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Two Weeks in Liguria, Tuscany and Rome, Italy, 2003

Pauline

Forums Admin

Trip Plan​

After our Switzerland trip, we went on to Italy. In Switzerland we spent 2 nights in Zurich on arrival, pickup up a rental car, 2 nights in Konstanz, Germany, then 2 weeks in Saanen, near Gstaad in the Swiss Alps. From there we drove to Liguria. Link to Switzerland trip report.

11 Nights in Liguria
Monday September 15 - Friday September 26: 11 nights in Levanto (Liguria).
We are staying in the apartment in Villa Margherita - 2bed/1bath apartment in the villa. I run three web sites for Federico, who owns Villa Margherita. We visited him last year and saw the apartment. It is on the ground floor with its own private garden. From here you can walk to the center of town and the beach in 10 minutes. Levanto is a wonderful seaside town - long, sandy beaches, beautiful views, surrounded by mountains. We will have the car and hope to explore inland Liguria and do a day trip to Lucca. We will use the trains to explore the coastal area and plan to do some hiking.

Two Nights in Southern Tuscany
Friday September 26 - Sunday September 28: 2 nights in Palazzo del Capitano, San Quirico d'Orcia, southern Tuscany.
This hotel was recommended on the message board and we had a quick tour of it last year, so decided to book it for this year. It is a small charming hotel in an old building in the historic part of San Quirico. They also run the very good restaurant Trattoria Al Vecchio Forno where we had a good lunch last September. San Quirico is a pretty and quiet town, well situated for visiting our favorite things in southern Tuscany (Monte Oliveto, Montalcino, Pienza, Sant'Antimo).

We are hoping to have a SlowTrav GTG near Siena on the Friday. We will stop there on our drive from Levanto to San Quirico. Friday night we will see Gary and Zak from TuscanHouse and Joanna from the message board. Saturday we may try for another GTG if anyone is in the area. On Sunday we plan to meet with Tom and Rob (from the message board) somewhere for Sunday lunch. They are staying near Spoleto and we will try to meet halfway between our locations.

Car Rental Dropoff
Sunday, September 28. Drive to Rome, return rental car.

Three Nights in Rome
Sunday September 28 - Wednesday October 1: 3 nights in Hotel Farnese in Rome.
This hotel was recommended by Pecepe on the message board. It is on the Vatican side of the river, not far from the Piazza del Popolo. A new area for us and out of the historic center. We have stayed in the historic center many times. Last year we stayed near the Borghese Gardens and enjoyed being in more of a neighborhood.

Robert from Santa Monica (from the message board) will be in Rome when we are and Stephanie (from the message board) lives in Rome and we plan to see them. We are having a SlowTrav GTG on the Monday in Rome.

Going Home
Flight: Delta Airlines - Rome - Atlanta - Albuquerque
Leave Rome Wednesday October 1
 

Pauline

Forums Admin

Into Italy​

Sunny and warm

It took 5 minutes to drive through the St. Bernards Tunnel and there was hardly any traffic. (To compare, it is 20 minutes driving through Gottard Tunnel.) We drove a good mountain road down from the tunnel to the Autostrada near Aosta. We stopped in a village on this road for lunch. The village was a group of slate roofed houses – very Italian looking all of a sudden with the houses all clumped together and narrow lanes and roads between them. We parked in a lot beside the highway and walked into the village. The restaurant we had seen advertised on the road was closed, but there was another one just past it.

We climbed up the stairs to the porch where a couple of people sat at a table, then went inside to a small room with a bar area and a couple of tables. There was another small room with tables, but it was one of those closed in rooms (low ceiling, small room, one window closed) that makes me start to hyperventilate, so we sat at a table in the first room, near the door. No menu and several interesting hand written signs on the wall in several languages including English: “eat well here”, “you will eat healthy here”. We explained to the woman serving that we were vegetarians.

It turns out that everyone was getting the same lunch dish – one plate with a cooked greens dish, pieces of a very strong alpine cheese made from cows (but it tasted like goat cheese), slices of tomato, and slices of meat. She left the meat off ours. This has got to be the fastest and smallest lunch we have ever had in Italy. Being in the mountains, it hardly felt like Italy and everyone was speaking French. The meal was delicious and after a quick espresso, we were on our way. 24 Euro for the two of us.

A turkish toilet for my first toilet in Italy! The restroom was down a narrow corridor and was not only a turkish toilet (a porcelain square with footpads for your feet and a hole in the center that you squat over), but the obvious flusher did not work, the knob on the wall was not a flusher, and I finally figured out that you turned on a tap under the sink and aimed a hose at it to flush it.

On the way out, I stopped to look at a framed poster with rows of head shots of men, probably soldiers from the area, and a photo of Mussolini on the top (with a note saying “Capo Benito Mussolini”). Mussolini was very popular in the north.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. As we approached Aosta, we looked across to beautiful mountains. Robert R., a member of our SlowTalk message board, will be hiking there in a couple of weeks. I took a few photos while we were driving by. I also took a few road sign photos while we were driving. When we were near Turin, we could see the smog filled skies in the distance – that brown haze that you see in the very populated areas in Italy.

Of course we stopped at the first Autogrill that we saw and had coffee. We always love stopping at the Autogrill. I saw a model car of the new Mini Cooper and did not buy it (such self control, I did buy one today though). We got a model of the Smart Car a couple of years ago. Just one of the many quality items you can get at the Autogrill.

There was not much traffic until we got to Genoa. Genoa is not a picturesque place – rows of dreary looking apartment buildings (maybe 7 floors high) along the autostrada and up the hill. A big industrial looking port. An oil refinery (or something that looked and smelled like that). We spent 3 nights in Genoa in 1988 and enjoyed the town, but have not been back since.

We were doing so well and I knew what exit to take, but we saw an exit sign for Levanto one exit before the one I was aiming for and we took it. I realized immediately it was the wrong exit, but then thought we were early, we might as well explore the area. Good thing we did the drive then, because if we hadn’t I would have wanted to do it while we were here. This way we got the horror of the Liguria coastal roads over with immediately. It was one of those roads that winds along the side of the mountains with solid rock on one side and a 10,000 foot drop off to the sea on the other (maybe less). Beautiful views, but a stomach clenching drive. There was no traffic and what there was went very slowly. There were a few guardrails, but they looked flimsy to me.

As we drove by Villa Margherita, we saw Federico outside and waved and he told us where to park. They were supposed to have a new car park ready for this summer, but their construction was stopped for six months for some reason. It is being built now.

I run three web sites for Federico (one for his hotel, one about Levanto, and one about the Cinque Terre). We spent one night at Villa Margherita last year and this year we have booked the apartment in the hotel for 1.5 weeks. I will be working with him on his website for a couple of afternoons.

We dragged all our bags up to the apartment (Federico helped), then got settled. Federico’s father, Mario, works at the hotel in the evenings. Steve got him to reserve us a table at Taverna Garibaldi, a great pizza place owned by Federico’s friend Tommasso who we met briefly last year. Then we went out for a stroll to the center of town and along the beach. Such a change from Switzerland. All hustle and bustle and slight chaos, milder weather and the Mediterranean to look at.

We had an excellent pizza dinner and walked back to the apartment.

Notes About Italy Driving: Big speed limits signs were posted at the border area – 130 km/h on the Autostrada, 110 km/h on the blue signed roads. It really seems like traffic is moving at a slower pace this year. We were not passed by cars in the passing lane going really fast, as on all our other trips. Our Mercedes drives well, but we kept to the speed limits. It was much more like driving in the US.

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The village we came to in Italy when we came out of the Saint Bernard tunnel.

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In the restaurant.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin

A Day Off​

Sunny and hot

Today we did nothing. Our apartment is right under the breakfast room, which I first thought was a bad thing as we wake up when they start getting it ready at 8am, but then I realized is a good thing because this will finally get us up earlier and it did!

We were not sure if we could use the breakfast room at the hotel, and I wanted to go out to a caffe anyway, so we went out for “Italian Breakfast” – a sweet croissant thing and a thimbleful of espresso. In Tuscany we call these croissant things “cornetto”, but in Liguria they call them “brioche”. Same thing. I think they are all made in a factory somewhere and trucked around in the early hours to all the bars in Italy.

Then we walked all around Levanto. People were swimming. Levanto is a great town. Small enough to be comfortable (you can walk everywhere, there is not much traffic), but large enough to have many restaurants, caffes and shops. Lots of good, small food stores too. We went to an enotecca to get local olive oil and then a few shops to get supplies.

We had a nice lunch out in town. Steve had swordfish; I had the first of many noodles with pesto. Seaside towns are difficult for vegetarians (who do not eat fish – like me). Most menus only offer seafood antipasti and seafood or meat secondi. For primi, your choice is usually noodles with pesto (which is excellent here) or noodles with tomato sauce. Even the contorni (vegetable side dishes) is just salad or french fries. So I had noodles with pesto (excellent) and a salad. We even had some local wine.

