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Italy Travel Planning Packages, including Cinque Terre|Vernazza Special

Travel Planning Packages and Specials

As an Italian travel planner, I will meet your individual expectations while helping you avoid common pitfalls. My experienced information will help you save time and money. Everything I recommend has been tested by me personally.

  • All reservations and reconfirmations for accommodations, car rentals and tours
  • Reservations for major sites with ticket purchase option
  • Reservation and ticket purchase for train travels
  • Detailed itineraries of each stop in your travels
  • Suggestions for local dining/site/places of interest and my special tips
  • Out of the tourist crush tips
  • Maps and directions
  • Insider tips and a peek into Italian culture
  • A before you go guide to packing and preparation

I am passionate about helping people create trips that are perfect for THEM. I do not get paid commission like travel agents so I’m not bound to working with a limited selection of acommodations/services. Instead I charge a flat fee with no hidden costs or taxes and any savings I receive is passed on directly to my clients. I consider my travel planning and consultation service a form of trip insurance. You are investing thousands of dollars to travel, I help guarantee it will be a once in a lifetime trip.

Custom Package | 600$

Includes all of the above services for two travellers

15 hours of planning plus one last minute itinerary change

Premium Package | 800$

Includes all services from custom package for up to four travellers

Up to 30 hours of planning plus unlimited itinerary changes

Platinum Memory Package | 1000$

Includes all services from Premium Package for up to eight travellers

Unlimited planning hours and unlimited itinerary changes

Custom 12×12 hardcover photo album and DVD image slideshow of your vacation photos

Cinque Terre Special | 50$ off

Include the Cinque Terre on your itinerary and receive 50$ off any service. Must include at least one overnight in either Vernazza or Monterosso.

Roman Getaway | 500$

Rome and one stop in the Tuscan countryside for two travelers. Up to 15 hours of planning and one itinerary change. Additional cost for 3 or more travelers.

copyright 2011 Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Top Ten: My favorite photos of Italy

My very favorite photos from my travels in Italy, in no particular order.

Sunset in Tuscany


Olive grove in Tuscany

Fiddler on the streets of Rome


Colorful houses of Burano, Venice

Classic Venice canal

cinque terre

The men of Vernazza

Nightfall in Rome

Details in a tuscan village

wine cellar

In the cellar during a wine tour


21st Century at the Vatican


Campo di Fiori, Rome

Copyright 2011  Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi

December 2011

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi.

Marlena de BlasiThe first book of several chronicling the author’s adventures in Italy after falling madly in love with the ‘stranger’ in Venice.  She writes about the joys and frustrations of living in Italy (and with an Italian).  Marlena is also a cook, and her descriptions of the market and meals makes this book exceptional.  She has included some mouth-watering recipes and also her favorite things to do in Venice, priceless advice I have used in my travels there.

I was lucky enough to have met Marlena twice while visiting Orvieto.  Once as I past her in a narrow alley leading to the city’s center and again as I darted back and forth in front of the cafe where she was enjoying a coffee after furtively stalking her.  Alright, so I might not have held an actual conversation with her.  She had a commanding presence, dressed to the nines in black and in full make up.  In a rare moment of intimidation I was unable to speak to her.   But in my defense, Marlena is an extremely private person.  She is rumored to give two cooking lessons a year but the information is by word of mouth only.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre: A personal account of the flood damage

I would like to pass on a very moving article from one of the co-founders of Save Vernazza as she visits her village for the first time after the flooding.  Thank you Michele, I can’t imagine how difficult that day must have been for you.

November 21, 2011 “If you lose money you lose much, If you lose friends you lose more, If you lose faith you lose all.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

On Saturday, I went to Vernazza for the first time since the catastrophe of October 25, 2011. I went with Ruth, who had already been to Vernazza two mornings after the flood. I personally felt that I needed to see the aftermath with my own eyes. I’ve been hiding behind my computer for the past 3 1/2 weeks, working continuously on Save Vernazza, and I’ve seen almost every photo and video available. Now the time had come to face the beast.

