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Postcards from Travel Near and Far by Jia-Rui


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Corniglia, 19018

Flower festival in Corniglia

Dear ——–,

Corniglia was probably the hardest of the Cinque Terre towns to get to. Some of the trains didn’t stop there and you either have to walk up 400 steps or take a stuffy shuttle bus to get from the train station to the center of town. But once you get there, it’s a charming little town. Someone there even had a sense of humor — he or she wrote the word “aeroporto” in chalk with an arrow pointing toward a small look-out point. The narrow stone streets were festooned with flags and, on the day we visited, older women were scattering flowers on the ground. We had apparently stumbled across the flower festival of Corpus Christi. When we returned to Monterosso later, there were elaborate pictures made out of flowers and seeds on the walkways near the main church. It made me wonder whether this is where the idea for Pasadena’s Rose Parade came from.

Flower art on a stone street in Monterosso al Mare

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Monterosso al Mare, 19016

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View of old town part of Monterosso al Mare from our agriturismo

Dear ——–,

Monterosso had herds more American college students in mesh running shorts than I’d expected, so it was nice to have our own little slice of quiet at Agriturismo Buranco. The agriturismo was a short walk up a steep, slippery road from the old part of town, but we were soon surrounded by grapevines, olive trees and fuschia flowers. The foccacia they served at breakfast was a revelation — pillowy soft, infused with just the right amount of olive oil. It made the dry stuff we get in the U.S. seem stale and tasteless. We also ate as much pesto as we could since one of the Liguria’s other food contributions to world cuisine is basil pesto. We weren’t ever disappointed. Even though it was raining on our second day there, Meri, our host at Buranco, walked up a tray with snacks and two glasses of their tasty — almost chardonnay-like — white wine. We put Stella to bed and then savored the wine the farm’s covered porch.


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Manarola, 19017

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Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy

Dear ——–,

The towns of Cinque Terre looked like paintings. We started in Riomaggiore and walked the Via dell’Amore to Manarola, admiring the locks inscribed with the names of lovers fastened onto fences along the way. Manarola was our favorite town, where we could walk out on a little punta and look back to the perfectly framed cascade of pastel-colored houses on the side of the cliff. (Apparently, the colors of the houses in Cinque Terre have to be approved by some commission!) A group of young men with a death wish were swimming right next to a little jetty there. They were lifted and dropped about 10 feet every time a tide pounded in and pulled out. I was worried they’d be thrown against the rocks, but they somehow thought this was fun. I noticed that none of the women seemed eager to join in. We walked up about two-thirds the way up the town to have lunch at Trattoria dal Billy, where we had a commanding view of the poetic Ligurian Sea and fantastically fresh shrimp over homemade pasta. The waiter also entertained our daughter while we finished the meal with a fantastic hazelnut semifreddo and limoncino. We worked off lunch with a walk along the terraced vineyards before descending back down to town.

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Riomaggiore

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Lovers’ locks on the Via dell’Amore


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Montepulciano, 53045

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View from Montepulciano

Dear ——–,

We spent the morning in the elegant Renaissance town of Pienza, where the smell of local pecorino wafted out from shop after shop. For lunch, we went to an organic farm called Il Casale, where we had plates of prosciutto, salami, zucchini, cabbage, pasta in tomato sauce and a spelt salad. They make their own cheese — so there was ricotta, feta, chevre and several kinds of pecorino including a fresh variety and ones aged in hay and grape leaves. Stella got to meet her first pony on this farm (very interested) and her first goats (less interested). In the afternoon, we went to Montepulciano, where we took a look at the Contucci cellars and tasted their vino nobile di Montelpulciano. The reserva from 2007 was so velvety, we had to take one home. The host, Adamo, asked, “Am I famous in America?” and showed a picture of himself with Rick Steves. Well, that was how we got there.