In keeping with my theme of discovering more of the region I'm calling home, I've been prying myself out of bed pretty early and strolling around some of the little villages that dot the Riviera, many of which get ignored by tourists running blindly towards the Cinque Terre. Not that I at all blame them. The sunset I watched from the statue of St. Francis of Assisi, above the town, is more of a normality then an exceptional view. It's constantly breathtaking here. But seeing more of Liguria makes me realize how special the Cinque Terre is, but I do feel a sort of protective feeling towards the other towns as well, even the ones I don't even bother putting on my exploration checklist. Like poor Zamogli. The train station might as well have a tumbleweed rolling lazily down the tracks. I didn't even see a ticket machine.
The weather has turned cold, for here, especially in the shade, so I've found that in my little trips I'm the only one around. This made towns like Levanto seem lonely. Though I've been to Levanto tons of times, I never really explored it in the daylight hours. It's a lovely little town with a long stretch of grey, rocky beach and the same crystal water we have in Monterosso, just a few minutes east. Levanto also has a ton of shops and a pretty serious surfing scene, which left me more then a little sticker shocked at the 95 euro price for a Roxy hoodie. It's also remarkably proud of it's distinction as a "Slow City". The Slow Food movement (www.slowfood.org) was started in Italy in the late 1990's as a response to the opening of a McDonalds by the Spanish Steps in Rome. Italians were aghast and struck back, starting an organization that emphasizes the farmer - what is local, artisenal and home grown. It's sensible in Italy, and almost seems redundant to appoint cities as "Slow Cities" as 80% of what I buy is from farmers or small businesses, but that's not the point. It's spread to hundreds of countries around the world, and is an incredibly important way for people to really increase awareness of what we are consuming. Levanto, host to tons of small farm stores and little pesto shops and pastry makers, is proud of that. And who knows - maybe their ratio of artisenal shops to people is higher then it is here. I've never counted.
Yesterday I took a 40 minute train to Chiavari, and then planned to take the cablecar in Rapallo up to the mountain-top sanctuary. In my brilliance, I thought, "Ok, I can go to cute little Chiavari first, do some shopping (as I heard they had a ton of stores there) then when everything closes at 12:30, I'll go to Rapallo and take the cable car up, come back down, stroll around and come back to Monterosso by 4".
Error #1: Chiavari is not cute, nor is it little. It's about 30,000 people, which makes it New York City compared to Monterosso. It IS a beautiful little metropolis, full of winding side streets and palm trees shading white marble churches. It feels like a city - like an old, Italian city full of that sort of 50's Riviera charm. What was nice was that the shops (and there were, in fact, a ton of shops) were located on one long street covered by beautiful old arches. What wasn't nice was that nothing was open. Nothing. As I learned upon my return, in Genoa and the surrounding areas, many stores also close Monday morning, in addition to Sunday.
And people wonder why the economy here is struggling.
So, with nothing to show for it, I trudged through a beautiful market full of scary old Italian women haggling over the price of chestnuts, back to the train. My funivia was waiting.
Error #2: The funivia, like Italians, needs a "nap" in the afternoon. As I arrived to Rapallo, only 10 minutes north of Chiavari, I followed the incredibly poorly labeled signs to the cable car. I arrived at 12:47. It closed at 12:30-2:30.
I strolled around Rapallo, which is beautiful and old - church bells ringing, and a old castle towering on the shore, a centuries old defense from those pesky pirates that really loved the Riviera. I dodged cruise ship tourists on the boardwalk promenade, confused why they hadn't been anywhere else and also as to why they were all so blindingly pale. I was then greeted with the familiar sound of windows slamming shut and doors creaking closed. It was lunch time in Italy. The funivia, the awesome Sri Lankan store I found, full of promises of cilantro and coconut milk, and Rapallo itself was closed for a few hours.
Even though Rapallo felt smaller, but as I looked at the stats, it was actually bigger then Chiavari. Maybe it's because when I saw it, everyone was eating in their homes, but it will not be my last trip there (especially after I saw the signs for a yoga studio).
Back to Monterosso it was. And as I arrived, I stumbled onto another piece of knowledge that significantly hampers my exploration plans this weekend.
Sigh. Oh, Italy.