Hi from Rick: Out Before Breakfast
|Italian culture thrives before breakfast.|
No matter where I travel, I find stepping out of my hotel early in the morning lets me rub elbows with the locals. I love rising early on the Italian Riviera, where the morning sun kisses the tip of Vernazza's bell tower and greets a sleepy village. There's a refreshing damp cool in the air and a rare Italian silence. Distant roosters angrily crow "kee-kee-ree-kee" (as they say in Italian) at the modern world.
The harbor square is quiet, littered with calloused little fishing boats still beached for the season. After the town wakes up, the townspeople will hang out here, where painting and puttering is a spectator sport. Next week, umbrellaed restaurant tables will push the boats into the water, marking the opening day of the tourist season.
It occurs to me that throughout Europe — in churches, produce markets, medieval ramparts, alpine farmsteads, and Riviera villages — the local culture thrives while the tourists sleep. In the early morning shade, Vernazza's working boats are busy helping power the slow grind of the town's traditional economy. Nearby, a few rustic market stalls await mammas and restaurateurs shopping in preparation for another round of cooking.
The lady whose husband was out all night fishing beckons me with a fish-filled wheelbarrow. Sorting through the wheelbarrow like a sale bin at the mall, she introduces me to the frutti di mare: a tiny red snapper, electric eel, big octopus, and pesce azzuro ("blue fish"). That's the term for miscellaneous fish — anything from anchovies to tuna.
Picking up a shiny six-inch anchovy and threatening me with it as if it were a rattlesnake, she says, "This was swimming this morning at 3:00. He will be dinner tonight...maybe for you!"
Good travel spices up your life: suddenly roosters crow differently and "hold the anchovies" is something you do with a new friend. Along with a visit to this month's online Travel News, my freshly-updated 2006 guidebooks can help you connect with the real Europe. And if you spend $120 or more in our Travel Store this month, you can choose one of 20 different Rick Steves guidebooks (whichever one best suits your upcoming trip) — free.
We'll even sell you a good alarm clock...unless you plan to sleep near the rooster.