Italy with the Family Day 14: Portofino Fun

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Europe » Italy
July 7th 2014
Published: July 10th 2014
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We learned a few things from yesterday’s start—at dinner last night we made it clear: meet outside of Quasar (a disco lounge) on deck 4 at 8:15. We were to meet our guide at 8:45 and this was a docked stop. Miracle of miracles, everyone was in place by 8:20. Love it when a plan comes together! We exited the ship with no problems and were actually waiting at the bus when Ana, our guide, arrived. She apologized for being late (we told her she wasn’t, we were amazingly early!) and the bus pulled out at 8:42. The itinerary was to go to the village of Santa Margareta, see the village church and then board a ferryboat to Porto Fino.

Santa Margareta is a beautiful old fishing village which has been redone into a tourist destination. Ana walked us down to the main square and into a beautiful Baroque church that looked quite ordinary on the outside but was amazingly gilded on the interior. There was a mass about to start so we only stayed for a few moments but we enjoyed it very much. In front of the church in the town square was a mosaic made of white and black sea stones. Ana told us this is a typical Ligurian coast decoration and is called a stone carpet. It was really beautiful. She gave us a few minutes of free time and told us to meet her back at the pier infront of the statue of the man “with a pigeon on his head. And if the pigeon is gone?” she said. We said, “Meet there anyway!”

Porto Fino can be reached by road but the coastal road is so narrow that it is not possible for a 20-passenger bus to pass. Ana had told us to be at the statue at 9:50 and guess what, Liz was late! But she made it in the nick of time and we all got on the boat to Porto Fino.

The boat ride to Porto Fino was only about 10 minutes and was truly lovely. We could see the coastal road (Narrow! Windy!) and were pleased to be on the boat, not on the bus. One of the architectural features of buildings in this area is the trompe l’oile (fool the eye) which makes the building look like they have 3-d aspects but they are just painted on. There are fake shutters, fake bricks, fake statues, fake porticos. It’s really amazing and quite realistic. Ana said the people of the Genoa region in Italy are known to be quite cheap. The saying is that their arms are short—too short to reach into their pockets for money. Therefore, instead of paying for real windows and shutters and statues, they just had them painted on in 3-D relief. The buildings in Porto Fino were decorated in the same manner, as were many of the buildings in Santa Margareta and Genoa.

Our first stop was a church at the top of a steep and narrow walkway. Ana called it any “easy walk” but I do not think the rest of us define easy in the same way. We made it, however, and the view was spectacular. There was a stone carpet in the front of this church as well. This church, she told us, is only used for weddings and celebrations. The church in the town is used for regular parish activities. We asked her how many people lived in Porto Fino and she told us 509. There could be no building in Porto Fino so the buildings that were there were all that would ever be. She said most of the homes are used for vacation homes. Michael asked her how much real estate costs in Porto Fino since it is, after all, a fixed market. She said a flat would cost between €14,000 and €19,000 a square meter. A square meter. That means a 1500 square foot flat would cost about €6 million. He asked what a villa would cost and she said it’s hard to say because few of them come on the market and since they can’t build any additional one, it’s pretty much what the owner asks. She said there is only one for sale now and the price is €60 million. But, she said, it’s been on the market for 2 years so maybe it would be possible to get it for a bargain, maybe €45 million. Well heck, let’s pool our resources and write a check!

After the walk to the top of church, we made our way back down the hill and Ana turned us loose for a bit of lunch, shopping, or site seeing. We opted for lunch since the young-ones were beginning to fade. Ana had recommended a place to us on the far side of the dock but they did not start serving until 12:15 (it was 11:45 at this point.) We went back to the other side of the port and found a place where we could all sit down together and, without asking any details, sat down. Mistake number one and the tip to go with it: ALWAYS ask to see a menu if one is not posted. All 15 of us sat down (Jack stayed on the ship this day) and bottles of water and baskets of bread were distributed which, we were hungry, so we started eating and drinking. Andrew, Erika, Mark and I were at one end of the long table. We opened our menus and saw that a simple plate of pasta was €15. The cheapest glass of wine was €15. We started looking at each other—now what do we do? Michael said we could just pay for the water (that would not have worked. More on that later) but Tami and Mom and I said, “Look, we’ve already started eating the bread so we can’t leave now.”) We decided to stick it out. We started ordering on our end of the table and Julie and family took that as their opportunity to escape. So now 15 was 9 (Selah went with them). After the waiter took our orders, he started fussing about the Watkin crew—they come back? No, we said, they left. Okay, mistake and rule number 2: Stay together or leave together. No in between. Although Julie would have left anyway so not really worth making a rule about that.

