Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Things to be thankful for

View looking down over the other parts of Liguria from trail 1
Thanksgiving table!

Thanksgiving in Italy is a tough one.

Most people I've talked to seem to be confused between the 4th of July and Thanksgiving.  It usually goes something like, "Oh, Thanksgiving, is that the day you barbeque a turkey?  On the first Monday in December?"  which means that I give them partial points for getting some of the holiday traditions right.  Regardless, it's an anomoly here, which means it's up to us American ex-pats and our patient male companions to whip up a Thanksgiving for any Americans around longing for a turkey bigger than our tiny European oven.

More sun and sea from trail 1
From trail 1 we reconnected with the paved street
with sweeping views above the other villages

The snow covered mountains of the Ligurian Alps in the distance
Winter in the Cinque Terre can be long.  I mean, loooooong.  Stores close, restaurants shut down, and the village empties back out to it's booming population of around 600 in the winter.  And that's just Monterosso.  We're the biggest, so just imagine how it is in the other 4 villages that make up the National Park.  Thanksgiving was just what we needed to break up the monotony of November.

We actually did a great job, if I do say so myself.  A trip to the "American" supermarket in Pisa meant that canned pumpkin, pecans, a Butterball turkey and sweet potatoes made their required appearences on the table.  We ate pumpkin pie, pecan pie, mom's cheesecake (thanks again, mom, it was amazing), cornbread stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce still comfortingly shaped like the metal can it came in, and all the other dishes that mean home.  Even some that don't - I've never had a green bean casserole with fried onions before (and I do not think I will again, but that's just a personal preference).

And, fortunately, the winter quiet in the region means that the hiking trails were totally empty to burn off all of the calories.

Flat, wide, paved - now we are speaking my language.  And Monterosso peeking out from below...

Santa Croce on trail 1

Through the woods, up the mountain

We hiked trail 1 up to Santa Croce, a little (mostly deserted) one room chapel on a mountain overlooking the whole coast of the Italian Riviera.  Liguria's long and skinny boomerang shape means that from the far east, on a clear day, you can see the west coast which connects to France, lined with sloping hills and mountains over the still sea, and in the distance behind you, the snowy peaks of the Apennine mountains looming over the other border where Liguria meets it's neighbor, Tuscany (and, coincidentally, another national park).

Corbezzoli, or strawberry tree fruit
Trail 1 is the perfect example of why it is frustrating when people complain that they came all this way to hike, and the trails were all closed.  It's easy to do in parts, like we did, picking up the trail then following the paved road back down.  It's wide, it's well marked, and it offers incredible views.  Trail 2, the coastal trail from Monterosso-Riomaggiore, with stops in each village, has had parts of it closed on and off for some years now (right now, the Via Dell'Amore between Riomaggiore and Manarola is closed, as is the portion from Manarola to Corniglia), but there are almost 30 other trails you can take to hike and explore the region on foot.  Walking through the woods, with the remainders of chestnut season underfoot, crunching through dried leaves and evergreens, you are again reminded how Liguria is a combination of the mountains as well as the sea - the forest as well as the beach.  We discovered little corbezzolo berries (in english, the shrub is called the "strawberry tree", though I thought they tasted more like raspberries) and munched on their red, wild fruits while hiking the wide trail up to the chapel on a beautiful, crisp winter day with not another soul in sight.
Scary part on trail 2 from Monterosso-Vernazza.  There were more narrow ones,
but I was too scared to let go of the wall and take a picture.

Even trail 2, from Monterosso to Vernazza, usually the most crowded of the trails during tourist season, was totally empty.  We encountered only 4 other people on our 1.5 hour hike, which was fine by me.  Parts of the trail are very, very narrow with room really for only one person to pass, and hanging on the side of a mountain trying to maneuver this with groups of people coming from both sides would not be my idea of a good time.

The most famous shot from trail 2 arriving in our neighbor, Vernazza.  Worth the anxiety!
When it seems like the winter days can be too long, it's easy for me to start grumbling that there is never anything to do - but these are actually the best days.  When you catch that first crisp, perfect day of the winter in the sun, looking down over the villages scattered below, squinting in the light that flickers off a sea that goes on forever, it's a great reminder to take a deep breath, smile, and give thanks.

1 comment:

  1. Christine,
    Happy belated Thanksgiving! You did a fine job, one that was well enjoyed by those who attended I'm sure. Enjoy as I'm sure you will the upcomeing quite of the winter months tourist free, they will come back sooner than you want.

    Thanks again for the pictures and story,