Saturday, May 18, 2013

If the World Gives You Lemons, Make Linguine!

Well it was hard to leave Lake Como last Saturday, but what made it a little easier was the thought of our next destination, Monterosso al Mare in the Cinque Terre (The five lands) on the Italian coast between Genoa and Pisa.

We had heard a lot about Cinque Terre over the past few years from friends who have visited and also from Rick Steves travel series that we've seen on TV, and also his books.

We've had fun on the trip so far, asking "what does Rick say?" Or sometimes one of us will ask the other, "do you have Rick in your pocket?" Talking about his "Italy 2013" book that we use frequently and have taken lately to dismembering by ripping out relevant pages on whatever region we happen to be visiting at the time. Sorry Rick, but your book, while very informative, is really heavy!

You can check out his website by clicking the link above. We've found that his tips and information on a town or region is usually bang on the money and a big help in planning and finding your way around and avoiding the common pitfalls of first time visitors to a region.

Anyway, we tore ourselves away and set out by train for the coast and the time just flashed by. We had first class tickets this time and ended up in a compartment for six people, all English speakers from: Canada (Rose and I), Australia, Texas, and England. We had a great time talking and laughing and got quite noisy and boisterous at times, I guess it was extra fun because we all spoke the same language (sort of).

It was about 2:30 when we got here to Monterosso and found our way along the beach and through the tunnel and into the tiny little alley behind the church to Ely's Restaurant and our room above.

Of course the restaurant was closed so I used my trusty phone with the infamous Italian Sim card to call Ely and she sent someone over with a key. After we unpacked and settled in we went for a walk to explore and when we came back, the door wouldn't open. The locks are weird here and somehow we managed to lock ourselves out of the apartment!

The lock is probably about 200 years old and if you turn it all the way around once, it's good and locked, turn it around all the way again and it's locked even more, again, even more, you can rotate this thing all the way around 4 times!!!! (I thought it was broken, it just kept spinning and spinning and seemed to do nothing, goofy thing.

When the restaurant finally opened and we got someones attention, Ely came up and tried it but I had it so good and locked the owner couldn't figure it out let alone a burglar! Eventually she called out the window for her husband to come up. He tried it, banging and shaking the door and wiggling the key so much I thought we might have to get a locksmith, maybe from Genoa or somewhere far away and we might end up sleeping in the alley or something, but after a lot of spinning and kicking and banging it finally went click.
"It's safe, we don't need to double lock the doors here, just pull it closed and only turn the key in this direction to unlock, capice?" "Ok, si, capice!"

We liked  Monterosso a lot, of all of the villages, it was the easiest to get around in, lots of paved walkways with slopes but fewer stairs than the other 4 towns of the Cinque Terre. It also has the best beach and even though we had some good hot weather for the three days we were there, we just never wanted to lay around on the beach so we did everything but.

Just exploring, eating gelato, shopping and visiting the other towns took up the whole 3 days and of course I was bushed because I got up early every morning and took the tripod out after dark a couple of times trying to get some good night shots from the promontory above the town.

A shot of Monterosso from the church of the Capuchin Friars

This was the first time in the trip that we had an apartment with a kitchen (what, no free breakfast with incredible pastries?) But after scratching our heads a bit, I had an idea, "Rose, you could cook!"

Rose made a nice salad and bread with pesto, a regional specialty.

Strangely enough I didn't get kicked in the shins, mainly because we negotiated a deal.

Because the gas burners and Italian coffee makers are unfamiliar to us and a bit tricky, they ended up being my specialty and Rose, who is a great cook, did the cooking, (after I lit the burner) everybody wins!

Our second full day in Monterosso we took the ferry boat to see the other towns, but the waves were too high. After a stop in Vernazza where they managed to drop off a few people over the gangplank, they decided to play it safe and head back to port. They refunded our money so we decided to hop the train to the other towns instead.

Disembarking at Riomaggiore

We loved Riomaggiore and Manarola, they turned out to be quaint little fishing and wine making towns with very steep streets and lots of tiny little stairways going almost straight up.
The colours of the houses were lovely, usually soft pastels, faded and peeling in places, with lots of flower boxes, tiny balconies and lemon trees, very pretty!

Everywhere you look in the Cinque Terre there are amazing views of vine covered slopes strewn with wild poppies, narrow alleys with steep staircases going up to who knows where and of course, amazing little harbours filled with tiny fishing boats. And beyond the towns and marinas is the ocean, the Ligurian sea, filled with crashing waves and blue, green surf extending to the horizon.

A view of Vernazza

It's pretty easy to see why this area is so popular with tourists, in fact the economy seems to be just about entirely tourism driven in this region, at least during the spring-summer-fall tourist season.

