Archive for July, 2013


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Portofino

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From atop Castello Brown

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Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

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View from Rapallo Promenade

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Boat to Portofino

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Tigullio Gulf

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Portofino – in front of whimsical sculpture garden

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Climb to Castello Brown–seeking temporary relief in the shade

View of Portofino from Castello Brown

View of Portofino from Castello Brown

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Panorama from above Portofino

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Zara in private reverie (singing to Bailey)

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On pebbly beach near Abbey of San Fruttuoso

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Abbey of San Fruttuoso

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Waiting for a boat

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Aperol Spritz and tower of delicious, complimentary appetizers

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Rapallo – at night

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Cinque Terra

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Zara’s favorite spot

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Soaking in the view

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Vernazzo beach – Cinque Terra

As we approached the coastal town of Rapallo on the Italian Riviera, I could already sense that I was going to like it here.  The scenery resonated with me in a way that the more dramatic but dry and precipitous cliffs of Amalfi had not.

We had booked a couple of nights at Il Gatto, a charming but reasonably priced boutique hotel within a 5 minute walk of Rapallo’s promenade.  Zara adored the hotel’s cat theme (and the actual cat roaming the lobby) and we felt so comfortable in the hotel (and in Rapallo) that we extended our stay by another night.

Rapallo is a town of about 35,000 people and is located a few kilometers west of the much more ritzy Portofino (just a 20 minute boat ride away).   It feels like a regular town, not one only targeted towards tourists or the mega rich, and I could easily imagine living here for a few months, unlike Portofino where owning a luxury yacht seems a requisite to residency.  (Portofino IS just as attractive as you’ve heard though–I can understand why it has long been a haunt of the rich and famous.)

Rapallo had a lovely promenade where the vacationing crowds strolled late into the evenings.  It was on this promenade that we were introduced to our first (but not last) Aperol Spritzes, a delicious aperitif with an appealing orange hue that perfectly befits a warm summer night.   And we were delighted to discover that when ordering drinks in Rapallo’s restaurants during cocktail hour, you’re treated to a tower of free and delicious appetizers, enough to suffice for dinner if you aren’t ravenous.  (Of course, we still always also ordered dinner!)

On our final day in the area we took a 1-hour journey on a packed train (without AC) to Riomaggiore, the southernmost town of Cinque Terra.  I’d always dreamed of visiting Cinque Terra, but July may not be the best time to do it if you dislike crowds.   We’d all donned our hiking boots with the expectation of walking on at least a portion of the hiking trail linking the five villages, but learned upon arrival that the section we’d planned on hiking was closed due to some landslides from 2012’s torrential rains.  In a way, I was relieved to get out of hiking in the heat.  Instead, we spent about an hour exploring Riomaggiore and then hopped on a boat which took us to Vernazzo where we stayed for a few hours, ate lunch, relaxed on the pebbly beach and swam in the sparkling sea.  We caught the train back to Rapallo from the most northern (and largest) village of Monterosso.  This time it was an express train that thankfully was air-conditioned.

Three days here wasn’t enough.  Trails in the green hills still beckoned, countless beaches were left unexplored and more evenings spent sipping Aperol Spritz’s tempted us.

I know we’ll return to the Italian Riviera some day–just maybe not in July.

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Elba in the distance

We headed north after departing the Amalfi Coast, our ultimate destination being the Italian Riviera, but we broke up the drive with a stay in Tarquinia.  I’ve rarely been as happy to leave a place as I was the Amalfi Coast.  What a relief to be on level ground again!

I’d never heard of Tarquinia, but I was eager for a place off the beaten tourist path but with some interesting history.  Tarquinia was a big win on both fronts.

It’s the site of an Etruscan Necropolis, with tombs dating back almost 2500 years.  They are located under a large grassy field on a hilltop just outside of town and at first sight are unassuming mounds of the earth.  However, each tomb is reached by entering a shelter adjacent to the mound and descending a staircase about 30 feet, where the burial chambers are carved into rock and brightly colored paintings depicting Etruscan life still adorn the chambers.  The entire site was very quiet–just a few other visitors–which was such a welcome change after the crowds of the prior weeks.

Etruscan tomb mounds in Tarquinia

Etruscan tomb mounds in Tarquinia

Etruscan tomb paintings over 2000 years old

Etruscan tomb paintings over 2000 years old

The town itself was also lovely and populated primarily with Italian tourists.  A perfect place to while away a few hours in one of the town squares cooling off with some of the local frizzante.  It’s the type of town that it is easy to imagine spending a few relaxing weeks (or months) in.   On the way home from dinner, we met a Swedish woman and her teenage daughter (out walking their cats on leashes (!)) who have lived a nomadic life for years, but are currently calling Tarquinia “home” (a cave in Spain was another recent abode).