We spent the afternoon out in our garden area reading. I am glued to “Ripe for the Picking” by Annie Hawes, her sequel to “Extra Virgin”. It is not nearly as good as Extra Virgin, and her style of writing takes a couple of chapters to get used to, but I am glued to it nonetheless. I bought it from Amazon.uk and had it shipped to the US, then brought it here to read in Liguria, because it is set in Liguria (but in the area closer to France, near San Remo).

I cooked a simple dinner at the apartment. The kitchen works okay, but is not fabulous. I was spoiled by the great kitchen we had in Saanen. This one is like what you find frequently in Italian vacation rentals – lots of worn out pots and pans (why are there always about 10 very used T-fal frying pans?) – but I sorted through them, washed out a cupboard and arranged the ones I would use. There – as good as home. Also bought a clean sponge and a couple of dusters that I turned into potholders.

The best thing about the apartment is the garden. The hotel has a lovely large garden area with lots of loungers, tables and chairs, but the apartment gets its own private garden with two huge palm trees and lots of flowering bushes. I will write more details about the apartment later.

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Levanto surrounded by sea and hills.

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Villa Margherita where we stayed.

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The seaside. Public beach and private beaches (with chairs).
 

Pauline

Forums Admin

Hike from Levanto to Monterosso to Vernazza​

Sunny and hot

Turns out we can use the breakfast room. So up early and to the breakfast room. This is great – and will save us having to remember to buy bread the day before so we can have it in the morning.

The day was hot, so we wore shorts and short sleeved t-shirts. My horrible leg rash that I got our first day of hiking in Switzerland disappeared after a few days and never returned, so shorts can now be worn. We debated between wearing our regular hiking boots or just going with running shoes, and decided on the boots. But we did not take our hiking poles (we could have used them) or big daypacks – we just carried a small pack with water. A nice change from all the stuff you carry in Switzerland in case the weather changes (or you get lost on the trails).

We were on the trail from Levanto to Monterosso by 10am!!

The Cinque Terre is five (cinque) towns along the Liguria coast, south of Levanto. If there were Six Terre, the sixth would be Levanto. You can hike between the five towns, but a similar trail also goes to Levanto. In June 2000, we did the Cinque Terre trail, but not the part to Levanto.

The hike from Levanto to Monterosso takes 2 hours, 30 minutes (the sign says 2 hours) and is very similar to the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza, except this one has more shade. 30 minutes of walking uphill – up steps, up slopes, up a roadway – then 1 hr 30 minutes walking at that level along the hillside, with some up and down, but really pretty easy, through beautiful forests and along terraces, then 30 minutes downhill to Monterosso. A really nice hike – but we were glad we were somewhat in shape from all the Switzerland hiking.

In Monterosso we had a lovely lunch sitting outside on a terrace (guess what we had? Steve had fish, I had noodles with pesto). But we made the mistake of drinking an entire bottle of Cinque Terre wine. We are not big drinkers. Usually one glass and not with every meal. But we were hot and tired and we drank it all (probably Steve had one glass and I drank the rest). We had planned to take the train back and then go swimming, but I figured it would be 3pm by the time we got back to the apartment and we would not feel like swimming. From this we concluded we should do the 2 hour hike from Monterosso to Vernazza.

566 steps up from Monterosso in the first 30 minutes of the hike. I not only counted them, but I announced the current count, in English, to nearly everyone passing by us on the trail. We passed lots of people who were going down and were passed by lots of (much younger) people going the same way as us. The hike was excellent and the 566 steps certainly sobered me up. There were more people on this part of the trail, but not so many that it affected the hike. The views were lovely and the hike was great – but it was more out in the sun than the first hike. We got to Vernazza 20 minutes before the next train – just enough time to get a Lemon Granita which was perfect because we were really hot.

Home and we collapsed. Everything hurt. My big plan is to hike the five towns in one day – so we may have to do this hike again (just the Monterosso to Vernazza part).

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Looking back to Levanto.

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Steve on the trail.

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Looking ahead to Monterosso.

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Monterosso al Mare, the northern most Cinque Terre village.

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Back on the trail to Vernazza.

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Looking ahead to Vernazza.

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Almost there, Vernazza.

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Coming into Vernazza. You can see the booth where they issue tickets for the hike.

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Train back to Levanto.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin

Day trip to Lucca​

Sunny and hot

Today we drove to Lucca to have lunch with Mat who runs a vacation rentals website (Knowital) and his wife Jane. I “know” Mat from the message board and via email, and I love his Knowital site, and have always wanted to meet him. We hopped on the autostrada and were exiting for Lucca after an hour. Another 30 minutes to find some parking and we were set. Argh. This is the first busy town we have been in on the trip. Heavy traffic around Lucca and bad signs for parking led to us driving around looking everywhere for the public parking. At one point we found a small lot just inside the walls, and someone was leaving their spot, so we waited, but then an old couple, in a little car, zipped down the parking lane the wrong direction and edged their way into the spot as the person was backing out. Eventually we found the big parking lots outside the city walls (note for the website – Lucca parking – drive around outside the city walls until you see the large parking lots).

We were to meet Mat and Jane at 12:45, so we had only 30 minutes to walk around and stop for a quick coffee. Then we met them and went in their car to a restaurant outside town in the country. We had a long lovely lunch – I think it was 4pm when they dropped us back in Lucca. We talked nonstop about web sites and web development and about Italy (but mostly web talk). We had a lovely meal and were sitting outside on a beautiful terrace. We did the full Tuscan lunch – shared mixed vegetarian antipasti, a pasta primi, and a secondo – Steve and Mat had fish (Baccala), I had polenta with mushroom and Jane wisely had just a small vegetable plate (contorni) . None of us could finish our secondo. I was starving after all the hiking the day before and thought I would easily make it through a whole meal, but didn’t.

They dropped us back in Lucca and we walked around the town for an hour, then found the car and drove back home. We had eaten so much for lunch, that we skipped dinner.

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The marble mountains for Carrara (looks like snow) from the autostrada on the drive to Lucca.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin

A little swimming, a little work​

Sunny and hot

The weather is perfect!! Sunny and hot enough to swim, but not too hot. We wear shorts and short sleeved t-shirts all the time. This is a very casual town – everyone, even the Italians, are in shorts and flip-flops. We are almost over dressed with our running shoes. It really has the feel of a beach town.

Today we walked around town and attempted some shopping. I got a repeat of my only other attempt to purchase shoes in Italy: a ten minute rant about how big my feet are and how they probably have no shoes in such a large size (American 10). But then I was presented with a pair of red sandals. Very ugly red sandals, so no Italian shoe purchase for me and I don’t think I will try this again (like, I know I have big feet – what should I do – bind them?).

We found the perfect mortar and pestle – mortar of marble from Carrara and pestle of olive wood. I have been looking for this for years. Yes, I could have just ordered it from Dean & Deluca, but I wanted to buy it in Italy. So we went in, picked the size we wanted, picked it up, realized it weighs about 20 pounds, put it down, and made a mental note to order it from Dean & Deluca.

And, of course, we bought a few books. Steve got Beppe Severgnini’s new book of essays (in Italian – Steve can actually read in Italian), I got the Slow Food guide to this region (in Italian – but restaurant and shop names are understandable).

We also bought beach towels – because we wanted to go swimming and did not feel right about taking our nice Villa Margherita towels to the seaside. Buying things in Italy is such fun (except for shoes). The linen store was small and the owner brings the towels out from the back, apologizing because she only has navy blue ones. Then she clips off all the tags and opens one up to show us. Once we have decided to take two, she clips off the tags on the other one and puts them in a bag for us, all the while talking to Steve who wanted to know if she swims this late in the year (she does). So not all Italians go with that no swimming after September 1 rule.

We picked up some pizza and a potato and vegetable tart thing at the bakery and had a quick lunch back at the apartment, before heading out for a swim. It is only 3 blocks from Villa Margherita to the beach. We walked down to the public area, swam for about 20 minutes, dried off and then back to the hotel. I worked with Federico on his web sites for the afternoon.

After that we wandered along the beachfront looking for a trail to Bonassola, the next town to the north. We did not find the trail, but did find an abandoned road along the coast. We walked along it, through several tunnels, until it was too wet to continue. We found out later that this was the original railway, but when they wanted to add a second track they moved it higher up the hill. I think we could have followed it to Bonassola.

Note from 2022. This old train track is now a very good walking trail from Levanto to Bonassola.

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Old train track from Levanto to Bonasolla.

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Levanto.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin

Friends arrive for the weekend​

Sunny and hot

Our friends from Rome (S and C), who I know from SlowTrav but have not met, arrive today.

