Travel Journal

Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy, 10/10-10/16

(Sunday 17 October 2010) by Joanne Chang
Manarola, Cinque Terrre
Manarola, Cinque Terrre
Manarola is one town east of Corniglia, slightly larger, atop a rocky cliff but lower in altitude and closer to the water. I fell in love with Manarola the first time I set foot here, so I'm beaming the day I move in. I'm staying with Franco, who has two rooms above restaurant Aristide, right in the center of town. From my terrace I can see people arriving from the station, and to the left up the hill I see the church with the deli, farmacia, post office, and gelateria leading up to it. Oh, and vineyards. Of course! The place is perfect for me. It has an electric hot water boiler which I use immediately for tea; I forgot how much I love those things.

Bonassola
Bonassola
I continue to walk the trails every day. From Manarola to Volastra and Groppo, a quick jaunt down Via Dell'amore to Riomaggiore, and from Levanto to Monterosso and Bonassola. Bonassola is a tiny village 3 km from the larger town of Levanto (walking through old train tunnels, cool and a little spooky) with a nice little beach, beautiful breakwater, and no tourists. I think about bringing Mom here while sitting on the cliffs with my new friend Aronne, who sings and plays guitar at the Cantina in Manarola some evenings. He is also a great cook and after scoffing at my question, "Do you cook every day?", he says "Yes, of course! It's true what they say about Italians: We play music, drink wine, and cook." Yes, I'm finding that to be true. After a day in Levanto I decide it has the best beach, the best gelato (almond-fig), gorgeous sunsets (tramonto) and few tourists. Larger than Bonassola and the Cinque Terre towns, it's very livable and I put it on my list of possibilities.

The constant walking means I don't feel bad about chowing down. I've become addicted to crusty bread soaked in olive oil (now a staple at every meal) look forward to my caprese salads, and understand why trofie (a denser, rolled pasta) is the best pasta for pesto (while Cinque Terre is the place for pesto, it originated here and is made fresh with pine nuts, basil, olive oil and parmesan cheese). Last night I made my second trip to Il Baretta in Vernazza for octopus, ligurian style - olive oil, parsley, white wine and potatoes. Yummmm!

Music at the Cantina, Manarola
Music at the Cantina, Manarola
I spend most nights in Manarola at the Cantina, owned and run by Gabriel and his mother. Every evening (except Thursdays, they're closed) local musicians get together at the Cantina to sing and play music purely for personal enjoyment and entertainment, and us lucky tourists get to come along. A mix of guitars, drums, harmonica, tambourine and vocals, loud and pure like a symphony in my ears! One night I was in the Cantina alone for awhile, and sat at a table with Aronne and Gabriel who sang and played for me. It was magical. As others came in, we continued to sit around the table, amassing 5 singing Italians, 2 guitars, a harmonica and drums. I was told later that it was better I didn't understand the words. I thought it was beautiful, and the energy so powerful my face hurt from laughing and smiling. Pure joy. :-)

Jo hiking the Corniglia hills
Jo hiking the Corniglia hills
I feel like I've integrated into the thread of this town. The people living here are gracious, kind, and welcoming. They are a family, and somehow I feel like I've become a part of it. I run into them at the cafe and we share a coffee, they gift me grappa and souvenirs, they treat me to gelato, invite me to their homes. Terenzio, a piano organ maker, sound engineer, musician and carpenter, cooked me an incredible dinner the other night in his place overlooking the sea, and offered it to me when he's in London next week. So tempting, so tempting, but it's time to move on. After 11 days in lovely Cinque Terre I'm headed to Bologna, the food capital of Italy and home to Europe's oldest University. It's hard to leave this place, but I'll be back. I am certain of that.



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