Pisa

As we headed north the next morning, we stopped for coffee in the seaside town of Piombino, where we could see Elba in the “not far enough” distance. (I hadn’t appreciated how close to shore Elba is and it clearly wasn’t remote enough for Napoleon’s exile.)  After we fueled up, our next stop was Pisa and its leaning tower.  The contrast to the Etruscan Necropolis couldn’t have been greater, with busloads of tourists and day-trippers from Rome.  Still, it was surprisingly cool to see in person.  Interestingly, we learned that when Jonathan visited in 1988, it had leaned nearly twice as much as it does now, as they closed it in 1991 for about eight years to stabilize the tower after another one nearby unexpectedly toppled and the stabilization included some necessary straightening but not enough to take away the tourism appeal!

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Acrophobia in Amalfi

The Amalfi Coast had long been on my “must see” list, with its cliffside towns and crystalline blue Mediterranean seas, but eleven days there was just too much.  I know I don’t love the place.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s gorgeous.  Colorful villages are improbably propped up on the literal edge of cliffs, hundreds of feet above the sea (see “Problem list below”).   Stone staircases weave up across the lemon-tree filled hillsides, as many of the villages have extremely limited car access.  Numerous beaches dot the coastline (although we didn’t spot any sand ones).  The sea really does sparkle and luxury yachts cruise the coastline.  The sun shines brightly and strongly (although we did have same rain–in July!).

So what is there not to like?

Problem #1: We drove.  Driving the Amalfi Coast is not for the faint-hearted (or, arguably, the sane).   Especially at the height of the tourist season where you compete with massive tour buses, local buses driving at breakneck speed, hordes of Mercedes minivans (also loaded with tourists), other hapless tourist drivers and pedestrians, and local  drivers (many on mopeds) who seem to have a tenuous regard for their own longevity, all on narrow (and I mean one car width narrow), windy roads that hug the cliff. Suffice to say, the first few days my nerves were shot from the drive there and a subsequent day outing drive to Sorrento.   My hands sprouted callouses from my tight grip on the steering wheel.  After a couple of days, we realized that this was a coastline best explored by boat.

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An inch to spare

An inch to spare

Problem #2:  As I mentioned, houses are improbably propped up on the literal edges of cliffs.  The cliffs are limestone and the building sites seem to have stood the test of time, but my incipient Acrophobia was in overdrive. Even copious amounts of Chianti couldn’t relax me. Thus, I had to resort to the local treat, Limoncello (the liquor, not the gelato).

Limoncello

Limoncello

Problem #3:  We like to walk.  On the plus side, we could walk to town within 20 minutes.  The big minus was that half of that walk involved braving the main road as a pedestrian.  The only other place we could walk was up, which we did a couple of times, but it proved to be primarily an aerobic workout rather than a relaxing stroll.

Walk to Amalfi - one of the few sections with a sidewalk

Walk to Amalfi – one of the few sections with a sidewalk

Problem #4: We love Italian food.  However, we don’t love ONLY Italian food, and we’ve learned that we can reach our Italian food limit  rather quickly.  There just aren’t ANY other options in this area.

But enough of the complaining.  There was a lot we thoroughly enjoyed.

We stayed in a unique 1-bedroom “villa” on the famed 163 road connecting all of the towns on the Amalfi Coast. The owners were a truly generous couple who went above and beyond in making us feel at home, showering Zara with gifts, us with food and wine and not allowing their limited English to get in the way of sharing their enthusiasm for Amalfi with us.

Every morning we breakfasted out on the patio which offered a picture perfect view of Amalfi town.

View from our patio

View from our patio

We took a wonderful walk up the hillside to the town of Pogerola, where we had drinks and dinner at the delightful Gerry’s Pub.  We sat outside on a patio with beautiful views of La Scala and Ravello and Gerry was so friendly he let me wear his cozy motorcycle jacket when the weather cooled.

Walk to Gerry's Pub

Walk to Gerry’s Pub

Gerry's Pub

Gerry’s Pub

Walk "home" from Gerry's Pub

Walk “home” from Gerry’s Pub

We swam in the Mediterranean several times.  We took a ferry to the picturesque Portofino.

View down towards Amalfi town

View down towards Amalfi town

Relaxing on our patio

Relaxing on our patio

Walk down to Duoglio Beach - 400 steps

Walk down to Duoglio Beach – 400 steps

Lido on Sorrento

Lido on Sorrento

Cliff architecture

Cliff architecture

Swimming - Zara's favorite activity

Swimming – Zara’s favorite activity

View from ferry

View from ferry

We also did a day trip to Capri (unfortunately, on a day that rained during the first half), took a boat to the Emerald Grotto and had an interesting day trip to Pompeii (separate post pending on that).  Five or six days here would have been perfect.

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