sestri-levanteWe went to Italy (Italie) for the second half of Toussaints (all saints) break, which is in early November (yes, I know it is late December now). Shannon’s mom, Jackie, arranged the trip in part because her father grew up in Sestri Levante which is on the Italian Riviera, south of Genoa and just north of the famous cliff towns known as Cinque Terre. She rented a couple of units in a villa on the edge of the Sestri. The villa and especially the grounds were beautiful and the kids really enjoyed running around.

Sestri Levante is a lovely small town right on the ocean that is quite a hot spot during the summer. It is pretty empty in November and we enjoyed the lack of crowds, although several restaurants were actually closed for the month of November. The cool thing about Sestri is that it is a thin peninsula that juts out into the Mediterranean, so thin, in fact, that at one point it is less than a minute walk between the two bays that surround it–Baia delle Favole, (Bay of the Fables), and Baia del Silenzio, the (Bay of Silence). The former is very large and named after Hans Christian Andersen, which made a nice connection to our earlier trip to Copenhagen. The latter is small, with a narrow beach full of fishing boats. It is exceptionally charming.

The peninsula actually widens at the end (which helps define the two bays) and at the point of the Baia del Silenzio is an office building that, believe it or not, contains the headquarters of the leading company in Italian e-learning, Giunti Labs.  So I was able to get in a little work and borrow their internet connection. Giunti is an innovative group doing excellent work. And, obviously, they have great taste in office space. We also got some excellent restaurant recommendations from them, most notably La Fiaschetteria de la Lanterna. Really good, not expensive and with an excellent and underpriced (!) wine list. Go there. Drink good wine. Eat good food. Leave happy. Walk home.  (Very little to no English spoken. We don’t speak italian. Just order something. It will be good.)

Anyways, despite or lack of Italian we had a great trip. In the interest of trying to catch up on the blogging, here are a few hilights:

  • Sestri Levante itself. We really loved walking around the narrow streets, eating gelato and shopping. Shannon got a nice pair of boots and Daphne got the cutest sweater-jacket that has become a staple of her wardrobe (Jack got a non-descript blue hoodie that’s become a staple of his as well, but not nearly as cute). The kids loved playing on the beach and the scenery is truly lovely. November isn’t the best time to go, probably, but I’d also hate to be there in the high summer season. I guess a swing season is what I would shoot for.
  • Cinque Terre.  These five villages are perched on the cliffs overlooking the ocean and are connected by train. You’ve heard how charming they are. You probably don’t believe it. You’re probably wrong. They are amazing and I wish we’d had more time to visit. They are places for lingering and walking and doing nothing…which isn’t great for the kids. So, given our group, it was just enough. We saw three of them–Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza and Manarola. Our favorite was Manarola because of the rock wall holding back the sea–very fun to play on.  And the chocolate-chlie gelato there was amazing.
  • Genoa.  The aquarium in Genoa is super cool and the narrow streets of Genoa itself are an adventure, especially in the pouring rain. Although we went twice (well, most of us–Michael stayed home the second time to work), we didn’t spend enough time there and I’d like to go back (without the kids!).  The first time we went we drove, which was fine on the way there.  But on the way back the highway to Sestri was closed due to a massive, fatal accident in one of the many tunnels (the road from Genoa to Sestri is at least 50% tunnels–no kidding). All traffic was diverted to side streets and it took 3 hours to cover about the last 15 miles of the trip. It was pure torture, although the kids did remarkably well…I dare say better than the adults. Much thanks to the inventors of GPS. We might not have gotten home without it. Needless to say, the family took the train on the second trip.
  • The small towns of the Italian riviera.  We spent a day in San Margharita Ligure and Portofino.  Portofino is tucked, improbably, into a narrow ravine leading to the ocean. It is nearly as picturesque as Manarola and you can drive there. You can also bring your big yacht there in the summer, we’re told, and I guess it is quite a hangout for the rich and wanting-to-be famous (Michael Jordan was once asked: “How is it to be rich and famous?” His reply: “It’s better to be just rich.”). We didn’t stay.  The 25 euro cocktails (I’m not making that up) didn’t seem worth it since we were literally the only ones there. Instead we went back to San Magharita Ligure and spent some more time there. It is really nice–good shopping, a nice small park right by the harbor and friendly people. Not as postcard-perfect as Portofino, of course, but by your third cocktail for the price of one in Portofino are you really going to notice?
  • Obama.  We found out about Obama’s victory while in Italy!  It was great news for us and all of Europe seems pleased.
  • Picking olives. One morning we woke up to folks picking olives on the hill next to the villa.
  • Spending time with Jackie and Harvey. It was great for the kids (and us!) to get a full week with Grandma Jackie and Grandpa Harvey. Jackie spent the week before with us in Paris so, really, it was two weeks with her. Given how frequently we see them in California (they live in Napa) the kids really missed them (and I think the feeling was mutual) and it was great to have the time together.  We’re looking forward to Grandma’s return visit in February.

I’m gonna wrap up now as it is time to put the kids to bed. Maybe we’ll add more detail later. Until then, enjoy the photo gallery:

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