Monday, October 31, 2011

Getting to Cinque Terre and Manarola, Italy - and Two Nice Men

What an ordeal! But it was made more bearable by two kind men. I got to the train station in Assisi early and was able to catch the earlier train - if it had been on time. Luckily, a very nice man helped me finally get to the late train but while we were waiting, we talked quite a bit. He knew some English and helped me with my Italian. We both said that the other language was very difficult to learn! I complained about rolling your "r"s and he complained about the "th' and "w" sounds in English. He was excited that I was going to head down to Napoli, Capri and Sicily. He was really sweet. When an American man came up to ask me questions, the other man disappeared. I would have liked to have sat with him on the train to talk more.

I got into Arezzo and I had an hour between trains, so I walked around a bit. Here are some pics from there. I never did get to the old part of the city but might stay here a few nights later because I saw how nice the old town is from looking at postcards! And as you can see below, it does have a wall :)

We then went back to catch our train but had to wait due to another delay. We finally got to Firenze (Florence) and again we had a 1 1/2 hour delay. I had a chance to use my Italian cell phone to call Elena, who is my host for my apartment in Cinque Terre to tell her I would be late. She said that the weather was really bad and trains were delayed everywhere so she understood.

Again, after a long delay, I got on the train to La Spezia, which is the central train station for Cinque Terre. From there I had to take a train to Manarola. When I got into La Spezia, we found that there were no trains for the Cinque Terre towns due to damage to the tracks and roads from the rains. I saw high waters as we came into town. So, I called Elena and she said her father would pick me up but that he spoke no English. That was fine with me because I wouldn't have to stay in the train station all night like hundred's of other people.

He found us and was another sweet man. He did know a little English he remembered from his school days so we laughed as we tried to communicate in both languages. The roads were bad but that didn't stop him from passing cars when there were double white lines or when we went through a tunnel. He tried to pass once but the fog was so bad, he backed off. In my broken Italian, I said "You don't know much English, but you know the word 'fog'"? I of course, couldn't remember 'fog' in Italian.

I didn't feel too unsafe because his car was medium sized. We really had a great time talking and laughing - and I have to say I was developing a little crush on him - for a short time. I think the fact that he periodically petted Seymour helped. He also carried my heavy bag all the way up the hill and the stairs to the apartment, which was on the 3rd floor.

I will take pictures of the apartment later. I have the whole thing to myself. It has a bedroom, a sitting room, a large dining room, kitchen and bath. It also has a washing machine, which I am using as I write.

This morning, I walked into town to find the train station, since it was dark when we got here last night and I had no idea where anything was.

This is a small village, population 850. The tour book says that it has more grapevines than any other Cinque Terre city and is famous for its Sciaccherte wine (I hope to buy a bottle). It is supposed to be full of midevil relics and is possibly the oldest of the Cinque Terre cities. Here are a few pictures I took on our walk this morning.

This view is just up the street from our apartment. Amazing!

The old church and bell tower - right near where I took the above picture:

You can't see much, but the hillside is filled with statues that I think they light up at night. I'll have to check tonight.

I tried to get a espresso in town this morning and the electricity went off all over town. They said that lightning struck a pole during the storm. I also checked out the train station and saw that some of the tracks were still closed, so I decided to just wash clothes and hang around the apartment and this city today. They sell a 2 day Cinque Terre pass for 19 euro that gets you on the trains and I don't know what else, that I expect to purchase tomorrow so I can visit the other cities. The trail that goes between the cities was also closed, due to the rains. I needed a day of rest and I am here for 6 nights, so it all works out for me.

I made reservations back in Livorno for 3 nights after this trip and need to find a place for 5 nights after that. Then I am really excited that I got a place in Matera for 6 nights. The apartment is right in the middle of the old town - probably up a million steps - but I can't wait to stay there. They don't normally take pets but said I could bring Seymour. They have 2 cats that have never seen a dog. I have Seymour's spray bottle (water only) that I will use if I have to!

If you get a chance, google Matera. It is where Mel Gibson made The Passion of Christ movie because it looks like it did back then. I really love the old cities best. The history amazes me.

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Riomaggiore, Italy

I went to the train station Thursday (I think) and the only village open was Riomaggiore, which is the first village of the five. Manarola is the second village. It is only 2 minutes away and you could walk the trails, if they were open. So, I took the train, as I said in my picture-less blog. So, here are some pictures from there. This is the train station - right on the water.

This mural is right outside of the train station in Riomaggiore.

Very picturesque houses and scenery.

The old church that looks very similar to the one in Manarola.

This is the closed D'Amore trail where people put lover's locks on the gates. You can see some of them to the left of the gate and on top of the gate. I think the rest are on the trail.

