Cinque Terre is open for business

A combination of great Spring weather, putting the clocks back to Summertime and being the last weekend  in March could only mean one thing….the tourist season at Cinque Terre is open for business!

First ferry of the seasonI spotted the first ferry for the season somewhat sleepily slipping across a millpond sea from Riomaggiore on its way to Manarola. There was hardly a wisp of breeze and the warmth of the sun was just coming through. I could see it was already going to be a T-shirt day.

Work is still progressing on the coastal trail Corniglia-Vernazza with a new bridge built Cinque Terre trail Corniglia Vernazza in one of the worst landslide prone spots. It will allow space for slides to flow below it to the sea putting less stress on the steel barriers and the drystone walls either side. It’s a constant battle to find solutions so we hope this will be a successful one and completed quickly as the trail is still officially closed.

Bar Il Gabbiano coastal trail PrevoNot such a good sign for the Il Gabbiano bar already open at the halfway mark at Prevo and waiting on the stream of hikers that will eventually return when the maintenance work is done. An ideal spot to savour their fabulous refreshing juice of sweet lemon and orange, and enjoy a moment of relax in front of an awesome view.

Wildflowers peek from every nook and cranny, and wild garlic flowers create a lush carpet under the olives. It’s such a gorgeous time of year.

Vernazza, Cinque TerreBy the time I reach Vernazza it is basking in the sun and beckoning seductively. I can already anticipate the piazza covered in its fabulous multi-coloured umbrellas on tables, so typical of the village, welcoming tourists and locals alike to taste the specialities on offer. I am not disappointed and together with the fishing boats still parked in the main square the scene is very cheerful.Vernazza, Gianni Franzi restaurantCorniglia main square

The same is also the case at Corniglia as cafes and restaurants set up their outdoor areas in the main square, although daily tourists here are also less and the atmosphere is pleasantly quiet. The view from behind the church to Manarola is captivating and often missed by tourists. St Peter’s cross made of local sandstone is dedicated to “all the men and women who, digging with their hands, reshaped a harsh, arduous territory, making it fertile and habitable.” 

As tourists begin to arrive for lunch I hike back up to my little retreat at San Bernardino. For the Cinque Terre another season has begun.View to San Bernardino


 

 

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Winter peace, Spring weather at Cinque Terre

View of Vernazza, Cinque Terre How I love this time of year at the Cinque Terre. The peace and quiet of the Winter, the striking colours of the villages against the clearest of skies and the bluest of seas. It does not get any better and a real enticement to be out there hiking around on old familiar trails.

And encouraged even more so by the unseasonal warm temperatures indicating an early Spring. The fruit trees are already in blossom as is the Mimosa wattle so sought after for International Women’s Day.View to Monterosso from San Bernardino

My hike began from San Bernardino with a view towards Monterosso in the distance  Defibrillator along the trailacross terraced vineyards. Who could get ever get tired of this view, Nature at its best, coming out of hibernation.

This year, thanks to the National Park, Vernazza Council and two local non profit organisations, we have defibrillators in various strategic points in the villages and even along the coastal trail at the halfway point of Prevo. A great idea since many tourists start the trail, often not realising that it can be quite strenuous, especially in the Summer heat. The National Park has also just introduced a fine on anyone wearing thongs/flip flops on the trails as it is an expensive and time consuming business to rescue injured people from the trail, often requiring a helicopter.

Trail landslideBut today the trail between Vernazza and Corniglia was quiet as it is still under maintenance as more dry stone walls have crumbled during the Winter. It is a never ending battle in this fragile territory and hurts just to see the devastation, be it small or large. Memories of the 2011 landslides during the flood never go away.

Olive nets glistened between the trees stretched out until next Winter, lemon trees were heavily laden with fruit and wildflowers were squeezing out of every nook and cranny under a splendid sun.

The fishing boats are still parked in the main square of Vernazza, safe from any stormy seas, creating a postcard image across to the Church, and a few locals are sitting chatting in the sunshine.

