Day 05: From Mountains to the Sea

Jim and I were once again up and at ‘em relatively early due to another fitful night’s sleep.  We ate breakfast at the hotel buffet and then headed out to see what little we could of Cuneo before we all piled into the Sardinia Can for our day’s activities. 

The commercial heart of Cuneo, Piazza Galimberti

The commercial heart of Cuneo, Piazza Galimberti

Although it was raining and we were unable to really see very much, Cuneo appears to be a town we’d like to come back to someday.  There seemed to be nothing pretentious about it, it seemed hardly touristed, the people were friendly, and it had a large, covered pedestrian mall coming off one of the squares that was lined with everyday-type stores (as opposed to rows and rows of souvenir stores), restaurants, cafes, and bakeries with the most elaborate displays.  It was all you need and everything Verona is not.  Besides, they had me at bakeries with the most elaborate displays.

We headed back to the hotel around 10:00, met up with my parents, origami-ed ourselves into the Sardinia Can, and were off to the hometown where the other half of my dad’s family came from, Sampeyre.  Sampeyre is northwest of Cuneo and in the foothills of the Alps, not far from the French border, with a population of about 1,100.  A cousin of my father’s still lives there part time in an apartment his family had owned for years, but unfortunately, he was unable to be in Sampeyre at the same time we were. 

Sampeyre Main Piazza

Sampeyre Main Piazza

Dad’s cousin had given detailed instructions as to where we could find the apartment, the associated garden, and nearby cemetery where relatives are buried.  We were successful in finding the first two, took ample photographs, and chatted with a few neighbors who had been suspiciously eyeing us before stopping for a quick coffee and gelato in the main square to dry off a bit from the dampness and intermittent rain.  Next we were off to find the cemetery, where the gravestone names read like a Mario Puzo novel.  We found our relatives in the midst, paid our respects, and then headed back down the mountain, as our sights were set on putting eyes on the Mediterranean and Italian Riviera.

Our prime parking spot

Our prime parking spot in Savona

Because we had no guidebook and this was an unexpected destination, meaning I had not done a lick of research on the area, we decided to start in Savona because it looked like a decent-sized city.  I’m not sure what we were thinking, because along with a decent-sized city comes decent-sized traffic.  Italian traffic.  As such, it was a little chaotic to get to the waterfront but with the help of Gretel we found it.  Oh, we found it, all right, and almost drove right into it.  You see, at one point we had gone down a side street lined with cars that ran perpendicular to the sea, trying to find a spot to park.  We reached the end of the road and that was it.  No more road, per se, but there was a small carnival area set up in a paved area that could be construed as a road and the seafront promenade was just beyond that.  Another car had driven forward into that area, so my father followed, the entire time my mother was in the front seat asking something about, “what does zona pedonale mean?”  My father plowed ahead and we very shortly found ourselves on the waterfront promenade.  People were out strolling, sitting on benches, and there we were, pulling up in the car.  

Modern day Noli fisherman

Modern day Noli fisherman

My mother and I were dying a thousand deaths, hunched down in our seats and claiming we would not get out of the car, meanwhile my father and Jimmy hopped out and started admiring our front row sea view, wondering what kind of suckers would look for a parking spot on the street when you could just pull up right here next to the water – for free.  After a couple minutes, and after deciding the coast was clear and the cops weren’t hot on our tails, my mom and I got out to take in the view, too, and even take a couple photos, enjoying the sunshine that had emerged once we reached the sea.  Then it was back into the Sardinia Can, down the sidewalk, around the people, and back out onto the road, leaving behind mouths agape by people who were clearly impressed with our prime parking spot.

Jim about to enter the mean streets of Noli

Jim about to enter the mean streets of Noli

I had heard good things about the town of Noli, which wasn’t far from Savona, so we elected our next stop would be there.  This time we found a legal parking spot and got out, taking in the town for quite a while.  Noli is a fantastically quaint town.  It’s compact, looks impossibly old, is right along the deep blue Mediterranean Sea, has an imposing looking castle up on the hill overlooking town, and there were a number of fisherman along the beach repairing nets and getting their gear ready for the next day’s sea haul. 

As it was getting late and we still had a drive ahead of us, we reluctantly left behind the sunshine and sea to drive back to Cuneo.  We ate dinner at Ristorante Pizzeria Capri, a last family supper of sorts because we would be on the road all day tomorrow, before crashing into bed to rest up for our criss-cross drive of northern Italy the following morning.

(By the way, zona pedonale means pedestrian zone in Italian.)

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