Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Day 6~ The magnificent colours of Ligurian Italy

Day 6  ~ The magnificent colours of Ligurian Italy
The cool summer air of the La Spezian morning welcomed us, walking down the streets of the town, many in the group still reluctant to wake up fully from our slumber as the clock struck eight.  The shops on either sides were still shuttered as we were led to our breakfast cafe.  A delicious custard-filled croissant and the obligatory cappuccino temporarily obliterated the gnawing hunger pangs.  A short distance ahead the horizon on the sea emerged.  It was the ferry port.  The embarkation point for visitors to the coastal villages that dotted this Genoan part of Italy.

Table of Content:

Early morning 8am, walking towards a cafe for one pastry one coffee breakfast.
"The breakfast provided through breakfast voucher from Casa Dane really CMI," said Adrian. "Let's just walk towards the dock and see where we can grab a bite."

It was going to be another long day (but for sure a beautiful day for many).  Another day of walking, as the villages of Portovenere and Cinque Terre had little access by vehicles and we would be moving around on foot for most parts.
Eddy, Alex, Joanne were all recording their number of steps taken per day.  And these marvellous walkers were able to inform me the number of steps we suffered every day, and the estimated number of calories we burnt.
Getting ready for the ferry to Portovenere.

Personally I believed that I far-exceeded my caloric output with my liberal consumption of Italian pasta, cheese, rissoto, gelato and a whole confusion of gastronomic indulgence.  
"It's ok, just eat!" time and time again, Serene insisted. "When I go back then I will exercise them off."  
The many slim and sexy Ang Moh ladies with thin waists, long legs and ample bosoms were inspirations to Serene.  Although genetically she might not ever approximate the anatomical aesthetic, but shedding off some excesses would reduce that gap between she and the classic Italian beauty.
Waiting to board the ferry at the pier.

We admired the cliffs of buildings as we walked towards the port.  The occasional street-sweeping truck chugged past, several commuters on their pannier-laden bicycles rang their bells, and the one or two dark-skinned beggars walked around hoping for a coin or two from the passers-by, and the peace of the early morning was broken.
"Some of these building aren't too old," said Kai Sing, when I asked him if these buildings would crumble in the event of an earthquake, like the recent Amatrice village earthquake in Centra Italy. "Many of these buildings are made of reinforced concretes."
It really took a Civil Engineer to analyze the survivability of a building.
Waiting for the Cinque Terre ferry.
Last minute instruction before we boarded the ferry.

Living the life on the Italian Riviera.

Portovenere existed way back in the 1st century BC as a fishing village, and later annexed into the Roman Empire as a base for it Byzantine fleet.  In the 12th century it was part of the Republic of Genoa.  Aside from being a Navy base, the people of Portovenere were mostly fishermen, living off the sea.  With the ensuing war, it was taken by the French Empire in the 16th century as part of the Ligurian Republic, only to return to Italy after the Unification of Italy in 1861.

The obligatory video wefie on the ferry.

Many passengers took to the deck of the ferry to enjoy the sun and the views.  Our attentions were drawn to the brick-laid houses on the starboard side.   Portovenere opened up to us as the ferry approached, going into reverse thrust as it neared the shore.  I stared at the colourful homes wedged between the rocky slopes of the hills and the sea, stucco-walled blocks peppered by steep steps framed by arches, leading from the streets upwards into smaller back lanes lining the tiny spaces between buildings.
A panorama of the Portovenere anchorage. iPhone pano by Serene.
The Portovenerian painter. [Photo: Alex]

The bright pastel hues and bewildering numerous little eateries and shops immediately attracted us. The bank moored yachts of all shapes, but what drawn me was the crystal clearness of the turquoise water.  This was a scene from the postcards.  I'd never seen vessels floating on such clean waters in such numbers.  It was a real Italian Riviera holiday.  I was amazed.
Colourful characters - both human and background subjects.
"Wow, this sea is good for diving," mentioned Serene.
Excited with what lies behind the colourful buildings in Portovenere.
Photo: Kai Sing
Along the banks of Portovenere.

Adrian gathered the troupe.
"Ok, this Portovenere is a small village measuring only about 2.5km across.  All we need to do is to walk to the Church of St Peter (San Pietro Church) on the left side and walked right up to the church above.  And then you all can take your time to explore the rest of the small lanes inside and the shops along."
At San Pietro Church- Jeffrey, Kai Sing, Eddy, Alex, yours truly. [Photo: Eddy's camera]

Two hours and a half ended up insufficient for some of us who wanted to explore deeper and in more details.  Of course for some of the ladies who wanted to check out the shops, time was never enough, if you were to add in coffee and pizza breaks.
Michelle, Lai Peng and Joanne enjoying the wind at Portovenere.
[Photo: Kai Sing]

"Behind this building, there is this lane where the most beautiful girl in Portovenere is manning the counter selling pizza," pointed out Adrian.
At the ruins of the wall of San Pietro.
[Photo: Eddy]
Sunbathers on the rocks all the way down. I didn't know how they made it,
but these Italians were really great in climbing up and down. Brave souls.

