Shopping for lunch in La Spezia

(October 10, 2015)  I met Pall Forloney about 8 years ago in Riomaggiore, while enjoying a beer at a bar with a terrace overlooking the sea, with my friend, Cheryl Summers. She and I had just finished hiking between all five of the villages of the Cinque Terre (“Five Lands”), and were celebrating our success at some difficult but rewarding hikes with spectacular views, only for those willing to hike the difficult trails. Since then, I have seen Pall regularly, since he also comes to California to stay winters with his lady friend, Birgit Maddox, in Pacific Grove. Pall and Birgit were here in Spello with me when I signed the deed to this place in 2010, and we went together to IKEA to find furnishings, and sat on the floor here while we assembled a sofa, occasional chair, kitchen chairs, a bed, a dresser and an armoire. By the end of the first week, there was enough furniture here in my little place for me to be comfortable—and the scorpions and big, furry spiders had all been dispatched, mostly by Pall (bless you, Pall!).

We have remained friends, both here and in California, and now Pall and Birgit run a trekking guide service in Cinque Terre (trekguyd.com), so visiting them must fit in between their scheduled treks with their clients. I had a short window of time when they were available, and took the trains (nearly 6 hours) to get to Riomaggiore, where Pall lives (the southernmost village of the Cinque Terre, a pristine Italian national park and seashore preserve in what is considered the “Italian Riviera” ).

As soon as I arrived and got my suitcase up the stairs, Pall, Birgit and I got back on a southbound train to La Spezia, to do their weekly shopping at the big open market there in La Spezia, open almost every morning. The market is all under cover, and some of the vendors have trailer vending stands that close up and disappear at the end of the market day, while many of the produce vendors just pack up the produce, truck it away, and return to set it all out again the next day on portable tables.

This fountain is a landmark of La Spezia, in one of the main piazzas

This fountain is a landmark of La Spezia, in one of the main piazzas

Street sweeper--still using twig brooms to clean up

Street sweeper–still using twig brooms to clean up

I’ve been on this shopping trip many times with Pall, and can barely keep up. He has his favorite shops and favorite vendors at the open market, and we were there shopping specifically for a great lunch to celebrate my arrival.

First stop was the bakery, where Pall’s favorite focaccia is made, for two types: one with halved cherry tomatoes; and one just salted on the top. Both were made that same morning—as fresh as could possibly be—and the reason that Pall makes a beeline to this bakery when he shops.

Pall's favorite bakery, where the foccacia is always perfectly fresh

Pall’s favorite bakery, where the foccacia is always perfectly fresh

Next, we shopped for produce at the booths inside the open market. I wandered around with my camera, with piles of seasonal vegetables, fruits, and the unequaled fresh porcini mushrooms, in season for the fall.

Pall and Birgit, choosing grapes for our lunch

Pall and Birgit, choosing grapes for our lunch

Birgit picks out some onions

Birgit picks out some onions

Elderly lady shopping with her carello (Pall in the background)

Elderly lady shopping with her carello (Pall in the background)

Piles of yellow peppers, cabbages and fennel bulbs

Piles of yellow peppers, cabbages and fennel bulbs

Fresh porcini mushrooms--a real treat in season

Fresh porcini mushrooms–a real treat in season

Baby zucchini and their flowers (usually stuffed with filling)

Baby zucchini and their flowers (the flowers are usually stuffed with filling)

When Pall and Birgit had gotten all of the produce on their list, Birgit headed for one of the trailer booths, where there was a blue cheese made from goat’s milk that she wanted to have me try—and it was sensational. With some cheeses, and later a stop at the supermarket nearby for some paper-thin sliced prosciutto, we were all set for a great lunch.

One of the trailer vendors, selling cheeses and meats

One of the trailer vendors, selling cheeses and meats

A vendor with kitchen gadgets, pots and pans

A vendor with kitchen gadgets, pots and pans

A cheese vendor, with enormous wheels of Parmeggiano Reggiano

A cheese vendor, with enormous wheels of Parmeggiano Reggiano

Another vendor with cheeses, and two whole prosciutto in the foreground

Another vendor with cheeses, and two whole prosciutto in the foreground

Birgit waits her turn for goat's milk blue cheese

Birgit waits her turn for goat’s milk blue cheese

A fish vendor, with plenty of the fresh anchovies famous here

A fish vendor, with plenty of the fresh anchovies famous here

A favorite of mine--octopus!

A favorite of mine–octopus!

More porcini mushrooms, some huge

More porcini mushrooms, some huge

Passing a heavy iron door knocker on the way to the supermercato

Passing a heavy iron door knocker on the way to the supermercato

Only in Italy--this is a parking space???

Only in Italy–this is a parking space???

Pall waiting in line for prosciutto

Pall waiting in line for prosciutto

Back at Pall’s apartment, after one stop on the train north, he set to work in the kitchen to put together a fabulous lunch—starting with a caprese salad of mozzarella di bufala (made from the milk of water buffalo, near Naples), fresh ripe tomatoes, fresh basil and local olive oil. Birgit put out the cheeses, and the focaccia (both types), and put the prosciutto out on a serving plate, with a bowl of local olives also on the table.

Assemblng our lunch on the table back at Pall's

Assemblng our lunch on the table back at Pall’s

Caprese salad, fresh rolls, and very fresh foccacia

Caprese salad, fresh rolls, and very fresh foccacia

Cheeses, grapes, and local olives

Cheeses, grapes, and local olives

One of the best lunches I can remember--every bite a special treat

One of the best lunches I can remember–every bite a special treat

In only a few minutes, we had a wonderful lunch to share, and sat and talked and got caught up on the news from each of our worlds. It was such a great start to my two-day visit!

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