Nico and I had packed up, washed clothes and were ready for the next leg of our adventure. My license was scheduled to arrive at the end of our next stop in the Cinque Terre but I was hopeful that I’d get it sooner….American optimism knows no bounds, despite years of knowing better.
Our short foray into Slovenia had been a restful pause in a hectic and slightly chaotic trip. I hadn’t really intended to slow down like that but the lack of a car sort of pinned us down a bit. Andrew was a great host and drove us all around, even hauling us back to the Italian border to catch the next train. I’ll have to go back and see them again, maybe to join a portion of one of his tours, especially since he feels the same way I do about wine.
Join us on an adventure in Veneto & Slovenia!
Join us to for this easy-going exploration of the northeast corner of Italy into central Slovenia. You’ll sample sparkling and orange wines in the up-and-coming Brda region, nosh on truffles, olives and goat cheeses in the Istria region, visit a Slovenian castle with legends of a Slovenian Robin Hood. Chill out, shop and people watch in coastal villages, the uber-cool capital of Ljubljana, and a slew of charming northern Italian towns. Savor regional specialty foods during long, chatty meals and do a deep dive into wines.
Our departure day was ugly, 90 minutes in a car plus four trains. Nico had been great in the first train rides, he really enjoyed the freedom to wander the car, look out the window and play with me. 10 hours was a different story and I wasn’t sure that he’d be content to sit for so long. In our first leg, we played games together and then he watched a movie. Thank heavens for my iPad. My cell plan on my iPad has unlimited free data and Amazon Prime gave him plenty of choices for streaming movies, despite being in a foreign country. I had bought him an old-school Spirograph, more for myself since I’m really a big kid, and we had a blast making designs.
The train rides went by reasonably well, at each of our transfers we got a snack before heading to the platform. Italian train stations have vending machines that fascinated Nico, selling sandwiches, soda, candy and even espresso. The only piece of the day that was difficult was the handling of luggage. I always carry a backpack, which keeps me light on my feet and mobile. Nico had brought a wheeled bag as he’s too little to carry a full travel backpack. In general he was good about taking care of his own luggage, but there was no way he could lift and maneuver that bag between trains so it was left to me. I learned to loathe his suitcase. I really don’t like wheeled suitcases. It wasn’t that heavy, but with my bag, backpack and his suitcase, going up and down stairs was not fun. I was hoping Nico would pick up a little Italian on his trip, but I think all he learned from me was how to cuss in Italian.
Eventually, about 10 pm, we reached our hotel in the town of Levanto, just to the north of the Cinque Terre. Levanto isn’t actually a part of the Cinque Terre, but it’s often considered to be town #6. It is a sweet and lazy beach town, with bicycles whizzing by and sweet citrus-scented air. The vibe is a local one, full of families and beach fun. I adore Levanto, it is one of my favorite places in Italy, it reminds me of my childhood home in Ventura, California.
I was so happy get there after a long day, but was particularly happy to be staying at Hotel Primavera because the owners are like family. You may remember my friend Giuditta, who came to stay at my house over the winter. Her parents, Daniela and Carlo, run this sweet hotel about a block from the beach. She and her sister grew up in the hotel and I’ve known them since they were little. Staying here was at the top of Nico’s list. He wanted to spend time with Giuditta, but also was excited to go to the beach.
After a long night’s sleep and a lazy morning, Nico and I hopped the train to Monterosso to see Giudi and Carlo at her restaurant, Piccolo Diavolo (Little Devil). The restaurant is named for an Italian movie that her parents love, and so is she as the main character is called Giuditta….which means that she’s the little devil! We’d all be lucky were the devil is as sweet as she is.
For lunch, I wanted Nico to try a variety of foods. We eat some Italian food at home, but not fish. Carlo made us a little of everything, some pizza, some pesto pasta and some friend calimari. Nico had never eaten octopus but, as my kids both are adventurous eaters, he gave it a shot and loved it. Carlo couldn’t believe that a kid would try everything, so he pushed the limits a bit and gave Nico fried anchovies. Nico was a little suspicious, but ate a couple and commented that the taste was good but he didn’t like the bones.
