Run out of Steam

Arrivederci Possums!

This will be my last post as I think it’s time to say goodbye and close the website – An Aussie in Italy. The pandemic has changed my life as I am sure yours, pushing mePainting by Numbers back to study online and paint by numbers! Understandably it has restricted my interests and curtailed my travels so I have little to recount now in a blog post. I have learnt a lot from the blog and it has been great to share it with you.

Italy is beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel as restrictions are being lifted, restaurants, theatres and museums reopen and possibly pools and gyms in June. Vaccinations continue and currently around 22% of the population have been done up to date, but it will still be a long haul before life returns to ‘normal’

So this Aussie in Italy sincerely thanks you all for following my journey over the years. A special thank you to those who traveled with me, and with whom I have traveled, they were such fun times.                                                                                                Wishing you all the best and happy travels in the future.

Stay Covid safe                                                                                                              Kind Regards                                                                                                                      SueFlorence sunset

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Cinque Terre in Disneyland

The beauty of Cinque Terre will feature as the stunning backdrop to Luca’, a new animated movie by Disney and Pixar due for release in June. The animation is by Italian artist Enrico Casarosa, from Genoa who dedicates his first feature film as director to his childhood holidays in Liguria. And locals at Vernazza were all abuzz with the news!

Luca shares summer adventures with his newfound best friend Alberto but all the fun is threatened by a deeply-held secret: he is a sea monster from another world just below the water’s surface”.

In the meantime maintenance work continues, the boat slip is finished and dredging has begun in the bay in Vernazza. While another landslide at the beginning of the trail to Monterosso needs to be attended to unfortunately.Cinque Terre, Vernazza

On other trail areas – Vernazza to Corniglia,  Park maintenance has progressed and another fallen wall has been repaired and new steps over the marshy area are almost complete.

Cinque Terre hike trail safety ropeCloser to home the National Park has bolted a safety rope into the rockface on the narrow part of the trail leading into San Bernardino to help hikers who are less surefooted.

Spring flowers are abundant and some locals haveSpring flowers Cinque Terre cleared new areas for vegetable gardens and new vineyards. All it needs is a little sunshine and Nature’s colours warm the heart and brighten our spirits.

 

 

Due to Covid 19 the Cinque Terre remains quiet, bereft of tourists, an opportune time for repairs and maintenance to this fragile territory while looking forward to better times to come.Cinque Terre Springtime

 

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Fairytale images of Cinque Terre

Dreaming of some time out from the current reality, Mother Nature put on a special show for me (and others) at the Cinque Terre, at least for those of us who live above the main villages. Probably due to the unseasonal warm weather we are having despite it still being Winter, a reaction between the sea and land temperature….whatever it was, it was truly magic!Cinque Terre under the cloudsThree days of clouds rolling in and up and slowly dissipating during the day, to rollback in again the next day and the one after. Locals call it “il caligo” – meaning fog, but it is rare to see it at this time of year and to continue as such for days. For us above it all, it was a fairytale blanket of clouds, inviting and enticing us to take a plunge into its soft fluffy texture.

As it slowly dispersed the village of Corniglia would reappear in a dreamlike stateCorniglia in clouds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Damaged wall on hike path

 

Time to explore what it was like down inside the fog, and see how the villages were coping with Covid restrictions and hear the news. Hiking down I found a couple of dry stone walls collapsed but no major landslide fortunately and Vernazza looking beautiful as usual.

Rumour has it Via dell Amore will reopen this year, but that has been promised before so we will just have to wait and see.

View on Vernazza

 

 

Vernazza’s main street was very quiet, just a few shoppers waiting their turn outside the mini supermarket, and the table soccer game waiting for the kids to return from school.

But they were busy on the beach rebuilding the boat slipway before the weather warms up.

The water in the bay looking crystal clear…..Vernazza Cinque Terreand the view across to Monterosso a peaceful one.View to MonterossoCorniglia was the same, hardly a soul about apart from a group of friends enjoying  the sunshine with a picnic at the panoramic point.

Picnic at CornigliaUnfortunately another wall down on the way in to Corniglia  while  a new drystone wall has gone up in my little village.  A stonemason’s artistic masterpiece  showing the skill  and talent required.

