A stew in Liguria

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I understand my privilege. I understand that my work has given me an opportunity to be in a part of the world that very few people are able to explore, without being locals, right now. But I also understand that it would be wasteful to not embrace this unique opportunity and wild to not feel greatful.  My heart is exploding with gratitude at the moment. Gratitude that I was able to find employment during a period of time when the opposite is happening to many, gratitude that my passport allowed me to exit the country for my work, gratitude to return to a place that I love whole heartedly and even more gratitude that I can join a boat that is really challenging me, fulfilling me and welcoming me. At times, while, I always love my job (Chief Stew on a Superyacht), I find the crew dynamics on board really tough.  As an introvert I have not quite mastered how to fit this part of me in with my career, living and sharing space with people all the time, gives me zero time to re-charge alone. I have always found the constant need to always be “on” exhausting and eventually I get deflated.  But, during quarantine, I did a lot of mindfulness work, I meditated, I did a lot of yoga, I searched for joy and open heart exercises.  I lived with deep feeling and connection.

I felt the shift.

I walked on board in Italy and my heart, my head and my mind were open.  I could engage in a way that I have never done before.  People are often surprised when I admit my social anxiety, I must do a great job of hiding it, cause from the inside out, I feel like it is tattooed on my forehead.  I get overwhelmed and anxious in crowds, far more comfortable with people I can chat to and get to know 1 on 1 or in smaller groups.  And the moments, when I choose to be in crowds, like festivals etc. I really enjoy just to lose myself in the music, and dance.  Not one for chatting too much in those spaces.  But anyway, with all that being brought to the table, this arrival on to the boat really marked my growth.  I was unashamedly myself and it felt so good. I realise that since 2020 has begun, I have been successfully seeking joy and laughter(yes, even in quarantine).  And somehow, almost every single day I experience some form of joy, some wonderful outbreak of laughter. And since joining this boat, that has not changed.

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Being in a shipyard, where I know all the project managers and contractors around me, is wonderful.  I have worked with the same men and women for the last 2.5 years.  We have formed amazing working relationships built up on trust, pride and enjoyment of our jobs.  I have such fun as we figure out the complexities of the varnish jobs, leather finishes and endless AV & electrical shortages. I love it all. To be honest, I think, which is unusual for a stew, I thrive in this shipyard environment; finding solutions to problems, figuring out how to create more storage space out of tiny spaces, how to make the guest experience better, how to make the working environment more practical.  It’s all a problem solving game for me that I love to engage in.   And doing it with such a great interior team makes all the difference. Your crew, on a yacht, make all the difference.

I have had a few beautiful off days since being here, which has been absolute surprise.  I had expected to arrive here and have 2 weeks of intense shipyard work and pick up guests pretty soon. But things in my industry are ever changing. Throw COVID into the mix and it’s anybody’s guess. So, after working flat out from the moment I arrived, I was able to take my hand off the throttle a bit and take a few days off.

CINQUE TERRE

I again acknowledge how lucky I am and I keep getting reminded this from people at home.  Trust me, I have not had a day of not writing in my journal since arriving here, how greatful I am to be here. But to get Cinque Terre in Summer with no tourists made me feel like the luckiest girl in the world.  I wanted to do pirouettes all the way along the hiking path.  But, with COVID, the trip there was no smooth ride.  We left at 8am on Saturday morning with the intention of catching the 8h45 train and arriving in Monterosso at 11h00.  This did not happen. With social distancing, every 2nd seat on the train was non-sitable.  This meant that people were forced to stand. This meant that the police were forced to ask people to leave the train.  This meant that there were many delays and many angry people. We only got to Monterosso at 13h30.  There were many delays. Many angry people.

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I was not letting this get me down, Monterosso with hardly any crowds, surely dreams were made of this?  We had booked accommodation in a tiny town on the top of a hill just outside of Vernazza and we had to get there by 6, so as soon as we got out of the train station in Monterosso, we soaked in the beauty and turned left, starting the walk up the hill and towards Vernazza. For this section, we followed the coastal route and hardly passed anyone.  It was incredible.  The weather was perfect, it took us 2 hrs of gentle undulation to get to the top of the hill overlooking Vernazaa, we were nervous, as in Italian standards we had missed the lunch window.  But, luckily as we came down the hill, we eyed the most scenic restaurant and beelined our way there. We got a table, which was crazy, with a view, even more crazy and had the most delicious seafood lunch!

