Travel Writer & Author

Month: February 2017

FERRY: Cinque Terra, Italy

From time to time, a ferry ride can lead to a serendipitous day, which was my experience in Italy, once. Even at the time, we realized it was easily the best happenstance among all the terrific times we shared on three, week-long Mediterranean cruises on the WindSurf, a small sailing ship that Bob especially loved (because the captain refused to turn on the engine unless or until there was virtually NO wind on the sea.)

We arrived in Porto Venere, a town with which I was completely unfamiliar and where we decided to just play it by ear for a day on shore. When we arrived at the dock, I noticed the names of the five teeny towns that are perched along the steep cliffs of the Cinque Terre –Riomaggiore, Monterosso, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza—posted on a sign that seemed to lead to a ferryboat terminal. I was familiar with the names and had learned that they were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, only because when I took a trip on the Orient Express from Venice to London, we had passed through these exquisite points of land perched atop the Mediterranean. My colleague who had visited there insisted that these tiny villages were among the most beautiful and romantic places in the world.


We bought round-trip ferry tickets and climbed aboard the ferry, where we sat near an exquisite, fantasy-provoking, Italian man who told us that he lived in Portofino and was taking his (aged) father out for the day; we managed to mention New York and though I was sputtering a bit of Italian and Spanish, we really didn’t have a language in common.


At the first stop, Bob and I walked to the front of the ferry and mounted the narrow gang plank that the crew had pushed out from the bow until it was long enough to reach and rest (precariously) on a rock. Once on land, we followed a few others and climbed steps carved into the rocks, forever, it seemed, (I can’t possibly know how many steps) up to a teeny tiny town. We wandered a bit in Riomaggiore, and then followed a skinny, curvaceous seafront path that curved along the outer edge of the cliff leading to the next town. It was actually a difficult walk because small aggressive groups of people—and I did recognize their language—pushed through people to the extent that it wouldn’t have been a shock if someone they shoved had landed over the edge and on the rocks below us.


When we arrived at Vernazza, we heard someone yelling, “Hey, New York, andiamo,” and we looked up to see our new-found ferry-friend calling down from high above us, at the edge of a terrace of a tower topping a medieval castle. Somehow, his father, who I had thought to be aged, had climbed all that distance to the top. We joined them and their friends and shared a three-hour lunch, drinking local wines and eating seafood and pasta dishes at Belforte, in a castle built in the 1500’s. In spite of the difficulty of speaking part-Italian/part-Spanish and part- English, we had a great afternoon. During lunch, we called our daughter, the Italophile and told her where we were and asked what wine she’d like us to buy. Who knew that Vernazza was her favorite!


Our new friends escorted us to their wine shop, where the proprietor was charming and presented me with a cluster of melon-sized oranges with stems attached and which scented our cabin for the rest of the voyage.


Ah, ferry travel!


Long Island Ferry Fire Island Irvina Lew


These days, as a crew is busy rebuilding my backyard bulkhead, which was damaged during Super Storm Sandy, I spend more time than usual looking out my windows at the harbor front and beyond to the Robert Moses Bridge across the Great South Bay and the Fire Island Lighthouse. As I stare at the ferries that ply the waters that slap against–and occasionally over–that bulkhead, I realize that my exorbitant love of travel started on a ferry at this exact spot, before I was even ten years old.


As a kid at the Fourth Avenue elementary school, in Bay Shore, my classmate Rose Mary’s dad treated our entire class to an annual, end-of-year trip across the bay to spend a few hours on the beach in Fair Harbor, one of the charming little Fire Island communities that stretch between the bay and the ocean on the forty-mile stretch of sand that we call Fire Island. Captain Gus Pagel owned the Fair Harbor Ferry Company, then, and was my hero, because he introduced me to the magic that I felt then–and still feel–riding on a ferry.


Though I recall nothing about their beach house or playing in the sand or jumping the waves in the ocean, I clearly remember the joy of standing on the top deck, alone, savoring the sunshine and billowing clouds, staring at the buoys and clam boats and feeling—and smelling– the sea breeze. I particularly remember admiring the houses on the narrow point of land near the entry to the bay, where I’ve been living for almost forty years. Somewhere deep in my memory bank, that young girl was dreaming about living there.


What’s lasted is both joy and that enchanted sense of separation, that I first felt on a ferry. Among my recollections, there are the trips during my middle school (we called it Junior High), when I relished being grown up enough to ferry to the beach, alone, to visit my cousin Janie, in Ocean Beach. I was a pre-teen when I remember thinking that the thatched roof mansion on the bay, that we passed on the ferry from Sayville was a fairy tale cottage, on Girl Scout trips from Camp Edey, when we ferried to Cherry Grove, for camping trips on the beach. (Yes, we dug our own latrines in the sand. And no, there wasn’t a worry in the world, that we young girls were camping on the beach between two famous (and sometimes nudist) gay communities, Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines.) And, I clearly recall the early morning chill on the ferry ride back to Bay Shore, after my friend Betty and I had missed the last ferry the night before the first day of our senior year and we slept on the beach. We managed to arrive at school, on time, but still wearing beach clothes instead of what we had planned for the occasion.


