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cinque terre: paradise on earth

August 25, 2009

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Journal entry – March 23, 2009

Remember this moment.  This is a perfect moment.  Everything you ever wanted, you have, right here.  You are surrounded by beauty.  You haven’t a care in the world.  You are living one of your biggest dreams.  You are free to be who you want to be and do what you want to do.  The Mediterranean (the freaking Me-di-ter-ra-nean… te rends-tu compte?) is crashing far below, a warm salty wind blows, multicolored homes cling to the edge of Corniglia’s cliffs, and olive groves shield a carpet of yellow flowers behind you.  You are enjoying a picnic of buccellato bread from Taddeuci’spepperoncini cheese from Cortona (the tangy flavor of aged cheese pairs so perfectly with the subtle sweetness of the bread) and of course, the ever present bottle of red.  You are in shorts and a tank top, your hair is in pigtails, an orange butterfly flutters by before being carried away by the ocean breeze.  These are the makings of paradise on earth.  You think of everyone you love, everyone who has guided you to this moment… you can’t even process all that has happened in the past 23 days.  You are living magic.  Pay close attention.  Soon, it will all be gone.  Are you present?

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Within moments of arriving at the Manarola train station, I unload my bags at the hostel, lace my hiking shoes and hit Cinque Terre’s famous sentiero no. 2.  Cinque Terre is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List and comprises five small colorful coastal villages teetering on steep hillsides, surrounded by a national park.  From north to south the villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are connected by 12km of walking trails.

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It is an estimated 5-hour walk to Monterosso, with a total elevation difference of 500 meters between the highest and lowest points of the trail.  The climate is ocean-front arid.  Vegetation is stunted by wind and salt.  Geckos and lizards, brown and green, scurry under ground cover.  Cacti and giant aloe and flowers of every shape and color pepper the terraced hills.   At one point along the hike, a snake falls from a tree within inches of my foot.  It hisses at me, presumably for being in its way, then slithers into a rock crevice.

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An old man in overalls gingerly works his small patch of lemon trees. When I stray from the narrow path, he points me in the right direction.  I continue walking, past vineyards and olive groves and fruit orchards and gated gardens, up steep hills and the 400 steps to Corniglia, down through sun warmed pine forests with rock walls and cool creeks then back into the open with spectacular seaside views.  And always, below, far below… is the glittering indigo.  There is so much I want to say about the glory that is this hike but I think I might have to let the photos speak for themselves over the next couple posts because words would never do it justice.

path, cinque terre

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italy coast

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In Vernazza, I grab a pana cotta gelato and nearly fall flat on my face when two men whistle at me and call out bella.  Of course I would trip, right there, in front of them, because apparently I not only put the ass in class back home, I bring it with me everywhere I go.  The ball of pana cotta precariously tips to the side of my cone and I save it from plummeting to the ground by scooping the entire thing in my mouth in one clean swoop….  as I’m falling, people.  That takes significant skill and dedication to the gelato cause (and it also gives me major brain freeze).  I may have nearly broken my face and lost my dignity on those steps but I sure as hell didn’t lose my gelato.  Booya!

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The sun starts to set as I approach Monterosso.  I arrive at the station around 6:30, just in time for my train.  In fact, I run to catch it and marvel at how lucky my timing is that I’m not stuck waiting an hour for the next train.  I plop myself down on the seat and realize moments after the door closes that I left my iPod at the ticket counter.   Porca vacca! Literal translation: pig cow.  Actual meaning: crap! As in crap!  I just lost my life line (I know it sounds silly but my tunes are part of my survival kit.)  I get off at the next station 5 minutes away, buy a ticket back to Monterosso and wait 10 minutes for the train.  The clock ticks very slooooooowly when every second counts.  I finally get back to Monterosso and hear someone shout “Signora” as I race towards the ticket office.  The woman behind the counter is waving my iPod behind the window.  Grazie, grazie mille.  Sweet, sweet fortuna.

So here I am, at the station, in the dark, waiting for 7:24 to roll around.  Luckily, I still have bread, cheese, wine, a notebook and my tunes.  Oh well! I have to wait half an hour.  What am I going to do, stomp my feet in Monterosso?

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I end up making it back to the hostel around 8pm, where I eat a big hearty salad with greens, endive, cheese, maize, tomatoes, beans, olives, a basket of bread, a bottle of olive oil and a bottle of balsamic.  And then… exhaustion sets in.  The really good kind.  The kind of exhaustion that says I just hiked all day in Italy.  I want to do it all over again tomorrow.  I never want this to end.  I’ve got the travel bug and I’ve got it bad!

self portrait

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25 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2009 1:58 am

    My best friend and I are doing a week in Italy in Sept and heading up to this part of the world – I knew it was gorgeous, but your post has just blown me away! So divine, I am seriously excited about going now, I don’t think a week is going to be long enough…….