We cleaned the apartment in the morning. These lovely tile floors show every hair, and I am a shedder. Out to a caffe to sit and read the paper and have more coffee. Then back to the apartment to put on our bathing suits and grab our new towels. The swimming here is pretty good. We put our suits on under our shorts, put on our flip-flops, walk the four blocks to the sea, then swim. Walk home in our wet suits with our towels around us. We don’t feel out of place at all dressed like this because it is a short walk back to the hotel and because lots of people are out walking like this. On the trails, some people hike in their bathing suits.

We were all ready to meet S and C at the train station, but they called to say that their train was late. I said we would pick them up in La Spezia, but then I went and asked Federico and he told me it was a 50 minute drive, so I called them back and told them to get the next train. It would have been much longer for us to go and get them. So when the 3:06 train pulled into Levanto, Steve and I were there with our big Slow Travelers banner so they would know who we were. It worked.

We all walked to Villa Margherita and Federico took them to an apartment he had arranged for them just up the street. The hotel and all his regular apartments were booked. The apartment they had was nice enough for a few days, but would not have been great for a week. It only had one small window in each room and the building is right next to the road (not that busy) and next to a gas station. The woman who owned the building showed us all around her lovely garden.

We walked into town and had a late lunch of foccacia. Then walked along the seafront, and ended up in a caffe. I was hoping that C, who is Italian, would be able to explain all the caffe things to me – all the types of aperitivos, etc. that I never seem to understand – but it turns out that he hardly drinks at all and doesn’t even drink coffee!! There goes my Italian male stereotype!! We all went out to Taverna Garibaldi for pizza that night.

We all got along really well, as I knew we would. When you have an email relationship with someone before you meet in the flesh, you get to know them well. It was like this for me with David from NY, Amy from MA and Liz from Vancouver. We all knew each other via email and working on SlowTrav and starting the message board. When we first met in the flesh last winter, it was like we had all known each other for years.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin

Hiking the Five Towns in One Day​

Sunny and hot

I woke up tired having slept badly the night before. Last night's dinner may have been too rich for me. But after two espressos in the breakfast room, I was ready to go. I only mention this because I was the slowest on the day’s hike and I will use this as my excuse. Today’s project was to hike the five Cinque Terre towns in one day (only a 4 hour 30 minute walk – so not that difficult). Steve and I had hiked the whole trail in June 2000, but on two different days (because of a big rain storm in the middle of the first day). We had also hiked the last part of the trail (2 hours from Vernazza to Monterosso – the most difficult portion of the trail – last week), so legally we could wimp out at Vernazza today because we would be redoing trail we had just walked.

We all met in the breakfast room for breakfast, then headed out for the 10 am train to Riomaggiore, the southernmost Cinque Terre town. It was Sunday and we were a bit worried that the trails might be more crowded than usual, but decided that it is all tourists on the trail, not Italians having a weekend outing. We may have been wrong – we saw many Italians on the trail. And the trails were crowded.

A huge crowd left the train in Riomaggiore and went to the start of the trail. The first part of the Cinque Terre trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola is called “Via dell’Amore” – Lover’s Lane. This first part of the trail takes only 20 minutes and is all paved, except for the last part which is stairs down to the Manarola train station (there is an elevator if you need it). It was packed with people. We walked slowly because a faster walk was impossible and stopped several times to admire the views of the sea and the coastline. We didn’t get to see Riomaggiore because you don’t go through it to get from the train station to the trail and we were pretty intent on starting. In hindsight, we should have explored Riomaggiore and let the crowd head off on the trail. But then there would have been another train in 30 minutes.

I figured we would lose the crowd at Manarola, but we didn’t. The trail was nose to tail for that section too, even though it was a rougher path. This part of the hike was still pretty flat and easy, but it ends with 378 steps from the Corniglia train station up to the town. Everyone except me skipped up the steps – I plodded slowly up behind, sweating like a pig and counting the steps. Okay, maybe I should have used the NordicTrack Elliptical that we have as often as Steve did to prepare for the trip. Next time!

It took us 1 hour 15 minutes to do the first two sections. The APT guide lists this part as taking 1 hour 20 minutes.

We walked into Corneglia looking for a bar and restrooms. Corniglia is a very small town perched on a cliff above the sea. The one main street is narrow (no cars) and was crowded with walkers. We found a bar and restrooms, C found a very old man and talked to him for about 20 minutes learning as much as he could about the town and the area. The old man said people had started visiting Corniglia about 30 years ago and “foreigners” come there to work for the summer. Some even marry local people and stay. There have been three new babies in recent years. By “foreigners” he meant Italians not from the Cinque Terre.

We headed off to find the church. I stopped and got a lemon granita. I was walking along eating/drinking it and C said that now I look like an American – eating while I walk. I explained to him how lovely it is to eat while walking and how we used to consume a whole pizza while driving home on the Seattle freeways (we lived in Seattle for a few years in the mid 90s).

We could not go in the church, but could see its outstanding Rose Window from the outside. We hit the trail again for section three – from Corniglia to Vernazza. This part was not as crowded, but there were still lots of people. At one point, I was behind a middle aged Italian woman hiking in shoes with heels and she was complaining loudly the whole way. We were at a steep part climbing up endless steps. I was able to pass her – but I could not do my usual nonstop complaining while climbing because there were too many people around. This part of the hike is harder than the first two section – the path is narrow and goes along beautiful terraces of vines or olive trees, there are many steps up and then many steps down.

It took us 1 hour 20 minutes to do this third section. The APT guide lists this part as taking 1 hour 30 minutes.

We got into Vernazza just at 2pm – the end of the lunch time. Vernazza was crowded with people. There are several restaurants on the square at the bottom of town, by the sea. We chose Il Capitano because Federico said this is the one locals go to. He said the other two on that square are also good. This is where we found out that S and C eat very lightly (no wonder they are both so slim).

(Steve is watching a quiz show on TV as I write this, where they stop the show so the very skimpily dressed dancing girl can dance for 20 seconds. It is like watching a strip show – all legs and tits. Steve, who watches no junky network shows at home (except NYPD Blue), watches this show whenever he is in Italy to “learn Italian”. He is going to write up the very strange rules of this show.)

Back to our wonderful Cinque Terre day. S and C always order just one dish each!! On this trip it was always a primo – pasta – and then they sometimes follow it with a salad. I saw Caprese on the menu and lept at the chance to have both an antipasti and a primi, instead of only a pasta dish like I always have here because everything else is fish (which I don’t eat) – and ended up being the big eater of the group! Our food was okay, but not great – but the setting was fabulous, looking out onto the square full of people, the boats, people swimming.

It was the perfect day for doing this walk – sunny and warm, but not too hot. Steve and I wore shorts and running shoes (instead of our heavier and hotter hiking boots). S and C wore jeans and running shoes. I asked them about 20 times if they were too hot or were sweating, but apparently they weren’t. I was pretty hot and sweating.

We left Vernazza at 3:50 for the last section – the hardest walking and the longest. This section has over 500 steps up to start, then 500 steps down to Monterosso at the end. We walked this section in 1 hour 30 minutes.

So we did the walk in 4 hours, 5 minutes but the APT guide lists it as a 4 hour, 30 minute walk. We walked a slow pace (I think the other three of our group could have done the hike much faster) and stopped many times to enjoy the views. Our whole day out was from 10am leaving Levanto on the train until 5:45 when we took the train back to Levanto. If we had not stopped for a long lunch, we could have easily done the last 2 hours 30 minutes from Monterosso to Levanto. However, I was absolutely beat after the hike – and covered in dirt. We all raced for the showers when we got back. I had to scrub the dirt off my legs and I would like to burn the t-shirt I was wearing.

We bought the Cinque Terre card at the train station which covers your train and the fee for the trails. I think they were 6 Euro each. You have to stamp it in the machine at the station (it dates the ticket) before you use it the first time and then it is valid for that day. You show the ticket on the train and at the “toll booths” along the trail.

After much showering, we went out for dinner to a trattoria on Piazza Cavour. We each had one primi course followed by salad. I had gnocchi with pesto – very rich, but since we were only having one dish, I could handle it. I slept well that night.

Addendum to the Five Towns in One Day​

I forgot to mention the big event on the hike. For the last half of this last part from Vernazza to Monterosso, I was walking behind S and we were talking. The men got quite a bit ahead of us, but when we came to open hillsides we could see them ahead and sometimes we would call back and forth across a valley to each other. As we were nearing the end of the trail, we had not seen them in quite some time and they would have stopped and waited for us. We kept walking, thinking we would find them waiting around each bend. Finally we came out into Monterosso and they were not there where the trail ended and there is no way they would not be waiting there.

Luckily both couples had cell phones; unluckily the men had them. They also both had the money. I had 50 cents. We were about to stop people and ask for money, when we heard someone calling from way up high on a hillside above where we were. They were up there – they had taken a wrong turn on the trail, but not realized it, and were waiting for us. Steve happened to see us down below walking through town (which must not have been easy, because there were a lot of people around). They called out several times and S finally heard them. Crisis over – wives reunited with husbands (and cell phones and money).

