(October 11, 2015) One of the highlights (whenever possible) when I visit with Pall and Birgit, is getting another opportunity to have dinner together at Billy’s, in Manarola. Now that the Via dell’Amore has been closed for some time after a rockslide, we have to take a train to the next village north, and then Pall and Birgit lead me up and down stairs and steep roadways, until we find ourselves at Billy’s once again.
Before we left for dinner, Birgit and I decided to take a walk through the tunnel, and visit the marina area of Riomaggiore. She has been with Pall a good portion of the summer, either joining him in his scheduled treks, or leading separate groups—sometimes for those not in condition to take the strenuous hikes that Pall leads. She has studied the local history, and knows the trails now very well—and can contribute as a second guide, whenever necessary. She is from California, and we occasionally see each other there, with or without Pall.
Down near the train station, Birgit was completely at home joining a bunch of retired gentlemen, all seated on a bench “people-watching” as tourists milled around the station, left on trains, or arrived to Riomaggiore. They were all Pall’s friends, too—but by the end of the season she was as familiar to them as Pall was, and they were all friends.
We found the steps down to the marina, where the boats were all up on the shore, waiting to go out during the night or in the very early morning. Most of the daily tourists had boarded their buses and left for the next stop on their guided tours, so we were able to walk around without all of the day visitors that populate the marina during the morning and early afternoon. As we explored and the sun set, I was able to get a good shot back toward the marina from a bar up on the hill, and then we headed back to catch Pall for our train to Manarola and dinner.
When Pall arrives with guests at Billy’s, the antipasti just start flying out of the kitchen. He orders nothing, does not even ask for a menu—and that is one of the best features of eating there with him. Specialty after specialty, almost all fresh seafood that was in the sea until that same morning, arrives from the kitchen, and are replaced as soon as we empty a platter. We enjoyed fresh anchovies, along with a potato and octopus salad that was flavored with lemon and parsley—and those were followed by a flavorful black pasta colored with squid ink, and served with fresh mussels and clams.
Pall is very well known at Billy’s, and often brings his trekking clients to dinner there, where he gets a special price for the group. We continued to get more fish until we had our fill, and then the grappa, dessert wines and limoncino (like limoncello, but made in Cinque Terre) came out to the table, a gift from the hosts to their diners after a full meal. After an espresso to end the meal, we were on our way back to Riomaggiore.
On our way back to Pall’s we passed a party—and Pall, Birgit and I recognized most of the people at the table. Giacomo was there with Irene, and daughter Nina was asleep on the banquette. I was surprised to see a new addition to the family—Giacomo has a new baby in the family, a son! The celebration was for 2000 reviews on TripAdvisor for Giacomo’s small hotel in Riomaggiore, La Dolce Vita. We were invited to join in for a bit of celebrating, and soon were on our way back to Pall’s house, thoroughly full and satisfied with a great night out at Billy’s, as always.
The next morning, I boarded the train to leave, since Pall and Birgit both had treks scheduled with clients later in the day. In a few hours, I was back in Florence, waiting for my train to Spello, and succumbed to the advertising that I’d been seeing for weeks about the new “McItaly” sandwich at McDonald’s. I got my order in at the station McDonald’s, and had a chance to taste the burger made from the specialty Chianina beef (the type used exclusively for the famous Florentine beefsteak), along with a slice of provolone cheese, tomato slices and a fresh bakery roll. It was expensive–€7 just for the sandwich—but the difference in the flavor of the char-grilled Chianina beef patty made it worth every “centesimo.” I’m done, now that I have tried one, but I was surprised at how good it was, and it was enough to get me back to Spello both happy and fed.