Corniglia is even quieter, and without tourists the souvenir shops are closed and only Corniglia main squarethe local café and delicatessen are open for essential local needs. But it still has a good feel about, very homey, as if everyone is resting before the tourist crowds swarm in at Easter. And not everyone is resting, as it’s time to prune the vines, repaint the facades, and clean out the cellars, in preparation for the new season. Everything has a quiet order to it, and a comforting security of belonging to a culture where some things just never change!

And this year I have decided to rent out ‘A little piece of paradise” at San Bernardino so I can welcome tourists to my little village away from the crowds. So keep that in mind if you are coming over to the Cinque Terre and take a look at the link here.


 

 

 

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Nature gives us another belting

 

Rapallo, Liguria

Photo credit: Regione Liguria

Two days of dramatic storms has brought Italy to it’s knees again, with terrible damage from North to South and miraculously only 14 people killed. The Cinque Terre and the whole coastline of Liguria has suffered and there may still be repercussions with landslides as the heavy rains soak in. The weather forecast remains gloomy and Liguria and Veneto regions are still under ‘Alert’, as we slide into the normal November rainy period.

And while Italy is not the only place taking a belting, it seemed appropriate to remember the flood of 25 October, 2011 in Vernazza and Monterosso and even the distant 1966 flood, 4 November  as the Mayor of Venice is saying the high water level may reach the same peak of 1.90 cm!

Vernazza sea storm

Photo credit: Paolo Lazzarotti

Unlike the flood of 2011, caused by an exaggerated downpour, on Monday/Tuesday  the storm provoked colossal sea swells with waves leaping over the entire village of Vernazza. As you can see in the video here the water in the main street is battling in both directions, from the sea and the rain!Cinque Terre Mud Angel

Locals are already doing the clean up of the sludge and mess that has flooded in, their own Mud Angelsas the clean up, at least in Vernazza, is not at the level of 2011.

Tourists were caught by surprise and made hurried exits of the coastal villages, dragging drenched trolleys to trains before various railway lines were closed.

I still wait with bated breath to return to my holiday haven at San Bernardino where I hear the wind was so strong the rain came horizontally. However it is not wise to travel over by car for the moment, if it can be avoided, at least until the weather settles and the weather alert is off. The road from San Bernardino to Vernazza is off limits for the moment, with access only by train or on foot.

The Cinque Terre is such a fragile territory, it breaks my heart to see it ‘battling’ yet again, especially in the current climate of stringent political and economic policies that limit resources and organisational capacity to recover quickly. Locals take it in their stride, fully aware that these natural disasters are just part and parcel of living on the coast…..and after all it could be worse!

Is this yet another message from Mother Nature to say we have gone beyond the limits? It certainly comes as a great reminder of who is really in control, demonstrating how vulnerable we really are.

Some of you may well remember enjoying Santa Margherita Ligure on tour and  this video of the recent storms…. ends with a positive “It will come back to being wonderful”.                            These Ligurians are a tough lot, and hard to beat!

Rapallo, Liguria

Photo credit: Regione Liguria

 

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Wine, all for a good cause

The grape harvest is well over now as are the Wine Festivals in Italy for 2018, yet they are not solely an excuse to party:

Manarola volunteer Associatiom

The Cinque Terre can be proud  as at each village festival the donations gathered raised enough money to buy a new ambulance, 4 x 4 wheel drive, BUT ….not for the Cinque Terre. In January 2019 it will be sent to a remote town of Senegal!

Grape Harvest festival Cinque Terre

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tourists contributed enormously, maybe not fully understanding where the donation was going, but reassured by the sincere smiling faces. After all, with only a total population of 4500 residents in the Cinque Terre it would have been difficult to raise all the money from residents alone. Besides what a festival in Manarola! Glamorous mermaids and pirates came from the depths of the Mediterranean to join farmers with their  ‘lively’ grapes and vines, parading together amidst lots of fun and laughter. Wine flowed as the band played and locals danced and sang all the way to the Church for the blessing, such a fruitful day.

Volunteers from the “Just for a Smile” Association, who regularly serve on the local ambulance service, worked hard encouraging everyone to donate, no matter how small. They made good use of the party atmosphere and the tourist crowds explaining in their best ‘Italish’ the reason for the funds as well as their fundamental role in providing an emergency health service to both residents and tourists.

