I hate to say this because I sound like a hugely ungrateful brat, but I gotta mention that city living is really not for me. As interesting and dynamic and bustling as Florence is, as cool as it is to turn every corner and see a famous building or monument, I miss walking outside and smelling the sea salt and seeing the trees swing a little in the breeze and running every afternoon in the grass. However, what Florence lacks in natural beauty, it makes up for in the areas surrounding.
Our group took a trip to Cinque Terre with the study abroad tour group Bus2Alps, where we got on a bus and then a train for about 2 hours to travel to the 5 coastal towns that are only connected by railway and hiking trail (I would recommend not hiking for five towns). We took trains to two of them and then stopped in Vernazza. Since we had to get up at 5:30 and Andrea and I sat up all night trying to block out the sounds from the American drunk tourists screaming from outside the Duomo, we are dead tired, but I can’t sleep on the train because I feel a compulsion to stare out the window into Italy, like every second I can see it is the most important second I have ever lived through. We all gaze a little nervously into the tiny cyclones that sit at the top of the black clouds. Thankfully, Cinque Terre seems to have weather of its own, where I can’t imagine it anything but sunny and breezy.
I have been to lots of typical family vacation spots, like Cancun, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Bermuda, St. Thomas. I live next to the ocean which, although nonetheless nice, has never made me or anyone else for that matter stop and whisper, “Jesus.”
In Vernazza, we wandered the winding streets for awhile that are stuffed full of bright little shops and homes, where as tourists crowd, people lean out of windows yelling at their children to stop chasing each other and hang their clothes up on the line. I asked our tour guide, Anthony, if people here are all rich, but he said that they’re actually quite poor because they have to grow all of their food and the main towns are inaccessible making casual life a little difficult. Being a tourist spot, you would think of jacked up prices, but in reality, people still modestly sell their homemade pizza for a measly 2 euro and Juliana and I cannot help but keep our tradition up of eating a gelato a day.
When we reach the end of the streets and make it down to the water (which is only a few blocks, really) there are lots of colorful boats that sit on the sand, full of fishing gear. People crowd the rocks near the end to take pictures and get splashed by the strong currents that tear us over even when we aren’t actually on the beach.
Our guide, Anthony, later leads us up this path that looks more like it begins in someone’s backyard. I’m in shape for running since I try to run four miles a day and make it to the weight room (although that barely happens), but even still I’m sweating like a pig behind cool, collect Anthony as we make it up the hardest part of the 7k hike, the all uphill beginning that features tiny steps that my own 6 1/2 feet barely fit on. No matter what part of the hike we are on (although we are barely twenty minutes in at this point), the views are spectacular, making it possible to see all of Vernazza as well as the town we are leading to, Monterosso.
I actually have to stop and catch my breath often not because I’m tired (although I am) but because I just can’t believe we’re here. For the first time I can remember, I want to just sit and soak it all in so that I can take it with me forever. I want Cinque Terre to run in my veins and I don’t want a camera to do the remembering for me.
Anthony turns back eventually to get some of those in the back and I wander alone for awhile until I run into Max and Billy, two boys from my tour group. We wander off the path from time to time to explore some of the closed trails and see what we can see from them, although most of them just lead to more straight uphill walks which we really don’t need. Somehow, Monterosso still looks so far away even though I feel like we have been hiking forever. At this point, I see many people stopped and panting, scattered along the trails like the abandoned. We pass a man at a lemonade stand, an odd sight for the middle of the woods on a dirt path, but he is yelling “LIMON! LIMON!” among asking, “Marijuana?”
Finally, we turn the way so that Monterosso’s beaches are right under our noses, and I feel like I do when I wake up in a desperate hangover and I can’t find the water. I can smell the salt, I can see the water, and my legs are shaking so bad whenever I stop moving either from the 2 hours of hiking or from the need to be in the ocean. When we finally get to the ocean, I can barely get my clothes off fast enough and soon the three of us are running and tumbling into the water.
The deep blue water has a thickness that feels more natural, more like people haven’t crowded it and made it their own by posting lifeguards, bullshit fees, flags, and other things that something natural shouldn’t have. Instead of sand that sticks to you like mud, there are tons of tiny pretty pebbles, a few that I grab and stick in my top to take home. We roll around the waves until Billy says that he saw a jellyfish as big as my head, which stings a girl in our group about an hour later.
Back out of the ocean, our group of about 10 stop at a bar next to the water where we drink beers and cocktails. A good beer is good anywhere, especially when you can smell salt as you drink it. I think we are kind of explored out, since after that we just kind of dawdle on a pier and sit on the rocks, talking about nothing in particular and trying not to get in a fisherman’s way. I can’t believe I only got one hour of sleep the night before, because I don’t feel tired at all. I feel like I just want to sit out here forever, under a sun that never seems to set in Cinque Terre.