On September 14, 2005, the brothers of the Syrian Christian Monastery where we spent the night, brought us to the train station and we headed to Italy. We had narrowed it down to the Chinque Terra, but no specific village in mind. We stayed on the train in Milan and went on to Genoa. As we approached Genoa, the scenery became more exotic.. The very beautiful palms, not the tall ones of Florida , but bushy, and my favourite was the umbrella pines which I understand they bear pine nuts. The pastel coloured homes with wrought iron trim, grape vines and the lush flowers were a pleasure. At Genoa we met an enthusiastic American girl who asked us if we spoke English, and we were happy to do that. She was heading to Vernazza, one of the villages we were hoping to see. Take note, this was the reason we went to Vernazza, because a lovely Filipino gal said she was meeting her friends from Ireland there. As the train whizzed along the Mediterranean, with the steep mountainside streets of lush foliage, pink stucco and tile roofs, we would suddenly be left in total darkness as we entered into a black tunnel. Then to come out into the brilliant light with the gorgeous scenery, it was like a print onto your brain and eyes which will always stay with the fortunate viewer.
Finally, one of the black moments ended on the platform of Vernazza. Off we got into quite a small station. Until quite recently, this part of Italy did not see tourists. It was considered a very remote Northern part of Italy, and medieval fishing village. We left the platform, each pulling a wheeled back pack and what we saw, was like being awakened to something, nearly unbelievable. One side of the track was the Mediterranean, and the other direction was a cobblestone street that led up into the town, built on the side of the mountain, apparently, 1000 years ago. No tour buses here. In fact our train trip bypassed all the tour buses and car traffic. Every building was old, and how they arranged them all in levels and interconnecting alleys is just remarkable. Much higher up were vineyards above the town. We did not see any car traffic, just a tiny truck to pick up garbage. Possibly there was road access, but we didn’t see it. In my excitement, I had to wonder if we could possibly, without booking ahead, be able to spend the night. We just kept climbing and came onto the Pension Sorriso, and sure enough they had a room for us. Hallelujah! The room was small but exceedingly clean and the bed linens were of the finest quality. The window afforded a view of roofs and higher ground.
We spent the evening down by the water and sampled some lasagna and pizza, I cannot remember it being better than what we can get here, in Canada, but the atmosphere was spectacular. As the sun set, and the lights lit up the ancient buildings and the breezes blew cool, I felt transported. I say I because I am not at all certain that Alex was affected the same way. I believe though, he was pleased that I was pleased. It was so gratifying to see the effort made by our European cousins to keep up traditions that add beauty and a quality of life.
The breakfast the next morning was just as memorable, warm pastries from the little bakery, down the street, fresh fruit, every kind of cheese, butter. Exquisite coffee with a tiny pitcher of foamy milk with the teeniest tiniest purple flower floating on top, served with the greatest care. By way of contrast, when we used to travel from Edmonton to Yellowknife in the 1970’s and if you have had the dubious privilege of having coffee in High Level Alberta, ( or lots of other towns in the general vicinity) you will know how special that breakfast was. We both enjoyed the contrast. But, believe me, the excitement of the frontier of Northern Alberta and North West Territories, suited Alex to a tee in those days of boundless energy, ambition and undaunted faith. There would not have been a place for him in Italy, not even Ontario.
It was here, that I saw the lady proprietor of our establishment, dump scalding hot water over her doorstep, early before breakfast.
Again, I was thrilled at how our “slip shod” planning , ended in something I will remember to my dying day.