So when the final tally of donations is done, the “Gocce di Sorriso” Association hopes to also have enough to fill the ambulance with essential medicines, gauze dressings and disinfectant creams.The ambulance will be loaded onto a container in Genoa provided, almost free of charge, by the shipowner Messina, and sent to Senegal. A great show of solidarity and humanity by all.

While in Florence  we were treated to the presence of the ‘Carro Matto’ – crazy cart  from Rufina. A tradition that goes back to the time of the Florentine Republic in the XII century when a huge pyramid was built on September 29th for the new wine. After receiving the blessing from the church the wine was brought to Palazzo Vecchio where the authority of the time toasted to the governors of the time – the Priori – and to the health of the Florentine people.

A  crazy cart – carro matto  loaded with 2000 fragile flasks of Chianti, masterly loaded and well strapped, pulled by oxen, and in this day and age aided by a truck! An unbelievable spectacle of balance and precision accompanied by an historic procession in the city.Chianti Wine cart on its way home

Crazy Wine Cart RufinaNothing like wine to bring out the best in us, Cin Cin!

Photo Credits: Francesco Zagli

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Colours of Cinque Terre

Vernazza umbrellasAfter the huff and puff of the ‘dragons’ in Florence it was time to lap up the colours  of the Cinque Terre. A refreshing change in this torrid heat of July. In Vernazza, before the lunchtime crowds, restaurants prepared their menus to be savoured under the multi colored umbrellas overlooking the fishing bay. The colours strikingly bold and gay have always been a favourite of mine, offering welcome relief in the shade.Cinque Terre, Vernazza unmrellas

Multi colours reflected in the buildings of the area , so typical of Italian beach resorts. Painted uniquely so every fisherman or seaman can recognize his own home by the colour even at a long distance….As I have found describing my home – the third house in pink next to the grey building! Not something one would do in Tuscany.

The colours of Summer holidays, of fun, laughter and relax, where work and study Cinque Terre fishing boatscommitments seem a time of the past and every new discovery a delight. Whiling away the time on the harbour watching the ferries come and go, and the vibrant fishermen’s boats lazily basking in the sunshine, endless colours brighten the day.

The joys and indecision at the gelati shop, again full of Corniglia gelateriadelicious tempting colours and flavours – crema delle Cinque Terre still being my preference together with a fruit choice like mango or a refreshing  mint and yoghurt. A definite welcome treat after hiking down from San Bernardino amid this heat still blessed along the way with panoramic views and loads of flowers compliment a brilliant sky.Cinque Terre, Prevo

….even the fake flower tassels draped over the door seem fitting amid the lively shops of Corniglia boasting attractive souvenirs.

Corniglia Marina

Time now for a for a well deserved plunge into the deep cool waters at the Marina of Corniglia. How gorgeous is that, marine blue and green coloring the rocks below.

The return hike up to San Bernardino elicits vineyard greens, silver sage olives and deep green pines on wild country terraces. Life is about using the whole box of Crayons and Cinque Terre never lets me down in any season!

Cinque Terre view to San Bernardino

Ps A warm welcome to my new subscribers

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Cinque Terre is blooming

Cinque Terre vineyards and Spring flowersCinque Terre is blooming after the abundant Spring rains and sunshine. Everywhere from vineyards to gardens are looking lush, windowsill pots explode with colour and climbing jasmine leaves a sweet fragrance that lingers in the air enticing locals and tourists to the cool of the cafes and wine bars.

Agave starting to flower

Even my super cactus – agave has started to bloom; an exciting moment considering they take a minimum of 10 years to 50 years before maturing and then die off afterwards. So it will be sad to see it go in the end.Cinque Terre garden

 

 

 

Il Gabbiano cafe at Prevo, halfway on the trail between Vernazza and Corniglia has a new open air space this year, under shade cloth, with a fabulous view across the water to Corniglia and Manarola. Initially the waiter served on tables but I think by the end of the first week the area changed to ‘self serve’ …..or the waiter may not have survived the season, running up and down under the hot sun! As the sign outside the terrace says “HOW TO ORDER: Dear Hikers, you can sit in the table you prefer. Then, the strongest of you can walk down, 20 meters, in the Vernazza direction. Once at the bar you can find all the drinks you need to take up here and enjoy the view. THANKS FOR YOUR PATIENCE”

Cinque Terre trail VernazzaFinally the National Park decided to do something about the swampy area along the trail and two simple canals now take the water away leaving the tourists’ shoes and mine, drier and less muddy. As they say ‘Pazienza‘ ( Patience) is what you need in Italy as sooner or later a solution is found. Volunteers have also repaved the stairs down to the Marina at Corniglia  so that’s looking very smart.