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My favourite part of Cinque Terre is all the activity that happens outside of the well-known restaurants, the well-known bars.  My favourite part is what happens when you buy your gelato and you sit on the rocks, you watch the Italians as they do their very particular thing in their very Italian way(normally in Speedos) and you can feel their simple joy of life radiating off of them.  I love Italians and could spend so much time engaging with them. But for this moment, I just lizarded myself on to a rock, taking off my hiking shoes and diving deep into my gelato, with the crystal blue water shimmering in the background.  I closed my eyes for a moment and nodded off in a post-indulgent nap.  To slowly get myself back onto the hiking path, we somersaulted into the beautiful water and grinned at the enjoyment of the first Summer swim!

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And then, we had to hustle, we had to meet our Airbnb host at 6 and he had told us it was a 45 min walk, we had exactly that much time with very little idea of where to go. We stuffed it up.  We called him and he told us we would never make it and we needed to hitchhike.  Sarah was devastated that we had let him down. So we started the walk, knowing that not many people, during Covid, would stop and take two girls with them up the hill.  The first three people we asked told us they were not allowed to. But finally after we were legging it up the steepest hill we had encountered all day, with the knowledge that our village, San Bernadino, was at the top of the mountain with a wonderful panaromic view (why we booked it), a couple said yes. After pissing them off with a couple of u-turns and wrong turns, we finally came across our TINY village (less than 20 houses, surrounding a tiny church, but with the most show-stopping views over the entire Cinque Terre and mostly Corneglia.

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The most wonderful surprise was that our two story apartment had the most epic view of them all, being right next to the lookout platform, I was frothing.  Sarah had to do a work meeting quickly, so I took myself for a sunset stroll and journal.  Gratitude flowing easily. Here we made ourselves a delicious platter of Italian delicacies and ate with our toes hanging off the edge of the windowsill, the sun dancing off the horizon.

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Our next day involved walking the top paths, we woke up early and decided to start walking straight away, we were keen to spend a bit of time on the beach before I had to head back to work and Sarah stayed on for a few more days.  Both of us excited to see what the day had in store for us.  So we followed the path that we thought was right. And we were so wrong, we landed up scratching our legs to smithereens, before admitting defeat and heading back, eventually crossing paths with someone who put us on the right path.  And as we came to a sign that finally made sense, my 7th “restaurant” sense was going on overload, I knew that just behind this little fence I would find a treasure and oh my gosh I was right.  Do yourself a favour, if you stay in Cinque Terre, go stay at this place, Cada Ventu or at least pop in for a coffee.  The views are sensational and the staff are super lovely.

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And the route that we continued on was sensational, being away from the coastline, opens up a different terrain, it was more about the forests and less about the ocean.  Which was different but equally good. As we came up towards Volastra we cut back down towards the coast because one of my favourite paths winds through these beautiful homes right on the top of the hills, you walk through people’s back gardens. And as we came past my favourite garden the Nonna (Granny) was busy tending to her laundry, beating it out the old fashion way and hanging in out to dry.  We got chatting to her and she told us about her apartments you could stay at.  I will definitely stay there one time, it sleeps seven people with a massive terrace, yes please!!

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The route down towards Manarola is a knee killer and the thought of the swim awaiting us was getting me down there 🙂 Our friend was waiting for us on the rocks, so I picked us up a delicious tuna sandwich and met them on the rocks, we had a fabulous swim, ate our sammies and lazed out in the sun.  And just as we got lazy and comfie in the sunshine, a suprise burst of rain drizzled over us, forcing us to continue our walk towards Riomaggiore.

The town itself holds so many beautiful memories for me and is one of my favourite of the 5.  I love the look up the valley of all the colourful houses and I really enjoy lying on the rocks at sunset and looking back down at all the villages you have just walked through. It’s stunning.  I also wanted to stay there for longer, but with all the train difficulties, after a couple of swims and fighting the gelato urge, I said my farewells and headed to the train station, heart filled with gratitude.

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Chapter 2 coming soon 🙂

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