Elba to La Spezia, Italy
July 26 - August 11, 2004

Travelogue #2 Summer 2004

July 26 and we are leaving the Tuscan Archipelago, Elba to be specific. We have had a blustery two nights of wind so yesterday I deployed a 10 kg Bruce fixed 10 feet above the 25 kg Breugel. This not only adds weight, it slows the anchors down and enables the Breugel to dig through the weed. When I retrieved the anchors the Bruce was fouled with a volley ball sized rock in its grasp. This isn't supposed to happen! We had several hours sailing in 15-18 kts of wind at 50 degrees. It was a terrific sail, but as we had 50 miles to make, we had to add some engine for part of the trip. We are sailing by Liverno, which is fronted by a gigantic reef covering about 15 square miles. You must travel reasonably close to the shore.

We arrived at Marina Pisa in the late afternoon and proceeded up the Arno River. Each small marina would say they had no room, and point us further up the river. After about a mile I saw a place and told Kathy we would back in to an obvious spot and ask if they had a vacancy. The dock master met us and welcomed us to stay through the week. The Arno flows through Florence and Pisa; by the time it gets this far it is some dirty and you would not want to fall into the river. It is 11 km to Pisa and an hour to Florence. They fish with strange nets on the Arno.

Our slip in Arnovecchio

Fishing nets at Arnovecchio

Canopy at Arnovecchio

We can see the Apuane Alps from here and the weather is really nice and cool. The daytime highs are in the low 80s and the night lows are in the 60s. There is a very cooling breeze flowing down the Arno. The current is about 4 kts in the Arno and this morning I saw a sailboat going to the sea. He was in a 4 kt current, 10 kts of wind on his tail, and he had his mainsail winged out --- he was flying.

We are situated very well and feel comfortable about the boat so we are going to Pisa. It is a 15 minute bus ride in a canopy of overhanging eucalyptus trees. This area is really nice and nicely cared for. There is a grain crop of some type across the road that is at least 9 feet tall. The main attraction in Pisa is of course, THE Tower. However there are three other buildings on the property (Campo dei Miracoli) that are magnificent, and one of them leans a little also. The leaning tower was built as a bell tower in 1174. It is reportedly one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It is 14.9 feet out of plumb in a height of 186 feet. That is enough that doors wouldn't close if it were a hotel. They should have called C A Nelson for the concrete foundation work. I have seen pictures of the tower for many years, but it is one of those sights that have to be seen to really appreciate. The baptistery is also out of plumb, but not so much as to be an attraction. The cathedral associated with this group was begun in 1064. It is very well preserved, ornate, and brilliantly colored. This is truly one of the cleanest and best cared for sites we have visited. There is also a museum to be seen, but it is getting difficult to enter a museum and expect to see something new or interesting, we are full of museum visits! [More photos from Pisa.]

Tower, cathedral and baptistery

Baptistery at Pisa


Grain field at Arnovecchio

Puccini Festival

Yesterday Pisa, today Florence. It is a 50 minute train ride from Pisa to Florence and we leave the boat early enough to be at the Academy where Michelangelo’s works are by 9 am. There are no tourist groups and it is not crowded, as we planned and hoped. We have seen this exhibit before, but you can't see the statue of David too many times. It takes us a couple of hours to see Michelangelo’s six main pieces. Also by this time it is beginning to get crowded and hot inside. The family residence of Michelangelo also houses a museum, which is enough different to make it worthwhile. It has a few of his pieces including his first Battle of the Centaurs and The Madonna of the Steps. There are also about a dozen of the scale models of his sculptures. He would scale model in terra cotta, wax and wood. These models are about 10 to 12 inches tall and represent an extremely valuable part of the estate. The family worshiped at what is now called Santa Croce. Michelangelo is buried there along with a few other notables: Machiavelli, Galileo, Rossini, and Dante. The crowds kept us away from El Duomo and the Uffizi. We visited another museum/gallery in the Medici Cappella. This building is the crypt for several of the early Medici family. There are also several larger pieces of Michelangelo. We saw Night and Day, Dusk and Dawn, and Madonna and Child. All in all it was a pleasant and educational place to visit. [Scott's photos from Florence.] We are exhausted now and board the train to return to Traumerei.