The facilities and train connections are pretty good and you can get to the Cinque Terre easily from just about anywhere. Other services are also good. We had pretty good access to wi-fi here because the little coffee shop downstairs beside Ely's had free wifi for customers, so I would go down, buy a coffee and log in. They were very sweet and left it on overnight so we could use it after they closed, very nice people who also served an amazing fresh lemon granita. Lemons are big here and grow all over the place, they seem to get into everything, the art, the food, the drinks!

The little lemon store-coffee shop below us

Of course Rose loved their little shop with their delicious lemony slush drink and quickly befriended them, almost wrangling a cooking lesson from Veronica's grandmother, before settling for the recipe for lemon rind linguine, (it was delicious).

Recipe for Veronica's grandmas Lemon Linguine

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic (whole)
Saute together for 5 minutes-remove garlic.
Add, the rind -grated from one lemon.
Cook some linguine (al dente) and drain it and add to the butter mixture and garnish with parsley and fresh ground pepper, cherry tomatoes and grated Parmesan (to taste) squeeze the juice of 1/2 lemon over pasta, enjoy
Feel free to add chicken, gator, fish (or donkey) if desired.
Dictated by Rose-if it sucks, talk to her (or Veronica's Grandma)

Veronica and her boyfriend run the place and Rose decided to support their little shop by doing all of her buying there.
I have no problem with that....except she decided to buy about 40 pounds of what she says are olive wood cutting boards (I think they're more likely Ironwood, they weigh a ton!) Thanks a lot Barb, Rose says she fell in love with the one you brought back from here so it's all your fault!

Of course a little shopping wouldn't be a problem if this were our last stop, but we've still got a long way to go before we head home so I'm thinking we need to jettison at least half of Rose's clothes to make room in our suitcases, but for some reason, she disagrees.

After 3 days in Monterosso, we headed for the next town over, Vernazza on a nice sunny day burdened down with our suitcases, backpacks and two bags of groceries for the rest of the week, looking I'm sure like a couple of pack mules.

In Monterosso, we managed to connect with our host Cristina, who happened to be in town that day, it's weird how these rentals work sometimes.

Apparently she usually just has people pick up the key at the tobacco shop next door and when they leave, drop the money in an envelope in a drawer and give the key back at the tobacco shop and that's it. If you are expecting a warm and fuzzy welcome with a tour of the town or something, forget about it!

The room wasn't quite ready, with no clothes dryers, it's either hang it out to dry, wait forever, or iron the sheets, so the "maid", was busy there for hours ironing.

We spent some time at the marina and exploring the town, before settling in at the new place. This apartment is very bright and spacious with high frescoed ceilings, tile floor and an incredible view over the piazza and harbour from the living room.

Of course the trade off is that it's very noisy at night and since we are not partiers, it seems the rowdies are just getting started about the time we were going to bed, oh well.

Our suite in Vernazza

One of the other highlights of the area for us was of course meeting people. We didn't meet many Italians, for us the language barrier is pretty formidable, even with a lot of work beforehand trying to learn some Italian, between us we barely know 50 words.

Yesterday we were in Manarola having just a lovely afternoon, eating one of the best and most reasonable meals we've had in Italy, when a couple from Wisconsin asked what we were having and that led to an enjoyable conversation. We had ordered the lunch special, fresh tuna with linguine and also the swordfish steak and it looked pretty amazing on the plate, (food is always a good conversation starter).

Swordfish and fresh Tuna linguine, delicious!

After lunch we took our buddy Steve's, advice and went on the "don't miss it" vineyard trail that starts from the church up the valley a ways and meanders along the slope, through the vineyards overlooking the town and then down into the harbour area.

It was so nice out and so pretty that we parked ourselves on a bench in the sun for a while, still savouring the taste of our after dinner gelato (that was amazing) and who should come along but a retired couple from Vancouver Island. We had a pleasant chat with them about their trip, (five weeks, Rome first and Venice last) and of course our trip (a month, Venice first, Rome last) before going our separate ways once again.

Wild poppies over Manarola
We had seven nights in the Cinque Terre and it was great, but we both agree a perfect visit would be a little shorter, maybe 4 or 5 days, depending on the trails being open. A year and a half ago, disastrous mud slides shut down the two towns we stayed in and made a mess of the trails, and even today only one trail is currently open all of the way.

We enjoyed the Cinque Terre and would highly recommend a visit, we probably won't be back, there's just way too much of Italy (and the world) that we haven't seen yet. Next stop - the island of Capri and the Amalfi Coast!

All contents Copyrighted by the author, Doug Petry.


  1. That looks incredible. Rose you are one heck of a cook and Pastor Doug you are a lucky man.

  2. Yay! Can't wait to hear more! Your longest post yet. ;p

  3. hi!
    which hostel did you stay at cinque terre?

    1. Both of the places we stayed at in Cinque Terre were small apartments we rented through a website called home away, in Monterroso it was about $80 and Vernazza it was around $120