Friday, October 28, 2011

Trouble in Cinque Terre

Vernazza Harbour Was Hammered By Mud Flows Tuesday

Inter-Village Trail Approaching Monterosso Which Was Also Impacted Tuesday
You may have heard that there have been floods in Italy. Our most favorite northern Italian locale, the Cinque Terre (5 Lands) has suffered terrific damage and loss of life...but we first heard of trouble in Cinque Terre before the floods...political trouble. Hopefully we can briefly cover both here.

The Cinque Terre is made up of 5 villages along the steep Ligurian coastline between Levanto in the north, and the port city of La Spezia. In 2005 we managed to visit each of the five villages using trains, cars and of course the fantastic trail that links them. From the north: Monterosso al Mare; Vernazza; Corniglia; Manarola; Riomaggiore.  

This past week, Liguria had heavy rains that resulted in flooding and also debris torrents in Monterosso and Vernazza. The area is known for the steep hillsides down to the sea and for the centuries-old farm terraces where grapes and olives are growing.  The towns are a mess and it will cost millions of euro to cleanup, but I think the hard working people will dig away the mud and debris and get it fixed quickly. Hopefully, efforts will be made to stabilize remaining steep open ground.  The initial quote from the Monterosso mayor was a bit much (scaring us by saying Monterosso "no longer exists"), but here is a LINK.
Near Riomaggiore Train Station -- Hiking Trail Taking off in Upper Left of Image
Terraced Vines and Fields
Doug's First Italian Dream Home Along the Trail

Ancient Gardens Accessed by Inter-Village Trail
The Cinque Terre is threatened by more than erosion. Its status as a UNESCO site and a separate Parco Nationale may not be enough to protect the area. Because of its natural beauty and cultural heritage, it is getting loved-to-death.

We both have seen examples of this in America where great spots attract developers who expand and grow and pretty soon, the original enchanting attraction is gone (aka Colorado). In Cinque Terre those wanting to take advantage of tourism (tourism is supposedly “green” after-all) have also drawn-in the greedy and corrupt to the point that National Park directors and others have been forced out and charged with multiple crimes after stripping-away covenants designed to protect the landscape and cultural heritage that makes the area so special.

Here’s a LINK to a website about two American women doing a film documentary about the development problem in Cinque Terre. We intend to support their efforts and hope that many of you do as well.

We have both wanted to get involved as volunteers for something that called out to us here. The language barrier lives, but is slowly crumbling. Helping native Italians protect their Cinque Terre is something to think about. It is that special. 

One regional land-use planning lesson-learned that might fit there –- it is okay to say enough is enough (for hotels and similar developments) and it’s okay if not everyone who wants to come see the place will be able to so when they want. Shoulder season visitation can lessen impacts to the ground while lengthening the revenue season.

P.S. here's a LINK to our post about our trip to Cinque Terre.

Monterosso al Mare Viewed from the Trail -- Lots of Mud Came Down that Valley Above It

Friday, October 21, 2011

Running with the Young Dogs

Driving is a big part of life in our town--I'd better get with it!
I had hoped to do a post about getting an Italian driving license (patente di guida) about now, but since I have not made it that far, I’ll just tell part of the story.
I need the patente because when my American license expires, it cannot be easily renewed since I am not a resident of any state in the US. Sounded fairly simple at first.  Then I learned that the wonderful Berlusconi administration had done away with English language driving tests as of January 2011. We suspect it is an anti-immigrant ploy, but maybe it’s truly a cost savings attempt.
The English book with test examples is one we bought with another couple, but I figured I need to focus on Italian only. Hence, I only used an online simulation of the exam which uses very odd, difficult Italian. But, lots of repetition was giving me confidence. I went to Cosenza with a carload of kids to take the exam in September. I scored 80% which doesn’t cut it – 90% is needed to pass. Someday I’ll tell you about the driving habits of the instructor who took us to the Provincial capital. We did use seat belts which is quite unusual for Italians!
While yakking with a neighbor one day about this difficult test, she went inside and got a 1998 textbook. Ecco, it has most of what I needed to understand the theory of Italian driving rules, highway first aid and liability insurance. I ordered an updated version, but still have not seen it.  
Yes, Italians do need to know the rules to get a patente. Once they have it, they can resume driving like everyone else. I still think Italians are more skilled drivers than Americans. That surely is the case in Calabria where you seldom see accidents.  I used to have 3-4 fatals and many more serious wrecks per year on the road I traveled daily in the states. Here, more wrecks occur in the big cities of the north. I found stats indicating the fatal accident rate per 100,000 people is about 12.6 in Italy and 15 in United States.
Anyway, reading that book improved my scores on the simulations and I thought I was ready for another try this week. Guess what, the same score as before. You know how one little word can change the context of a sentence? Well if you don’t know what a new Italian word means, you have to take a guess and I fell short. An example: abbigliante = high beam headlites.  anabbigliante = low beams. When you are up against a 30 minute clock and the pressure, would you see the difference? I did not for a couple months. Of course, in Italian there are other ways of expressing “high beams” and dovete sapere tutti straniero vecchio (you have to know them all, old foreigner)!

