Time to Remember at Christmas – Vernazza

Cinque Terre trailJust before Christmas I made the most of the pale winter sunshine to take the trail down from my little village of San Bernardino to Vernazza. Only one or two stray tourists doing the same.

I must have done this trail in the Cinque Terre a thousand times yet it still holds the magic of the first time, and I feel like I know every little nook and cranny, and every step I need to climb.Vernazza Cinque Terre Undoubtedly easier on the downhill run!



There was a holiday atmosphere and Christmas songs wafted from the window of a house at Prevo which left me humming along as I headed downtown.

Snow would have made the area even more picturesque and so much more Christmassy, but I was quite happy to saunter in a T shirt.

Vernazza new beach

The new beach was deserted and the sea was doing a good job of taking it back as the waves lapped over the rocks and drew the sandy pebbles back out. Since the flood the sea had also churned up many bits and pieces of the 140 cars that had been washed out and the local Artists group made up a somewhat novel Christmas tree as a tribute to the 3 lives lost and the tragic event suffered by all. It was time to remember them at Christmas.Christmas tree



The plaque on the tree read “This tree was made from recycled material from the New beach of Vernazza created unfortunately with the flood of 25 Oct 2011. We of “Pio Parlanti” group together with the Vernazza council wish you a happy Christmas.”

I’m not sure that tourists understood the significance of this unusual tree made with rusty car jacks, turbines, hub caps, iron bars and cord, and 3 painted faces. Nonetheless locals stopped affectionately for a quiet moment in homage.to perhaps a friend or relative no longer with them.



Yet life goes on as usualWashing, the washing is out and the scaffolding up to do the necessary repair work or facelift before the next season.

Scaffolding 2




Nativity scene
Nativity scene





A narrow alleyway boasts an unusual Nativity scene ,over  the doorway.






and the local gelateria is offering hot chocolates alongside its local gelati specialities – Crema Cinque Terre Yum!

Cinque Terre Gelati shop


Vernazza main street
 Cinque Terre Fishing boats









It’s quiet this morning and hardly a soul about, even down on the waterfront. but it’s not always the case.

A number of concerts – jazz and popular music – had been organized leading up to Christmas and the church was far too small to accommodate everyone so they spilled out onto the piazza to enjoy the music all the same.

jazz concertSanta Margherita church




Vernazza Christmas lightsNight photos by Ruth Manfredi



And as a started my hike back up to home with a fig and ricotta cone in hand, an ape whizzed with a Christmas tree on board!  Wow it’s Xmas Eve and he is running late!Xmas tree








Felice Anno Nuovo – Happy New Year to you all!



Christmas lights in the Cinque Terre

Nativity scene Cinque TerreIt’s Christmas time again and the cities are boasting their Christmas lights to the delight of kids and even the big kids like me! I thought this Christmas I would take you to the Cinque Terre to enjoy the fantastic luminous Nativity scene that adorns the hillside above Manarola.



Mario Andreoli has been creating this masterpiece for the past 50 years, adding and changing figures each year to the now 300 or more characters. A retired railway worker, he is super industrious and passionate about his creations, forever designing new scenes and improving on the old ones. Mario Andreoli

Fireworks Manarola

Photos from Ruth Manfredi – Save Vernazza

Cinque terre fireworks

This years light up ceremony

He is well loved by the community as posters and paintings in the village proudly broadcast his merits and the excitement mounts for the ceremonial ‘light up’ on the 8th December. Something like Obama turning on the Xmas tree lights!








Mario Andreoli portrait



All the life size figures are made from recycled materials, lit by thousands of light bulbs and in this you tube video you can see Mario at work. Although advanced in years he works diligently on various projects which include the Stations of the cross and the Resurrection at Easter and a special scene made in 2011 for the 150 year anniversary of the Unification of Italy. The Alpine Club volunteers help him with the heavier work and to mount the characters.

During the year I have hiked past some of the figures which are mounted permanently, a reminder of what to look forward to at Christmas.Hiking ManarolaHiking Cinque Terre




As you will see from the photos and video it’s not just an ordinary Nativity scene and having it seen it for real I can say it is truly spectacular, in a stunning setting, amongst the vineyards overlooking the sea.

Manarola Cinque Terre

Manarola – Cinque Terre

This beautiful artistic creation is eco-sustainable not only because of the materials used but also as it is now powered by solar energy.

A masterpiece by an incredibly humble local artist. The Nativity Scene remains lit until the end January just in case any of you are over this way!



Wishing you all a Merry Xmas and a Happy, Healthy and Wonderful 2015!

I’m off to Tunisia on an 8 day Trekking holiday ( not all trekking)……and where will you all be celebrating? Drop me a line here.


Planet of the Apes

Ape monsterApes? They are Italy’s infamous pick-up trucks. The  Piaggio Ape has been in production since 1948 when Italians needed a cheap transport vehicle to get them back on the road to recovery after WW11. Ape Ferrari





I’m not sure how the name Ape ( meaning Bee) came about, although the noise they makes as they reeve up is like a ‘humming bee‘ and at every gear change the buzzing starts all over again.Ape vans

Driven like a scooter, with handlebars instead of a steering wheel (until the bigger model) they are super practical, cheap to buy, economical to run, and in the old days you didn’t even need a license to drive one!? Mamma mia!



I love them and seriously searched for an excuse to get one but no such luck. Living in the country I see them often, scooting about, on dangerous angles, overloaded, working hard and seemingly indestructible.Ape truckApe panel vans






A friend of mine had a delivery van and in the old days we would regularly pile in the back and buzz into the centre of Florence to park right outside the cinema – obviously illegal! All it needed was to take a corner too sharply and we would have splattered out of the tarpaulin cover across the road. Still if it tips over, you can just pick it up and sit it back on track!Ape trucks

They come in all sorts of versions – open, closed, cross country, 3 and 4 wheel drive and various motor sizes. I understand now they are produced in India still under the Piaggio name.

Farmers dote on them, and dangerously career around with unbelievable stacks of hay or cut wood balancing precariously on top. Builders, Library Apecleaners, florists, green grocers, small businesses, an exhaustive list of people use and abuse them. And now in Pisa there is even the mobile library Ape “BiblioApe”

Ape aperitivo Ape Aperitifs





Well known outside of Italy as ‘pop up stalls’, a great idea although unfortunately Italian bureaucracy finds it difficult to get its mind around that. However I did find this great Aperitivo van seen in Naples and I only hope we see more of them. We are all addicted to apertifs and apericenas. Such an elegant custom before dinner, or at an apericena a vegetarian like me can dine on the tasty specialities served in most clubs with a fashionable spritz, prosecco or glass of wine in hand.

Ape Ice cream van

Ice cream stall

Ape Coffee pop Up

Coffee pop up





These pop ups In Copenhagen:




Ape souvenir stall

Souvenir stall at ‘The Mermaid’
















I also discovered two crazy Italians – Apenautis who travelled thousands of kilometres across Europe and Asia in 2 apes, in 212 days and their ventures are documented here on you tube. Check it out!  Only Italians could think of trusting an Ape to do that and the guys are still travelling!

In Sicily I spotted quite a few converted into tuc tuc tourist taxis services  elaboratelyApe tourist taxi decorated and one even appeared here in Florence this Summer.



I am not the only one who loves this practical little van as can be seen with this Wedding car Ape parked outside of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Is that not the sweetest ceremonial car?

Ape wedding

Ape wedding





Incredibly I also found a company who converts them into  mini campervans, although you may need to be the size of a  gnome to sleep in one!

They may not be as cute as the old Fiat 500 ‘bambino’ but the Piaggio Ape certainly merits attention.