The morning started out in La Spezia, where half of Vernazza now resides. To an outsider unfamiliar with the faces, all one would have to do is look down to know who was heading that way. If you weren’t wearing knee-high mud boots, you weren’t going to Vernazza. Trains in and out of town are limited and access to Vernazza is under tight control. Upon the trains’ arrival in Vernazza only one car door opens, therefore we are segregated to the two train cars flanking that one door. As one exits the train, documents are checked for those faces not already familiar to the police manning the station.

The train door opens and all senses are triggered. The smells, a mix of mud, stagnant water and mold. The sounds, bells chiming on the hour and the half, but instead of the usual background noise being sounds of the sea, it is the hum of heavy machinery. The sights, a devastation the likes of which I have never witnessed before. Vernazza, previously a kaleidoscope of pinks, yellows, blues and greens is now shrouded in hues of greys and browns.

Rick Steves said it best when he wrote that he felt like he “lost a friend” when he heard the news of October 25th. In front of me now was that friend, assaulted, gutted and left for dead. The images were almost incomprehensible. In the upper Fontana Vecchia area of town, the canal is gone, landfilled to street level. The parking lot is about 10 meters (over 30 ft.) higher than before, with the Pirate bar still submerged in the rubble.

Il Pirate still buried as the owners look on

My former B&B, Camere Giuliano, is unrecognizable. The trickling canals that ran on either side of the property became raging rivers on October 25 and the beautiful gardens that once surrounded the property, well tended by the locals growing their fruits and vegetables, and caring for their chickens and rabbits, were now deep fissures in the land. The trenino tracks above (small trains used to harvest the grapes) were busted to pieces with terraces and stone walls built by Giuliano washed away with the force of the current.

At the center of two raging rivers

The main street, Via Roma, is by far the hardest to look at. Now that the mud is being cleared away, the damage is all the more obvious. Cavernous holes take the place of our markets, cafes, restaurants and shops. Storefronts no longer have doors; there is no point with nothing left to lock up. Vernazza is a shell of its former self.

What remains is the spirit of Vernazza and this is evident in the effort and progress being made. The younger generation of Vernazza has stepped up to the plate and they are working around the clock alongside the emergency crews. The main square is their headquarters. Tents have been erected to act as the cafeteria. The church has become a supply center for food, clothing, and other essential items, even containing a makeshift pharmacy.

The second headquarters can be found at the Town Hall. Town officials are working tirelessly on an accurate assessment of the damages and the costs associated with the rebuild. At this point, no one knows what government funds will be available to Vernazza. The Town estimates that the cost of rebuilding Vernazza is 109 million Euro. The Italian government has allotted 65 million euro to be divided amongst all affected areas in Liguria and Tuscany. Clearly, help from the outside is essential or Vernazza risks becoming a ghost town.

As we stopped to hug friends and share news, we got more information on the stories within the story. The pause in the flooding that Valentino speaks of in his personal account saved many lives. The women in the hair salon were saved by that pause. Olenka and the others from Pizzeria Erocle threw a rope over to the women still inside and were able to pull them to safety across the current. Michele Greco, one of our founders, was able to escape her shop during that 10 minute period by pulling herself out the door and over to the next entry way that lead to the apartments above. The 40 people in the Blue Marlin were heroically saved by Massimo, the owner, who hammered through the wall with Jeff pulling people through to safety on the other side where a staircase to the upper floors was accessible.

One of Vernazza's true heroes

The last woman to leave the Blue Marlin, already having sent her daughter through the hole and standing waist deep in the gushing water, thought she would never see her family again. The people in Il Baretto restaurant, Gianni Franzi restaurant, the town bakery, the town food market, all escaped through small windows that faced the backs of their buildings. Gino from the town bakery almost died in the attempt to save his beloved cat. Sauro of the souvenier shop Bazzar is said to have been frozen with fear, unable to move and thereafter carried away with the torrent.

The consistent message about town was not how unfortunate our situation is but how fortunate we were not to have lost more people than we did.

The sentiment shared by everyone in town is “we will not give up hope and we will rebuild, no matter the cost.” In speaking with Carmen of the Blue Marlin bar, this sentiment was all the more evident.

