Portofino’s Take Out Coffee Business….

portofino boats

Just in case you all are thinking that around the world travel (on a budget) is all rainbows and puppy dogs this blog posting should assure you that it is not. When we left off last time our intrepid adventurers had set out from Lucca towards Lake Como.  We had made the heart breaking decision to skip Cinque Terre all together reasoning that with rain in the forecast for the next 2 days there wouldn’t be much point in going to a beach town no matter how much we had been looking forward to it.

However, as we approached signs for Portofino, a resort town for the rich and famous a bit north and west of Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera, the rains had become torrential (I mean serious hurricane conditions) and the wind was literally pushing our car around on the road.  Fearing for our safety we decided it would be best to pull off there and seek shelter for the night.

portofino 2

Portofino is an expensive town with expensive hotels and it was raining so gosh darn hard (honestly I have never been in rain this hard before – the drops were the size of golf balls – not hail, mind you, but rain drops!) that we decided to find a parking lot and just sleep in our car.  We were already blowing through our daily budget (Europe is expensive!) so we figured sleeping in the car one night wouldn’t kill us and we would claw some of our budget back by not paying for a hotel.

So we made for higher ground so that our car wouldn’t be swept out to sea in the flood which had already started to submerge the lower level roads.  We wound our way through the mountains at times fighting against a river of run off water flowing against us (the follow video clip is rough, but will give you the idea).

Finally decided on the back lot of a gas station.  It was secluded enough and dark enough to allow us to sleep.   We busted out our netbooks and watched a few episodes of Gossip Girl (hey, I likes me my teen TV soaps.  Don’t judge!) and then cranked the seats back and slept (or tried to).

Dan sleeping in car

I won’t lie to you and tell you it was the most comfortable night we’ve had on this trip, but it also wasn’t the least comfortable either – the bed in Dubrovnik was a back breaker.  All in all I would not want to do that again if I could help it, but it was a rite of passage for every adventurer.

As we unruffled ourselves, pulled the seats back up and headed down the mountain into town we were in serious need of a morning coffee (or tea in my case).  It was still raining slightly, but Portofino still looked beautiful and we vowed to come back some time “in season”.


It was early so most shops were not yet open, but I spied a little Tabacchi/bar that appeared to have its lights on.   When I entered there was a local guy sipping a cappuccino jawing in Italian with the proprietress.   They did have coffee and tea, but apparently had never heard of the concept of “take away”.  I guess in Italy a cup of Joe is a sacred experience to be savored at leisure whilst chatting with friends, not rushing along in a moving vehicle.   But she was willing to try to accommodate me, which I appreciated. The problem was she was totally ill equipped to do so.

The man sipping cappuccino appeared to be talking her through it in Italian.  She didn’t have styrofoam insulated cups so he suggested she use those paper ones that are used for fountain soda.  She never asked me what size I wanted, but I heard him say “venti” and she grabbed for two of the large Coca Cola cups.  Then she tried to put it under the coffee maker spout to fill it.  Now I could see that that was not going to work (cups were too tall ya see) and I think the cappuccino man was shouting at her something to that effect. Nevertheless, she tried cramming it in there a few more times before giving up and loading up the coffee in teeny, tiny ceramic cappuccino cups and then pouring those into the giant Coca Cola cup (a process that took most of the remainder of the morning).

When she finished with the coffee and the tea I asked if she could double the cups so I wouldn’t scald my hands.  The surprised look she gave me initially said that clearly she had never done this before, but then she appeared to see the logic in my request and dutifully slipped another cup under the first one. Then I asked her if she had a top for it and she scoffed as if to say “of course I have a top, what kind of wacky Tabacchi do you think I am running here?!” Turns out her “top” consisted of a piece of aluminum foil molded over the top with a hole punched through to accommodate the large straw that was serving as a swizzle stick.   She seemed very pleased with herself and the cappuccino man raised his hands and shouted praises in Italian.  He even ordered one for himself (I kid you not) which she gleefully started to assemble the same way.

IMG_2046-1edit CU Coke cup

With my Frankenstein take out coffee/tea creations I wandered out of the shop – my hands on fire from the scalding beverage searing through the two paper cups- I should have asked for three!

portofino cafe

I laughed to myself thinking that I may have just unknowingly created the next billionaire entrepreneur in Portofino.  If any one goes to Portfofino in the next year or so let me know if take away coffee has become common place.  You’ll know who to thank for that. 🙂

Portofino starbucks-edit

Next posting from beautiful Lake Como…..

In Retrospect (September 18, 2010):

If Tuscany was one of my favorite trip memories then Portofino would have to be one of my worst.  Not only was the weather horrible, but only a few weeks into our journey and we were burning through our cash faster than a fat man through Milk Duds and thus were forced to sleep in our compact car.  It was without a doubt the lowest point in our trip.

But on the bright side we did singlehandedly spur on the local economy with the introduction of take out coffee….so we had that going for us.


2 Responses to “Portofino’s Take Out Coffee Business….”

  1. This made me laugh too!! It is a common site during the day to see waiters from local “bars” carrying trays of coffees to offices. Yep, ceramic cups and all covered with aluminum foil. And yes, the drinking of coffee is a serious thing for Italians 🙂 Also, you hopefully didn’t make the faux pas of ordering a cappuccino for yourself after breakfast time… the sign of a tourist!

    • Thanks Luce. Fortunately for me I don’t drink coffee or cappuccino so I can avoid all of those faux pas (which I did not know by the way). 🙂

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