.
Verrandi was like a ghost town. We passed trees laden with the local tagascan olives. Some were even beginning to turn from green to black. We climbed up some narrow stone stairways and through ancient, stone arches to reach the top of the town. All the buildings were in excellent shape with stones that had been cleaned and repointed. Outside the houses were lots of beautiful flowering plants. There was even some washing hanging up but no signs of any people. Utterly charming but so quiet.
Walking back down the main pathway a lady opened her door to talk to us. She couldn't really answer any questions as she had moved from Torino only eight months before. She did try to point our friends in the direction of the parking lot. If there was a car there it belonged to an old, old lady, a Verrando, who knew the history of the town.Unfortunately, the car wasn't there.
Ceriana has a lot of Verrandos. The question is did they come from Verrandi or did they leave Ceriana and move to Verrandi, which was founded in the 1700s while Ceriana's history goes back to the 11th century. I'm sure the parish priests could answer those questions. Our friend thought that perhaps the Verrandos moved to Verrandi because of a falling out in Ceriana. It's quite possible since there do seem to be some ongoing feuds and very long memories even today. Whatever the answer Verrandi is a lovely spot.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
We meandered back to the promenade. what a day for walking under the crystal clear blue skies. The beaches here are really well maintained and in fact are designated Blue Beaches, the EU’s best rating. There is a huge breakwater that cuts down some of the waves for any swimmers, along with areas of sandy beach, which trucks were replenishing while we were there. Perhaps best of all, they bring in flat rocks for people to lie on. I can only imagine what they look like in the summer with every one occupied by a suntanned body.
Jugs of wine and water were brought to the table as well as delicious bread. The Italians are so good at making bread. Plates of salami, proscuitto and a few other meats were brought to the table along with plates of focaccia, deep fried focaccia and sardenara, a typical Ligurian pizza baked in squares, usually with olives. Then we each got a plate with: bresaula, cured thinly sliced filet, with raspberry sauce; mushrooms and sauce in phllyo; stocchifishce, salted cod, soaked for a few days and cooked; and a Waldorf salad with apple, celery and walnuts but creamed together in a little scoop.
Next came a small dish of risotto with pumpkin followed by a dish of pasta with mushrooms and chestnuts. Two big plates of loin of pork with roast potatoes were placed on the table along with thinly sliced filet cooked on hot stones. By this time I was beginning to fade. It is an art to pace yourself through Sunday lunch in Italy. For dessert I had apple in a light pastry with cinnamon ice cream topped off with an espresso. It is common in Italy for the restaurant to bring a digestivo, something like limoncello or Fernat Branca but I had to pass on these.
Later we walked back to Riva for a very light watercress salad and some beautiful Bel Paese and the creamiest Gorgonzola for dinner. So much food!
Friday, October 18, 2013
Finally we arrived in Italy. You can always tell right away by the smoke-black tunnels that you drive through. Then up in the hillsides as far as you can see are the huge but now often dilapidated greenhouses.Today we were not going up to Ceriana, the hill town north of San Remo, but instead will stay on the coast at Santa Stefano al Mare.
We were a little unsure of our hotel. It had received good reviews on Tripadvisor, but the locals knew it as a place where rooms were rented hourly. I suppose the bright red bed cover and mirror all down one wall may have raised our suspicions, although the residents seemed just like us.
Our friends took us to dinner at one of the local restaurants on the front. We started with a plate of cold meats including wonderful salami with fennel, which was delicious. For main course we had sea bream cooked in parchment paper with fennel, local black tagascan olives and cherry tomatoes. We were too full for dessert. Our friends advised us not to as the restaurant would give us a surprise. The server brought a big jug filled with soft lemon sorbet that we spooned in champagne flutes and topped with as much or as little vodka as we liked. I didn't have much vodka but went for seconds of the sorbet. What a delicious meal and what a nice start to our holiday.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
Today it was very rough so we decided to go for a walk instead. Our walk started at four and we could have been comfortably at home by just after five but we rewarded ourselves with a beer. Then we were joined by people we knew and others stopped by. As a result it is nearly eight and we have just arrived home but are now up-to-date on all the happenings in the village: who died; who has been thrown out of the house and whose restaurant business is failing because they are so lazy.
The village is extremely quiet now. As one friend told us the last person out of the village on September 30 shuts out the lights. How true. Many shops and restaurants are closed. The feral cats that are very healthy as people drop off food for them at their home near the river or a few lucky cats eat the fish thrown by the fishermen on the fishing boats. It seems there are always some kittens appearing in late September. I think these must come from cats that were left behind from summer visitors.
Autumn is the time of year when tiny, tiny little ants invade the house. Sometimes they want protein, such as dead moths, at other times they are after sugar. Once a can of coke burst in the garage and by the time we discovered it a twenty-foot long trail of hundreds if not thousands of ants led to the sticky mess. It is extremely difficult to get rid of them as they are quite cunning. We also get visits from baby, flesh coloured lizards. We don't mind them and hope they eat the ants but of course they would need huge appetites. Huge green praying mantises hang around as well. One stayed on a laundry rack for a few days and was quite indignant, swinging it's head in our direction every time we hung out any laundry. So far they have not been the solution to the ant problem.
I don't think that we can complain since neither the jellyfish not the ants can really spoil the beautiful tranquility of the village at this time of year.
Saturday, October 5, 2013
Meandering up a side street, we found a restaurant whose customers all seemed local. With a bit of a wait we secured a table. It was refreshing to not see the same menu as we had in so many of the restaurants in Florence. An Italian friend of ours, who is a superb chef, would call the food of Florence, "old fashioned Italian." Our appetizer was a little pumpkin soufflé. different and delicious. Not wanting pasta or any more veal, we chose the duck breast and ordered some roast potatoes to go along with it. The Sangiovese wine added a beautiful finishing touch to the meal.