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On the first section of the trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola.

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Sign at a bar.

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Walking down into Vernazza.

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Vernazza full of tourists.

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Almost at the end, Monterosso.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin

Inland Liguria – Varese Ligure​

Sunny and hot

Still wonderful weather, but we wore jeans instead of shorts because we were heading inland to small towns, where everyone does not wear shorts and flip-flops. We met in the breakfast room, then headed out in the car. It is a 15 minute drive from Levanto, up the hillside, through a few villages, but mostly thickly wooded areas, to the Autostrada. We did not get on the Autostrada, but continued up the Vara Valley to San Pietro Vara. The driving was easy – the roads were wide and there was not much traffic. We went through a few towns, but mostly thick wooded area still. It changed to some vineyard areas as we got higher. It was only about a 30 minute drive from Levanto to San Pietro Vara.

San Pietro Vara is a small town at the intersection of two main roads (and two rivers – the Vara and the Torza). We were headed further on to Varese Ligure, but made this our first stop. We were using The Heritage Guide – The Italian Riviera, and it had a few details about this town and its church.

We parked in a field on the edge of town and walked into the town. There were a few shops along the main road, one caffe and a sign pointing to a restaurant. The town was not busy but there were a few older men hanging around and some construction workers working on a house. We found the church, but the door was locked. C talked to one of the old men and found out where the priest’s house was. We rang the bell and the priest called out from an upper window. C said (in Italian of course) that we wanted to see the church. The priest hesitated at first – the church was closed – then said he would open it. We waited at his door, then realized he would probably appear at the church door, and got there just as he was opening it.

The church was magnificent. The priest was very friendly and talkative and he and C talked as he showed us the church. We spent about 30 minutes looking at everything. There is a famous triptych behind the alter, by Luca Cambiaso (mentioned in our guidebook – I have never heard of this painter). The alter was huge and made of several types of marble. They had large chandeliers hanging down in the church. Some had been stolen recently and replaced with modern ones. Everything was frescoed – ceilings and walls. That combined with the eight or so crystal chandeliers made the church very festive. The priest has been at that church for 40 years. Many people from this village immigrated to the US and send money back to keep up the church. First they put heat in the priest’s house, then in the church. He said people come to him for records of their ancestors.

It is wonderful traveling with people who live in Italy and are fluent in Italian. We would never have thought to hunt down the priest to see the church. In most of these small villages, someone has the keys for the church and will let you in if you can find them.

Next we drove another 15 minutes to Varese Ligure. I have always wanted to see this town. I remember seeing a listing for a vacation rental in this area and I have read about it in guidebooks. It has a “Borgo Rotondo” – a circular design of the town. We parked and walked around for about 45 minutes. It is a small town with one caffe and a couple of restaurants.

We found a hardware store that had not closed yet (it was almost 1pm) and I bought sheep bells. I was so proud of myself not buying cow bells in Switzerland, as I have done on every trip, and then I caved when face to face with a hardware store in an Italian village. The bells were expensive – 12 Euro for the larger ones – but I got a few. They are beautifully made and have a really nice sound. They are very different from other sheep bells I got in Italy on previous trips.

The town is beautiful. There are old remains of a castle from the 1400s and beside that the Borgo Rotondo – a row of houses in a semi circle. This town was once on a major trade route. There is a stone bridge, built in 1515, over the river. This river and the river in San Pietro Vara were nearly dry – probably as a result of the summer's drought.

We had a light lunch at La Taverna del Gallo Nero, the only open restaurant in town. Steve and C both had Trofie al Pesto (noodles with pesto) but S and I had a baked noodle and vegetable dish that was small, but really good. I had an apple cake for dessert, but the others had “drowned gelato” – gelato with espresso poured over it. The desert was listed as “gelato affogato al caffe” – gelato drowned in coffee.

After lunch, we drove back the way we came until we were nearly at the Autostrada, then took a road to Brugnato, another village we wanted to visit. From the road we saw a little village high up on a hillside, then we saw a road and drove up it to the village – just out of curiosity. The road was narrow and winding as it went up the hillside. The town was Cornice.

Cornice had a sign for a restaurant, but I think it had closed long ago. We saw a few people about, but not much activity. Some houses were remodelled, some were abandoned. We saw a guy working on a house and S asked him if there was a main square or a caffe. He then started talking and did not stop for about 20 minutes. He talked too fast for Steve to fully understand, but S understood and prompted with a few comments and questions. He was from Genoa, didn’t like Genoa anymore, was living here now and fixing up the house to live in, gathered food from the surrounding hills, said the people in the village were friendly, not like people in Genoa. I caught one or two words of the conversation and that was it.

We left Cornice and went to Brugnato. We parked and walked around the town, explored the church. It was getting late and S and C were taking a 7pm train back to Rome, so we drove back to Levanto (got stuck behind a big truck for many miles down the winding road), sat around in our garden and watched Steve juggle (he can juggle five balls), then walked them to the train.

After they left, we went for a walk around town, got a bit of foccacia and ate it sitting on a bench watching the sea, went back to the apartment and cooked a few potatoes and vegetables for dinner.

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Church at San Pietro Vara.

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Beautiful colors.

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The hardware store in Varese Ligure.

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The round main piazza in Varese Ligure.

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Bridge in Varese Ligure, built in 1515.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin

Rain!! (after six months of no rain here)​

Overcast, heavy rain, lightening and thunder in the morning, then overcast and some sun for the rest of the day. Very muggy.

Well Rick Steves didn’t mention rain!! Because our apartment is in the hotel, we get to use the breakfast room. The guests here seem to be Americans, Brits and Aussies. The name “Rick Steves” is heard often.

One morning we talked to a middle-aged American couple who had flown into Italy the day before, picked up a rental car and drove to Levanto. They had read about this area in their Rick Steves book. Their itinerary included a couple of nights here, then to Florence (drop off the car), a couple of nights there, then the train from Florence to Capri for one night so they can “relax and drink wine” (only possible in Capri, I guess), then back to Rome for a few nights, then home. They told us how they were “ripped off” at dinner their first night because they restaurant had a cover charge that they only found out about when they got the check. By that point in the conversation I was removing my socks and stuffing them in my mouth to keep from speaking. Steve pleasantly explained about the “pane e coperto”. The man is a saint. I managed to say “Didn’t you read the section about restaurants in Rick Steves book?” before stuffing more articles of clothing into my mouth to keep me permanently quiet. (Note to self: Don’t anger the guests – I work for the hotel.)

Today we woke up to rain and decided to take the morning “off” to see how the weather went. We lazed about, walked into town and hung out at our new favorite caffe (Barolino on Via Italia). It has four tables outside on a patio that they built out onto the street. I usually sit on the chair closest to the road (since Steve is the one that earns our living, I feel obligated to take the risk of being struck by a car while having coffee) and I could feel the cars whizzing by. Luckily there were not too many of them. Still, it is quite pleasant to sit out there and have espresso and cornetto and read the International Herald Tribune and eavesdrop on the other English speaking groups (a bunch of Aussie women today). The bar has lots of indoor seating and even another outdoor area in the back.

Then back to the apartment where we dithered about - did we want to do a drive to some local towns in the hills above the Cinque Terre? We decided to read (we are both glued to detective novels – Steve with the Ian Rankin I read last week, me with a Donna Leon I picked up in Switzerland), then we walked into town again for a nice lunch. We ate at La Loggia, on Piazza del Popolo, beside the Medieval Loggia. We had a wonderful lunch.

Our meals out here are usually the same. No antipasti because they are all fish. Once I found Caprese (mozzerella and tomato) and had that. Today Steve had a shrimp cocktail. Then either we both have Trofie al Pesto (noodles with pesto sauce) or I have that and Steve has swordfish. Today he had swordfish. I will have had enough pesto for the year by the time we leave here. The restaurants in Tuscany have more variety for a vegetarian, but not much more. At least in Tuscany you can find lots of vegetarian antipasto.

Shrimp cocktail, mixed salad; Trofie al Pesto, swordfish, french fries; white wine, water, dessert, one espresso. Lunch for two, 56 Euro

Back to the apartment after lunch and we alternated sleeping and reading. Maybe it was the five towns in one day that did me in – or just all the social excitement being with friends for the weekend – I was tired! I also find that on these longer trips (although this one at 5 weeks is a short trip for us), that we really have to have one day a week where we do NOTHING. We don’t travel at such a frantic pace the other days (as you can see from this blog), but we still need a day off from it all each week.

