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Travel in Italy

The harbor of Vernazza, one of the five villages built into the rocks of the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera, is captured on film by South Whidbey newlyweds Kate Grossman and Pat McVay during their honeymoon in Northern Italy. It is one of the areas that will be profiled in Rick Steves Travel Show Saturday at WICA. - submitted photos
The harbor of Vernazza, one of the five villages built into the rocks of the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera, is captured on film by South Whidbey newlyweds Kate Grossman and Pat McVay during their honeymoon in Northern Italy. It is one of the areas that will be profiled in Rick Steves Travel Show Saturday at WICA.
— image credit: submitted photos

By JOAN SOLTYS

Island Living editor

When the catalog of travel classes offered by Rick Steves’ Europe through the Back Door describes its presentation on Italy, it begins, “You’ll almost be able to smell the linguini and taste the vino rosso as we explore enchanting Italy.”

The words conjure up visions of sun and warmth, the climate and culture of hill towns and ancient countrysides. It’s an image particularly inviting to Whidbey Islanders in the gray, rainy days of mid-January. And, for those who can’t make the trip, it’s a prospect that can be experienced here at home this weekend, when the seats at the Whidbey Island Center of the Arts will become armchairs for a tour of Northern Italy.

The Clinton Library is hosting the fund-raising event, which will feature not only the scenes and sounds of Italy but practical advice on packing light for the trip.

Gene Openshaw will explore with his audience the home of Lake Como, the unique island empire of Venice, the Renaissance capital of Florence and the quaint hill towns of Tuscany and Umbria. He’ll travel with his listeners to the Italian Riviera, where the Cinque Terre’s rocky coastlines and tiny villages are “the epitome of picturesque.”

Packing diva Joan Robinson, another speaker who has assisted Rick Steves tours throughout Europe, will offer packing tips for traveling with everything needed in just one bag, along with ideas for inexpensive travel that’s low on stress and high on fun.

She’ll distribute packing lists, show off the latest backpack technology, and demonstrate a professionally packed bag.

Robinson has also created a packing list especially for women that includes clothing, toiletries and medicine, money and security and size and weight suggestions.

Both Europe Through the Back Door sessions reflect Rick Steves’ advocacy of smart, independent travel. The host of the popular public television series, “Rick Steves’ Europe” and author of 22 European travel books, Steves encourages Americans to become “temporary locals,” discovering not only the great cities of Europe but its cozy “back door” villages.

It’s what two South Whidbey travelers did just last October. Kate Grossman and Pat McVay spent a three-week delayed honeymoon in Northern Italy.

“We packed everything in one suitcase and one carry-on bag,” McVay said. “And since we were gone all day from the places we were staying, we carried light day packs with water or different clothes we might need. It could be a very warm day, but it would cool off a lot.”

McVay and Grossman spent several days in the Cinque Terre, which encompasses miles of sheer rocky coastline in northern Italy, with terraced hills and vineyards sloping steeply down to the sea. Five little villages are built into the rocks between the beach and the hills.

“It was a neat place,” McVay said. “We traveled the really rugged coastline and had wonderful food.”

Old footpaths and mule tracks wound about 500 to 1,000 feet above the sea and led through olive groves and vineyards, orchards and chestnut woods.

“There was fresh fruit growing everywhere — apples, grapes, even lemons,” McVay said.

The pair also traveled to the south face of the Alps.

“It was absolutely gorgeous,” McVay said. “We went through the highest pass in Western Europe, and there were still flowers in bloom. Just over the hill, at the borders of Austria and Germany the north side of the Alps was already cold and frozen.”

Grossman and McVay saw numerous cows and goats grazing the slopes to keep the grass low.

“It’s a big skiing area, and if the grass is long, the snow will bend it over,” McVay said. The “crew cut” given by the animals will allow the winter snow to pile up more evenly.

“We heard an incredible symphony of bells, all different sounds clanging and gonging,” he said. “And there were the smells of the harvest that was getting ripe — avocados, even passion fruit.”

Grossman and McVay returned home only about two months before welcoming their new family addition, a baby boy born Jan. 9.

“All the hiking and the good food kept Kate in great shape for the birth,” McVay said.

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