…to Cinque Terre, apparently.
Almost a year ago, when this trip was just a twinkle in our eye, my good friend Jamie Pierce told me about this magical heavenly place he had hiked called Cinque Terre. Jamie is not one to go off on long soliloquies too often, so the way he raved about this particular Italian destination made us seriously consider it.
The train spat us out in a sleepy, palm tree lined town called La Spezia. Rome, in all its eternal glory, is also an eternal throng of people and vehicles all trying to squeeze through impossibly narrow alleyways and navigate chaotic roundabouts. Quiet, tiny La Spezia, with the smell of the sea so close once again, was a welcome change.
‘Cinque Terre’ refers to five towns on the Mediterranean coast, each separated by a small mountain and connected by winding trails. The entire place is a national park, and has become something of a pilgrimage for those who appreciate natural beauty.
We set out early the next morning to find the trail. Classically, the goal is to reach all five towns in one day, but we had decided not to rush it and just see how far we could get.** This was a particularly good approach when, an hour in, we had still not found the beginning of the trail. Our instructions told us to climb some stairs by a church, then turn left at the castle (oh, Europe). Church, check. Stairs, check. Castle…none in sight. How do you hide a castle? (We rapidly learned not to trust the Italian sense of direction.)
Instead, we found some new friends who became an inseparable part of our Cinque Terre experience. Sarah and Alicia had recently finished a two-year term with the Peace Corps in Senegal, and were now looking for the same imaginary castle. We decided to stick together, and ended up doing so for the whole day, and the next one as well. Along the way we picked up Stacy, who was traveling Europe between teaching English in France and studying the history of women’s rights in Morocco. Definitely some of the most interesting and inspiring people to spend a couple of days with!
And this is what we saw:
Necessary refreshment break* between Towns #4 & 5:
*We were making our way down the trail through a vineyard, when a burst of radio music and cries of “Limonata fresca!” stopped us. The owner of the vineyard had set up a little hut on the side of the mountain, from which he hawked his wine and freshly squeezed lemonade from the surrounding lemon trees. A gregariously rakish old man, he had not only heard of Manitoba, he knew about Morden’s Corn & Apple and used MB flour in his pizza. “Normal Italian flour, it makes dough like old woman’s skin. Tough! Special Manitoba flour, it makes like young woman’s skin!” I will not try to describe his accompanying hands gestures here, but ask me next time you see me 😛
Town #5** – Monterosso al Mare.
**We hadn’t planned to do all five towns in one day, but we had just enough time to make it to Town #5 and be rewarded with a sunset that felt like a worthy prize for our accomplishment.
We had only 20 minutes to catch the last shuttle of the night, but we were starving and stopped at a pizzeria to see if it was possible for a pizza to be ready. “20 minutes?” mused the owner. “Si, e possible!” (As the bemused chef behind him shook his head and mouthed, No, it isn’t!) With enough encouragement (read: getting slapped on the head by the owner), the pizza prevailed and we made our shuttle!
To Sarah, Alicia, and Stacy: Thank you for making a beautiful place an even more beautiful experience! This world is so small, we know we will run into you again one day. And remember: Festival du Voyageur is in February, and then you’ll definitely still have time to make it to Mendoza for Vendimia! 😛 Arrivederci, amici…