We found a self serve laundromat in town – 10 Euro to wash and dry one load – and I think I will use it before we leave to get ourselves ready for our last few days in Tuscany and Rome. We go home one week tomorrow (Wednesday). This trip has flown by. I was thinking at one time that we might extend the trip by a week or two, but I don’t feel like it. We both have some new work projects to get started on and really we have been pretty worn out for most of this trip – not as enthusiastic about doing lots of stuff as we usually are. In our old working days (20 years ago), we only took vacations to Hawaii so we could just do nothing. That is the kind of trip we needed this year – and really it is the kind of trip we did. Switzerland is a no-brainer of a trip for us and so was this time in Levanto. Not much to read to prepare for the days outings – mostly walking and swimming and a few drives.

Our last few days will be a blur of social activity with the big GTG lunch on Friday, dinner with Gary and Zak Friday night, another lunch on Saturday, hopefully seeing Joanna’s new house then too, drive to Rome on Sunday (meeting Tom and Rob for lunch on the way), Monday morning with Robert, Monday GTG lunch, Tuesday GTG dinner – home Wednesday morning. A social whirl!! And I am really looking forward to every minute of it!!

Some of you reading this may think, why did we do this trip when we really did not have time to plan it and took the easy way out by staying longer in fewer places. Couldn’t we just have gone hiking in Colorado? My answer is that I would rather have a less adventurous trip like this than not do a trip. I love coming to Europe and if I had to come tired and not able to be going flat out the whole time, then so be it. At least I get to come here and do a few things. It has been a fabulous trip (and we still have a week left). We both got a really good break from work and from being at the computer. We have done so many trips to Switzerland and Italy now, that it is easier for us being here than it used to be. I more or less understand how things work and how we live while we are here – so I don’t need the time to prepare (well, I could have done some preparation).

Dinner at home tonight I think. The kitchen is not great, but I have made several dinners here, so it is good enough. We usually have basmati rice (I bought extra in Switzerland because it is hard to find here) and vegetables.

I finished my book, Donna Leon’s “Wilful Behaviour”, 2002. It was much better than her previous one, “A Sea of Troubles”, which ended with a stupid chase scene. This one is back to her old style of good writing and a good mystery. It was set in Venice. I am down to reading Gore Vidal’s “Julien”, which I put aside because it was not that interesting and “Pagan Holiday” which Steve read and loved. I will read “Pagan Holiday” next. I still have the new PD James mystery, but will save that to read on the plane home (although I usually end up gorging on movies the whole way).

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La Loggia where we had lunch.

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Streets in Levanto. You can see the striped church at the end of the lane.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin

Rain again, and a drive to Camogli​

Overcast, a few rain showers, muggy, some sun

Woke up to heavy rain. We lazed about - Steve did some work, I read some email and, after the rain stopped, we took the car out and drove to the Autostrada and then north to Camogli. It was an hours drive.

There was a sign saying the Autostrada south to Tuscany was backed up and tonight on the news we saw there was flooding and the Autostrada was closed.

It was just after 2pm when we arrived in Camogli. There are parking lots on the edge of the centro (central area). We parked and walked into town. The main shopping street was all closed up because it was the afternoon siesta. This street is higher up on the hill and has a few steep staircases down to the road along the sea. Camogli is a small town, Santa Margherita Ligure to the south is larger, and Rapello, further south, is larger still. Camogli is built on a steep hillside and the buildings are very tall – 5 – 7 stories – and narrow. From the seaside, looking towards town, the tall buildings are joined together and look like a wall along the sea. The buildings are brightly colored and many are painted with fake architectural details. Some have a column of fake windows. Beautiful to look at.

The town is charming with these painted buildings and narrow lanes. We found a restaurant where we got minestrone and sandwiches. There are several focaccia places, as there are in Levanto. The weather was very overcast and the mugginess was almost unbearable (especially for people who are used to the dry desert).

We ate our lunch sitting outside looking towards the sea. Lots of young kids were in swimming. After lunch we walked all around town. We had planed to do a drive from the Heritage Guide book, over the peninsula to Santa Margherita Ligure and then to Rapello, but we got too late of a start, so we decided to leave that for next time. We left Camogli around 4:30 and drove back to Levanto.

You can do lots of hikes in this Portofino area – we saw maps posted. There is a walk from Camogli to San Fruttoso out on the peninsula, or you can take a boat. The walk is 90 minutes and is rated as a difficult walk. Next time.

We really did not need a car for our 11 nights in Levanto. We knew that and originally were going to try to organize the trip without a car for this part, but in the end it was just easier to have the car. We needed it in Switzerland and we need it this weekend in Tuscany. But you really do not need a car here – most places are easily reached by train and the trains run often.

On the way back we took one of the small roads back into the hills above Levanto. The road was paved, but very narrow and wound up the hillside through huge olive groves. Most groves had the nets already under the trees but they were not opened yet. We saw a couple of small villages along the road, then turned around and drove back to Levanto.

We are really loving this town. It always feels so peaceful here. There is the usual buzz of an Italian town, but not the craziness that we experienced in some other seaside places. We went out to get a paper, but the IHT had not come in today, so we were forced to get the USA Today. Boy George and Rosie are on Broadway!

We went to a pastry store and got two very small pastries for after dinner. I bought some of these candies that look like different colored rocks, but were filled with almonds or chocolate. Like those crunchy Jordon candies we have in the US. I bought a small bag of these to take home. Then we went to the Enoteca and got a bottle of Limoncello and of a local sweet dessert wine to take home. Federico is trying to get us 5 liters of organic olive oil from a friend of his, but his friend is out of town, so we may not be able to get it. If not, we will either buy some from the Enoteca or get it in Tuscany. I am still using our oil from the last trip. I know this is not the best time of year to get it, but it is better than nothing. On the message board, some people have posted that some parts of Italy have no olives this year because of a late frost.

Then we went to Café del Mar, where we have been twice before on this trip, to sit out on their nice patio and have Campari and Soda. Then home for a simple dinner of rice and vegetables. I really don’t think I could survive eating every meal out on a trip like this.

Tomorrow is our last day here. I plan to go to the self service laundromat in the morning and have many coffees and read the paper while waiting for the laundry. Then do the ironing and get ourselves packed up. From here it is five nights in hotels – Tuscany and then Rome. Now we get to wear our nicer clothes (well, still jeans, but nicer tops).

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Camogli.

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Camogli.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin

Leaving Levanto​

Sunny and warm

The weather is turning – you can feel the cooler weather coming on. And we both feel like we are getting a cold. Today we did nothing except get ready to leave. We went to the laundromat in town and did two loads of laundry to get us through the last week. Unfortunately, the washers do not let you add your own soap (we use unscented soap) - it is automatically added and it was a little scented. It took a couple of hours to do the laundry, so we wandered around town and sat in Barolino having coffee and reading the paper while the clothes were washing and drying.

11 nights here and we have not even seen all of Levanto. We didn’t go in the church. We didn’t walk from Levanto north to the Bonasola. We didn’t drive inland from the Cinque Terre to Pignone. We didn’t hike from Portovenere to Riomaggiore (5 hours with twice the climb of the Levanto to Monterosso hike). We didn’t take the boat between the Cinque Terre towns. I can’t remember what we did – when I count back through our activities I come up with two days of hiking and three day trips in the car. That leaves five days unaccounted for.

We spent the afternoon packing up and napping (to get rid of these colds). When we took some stuff out to the car, there was a parking spot on the street right in front of the hotel, so we moved the car from the lot where we had been keeping it and parked there. Easier for loading the car, but the street is narrow and although everyone parks along there, I don’t think you are really supposed to and cars are always having to wait while oncoming cars take the corner. The lot that Federico uses while his parking area is being built is a block from the hotel, down a steep alley just a few feet then into a field that is fenced and gated.

We did a long walk around town in the early evening and got to Taverna Garibaldi just before it opened. I took some photos of the owners, Thomas and Elena, in the restaurant. I am going to make a page about them as an example pizza restaurant on SlowTrav. Thomas is going to email me their menu. I also took photos of the pizza we had for dinner. We both got pizzas with no cheese – which was perfect – nice and light for our last Levanto meal.

We had asked Federico where we could get organic olive oil locally and he had a friend, but it turned out the friend was out of town. Instead they gave us a few liters of their own olive oil (I guess they have land somewhere – a guy came in with the oil and with a basket of vegetables for them).

Note from 2022: We returned to Levanto in May 2018 and this time did all the hikes we missed on this trip. We stayed in another of Federico's apartments. Caffe Barolino is still there but the brother has taken over from the original owner. Taverna Garibaldi is still going strong and the pizza is still great.

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Caffe Barolino, our favorite caffe.

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Morning pastries.

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Breakfast.

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Taverna Garibaldi, our favorite pizza place.

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Pizza.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin

The Chianti GTG​

Sunny and warm (cool in the evening – needed a jacket or sweater)

Have I mentioned how much I hate those route planning web sites? Last year I printed out driving directions from Mappy and they were useless. This year I printed out driving directions from Maporama and they were more than useless, they were also misleading. Two hours from Levanto to Castellina – or so they said. More like three and a half.

