It's Sunday Morning . . .

January 11, 2007


and we are headed for Cinqua Terra.

Conde Naste Travler says the following about this place: "Perched on Italy's Ligurian coast, the five villages which make up Cinque Terre (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso) remain miraculously unspoilt and remote. With terraced vineyards, craggy cliffs and panoramic footpaths, they are an ideal destination for walkers, trekkers and those who simply want to escape the more crowded Italian tourist hotspots."

On the train that morning an Italian man who was obviously off to go hike started to talk with me. We discussed the local terrain and because of what he told me, I decided to start at the southern end of the trail and begin my walk on the Vil del amore.

We also discussed skiing and he suggested that a place in the Dolomites, called the Stella was the most beautiful place in the world to ski. He told me that you could ski all around the mountain and I related to him that my daughter and her boyfriend were there as we spoke.

The first part of the trail is just a bit over a mile in length and is paved with slate. You have to pay a fee before starting out on the trail, and although there are supposedly other pay stations on the paths, this was the only one I saw open.

The only problem was, even in winter, that part of the trail was very crowded, with perhaps a hundred or two hundred people in the mile long section. I can't imagine what it is like there in the summer.

However, the trail from Manarola to Corniglia that ran along the sea-shore was closed and I had a choice to make, take the high trail and climb way above the town, or take the train.

I took the trail.

I ended up climbing something in the neighborhood of 1,500 feet plus above the villages and by the time I had descended into village number 3 the sun had come out for a rare peak back to village 2 where I started my climb.

In the 6 or more miles I only encountered two other people on the trail as I made my way along the edge of vineyards and olive groves.

And, as you can see below, once again I walked until just about dark.

This is the 4th village and is the only one with ready access to the sea.

On the way home I decided that would climb the hill to the left of the 5th village in the morning since my train companion had told me that the view from there was spectacular.

I grabbed the next train back to my hotel and set out to try and find a place to eat.

It's New Year's eve remember, and guess what happens to places where you might just be able to walk in the night before?

Yep, you got it. Special menu, no reservation? Place after place shook their head.

I finally went back to the place I had eaten the previous night and sat down when I misunderstood the price of the meal. Just to be sure, the waiter wrote it out for me and I decided that a hundred bucks for one was a bit too pricey for dinner.

I wandered around the town for a bit and finally found a great meal at a place called, of all things, the "El Paso."

Right, I live 3 hours from El Paso and have to wander around Italy in the wet to find a place to eat on New Year's Eve named after a town in Texas.

An early departure found me with dampened spirits as the clouds lowered. My hiking plans were shot, as although the trail from the previous day was wet and soggy in places, and somewhat treacherous, it was still passable. However, even with a good hiking stick I thought it would be too dangerous to try and negotiate the wet rock along any of the trails.

I stayed for about an hour taking some shots of the angry sea and decided that since I had a rail pass I might as well head on into Genoa to see what might be open there.

Remember, it's New Year's day... and just about everything was closed in the little village of Verazza, leaving me little hope for what I might find in Genoa.

So in Genoa, what did I find, but the world's second largest aquarium through which I wandered for a couple of hours.

But what really struck me as I walked through the town was that this was the birthplace of Columbus and all of a sudden the cobblestones took on a different feel.

Tired of the wet, I read a book about the desert that I brought with me on the train back to my hotel. It was then that I tried to decide on whether to head back to hike in the morning or try and head north out of the rain and perhaps see Venice again with some more light.

Since my daughter was flying out at 6am the next morning it was no big deal for her to give me a 5am wakeup call. She made her plane and I made my train and we were both in motion again at 6:00.

This time I took a water "bus" through the main part of Venice and then headed back for the square. Sights that were hidden in the fog just a week earlier were not open for shooting, but I warn you, don't lean on light poles to steady your camera, because there right above you is a shitting gallery of pigeons.

We'll talk more about them another day, but let me tell you I don't like bird shit on my hands.

It seems appropriate somehow, that this was the shot I was trying to get when I got shat upon.

Perhaps in Venice the birds really are the ones who rule.

For me, it was worth the ten bucks or so that it cost to get up into the bell tower in the main square. The sun came out and I've got a whole raft of panorama views from the tower. And in the photo above, see the row of buildings where you can see a lot of each building, that's the main wide canal from which the shot was taken up above. Since the canal is so wide, you can see the fronts of the buildings.

I grabbed my luggage out of the bag check at the main train station and took a commuter train out into the suburbs where I was picked up about 5pm. After a quick repack and a meal we headed off to a village in the Dolomites where M had rented a flat with some of his friends for the winter.

And no, I didn't make it to Switzerland like I had planned, but it seems to me, that this village was just as stunning as anything you could ask for in all of Europe.

Note the ski run that goes right past the church and then ends in the main street of town.

You take off your skis, clomp across the street and jump into a gondola or onto a regular lift and you are off to a whole another set of trails.

Unlike skiing in the states, all of the resorts in the Dolomites are basically interconnected and with the "Superpass" you can ski between them all.

On the way home after our first day of skiing M decided to drive up to the summit of a local pass where we could watch the sunset. Little did we know that the moon would be rising from the opposite direction.

So just about one month later, here I am again, shooting photos of the moon as it rose above the snow covered peaks, this time in the alps instead of Colorado.

Day two was cloudy, but the snow conditions were better from what was made the night before. We also got to figure out how to manage the route around the "Sella" and decided that on the final day we would get up an hour or two earlier to make sure we made it all the way around.


Which we did.

M talked to a friend on the way back to Venice and one word stood out from all the other that I could not understand.


He said... about himself after the trip.

Actually, I was pleased, for not only had the old guy kept up, but I ended up doing a couple of runs twice, just because they were so much fun.

The GPS told the story, 36 miles(56km) around the mountain (lifts, gondola's and ski runs) with the longest run about four and a half miles long. We gained and then skied down 21,000 feet (6,300m) and I hit a top speed of 44.6 mph (71km).

Most beautiful skiing on the planet? I don't know but I can tell you that going through 4 villages was some of the coolest skiing that I've ever done.

The next day was Saturday, train time to Munich, but I started my two day trip home with a serious smile on my face.