Updated: May 9, 2018
The city was stale but the bread, fantastic!
We awoke around 9:00am (nice and puffy from my bad choices the previous night) and trekked up the hill where our villa was situated, towards an espresso/news stand. The four of us (Ian, Michael, Geppe, and I) bought espressos and studied the bus schedule. We needed to take a bus down to the train station. There was no way for us to purchase tickets on top of the mountain, so we made the assumption that tickets could be bought on the bus. We were, of course, wrong. We boarded the bus, full of locals, and had barely grasped a bar or seat to hang onto before the bus heaved into motion and the doors swung shut. We all silently blinked at each other. Should we say something?? Was there a place to purchase tickets? We just stayed silent and banged into various people and things as the bus swerved around mountain corners. Thankfully, the views from up here were breathtaking. If we were going to careen off a cliff to our deaths, at least it would be a nice view on the way down!
We arrived at the train station and I was again, ravenous. There were so few food options in Paris for vegans and I was in desperate need of sustenance after a week of scraping by of just bread and wine. As the boys purchased train tickets to Santa Margherita (this is the station you get off at if you're traveling to Portofino), I went to the cafe to scope out snacks and more caffeine. Would you fucking believe that they had vegan options?! Even a vegan panini!!! And it Italy, vegan is pronounced "vegano (also "vegani")". So easy to read and say, compared to "vegetalien" which is "vegan" in French (vegetarian in French is pronounced "vegetarien"...very confusing). Holy shit. I was over the moon! We boarded the train and chugged off towards Portofino, about an hour and a half long journey. I inhaled my vegetable panini and took in the gorgeous views.
We arrived in Santa Margherita mid-day. Michael and Geppe took the bus from the train station into Portofino-proper. Ian and I decided to go on foot. I wanted to get in the water and hadn't brought a bathing suit, so we needed to stop into one of the beach shops and purchase something that could get wet. This area is apparently pretty wealthy and naturally, extremely touristy, so we're going to get taken advantage of when it comes to price. We walk into the first swim shop we see and every bathing suit is over 200 Euros. Fuck that shit. I found a black swim bottom for a mere (that is sarcasm) 50 euros. A piece of black fabric to cover my ass for 50 euros... such a steal! I also needed sandals. the only shoes that I brought were Doc Martin boots. Clearly, I was not expecting such nice weather in November... I decided that my cage bra looked pretty swimsuit-like and I could use that instead of forking over more money. We left the shop with a hundred euros less than we had come in with. All signs pointed along the coast to get to Portofino. It looked like we were right on top of it! Ian and I love to walk. It's really the best way to explore any city. You connect with it in a way that you never will from a car window. We began walking, first along the sand, then sidewalks around rocky cliffs, then up a steep hill toward the mountains, then, we stopped because we we thought there's no fucking way we're close and we've been walking for over an hour... at my New York pace; not fucking around. I checked my phone and saw that we were less that a mile away now, even though we were surrounded by rocks, trees, and had completely lost sight of the water. Finally, the path ambled along a stone wall and down into a quaint village. We passed small shops (not the kind that you would want to shop at, more the kind you would find at a mall) until we came to a clearing. There was that iconic view.
Little villas, painted brightly, rubbed shoulders with one another while boats bobbed effortlessly in the harbor, the smell of garlic, olive oil, and salt water penetrated the air. We continued walking along the harbor, excited to see what else Portofino offered. As we passed a small cafe, we noticed two familiar faces. Michael and Geppe were seated for lunch, but I wasn't ready to stop, I was hungry for the chase.
Travel is not the same thing as vacation. Vacation is sitting on your ass, sipping daiquiris until you pass out. There may be light swimming, shuffleboard, sex, but it is meant to be minimally invasive for your brain and body. Travel is quite different. It should make your brain light up like Christmas! Your body should be exhausted by the end of the day. Your feet should ache. It should be exciting and different and sometimes even scary! My point is that I don't fly halfway across the world to shop at "Sunglass Hut" and "Abercrombie". I want to go to spice markets and try to explain that "I need tea for my Mother but she can't have caffeine" to someone who doesn't understand any of those words. It's about the adventure! It's about not knowing! So... I was pretty fucking disappointed when I realized that the random sculpture garden was the only other thing in Portofino. Every shop was the Italian mall version of what it undoubtedly once was. Every restaurant was the Applebees of Italia. The servers knew it. We knew it. Bring on the wine.
Our server was Russian and she spoke pretty good English and broken Italian with enough attitude to make me aware that she was tired of waiting on stupid tourists. Of course, being vegan, my order is pretty much always going to start us off on the wrong foot. It doesn't matter how many times you say it, how nice you are when you say it, how many times you apologize... every server hates you when you tell them that you're vegan. This one was no exception, but to my surprise, she did have one dish on the menu that was vegan and to be frank, I didn't give a shit what it was. I had just inadvertently hiked miles to get to the Disney facade of Italy and I was tired and hungry and maybe a little moody... Ian and Michael ordered some fish special, Geppe (he's a vegetarian) ordered a cheese tortellini, and I had the spaghetti pomodoro topped with fried garlic. It was fucking awesome.
The spaghetti was... spaghetti (I've never really liked pasta. I know. I'm the worst.), but the sauce had this hint of spice and the fried garlic pieces lit up my taste buds with little fatty explosions and the perfect crunch. A crunch that I would spend the next few weeks trying to perfect in my own restaurant. We sipped wine, took in the picturesque view, (and I mean picturesque because it's one strip of villas that literally everyone has in their photographs) and caught the bus back to the train station in Santa Margherita. The train was an hour out so we sipped limoncello at a small cafe. This might have been my favorite experience of the day. The waitress brought out a free tray (platter might be a better word?) of food including vegetables, potato chips, fruit, olives...all things that were vegan-friendly! We snacked and finished our evening by walking along the moonlit beach, which was much nicer at night when most of the tourists had packed it in for the evening.
Well, check, I suppose. I don't have to go to Portofino anymore. If you have to choose between Portofino and any other city in Italy, I would choose the latter. However, if you're anything like me (stubborn), you'll ignore my advice and go see it in person anyways. Just do me, and yourself, a favor and don't spend more than one day here. It's a lovely little unauthentic, overpriced tourist trap.