    Thanks so much for sharing, your thoughts and incredible photos

  2. August 26, 2009 8:33 am

    Your pictures and words are so inspirational! I could see you printing these pictures on canvas or board, and hanging them in your home. The words of memory, they are gingerly hung throughout your heart. That’s the beauty of traveling!

  3. August 26, 2009 10:25 am

    The beauty! I am in awe. And good save with the gelatto – that is something I would have done. 🙂

  4. August 26, 2009 11:11 am

    beautiful, beautiful, beautiful….

    all of it. i love reading about your travels

  5. August 26, 2009 11:29 am

    oh heaven…..heaven

    beautiful shots

  6. August 26, 2009 12:37 pm

    Thank God you travel with your camera and your gift for words. What pleasure you have given me. Thank you.

  7. August 26, 2009 12:50 pm

    Your photos just BLEW. ME. AWAY.

    Man alive, what gorgeousness. We are (at least I am) thinking about Italy for our family vacation next year. This just tipped me right over the edge.

  8. wingedpaths permalink
    August 26, 2009 2:01 pm

    So incredibly beautiful. I can only imagine what it must have been like in reality. I currently can’t travel (and may never be able to), so following your journey is very precious to me. You make me feel as though I am there, amidst all that beauty.

  9. August 26, 2009 4:25 pm

    awesome shots! in my heart I am a traveler, but monetarily… not! Thanks you for allowing me to travel with you!!

  10. August 26, 2009 4:27 pm

    this so fills me up … i am so ready for adventure and travel and i know that the next 10 years will give me that 🙂 love this, all of it and you are so absolutely adorable!! xox

  11. Elizabeth permalink
    August 26, 2009 4:46 pm

    oh my GOD I want to travel WITH YOU!!! can I please please pretty please?? Will you bring me with you next time– please please please??

  12. August 26, 2009 11:36 pm

    i’ve been lurking for a bit but had to pop out and say thanks for these photos. they brought back such fond memories. i loved that hike. those towns. that water. beautiful.

  13. August 28, 2009 9:45 am

    these photos are so beautiful!!

  14. August 28, 2009 10:37 pm

    your words and photos brought back from lovely memories. i spent a lovely few days hiking that coast, swimming and eating gelato with a friend over ten years ago. it’s a beautiful place and you’ve captured it wonderfully. thank you.

  15. August 29, 2009 6:02 pm

    Oh what gorgeous photos! Thank you for sharing that beautiful exhaustion with us, I can almost taste it.

  16. August 29, 2009 11:28 pm

    If there is one place that I would like to get back to in this life time, this is it!!! Magical doesn’t even begin to describe it.

  17. August 30, 2009 10:15 am

    oh how your words make my feet itch to roam new places as if some gypsy spell dances thru your pictures and descriptions and weaves it’s way to my heart, thank you for sharing in the way only you can. LOVE

  18. September 2, 2009 12:11 pm

    I have a colorful tile hanging on my kitchen wall which reminds me daily of the magic of Cinque Terre … but I may have to print one of your amazing photos to pin nearby! When I was there it was warm enough for people to be swimming in the harbor. Imagine: the beauty of that landscape AND gorgeous Italian boys diving off rocks and into the water. Yeah, you already knew you would have to go back!

    I am wallowing in my memories and your descriptions and photos … ah …

    oh, and I had The Best Iced Coffee there – turned out to be gelato swimming in caffeine goodness and a cookie on top. Heaven. Thank you for all of this.

  19. September 2, 2009 1:00 pm

    I LOVE your blog. I’m relishing reading it from the very beginning!
    Have a magical day!

  20. September 5, 2009 11:07 am

    Ah… The travel bug. I think it’s catchy. The more I read about your adventures the more I want to hit the road – even more than I usually do.
    As always, your shots are amazing and your narrative inspiring.
    Thank you/ Merci/ Grazie

    I’ll be in Montreal soon to check out some of Le Mois De La Photo. Any suggestions on where I can find a swell café for a scrumptious espresso macchiato? Mmmm…

  21. September 6, 2009 2:20 am

    Absolutely stunning. I am glad to have checked back with you! The photos are amazing, and I am sure your trip is nothing less also. I also wanted to say thank you for your kind note that I found in my email a few weeks ago. You’re right–when the timing is right, I, too will have the chance to travel. Thank you for your inspiration!

  22. Johanne permalink
    April 23, 2010 9:35 am

    Absolument magnifique!
    Merci de m’avoir fait connaître un coin du paradis.

  23. October 22, 2010 1:18 pm

    that isn’t his housekey around your neck, is it?! 😉

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