On the morning of October 25, 2009, Vernazza awoke to tragic news. The 18 year old daughter of Massimo and Carmen of the Blue Marlin bar had been killed in a car accident. Camilla was an intelligent, vibrant young woman. A child when I arrived in 2005, I watched her blossom into a beautiful young lady with a bright future ahead of her. Her untimely passing knocked the wind out of the community. Vernazza was stunned, shaken and shocked. The turnout for Camilla’s funeral was overwhelming. Every single shop, restaurant and bar closed. The town stood together to provide strength, love and support for the grieving parents Massimo and Carmen, Camilla’s younger sister Maria, and grandfather and grandmother Camillo and Pina.

Prior to the catastrophe of this past October 25, this date already symbolized a tragedy for Vernazza. Horrifying ironic, the catastrophe that took the lives of 3 Vernazzans, terrorized locals and visitors alike, and left the town crippled occurred on this very same date. When speaking with Carmen this past Saturday, she told us that she and her family could leave Vernazza and relocate to her hometown of Barcelona where her father had a big house awaiting them. No one could blame her at this point for throwing in the towel. For her and others the date of October 25 may feel to be a cursed one in Vernazza. Instead, she has chosen to remain in Vernazza because, as she stated, “Vernazza is where my heart is”. The road ahead may be long, hard and costly but she said that even if all she can do is rebuild the Blue Marlin one chair at a time that is how she will do it.

If you have been to Vernazza, you understand that it is a special community. Vernazza touches people in a way others places do not. If you have never been to Vernazza all you need to do is read the numerous messages we have received worldwide to understand its effect. One could say that October 25, 2011 destroyed Vernazza. But only the physical town. The community of Vernazza is strong, determined and committed. The people are on the ground, digging out stone by stone, dedicated to rebuilding, one chair at a time.

For donation information, frequent news updates and photos please visit Save Vernazza 

For updated information regarding Monterosso and the other effected areas along with more photos of Vernazza, visit Come to Liguria

La Bottega dei Vasai

Italian pottery

Kiln inside the bottega

There are moments when traveling that are so rare I hesitate to breathe in too deeply for fear of breaking the spell.  My day with Annamaria in her pottery studio was one of those times.

Located in the small village of Montottone in the lesser known region of Le Marche, La Bottega dei Vasai has been using traditional techniques here since 1851.  By following in the footsteps of her father and the family before him, Annamaria Bozzi became the first female master potter.  She and her brother passionately carry on the age-old traditions giving new life to a trade that was once slowly dying.

italian pottery

Inside the studio

We found the unassuming entrance of bottega just outside the town walls along a narrow road.  Chickens scattered as I stepped out of the car and I hesitated momentarily, not sure I was even in the right spot.  As we entered, Annamaria greeted us warmly and immediately began to show us around.  This was like no other place I had seen before.   The studio was cool from the thick stone walls and it smelled of time.  Vases, bowls and plates were tucked into every corner; wooden steps lead us up and down to each room.  We were able to crawl around the kilns, watch her brother glazing pots and see all the finished works in the modest showroom.

italian pottery

My daughter at the wheel with Annamaria

Then Annamaria lead us up to the corner of the studio where she sat at her pottery wheel and gave us a first hand demonstration.  Watching her so effortlessly create a delicate bowl from a mound of clay was hypnotizing.  Unexpectedly she invited us to try our hand on the wheel.   Unfortunately my efforts were neither effortless nor hypnotizing.  But there was something magical about sitting there, my hands wet with clay, creating at the same seat as Annamaria, her father and his father had done for decades before me.  Patiently she guided each one of us, even teaching my young daughter.

This became more than a pottery studio; this became a tactile look into a way of life that has been virtually unchanged for centuries.  As we left the bottega the experience clung to me, just like the clay that stuck under my fingernails.

italian pottery

Getting started on the wheel with Annamaria’s help

Not as easy as it looks

copyright 2011  Andi Brown  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Cinque Terre Flood: Vernazza Clean Up Progress

**For continuous updates, check out my Vernazza page here***

Many people have been wondering how the clean up is progressing in Vernazza.  The photographs of the destruction from the flooding initially left me thinking this was an impossible task.

Dramatic video footage of the flood just above street level

Then I began to hear back from the residents and new pictures of their valiant efforts along side relief workers from all areas of Italy began to surface.

