Seester and I spend the day on trains exploring the five coastal towns for better accommodations. We’re not sure why such a dreadfully unfriendly couple decided to open the B&B we’re in. She is rude and unhelpful. He, literally, threw breakfast onto the table this morning. We and a German couple looked at each other and we learned that raising eyebrows is a universal sign of dismay.
It is Seester’s fiftieth birthday—one reason for this trip. It is her first time out of the United States. We are in the land of beauty, generosity, eloquence…I had Cary Grant and Grace Kelly (To Catch a Thief) images of us here. Yet wench-woman, as we come to call the nasty proprietress, is ruining it. So off we go, seeking the right place.
In Vernazza we have an incredible lunch at Gambero Rosso…the food is not thrown onto the table. It is placed with welcome and graciousness. The bustle of the place is energizing and the pasta delicious.
Returning to Manarola, we wander the narrow stone streets aimlessly, happily enjoying our stroll, until by accident we discover La Torreta. It is tucked down a slender corridor framed by pink stucco buildings and glimpses of the sea. We meet Gabrielle, the owner, and are smitten with him. He says, Welcome, how may I help you? And he means it—every time he says it.
We explain that we are unhappy we are staying and he asks, do you want to see the room? We follow him through a maze of steps that go down, down, down and along a terrace draped with grape arbors waiting for spring. He opens the door to an elegant room and I turn to Seester, this is what I had in mind…
Snippets of why we love Manarola:
The dog that barks in time to the hourly church bells. He is discerning and ignores the half-hour one-bell chime.
Elderly people who shout greetings to each other into and out of windows stories above us. There is always much laughing in their conversations.
The 5 Terre Gelateria (the young female owner says: Yes, it is my shop. I put all my love into making it. She remembers us as we return daily for dessert. Seester surreptitiously takes her photo, the incongruity of her texting while sitting outside a century’s old building is not lost on us. Seester gave her a jar of King’s Cupboard chocolate and explained that it is from her hometown.
The Co-op food market bench is invariably occupied by three elderly men and one more standing. What do they talk about as they watch the passersby?
The man who sang to us at the trattoria near the mare. He recommended Caprese (salad), which we love from the first bite. We drizzle local olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the mozzarella and fresh tomatoes and just-torn-from the plant basil. It is as delicious as any five-course meal.
La Torreta’s breakfast was overwhelming with choices of yogurt, cereal, breads, pastries, jams, cheese, orange juice, and cappuccino. I tried anchovies because it is a delicacy of the area. Yuck.
I walked along our terrace to take sunset photos. A woman—obviously a resident of an apartment next door—offers yes, yes, use her terrace for a better view. The colors start golden, turn silver and then, vibrantly become black slammed with orange and red. What seems a few minutes later, we see her walking on the hillside across from us. She wears a skirt, hose and sturdy shoes. She had beautiful blonde hair, casually back in a twist. Hers was a wise face, with lines in the right places to show a life being well lived.
We walked for six hours today wanting one day of not using any transportation except our feet.
There is so much going on deep inside of us—the reasons for this trip, the reasons we needed to run away from all things normal to us. We hike each day, eat when we feel like it, have wine for supper and sometimes with lunch. We breathe in and we breathe out without holding our stomachs in. We learn from the Italian women of all ages that their beauty exudes from the inside out. It is the flair with which they live life, not the clothes, the makeup, the hair. Knowing things have changed for us, we wisely accept the adage: Women are like wine; we improve with age and maturity.
It is this part of staying in one town for the duration of a trip that makes it worthwhile. You see faces repeated, nod to each other, you meet and converse with the same people time and again. You make, if only for seven days, friends that last forever in your minds.
Also published on Medium.