Many a visitors made for St Peter at the far end to the left of the port, following which they would discover an opening in the old wall that curved along the spine of the hill, an opening framed by an arch of old bricks. Dropping down sharply from this meatus was a flight of steps taking the visitor all the way down to the shore at the bottom of the cliff. Huge rocks rose from either side of this tiny little shore, upon which some daring couples in swimsuit were sunbathing.
Joanne really fighting the wind here.

And here was a lovely shot of Joanne trying to span the wall with her arms.. A nice shot of San Pietro by Kai Sing.
Another shot of Serene with the wall...
Serene and the motherly fertility figure.

The steps were carved out of rocks, and after centuries of weathering the rock surfaces were as smooth as marbles. A slender lady in white dress slipped while descending and painfully twisted her ankle, an incident that dissuaded me from taking the same risk.  Instead I chose to turn right and make my way up the slopey path right into the heart of the village.

"Let's slowly walk in the small lanes of the village and see what's there," I held Serene's hands.
The homes in Portovenere... along the small alleys.

This trip started off as a photography trip. And everybody was cracking his head why equipment to bring. Most ended up bringing a much lighter set up. Some of the lucky guys brought along their newly acquired Sony A7R Mk II. Serene and I just brought one rangefinder body, and two lenses each: the Summilux 35mm and 90mm f/2.8 for me, and the Summilux 35 and voitglander 12mm for Serene.  We started off the trip very delligently shooting with our cameras but as the week went on, our photography elevates to a higher level with most shots captured with our iPhones instead.
Chiesa Di San Lorenzo, a delightful little church.

"Maybe the next SgTrekker photography trip everyone should just bring their handphones," someone joked.
Overlooking San Pietro from high up above Chiesa De San Lorenzo.
Plenty of frames up in the peak.

A joke it was meant to be but in many way it became the reality on this late morning as Serene and I strolled along the paved streets of Portovenere. We both soaked in the atmosphere of this little place, looking at the unique door knobs, the brightly coloured walls, of yellow, pink, green, blue and a while palette of hues. Small pots of flowers and green vines adorned the varandas and the old style wooden windows injectes a sense of timelessness into the place.
Walking in the alleys of Portovenere. [Photo: Eddy]

Eddy, Michelle, Jeffrey, Adrian and us made our ways slowly up to a tiny little square, the Piazza San Lorenzo.  Perched on its edge was a tiny little chapel, the Chiesa Di San Lorenzo. Very serene little sanctuary highlighted by a beautiful altar.  A sanctuary that naturally made everyone lapse into silence out of awe and respect, except my lovely Serene, who had no 'hush tone aeroplane mode' button on her.
Portovenere had little stairways like these that interspersed its alleys, leading up the slope
with quite a gradient.  Easy way to make short cuts from one lane to another.
Unknowingly I wandered into the grave and memorial section of the church at the peak of the hill. It was quite a sight, overlooking the sea, all the tombstones quietly sleeping basked in the sunlight and carressed by the sea breeze.  In my heart I told myself that this would be a perfect anceatrial burial site for Chineae, backing the mountain and facing the water. Fantastic feng shui.
I walked and saw this little rooftop sanctuary and I thought to myself: "Wow, these Portovenerians really know how to enjoy themselves."

As sharply the steps ascended, they descended. Time and again I asked myself how did the residents of this little village walk up and down (as here in this picture of me taken by Eddy) every single day to their local kopi tiam. Especially when carrying their daily tote bags of fresh tomatoes, mozarella and fish.  That concern kept recurring in my mind each time I looked up and see another steep sharp climb.
Adriano searching high and low...

There was a main back street that traversed right through the length of the village, speckled on each side with small little shops selling local herbs, local souvenirs, bruschetta, pasta, pizzas, gelati, bikinis. At intervals small little tributaries out-pouched either up the slope or down the slope, bringing us to small art shops full of characters, selling porcelain figures arranged in the form of a picture.
Creativity at its Ligurian best. [Photo: Alex]
These Pokemon-sters were really all out to capture their prey.

By that time, Joanne and Lai Peng were already shopping along the main back street.  Serene herself managed to just grabbed a couple of sunglasses from the little shop a few steps away from our lunch spot.  Lunch was at the delightful dunoo-what-was-the-name restaurant.  The pasta was really delicious.  And the whole peng kang fish, thought full of bones, was very nice to slowly pick at to get the flesh out.  Both Kai Sing and I enjoyed getting at the fish.
Getting ready for lunch.

By that time, the Portovenere piazzo was really crowded, full of visitors, both locals as well as foreigners.  It was mainly Ang Mohs.  But there were some Koreans as well.  We realised that Singaporeans were a rarity in Portovenere, but perhaps during this season.  Who knew, maybe year end or mid year they would see more travellers from Singapore.

