Vernazza and Manarola

Exploring Vernazza

This morning I ventured up the first part of the coastal trail towards Monterossa in order to get views back to Vernazza.

The path climbed up the cliff, high above the railway cutting.  I never cease to be amazed by the scale and number of tunnels in Liguria (there were about 100 between the French border and Genoa alone). It was more manageable than the village stroll I took yesterday afternoon, when I definitely needed my stick going down endless uneven steps – in the rain. All the same, I’m glad I’ve brought my stick again. Bits of the path remind me of the Cévennes when it rains: paths and steps become streams.

I had almost climbed to the point when I wanted to look back at Vernazza when I met a woman of my age ( I nearly wrote ‘an old woman’…). She seemed oblivious of my apology that I didn’t speak Italian and nattered on in a friendly way. Then she pointed at her rucksack. I thought she wanted me to zip it up. It turned out she was offering me a huge lemon. What a lovely gesture of friendship. But then – apart from my two ‘friends’ in the Genoa bus, I do find Italians very friendly. I realised later there were lemon trees growing on many of the terraces. 

The views back to Vernazza made the scramble worth while, though I do feel frustrated not to be able to do the whole trek, as I once would have.

Back in the village I peered in at a shop which sells fish and wine – the two traditional products of the area, but a funny combination. The young man explained he bought in the wine from local producers but that he and his father were fishermen.

Then I popped my head into the medieval church beside the harbour. Impressive but not charming. It feels more like a fortress than a church.

Now I’m waiting for the train to Manarola. There are about 2 dozen Japanese on the platform. I hope they are going further. Manarola is very small.

Exploring Manarola

An hour later: surprisingly Manorala feels bigger than Vernazza and VERY steep. I have just climbed to the top of the village, again looking for a panoramic viewpoint. The trail was steep but easier to negotiate than at Vernazza. When I got to the (stunning) viewpoint, the rain got heavier, so I whipped my camera out and snapped without composing before descending back down to Manarola.

The main impression so far of the village is the height of the houses – at least five stories high – and the deafening noise of water. Everywhere streams were thundering down the vertical landscape, under houses and in channels under the road. After lunch (scampi gnocchi) I strolled along a path skirting along the foot of the cliffs where I had walked in the morning. The path  has been made much easier for tourists. All the same I turned back , prudently, rather than walking to the next village.

Now I am awaiting my train back to Vernazza. The Japanese are here – except it turns out they are Korean, and there are 30 not 20!

I talked to a nice woman in the information/ tourist shop. She said in about a month they get inundated by tourists and this lasts till late autumn. It is hard sometimes to remain friendly and helpful, she said, but without tourism she would have to leave Manarola.

Back in Vernazza

I did one final explore. I climbed – I don’t know how many – steep steps up the hillside behind my b&b. I could not have contemplated this without the sturdy railings one finds everywhere. All the same I was glad of my stick on the way down (overtaken inevitably by two builders bounding down the steps with building materials on their shoulders). I had hesitated before undertaking this last sortie. Was it one trip too much? But it was worth seeing this different view of Vernazza, for which I already have a partisan preference.

My newly acquired fit its bracelet tells me that today I have walked 9 kilometres, taken over 12000 steps and climbed 44 floors. Wow! I feel very pleased with myself. Mysteriously my painful foot/ankle/leg decided to give me a break. Now I have just indulged in another good meal: prawn pasta followed by ice cream (couldn’t visit Italy without eating it once!) The other tables seem to be entirely American (discreet rather than loud).

Arrival in Vernazza

I was met at the station by my air bnb host, a charming young man called Gian Battista. I was glad of Gian’s help carrying my case as we climbed many steps to get there.The room is excellent: really tastefully decorated (ie my taste).

Despite the wild, wet and windy weather I started to explore Vernazza and instantly fell under its charm.


I’ve just had my purse stolen, for only the second time in my life.

I had just bought a book of bus tickets (20 euros) in a tabac and walked down to the next piazza to catch my train to the station. I waited ten minutes, sitting on my own, climbed into the bus opened my bag to get my ticket and looked for my purse. Gone! I then wasted the morning retracing my steps without much hope.

Sitting on the cold train snaking down the rainy coastline I had time to reflect. And now, sitting on a freezing platform, waiting for a second local train,  I think I know how it was done

The girl in front of me on the bus was being very obtuse, not moving forward so I could register my ticket. At the time I thought she was waiting for her mother behind me. Now I realize it was a two-woman gang, blocking and distracting me as the bus lurched round a bend and I had to stop my case flying forward before returning to my bag. And when I looked, the purse was gone!

At first I felt shock, remorse that I had not separated the ticket from my purse before getting on, and worry as I tried to remember what was in the purse. Now I feel anger, that my mini-holiday should be spoilt like this.

The purse itself is a lovely soft red leather job, a friend for many years. Apart from the bus tickets I think I had less than 100 euros. The real killer is my Uk bank card and worse still, my health card, which apparently takes ages to replace.