There is a musical festival in Torre del Lago, which is 10 miles away. This is the 50th anniversary of the Puccini Festival and the festival presents various Puccini operas each year with some outstanding singers. It is an “E” ticket to get to go. We talked with several people, and they had each secured their tickets in March. On Saturday July 24th and Friday the 30th Andrea Bocelli is to sing the lead male role in Tosca, and someone else sings it the rest of the festival. We were told that there was not a chance for the 30th, but they are not familiar with our persistence and sometimes good luck. The opera is in an outdoor venue on the edge of a large lake with about 3500 seats. This is also the night of the full moon which will rise over the stage, some spectacular. The curtain call is 9:15 and it will last until 12:30 or so, so there will be no public transportation to return to our boat, so if we are to go we will need to rent a car and wing it. We got another Smart car. We got to Torre del Lago at 6:30 and approached the ticket counter, third in line with essentially no hope. The gentleman in front of us is a tour director and turned to ask, “Do you have tickets”, me “No”, him “There are two members of our group who are ill; would you like to buy two from me?” We got fantastic tickets, with no scalping. It was even faster than waiting in line from the third position would have been.

Tosca venue from our seat

Frank and the Smart car

Us at Arnovecchio

It is a really special experience to hear Andrea sing and he is one of our favorites. We have at least 7 of his CDs. Neither of us were aware that he had roles in operas, due to his being blind and the movement about the stage which is necessary. The director cleverly has action where one or another of the characters led Andrea to the place where he should be. However, in the first scene the upper stage had a 5 inch gap between the left and right sides. This was in the center of the stage and a reference place for Andrea to stand and start actions. Upon approaching this place for the first time, he placed his left foot in the crack and almost fell. I would not like to be the one who was responsible for that error. He recovered wonderfully and if one wasn't paying attention it would have gone unnoticed. The opera and evening will certainly be remembered as one of the great highlights of this trip.

We motored around the local area, while we had the car, and visited the village of Lucca. It is advertised to be off of the beaten track and not too many tourists. It is a walled town, at least a part of Lucca is within the walls, and the streets are almost free of cars. We enjoyed a morning of dropping into various piazzas, churches, and a palace garden. It was nice to be in a car and away from the major tourist attractions and boats.

Today we are sailing to Viareggio and complete the 8 miles in 5 hours, rather a relaxed outing. This town is notable in that it is the home of several of the largest and certainly finest mega yacht builders in Europe. The Bennetti and Perini groups are on the list. We could walk near to the buildings wherein the construction was happening. One such Bennetti shed is brick, very tall, and perhaps 300 feet long by 150 feet wide. There are two biggies under construction where they are in the shed side by side and lengthwise in the building. At the far end of the building there are two more that are small enough to fit the width of the building. The largest boat in the lengthwise position is about 40 feet longer than the space provided, so there is a makeshift shed over the extension. The yacht construction is on a floor that can be lowered into the water when the boat is launched. I thought they craned them or slid them down a slip. There are perhaps 6 other yacht builders in the immediate vicinity and the bay is chock full of big yachts. There are several megas awaiting modification or updating. One is a large sailboat by Perini and it is 17 of my steps wide. That is somewhere between 40 and 50 feet wide. It is at least 200 feet long and the mast must be 200 feet high. It has five spreaders which appear to be separated by 40’. There is a power yacht next to it that is even larger. What a show! We are tied to a large rock wall that borders the canal leading downtown. It is a very popular beach in that the beaches are sandy.

Bennitti yards at Viareggio

Burrasca and power yacht

Washing windows on yacht

It is but a short move up the coast to Marina Carrara. This is a major shipping harbor for many things but one in particular: the Carrara marble. This is a most sought after marble for sculpting. Michelangelo made trips to this mountain to secure special pieces of marble for his art work. The town extends up the mountain for about 2 miles. We rode the bus to the far end of town and found it to be almost void of tourists. It is a great working town with the backdrop of a marble mountain. From 40 miles south of here you begin to see the white topped mountains and believe you are seeing snow in the Alps, which are close by. However the white is marble and the mountains are larger than Mt Lemmon. The elevation is greater and the length is longer. It appears there is less than 4 feet of topsoil and below that solid marble. They have been quarrying here for hundreds of years and the white shows it, but there are thousands of years remaining in the mountain. The ships here are loading blocks of marble which are somewhat standard in size, 5 feet square on the end and 8 feet long. Everywhere are stone dealers and marble souvenirs.

