Keep your distance – Cinque Terre

Historis centre MonterossoThe first weekend of Summer at the Cinque Terre and time to test social distancing along the beach front. Not an easy feat to organize since most of the villages have tiny beach areas, or little more than rocky outcrops or concrete Marine jetties. The biggest and longest pebbled beach is at Monterosso al Mare well known for its stretch of bathing establishments lined with umbrellas in front of the station. We set off to explore how social distance and free beach access was going to be for the season.

The day began with great weather and a slow walk down from the free parking area 4kms above the village. Splendid views, lush vineyards and a beckoning sea made the walk an enjoyable one.     View down to Monterosso al Mare

During the week the Cinque Terre had been quiet but judging form the cars parked the weekend was to be a busy one. A beeline for the first bar on the beach and a close up view of social distancing under the umbrellas.  At least 1 metre between each pair of  sun lounges, a spaciousness previously unheard of was certainly attractive. A waiter with mask to serve us, while most clients under umbrellas had put their masks away for the  day. Time to relax.Umbrellas Monterosso al Mare

But we were headed for the free beach area to find out how new rules applied there. One of my favourite areas being in front of the historic centre of Monterosso. Large signs welcomed us in, but blocked us in our tracks as this free beach area was ‘just for residents or second home owners with a booking’! Unfortunately the rule applied only to second home owners of Monterosso so we had to move back to the free beach area in front of the station. Again another sign and another booking required – residents or second home owners only, with a booking online linked to a numbered pole strategically placed 1 metre apart.

Monterosso free beachOn the advice from a local we went on further, past ‘the giant‘ statue under restoration to the last free beach space ‘Portiglione‘ which was very quiet  and open to all. Numbered sandbags indicated where to sit, although no one was likely to check on our booking voucher, since trying to access the website for a booking had proved unsuccessful! The link is now working, allowing for a booking 1 day prior either 9am-2pm or 2pm -7pm with a voucher sent to email. It does ask you to print?? voucher which seems a little inappropriate and am sure showing the receipt on your mobile will be accepted.Free beach Monterosso

It will certainly keep the tourists numbers down to a very ‘sustainable level’ and so far listening to voices it was mostly Italians enjoying the first of the Summer heat, a few Germans and French and a stray American accent who probably lives in Italy or Europe.Monterosso beach

Monterosso main street

We had already noticed that at least two of the bathing establishments were full since they can only cater for about half of their usual number of clients.

After a pleasant afternoon spent bathing and sunbaking in the quiet of Portiglione it was time for an ice-cream and stroll in the historic centre of Monterosso. Most of the shops and restaurants were open although they were surely unhappy for the lack of tourists that they normally catered to.Monterosso old centre

 

 

For us it was relaxing to be without the crowds and to really enjoy Cinque Terre being on holidays like us!View of Cinque Terre coastline

 

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Cinque Terre on holidays

Cinque Terre view to MonterossoFinally it’s Phase 3 after lockdown and we can cross regional borders and begin to welcome in the first tourists. I was so excited to get back to the Cinque Terre I left late at night to cross the border just after midnight on the 3rd June, like a thief in the night!

It was so good to wake that morning to the sound of the waves, and breathe the fresh sea air. A leisurely late breakfast on my terrace to savour view that I never get tired of. It had certainly been a long 3 months absence.Cornigla view to San Bernardino

I was keen to get out and hike down to the main villages – Vernazza and Corniglia to see what state the trails were in and how much the villages had returned to normal…or not. The coastal trail is in good condition, some maintenance had been done and so far no new wall collapses or landslides. The surrounding terrain is so enticingly lush you could dive into its green carpet and just wallow in Nature.  Hardly a soul walking the trail.Cinque terre vineyards

Vernazza time for fishingVernazza had the tranquility we normally experience in Wintertime but with warmer weather. Kids kicking a soccer ball under the loggia or fishing from the quay. Grandparents keeping a watchful eye on the younger ones playing hide and seek amongst the boats still parked in the piazza.Vernazza main square

Only half the restaurants and shops are open and it seems almost exclusively locals wandering about or chatting together in the café. The main square is missing a good portion of its multi coloured umbrellas but they will return by July.