Riomaggiore as seen from out at sea. [Photo: AlexK]
Alex, yours truly, Serene, Adriano, Lai Peng and Michelle on board the dunno-what-name ferry.
[Photo: Eddy]
"Riomaggiore is only one port stop away from Portovenere," recalled Eddy.
"We will be sailing across the part of the sea that would be a little rough," warned Adrian.
And he was right.  The head wind blowing at us on the deck tore off our glasses and swept an Ang Moh lady's sandals away directly in front of me.  Eddy estimated the wind speed to be about 20-25 knots at that point in time.  For those of us ignorant enough to be sitting on the port side of the ferry, we were splashed by droplets of salty foam as waves after waves crashed against the side of the ferry.
This Riomaggiore had rocky dock. Got port like got no port like that one.
Riomaggiore, from the port. [Photo: Kai Sing]

The short trip brought us right to the rocky disembarkation platform, where a long line of people had already formed winding up the steep staircase up the slopes of the shore.
Innocently we followed Adrian and took the staircase down on the left towards the rocky parts of the shoreline.  Huge boulders piled along the shore, leaving no space except the deep recess in between that gladly welcomed into their embrace any ankle or foot that happened to slip off the sides of the rocks.
Before the rocks.  [Panorama by Serene's iPhone]
These two kind Ang Mohs (one of which was the nice-looking girl in bikini) warmed us
'better not to walk along the rocks' to the shore in front.

"We will just need to walk to the rock over there.  That is our vantage point.  Just one vantage point, one shot of Riomaggiore village from the rocks, and we are done," said Adrian.
But what he accidentally forgotten to mention was that the rocky path from that vantage point down to the beach part of the shore further in front, presented with a little bit more challenge as most boulders ended top-most with sharp peak, and there weren't too many available flat parts to anchor ourselves as we tread forward.  Alex and Lai Peng were smart.  They already made the U-turn before they reached the point of no return, and opted to walk up from the original steps up the longer way to the village, leaving Albert, Adrian, Joanne, Kai Sing, Serene and myself to attempt the rocks.
A young Ang Moh couples, seeing how we were hesitating, told us we had better turn back.
I remembered very clearly, at that point in time, Joanne, who was struggling to find her footings, said out loud: "No! I am not going back that way!"

Check out the Video below of Joanne conquering the rocks!

Such determination from one who hardly stay in non-five-star hotels.  It was later that she shared with us that she was herself inspired by the front walkers' perseverance.  Inside her heart, this strong woman told herself that if everyone in front of her could do it, she could also do it.  And between cajoling, coaxing, hand-holding, and exclamation of "Huh? Joanne, how did you end up in this position?" when she was on all fours sprawled on a boulder, she gingerly made her way down to the beach.
The Rocks conquered by Joanne, nowadays also known as Joanne's Rock.

Everyone was very proud of her first accomplishment.  This Riomaggiore landing had made a real man out of this woman.  Something that I was sure even she herself hadn't believed she would one day do.

After all that, the one shot snap of the colourful village homes from out at the beach, became something near to an anti-climax.  We gathered at the train station up the staircase on the other end of the village, to take a one stop train ride to our final destination for the day - Manarola.
At the train station waiting for our train to Manarola. [Photo: Eddy]

This was another small little village, one of the five villages of Cinque Terre.  And on this day, this would be where our blue hour shoot would be held, a vintage point slightly out on the headland to the right of the bay.  Another inwards shot, this time towards the quaint little village of Manarola.  I might have been desensitized by now, for all the villages appeared similar in architecture and colour to me.

The only thing that I could remember from Manarola was our coffee break and later the dinner in that again-dunno-what's-its-name restaurant just behind the restaurant with the green shutter which Adrian pointed out to us.  There was a black waiter in that restaurant that kept inquiring how he could possibly come over to Singapore to work.  Thinking back, I hope our dissuasion had work.
Jeffrey starting work very early in the evening...
Me trying unsuccessfully to capture the magic.
With my poor low ISO camera, I struggled to capture the view.  There was no magic from my camera.  But the other boys and girls really lit up the place with their magic.
The Magic of Manarola by Alex K.
Again, another blue hour, another few more sand fly bites up at the vintage points, and we were done for the night.  I was done long before the rest were.  For my equipment was really CMI.  All I could do was to take snap shots of those around.
Looked like Michelle also sao-gong about the same time as me.

A final train ride took us right back to La Spezia Centrale Statione where we were past the 10pm closing time for the supermarket next to Casa Dane.  The only consolation was, Casa Dane was a great apartment to return back to.  Its rooms were spacious, well equipped, and had great warm water.  I didn't mind walking up that few flights of steps up.  The welcoming bed drew me into slumberland very soon.