TOUR DIARY: Sunrise at Cinque Terre, Romeo & Juliet, and the Grand Canal

After my first Italian show of the tour in Piacenza, I decided to get up early and head west (the opposite direction of my next gig) and spend my free day in Cinque Terre, a place I’d dreamed of photographing for quite a while. Cinque Terre is a stretch of the coast that’s home to five historic village, each one more beautiful than the last. With narrow streets that empty directly into sea and brightly colored houses built into the cliffsides, the towns look like something straight out of a storybook. Most don’t permit cars, so the easiest way to get around is by the local train line, which travels through a series of tunnels between each neighboring community in just a few minutes. Upon arrival, I dropped my things off at my AirBnB in the first village, Riomaggiore, and headed north to check out Vernazza and Manarola. Watching the sun set on the coast was just as magical as I’d hoped it would be, and the fresh seafood pasta I ate while looking out at the ocean from Marina Piccola was even better.

There’s been talk lately of limiting the number of visitors to Cinque Terre because the villages are becoming overrun in the summertime, but I lucked out arriving in November. The temperatures were still in the 60s, and while there certainly were some tourists strolling around the shops and taking photographs, by nightfall, the place was practically empty. It was hard to make myself go to bed for the night knowing I had Riomaggiore to myself, but I knew I wanted to get up early and pay another visit to Manarola at sunrise. I headed back for the train station around 5am and arrived under the cover of darkness. A little patience revealed a spectacular show as the sun slow came up and painted the clouds with streaks of pink and orange. I could have stayed all day watching the light change and eating bruschetta, but I had to get back to La Spezia to pick up my car and then drive all the way back east to Verona for my gig that night.

I arrived in Verona just in time for my gig at the Cohen Club, a great little venue hosts quite a few American artists. As I played, I noticed a large advertisement for my old friend Jesse Malin looking over my shoulder (Hi, Jesse!), so I didn’t feel too far away from home. The next morning I got up early and explored the city with a map from my B&B host, which led me first to the Verona Arena. Originally onstructed in 30AD, that’s right, 30, the arena hosted gladiator fights and could hold an audience of up to 30,000. It’s been incredibly preserved, but nowadays it’s used more frequently by opera singers than Roman warriors. Nearby, I visited a piece of Shakespeare history that blends a bit of fiction with fact. Romeo and Juliet weren’t real people, and Shakespeare himself never visited Verona, but there’s speculation that the Capulets were inspired by the Capello family, and their home has been preserved with it’s beautiful balcony and courtyard just as it would have been in the doomed lovers’ time. La Casa di Giulietta has become a pilgrimage site for honeymooners and young couples who believe rubbing the bronze statue of Juliet can bring them luck (I even saw one couple rub their dog’s paw on it), and while it may be a bit of fantasy, everyone there seemed to be having a good time, so screw it. My last stop was the stunning Basilica of St. Anastasia, a Roman Catholic church built between 1280 and 1400. There was a small service going on when I stepped inside, and the sound of the organ wafting through the massive halls was mesmerizing.

Verona marked the final show of my first leg of tour. While it felt like I’d just arrived yesterday, I’d already been on the road a month at that point, and the break was more than welcome. I was lucky that my girlfriend, Jane, was able to fly over and meet me for a little vacation time before I had to hit the road again, so we decided to start our adventure in Venice. Much like Cinque Terre, Venice was populated during the day but absolutely deserted at night. There are obviously no cars allowed in Venice because there are no roads, just canals, so I happily ditched my vehicle for a couple days and got on the vaparetto (essentially a water bus) through the Grand Canal into the center of the city.

Jane’s flight didn’t arrive until pretty late that night, so I spent the evening wandering the streets and photographing the sunset on my own. It’s difficult to describe just how special Venice is, and I won’t bother trying to summarize thousands of years of rich detailed history in a Tour Diary, but there are few places I’ve ever visited that feel quite so singular. There are tourist traps to be sure, and chain restaurants and shops have sullied some of the main thoroughfares, but if you’re willing to get a little lost and wander the impossibly narrow alleys, you can easily step back in time.

The next day, Jane and I decided to take a famed gondola ride. She sketched and I photographed while we passed the homes of Mozart, Vivaldi, and Casanova. I’m generally not one for doing the cliched tourist activity in whatever city I’m visiting, but I’d been told the gondola ride in Venice was worth it, and I have to say I agree. We met an artist later that night who explained the history and construction of the gondolas to us, pointing out what the different designs on the different boats represented. Not just anyone can become a gondolier—the job is passed down through the men in families for generations—and each boat is customized for the person rowing it.

We finished the day with a visit to the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark to marvel at the gold mosaics, and another delicious meal (Italy rarely disappoints in that regard) on the banks of the Grand Canal. It was sad to say goodbye to Venice the next morning, but we had a long drive ahead of us…..