Clouds roll in Cinque Terre

 

As the fog rolls in I hike back up to enjoy the view and wait for another fairytale beginning on the Cinque Terre.

 

Cinque Terre under the clouds 3

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Nel blu dipinto di blu – Vernazza, Cinque Terre

View of VernazzaNel blu, dipinto di blu” – ‘In the blue, painted blue’  the famous song commonly known as ‘Volare‘ is what I find myself humming as I make my way down to Vernazza for probably the last swim of the season.

Colours have mellowed and the Cinque Terre has endless shades of blue to soak up as Summer comes to an Fishing with the kidsend. Still tourists around during the weekends while during the week numbers are slowly dwindling now as many have returned to work. The only positive aspect of the Covid pandemic has been the sustainable number of tourists, no cruise ships or daily bus tours, has made an enormous difference. The locals have been able to enjoy their villages, almost as there own. To see a Dad fishing with his kids along the walkway would not have been possible in other years. The main square has at times been quiet enough for the kids to kick a soccer ball about or late afternoon on the beach they have set up their goal post nests.

Vernazza

All in all it’s been a lay back season, not a good one economically for many, but a good ‘time out‘ for most. A welcome change for the tourists as well to feel the villages belong to locals, and they are just visiting.

No crowds or queues waiting for a ferry so the kids can jump off the quayside between  ferry arrivals.  View to Monterosso, Cinque Terre The allure of the blue draws me through the rocky archway to my favourite beach at Vernazza, where the waves tumble in, the sea is instantly deep and it’s away from the motorboats and ferry.Vernazza, Cinque Terre

The sea still reminds us of the dreadful flood of Oct 2011 by tossing up remnants of the Vernazza reminder of the 2011 flood141 cars and vans that were washed out to sea. Always a good ideas to wear protective shoes!

Yet the blue is impossible to resist and this season the water has been particularly limpid….even more sightings of dolphins than usual, not that I have been lucky to see any. Yachts lazily cruise past and I make the most of a gorgeous day at the Cinque Terre!

 

Volare, oh, oh  Cantare, oh, oh, oh, oh  Nel blu, dipinto di blu  Felice di stare lassù!’  (Fly, oh, oh, Sing, oh,oh,oh,oh, In the blue , painted blue, Happy to be up there!’

Ps For those Aussies still in lockdown, keep up the good work and you will soon be singing as well! Stay safe everyone.

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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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Fish are jumping – Cinque Terre

5 Terre view to MonterossoHiking Cinque Terre in winter with hardly a soul about under a gorgeous winter sun is my idea of heaven. And since our current winter has been relatively mild there has been ample opportunity. Besides with the coastal trails ( Corniglia-Vernazza-Monterosso) still closed it’s a great time to do the high trail from my little village San BernardinoManarola via Volastra.

 

The views are fantastic, no matter how many times I have seen them, an exhilarating challenge through woodlands and vineyards and vegetable gardens tilled over ready for planting. It’s a time for pruning and cleaning up, restoring facades battered by sea winds in preparation for the Spring.

So quiet, it’s a pleasure to hear the crunch of leaves underfoot, which was enough to scare 3 little ‘ caprioli’ – bambi deer from their feeding. Their white little fluffy butts darting into the undergrowth. A crispness in the air and the scent of Nature quietly resting.View on Manarola

Fish are jumpingAnd as I circle down towards Manarola, I can see the fish are still jumping of Mario Andreolis Christmas lights! The entire hillside above Manarola covered with Nativity scene figures, animals and marine life that when lit, dance and leap about to the delight of spectators. To see them now is still a reassuring joy that the tradition continues with the many volunteer helpers.

While the hiking trails are quiet, and many of the shops and restaurants are closed for holidays in the main villages, the cruise ships are still coming. Passengers disembark and wander the empty streets lured to the water’s edge to get the best photo shot.

Manarola

 

Depending on the day the sea can be a milk pond……

or drumming up a storm

 

 

 

Manarola rough seasThe coastal trails are under repair and the National Park has helicoptered in the bags of stones to rebuild the drystone walls that have crumbled. Nothing too serious between Corniglia and Vernazza still it takes time for the work to be completed. Encouraging to see the new foot bridge is done along the trail

and almost completed across the canal in Vernazza. That has taken since the flood of 2011 to be replaced! Essential to the vineyard owners who have been crossing the canal when the water flow is low enough. Such a hardy lot these Ligurians!New footbridge over canal at Vernazza

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter sun on VernazzaAnd such a lovely time for locals now to enjoy their village and do what they enjoy most, drop a line with the grandkids and see if the fish are still jumping!