Cinque terre wildflowers

Wildflowers are abundant, often sprouting from rather barren rock faces or forcing their way through the verdant jungle  – from wild roses, cyclamens, ginestra, poppies and many others I don’t know the name of. It’s certainly a pretty time of year and not just in the Cinque Terre.

Looking towards MonterossoMakes me wonder though when the crowds come through how many have really ‘taken time or had time to smell the roses, absorb the ambience, remain disconnected (from wi-fi) for a while sensing the Nature that surrounds them. Continue reading

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Plogging along – Cinque Terre

Plogging” has been introduced to the Cinque Terre this season in an effort to clean up the plastic trash along the trails. “Plogging” is an idea started in Sweden with happy joggers/hikers picking up trash as they jog along…. So the National Park of the Cinque Terre has included it in their “Vivi il Parco” ( Live the Park) project arming potential hikers with gloves and bags inviting them to pick up the rubbish on their way through. On their return they will be rewarded with a series of gadgets, from the Park – puppets, key rings, T-shirts, hats and I hope NO PLASTIC!?Cinque Terre trail

The “plogging” appears to only apply to the high trails, which are free and lovely to do although requiring more time and a little more energy. My favourite is from San Bernardino via Corniglia to Manarola and for a change I sometimes hike to  Vernazza  via the Madonna del Reggio. The logic is also to encourage tourists to move away from the coastal trails as daily people traffic on these trails between Corniglia-Vernazza-Monterosso is already intense.

The Rainbow Warrior of Greenpeace toured along the Ligurian coastline last year, taking samples and identified an alarmingly high rate of plastic and microplastics at sea. Not a surprise really as it seems to be an issue worldwide and the National Park has made other suggestions to alleviate the problem of plastic – like the ban on the sale of water in plastic bottles, much talked about but so far not implemented.

Tourist crowds ferry stop Cinque TerreAnd with the recent long weekend holidays and Summer temperatures the crowds literally poured into the Cinque Terre. An estimate of 5million visitors on the 30th April and a maximum of 33 coach buses parked above Manarola! The photos from local newspapers show the bedlam at the railways stations and ferry stops.Tourist crowds Cinque Terre

 

 

The Park and the Liguria Region hope to increase the capacity of the trains and ferries as they are reluctant to put a limit on numbers of tourists. The Local Councillor responsible for Tourism interview on Tv that evening said the villages are unable to cope with the crowds and preferred to spend resources on restoring the trails. He hoped for (the elusive) “Sustainable Tourism that would keep residents and tourists happy, provide sufficient economic returns to enterprises in the area without damage to the territory.”  After all Manarola has only 250 residents, Vernazza around 500 and the entire 5 villages a total of 4,500, who become insignificant on days of a 5 million influx!

So the battle continues and we shall see what the outcome may be. Venice introduced turnstiles to limit the numbers as a first step a week ago. I have suggested we need a weekly rest day at least, like the major art Galleries do……

Corniglia MarinaIn the meantime knowing the other villages would be overflowing, I left early for the Marina at Corniglia for my first swim of the season. Beautifully quiet, freezing water or should I say energizing water for just a quick dip, and very restful. Yachts and fishing boats coasting past and only the sound of waves lapping the new Marina, until the afternoon attracted a few more locals. Corniglia Marina

But sssshhh, don’t spread the word as I’d like it to stay that way for the entire Summer!

Will keep you posted on how well the ‘ploggers plog!’

