The Siberian and I bid farewell to the beautifully ancient Porto Venere as the ferry rounded the magnificent outcrop where the Church of St Peter stood.
We were still no closer to deciding which town to spend our two-hour stop over in. It’s the travelers dilemma when constantly faced with beauty. Do we stop here or continue, what might we see, what might we miss?
The next stop was Riomagorre, a town, no, more of a canyon, edged by more brilliantly colored houses mirrored in its brightly hued boats below. A long boat ramp transitioned from its main street into the sea.
The hoards of turistico like us were gathering towards the front gang-plank of the ferry.
“We need to decide, do we stop here?” as we filed forward.
“Will there be enough here for two hours?” The Siberian countered.
I negotiated the gangplank while looking toward the town.
“I’m not sure… shit!” I was still digesting the wonders of Porto Venere and was choking on another banquet of beauty so soon. By this point we had set foot on the rocky breakwater, standing to one side as the turistico filed past us.
“Decide quickly there is much to see.” one of the crew managing the gangplank interjected. He has probably seen this conversation play out everyday many times over and did not have time for our shit.
“Ok, let’s try the next stop.”
“If you think it maybe better, ok”
“I have no idea.” I truthfully did not.
I still have no idea why the 2 hour break is in place in the timetable or the reason behind it. Despite this it was a perfect day because it happened exactly as it should.
Back on the ferry we fretted over the decision until we saw Manarola in the distance. I was filled with excitement as this was my first visual introduction to Cinque Terre when researching. I instantly felt much better about the decision to spend 2 hours here.
As the ferry docked at Manarola, it lurched, The Siberian lost her footing falling back against me. On boats I would adopt a feet apart, left foot right foot in the shape of an L for stability. Rapidly I wrapped my arm around her middle with my left hand and a support pole with my right. Luckily for us as it could have started a chain of dominoes to the back of the boat.
“Still clumsy New Sealand?” I smirked?
“Da, sometimes.” she grinned.
I held for a second more before letting her go and we disembarked onto
the breakwater that hugged the signature cliffs of the Cinque Terre so tightly.
I made sure to watch my footing to not step off into the waters of the cove.
To my left a large rock in the middle of the cove topped with a group of tourists dive bombing into the waters below, one girl frozen with the thought of misjudging her leap and colliding with the sharp rocks below chickening out at the last moment to the wry amusement of the locals.
Above that a winch to launch the multitude of primary color boats that seemed to be a prerequisite for every town. Further to the left of rock a curving boat ramp into the cove where people were sunning themselves and letting the deep turquoise waters lap at their ankles.
The cobbled main street, filled with hotels, restaurants, gift-shops and salumirias.
A little further up there was the sound of a rushing water and a gap in the footpath showed a waterway running beneath next to the waterwheel that the town took its name from. Stopping for a second to shade under the overhang of a tree.
Above the villages housing the settlement was surrounded by terraced hills filled with vine-rows and gardens and walkways.
Atop one of the hills was a trio of huge crucifix.
“Do you want to go see the cross?”
“If we do, you might have to nail me to it and leave me there.” The midday heat was penetrating my every sunburnt pore.
We paused at an overlooking point next to a clock-tower and church to taking in the verdant terraces, Technicolor tower houses composed against the backdrop of the Ligurian Sea.There was still over an hour left after our wandering through the mainstreet of Manarola, I pondered how geared to tourists many of the shops were although it was certainly more relaxed than many of the major centers. For these small towns the tourist trade would bring a much appreciated supplement to their way of life, which would happily continue on regardless of the outside world.
“What about a drink and a bite to eat out of the sun or I will turn into a rotten pomidor?”
“This would be no change for you, but yes I think this is good.”
After checking several more touristy options, I spied an entrance to a below street level cantina. This place was decorated with guitars and old photographs on its low ceilings. After weeks of proseco I felt like a cold thirst quenching beer.
“Bonjourno, ahh Una birra um tshh.” I motioned for a tap beer, the Barmaid smiling and understanding my pantomime, I would sooner assume no one speaks English than have to resort to the plaintive “Anglaise?” it always felt like defeat.
“I would also like.” It must be hot to drive the Siberian to beer I mused.
“Mi scusi, dua birra, por favore?”
“Si, Si, prego, prego.” the Barmaid motioned to a table.
I scanned the menu, a few bar snacks wouldn’t hurt, I selected some seasoned olives and bruschetta, not expecting too much but something to snack on.
The birra was frosty and refreshing, the tangy garlic and herb infused olives complimented it perfectly. Then arrived the bruschetta, chopped tomatoes, on toasted bread, smothered in Ligurian Pesto and olive oil. So many sensations from something so simple, crunchy toasted bread, soft ripe bursting with flavor cherry tomatoes, the complex tang of pesto in between.
A number of times since I returned from my travels people asked what the best thing I ate in Italy was, I would then watch their faces contort in struggling comprehension when I told them it was tomatoes on toast with pesto.
Refreshed, I overpaid and told them to keep the difference as I did whenever I enjoyed the service and/or meal. I’m not one for the tipping culture when it’s expected rather than deserved, although I do understand in some countries the staff make the majority of their wages from tips which I don’t really agree with in principle, I suppose I’ll have to explore my feelings on this when visiting the United States.
Down to the curving boat ramp watching the other touristico, leaping from the rocks, swimming and taking sun, the Siberian removed her shoes rolled up her jeans and splashed her feet in the sparkling water. A faint horn sound heralded the ferry inbound, making our way back round to the breakwater I snuck a final glance at the beautiful Manarola while I was still on its shore.