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
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.
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
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 Michelangelos
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 Michelangelos 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.
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
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.
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.
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 Italys busiest commercial
ports. There is a marina adjacent to the town and we are parked
here to do some land exploration.
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
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.
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.
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
We are going toward Genoa tomorrow,
so this will end Travelogue #2 for Summer 2004.