Along The Italian Riviera with the Penn State Alumni Association

A group of 22 Penn State travelers explored the Italian Riviera from Oct. 27-Nov. 4, 2007, in a Penn State Alumni Association tour. You can experience the region’s beauty and history vicariously by reading dispatches from such places as Sestri Levante, Portofino, Genoa, and the Cinque Terre.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A GREAT Day in the Cinque Terre

We spent Wednesday visiting the Cinque Terre, and everyone agreed it was a spectacular day. The Cinque Terre are five villages along the shoreline here in the Liguria region of Italy; they are an Italian national park and also a UNESCO World Heritage site. And they provide just one postcard view after another.

We started in Portovenere, which is just south of the Cinque Terre. That town isn't too shabby either, as you can see:

We got a walking tour of the town, visited a cool church, took a few thousand photos, and spent a few Euros on postcards, gifts, and cappuccino. I haven't mentioned the coffee over here yet, have I? If you order a coffee, what you get is a cappuccino -- which, I'm told, is wicked strong. (I wouldn't know, as I get my caffeine from Diet Coke, or Coke Light as it's called over here.) If what you want is an American-style coffee, you have to ask for "American coffee." But usually all that means is that they take a cappuccino and add hot water to it. Whenever I've seen the Penn State travelers drinking coffee, it always seems to be the Italian version. A hardy bunch, these Penn Staters.

Anyway, I could show you lots of photos from Portovenere (and in fact you can see a bunch of photos from the trip here -- I'm updating it daily), but for now let's move on to the rest of the day: the Cinque Terre! From Portovenere we drove to La Spezia, got on a train, and got off at the Cinque Terre town of Vernazza. We had lunch there -- yet another wonderful lunch, this one featuring ravioli with some sort of creamy walnut sauce, penne pasta with a tomato-seafood sauce, some sort of white fish (I'm sure they told us what kind, but I didn't retain it), and a dessert that was somewhere between ice cream and gelato, not that I really could tell you the difference between ice cream and gelato anyway. It's all good to me.

Also at that restaurant I got to have a glass of the famous local dessert wine, called sciacchetrà. It's a very sweet white wine found only in the Cinque Terre. It takes way more grapes to make than most wines, and it has to age something like four years, so it's very expensive: a bottle can cost as much as 80 or 100 Euros. But I adore sweet white dessert wines (the sweeter, the better) so I had to try a glass. It was delicious. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that it cost just 6 Euros, or about $9 U.S., including gratuity.

After lunch we had about 45 minutes to poke around the harbor in Vernazza, which is another drop-dead gorgeous spot.

Then we got back on the train, this time headed for Riomaggiore, another of the Cinque Terre villages. About a third of the group took the train the whole way to Riomaggiore and wandered around the town a bit, while the rest of us got off a stop early, at Manarola, and walked the rest of the way. The walk between Manarola and Riomaggiore is called the Via Dell'Amore, or the walk of love; it's a very scenic stroll along the cliffs next to the sea. About halfway to Riomaggiore we stopped for a group photo.

After we got to Riomaggiore and explored that village (it's important to sample the focaccia in each place we visit, I feel), we hopped back on the train and headed home to Sestri Levante.

Before dinner, our group had a chance to meet with two local residents -- a common feature on AHI trips. Their names were Francoise and Renata, and they both live in the Sestri Levante area. They talked about life in this part of Italy, about the local economy, and about the regional Genovese dialect that is dying out. The group had lots of questions for them: What is your tax structure like? What do you think of the new pope? What does Italy think of the Euro? What do Italians think of Americans? Francoise answered the latter by saying that many Italians have relatives in the States and generally enjoy the American people; she also got a big burst of applause when she said, in her charming accented English, "But we think your young people have too easily pistols."

Today we're off to Carrara to learn about marble. Those who have been there before say it should be another great experience.

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