Monday, June 06, 2005

Day 21: Lerici

Another beautiful morning in Lerici....the water in the Gulf of La Spezia is motionless; the surface looks like a mirror as the sun rises over the hills. After a lazy morning, we drive to the hill town of Fosdinovo, which is in Tuscany but less than 20 kilometers from Lerici. We are going back to a very nice store that sells household linens and is famous for its hand embroidered fabrics. We hope to buy a wedding gift there. The ride up is very windy and slow. We park at the top of town, under the large Malaspina castle that dominates the town. We walk down the main street (barely wider than a normal car) and are quite amazed to see cars and trucks squeezing past us.

Unfortunately, the store is closed but we write down the address of the branch store in Sarzana (closer to Lerici) which will be open tomorrow morning. We decide to drive to Riomaggiore, the westernmost village in the Cinque Terre, for lunch. The road from La Spezia is well maintained and wide and there are some beautiful views after you drive through the long tunnel that gets you into the Cinque Terre. Riomaggiore has built a large pay parking complex at the top of the town which makes parking easy on this Monday afternoon. I am sure that on weekends the garage is packed.

It is a steep walk down to the harbor and, although the town is not particularly crowded, almost all of the tourists we see are Americans. Just as we reach the harbor, an American stops me and says "I know you." It turns out to be an old workforce system colleague, Jim Boyd, who is staying in Riomaggiore with his family. We have a nice reunion (what a small world) and we continue on to have lunch. We have sandwiches and salads at small cafe picturesquely located over the harbor with a perfect view of the Cinque Terre coastline clear down to Monterosso. The area is indeed beautiful and worth a visit, but it is important to figure out how to avoid the peak times when the small villages are overcrowded and the trails have traffic jams. We've done the walks in the past and today are just enjoying the views.

On our way back to the car (a very steep climb), we meet Jim and his family again and I stop for a piece of very good version of farinata (a chickpea flour crepe baked in a pizza oven) which is a specialty of Liguria and the French Riviera. Back in Lerici, we have a drink at a bar on the waterfront....a glass of prosecco in the early evening in Lerici--what a life. We stop at our "friend's" wine store and buy a couple of bottles of Vermentino to take home as well as some olive oil soap that I like very much. We tell him we will see him "la prossima volta" (the next time); he tells us that he is very "gratified" that we come back to see him when we are in Lerici.

We eat dinner at the hotel and get a royal welcome from Claudia, the wife of the hotel manager who runs the dining room. She is always seems very pleased to see us and tells the waitress to take good care of the "regina" (queen) and the "re" (king). Dinner is served on the terrace; we have never been in Lerici when it was warm enough to eat outside at the hotel before. It is quite pleasant to watch the sun go down and see the lights come on around the harbor. Our dinner is very enjoyable.....Diana has a seafood pasta and I have a local version of a vegetable flan baked in a crust (strapazza). We both have the salt baked fish, a branzino; it is very tasty and the only drawback is the presence of a good number of bones. We drink another bottle of Vermentino which goes down very easily.

The next table on the terrace has a large party of men, who are speaking Thai. Diana gets up and introduces herself, explaining in Thai that we had lived in Thailand years ago. It turns out that they are from the Thai navy and are in La Spezia for some exercises. We had actually seen them the night before at the same restaurant where we were eating but had not figured out that they were from Thailand. An interesting coincidence.....we have happily had a high incidence of encounters with Thais on this trip.

It is a short elevator ride to our room.....tomorrow we are off to Florence.


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