Throughout my adulthood, the ferry ride has regularly served as my personal escape hatch. During particularly stressful times, separation from the mainland relieved my anxiety along with the engines going into full gear beyond the marina. Once, during the turbulent season of national tragedies, I recall getting on a ferry shortly after Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, In June 1968. I vividly remember breathing deeper and calming myself—long before I knew about meditation—with the fresh sea air in my face.


Watching the ferries pass by has been an intrinsic element in my everyday life since Bob, my late husband, and I bought this house. Even before we moved in, in 1979, I used to pick him up at the railroad station and we’d picnic on the back deck, just to watch the ferries and the sunset. After reconstructing the west and south windows to better capture the view, we decorated by positioning the bed in the middle of the bedroom and placing every desk, couch and chair carefully facing the waterfront vista. I still find pleasure, occasionally, waving back to someone on the top deck as they go by and driving to and from and waiting at the ferry terminal for the chance to spend a few minutes–or a meal–with my daughter and my granddaughters, who have a home there. If it’s a chore, it’s my favorite one. And, when I ferry to and from the beach, I always stand up from my favorite seat backing the wheelhouse as it approaches my home, which is somewhat hidden behind pine trees; these days, there’s usually a camera in hand.


These ferries, which were the starting point for a love of travel that has since extended to barges and riverboats, sailboats, motor yachts and cruise ships as well as trains, cars and planes, are not the only ones that I enjoy. Ferry trips have become a favorite form of transportation wherever I travel, and I plan to write about some of them, next.

The Yeatman, Porto Review

We arrived in Porto from Lisbon via a train trip that took 2.5 hours and discovered an enchanting UNESCO World Heritage City at the mouth of the Douro River. The city dates back 2,000 years, and for the last three centuries it’s been the home of British wine shippers who transport the wine by river through a rugged, verdant valley studded with grand port wine estates to the Atlantic.

Today, Porto is a bucket-list destination for wine lovers who flock to The Yeatman, a luxurious wine hotel and Relais & Chateaux affiliate opened in 2010. The hotel was a project Adrian Bridge, CEO, The Fladgate Partnership, envisioned and continues to enhance. Its location near established Port wine lodges, including its own newly transformed Taylor’s Visitor Center, faces the historic center across the river and was built to take advantage of the extraordinary panorama.

The hotel is situated on a hillside with floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase the view from public spaces, 83 guestrooms and the hotel’s spa. From my terrace, the hotel pools, restaurants and bars, I savored the vista of the historic Monastery of Serra do Pilar; Maria Pia Bridge, the city’s oldest bridge, built by Gustave Eiffel in 1877; and the Don Luis, built in 1886.

The grand lobby introduces a light and airy, contemporary yet classic interior design. The lobby circles a stunning stairwell that leads to elevators with walls personalized with 360-degree vinyl photos of wine regions, a humidor stocked library, a computer room, a boutique stocked with Port wines and olive oils, and Dick’s Bar where the wine list draws from the hotel’s 25,000-bottle cellar. The restaurant at the Yeatman, where Chef Ricardo Costa offers a pairing from a wine list named “The Best Wine List in Portugal,” was awarded two Michelin stars in 2016.

The enormous guestrooms and suites are named for and decorated by an affiliate winemaker representing all 11 Portuguese wine regions. Our room included a king-sized bed, library, entertainment center, desk, complimentary WiFi and doors leading to a furnished terrace with a gate that led to the pool.

The wine experience is integrated in the Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa. Products and services, such as the wine barrel bath, follow the protocol of the first Caudalie spa in Bordeaux, which discovered the anti-aging properties of grape skins. The two-story spa incorporates a large indoor swimming pool and is linked via a unique spiral staircase within a large wine cask.

Meeting and convention attendees will find the 10 meeting rooms conveniently close to the convention center in the Old Customs House, several Port wine lodges, the Porto Airport and the Estela Golf Course. Taxis and the hotel’s Douro River Taxi are available to visit the ancient city, with its Romanesque architecture, the Portuguese Manueline-style Church of Santa Clara, the Neoclassical Stock Exchange, the azulejo-tiled railroad station and the historic Lello bookshop.

On my next trip, I’ll fly TAP Portugal non-stop from Newark.

The Yeatman, Porto

Rua do Choupelo, 4400-088
Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal
tel 351 22 013 3100

By Irvina Lew
Global Traveler

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