Posts Tagged ‘italy’

Cinque Terre


The sun setting over Italian vineyards.

The sun setting over Italian vineyards.

The train ride from Rome to Pisa is likely a popular one for tourists wishing to see the fabled leaning tower. Returning to the historic streets of Rome before the sun sets. Yet Pisa is not the final destination on those train tracks, it is just a minute long pause on the way to the region of Cinque Terre.

I did not get off at Pisa, instead I continued to Vernazza, the fourth of five coastal villages on the Italian coast. Each village is connected by rail, boat and trail. I have since talked to people who have traveled to Cinque Terre and found it alright, another stop, just some villages on the coast. Oh sure, they were awfully nice little towns but they were not wowed by this. I think I know why.

Those who did not love Cinque Terre took the trains betweens the towns, finishing one town, hopping on the train to the next. I took another path to see the five villages, I took the trails. They snaked their way through the hills near the sea, parts shrouded by low dusty trees, others open with shrubs and rock. Seeing the area this way made each town a reward, a treasure that glimpsed into and out of view as the paths wound about. The trail changed between stone steps a few feet across to a dusty foot wide path cutting across a forested hills.

My first day I went between Vernazza and Monterosso, the hardest stretch between the towns (hardest along the ocean anyway). At the end near Monterosso stone steps led between vineyards and yards. Along the path was a small shack with two men selling their wine. Dogs and children ran up and down the path, much faster then myself. Monterosso itself was the most commercial, and largest, of the five. As the sun set on the town I started back to Vernazza, I caught up to the sunlight and looked back to see the vineyards illuminated by the fading light.

The next day I walked from Vernazza to Riomaggiore. Luckily by going in this direction the path started out hard and gradually got easier as I approached the end. The best gelato in Italy was in Corniglia: honey (locally made) and cinnamon. At the edge of that town was a steep switchback going down to sea level. Enjoying my gelato I started down and passed some very tired people heading up the path. The looked enviously at my gelato as I walked lightly down to the sea.

On another section of path was a picnic table covered in cats. On the table resided a pail with a sign on it. Written in several languages was the message: “Please use the food in this bucket to feed this homeless and unloved cats. Thank You!”. The cats appraised me for food potential as I walked by, their food dish was full. I wonder how those cats are doing.

My original plan was to walk to the end of the towns and back in one day. Once I reached Riomaggiore I decided to take the train back. The threatening clouds also influenced my decision.

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Easter in Florence

Easter in Florence

Last Easter I had a choice: Rome or Florence. If I was in Rome I would be able to go to the Vatican or at least approach within a city block for five. But if I went to Florence I would not have to travel during or after Easter. While deciding between the two I found out, through Google, of a small celebration called  Scoppio Del Carro or in english: Explosion of the Cart. Well, thought I, I like explosions, and you know, carts are alright too.

The night before Easter I was talking to some other people in my hostel when we all realized: we did not know what time it started. Each of us heard of the event from different sources, some said ten, others eleven. I placed my bets on nine, it was a catholic event after all.

I left the hostel at nine and headed to the center of town. Well to be honest I arrived at the hostel late the night before (the train was three and half hours, I thought it was two) and did not really know where I was. In every situtation where you sort of don’t know where you are but know that you want to be somewhere, follow the crowds. As I neared what could have been the center of town I saw small groups on both sides of the street heading in the same direction. Must be that way.

The crowds merged in a semi-circle around the front of the Duomo (the big cathedral in Florence). If the crowd was forming a circle looking in I guessed that the cart would wind up there. The crowd surged along on open pathway, the cart was coming. The cart was preceded by men in livery twirling and throwing flags. Eventually the cart rolled to the specially prepared fire safety zone. Then the fire department secured the traditional cart in the ways of age old public safety laws. Finally the cart was ready.

With the cart ready it was time. The officials of the event put the fireworks onto the cart. Once the final fireworks were on the cart we were set. All of this waiting had a few advantages, the main advantage was my position. Except for one tall guy to my left (see photo above) I could easily see over the four to six people in front of me. From what I could see of the block ahead of me, it was packed.

The official looking people were lined up, the liveried men held their flags with excellent poise. Then the priests came out swinging incense and flicking holy water on the crowds. We could not forgot that this was religious after all. The crowd settled. A pop emanated from the inside of the church, a rocket whisteled out of the main doors with the Easter intent of striking the cart. It struck. The fire works began.

They exploded, they sparked and they burst. Lines of bright light flashed around the edges, pinwheels spun with high screams and a few drops of rain fell from the sky. The flashing lights were accompanied by camera flashes from the crowds. The Easter bunny would be proud.

At the end a trio of flags unfurled at the top of the cart to spin around powered by rockets. Rocket power is often the best way to go.

I really felt the Easter joy in those fireworks.

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