We were up early and in the breakfast room before they opened. Turns out it opens at 8:30 – so me complaining about the noise in our apartment from the breakfast room seems pretty lame now.

We said our goodbyes to Federico. We really did not get that much work done on his web site because this is his busy time of year and he did not have much time to spend on it, but we planned out what we would do on the site this winter.

We left Levanto at 9:05. I was hoping to be on the road by 8:30. We needed to be at the Siena train station by 11:00 to pick up S and C who took the bus (the “pullman”) up from Rome. We got there at 12:15. Here are the real driving times:

9:05 – Leaving Levanto
9:20 – Entering the A12 autostrada
10:05 – Exiting the A12 near Lucca and getting on the autostrada to Florence (5,30 Euro toll)
10:16 – A11 autostrada entrance near Lucca
Very quick stop at the Autogrill near Pistoia for coffee and restrooms.

By now I am realizing that there is not a chance of making it to the Siena train station by 11. I phone Cristina, hoping to convince her to go pick up Stephanie and Cesare, only to find out that she is very sick and both her girls are sick and her husband is at work and her friend who looks after the children for her just had a baby – so there is no way Cristina can come to the lunch she has organized, let alone go pickup S and C. I called S and told them how late we would be. Their bus was 45 minutes late.

11:04 – Traffic started slowing near Prato. I had forgotten how the A1 near Florence can grind to a halt. It did not slow for long, but on the other side there was a big accident and traffic was at a standstill for miles.
11:30 – Exited the A1 for the SI-FI Raccordo (Siena – Firenze). 5,70 Euro toll. I think we had another 2 Euro toll in there on the stretch between the A12 and the A11. 130kph speed limit on the autostrada, but 90 kph on the SI-FI Raccordo. Cristina says they patrol this road and have cameras that catch you speeding. We found the autostrada much easier to drive on this trip. I think people are obeying the speed limits! You can move into the passing lane to pass a slower car, without having a BMW appear on your tail with his lights flashing. On previous trips that happened all the time. It has not happened once on this trip – people are driving slower.
12:15 – Took the Siena Nord exit and entered what I like to call the Chianti Bermuda Triangle. But we have driven through it many times (sometimes three times while circling endlessly) – and now I actually know these roads – so we drove straight to the train station and put S and C in our back seat with one of our big suitcases. We had planned to visit Cristina first, but this was no longer possible. I called her and then we drove to the restaurant on the edge of Castellina and arrived at 12:40. Others were arriving too.

There were 25 people. Afterwards I realized that most of them are expats living in Italy. The only travelers were me and Steve, Charity and Bill from Santa Barbara and Gail Hecko and her husband John. Everyone else lived in Italy – Judy (DivinaCucina), Ann (TuscanTraveler), Chandi and her husband (RedRedWine), Bill and Patty Sutherland (TuscanWomenCook), Gaynor and Terese (LaBellaToscana), Margaret and John (Casa dei Sogni), Barb and Art (who moved to Umbria two days earlier), Rebecca (Brigolante), S and C – or was planning to move to Italy – Joanna. Joanna’s cousin Stefy was also there. I think I am missing some people from this list – it will come to me later. Carmel from Rome was supposed to come, but had to cancel because she had to be in Rome that day to get some paperwork done for her Visa. She sent presents for every person at the GTG (envelops of wonderful spices)!!

The lunch was wonderful. We sat at two long tables outside under awnings. The menu had been decided and course after course arrived. We ate and talked and took photos and changed places and talked and ate from 12:45 until 4:30. At the start each person stood up and introduced themselves – which was a great idea because we all got to know who was who.

It seemed like we all talked nonstop for the whole time – or was that just me? As promised, Rebecca was shy and not the great wit we were all expecting … for the first 15 minutes. Then she warmed up to all of us and was talkative and funny. Judy made Steve’s day by telling him she loved his L’Eridita blog entry (about that Italian TV show) and that she watches that show too. Charity then further made his day by showing him how she had printed out all his language lessons and carried them around with her on the trip.

Many of the expats are in the travel-tourist business. Judy does cooking classes and tours, so do the Sutherlands. Ann is a tour guide in Florence. Chiandi organizes weddings in Italy. Rebecca runs her Brigolante vacation rentals. Gaynor and Terese run La Bella Toscana, a vacation rental agency (a SlowTrav favorite).

At the end of the lunch, just as people were starting to leave, Dario (the author of 2 Much Tuscan Son – which I intentionally spell wrong so the search engines won’t pick it up) called Judy and said he was going to come and say hi. This was pretty strange because I really did not like his book and had all kinds of things that I wanted to say, but didn’t. Also, on the mboard, he recently admitted to posting under another name to shamelessly promote his book. I had suspected that this other name was really him and had emailed him about it a year ago, but he had denied it. This is a little too weird for me. Anyway we all talked with Dario for a few minutes, but it was strange. I wonder if he noticed my big American feet? Probably.

As we were leaving, the chef was trying to talk us into grappa and limoncello. We declined. I took photos of him and his wife in the restaurant and will post them with our group photos.

When we arrived, he had something for me – a card from Doru!!! I had been thinking of Doru, because he had been in Castellina a few days before the lunch, but was not there for the lunch. He left a card for us knowing we would all be there after him.

A few of us drove to Vagliagli to meet Cristina. She stood outside her house and we talked for 30 minutes or so. She was sick and her girls in the house were even sicker. It was such bad timing, because Cristina organized the whole lunch and would have had a great time at it. People had brought presents for her, so I hope that made up for it somewhat.

We didn’t leave Cristina’s until 6:30. We took S and C to the train station, but the next bus was not until 8:20 – so they had some time to kill. Meanwhile it is getting later and we had another hour to drive to our hotel in San Quirico. Note to self: Never, ever do a GTG on a travel day. What was I thinking? We should have booked two nights in Castellina and had the GTG on the full day we were there. We ended up doing too much driving.

And talking. I have now been talking for two days straight, because we had another GTG today (Saturday).

Driving on the white (dirt) road from Castellina to Vagliagli was the first “hairball” driving of the trip (well, from the A12 into Levanto is a bit hairball). Narrow road, lots of curves. Driving on the paved road from Vagliagli to Siena was busier than anything we had been driving before (and extraordinarily beautiful as we looked out over olive groves, vineyards and villas). And the driving around the Siena train station was very busy and somewhat chaotic. But we survived it all.

We got gas in Siena, made our way to the Siena Nord entrance to the Raccordo, and continued south to the SS2 and to San Quirico d’Orcia. That road is always a bit difficult, with lots of trucks that you have to pass. There is a piece of road about half way, where you leave the road and enter an “Autostrada” type of road for about two miles, then they have a real exit sign (Uscita) as if you had the choice of going straight or exiting, when really, you have to exit and then you are back on the one lane in each direction SS2 road that you were on before. I guess they have plans to make this a highway the whole way, but only built this one little bit. It has been like this for years.

We pulled into San Quirco around 8pm in total darkness. First, the town is about five times as large as I remember. Second, I have not got a clue where we should park or how to get to the hotel. I figured we would be arriving about two hours earlier and would park and walk into town, find the hotel and find out where to park. Which is what we did – but in complete darkness. We found an area I thought I recognized and we parked, but we could not find the way into the historic center. An Italian couple were carrying some paintings and things into town, so we talked to them and followed them (and carried some things). They took us into the center, I saw the linen store I shopped at last year and I knew where we were.

The town was full of people – and it was not all tourists (maybe some Italian tourists). People walking and talking, sitting in the square. There were way more shops than I remembered too. Really fun and lively!

We found the hotel, they gave us a map and showed us where to park, we went back to the car, drove in through an arch that is maybe two inches wider than the car, down a very narrow lane, stopped in front of the hotel, unloaded three bags (left some in the car), Steve drove into the square, turned the car and then backed it into a garage door that is about two feet wider than the car and takes about five back and forths to angle in correctly.

We drag our bags to the third floor (American third) and collapse. The room is lovely – canopied bed, high ceilings, very old building but a brand new renovation, fabulous lighting fixtures and furniture, fabulous tiled bathroom. No tub (but an enormous shower) – I was hoping to collapse into a hot bath.

Instead we went out for a very simple dinner (riboletta – vegetable soup, and two contorni – vegetable side dishes), then went to bed. Steve is exhausted from the drive. I am just exhausted. We took some vitamins – maybe we can fight off this cold.

This is the phase of the trip where I miss my cats and I want to be home. I don’t want to go to all the effort of driving into Rome, returning the car, unloading all the luggage into a cab, dragging it into a hotel, then doing it all again to go to the airport. I just want to go home. But, I always feel like that and then we get to Rome and we LOVE it. I won’t want to leave.