I was super proud that my kid was eating like a real Italian, and Giuditta and Carlo couldn’t stop laughing about it. I’ve always said that Nico was born in the wrong country. He’s passionate, with a spicy personality that just isn’t understood by mild mannered northwesterners. Here in Italy he is like everyone else. A little dramatic, a little theatrical with an occasionally short fuse, and lives with a gusto for enjoying life. Italians love to debate and so does he. I figured that he’d fit in well here and I was surprised about how right I was.
Giuditta and her whole family love calcio, Italian for soccer. They all have season tickets to see their favorite team, Genoa. She is a particularly hard core fan and sits in the end zone with the super fans called “Ultras” who sing and chant for the entire game. When she offered to take Nico and I to a game, I almost jumped out of my skin. I haven’t been to a game in years and thought there could be no better event to take Nico to see. He’s not into sports at all, but in this case, it wasn’t about the game. It’s the cultural event. Not only getting tickets to a game, but going with super fans?? Awesome.
It was the first game of the season and the whole drive, Giudi was hyperventilating with excitement. I’d liken Italian soccer passion to American football, but that doesn’t really cover it because the really dedicated fans in Italy are far more passionate than any football fan I’ve met. We bought Nico a soccer jersey when we arrived, and with the sea of fans all getting amped up, Nico was in the spirit for whatever would happen next.
After dinner at a fan restaurant, we were swept away to the stadium. We were not sitting with the Ultras, Giudi thought it would be better for us to sit in the more mellow fan area so as to not frighten Nico. I thought that was unfortunate…until I saw the fan zone. It was packed. People were waving enormous flags. Shirtless men stood on chairs and led chants. Someone, even if it isn’t allowed, was lighting off fireworks. It was frothing madness and the game hadn’t even started.
Our section was a little more relaxed, but there were huge flags that fans were taking turns waving. Nico jumped up and joined in immediately, waving a flag twice a big as himself. That was just the beginning. He moaned at missed goals and ran back and fourth along the railings with other kids kid age. He chanted and cheered, yelling “You suck Calimari!!” (The other team was from Cagliari in Sardegna)
You’d have thought he’d been coming to matches his whole life, he fell seamlessly into place in the exuberant crowd. Luckily, Genoa won and we celebrated outside the stadium with the fans. Our last day was just perfect. We spent the morning at the beach, swimming and playing in the water. The hotel had a few beach chairs reserved, and Nico felt like a king when we were escorted to our loungers, as the beach was full and turning away other foreigners. Italian beaches have got it right, laying in a comfy chair with an umbrella and a good book is a great way to relax. They even had food and drinks available.
Giudi had taken me out on a private boat for my birthday in June, and again she reserved a boat for Nico’s visit. This time was even better, and along with Nico we brought her younger sister Gloria. The boat was a big one, elegant and comfortable with space to lounge on the deck. We sunned ourselves while the boat cruised past all five Cinque Terre towns, down to a hidden cove where we swam and played in the water. This boat had a diving board off the back and I did my best to impress my son with my backwards diving skills. Swimming like fish in the open sea was lovely, although he mostly clung to my back in such deep water.
In the meantime, the boat captain, Diego, had been quietly preparing a beautiful aperitivo, with pasta, focaccia, olives and prosecco. I hadn’t even noticed the space for a table, so I was totally surprised by the beautiful spread. This was truly movie star territory, gorgeous boat, beautiful food, lovely scenery and good friends to enjoy it with. I had to FaceTime my parents to share it with them, it was one of those moments of life that seem far to beautiful to be real.
After our boat ride, Giudi’s family took us out for a celebration dinner to end our stay. They work so hard at the hotel and restaurant, and one night a week they close down to have family time. We ate at a favorite little restaurant hidden in the woods, up in the hills above Levanto. Nico surprised us all again by ordering mussels and ravioli with lamb, not a typical kid choice. He will eat anything! We shared shrimp salad in an avocado sauce and Carlo and I both splurged and got the filetto with Gorgonzola sauce, a decadent treat to be sure.
The days in the Cinque Terre were a highlight for me. Nico seemed to finally click with the Italian culture and he let his Italian side shine. He embraced all of the new experiences and tried everything thrown at him. Being around family friends that he knew was a big help, and certainly made my visit much more smooth and enjoyable. I was so proud and pleased that he was loving my adopted country so much. The last night of our stay, just before falling asleep, Nico asked if we could stay in Italy forever. He said it would be ok, just as long as his grandparents and cat could come too. I could only smile. Italy had won him over.
Coming soon, Episode Five: Piedmont Pleasures