Of the 8 teenagers that went on the bus with me, only one passed. Having Italian as their native tongue should give these kids an easy pass, but they must not pay much attention.
I’ll just keep trying. I only had two chances to pass, so I now start over again for another €300. The money is for the course and lessons, but I understand very little of what the teachers rapidly say and, being very young themselves, they spend a lot of time horsing around with the students – loudly. It’s best that the old gray fox goes off to study alone and maybe he’ll do better the next time he tries running with those pups (left).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Very Trulli Yours

Rooftop view from Alberobello UESCO site
We took a short trip to the region of Puglia this week. We bit off more than we were able to chew--we saw all of what we planned to see except for the town of Lecce which we will save for another trip. When we got back and I began checking the photos, I realized that we saw quite a bit of the heel of our boot!
Our plan was to stay around Taranto and head toward Lecce one day and the Gargano area the next after checking out the area around Taranto.  Well, we got Taranto and the Trulli country "done" and the Gargano area started. Here's our story:

The Hotel and Trulli Country
Masseria Chiancone Torricella is the albergo we used. It's a 4 Star hotel fairly isolated in the country and is fairly new. We loved it as it gave us the quietest two nights sleep we've had in about 4 years! The place probably makes most of its money from wedding receptions as the patios and group areas are huge.

The rooms were located in a long modern annex on spacious grounds
Just a short walk from the hotel took us to "suburban" neighborhoods of restored and unrestored trulli (the cone-shaped buildings). The largest area of stand-alone homes we've seen in Italy. These are mostly holiday homes. It was cool to see the layouts of the old properties designated by the stone fences. Driving north to Martina Franca on these local roads was a peaceful experience. The bottom picture is from the Comune di Alberobello which has a UNESCO designation for some of the trulli buildings that are now restaurants and tourist shops....still nice and cute.

A trullo we might be able to afford--Maybe
UESCO site at Alberobello
Martina Franca
Our hotel was located just at the "outskirts" of the town of Martina Franca. We were very pleasantly impressed with this town. The architecture was interesting and the historic center well kept and active. Yet another splendid basilica with full baroque style. Lovely local limestone on the exterior and incredible columns and works inside of marble.
Interior of the Basilica di San Martino
Interesting architecture in Martina Franca--Basilica is in the background
Taranto is a city of around 250,000 people.  Hence, as a large city, it is busy and seldom cute (being polite). We had a stressful few hours there and in the outskirts. The commercial port is home to fishing vessels and, apparently, the Italian navy. We don't recommend Taranto to anyone for any reason unless you have business there at an oil refinery--although these are at the entrance to the city, you can't really see them from the harbor below. In fairness, we missed the main part of the restored centro.
The Taranto Harbor is at least photogenic
Trani--on the Road to Gargano
We left the hotel headed for Gargano and the village of San Giovanni Rotondo. Using mostly secondary roads and trying to follow the signage sometimes is a challenge in Italy. Doug goofed and turned right instead of left at one point and we ended up at the port of the City of Trani. What an amazingly fortunate mistake! This is a lovely little city with a vibrant historic district lining the port. Obvious from the photo, it's a recreational port for some verrry nice yachts. When we return to northern Puglia, we will think of a day or two lingering in the historic area and port.  Impressive.

Beautiful harbor at Trani
A bit of the Gargano
The Parco Nationale di Gargono makes up a peninsula sometimes referred to as the spur of the Italian boot.  It contains the only remnants of virgin forest in Italy, hence our interest. It also has some lovely shorelines and beaches. BUT, we never got into the forests or shorelines given time constraints. Prossima volta.
Instead, we went to the town of San Giovanni Rotondo where our two neighbors recommended we see all there is related to their patron saint -- San Giussepe--aka Padre Pio.
It is an attractive town and is obviously doing well with tourism revenue from people coming to see Padre (Papa) Pio stuff. There were at least 3000 people moving about the area when we arrived. Not being catholics, we have no idea what drives people to make such a deal of these things.  The priest only died in the 1960's, so is not an ancient person at all. There is a modern hospital in his name that has good credits and they built a modern new cathedral seen below.
We stopped for lunch in a very busy restaurant. Busy because of the many busloads of people making the pilgramage, then eating. Doug may have experienced a little miracle there; he ordered a veal steak, expecting a thin, overcooked piece of meat. Instead he got a full-sized T-bone steak that had a little pink to it and tasted great. Thanks go to Padre Pio for a fine lunch.
Photos are looking south from San Giovanni R looking at farmland and the sea. Next photo looks up at the town, then the new modern church facility: 

The Padre Pio church site
We travelled 1020km/637 miles on this trip. All was very rewarding scenery to drive through. Doug was impressed with the superb highways in Basilicata and Puglia compared to the roads we have around here. Even the brand new pieces of the A3 autostrade will knock your teeth lose in places here! The roads in eastern Basilicata and Puglia were 2-4 lanes and almost empty everywhere.
All of the towns and rural areas we travelled were kept litter-free compared to Calabria. We guess there is more money in Puglia than Calabria because there are more people. It is noticeable.
Gotta mention the fantastic scenery of the Appenine mountains going and coming. The mountain spine thru southern Italy is just great. Many hectares of forest, scattered towns, and in the valleys many hectares of wheat fields, olive orchards, etc. The country north of Bari is flat and old tidal marshes that have been drained for agriculture. Quite different, but still easy on the eye.
Although we did not stop, the city of Potenza, capital of the Basilicata Region, is incredibly handsome as seen from the highway.  Certainly worthy of a day and night sometime in the future.
The drive from San Giovanni R. (including a detour near Lagonegro) only took 5 hours. On that detour, about 5 large trucks and 15 cars got backed-up behind mom and pop local going home from the garden in their 3-wheel Ape. Those poor folks have lost their tranquil towns whilst the highway bridges are completed on the A3.  In comparison, that 5 hours would get you about halfway across the state of Oregon, so not a bad drive at all. We ended with pretty lightning and a little squall coming in from the west over Praia a Mare.  Always good to get home!!


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