 

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Cinque Terre, another season begins

 

View to Doria castleAt the Cinque Terre Spring has burst upon us finally and in the past 10 days it has been Vernazza outdor restauantaction stations all round. The change from Winter to Summer time brought us out of the gloomy tunnel and blessed us with the extra daylight hours to get ready for the tourist season. Between storms and sunshine the outdoor platforms for the restaurants and cafes were completed and some of the tables at Vernazza boast new umbrellas in typically bold colours that are so Vernazza outdoor bar and restaurantmuch a part of the Cinque Terre tradition.

Volunteers cleaned up the small beach of Vernazza from the winter debris that sea storms had tossed up. And locals finished painting their bright facades that forever get a beating from the sea air. The place is looking pristine clean and ready to go.

The ferries are running, as long as it’s not too rough, yet it’s too soon for the canoes toVernazz harbout be lowered from their safe haunt at the back of the church. The new timetable is out for the Cinque Terre Express train and the prices so far remain the same as last year.

I snuck down early morning indulging in the peace and quiet and moved on as the tourists spilled from the train platform. The cruise ship  was in and it was going to be a busy time over Easter. On the trail above the village flowers perfumed the air and the vines were just starting to green, such a beautiful time of year.

 

And you can never get tired of the view from above, it is simple stunning,View of Vernazza

In Corniglia  late morning sun warmed tourists having breakfast in the main squareCorniglia main square where the trees are still barren of foliage and the tourists are less likely to be day trippers. Corniglia manages to maintain its layback atmosphere as the 380 steps of the Lardarina to get there remain a good deterrent to cruise passengers and the local bus often too crowded to be used as an alternative.

View Corniglia to manarolaLocals mingled with tourists at the outdoor café at the end of the village, lapping up the sunshine and the sea breeze and of course the superb view that makes the Cinque Terre so unique.

 

 

So be tempted, and come over…..and remember if you need an orientation day contact me!

View Corniglia to Monterosso

 

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Cinque Terre sustainable tourism

Cinque Terre trail -PrevoSustainable tourism” seems to be on everyone’s mind, and particularly at the Cinque Terre, the words are raised at every meeting and in reports that come out of the Cinque Terre National Park. The idea being to visit a place and make a positive impact or at least a low impact on the environment and local culture ensuring the development of a positive experience for local people, tourist companies and tourists themselves.

In the age of mass tourism I have my doubts as to wether it is in the mind of most tourists when they visit, and I fear there is a conflict of interests and economical issues that hold sway and slow the process to Sustainable tourism in the Cinque Terre.

Still some slow progress is being made, a few steps forward and one step backwards. Cinque Terre Quality LabelFor hikers the new developments for 2018 include a discount voucher if they stay more than 2 days in accommodation that has a Cinque Terre Park Quality label. (Seen in foto)

The only trail that has to be paid for is the coastal trail or Blue trail between Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. From April 1st instead of the €7.50 daily fee, it will be €5.00 with a voucher . Instead of €29 for a 2 day pass – Blue trail plus train, hikers will pay €26. There will be NO DISCOUNT on the day trail and train pass which costs €16. In my humble opinion the discount demonstrates only how ‘tight’ Ligurians can be and are famous for!!

Late last year a Cinque Terre newslocal newspaper was over enthusiastic in saying the daily tree would be reduced to €1.00 with the hope that it would also include a discount on the rather scandalous Cinque Terre Express train which costs €4 for a 5 -10 min ride between villages. But it was only fake news?! Trenitalia is too mean to even offer a discount on a 1 day pass. I am at a loss for words…otherwise I may be offensive!

At this time late 2016 a new App was to limit the number of tourists, unfortunately aimed at hikers. It was to assign a ‘red light’ if there was an overload of hikers on the trail or in the next village. The news appeared in  headlines worldwide…..but the App never eventuated! I breathed a sigh of relief as while the Cinque Terre seriously needs to impose a limited number access, it’s not the hikers it needs to limit but the mass tourists who flow from the cruise ships and day trippers on Tourist crowds Vernazzacoaches. Admittedly some limit has been placed on day coach passes, requiring an advanced booking on the day but they are a drop in the ocean in comparison to the thousands of cruise passengers. A fact which had CNN recently put the Cinque Terre together with Venice on a blacklist of places to AVOID! There has been embarrassment locally but neither Regional President or the Minister of the Environment seem to recognise the need for a ‘closed number’ on tourist access. While the current (acting) President of the National Park and Mayor of Vernazza declared that a place “can die from too much tourism(Il Secolo XIX newspaper)Cinque Terre coastal trail

Still if you are coming to stay, check out the Quality Label to see if you may be entitled to a discount voucher. The Quality label is being given to enterprises that respect regulations associated with energy, water, trash, toxic substances, air and noise. So as I said, 2 steps forward and 1 step backwards as the discount is really stingy!