SlowTrav GTG photos

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Pauline and Cristina.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin

San Quirico d'Orcia GTG​

Sunny and warm (but I wore a long sleeved top today and a jacket in the evening)

I slept badly. Woke up at 4 am (counted the church bells) feeling very congested and slightly panicked because I had done nothing to arrange this lunch expect make a reservation for 17 and I was not really sure of the number of people coming or if anyone would come. We got up at 8 and Steve was feeling bad from this cold – but I was feeling much better. I really wanted to go and get some organic olive oil from a place in Montisi where we go each year, but I thought Steve really needed to rest all morning before our next lunch.

We went down to the breakfast room (very nice) and after a our usual double espresso, some bread, butter and jam and a cornetto, Steve was perky and we thought we could do the olive oil run. We had planned to meet Wendy and Richard from the message board at 11:30, but I called them on their cell and we agreed on noon to give us extra time.

Took the car out of the garage, and drove out into the incredibly beautiful southern Tuscany countryside. I had forgotten just how wonderful the Crete area is – big open fields with rows of Cypress trees and farmhouses in the distance, the distinctive grey clay on some of the hillsides, occasional forests, big groves of olive trees. We drove towards Pienza, but turned off just before to go to Castelmuzio, then Montisi. We drove past the farmhouse (La Fornacina) where we spent three weeks in fall 2001.

We buy our oil from La Romita in Montisi. It is an organic producer and he is really into the oil. Everyone tells us we pay way too much, but I think his oil is great and am willing to pay more for the organic production. Everyone tells us that all the oil from this area or from all of Italy is organic, but then I wonder why there is an organic movement in Italy when everything is already organic? La Romita is a restaurant on the main street of this small village and the frantoio is below it. We were in luck, because as we drove in, the owner was driving in too. He showed us new equipment he has for this year’s harvest. He presses olives in October, November and December. The earlier pressings are his more expensive oil. He will be doing his first press next week – but we won’t be here, so we have to buy last year’s oil. We got a five liter tin of last year’s October oil (150 Euro – yes, yes, I know – too expensive). This is the third year in a row that we have bought five liters from him.

We drove back to the San Quirico and met Wendy and Richard at the caffe. Wendy and Richard (Riccardo) are both on the mboard. Wendy has written several vacation rental reviews. They could not stay for the lunch, but were in the area, so we had arranged to meet before. They are both Slow Travelers (staying mostly in vacation rentals) like us, and have been traveling this way a long time. We had coffee and talked about our current trips. Barb and Art found us in the caffe, then Joanna. Wendy and Richard headed off, and we all headed to lunch at the restaurant owned by the hotel.

We had about 18 people for lunch: Linda from NC and husband and 3 friends, Joanna and friend and cousins, Zak, Barb and Art, Charity and Bill, me and Steve. We sat at a long table in the garden area and shared antipasto and ordered one other dish each. The food was very good, the conversation even better.

After lunch, we drove up to Joanna’s new house. Linda from NC and her group were driving to Cetona to spend a week in the house we stayed in last year (from TuscanHouse) so they didn’t come, but everyone else did. Joanna’s house is in a lovely hill town near San Quirico. We had not been to this town before. Her house is beautiful (needs to be renovated, but is in pretty good shape) – she and her friend Stephy had spent the last week cleaning it. It has a large garden area too. The town is small, but has several stores, a caffe and a pizza place. The views from the town and her house and garden are beautiful – you can see most of southern Tuscany from there.

The group split up at this point, Charity and Bill heading to a vacation rental in Chianti, Zak back to work, Barb and Art to their new life in Umbria, Joanna and Stephy to Rome to fly home the next day.

We drove to Pienza to check out my favorite bookstore there (on the main piazza, just outside the walls). We got a couple of books and some DVDs in Italian.

One book is very interesting and I will post more about it on the mboard, but it is almost exactly what I have done in the Instructions for Visitors section of the web site – photos of parking signs and descriptions of parking methods, photos of menus, photos of garbage cans – all that stuff that I wrote for the web site and have been thinking of turning into a book. It was a relief to see it. I made a detailed plan for that book, a proposal and sample chapters two years ago and sent it around to agents and publishers. All rejected. Then I worked more on the outline and tried to get an expat in Italy to write it with me – but the project never came together. Instead of working on the book, I always worked on the web site instead.

I just did not want to write the book – for many reasons. I didn’t think I had the idea right, I didn’t think I should be writing this (because really I don’t know that much about Italy), I thought it was too hard a project for probably too little financial rewards. Now I can forget that project – and I am happy!! I will put a link to this book on the web site. It was written for Brits, but if you translate courgettes to zucchini and aubergines to eggplant, it will do for Americans. It is very well done – the main problem is the title which makes you think it is a language book. I have it packed away now, but it is called something like Language Survival Skills and is published by Harper Collins. Written in 2001, right when I was writing all the same stuff for SlowTrav. They even have language lessons for each type of thing described – exactly how we were going to do the book.

I still have another book plan for SlowTrav – and this was always part of the book idea – about how to find vacation rentals and what to expect. This has been written before, but I don’t think it was done well. So I still have a big project to avoid doing in the next few years.

Drove back to the hotel and had a very simple dinner again at the hotel restaurant.

SlowTrav GTG photos

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Pauline

Forums Admin

Blackout in Italian is "blackout"​

Overcast, heavy rain on and off

You probably read about it in the papers. The electricity went off in Italy at 3:30am. I woke up in the middle of the night and noticed the power was out. This is one of the weirdest travel feelings for me, waking up in the middle of the night and not remembering where you are or what your room looks like or where the bathroom might be. That happened last night and the room was dark, very dark – no light from the street, no night light showing where the bathroom is. I figured the electricity was out in the town because the power goes out frequently in rural Tuscany.

When it was still out in the morning, and there was no water, first I thought it was just our room, or maybe our hotel, possibly the whole town. I sent Steve down to the front desk and he found out it was out in a larger area. The power was out for all of Italy, but was already back in northern Italy and was expected back in Rome by the afternoon.

We washed using bottles of water we had with us in the room and lit a candle for light, then went to the breakfast room. They had lit the room with candles and were serving all the usual things except for coffee – they were able somehow to make tea. We were back in the room debating what to do – should we drive to Rome assuming the power would come back or stay at the hotel in case the power did not come back that day – when the power came back on at 10am. So we packed up, checked out, loaded the car and headed to Rome.

We had arranged to meet two other SlowTrav people at the restaurant Dante in Montefiascone on Lake Bolsena in northern Lazio. They were staying over near Terni. We could not figure out a good place to meet and this was our fall back because someone had posted about this restaurant a year or so ago on the mboard, but we had no address or phone number for it. I had called them in the morning when the power was out and got his voice mail. I left a message cancelling, but when the power went back on I called again and left another message saying lets still have the lunch.

We drove south on the SS2 through Tuscany, from San Quirico, past Bagno Vignoni, Bagni San Fillipi, Radicofani, Celle sul Rigo – areas we have spent many weeks in on other trips – then south into Lazio, Aquapendente to Lake Bolsena. If you have read my other trip reports, you know I am not the biggest fan of Lazio, but this area of Lazio on the Tuscany/Umbrian border, north of Lake Bolsena was lovely.

You really notice the change when you drive into Lazio. You see many new farmhouses, instead of all old farmhouses that have been renovated as in Tuscany. You see many half constructed large buildings that are abandoned (I don’t know why that is). And you see many falling down old buildings. In Tuscany, everything is perfect – perhaps too perfect. But in Lazio, things are more rundown.

By the time we reached Lazio, it was pouring rain. We found the town Montefiascone but did not see any sign of the restaurant. We drove toward the centro and stopped and asked. We were about two blocks from the restaurant – it is in the historical center, just off the main piazza. We parked and walked up. We had one of those fun experiences where we asked the guy in the newsstand where the restaurant Dante was and it was about 10 feet behind us with a big sign. We had walked right by it and not seen it.

One of the reasons we wanted to have this lunch in a small town was so we could park the car beside the restaurant because the car was full of luggage. The trunk had one rolling suitcase, our duffel with hiking stuff, a rolling carryon with our two computers, another rolling carryon with our olive oil and a bottle of limoncello, a small bag full of books. In the back seat was our other rolling suitcase. Way too much luggage – we always bring way too much luggage – and yet we have used and really needed everything we brought (and I wish I had brought another pair of jeans each). So we end up leaving the car on a main street and going to lunch up in the old part of town. We expected the car to be empty when we got back – but we would get the last laugh because one of the computers is dead and they would think they got a good computer. Of course, we got back to the car and everything was fine – as it always is when we leave a car full of luggage anywhere in Italy.

We heard the power went back on in Rome around noon.

It was pouring rain, so we went into the restaurant instead of waiting outside for our friends. I had not got a call from them and I left another message, but we were now thinking they were not coming. We eventually got a call at 4pm – their power in southern Umbria did not go back on until then. They assumed everyone’s power was still out and could not use their cell phone for some reason. Mine worked fine (an Italian TIM phone).