This is the tunnel back to the train station. It is probably a block or more long and one side is all mosaic. I tried to show you a small view of the walls but it really has to be seen in person.

I have to admit that it is difficult to be a tourist here right now with the devastation going on around me. I would rather be shoveling in ankle deep mud to help them recover.

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Manarola, Cinque Terre Day 2

These blogs are out of order. I am posting them from Livorno! Yipee, wifi in my room for 3 days!!

Here is my apartment in Manarola. It is so nice to have a washer, kitchen and privacy.

As you can see I used the washer immediately and have hung my clothes all over.

I finally had a chance to use my hand made clothes line and it did its job.

I went out to eat and read that you have to get the "white spaghetti with seafood". I got it but wasn't expecting this. Some of you will say "yum" and some will say "yuck". I was in the middle. I ate most of the seafood on my plate although I probably wouldn't order this again.

Here are more pictures of the village. The walking trails are closed due to the storm but there was still plenty of walking to do.

When you take a walk up a hill, you come to this cemetery.

This is just like the postcards:

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Trying to Leave Manarola, Cinque Terre and Stuff

Here is a picture I took at our apartment before I had a shower or hair washed. I was cooking dinner and decided to give the old water heater one more try. This time, as long as I didn't try to turn on the radiators, I got the hot water to work! It is on a timer so the hot water was supposed to last 9 minutes. I threw off my clothes faster than if Johnny Depp was waiting in the bedroom for me. What a great feeling - my first shower in almost a week - and hair washed. I should have taken an "after" picture.

As to my health, I felt much better this morning. My sister thought I was having a reaction to the antibiotic and I'm thinking that might have been the problem. Thank goodness!

I had to take Seymour out of his napping place in my suitcase and packed and left by about 9:15 am this morning. I got to the train station and guess what - trains cancelled again. I walked back through the tunnel to my regular bar and had a cappuccino. It looks like there will be a train at 11:17 am so now we are sitting at the station, waiting. My vadafone SIM is working great here but I still won't download my other blogs with lots of pictures until I get to Livorno. You never know when it will stop working.

More from Livorno -

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Last Full Day in Manarola

As you can see, we are having another lazy day. Seymour wasn't happy that I disturbed his nap while he was curled up next to my foot.

I actually have been sick for a couple of days and even considered going to the hospital. I think it was a number of things going wrong at the same time but my big worry is always any after affects from my surgery. I had gone to the farmacia for some medicine for a bladder infection. I used google translate to tell him what was wrong with me and was hoping the translation was right. He asked if I wanted natural or antibiotic medicine and I went for the antibiotic. But last night I was pretty sick and started listing the things I better do. So I:
1. Left out a list of emergency numbers.
2. Thought about who could take Seymour and I decided that if I could hold off one more day, the lady in Livorno would probably care for him for me.
3. Considered changing my flight and going home - could probably be home in about 48 hours.
4. Thought I should program my phone with the emergency number here, as I was told to do a week ago (still didn't do it, but will) By the way, I found that my charger for my useless GPS works great to charge my Italian phone. What a relief! I have used that phone a number of times already.

The thought of getting sick in a foreign country isn't so bad, it's having a dog to also care for while you are sick that is the problem.

I finally fell asleep and am feeling somewhat better this morning.

The person who cleans the apartment showed up today and I told her I wasn't leaving until tomorrow and then I had to search around to be sure I knew what date it was. As far as I can tell, it is Oct 30 and I leave Oct 31.

The clocks were changed last night (fall back) so tonight we get to experience darkness at about 5:30 pm. I'm glad this is a safe place.

Problems with trains again today so I decided to forget trying to go anywhere until I hopefully leave tomorrow. The TV is still full of stories about the flood here. Even President Obama sent a message from the USA.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

My Normal Day in Manorola, Italy

Another picture-less blog. Once I get to Livorno, I will get the other blogs posted. Now that I have been here 4 days, I have gotten into a routine that looks similar to the locals:

8:00 am or so - Get up, clean up as best I can and take Seymour for a walk.

8:30 - walk into town (only about 5 minutes away down hill) and stop into the Panetteria/Bar and get one or two croissants to take home. Sometimes I stay and also get a cappuccino - and once splurged on eggs. Actually I had a cappuccino and ham and eggs and sat at a table and it only cost me 5 euro. I think that since I have made some donations to the Monterosso efforts, the shop keepers remember me and have been more welcoming. I found that the woman who works in the bar's uncle owns one of the grocery stores. One lady who works in the grocery store actually greeted me with "ciao" this morning, which is the familiar way of saying hi.