 

For the moment there are no cruise ships, no crowds and only the beginning of the first tourists. I met a Swiss couple who wanted to get here before the rush and had left immediately to cross the border the day Italy ended the lockdown, although I think it will be a while before the rush returns!

Vernazza harbourSo it’s a very pleasant time to enjoy the Cinque Terre, obviously not so good for shopkeepers, restaurants and the various services linked with tourism which will take some time to recover.Cinque terre vineyards, Vernazza

Reminds me of the I980’s when I first came to the Cinque Terre when the villages were without all the razzmatazz of the recent years of mass tourism.

Corniglia was even quieter, the narrow streets adorned with spring flowers while most of the shops and restaurants are still closed.

The Cinque Terre is ‘on holidays’, taking a well needed break, recuperating its energy to face the new challenges of after Covid 19. Its a hikers paradise at the moment, or a welcome retreat for a romantic few days.Cinque Terre, Corniglia

 

 


 

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Helping hands in Florence – The Misericordia

Florence Under Siege by John HendersonThe importance of all the volunteer associations in Florence and elsewhere during the Covid 19 crisis has been critical to our survival, and will continue to be so in facing the difficult years ahead. And my avid reading during this time has also been useful in understanding why ancient words like ‘lazzaretto  reappear. June 3 – Phase 3 we can move across regions and welcome in the first tourists from Europe and plan our holidays outside of Italy, although we want to support our local tourism. In the excitement of this news Greece initially banned Italians from visiting and our Foreign Affairs Minister, di Maio responded with ‘We are not a ‘lazaretto’!” Visions of Italy being considered one big dreadful quarantine hospital full of infected people was certainly not a pleasant thought, and fortunately Greece has reneged. Or at least only thinking of quarantine for Italians from the North!

But how many people know that Florence was one of the first places in Europe to introduce  volunteer services to assist those in need way back in the Middle Ages. The first established by a Dominican Friar San Pietro from Verona – The ‘Misericordia di Santa Maria’  – the Brotherhood of Mercy in 1244 at a time when Florence was one the biggest cities in Europe and a magnet to outsiders.

Florence volunteer ambulance serviceMany of the wealthy donated funds to the Brotherhood as well as their time and by 1321 the Brotherhood was able to buy a property opposite the Cathedral where it remains until today. Easy to see with a line of Ambulances parked ready to go.Florence Misericordia Museum

Or more precisely it has moved out of the frescoed Bigallo home which is now the Tourist Information office across the road to its operational base and Museum. The great charitable work, helped plague victims and buried the countless corpses as well as managed a ‘lazzaretto‘ outside the walls of Florence. It provided a dowry for poor young girls, helped prisoners and their families, in general attended to the health and  welfare needs of society.

Charity by BBrotherhood of Mercy Florence.

Credit to Misericordia di Firenze Museum

Hooded buffa Misericordia

Hooded ‘buffa’ and today’s uniform Credit – Misericordia di Viareggio

Curiously the volunteers were to remain anonymous and wore a black robe with a hood, called a ‘buffa‘, a rather fearsome looking garb. For years they carried the sick and corpses in a huge cane basket on their backs until the stretcher ‘cataletto‘ was introduced in 1478 as seen on the cover of Henderson’s book above.

And the Misericordia continues today to provide an essential service for us all, as well as tourists. It has expanded and more have developed with medical clinics all over the territory that allow specialist visits at a discount price, as the specialists volunteer their services and the clinics are mostly staffed by volunteers.  It manages rehabilitation services for disabled, takes care of elderly, and is also our Civil Protection service setting up many camps for earthquake victims both in and outside of Italy. It has been supplying those in need with food parcels and essential services during Covid 19 lockdown and distributing the anti virus masks, Their assistance is endless and essential and the volunteer network is enormous, creating solidarity and companionship in the community. We are so lucky to have them.

Horse and carriages outside Loggia di Bigallo

Horse and carriages outside Loggia di Bigallo – original office Misericordia

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