Santa Margherita Ligure

I am sitting on my balcony overlooking the sea, enjoying a non-local vino and a local cheese.

View from my balcony

Abby and Ian arrived in Santa Margherita Ligure, just beside Portofino, yesterday by boat from Genoa. I arrived by train last night, happy to see them and even happier to have booked a hotel. They spent the night on the boat.

This morning was raining, so we walked around this cute town and had an excellent lunch. I had a ravioli in walnut sauce–yummm. As the weather had cleared, we met Roberto and his son Massimo for a sail to Sestri Levante, about 6 miles from our originally hoped for destination on Monterosso, in the Cinque Terre. As you can tell from the photos, I thoroughly enjoyed our trip. I was happy, nonetheless, to get back to the hotel for a swim in the pool and a shower.

Roberto, our captain

The galley

The head

Back and Forth Across the Border

Since Friday I have crossed from France into and out of Italy four times. And it’s not over yet. First, I drove back to Nice to return the car and drop Ellie at the dog sitter. Then, by train, I rejoined Abby and Ian Friday night in Albenga. Saturday we left Albenga for Genoa. Our original plan had been to spend the night there before joining our small boat charter to sail to the Cinque Terre. Unfortunately (or not, you decide) the weather forecast called for 4 days of heavy rain. The captain urged us to postpone the sail, which we did. But while we were in Genoa, we met with the captain and finally got a look at the boat.

I don’t know why I imagined a 40 foot sailboat with 3 cabins would be sufficiently spacious. I’ve been on small boats and understood that there would be trade offs. But somehow I didn’t visualize sleeping in a room the size of a coffin. I didn’t think about 4 or 5 people sharing 1 toilet. Or that we would have to shower outside. My reaction recalled an old boyfriend’s quip that for me “roughing it” was staying in a place without room service. Which is basically true.

There was no way I could cope, but Abby and Ian decided they wanted to do it anyway. So I will rejoin them next Sunday in Santa Margherita Ligure, near Portofino. They will sleep on the boat with Roberto, the captain, while I hie myself off to a hotel onshore. So I took the train back to France only to return to Italy next weekend. In the meantime, Abby and Ian are traveling in Italy to Bologna, Luca and who knows.

I forgot to take pictures of the boat which I will do next week. To compensate, I took a tourist bus around Genoa on Sunday morning, which is a very interesting city. Here are some photos.

Sidewalks on the main shopping street are made of marble!

Medieval—and then there’s Really Old

Italy is amazing. In other countries, there are world class sites that people line up for hours to see. In Italy there are amazements around nearly every corner that nobody talks about. Today we saw 2 of them.

First we drove up the coast about 20 miles to Finale Borgo, another (!) perfectly preserved medieval city within ancient walls. This town was far larger and more lively than our visit yesterday, so clearly someone knows about it. But raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of it.

This is where we had a delicious lunch, which included wild boar with pasta and home grown herbs on grilled eggplant.

After getting lost trying to find our car, we made it back to Albenga about 3 pm. We had not yet been to the medieval part of this city, so we got back in the car around 6 for the 5 minute drive. I had read that there was a 5th century, A.D. baptistery with an original mosaic which I really wanted to see. What a marvel. And the staff were so nice, they let me bring Ellie into the site.

Then we had really good pizza and Ellie fell asleep under the table. Too much walking.

Italy (Albenga)

I am spending several days in a city no one has heard of, on the Ligurian coast midway between Genoa and Nice. Abby and Ian arrived several days ago and I met them yesterday. Not without difficulty getting out of Nice.

I had rented a car for pickup at the Nice airport. But when I got there to get the car, the roadways leading to and from Terminal 2 (where the rental cars are located) had been blockaded by a demonstration of taxi drivers. Or as one overheard mutter had it “welcome to France.” People on crutches, people shlepping huge carts piled with luggage, had to walk the mile or so from terminal to terminal. And once Ellie and I arrived, i discovered that there was no point renting the car since there was no way to get it out of the airport.

Ellie and I returned home but I managed to snag a rental car in town (at a huge price increase). Trying to find the autoroute out of Nice, the A8, I circled around the city for at least 45 minutes. So what should have been a 1 1/2 hour trip took nearly twice as long.

Ok, sorry for another car story. Albenga is near the resort town of Alassio but less chic. We are staying at a pensione, on the seafront that reminds me of a tatty English watering hole, gone to seed (think “Separate Tables”). With better food.

Why did I bring a car? Because there are some lovely hilltop villages inaccessible any other way. Today we drove to a place I had never even heard of: Zuccarello. a perfectly preserved medieval town. we had a delightful lunch at the only restaurant that was open. Traditional Ligurian specialties such as ravioli stuffed with sage and cheese in a butter sauce, and pork roasted in milk.

Here are some photos of the town.

Granada Alhambra

Today was the first day we had any rain and fortunately it happened after we had visited the Generalife gardens and were in a bar in a parador inside the Alhambra. By the appointed time for us to visit the Nasrid Palace, the rain had stopped.

What an amazing place the Alhambra is. The gardens are 500 years old and maintained in the same style as during the time of the Moors.

Those Moors must have been in great shape. The place is rampant with steep staircases and I walked over 6 miles within the complex.

The other amazing part was the Nasrid Palace, which is room after room of exquisite tile, ceramic and inlaid wood, interspersed with gardens.

I am completely wiped. Going to cross the bridge for tapas and then to bed.

Córdoba mezquita

Yesterday was exhausting, but in the end, awe-inspiring. We began in Seville, where we had breakfast under Las Setas–the mushrooms.

We barely made our train to Córdoba but it was a pleasant 45 minute ride through farm country. The modern part of Córdoba, which we passed through in a taxi, is an ordinary small city. The old city, around the Mosque-Cathedral (the Mezquita) is medieval with narrow, winding lanes leading to a touristic center where tapas bars and leather shops vie for customers.

We had signed up for a tour of the Jewish quarter but after visiting the tiny historic synagogue (the only such structure still standing in Andalusia) we peeled off from the group since the guide was neither knowledgeable nor comprehensible. We visited a museum of Sephardic history, which was a hodgepodge of artifacts, some of them interesting. An example: apparently the Sephardim invented a method of making gold and silver threads which were used for elaborate costumes.

If I sound less than enthusiastic, it was because I was exhausted and in pain from my bursitis. I had booked tickets to a tour of the Mezquita by night which began at 9:30 and nearly bagged it. But I fortified myself with some wine and dragged my butt the 1/4 mile with Libby where we were both blown away. They did a sound and light show which allowed one to see the original mosque without the distraction of the later cathedral which was built within it. Stunning and spectacular.

This morning I returned to see it in its normal form. The grandeur of it remained but the Christian accretions detracted from the experience of it.

Off to Granada this afternoon.