Vernazza is emerging.  Via Roma’s cobblestone path is again visible.  Shops are being painstakingly cleared of mud and debris.  Homes are beginning to be reconnected to water and sewer.  Donation efforts are in full swing.

Amazing efforts from around Italy

But there is so much still ahead.

I have been informed that the damages from the flood will not be covered by insurance because this was an ‘act of God.’  Winter is coming and with it cold and wet weather; the clean up effort is in a race against the clock.  Residents will have to remain strong despite their physical and emotional losses.  I can only imagine the effort it must take each day to overcome the urge to submit to defeat.  They have lost businesses and income.  They have lost friends.  The bodies of the three residents from Vernazza washed up on the shores of France last week.  Their stories of struggle are heart wrenching.

We are alive and we thank you Dad!  Thank you for holding the door to give me the time to save my family and get them to safety atop the refrigerator.  Thank you for calming the water giving us the opportunity to escape.  I know it was you, your spirit, blocking the water and breaking the fury of the flood.  I am thinking this as I realize that we have survived the impossible.  To Read More….

The store front afterwards

We can make a difference in this tragedy; I encourage each one of you to reach out to this place that has given us all so many beautiful memories.  Even the smallest of donations will help.  Save Vernazza has an incredible website with on-line donations available through PayPal.  Tell your friends; forward this message.  Many people still do not know what has happened here as the story never made headlines in traditional news sources.  We also need to remember that Vernazza needs our presence; put it on your travel itinerary next year.  Without tourism, without us, Vernazza will waver.

In a time where we have all become disappointed and disillusioned by institutions and government, I have been inspired by the strength of community coming together around the world for this little place.  The flooding itself is unspeakable; the committment and solidarity uplifting.  I am reminded (as I often am when I travel) that just going through the motions every day is not good enough; it is the people around us that make this life worth living.

Donations and frequent updates at Save Vernazza, click here

Michele Lilley's (co-founder of Save Vernazza) storefront before

Her store front afterwards

Immediately after the flood

After the mud has been removed from the street

Cinque Terre

Beautiful Vernazza

Vernazza Unburied

Tribute Video showing the clean up

copyright 2011  Andi Brown  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Top Ten: Reasons Traveling with Kids is Cool

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I was crazy to take my toddler to Italy by myself I would have never come back.  You are wasting your money; she will never remember anything.  She will be a mess on that long flight.  How will you pack everything by yourself?  She won’t stand going to museums or sitting through long dinners.  Jet lag, potty issues, getting sick, being bored.  I heard it all.

But one month after my daughter’s second birthday I defiantly boarded a flight to Rome armed with a backpack of her necessities, one suitcase for both of us, a stroller and Benadryl.  I could see that look in the other passengers’ eyes.  You know the one.  Everyone hoping we were nowhere near their seat; thirteen hours with a small child in an even smaller space could be considered a version of hell on earth.  To the shock and relief of those around me she was an angel on the plane;  she devoured her ‘fancy’ meal, watched a movie and then proceeded to pass out.  I can’t say the same for many of the other passengers.

I quickly found out that traveling with my daughter did two things:  opened doors to experiences and got us free stuff.  People who would have done nothing more than complete their transaction with me or more likely not noticed my presence were suddenly whisking us behind counters and showing us part of the real Italian life I had not seen before.  We met dogs; we met grandkids.  We watered plants and learned to make pizza.  We held rabbits and petted goats. And I haven’t even gotten to the free stuff.   My daughter learned a simple smile meant extra scoops of gelato or little candies in her hand.  I don’t think I went anywhere with her that some old lady wasn’t trying to feed her.  She was the star at dinner, our waiters taking pride in her appetite.  Did I ever pay for dessert?  Maybe my own?

She loved the Roman Forum, although it was the beetles not the ruins that caught her eye.  Every new hill town was exciting; who knew how many kitties would be hiding in the narrow cobblestone streets.  Trains were a marvel.  Maps became new toys.  Piazzas her playgrounds.  My passion for travel deepened with each new discovery she made.