The restaurant Dante is one of those simple small town restaurants with a 1950s décor and great food. We ordered two primi for me (soup and pasta) and a primo and a secondo for Steve (soup and fish). We thought we made it clear that I was having one primo when Steve had his primo and the other primo when he had his secondo, but I think the idea of having two primi was confusing. They brought the soup (delicious), but a few minutes later brought my pasta. I let it sit until I had finished my soup, but then started eating it because we guessed that they would not bring the secondo until all the primi were gone. We were right. Steve asked for the secondo to be brought so I could eat my primi with it, but they only brought it after I pushed aside my pasta (could not eat it all). So Steve watched me eat, then I watched him eat. We had also ordered some potatoes (contorni) and they gave that to me when they brought Steve’s fish. 43 Euro including water and coffee. Pretty reasonable.

It was still raining, but lighter now, so we walked around Montefiascone. It is a lovely town. There is a huge church and a beautiful main piazza and lovely narrow streets of old houses. You can see Lake Bolsena from the edge of the historic area.

Onward to Rome. We drove south towards Viterbo, then took the Raccordo from Viterbo to Orte, then hopped on the A1 to head to Rome. We stopped at the Autogrill just after the toll booths where you split off on the highway to Rome and got espresso and gas. It was raining on and off. Then I attempted once again to follow my maporama directions to the Via Dei Prati Fiscali Europcar office where we had hoped to drop off the car.

The Maporama directions went well until the very end. They said to follow Via Saleria, then turn right on Via Dei Prati Fiscali. My map showed Via Dei Prati Fiscali to the left. Via Saleria split into two roads, so what you had to do was take the left road, then take an immediate right onto Via Dei Prati Fiscali – so it was a right turn, but was slightly more complicated. We missed the right turn and ended up going back on Via Saleria towards the GRA (Rome ring road). I thought we might take a right turn and swing back to where we missed our turn. We could not do a u-turn on Via Saleria because all left turns were blocked off because some big concert was going on (and the traffic was really thick). So we ended up driving around a neighborhood, and not a good one. When we saw the swastika painted on an apartment building wall, we decided to give up searching for a road to go back to the turn we missed, and head to the GRA and drop off at the airport.

Pauline’s new rule: You can pickup a car from a city location, but always drop off at the airport. It is just too hard to find these small city offices – unless you have a GPS system (which someone suggested on the mboard and I think sounds like an excellent idea – it would have saved us about two hours today).

The airport was busy and a bit chaotic. We found the drop off for Europcar easily because we have dropped off there a few times. I had read on the mboard that someone got them to have a taxi come right to the Europcar office, so you don’t have to lug your luggage into the terminal. Brilliant I thought! Two other groups were waiting for taxis. But then the Europcar person came out and told them no taxis would come – they had to go to the airport.

I was figuring we would be loading our luggage straight from our car (at the city office) to a taxi. We ended up managing it all – but looked pretty strange with all that luggage and my hiking poles clutched in my hand. Everyone says not to do this, but we got a gypsy cab. We have done this many times. I ask the price before we get in (60 Euro). The guy had a nice car and talked in Italian to Steve (about politics and the blackout) for the whole ride (Steve loves talking in Italian when he gets the chance).

We got to the hotel around 6pm – what a long day!! We are trying a new hotel, Hotel Farnese near the Vatican, recommended by Pecepe on the mboard. We have the most perfect room! You could live out a 50s Italian movie fantasy here. It is a room built onto the roof with a private terrace. The terrace is as large as most hotel rooms in Rome and our room is large too and with a huge bathroom. I don’t know how we ended up in this room. I booked through Venere and asked for a room with large windows.

We got a bit unpacked and cleaned up then went out for dinner with a few SlowTrav people.

We left the restaurant around 10:30. It was raining off and on. We all walked up to Piazza Navona. The piazza was beautiful and almost empty – perhaps the rain, perhaps because of the blackout. Half of Rome was still without power still. This was a good side-effect of the blackout – we got to see Piazza Navona and then Piazza della Rotunda (the Pantheon) at night time with hardly any other people around. It was magical. The Pantheon is my favorite building in the world. It sits in that piazza so massively and beautifully.

We had a great day today too. We both LOVE Rome. I could happily live here. Steve thinks it is the best city in the world. We have tomorrow, then we fly home on Wednesday. I want to burn every piece of clothing that we brought on the trip – and that computer of mine that broke on day one.

I saw on the mboard that the NY Times mention did not appear. They said it might be held for a week. This means that once I get home, I can work some more on that hiking section – which I would like to do before the article comes out.

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Restaurant Dante in Montefiascone.

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Montefiascone.

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Autogrill.

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Autogrill.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin

First day in Rome​

Heavy rain in the night, but woke up to the sun breaking through the overcast. Sunny and warm. Wore short sleeves and jeans today. Long sleeves and jeans in the evening.

I am home now and it was a week ago yesterday that I am writing about.

We had hoped to have breakfast out on our lovely terrace, but we woke up to cold and overcast. We did have breakfast in the room, but the coffee was bad (I should have requested espresso – otherwise hotels seem to give you very weak and bad “American” coffee).

We walked into the historic center (20 minutes to Piazza Navona), had a quick coffee at Tazza d’Oro near the Pantheon, walked by the big foot on Via Pie’Di Marmo (someone had left two beer bottles beside the foot – this foot must have seen a lot since it first appeared in Ancient Rome), walked by the stone cat on the side of a building on Via della Gatta (the cat is very small and sits at about the third floor level of the building), and met Robert from SlowTrav at the Palazzo Doria Pamphilij (around the corner from the cat). We had not been to this museum before; Robert was there last year but wanted to see it again.

The museum is in a Palazzo used by the Doria Pamphilij family. The oldest parts of this building date from 1435. Much of the building has been turned into an art gallery, so you get to walk through magnificent rooms and look at the art. Robert says the Velazquez painting of Pope Innocent X Pamphilij is the best painting in Rome. (I would question that, but then I know nothing about art. It was an interesting painting.) We saw some Caravaggio paintings. I have heard of that artist, but do not remember seeing his work before. I liked the paintings we saw. You cannot tour the rooms in the private apartment (this area is closed). When you pay to go in the museum, you get a guided tour recording given by a present day relative of the family (in a very poncy British voice).

After an hour or so in the museum, we walked back to the Pantheon – stopping in at Santa Maria sopra Minerva to see Michelangelo’s “The Risen Christ”, then for another coffee at Tazza d’Oro – to wait at 12:30 in front of the Pantheon for some people from the message board for a GTG lunch. We waited for 15 minutes and they didn’t show, so we left. Neither Robert nor I could remember who we were supposed to be meeting, and they either forgot or saw our motley crew and pretended to be German tourists.

We walked over to the Sant’Eustachio restaurant where we had lunch last year and had another excellent lunch. (This restaurant is highly recommended by people on SlowTalk.) We sat outside under an awning.

After lunch, Robert headed off and we walked back to the hotel. Steve has been dealing with a cold the last few days and needed a rest.

We made it out for a walk and for dinner with some SlowTrav friends. On the way home, we saw an accident right near our hotel, with a cab and a car. We saw another accident earlier in the day. Always wear your seat belts in cabs!

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Piazza Navona.

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The Pantheon.

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Tazzo D'Oro, caffe.

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The big foot, a Roman relic.

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The cat.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin

We fly home tomorrow​

It is Tuesday afternoon. Steve’s cold is worse today, so we are letting him rest a bit before we set out again. It has been a wonderful trip. It seems to have gone by quickly, but when I think about it, it does seem a long time ago that we were in Switzerland.

Things seem to be a bit strange on the message board these days. We have been through a series of incidents in the last two months where different people are trying to stir things up, or go after me personally, or after the moderators. It has crossed my mind to shut down the message board for a day or two, so we can all take a deep breath and realize that this is just a little message board about a certain way of travel that may suit some, and may not suit everyone. With all the things that go on in the world, our little message board is really very trivial. Fun, but ultimately trivial. That whole “Queen Pauline” thing is meant to be a joke – I am hardly an authority on travel, or Italy, or art.

I am sitting here now in our hotel room with the doors to the balcony open. A breeze and traffic noise is coming in. It is sunny and warm. Steve is starting to recover from this cold and is asleep on the bed. We had a lovely lunch at a Chinese restaurant. When we get home, I want to eat brown rice and vegetable stew for a week straight (to recover from all these processed grains). I think I will take a bath and wash my hair so I can look partially acceptable for tonight’s GTG. Then we will head out to Piazza del Popolo, sit in a caffe for the last time on this trip, find the Lion Bookstore (just what I need – more books!!), then meet everyone for our GTG dinner. I am starting to tear up as I type this. I want to go home, I want to stay here.

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Rome.

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Rome.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
That's the end of this older trip report - 19 years ago! I remember how much fun it was meeting up with other SlowTrav members on this trip.
 

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