Lunch was so-so. Tami ate her first plate of pasta in a year and a half so that was entertaining. Erika ordered spaghetti with tomato sauce (€15), Andrew and I ordered a short thick pasta with pesto sauce which is supposed to be the specialty of the region (€14.50 a plate), Mark ordered a caprese salad (€13) and we stuck with water for beverage. The bill was €116, which included a €28 cover charge. After we paid, the waiter said tip was not included and in Italy, you pay that in cash. I shook my head and threw €15 on the table. My mother took the other bill—for five of them it was €154. She left €10 for a tip. Later, we were looking at the receipt and it said 15%!s(MISSING)ervice charge added. Michael and Wil went back to question the manager and he said that was “tax.” Tax in Italy is included in the food price. RIP OFF! Michael said that the annoying thing is that we are not just off the boat tourists. I have lived in Europe for 8 years, Mark has lived here for 3.5, Mom longer than any of us plus she has been to Europe a bunch of times since then. And yet, we still got taken. But here’s a tip: do not go to Restaurant Delfino in Porto Fino.

Smartly, we decided to shake it off and enjoy the rest of our day. I got a beautiful 90” long runner for our dining room table. To compare the price to lunch, it cost €22 with no additional tax. Interesting. At 12:50 we met at the pier and got back on the boat for Santa Margareta. On the way out we took pictures of the yachts and villas we passed by. What a life—but ours wasn’t bad either.

We got back to Santa Margareta and met the bus and traveled back to Genoa for a panoramic tour and walk through the medieval part of the city. Ana took us to a lovely square at the top of the city where we could see all of Genoa and the coast. She drove us by the reported birthplace of Christopher Columbus although there is no documentation on this. Apparently in the 1600s the town managers decided to rebuild downtown Genoa and tore down all of the houses except that one. They did not record why they did not tear down that house so it is supposed it was the birthplace of Columbus. Sounds like a good story, we’ll take it. We got off the bus in another square and stopped for a coffee and wi-fi, both of which were found. The café was on the square where the G8 met in 2001. Ana walked us down a narrow street and we saw Grom gelato. We stopped an many of us got a gelato there, which was delicious. Ana said it is one of the best. We’ve hit Grom gelato places now in Florence, Rome and Genoa. Have to find one in Venice and we’ll have it covered. After the gelato stop, we continued down the narrow street. Liz, Tami, Selah and Katie stopped to look at the bracelets that a street vendor had displayed. We walked a bit further and found ourselves in a square near the port and there was Roberto, our bus driver waiting for us. At that point, Tami reached into the open pocket on the side of her backpack and said, “My phone is gone.” Uh oh. Ana, Michael and Tami retraced our steps while the rest of us got on the bus and speculated as to whether or not she would ever find her phone. Those of us who thought she’d been pick pocketed (which was most of us) turned out to be right, unfortunately. The phone was gone. Ana was so apologetic but we told her we had had a great time and none of the bad experiences were her fault.

It was a long day (an 8-hour tour) and the ship was a welcome site. Mark and I went back to our room, poured a couple of glasses of wine and, from our balcony, watched the ship sail away. I worked on my blog and Mark worked on his journal. Eventually, Mark went to the pool and I lay down and took a nap. I woke up at 8:00 (I’d been sleeping on my face—not a pretty site!) and Mark was not around. I took a shower and when I got out, he was still not around. Uh oh. Asleep on the pool deck again? I started drying my hair and getting ready as fast as I could so I could go wake him up but low and behold, he arrived before I could go rescue him. He wasn’t asleep, he was in total control of the time. Whew!

Tonight was our first formal night (Erika said, “I was told here were no formal nights.” I said, “We are not doing any formal-formal nights. A coat and tie for Andrew and a maxi dress for you and you’ll be fine,” which is what they did, and they were.) There were a few men in tuxes and many in suits but there were as many in opened collared shirts so it was pretty much anything goes. Formal for some is a denim skirt and a polo shirt. We all looked pretty spiffy, if I say so myself. I was in a maxi dress, Julie was in a maxi skirt, Tami was in a short blue cocktail dress, Mom was in black pants and a jeweled black top. Very chic. Dinner was fun and tonight we celebrated Julie’s 50th birthday. Again with the cake and the singing. Very festive. I ordered an apple crumble for dessert and Mark ordered a phyllo tulip with fruit. My apple crumble was 4-inches across with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Mark’s tulip with fruit was only slightly larger than a golf ball. Needless to say, he ate his and much of mine.

In honor of Julie’s birthday, we went to the Sky Lounge where they were playing LOUD music and had a drink to toast her next half-century of life. Many of the young ones plus Mom and Julie got out on the dance floor. I was encouraged but said, “I’m tired,” and after Mark and I finished our Bailey’s, we retired to our cabin. Tomorrow is 7:30 meet-up, 8:00 departure for Rome!


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