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Europe : Italy Cinque Terre - March 21

 Ah, the Italian Coast, where, international magnates of dubious fortune launch their yachts and where tech CEOs go to recenter themselves after laying off ten thousand or so workers. I think it's the word Italian, it just brings to mind luxury. I don't think there are words that are not bolstered by adding the word Italian: Italian Paper, Italian Chairs, Italian Industrial Repurposed Polyurethane... Ok, maybe the last one.

Anywaaays, there is a set of 5 towns along the coast that are quaint, raked at an angle steeper than a Agatha Christie theatre, and all painted lovely pastels. Here the streets are narrower, if that's possible, and their economy is entirely (or so much so that the difference is negligible) tourism based. 

We are on a tour, and this tour's purpose is not so much to inundate us with tasty facts but just to herd 50 of us through one 2 hour bus ride, and a handful of train rides to the different quaint towns to spend our tourist dollars.

We do get a burst of information on the bus ride there. Different towns and the basis of their economies, petty rivalries, vengeances, the, it seems, usual things that play out in history.

One town is where Michelangelo picked out his marble for David. In the distance were mountains eaten away by hundreds of years of marble quarrying. At one point there will be no more mountain, and no more marble, but I suppose that's a problem for future Italians, hundreds of years from now. It was quite striking though, the voracious industry of humankind gnawing at that mountainside.

We are in Tuscany, but it wasn't until we turned on corner in the mountains and could look down upon some fields (and some areas where Puccini's house was) that I really saw what I imagined to be Tuscany. Again, Tuscany sounds like somewhere millionaires travel and buy lakes or throw up chalets, but it's a land like any other. Roads, rusted out mechanic shops, industry. There was something sleepy about the country side, many things seems to have mellowed into a state of comfortable disrepair. How much of this is just the general very high youth unemployment in Italy, or the problem the world over of youth fleeing the suburbs and heading to the city for more excitement, less parents, more freedom. 

There were also other facts, cigars, I think. Cigars that were accidentally fermented and became world famous. The same ones Clint Eastwood smoked in his spaghetti westerns and caused his signature grimace (as the guide would have us believe).

But soon after that the facts generally peter out. The guides are willing to answer any question or just chat, but there is no set talking points. They are busy enough making sure we make our trains and get to meeting points at different times. They seem disconcertingly surprised that our trains arrived relatively on time. Perks of travelling during the off-season, I guess.

I won't single every town out. They were all charming, incredibly steep, beautiful sweeping seasides, and just packed with tourist traps. At the second to last one we just sat in the shade, on the stone dock, with nobody around. We then realize how long it had been since we've been in public while not surrounded by people. Just people on top of people on top of people it seems. 

One of the towns was used as a backdrop for the Disney movie Luca, and yes, it looks exactly like. 

The food in these places were notably different from most of the places we've been in that they feature seafood heavily. Heavily deepfried, that is. When you need to service an endless stream of hungry tourists this seems like a good strategy. There was of course the usual gelato and pizza and pasta shops. 

For dinner we opted for sandwiches. The sandwiches seemed to have about 3 fewer ingredients than one would think make up a sandwich. Like mine was anchovies and butter. That's it. And bread. It worked, of course, the anchovies and bread being incredibly fresh helped. But the bread we've encountered in Italy is structurally solid. A crust that could take down a small bird or be used in emergency vehicular repair. But that's only the crust, when you breach that it's all bready goodness. The result, interestingly, is that it slows you way down trying to eat, say, a sandwich. Which helps you appreciate all the fresh ingredients, it's all very European. 

At another town they explained the reasoning for all the colourful houses, was apparently, for a particular fisherman to keep tabs on his wife and her questionable fidelity. So, time passed, yadda yadda, unesco, yadda, now if you want to paint your house you have to double check with the UN to make sure it's the right shade. Of infidelity checking, I assume.

The water was a beautiful aquamarine. In BC we are used to a healthy silty mud brown ocean water. Great for agriculture and biodiversity, horrible for selfies. 

The trains took us back to the bus which took us back to our 20m walk which took us to our 8 flight hike to sleep. Tomorrow, under absolutely no illusion of ease, is the Uffizi Gallery.


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