Maybe I was crazy and it is true that she doesn’t remember that trip.  But my daughter has no fear of the unknown and loves new experiences.  I have since taken her back to Italy (see the photos below) and she now has her own travel bucket list.  The lesson to be taken here is that having a family does not mean your travel dreams are over.  They are just different.  I may not be able to travel as much as I did before, but I never use children as my excuse to stay home.  Travel is good for them.  They begin to understand the world is a bigger place and differences are to be celebrated.  Travel is good for you.  You will find indescribable joy watching your child experience another culture.

I could list the top ten reasons why traveling with kids is cool, but I think these pictures do a better job.

Copyright 2011  Andi Brown  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Cinque Terre flood: Save Vernazza ready for Donations

I am happy to announce that donations are now being accepted through Save Vernazza ONLUS, a non-profit Italian organization established by four amazing women.  These ladies are incredibly resourceful and successful American women who have found themselves living in Vernazza and calling it home.  Please take the time to read through their website and learn more about their passion for this cause.

I know that many of you have asked how to donate and have also voiced concern over where that money will actually end up.  By donating through Save Vernazza, you can rest assured that 100% of the resources are going directly to the community.  The current estimate to restore and rebuild Vernazza alone is 5 million euro, a sum which seems absolutely overwhelming to the people.  Our support is crucial.  Even the smallest amount will make a difference; currently the greatest needs are simple things like boots, warm socks and bottled water.

Cinque TerreIn addition to that, tourism is the dominant force in the village and without it they have little way to support themselves financially.  Travel is another vital role we will play in this community.  I encourage everyone who is planning a trip to Italy or knows someone who is: Go to the Cinque Terre.  Stay in Vernazza.  Most of the rooms were not effected by the mud and we can not let them stand empty next season.  Things will be different next year, but that does not mean the experience of this amazing place will be lost.

I call out to everyone that has ever been touched by Vernazza.  Go Back.  Don’t write them off.  To those that have always wanted to visit.  Do Not Change Your Plans.  Put Vernazza back on your itinerary.

Donations can be made directly from their website.  Follow this link to Save Vernazza ONLUS 

For more information on the disaster itself, including updated information, photos and videos please click here for my Vernazza page.  Check back often as I plan to do all that I can to support and promote one of the most special places on earth to me.

Mille Grazie!  Andi

copyright 2011  Andi Brown  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Vernazza Flood Tragedy-A personal account from Valentino Giannoni

An Incredible Story of Courage in the Face Of Death – A Personal Account of Tragedy Caused by the Vernazza Flood

Translation courtesy of Save Vernazza.  Please click here for information on donating. 

Pino Giannoni of the gelateria “Porto Dody Gelateria Artiginale” in Vernazza disappeared in the flood that occurred in Vernazza on October 25, 2011.

This is the personal account of what happened as told by his son Valentino Giannoni, who was with him on that day.

It was the morning of the October 25th, 2011.  I did not sleep well the night before.

My family and I wake up hastily, make breakfast and rush our eight year-old daughter India up to school.  We are running late.  On the way I observe the fast moving clouds of the “scirocco” winds painting the sky against the backdrop of the tower at Mari’s. It was a surreal sight. Upon my return home the winds pick up and it starts to rain. Quickly, my wife Carly and I try to close the shutters, the wind making it almost impossible to do so, as we see that the water is entering under the windowpanes.  People outside our window are struggling to walk down the road, the strong rain coming down by the bucket full.  When the storm calms a bit I call Carly over to the window to show her the rising water level of the canal outside our building, telling her of a time when I was a boy and saw the canal waters rise to its’ maximum capacity.

After a while the rain subsides and we go out on the balcony to check on the ducks and geese that live in the canal below and see them struggling, trying to defend themselves from the force of the water.  Right in front of our eyes, as if we are meant to see it, one of the geese is swallowed up in the current and to our horror and dismay the other dives in trying to save his mate.

Carly and I, along with our 3 year old son Zen, decide to go downstairs and follow the canal downstream hoping to find the geese again. Across the canal we see one that has found safety under the garage that houses the town’s ambulances.  No sight of the other.