I stop in one (or both) of the little grocery stores and get my small amount of food. No one buys that much at one time. The frig is small and I also think that there is socialization involved in talking to people when you are out, so people are out often. I buy my milk for my coffee in 500 ml containers, which is probably close to a pint. I usually get one "piccolo pane" (small bread) and possibly a can of dog food for Seymour - oh and maybe some cookies :) You also are encouraged to bring your own bags, probably more so than even in the USA. They will often charge you for a plastic bag if you don't bring your own. I am so glad I brought my small nylon bag with me - I use it all the time!

9:00 - 9:30 - Head back to the apartment. Most cities here have large trash cans along the streets labeled for glass, plastic, paper, and regular trash. So I try to bring my trash out and divide it into the various containers.

In the apartment I feed Seymour and make coffee using the small coffee maker/percolator most homes have. I turn on the TV and try to get some info from the gibberish - I mean Italian news stations. I recently found CNN is on in English for part of the day, so I have started watching a little of that.

10:00 - 10:30 - Clean the dishes, try to check email or write the blog. Just sort of goof off. Since I've been here I've made a number of friends I keep in touch with by email, a few quite regularly. It's nice to share experiences with other people doing the same thing.

11:00 - Head to the train station to either buy a ticket or find out what is going on with the train problems. I don't think the 2 villages will be open to the public for awhile but from the TV I see that they are getting a lot done with cleaning up the mud and destruction. Last night I watched all of the men coming back from volunteering - covered in mud. Since they can only get there by boat, I watched the small boats being lifted from the water on a large crane. I will try to get a picture, because it is pretty amazing how effortless it looks!

The rest of the afternoon is taken up by either heading out on the train or taking walks down to the ocean, possibly getting something to eat in a restaurant or making something at the apartment.

Dinner is earlier than the people here eat. I usually make my pasta and pesto by about 6 pm.

Then it is back out for a walk with Seymour just after dark. I love seeing the lights over the city.

Usually I am tired and am in bed by 9:30 pm, reading.

What a simple life, huh?

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Continued Problems in Cinque Terre

See article above. This morning the people at the grocery store were asking everyone to donate food to the people in Monterosso. I had been wanting to figure out what to do to help, so that was a start. They said the people have no water, gas or electricity and Monterosso and Vernazza are only accessible by boat.

I am going to go to the train station because one of the employees there speaks English, to ask what else I can do. I am here for 2 more days and would like to help in some way.

Tragedy always puts things into perspective.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre and Updates

Things are still pretty bad here. I went to Riomaggiore, which is the next stop on the Cinque Terre ride - 2 minutes away! You could walk to it on the trails, but they are still closed. Riomaggiore is the largest of the villages with a population of about 1800. I will write a specific blog about it, with pictures I took later. Unfortunately I went to pay for the 24 hour wireless service that is available in the train stations here and it is not working so they said to try again tomorrow.

While in Riomaggiore, I saw signs all over town that I could partially read
- so I broke down and bought a pocket dictionary. They were having a meeting today at 3 pm to find out who could take in people who have been displaced from the other villages.

Then I came back to Manarola and they had a sign about needing tools, shovels, and help with the clean up. I saw helicopters flying over carrying what looked like sandbags. (I hope I didn't write all of this before because I am mixing up my emails with my blogs).

Anyway, we came home and I started a load of washing - and something must be wrong because the door won't open. I am running it through again in hopes that the door will open this time. I do not want to have to contact the hostess to tell her I broke her washer.

I did heat up water and finally got cleaned up - including washing my hair. That was a good feeling. I also made pasta with pesto that I had for lunch and will finish off for dinner. I can't believe I am so happy to be cooking for myself! I'm also enjoying the privacy of having my own place. It's been almost 2 months since I have stayed anywhere alone.

So, no pictures again until I can get a strong wifi connection. If worse comes to worse, I will post a bunch of blogs when I get to Livorno. I don't feel bad about missing out on seeing a lot of Cinque Terre as much as I feel bad about not being able to speak the language well enough to know what I could do to help here. I am experiencing real life in Italy, which is what I wanted to do.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Manarola, Italy

Since I haven't posted in a few days due to internet problems, I wanted to try to post a short picture-less blog. There is no wireless in my new place but I can buy 24 hours of wireless that I can use at the train station for 5 euro. I will probably do that tomorrow since I have a couple of blogs with pictures I want to post. My vadafone SIM only works for about 10 seconds at a time, so the next time I am in a big city, I will have to go back to the vadafone store to see what is wrong. Hopefully, during those 10 seconds, I can post this blog. Ahhh, life in Italy.

There were heavy rains here and flooding and the railroad tracks got damaged going to 3 of the Cinque Terre cities. They also had to close the hiking trail. So, I will try to go to Riomaggiore, the only other city that is accessible, tomorrow. I don't expect the tracks to be fixed before I leave next week, but it will just give me a reason to come back.