We saw lots of people having their pictures taken with the tower in the background but adopting strange poses. It seems the thing to do is have your photo taken so that it appears that you are pushing the tower over or holding it up. We visited the opulent Duomo with it's marble walls and vivid frescoes. At the far end of the park there was quite a commotion going on. The riot police, in full gear, were holding back a group of shouting students. The population of Pisa is around 100,000 with 60,000 being university students.
Finally, we were back at the train station for a five minute trip to the airport for our plane home. Even the small airport had places to have pasta and wonderful panini, which we were glad of, especially when our plane was an hour and a half late in arriving.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
The race moved closer and so did the rain. It started bucketing down. As the race passed the Duomo, we could see the helicopters overhead, one very low. Then the fleets of police on motorcycles raced by, several official cars and then we spotted the first few riders going at speed. Next came the peleton led by a very wet, stoic looking Mark Cavendish leading the rest of the GB team. We even had long enough to identify these riders and some others before they rode out of sight.
We braved the elements at lunchtime and found a very funky restaurant further up the Arno, where we had a lovely soup made of zofolito beans and rosemary. It was a perfect soup day. A bowl of soup, some bread and some wine. Perfect.
Back in the hotel, we watched the end of the race. There were only 68 of 208 riders remaining at the end of the race. Several crashes and the horrible weather made many disband. The race was exciting right to the end where Rui Costa of Portugal just pipped Rodriguez of Spain at the post.
We spent our last night walking past the lovely shops. One window had a beautiful hot pink purse standing all alone. Beautiful. It was a mere €850, definitely out of my league. We ended in the square, with our last admiring glances at David and Neptune. We wandered in the Palazzo Vecchio with it's many stunning frescoes glorifying Cosimo and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It was a lovely way to end our visit to Florence.
All the shop windows, whether the designer stores or little boutiques have embraced the World Cycling championships. Ferragamo had a beautiful golden bike in the window. Other shops had new or older racing bikes in their windows. There were some interesting photos of Gino Bartoli, a three-time winner of the Giro d'Italia before World War II. One shop even had one of his old cotton cycling shirts.
We walked around searching for the perfect place from which to watch the race, finally settling on a bend, where we were sure the women would be forced to slow down. This section of the barricades were manned by two very stylish forestry police. We knew the racers were on their way when we heard the helicopters. Then several groups of motorcycle police whizzed by followed by some red official race cars, then more motorbikes. A cry went up and then the cyclists were there and gone. Amazingly, they did not slow down for the curve but went by at great speed. They were followed by the support cars from each country, the ambulances; it was over in the blink of an eye.
Many of the restaurants have very similar menus with lots of meat and of course loads of pasta. Although the food is really good, there is a limit to how much pasta I can eat. Tonight we were happy to find a restaurant, up a little side street, where we enjoyed a delicious salad topped with thin slices of smoked goose. Delicious.
Walking by the river on the way back to the hotel, we stopped to admire the Ponte Vecchio, which cast a perfect reflection in the Arno. A perfect ending to a busy day.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Back in the Boboli gardens we walked through the cypress trees ending up at a beautiful lagoon with a huge island of lemon trees in plant pots. We meandered our way past the back of the Pitti Palace to the exit passing a grotto with wonderful gargoyles with their mouths filled with moss and spewing water.
After lunch we made our way to the church of Santa Croce, built in the 1200s. The church houses the tombs of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Marconi, Galileo and Rossini. There is a memorial to Dante but his sarcophagus is empty. Beautiful frescoes decorate the church and there is a magnificent crucifix by Donatello.
In the evening we stopped at a local bistro for a simple pizza with cheese, tomatoes and basil accompanied by a glass of prosecco. Once again we ended our day walking past the Duomo ending up the vast Piazza de Republica, where we enjoyed listening in as an opera singer sang well known Italian songs at one of the restaurants. Everyone in the square gave him huge applause. What a lovely way to end an Italian evening.
Since we arrived many hours before check in at our hotel, we set off to reacquaint ourselves with the city, walking beside the brown, very still, River Arno that runs right through the city. It is uncommon to see such a wide river without any boats on it at all. But of course who needs to look at the boats, when you have all the wonderful bridges crossing the river including the magnificent Ponte Vecchio, our first stop.
Our walk took us past the Uffizi, originally built as an office for Duke Cosmo I's administration. His heirs used the space to showcase the Medici family's art treasures, creating the oldest art gallery in the world. There are always line-ups outside the popular Uffizi.
We continued our walk, becoming ever warmer in the hot, humid weather. Window shopping in Florence is a feast for the eyes. Every other shop sells beautiful, bright handbags of every colour made of lovely butter-soft leather, while lots of other stores sell gorgeous, very stylish leather jackets.
Dinner was some beautifully tender lemon veal scallopini with roast potatoes followed by a salad. Of course all this was accompanied by some Sangiovese wine and finished off with a lovely fruit salad.
It was much nicer walking after dinner. Many of the day-trippers were gone making the city seem quite magical, especially as we passed the Duomo, the cathedral of Florence, which was beautifully lit. Many great Florentine artists contributed to it, including Giotto and Pisano, Ghiberti and of course Brunelleschi, who designed the dome. Magnificent!
Our walking was made easier by all the barricades along the roads. Much of the traffic was rerouted because of the world championships. It was a quiet walk back along the river to our hotel.