Saddened, we walk to our family gelateria to visit my father and tell him the story of the geese and discuss the weather. It’s raining lightly now so Carly and I decide to go to higher ground and see if we can find the other goose in the canal outlet at the bottom of town. Not a trace. We return to the gelateria where we all eat foccacia and Zen has Grandpa make him a strawberry ice cream cone.

While visiting with my father, the rain starts pouring down again, the electricity goes on and off and the wind is picking up to what seems like hurricane speeds.  We begin to worry and I help my father mop the floor as water comes inside the gelateria. The water level quickly rises so much so that I grab a bucket to scoop up the water to no avail. We decide to put away the gelato so that we can close. I take off my shoes, which are wet, and my father puts one of the solid shutter doors inside the door frame to block the water which is now brown and quickly gushing into the gelateria. I run over to give him a hand, leaving the gelato in the case. We decide that we need to move the heavy potted plants out front to keep the water flow clear and away from the door.  All of a sudden Dodi, our friend and business partner, arrives and moves the planters away from the sides of the door. It is a futile attempt considering that in a matter of minutes the water level increases from a few centimetres to a half meter torrent which now leaves us with no way to exit. Zen, who had fallen asleep in Carly’s arms after his gelato, awakens 30 minutes later only to see my father, Dodi and I fighting to keep the doors shut, the water level half-way up the door.  We are all desperate and scared as the water continues to rise.  Carly and Zen are terrorized and screaming, Carly repeatedly asks if we are going to die.

The ice cream refrigerator display case begins to float. It seems like a scene in a film.  The water is now black, full of dirt, heavy and unforgiving. I am holding the door against the fury of the water, arm in arm with my father and praying for a miracle in order to escape. My wife and son are crying with fear and it seems impossible.  Outside the sound of the rocks and debris is deafening.  We see small trucks going by, large trash bins, car bumpers, tables, patio umbrellas and the roar grows and grows to a thundering level.

We tell Carly to go to take shelter in the back laboratory where she can’t see the destruction and to find a high place to climb to. HUGE MISTAKE.  After a few minutes  we hear a desperate scream from Carly as one of the freezes has been lifted up by the water and is now blocking the door to the laboratory. Total panic. I yell to Dodi to go help them while I fight with my father to keep the door closed. To my horror I see that Dodi is unable to free the doorway and yell to him to come back to hold the door with my father.  I hurl myself into the water and swim with all my might to free my wife and child. I try in vain to push the freezer away from the dark laboratory door. I tell Carly to move out of the way and suddenly I am able to lift the freezer and throw it  against the wall. I worry about the electric current in the water.  I tell Carly to pass me Zen and then Carly is able to exit.

There is an overpowering odor of gas in the air and Carly is yelling that everything could explode. I remember that there is a full tank of gas in the shop.  I shout to Dodi to close the valve of the tank floating near him.  He grabs hold of it and the moment becomes dreamlike with Dodi floating, my father chest deep in water and Carly and Zen screaming. We hear an acute, indescribable whistling sound, which we later learn to be the towns’ main gas tank that had been ripped off the hillside high above Vernazza and down into the town while continually spewing gas. The refrigerators at the entrance of the store start to move and then capsize.  I hear my father scream “Zen! Zen!” as he struggles to keep hold of the door at its weakest point. I see him for the last time at that door, with Dodi, in a final attempt to block the fury of the flood.