Although I really like this city and this apartment, things aren't perfect. The electricity went out today in town and it signaled the post office and the small grocery store to close down. I have never seen so many things close for so little reason. I walked around this afternoon looking for a place that was open that sold tea - nothing.

Luckily, before the grocery store closed, I bought some fresh pasta and pesto to cook and of course my cheese and bread. I will talk about my lunch in a future blog.

I think the propane tank is low at the apartment so there is no hot water and the radiators aren't working. It has been pretty cold so I would like one or both to work. I have emailed the hostess to see what can be done. I hate to say it, but this is the 4th day without a shower! The last 2 days at the B&B, I tried to take a shower; the first day I got about 10 seconds of hot water and then it went ice cold - so that could count as a very quick shower. The last night there, the water never did get hot and there was no one around to talk to. So again I did a quick washing only. Last night I was exhausted so just went to bed and today I've been trying to get hot water, with no luck. I will probably just heat some water on the stove tomorrow to get quasi clean. I might as well just let my hair go to dreadlocks since I don't know when it will actually see shampoo and water again :)

Luckily, Seymour and I are used to each other's smells!

More tomorrow -

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Sunday in Assisi

First, it really sucks having no wifi in Assisi. I have been unable to look for places to stay on line. I may see if I can go back to Livorno for a few days to get organized after my stay in Cinque Terre. Somehow, although I paid for cellular connection on my iPad, there is something about you not being able to use it for 24 hours or you lose your money and connection. I think that happened to me. Now,on to Sunday-

I made a slight error in my last blog about Assisi. No, they still don't allow dogs in San Francesco church, but the olive tree lined trail we walked was not where St Francis heard the word of God.

I got out my map of Assisi to see where we could walk today that we hadn't been to yet and I saw "San Damiano - Franciscan shrine build on the spot where St Francis heard the voice of Christ and where he wrote the Canticle of the Creatures." It is also a convent. Oops. It was located km 1.5 from the town - just about all down hill - down a steep hill! Which meant we had to walk UP the steep hill when we were done. At least I did. Seymour gave out about 1/2 way up and wanted to be carried!

Seymour loved the walk down, since there were lots of fields, plants and trees. I don't think St Francis would have minded his dribbles. This was the first small building we came across, but of course I couldn't read what it was!

This is the walk down to the spot where St Francis first heard the voice of Christ (I actually thought it was the voice of God, wrong again)

Here is the entrance:

For some reason I didn't take any pictures of the building, but here are pics in the inside garden area. You can see one of the friars in the first picture.

Here are some statues of St Francis. I really like both of them:

There were lots of nuns doing a pilgrimage here - and many came over to pet Seymour. He is such a big hit! I would guess that up to a dozen people stop to pet him and a number take his picture, with or without asking me. Anyway, here are some of the nuns who fawned over Seymour:

Back inside the city walls of Assisi. This is another metal art I liked.

This is another view of Assisi. One of the things I realized is that there is very little graffiti in Assisi - not like all of the other cities I've been to. Maybe that is what makes it feel so upscale. And most of the structures are white. One of the first planned communities :)

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Perugia, Italy

We made it to Perugia on Saturday. That strike was for trains all over. One man told me that he works in Rome and couldn't get to work on Friday. But the strike was over by 5 pm Friday night - how convenient for having a 3 day weekend :)

There was an International Chocolate Festival going on in Perugia. It was a madhouse. If this is the off season, I would hate to be here in season. It is the same for Assisi. Major crowds all over town.

Anyway, it is interesting how you get into Perugia. You have to take a bus from the train station and it lets you off at a bus station about 1/2 way up the hill. You then go through a series of cave-like tunnels and up a series of escalators to get to Piazza Italia, where the major sites are. Here is what the tunnels look like:

In the various tunnels there are some small shops and they had one area as part of the conference where they had chocolate and wine displays. I am assuming that this is where chocolate comes from since it was in the middle of a chocolate display:

Here are some pictures of the craziness at the Chocolate festival. I actually got some chocolate at the "Choco Gadget" booth. Expensive, but yummy!

They had a booth for dogs, too. I got a free sample (they said it was safe) but Seymour wanted nothing to do with it.

Perugia is considered one of the best preserved hill towns in Italy. It has a bit of a gothic look. More pictures:

This fountain is in the middle of the piazza Italia and was designed by Fra Bevignate and built by a father and son around 1275. (I found that info in my guide book).

Here is a view downy the hill from the city center:

We also went in to see the worlds most beautiful bank - there was a lady behind the counter so I don't know if it is a working bank or not. It was all beautiful wood - didn't take a picture and can't describe well enough. Think of a library in a very expensive house - that's the style of this bank.

Overall, Perugia would be a difficult place to drag your luggage to - a taxi might be best - but I think it would be worth staying here for a few days and exploring when the International Chocolate Festival isn't going on!

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