The second new approach is how to deal with the plastic trash problem. That is definitely not unique to the Cinque Terre, but a worldwide issue which is getting a lot of airplay at the moment. Officially, as from the Cinque Terre National park site, the Park will install machines (solar powered) at the entrance to and along the Blue trail which will squash plastic bottles and take any plastic rubbish. And tourists ‘may’ be offered a discount on products from the Park, ie the Cinque Terre Card if they make use of the deposit machines, as well as being encouraged to buy the Park’s one litre re usable flask.

In grand enthusiasm this initiative was also widely publicised in international news – ex The Telegraph headlined with “Italy bans the plastic water bottle along heritage coastline“. The article reported that the president of the Cinque Terre national park said “We are going to update the existing water fountains and install new ones: they will provide people with still or sparkling filtrated water. By the start of next Spring, we hope to have liberated ourselves from this nightmare.”   He said local shopkeepers were likely to be unhappy with a ban on selling bottled water but should realise that it would be in their long-term interests.”

The statement rings of resolution of the problem in an exceptionally short period, when I fear in reality it will be a lengthy process. As with the App proposed last year that never eventuated, it will be interesting to see if the Park can fulfil their promise. Unfortunately the same International newspapers never follow up on the promises made, and the world thinks the problem has been solved. We will see if the CNN blacklist gives the relevant authorities a shake up!

We would like to seriously see sustainable tourism in action and a limit placed on the hordes that invade during the Summer months that have little time or inclination to walk a trail, as well as a drastic improvement in the plastic rubbish (and non) amassed as a consequence. The Cinque Terre is too special to be trampled to death.

Cinque Terre trail

On that pessimistic note I encourage any of you visiting to think about being a responsible tourist, by refilling at water fountains, avoiding take-away packaging and refusing straws in your aperitifs. Small steps can make a difference in this fragile territory and I highly encourage  longer stay hikers to check out any of the possible discounts at the various Cinque Terre park offices, you deserve it!


 

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No time to wither on the vine

Cinque Terre vineyardsOn the terraces of the Cinque Terre the grapes have matured after such a long dry Summer and harvest time is already over. While tourists still invaded the villages oblivious to the sweat and hard toil that was going on in the vineyards above. Yet it is these vineyards that represent the Cinque Terre and the spirit of sacrifice that locals have had to exercise in order to obtain fruit from this enchanting paradise yet harsh land.

As I have said before, many have given up this tough labour and left their terraces abandoned as farming is no longer a viable livelihood and tourism in particular offers new employment opportunities. Those that do remain are mostly elderly, sentimentally attached to their vineyards and sometimes assisted by the Save Vernazza project or students work experience.

Cinque Terre wineThe land is a fragile one as we all remember so well with the flood in 2011 and the continual landslides that occur, are often aggravated by the lack of maintenance of the terraces. Various initiatives to encourage locals to return to farming have been discussed and some young people are taking up the challenge. The local Farm Cooperative that coordinates the harvest and produces the wine offered to pay double the price for grapes this year! Great news!

It’s a pity however that the dry season has meant less quantity, although the predictions are for great quality wine.

 

Human genius has managed to overcome some of the difficulties associated with farming these terraces as fifty monorail stations are now in operation, meandering these steep slopes to simplify the transportation of grapes and equipment.

Sunset brought the predicted storm, the classic sign of an end to the Summer and what a spectacle! Nature’s theatre for us all to watch from the terrace; a chilled glass of white in hand and camera on the go. Curtains of rain at sea, so desperately needed on land slowly approached the shore, yet in vain……and we were left waiting for Godot!

Cinque Terre storm


 

 

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