Camogli, Rapallo, and a Mexican Meal

Our original intention in setting out north on the train was to see Camogli, located very near Portofino, where a free fish fry for hundreds (thousands?) of people is held each June. Pall had been telling me about the huge metal pans that were used for the event, now on display on a wall in the town. He thought I might want to see them and take a photo, so we set out, after stopping first in Chiavari.

From Chiavari, it was another 15 minutes on the train to Camogli (Ka-mull-yee), and this sign was attached to the rail station railing, for the education of visitors to the small town. It says, basically, “City of Camogli. The citizens here are your hosts. We want a clean city, so don’t mess it up!”

"We like our city clean, so don't mess it up!"

Some of the views out to the Ligurian Sea are very scenic, including this view from up above the beach. This terrace looks like a nice place for . . . a Negroni! (My favorite mixed drink, introduced to me by Pall in Riomaggiore, where I met him on a terrace with one in his hand)

Scenic view of the Camogli coast

The fishing industry in Camogli is it’s heart and soul, and the nets and small fishing boats are all over the harbor. The beautiful blue of the Ligurian Sea was not diminished by the lack of blue skies, but few fishermen were out on this variable weather day.

Calm harbor between the storms

Just as in Chiavari, Camogli is filled with buildings painted with trompe l’oeil decorations. This building looked as if it were just painted, and the small window and grate are real, as is the white marble sill and surround, but the elaborate frame and the eave is just painted on the wall, and very well done, I’d say.

Freshly painted trompe l'oeil window frame

Fishing nets and floats are stacked to dry all over the harbor, and I was crawling around trying to find a good vantage point for photos. With most of the boats in the harbor for the stormy weather, not much was going on in town.

Nets and floats set out to dry at the harbor

Here, along the harbor wall, young people had celebrated Valentine’s Day by hanging foam hearts from key chains sold nearby on the netting along the wall. The lovers write notes on the foam hearts, and then attach them to the net to declare their love. The locks in Florence are removed as soon as lovers, who throw the keys away into the Arno, place them on the bridges but these key chains were for sale nearby, so it seemed to be a welcomed gesture here.

Love notes on foam hearts decorate the netting

Here is the world’s best guide to these small cities, Pall. We met over a year ago, and I visit him when I am here in Italy, and he brings his girlfriend, Birgit, and visits us when he comes to Pacific Grove, near Monterey, for the holidays with her and her family. I have introduced him to the Amador County wineries (he is a sommelier and searches for wines for a wine co-op in Switzerland, attending all of the big wine exhibitions in Europe to find small producers of high-quality wines), and he has found some extraordinary wines there for me. In addition, the winemakers now recognize him when he visits, and he carries to the winemakers Italian specialty wines that are not exported, for a special tasting treat.

Pall pointing out features at the Camogli harbor

Along the beachfront, where there were outdoor tables at the restaurants and bars for people wanting to take a break with a sea view, an accordion player was entertaining the people at the tables, unaware of his littlest fan. The people at the tables were ignoring him, but the toddler was fascinated with his music.

Aspiring accordion player?

Here are the pans that Pall brought me to see. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the photo to give you the scale of these, and the huge pan handle attached to the wall between the pans. The fisherman built up a monstrous rack for the pans, built a huge fire underneath the pans, and fried fish once a year for all comers. I think the fish festival is still an annual event, but these old pans have been retired to this display. Returning to the station, I found an undated old photo on the station wall that explained for me how these were used, and gives an idea of their huge size in comparison to the people frying fish for the waiting people.

Retired gigantic frypans from years ago

Giant frying pans at the Fish Festival, years ago

I would be bringing one of these signs home if I could find one: “Here they serve the best food.”

Here they serve the best food!

I was laughing at the station, seeing the “way finding” textured tiles that assist the sight-impaired to navigate around the station. It seemed to me that someone didn’t think out the route of the tiles very well, and I wondered how many people get moving and get led right into the post.

Not sure the blind will miss the post, are you?

We headed for the train to Rapallo, back south toward Riomaggiore, where we found this pirate fortress on an arm of rock protruding from the beach. A sign nearby said that repeated sieges had never been successful here, and the structure is still standing and sound.

PIrate fortress on the beach

Pall and I were still trying to finish off the grocery list for the Mexican dinner, and it was in Rapallo that we finally found the most elusive ingredient: avocados for the guacamole. He was carrying hot pepper cheese from Chiavari, but all of our shopping around yielded no avocados, until we got to Rapallo. There were colorful outdoor stands, filled with beautiful displays of produce, and this one was typical.

Street vendor's array of fresh produce

Pall ducked into a wine shop with a bar, and we both ordered a Negroni—my first one this trip in Italy. The young bartender recognized Pall from other trips to scout for wines in the shop, and brought us potato chips and peanuts while we enjoyed her great concoctions. We got the next train back to Riomaggiore, and started prepping the Mexican dinner for that night.

A Negroni before heading back to Riomaggiore

Pall turned me loose on the guacamole and the table settings, and he did just about everything else. When the guests arrived—Giacomo, Irene (his girlfriend), Nina (the baby), Antonella and Giuliano (downstairs neighbors of Pall’s), Simone (going to bartender school), and Palmira, (Irene’s mother), who was celebrating her birthday at the same time.

Mexican dinner is served! Giacomo, Irene, Nina and Pall

Pall came out of the kitchen with quesadillas made from the spicy pepper cheese, and then the burrito and taco ingredients began to appear from his kitchen. He just delivered batch after batch, and the guests were not shy in digging in, especially with new ingredients like sour cream and hot salsa carried by Pall from California.

Giacomo’s daughter, Nina, was a doll, and I took her from her mother as soon as they arrived. She was not at all shy about being held by a stranger, and Irene and Giacomo got a chance to relax and eat while I bounced Nina on my knee.

Giacomo and Nina, 5 months

After dinner was done, and no one could eat one more taco or burrito, Giacomo and Irene opened a pastry box with a millefoglie (“a thousand sheets”) cake for Palmira. It is made of up many flaky, thin layers, alternating with pastry cream—crunch and creamy sweetness together in one bite. Since the only candle we could find in the house was about two inches in diameter, Pall lit it beside the cake, rather than trying to stick in through those layers and mash the cake.

Palmira cutting her birthday cake

The baby was our entertainment after dinner was cleared away, and then they all left to go home when the baby decided it was time for sleep. Pall and I finished the clean up while we listened to the Olympics on the TV, and we both headed off to sleep.

Irene, Nina, Antonella and Simone

The next morning, I was trying to get on the 9 a.m. train back to Florence, but I just didn’t get moving soon enough, and missed it. For the train at 10, Pall got a call from Birgit in California just as I was leaving, so I had to wave and walk out, after a couple of cups of Pall’s good coffee. A big storm was just hitting Italy, after claiming forty lives in France and Germany, and I was happy to be headed home before the worst of the storm hit.

That’s my trip to visit Pall in Riomaggiore. Hope you are doing well, ciao!

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