The perfect day.
I woke around 5 am as I often did in Italy, an effect of still not quite synching with the timezone perhaps, but more than likely a need not to waste a moment. I had a cold shower, while hissing through my teeth at the needle like sensations against my irradiated salmon pink lower half.
A quick breakfast and espresso, to the bus, Carrara Avenza station, the Train to Le Spezia then to the marina to get the 10am ferry.
I tried to ignore the agony in my now swollen shins, they were tight against my zip up desert Delta boots. I chewed down some painkillers while taking a gulp of aqua.
The ferry quite full now, departed the expansive harbor passing what used to be one of the ancient sea forts, a jaunty red story book light house and as the ferry rounded the coast, the pain in my legs dispersed and I got my first mind blowing introduction to what Cinque Terre was all about.
A vibrantly colored string of multistory houses smeared across a quaint port, topped with a castle, flanked by another stone church perched on a rocky outcrop at its very end.
Serious fairy tale shit was occurring.
Porto Venere, a settlement dating back to the 1st century AD, thought to have originally held a temple to the goddess Venus where the church of Peter the Apostle now stands. Stepping off the ferry slightly jelly legged, I half expected to puff through Porto Venere like an ethereal mirage with my first footfall.
I was a flurry of shutter clicks on both my iPhone and my Nikon coolpix, after snapping so many photos I had become accustomed to look past the phone or camera when taking photos to somewhat negate experiencing reality through a screen.
Each photo felt like a pinch to confirm what I was experiencing was in fact real.
We made our way down Porto Venere’s marina first, past a number of cafes, staff expectantly awaiting their brunch-time crowds.
The Siberian and I were being drawn inexorably towards the outcrop perched church of St Peter.
The steps jarred my crisply complaining shins, but I was too lost to the moment to care.
I set foot into the church my eyes adjusting to the interior.
Garlands adorned the altar as light bloomed through the stone slit windows.
I stood for a moment reflecting on what this place must have borne witness to over its life.
I had to shake myself from the moment and press on aware of the scant hour we had until the next port of call, on the way out making a donation to its conservation and selecting a postcard for my sister.
We climbed the steps to a nearby rooftop vantage and surveyed the Gulf of Poets, I understood why this region had inspired so many obsessed conjuring art from experience. Attached to the ruins of a wall was a plaque denoting Lord Byron’s Grotto, stepping through transported me into a serene cove, waves lapping at the rocks below. I imagined what it would be like for him, his own turbulent and tormented temperament tranquilized by the waves below.
We pressed on past the castle and several men delivering a washing machine up a steep stone path and on to the next church of St Lawrence built on the original site of a temple to Jupiter. I was still trying to comprehend what it would be like to get anything delivered here, not exactly remote but certainly a challenge for accessibility. I just as quickly looked around and could see why you would make it work living here.
“Lets head back down I could really do with some aqua and to take some more pain killers.”
“Da, bishley.” She agreed. “How is your pain?”
“I’m dealing.” I said trying to not wince going down the steps.
“So clumsy, how do you survive back in New Sealand?”
“My good looks, charm and brilliant sense of humor mostly.”
“I don’t think this helps you here.”
After negotiating the labyrinthine walk ways we arrived at what was the city gates, judging by the inscription had been standing since 1100 AD.This flowed into an alley of sweet-shops and delicatessens issuing inviting aromas from each one.
I settled on a cafe that opened through to an elevated view of the marina, ordered some water, cappuccino and some simple but delicious toasted mozzarella and tomato panini. The Siberian opted for a sweet toffee topped madeleine.
I popped a couple of Italian paracetamol I bought fighting off a very fashionable cold my first week in Rome. I was uploading uploading a bunch of geotagged pictures to Facebook. I did this with a twisted sense of duty to somehow preserve the details of my trip, but later wished I had just snapped away and left the updates for later. The Siberian reminded me to enjoy where I was right now, I put my phone away.
As I looked out past the palm tree at the gently bobbing boats of the marina I was conscious of the timetable as we had an hour in each of towns, with a 2 hour stop over either in Riomaggore or Manarola, from what I could ascertain to make sure we hit the towns and made our ferry back we would have to decide on one or the other of these towns, with hindsight I would have ferried to the towns and then caught the train back to Carrara after a dinner in Monterosso but there’s a point with experiences where you just need to accept it as a perfect day in all its imperfect glory.
I checked the time left, in our meandering, we had passed the castle topping Porto Venere without getting a good look.
“Do you reckon you can get to the castle and back down in time for the ferry?”
“New Sealand, you have body of a fat female that does not know the meaning of word gym, you will die.” She said matter of factually while nodding.
“Oh you are so on Siberia.” Believe it or not I still miss her constant insults.
We raced up the steps to the hilltop, there had been a lot of walking in the past weeks but very little in the way of steps or hills, Italy until this point had been gloriously flat.
The Siberian after a strong start started to trudge, puffing.
“No time to stop now, devai, devai, devai!” I teased, pushing her yoga sculpted behind up the steps.
We arrived at the castle wall, looked at each other, rolled our eyes and sat down in a heap.
“Good view, totally worth it!” I wheezed
“Da, is good” she said between breaths.