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28 May 2020 - Day 47 – La Spezia

Waking up in the flat in Parma a little late, I had to hustle. Fortunately, I don’t do much more than open and close the roller bag, and all the electronics are together getting charged. Cleaned and packed, I headed down to the street and began my kilometer plus speed walk to the station. Once I figured out where the 7:50 train to La Spezia Centrale would board, I was heading to the platform. Being Thursday before a big weekend, I was unsure how busy the trains might be today, especially heading to Cinque Terre.

Not a worry. Plenty of room, I had the seats to myself for the entire 2-hour ride. Once I got out of the station (they have lifts), my hotel Affittacamere Raggio di Sole has 2-stars, is 250m from the station and the entry is between a phone store and a candy shop. With four floors of rooms, I was hopeful.

As it turns out, this is a gem! Clean, quiet, comfortable and pleasant staff. I was early (any time you get somewhere before 2pm, you’re early) so the clerk checked me in and locked up my bag.

With cathedrals closing at noon, I had some scheduling to figure out. Nearby Sarzana was a 15-minute ride and 5-minute walk. A co-cathedral was there.

#LaSpezia has a cathedral and an ex-pro-cathedral, both near the port. It was 10. My afternoon plans were based around the marina. So I headed back to the station, had 5 minutes to wait for a train to #Sarzana. Two stops later, I was off and walking Viale XXI Luglio to the commercial district and to the Concattedrale Basilica di S. Maria Assunta. [Yes, there are a lot of cathedrals named for the Assumption of Mary.] A relatively plain white marble wall for the western entry, with a square stone campanile to the south, it seems to be a simple parish church.

Inside was quite surprising. A mix of Romanesque and Gothic, the carved wooden coffer vault absorbs much light. The two sets of light columns are widely space apart, giving access to the three side chapels on each side. In front, a side chapel contains the Cross of Maestro Guglielmo, the oldest known painted Italian crucifix. The church also claims an important relic of St Andrew, and a vial of the Holy Blood. The presbytery and altar are elevated three steps from the nave floor.

Checking the train schedule, I had 10 minutes to get to the station. I took the slightly longer route back, but didn’t see anything of note. The train had me back by 11:15. The cathedral is 1.7 km away, a 22-minute hike. A taxi would take as long, per Google. Might as well get the exercise and see the Quartiere del Torretto. It actually was pretty easy, as I followed the Via XX Settembre as it zigzagged below the Castello San Giorgio. I got there in 20 minutes, only slightly winded.

Cattedrale di Cristo Re is very modern, built between 1956 and 1975. It is on a slight rise at Piazza Europa. Knowing that it would close at noon, I bypassed my usual circuit and entered the building. Totally in the round! With the exception of the fixed altar, every seat faces the center. For new architecture (relatively), I think it is brilliant. I circled inside, looking at the light and the illustrations on the outer wall. When I was called to leave, I used an aisle that took me into the center and around the sacristy. Upon getting back outside, I walked around the building, trying to find that angle, but the raised walkway that passes between the church and the plaza doesn’t make me happy.

Weaving my way to the former pro-cathedral (a church assigned the cathedral role while the actual cathedral is unused or being built) along Via XX Settembre under the shadow of the St George castle, I made a left turn on Via Indipendenza to arrive at the ex-pro-cattedrale Chiesa Santa Maria Assunta.

While a church has existed at the site for 600-plus years, bombing of the port during the Second World War resulted in much damage. The front façade is modern, horizontal stripes of gray and white marble running from sidewalk to roof, in the shape of a Romanesque church.

Three doors within arches with bas relief art above, the central door is cast bronze with eight panels depicting historic religious events. The front entrance, which lets out onto a public parking lot, was locked for lunch.

My next goal was the marina. A half-kilometer walk through a mixed commercial-residential neighborhood gave me an opportunity to have two slices of pizza at Il Trittico.

Pesto and the veggie combo (zucchini, mushrooms), with a glass of red wine out on the sidewalk just hit the spot. Out through the Parco Salvador Allende which includes the public gardens, which got a brief stroll, I headed to the Terminal Traghetti di La Spezia, the ferry terminal.

I purchased a round trip ticket for about half the covered route, to follow the notes in my itinerary: “Cinque Terre: In the afternoon take the public ferry to Portovenere (Passeggiata Costantino Morin 19121), visit the village that was founded by the Genoese in the 1100 A.C. to be their port and stronghold in the eastern Liguria. Walk as far as St. Peter’s church from there look all over the #CinqueTerre coast, and don’t miss to look at the imposing “Palazzata”. Return by ferry to La Spezia.” This is a cruise ship destination, and I was lucky that none were in La Spezia today.

