By Gerald Bailey
So far, we’ve been blessed with fine weather – and have had to start thinking in terms of sunscreen protection. While we kept seeking shade to cool off while walking through the Cinque Terre, Florence was experiencing heavy rain. But it’s all blown away now and the hot weather has followed us – so we’ve retreated to our hotel room for a couple of hours while we await dinner on a terrace upstairs in what we hope will be the cool of the evening.
On the one overcast day we’ve had so far, we did an abbreviated walk, on our guide’s recommendation. The itinerary had us taking a cable car to a town with a spectacular view, but the tops of the hills were covered in mist. Visiting a valley where something like 35 water mills had once operated was fascinating and Michelangelo (whose degree is in Ecology) was a very informative guide. We then took a train to a couple of nearby towns where we had some time to explore. In a country noted for elaborate churches, the Cathedral at Rapallo was an extreme example of opulence. The next couple of days saw us completing the now very much extended walk through the five towns that constitute the Cinque Terre. These are picturesque little villages tucked into valleys or built on promontories along a particularly hilly segment of the coast.
Until the railway was opened, they were accessible only on foot or by boat. Some of the path is currently out of action as a result of landslides, as is the one before it, and in each case, it’s now necessary to detour well above the coastline to find stable ground. That means that the whole journey’s now considerably longer – and that’s why we took two days to complete the walk. The detours were steep, with rocky, uneven ground and we were a pretty hot and sweaty bunch at the end of each day. But there was a sense of achievement in doing the journey in temperatures that I’ve no doubt were well into the thirties. Michelangelo pronounced himself impressed with our completion time!
We have a group dinner at each place we’re staying in, that’s built into the tour cost. It’s remarkable how well we all scrub up after a day’s exertions, a shower and a change of clothes. Tomorrow’s dinner at San Gimignano will double as a 70th birthday celebration for one of the party. We’ve bought her a birthday card with an appropriate inscription in Italian (at least that’s how the shopkeeper translated it).
We arrived in Florence in time for a walking tour that took in the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, the Academia housing the famous statue of David sculpted by the other Michelangelo, and other places in between. We had as a guide Elizabeth, as fluent in English as Italian, who kept up a constant flow of information for about 3 hours. Today, another guide, this time a Dutchman who’d fallen in love with Florence, took us on a guided tour of the Uffizi Gallery. He was equally passionate and irrepressible.
Tomorrow, Francesca, Michelangelo’s wife, takes over the role of tour guide for the next few days as we experience Tuscany.