Marble cranes in Carrera

Mountain of Carrera marble

Marble of Carrera

Next we go 5 miles to Golfo La Spezia which is at the east end of the Italian Riviera. There is an island protecting the bay and a town on the point. Portovenere is a town with a large and prominent fort and of course a castle. Both are large and in good shape. On the outermost point is a very prominent church. The town of La Spezia is tucked into the most northern part of the bay. It was a primary Italian naval port in WWII and currently has a modest naval fleet here plus two submarines. It is now one of Italy’s busiest commercial ports. There is a marina adjacent to the town and we are parked here to do some land exploration.

Bay side at La Spezia

Castle at Porto Venere

Harbor on laundry day

Today we are hiking the trail from Riomaggiore to Monterosso. These villages date from the 13th century. This is the trail that connects the five small villages which make up the Cinque Terre. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The five villages were isolated except from sea and some foot trails. These people stacked stones to retain soil on the steep cliffs where they could grow olives and grapes. The slopes are so steep that one would be at great risk to attempt to climb the mountain without using the trail. The region is one of the top tourist attractions in Europe. There are no cars allowed in the towns with the exception of service, emergency and law enforcement vehicles. These villages were essentially unknown to the outside world until 1870. This is when the rail link between Turin, Genoa, and Rome was built along the coast. It passed through, below and above the villages and eventually the villages grew to encompass the train stations. Then the visitors came.

We rode the train for 8 minutes as it traveled about 4 miles through a rock tunnel from La Spezia to the beginning of the trail at Riomaggiore. The villages are connected by well made stone footpaths for the most part. The trail overhangs the sea below and in some instances is cut into the rock with rock overhead. The trail between the villages will be masonry when along the cliff and dirt when it is inland and through vineyards and heavy green growth. There are many kinds of wild brush but one most prominent is the wild berry bushes. They are profuse and close to the trail but too thorny to even think of gathering. The trail is 12 km long, which is 7.5 miles. We started at about 9 am and finished the complete trail by 4 pm with many stops along the way. It is a long trail with a sizable number of ups and downs. They have special wheelbarrows for climbing the steep slopes, like none I have seen before.

Cinqueterra Riomaggiore

Trail to Manarola

Local wheelbarrow

The trail begins at Riomaggiore and winds along the cliff for 1 km to Manarola. This is nice and short, well maintained and constructed as if glued to the cliff itself. The water is 150 feet below and the cliff extends up for perhaps 100 feet in some places. We enjoyed this before the sun was upon us and were excited about doing the complete trip. The second section is a bit longer, 3 km, and ends at Corniglia. There we met a couple from Perth that we had known in Rome and walked the rest of the trip with them. They have been sailors for one year and have a Beneteau 41. They liked sailing so much, they have traded for a Beneteau 47 which will be delivered next week.


Manarola boats

Vernazza from the trail

The third part of the trail is 4 km and takes you to Vernazza. It has more inland travel and has a lot of ups and downs through vineyards and olive trees. There are a number of flowers in the park, but you are forbidden to pick them. The fourth portion to Monterosso al Mare is also 4 km and also has some parts which are through agricultural areas with ups and downs. It was now mid-afternoon and the beer at Monterosso was one of the best I have ever had. The fare for this complete journey via the well maintained trails is 5.40 euros. This includes entry fee, train ride to the start of the trail, and the train ride back to La Spezia. We met a lot of young Americans on the trail; almost anyone is young to me, but I mean 20 years old and younger. We enjoyed the place so much that after a day of rest we rode the train back to Riomaggiore again this morning for the short walk and a bit of pastry in a restaurant by the sea, then some time exploring the village. While we were there it rained and a fierce lighting storm forced everyone off of the path and into the cafes.

Backwards over trail


Above Vernazza

Vernazza harbor

Stone bridge near Monterosso

Monterosso at end of trail

We are going toward Genoa tomorrow, so this will end Travelogue #2 for Summer 2004.


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