Day 3: Vernazza

Our first full day here. We start it off with some caffeine and focaccia in Gianni’s, our hotel which also has a bar (cafe) and restaurant. Robbie’s not a coffee drinker but on this trip she’s decided to experiment and has one of those mostly milk with a dash of coffee drinks.

We’re both immediately in love with the salty foccacia as a pastry instead of the sweeter fluffier stuff.  We briefly meet Gianni staffers Giovianni and Marissa, both mentioned in Rick Steve’s book, get Robbie’s passport back (hotels typically hold one as a security precaution), and head up to the train station for the 5 minute trip to Monterosso where we need to confirm a place to stay for next week. Monterrosso’s train station is at the "new" end of town where the larger hotels are (built in the 60s?) and the bigger beach. Taxis and miscellaneous service vehicles are allowed on the road along the beachfront but otherwise, the street is mainly filled with pedestrians, as the walkway along the beach is not nearly wide enough to accommodate everyone. I can’t imagine what is must be like during the peak of tourist season in June.

The day is warm, sunny and clear and we’re both going apeshit with our cameras, astounded at the photo opps. As we head towards the old part of town, we opt for the walkway along the cliff instead of the pedestrian tunnel and we spot a brick walkway going further up the cliff. We learn later in RS book that this is the Switchback of the Monks, leading to the convent XXX, now a guest house. We explore the church, wonder at the painting (a Van Dyck) and continue up the trail, marvelling at the view of old Monterosso, wondering what’s at the top. We’re delighted to discover it’s a huge cemetary, complete with family crypts, spectacular marble tombs and modest graves, many marked with fresh flowers. The views of both the old and new parts of town are stellar and with the bright blue sky, colorful vegetation, and old structures, we probably take 100 photos each.

When we descend, we grab a yummy tuna salad lunch at an outdoor "tratoria" and then ask locals to point us to Casa Manuel’s place and we find it after huffing and puffing our way up 130 stairs. We’re delighted with Manuel, the room, and the view (more on all three later) and reserve it for seven days next week.

As we stroll along the beach in the old part of town, we come across a group of mostly older Italian men playing bocce ball in a little facility designed expressly for it. They appear to take the game quite seriously, as there are few smiles and  most of them talk to one another quite loudly. We’re not sure if they’re mad or posturing or what, but it’s quite entertaining and of course, photo heaven.

We head back to Vernazza and pay a visit to an Internet cafe (no cafe, just pcs) so we can dump our photos onto CDs (8 Euros each) before dinner at Gianni’s. It’s our first bottle of Cinque Terra bianchi (white) and our first taste of achuga (anchovies) and we’re in ecstasy. Whoduh thunk sardines could taste so good? RS was right. If you hate anchovies like I do, give them a try in the Cinque Terra. We split an order of delicious pesto pasta XXX, follow it up with dessert of ???  and head out for an evening stroll along Vernazza’s main drag. I see a guy taking photos of a streetlamp. He sees me taking photos and we strike up a conversation after discovering we both "parla Englese." I ask him about the settings he’s using for night shots and he mentions that he just got the camera not too long ago at National Camera Exchange. "Are you from Minnesota by any chance?" I ask and he gives me a horrified look. "Yes, do I sound like it?" Mathew and his traveling partner Tim are both from St. Paul and are the first of many Minnesotans we meet on the trip.

We hear someone singing and playing guitar on the waterfront plaza and discover a  group of about a dozen Italian men gathered around a table where two guys are passing a guitar back and forth while they sing Italian songs. Robbie later finds out that one of them, Piva, owns a restaurant up the street. We vow to eat there at least once before we leave.

We end the night with a moonlight walk along the waterfront. Perfetto!