Perhaps I should have gone to the police. But what’s the point? Those women are not exactly going to hand on my purse. So I have moved on to Vernazza (where I have just cancelled my card).

Telephone companies!

Once again Orange, my phone supplier, is the pits. I first realized there was a problem when I parked on the outskirts of Genoa and wanted to see how to get to the hotel. No internet, so no map and no access to the note I had made of the hotel address.

Once in the hotel I thought I could quickly sort out the problem. Four hours later, mainly going round in circles on the Orange website, and after two 30-minute sessions (once I had finally worked out a dodge to talk to a human) the problem was finally resolved by someone remotely installing a new configuration file on my phone.

You sure do need patience – and blood pressure pills – to ‘talk’ with Orange Assistance. And you get very used to seeing the same pages again and again.


I’m writing this in Italy!
I have long promised to visit Charles and Pierre in their second home, in the centre of Genoa (Gênes in French, Genova in Italian). But they are not there till next week so tomorrow I’m off to Vernazza, one of the five towns of Cinque Terre, for a couple of nights.
This could be one of those mini-holidays, like a memorable Whitsun camping trip when we were children, which could prove a washout.

This morning I woke up to rain again, and as I drove through the Gard and then Provence, it got wilder and wilder. And as I approached Monaco, I could see snow on the hills above.

Charles’ instructions for find somewhere free to dump the car on the outskirts of Genoa were confusing and conflicting. But it was a doddle with the app TomTom on my iPhone.

 I’ve just got drenched looking for somewhere to eat. Still, I can see that the historic centre is charming. Hopefully Charles and Pierre will show me more when I return on Tuesday afternoon.

A busy February

Time whizzes by when you are having fun…..

The database project is over its major hurdles; Rose is now checking for bugs and making a list of (hopefully minor) amendments.

Then I’ve been meeting with Monsieur Altadill, the guy who was supposed to have got rid of the capricorns in the bedroom beams. He is very reassuring about the munching noises and says once the larvae reach the surface they have to pass through the treated layer of wood and will die – or at least, as He put it, “will be too sick to marry”. Anyhow, as he added, I’m insured for ten years, so all I have to do is ring him.

Meanwhile he and his assistant removed another potential hazard – for children and dogs -eight (!) nests of processional caterpillars in the Mediterranean pine in front of the house. This involved dressing up in white protective suits, climbing up precariously balanced ladders and using giant long pincers to cut the nests down. It was an expensive exercise, but I’m relieved, as the caterpillars invariably come down over the Easter holidays.

The poor cello and Arabic have suffered during the great database exercise, but at least my friend Christine and I spent a laborious afternoon going back over half learnt lessons. We reckon we might be the only two in the class who do not have links with the Maghreb: fellow pupils were either born in Morocco or Tunisia, or they have Moroccan partners.

Meanwhile the health issues continue to lurk. The other day, while on the phone I happened to glance down at my feet and was horrified to see the left ankle really swollen.

 Inevitable I fear given the absence of lymph glands. I rang Joceline, my physio, and she said to soak my feet in arnica and then put them up. A good excuse to lounge around on the sofa.

I have another complicated medical programme in March: various things like getting blood tests and scans before I see the surgeon for a check up on 17 March. And as soon as that is over, more preparatory visits to the clinic before having two cataract ops in April.

I am European

I’m not British or French.  I’m European.

That does not mean that I belong, or want to belong, to a super-nation.  Far from it: Europe is a collection of disparate countries which firmly keep their own identity and have a history of not getting on with each other which goes back centuries. Exactly – we share this troubled history, we know each other’s warts, we may admire, laugh at or be irritated by each other.  There is a familiarity.

By stating that I’m European I’m stating that I don’t want to be thought of as British – or French.  Of course there are places in England and Scotland which I have called home. My family and very best friends are still there, my family roots go back centuries in England, Scotland and Ireland. I belong to these countries and their past. But I skirt away from concepts of pride of nation.

For me the three main contributors to conflict are wealth inequality, religion – and nationalism. I’m ashamed when I turn on the radio and hear the voice of Little Englanders wishing to pull up the drawbridge to the world’s problems and suffering people.

Of course the main arguments for staying in the EU are economic: there are the jobs that depend on membership, Britain benefits from the many able Europeans who come to work (and study) in the UK, the EU is the main market for British goods and services, and Britain benefits from the many EU trade deals in world markets.

But Britain has benefited politically and socially from EU membership. However much everyone hates Brussels bureaucracy – and yes, it badly needs reform – European legislation has an impact in many spheres of life, such as protection of the environment and financial grants to universities, and more often for good than not.

It’s not just the economic arguments that convince me.  I would like to see a Britain which looks outwards, seeing the benefit of living and working with neighbours, rather than turning its back on them.

