Sunday, September 21, 2014

A day in the canoe

Panorama at sunset
Third fish!  The first ones I was too busy screaming and launching fish at Manu to take a picture.

It may have happened that last year, someone's very fortunate soon-to-be-nephew was gifted a lovely, inflatable canoe by a very skeptical soon-to-be-Aunt for his First Communion.  This patient and wise not-yet-Aunt and her more fanciful fiancĂ© expressed some doubts about the usefulness of such a large gift, but bought it anyway.  Said canoe arrived, was opened with great enthusiasm, inflated and brought out a grand total of one time, then may have gone to live in it's new home, "the land of unused toys for 10 year old boys who love video games" i.e. the garage up the hill.  This soon-to-be-nephew never mentioned it again and we all lived happily ever after.

So, we reclaimed the long forgotten canoe.

We dusted it off (and much to our amusement, no one even noticed) and brought down our giant inflatable canoe last Wednesday, loaded it up with focaccia, beer and fishing line, and sailed off to Punta Mesco.  Manuel spent most of his childhood hand line fishing, which is one of his absolute favorite things to do, and he was really eager to teach me.  We rowed off to the end of the mountain that borders the village, and tied ourselves to a buoy there and threw our weighted fishing line down.  It's really easy - you have a long piece of fishing line with a few hooks on it and a weight on the end.  You put some calamari or shrimp as bait, drop the line down and unravel until it hits the bottom, then keep the line tense until you feel something nibble.  You jerk it up and start pulling in the line as fast as possible and then realize that the fish is smarter than you are, and swam right away.

Manuel sails back out while I read on the beach
This time, however, on my first try I felt a big pull and started pulling in the line as fast as I could.  Looking down through the crystal clear water always makes objects appear bigger than they are, and I was quite convinced I had caught a tuna or something disturbingly large.  Instead, on my first try I got 2 little fish, about 5 or so inches long!  I was ecstatic, but wasn't ready to start reaching my hand into their wiggling body to remove the hook, so much to Manuel's annoyance, I simply threw them at him.  After a few more hours and 14 fish between the two of us, we turned back to the little beach behind the Giant statue for our picnic.

Some of our fishy prizes
It's really incredible seeing this area from the sea.  I always recommend that tourists take the ferry, even though it costs more, because looking back at these tiny villages from the water always leaves that impression of awe in just how isolated and special these towns are.  I'm surprised, however, that more people do not rent kayaks and go exploring like this.  It's not the easiest, especially going against the current, and your muscles certainly let you know that they are displeased the next few days, but it's magical moving through the blue water with all of the terraced mountains in the distance.

And if you're lucky, you can even get something to eat out of it all!  We had already made dinner plans before the whole day took off (sailed off?) in the canoe, so our prized fish made a lovely base for a fish broth for the restaurant that night.  You can't get fresher than that.

This is a real fisherman.  I imagined he was laughing at us.

Looking back towards Monterosso.  Our house is the pink building on the left!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tiny Tellaro

Hello there, blog.  It's been a while.
Tellaro with Tino and Tinetto in the distance

I've been very busy this summer, and haven't had too much time for myself.  I let the blog go for a little bit so I could maybe iron a shirt or two or sit down for 15 minutes in those precious, short 15 minutes of free time.  Plus, after now 4 years living here, the little things don't seem so interesting anymore.  The market is the market, spring comes with it's green and summer ends with it's peaches and figs.  The sea is still blue, the village is still packed and full, and another August has happily ended.

This summer we actually didn't even leave the village very much on our sacred Wednesdays off.  We didn't go hiking, we didn't go out on the boat, we didn't do anything - we just sat on the beach and swam and relaxed (and answered emails and typed, but fortunately all of these things can be done on the beach).  But now that wonderful September is here, we have a little bit more desire and energy to go exploring, and we actually, finally, really truly did as we got in the car and headed off to Lerici and it's tiny frazione of Tellaro on the sea.
One of our beaches found today

I have to go to Lerici every now and again for work, so I've become a little bit familiar with it, but Tellaro has still alluded me.  It's beyond Lerici on a windy seaside road, and has been voted one of Italy's "borghi piu belli", or "most beautiful towns".  I'd always wanted to go, but as Lerici and the surrounding area across the Golfo Dei Poeti isn't connected by the train, it means I'm dependent on my exhausted fiancĂ© to drive us there (we got engaged in June!).

The carrugi of Tellaro
It takes about an hour from Monterosso, winding up through Pignone to La Spezia, then getting to Lerici and more climbing and winding as you park along the narrow road and begin your exploration.    You can park for free on the street before arriving in Tellaro, which is car-free and in that, all too familiar to us here in the Cinque Terre.  From here, you walk down the narrow road and have the option to take the stairs down to the little slivers of beach that lie below.  Here, the road is further above the beach - you need to climb about 150 stairs down to reach it.  There are 2 different stairs you can take down to the seaside, where you have the options of getting a sunbed or the free beach to lay out your towel.  There are also a few little bars and such for a snack and a beer, and some nicer restaurants attached to hotels that perch above the bluest of blue seas.

A blue sea with Portovenere and Palmaria in the distance
After spending the afternoon avoiding jellyfish (the little clear ones that don't sting, but scare me nonetheless), eating focaccia and basking in the sun, we headed down into Tellaro for an aperitivo.  It's a 15 minute walk with tons of scenic pictures to be taken along the way, and as you arrive at the top of Tellaro, the pictures are incredible, overlooking the whole Gulf of Poets, with Palmaria and Portovenere in the distance.  Tellaro (population 1,200 - more or less like Monterosso) is an old village much like our other Ligurian villages on the sea.  Muted reds, pinks, yellow buildings gently leaning on each other, worn from the sea air and sun, hanging over the water and wet, dark rocks that reach up to meet them.  An old church and it's bell tower are closest to the sea, recalling the ancient legend of Tellaro's famous octopus, who allegedly rose from the sea centuries ago to ring the bells to alert the sleeping citizens of an incoming pirate attack.  Signore octopus is celebrated every year in a festa the second week of August, and (ungratefully so) found on the menu of every restaurant in the village.

Tellaro is as incredibly charming as it's legend.  It's tiny little alleyways (called carrugi here) and staircases all wind up at the same place - down in the harbor, lined with colorful fishing boats in repose and cats soaking up the sun.  Kids play-fight with sticks, a diver gears up to go out, the tan Italian women snuff out a cigarette while laughing with their friends.  It's a little raggedy, but that is what makes these Ligurian villages so charming.  They're fishing villages that don't need a fresh coat of paint to ooze charm.

Though it's the last village in the Gulf of Poets that clings to the coast here in Liguria before arriving in beautiful Tuscany and the bigger cities of Massa and Carrara, it's more than worth the drive to get here, and an easy day trip in the weekdays of the offseason to get another slice of what makes where we live so special.

Say cheese!

The beach from above - the settlement in the left corner is Portovenere, and next to it Palmaria.