With 15-minutes before boarding, I returned to the public gardens and checked out the monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi. Back to the dock, I boarded with about 20 others, and we soon set off. First stop was Porto Venere, but we had passed the naval arsenal yard, Forte Pezzino Basso, and three points: Punta del Varignano, Punta Santa Maria (with fort) and Punta della Castgna.

After about half of us debarked, the ferry continued around to pass the ports of the Cinque Terre towns (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterrosso al Mare) to its eventual terminus in Rapallo. (Another ferry line goes on only to Manarola.)

From the dock, the breakwater extended out beyond the castle ruins and the church where I’d been directed. Out practically to the end of a rocky point, this old stone church breathes reverence.

Still a functioning church, the wind sweeps in from the sea, and with today’s clear weather (temperatures in the mid 70’s) the view north along the coast hints at the Cinque Terre.

St Peter in his chair sends a stern signal which seemed to temper irreverent enthusiasm, as was fit. I felt solemn here, in a simple stone church.

Walking back from the church on the point, I looked to the north towards the town of the Cinque Terre.

Down a pathway was the Grotta di Lord Byron and cliffs, more stone wall ruins, but I wasn’t really tempted.

Coming up to the observation deck, a whimsical sculpture of Mother Nature backed onto rocks, a Junoesque bronze figure contemplating the water.

The Scalinata Portovenere sits on a raised area, stone walls holding the rocks and soil, which offer great views. My favorite was back towards the port.

North along the coast as I approached town was the remains of an old windmill. Up a slight hill, it offered great views down the spit of land out to the church.

A bit further up and north is the Castello Doria. With its height, it present spectacular views south to the island off the point and the coast further south.

The dome and bell tower of the San Lorenzo Church, which overlooks the town and harbor, are visible nearly everywhere. Built by Pope Innocent II while under Genovese occupation in 1116-30, it is also known as the Sanctuary of the White Madonna. The history of the place is rather interesting.

Walking back down the hill, I toured the #PortoVenere main market street for a bit, people watching. At the tourist center I knew where I was and how to get to the dock. A ferry would arrive to return to La Spezia in 20 minutes, so I made my way to the pier. The late afternoon crowd was about 20, so I was hoping the arriving vessel could accommodate us all. It got a bit cozy, but we all fit, and half an hour later clambered off the ship. On the way back to the hotel, I was able to visit the inside of the ex-pro-cathedral, where the restoration included historic elements in the more sterile modern rebuild.

Via Fiume was pretty much a straight shot back, taking me by several piazza before a rotary at Piazza Saint Bon where I shifted towards the hotel half a block down.

I collected my key and my bag, rode the lift up to the top, and settled in a bit. The light jacket had done well for the day, although I did take it off a few times to roll up and put into the rucksack. There was a wine bar (thank you Google) 5 short blocks, so I figured I’d journal as I unwound.

è un … bel bere is a vineria with wine on tap, as well as selling wine by the bottle, jug or box. Nine pulls, plus steel carboys for pitchers and jugs, the staff were friendly and had a smattering of English.

Heading to the back, I found a small table, asked for tastes of 3 white wines and a bit of bread with antipasti. Apparently a neighborhood institution, it was doing good business at the counter up front, and folks were dropping in for a glass before heading home. My wine tastes were all sourced from the Cinque Terre DOC, the grape varietals being bosco, albarola and pigato (vermentino). All light and dry, these blends were all quite pleasant and would stand up to many fish dishes, so I mentally stored these options for tonight’s dinner. I managed to finish my journaling, but I asked about a red. They had pink, not really local, but made from the rossese di Dolceacqua (tibouren). On a lark, I tried one, but it wasn’t to my taste.

Exiting, I began to think about food, or dinner, specifically. Wanting to get away from the station and the port, I chose Antica Osteria da Caran.

Up a slight incline from the port basin, its location was labeled “north”. Inside and outside dining, I chose to be outside tonight and didn’t regret it. To start, something I saw rather than found on the menu – a flatbread made from chickpeas, served as an appetizer or a first. Served with pesto and ricotta, to spread, farinata was a special local variation on a pizza crust. Something Ligurian, per my notes. For my secondi, the stocafisso con patate e olive. I’d been told to have cod, and this combination with potatoes and olives was good. Both went well with a carafe of house red – it was light and dry, like a pinot. And there was room for dessert: crème brûlée.

Pleasantly full, I strolled down the hill as dusk was ending, and soon arrived at the hotel. While downloading my photos and charging batteries, I’ve begun writing up the day’s activities. Reflecting, there were three very different cathedral buildings today. In any case, I’ll upload this and fill in pictures soon so it can be posted. A fairly early start tomorrow as I begin a shift south to Pisa.

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