Time for fishing

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New Madonna at San Bernardino

San Bernardino churchHow does a small village like San Bernardino, in the Cinque Terre, with only 10 permanent residents, 3 dogs and about 5 stray cats manage to keep its community alive? It has certainly been an experience being a part of this village,  warmly welcomed each time I visit, and feeling the need to contribute whenever I can to this small community: helping with maintenance, lobbying the Mayor for better services and listening to the local grumbles. Volunteer labour is an essential part to keeping this village alive, which in the past rebuilt the entire church!

Best of all is helping out at any festivities which are now few and far between. Even our local bar has closed as the younger generation have found work elsewhere so the social meeting point is now sitting by the bus stop. Yet the locals have not lost their resilience and resist by having the world come to them, renting out their rooms and apartments to tourists during the season. When this generation disappear the village will only be for second home owners and tourists passing through unfortunately.

Yet San Bernardino is in the hearts of many, especially those from Corniglia as it is their Sanctuary dedicated to the Madonna. And at the festival to the Madonna early September a procession led by the local priest still hikes from Corniglia to celebrate. In fact it is the religious festivals which unite these communities (like many others throughout Italy) and bring back life and laughter to the hearts of all.

Madonna dei Tarsi statueSan Bernardino is entrenched in the heart of a local sculptor, Giuliano Carro, who having seen the public fountain moved to the opposite side of the church square thought something more spiritual should be placed on the space it left. So after months of study and work, and on finding a large sandstone boulder he took up his chisel and gave life to this statue: Madonna dei Tarsi
Described by the Mayor of Vernazza “as a work that is the result of the sweat of one of our artists who, out of pure passion, driven by boundless love for our places, without asking for anything, in all humility, and satisfied only by the ecstatic gaze of those who will linger and admire his finished work.”

Attendance at the inauguration was a must and with over a 100 people the air was charged with chit chat and laughter, like a huge family gathering. Young and old from Vernazza and Corniglia, and those who introduced themselves to me were invariably called ‘Basso‘ the family generated from this village.

Vernazza mayor with sculptor Giuliano CarroThe honor of unveiling the Madonna was given to the 3 oldest members of the community, looked on rather jealously by the two youngest members. And while Giuliano could hardly get the smile off his face, when asked by the Mayor to say a few words he responded  “I am a man of few words, and work with my hands.” He did however share one of his poems for the occasion (read by another local!)

 

Hands
the sun has not yet dawned
your footprints leave little trace
while you caress
the earth under the moon
step by step, like always,
every day until evening

Respecting it as you would a mother,View from San Bernardino
you love these plants like children
that cling to the rocks,

that challenge the absurd
but which without you
they wouldn’t last an instant

always thinking of your world
you are not afraid of it
for your life, when it ends
in every stone there is a memory
hands passed over a face
as a tear falls between the vines

to the moon, to the sun, to the stars
show your huge hands
hard hands, suffered yet true,
frank hands and outspoken words,
hands full of earth, yet never dirty,
huge hands, full of love

and his comment in the brochure- ‘Stop here for a moment and think about the difficulty and poverty but also the greatness and the dignity of the people that for centuries have shaped this earth. Think of their immense fatigue, their defeats, their will, their strength, their sweat. And then, if you want to, lay a flower, or say a Prayer.’

Mayor, Sculptor, Revered guests of honourThe crowd were almost moved to tears. My amateur video failed to capture the moment the drape fell as I had to join the grand applause and cheers that I am sure could be heard as far as the ferry boats chugging along down below!

It was time to party! You could not believe the amount of food and wine that was passed out to the tables, all volunteered from San B  and Corniglia locals . Generous helpings served by us with pride and affection to all the visitors who ate happily in front of the most panoramic view of the Cinque Terre.

The music blared old favourite songs and the partying and dancing continued on into the night. That’s what brings and keeps this community together.

The Madonna dei Tarsi now quietly sits and keeps an eye on us all and the rest of the Cinque Terre below.Cinque Terre, Madonna dei Tarsi statue

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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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