Typical of the depressing comments I read which make me cringe is:

“Let’s have our country back and be BRITISH once again. …”

What –  little Britain – alone and battling against the world, rebuilding its own trade agreements, making new friends, finding new markets?  Or maybe hanging more tightly onto America’s coat tails? Of course the comment above conflates European migrants with immigration in general – or does the speaker feel that with European ties cut it will be easier to turn away the world’s refugees?

So — I would prefer a grown-up rather than little Britain, working and talking with its neighbours, learning to make compromises, not always sneering or thinking it is superior.

Of course I have selfish reasons for opposing Brexit.  It is not at all clear what rights Britons living abroad will retain if they lose their European citizenship.

Freedom of movement in the EU goes both ways: I can choose to live in France because we are in the EU.  If we leave, I may not necessarily have residency rights.  My tax bill could go up: for example at present I don’t pay CRDS (a tax which looks like increasing) because I am protected by the EU double taxation treaty. Most important of all for me, I would no longer necessarily be able to benefit from the EU reciprocal health agreement which means I enjoy all the benefits of the French health system.

In other words, I might have to leave France and return to the UK, along with many of the 1.8 Britons living in other EU countries.

Gut saga continues

Can’t let a week pass without some medical appointments.  On Monday I saw my GP, Maëlle, and yesterday I saw a doctor at the clinique – who had been in Maelle’s class at medical school.

Dr Glaise was young, informal, friendly and authoritative.  What a pleasure to visit her, even if the news was not particularly cheering.  She confirmed the views of my old friend, Christine (together in primary school, secondary school, and university – and  she then went on to the heights of her profession as a doctor).  Both the surgery last year and then the radiotherapy have caused substantial scarring, or adhesions, which explain the fact that I have problems in different parts of my abdomen.

Her view was that the two recent episodes of pain were kidney stones, which with any luck have passed through.  But I should do what I can to avoid a recurrence – mainly by drinking even more water. Abdominal surgery is definitely not to be recommended unless in a life-saving situation: more surgery would mean more adhesion problems.

She also thought the pancreas might not be functioning properly.  She has given me a course of medication and if this does not work I have to go back to the clinique, this time to a gastroenterologist.

Nearly at the top?

Why the long silence? I have been completely immersed in this nightmarish database bog – only way to describe my helpless struggles. I’ve already written about my efforts to avoid this task. To no avail; I have been sucked in. Two weeks on and I still have a lot to do.

The software, FileMaker, was on version 5 when I started originally. It is now on version 14! Though Rose and I have only shelled up for upgrades up to 12.  The more I looked at it the more I realized it was a different beast. I have just received the updated manual, all 900 pages – three times the size of my previous edition.


The more I dipped into my scripts the more I realized that somewhere along the line the code was broken in many places. I have had to plod my way through endless sequences trying to understand and repair – and more difficult for the second edition, all at the same time.

Here for example is my scrawl earlier this week when I tried to make the code for creating cross references work.


Breaks to walk the dog, snatch the odd snack, do last minute hasty work before cello and Arabic classes, and repairs to mistakes done when working too late (increasing afternoons as well as evenings!) have meant I’m still not finished.

But I’m over the halfway mark and want to hand this over to Rose before the end of the month.

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One mountain too much?

Yesterday’s drama in Casualty ate into a day which I had planned to spend coming to grips with a horrible technology problem.

Over ten years ago I wrote a database for my good friend Rose, who was chief editor of a dictionary of Scottish women .  This was an ambitious work, involving nearly 300 authors writing about nearly a thousand women in Scottish history.  My database was to serve primarily as a project management tool, chasing progress on the entries and providing reports for the management committee and publishers.  It would also generate complex indexes matching women to a range of activities as well as cross references, and then at the end exporting entries to the publishers.

As a largely self-taught database person, with a client (Rose) who had not the experience to anticipate what she really needed, this relational database, written with Filemaker, evolved into a messy, complex spaghetti with many sticky plasters (sorry for the mixed metaphors). But on the whole it worked.

I was relieved when the project completed without disaster and moved on to other things.  But now, more than a decade later, there is money for a second edition and there are another thousand women scheduled to have their lives added to the dictionary.

At first I was firm and said ‘NO’ to Rose; I could not, would not produce a revised database for this edition.  I’m older, I have forgotten what Filemaker skills I had, and I have other things to occupy me.

Inevitably I have got sucked in.  The current database is too complex (and eccentric!) to hand over to someone else, and anyhow, we cannot find that someone else.  So I thought I would at least have a bash at tidying it up.

I am discovering that not only can I not remember why I did  various things, but also, the database software had been upgraded many times since the first edition, and somewhere along the line, some of my original links between the different ‘tables’ of the database no longer work.

Nightmare!  Every time I try to set aside time to understand what is going on, either somebody drops by or I get ill. Tomorrow morning I’m going to make a huge effort to solve at least one of the serious problems I have hit.