I turn to grab hold of Carly and Zen and put them on top of a big refrigerator that is floating. I hear Carly’s anguished yell, “My God Vale! Your father is gone! The water took him away!!!”  I turn and can’t see him anymore.  I see Dodi dive under and after a few seconds resurface covered in mud and dirt, gasping.  I yell to him “Where is my father?!”  Dodi, in shock, now finds strength in my son (as he later told me) to keep hold of the door.  Carly continues to repeat that my father is gone, terrorized. I tell her that we don’t have time to think about it.  I can’t even believe the words coming out of my mouth, but I know that I need to focus. My father just tried to save our lives and I couldn’t give way to desperation and panic. I make sure Carly and Zen are safe and lay on top of the white refrigerator.  Dodi secures the doors as best he can with wood and the red Coca Cola refrigerator.  The water level continues to rise and thoughts of drowning invade my head. I think, “my poor father… do we have to die like this…I beg you God please stop the water, please give us a miracle!”  I move slightly and Carly slides off the refrigerator with Zen.  I jump in and try to swim but sink instead, my feet not even touching the floor. The water level is almost to the ceiling now. I try to climb back on top of the refrigerator and Carly passes Zen to me but I don’t know why.  I take him and raise him up high with my right foot on one refrigerator and my elbow on the second refrigerator. The refrigerator starts to move and I am losing hold. I see Dodi leaning against a wall I do not recognize. The dividing wall between the gelateria and neighboring cantina is crumbling and reveals a staircase goes up to the height of our ceiling.  Dodi tells Carly to move to his side as he has made a step for her to keep her above water. I see a shelf above them that is sticking out of the ceiling and I ask Dodi if we can get out through the door would we be able to enter the stairwell of the building next to us and climb to higher ground.  Dodi says it is not possible.  Then miraculously, I see the water level subsiding. Within 10-15 minutes we are able to touch ground.  The water level outside the store, is still high, but the force considerably less. Carly and I scream to Dodi to run for the door to our left.  Dodi opens the door, looks out and tells me to pass Zen to him, and all together in a line we swim to the neighboring stairwell. I turn quickly to look down the street and the scene in front of me is terrible.  I search in vain for my father and yell “Dad, where are you?” I hear a yell and turn back again towards the stairwell and see Gianluca helping Carly, Zen and Dodi climb to safety. For the first time in an hour and a half I feel safe.  When I reach the others I hug Dodi and we share a moment of disbelief and for a moment begin to cry. We are taken further up the stairwell, assisted by Mauro who helps us get out to the higher back alleyway.

I no longer feel my feet but I run toward the piazza with the news that my father has been sucked away by the torrent, hoping that somehow someone had saved him.  No one has seen him but the townspeople hurriedly begin to search for him. Zen is dried off by neighbors and Carly runs to the school to get India…it seems like it’s 7pm or 8 pm, but it’s only is 3:45pm. We are advised that all citizens and tourists are gathering at the City Hall because the situation is getting worse.  We quickly go and are taken in by the warmth of the townspeople of Vernazza.. We receive blankets and dry clothing and Carly rests with Zen.

We are alive and we thank you Dad!  Thank you for holding the door to give me the time to save my family and get them to safety atop the refrigerator.  Thank you for calming the water giving us the opportunity to escape.  I know it was you, your spirit, blocking the water and breaking the fury of the flood.  I am thinking this as I realize that we have survived the impossible.

The phones do not work, the electricity comes and goes, and the first news of the tragedy begins to spread.  Susie takes us in and makes us feel safe that night. We don’t sleep well and I keep thinking how strange it is that after my father was taken by the force of the flood waters, those very waters calmed.

When I hear the whistle of the train in the thick of the night it brings me hope and that hope brings me back to the morning before when the goose was sucked down by the water. I think of my father and I imagine the worst. I think of his sacrifice and find solace in hearing Zen’s breath while he sleeps.  Thank you Dad.  Thank you Dodi.  Thank you all for having been able to maintain the calm in the moment of tragedy.  Thank you Vernazza for your warmth and affection. I look into the emptiness of the dark and the images from that afternoon run through my head. I cry and I am angry for what happened to my father; for how he suffered and for how he was ripped from his family, from his grandchildren that loved him so much.  Carly and I hold eachothers’ hands, the rain falls and we are alive.  Thank you father.

Pino, sarai sempre nei nostri cuori

Cinque Terre Flood: Vernazza Relief Video

I put this video on youtube to try and spread the word and inspire people to help with the immediate relief efforts and restoration.

Disaster Relief

Italian Red Cross For those wanting to donate to the entire area involved.

Save Vernazza  An amazing site dedicated to restoring Vernazza, created by several ex-pats who call this village home and care for it passionately.  100% of the funds will go towards the town and its people.  These are people I know personally as well.  This is where I will be donating.

Per Vernazza Fortuna  Another site created by the people of Vernazza for Vernazza.  This site is in Italian but easy to navigate.

Contact me with any questions

copyright 2011  Andi Brown  Once in a Lifetime Travel



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