18 May 2022
One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.Henry Miller
My adventure to Cinque Terre has topped my expectations. Though I do not believe I will challenge the hikes again, I can see a return trip in my future. I have visited most of the regions of Italy over the past 50 years and can confidently write that Cinque Terre is one of my favorites.
So what has this inquiring mind discovered of note? Just odd little bits here and there:
I learned fast that “salita” meant stairways. There were a lot of them!
Italians love their dogs. I saw some of the cutest dogs leading their family on evening passeggiata. Most were small which seemed almost a requirement as flats can be small spaces. However, I rarely saw a pooper-scooper or bag. The streets were clean but there wasn’t a wall that was safe from the males. I did see one woman who followed her pooch with a bottle of water that she would use to “dose the spot.” And the Basset Hound in Monterosso was a joy to watch as his female family pleaded with him to move. He moved when he felt like it. Bravo!
I saw many streets named Via XXV Aprile. This historical date commemorates the liberation of Italy from the Nazi-Fascist, the end to its occupation and the fall of Mussolini’s regime.
There are equal numbers of Via XX Settembre streets in Italy. All celebrate the date of 20th September 1870 when Italian troops stormed the Vatican ending the Pope’s temporal power: the final act in the Risorgimento, marking both the final defeat of the Papal States under Pope Pius IX and the unification of Italy under King Victor Emmanuel II.
The instant you step from the curb – traffic stops. No aiming at you, ignoring you or honking at you. The driver stops. Buses are a little more hesitant to break their stride. As a Californian, I really like this.
Once more my confidence to manage my solo travel was reaffirmed. I always wonder if I will be able to handle the language, the menu, buying a train ticket, endless little daily activities. Quickly, I realize I can. In fact, it is not long before I am helping with directions, helping Italians maneuver the train ticket kiosk and how to validate their tickets. It is an immense skill to be able to read. Once more my confidence in travel was reinforced.
I was surprised that some of my hotels allowed me to check in early and often rounded down the extra charges. When using the mini bar, hosts wanted to just round off the amount. I reminded them they were in business supporting “la familia ” and paid them the full amount.
It is impossible to choose a favorite town, but I think I loved Manarola, Monterosso, Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Corniglia, Rapallo, Portovenere, Sestri, in that order. A lot of the decision has to do with my room, restaurants, crowds and sea views. None should be judged because of the steps as the climbs could be brutal, especially after dinner and a couple Proseccos. And I really enjoyed my too-short time in Genova.
Hikes are hard to judge. Without a doubt the worst was Monterosso out to Punta Mesco! A close second was the vertical stairs out of Riomaggiore to Manarola via Becerra. Corniglia to Vernazza was challenging and pleasant but too many people. Manarola to Corniglia was pleasant but only because I rode the bus to Volasta which eliminated the worst of the 1100’ climb. Vernazza to Monterosso was a consistent climb and some narrow sections but most of it was just me and the birds. All the trails are vertical challenges and give steps a whole new meaning! All are worth the views!
There is much written about the hikes and steps of the Cinque Terre. The was nothing that prepared me for THE ENDLESS STEPS OF CINQUE TERRE.
The food and white wine are excellent in this region of Italy. It was always difficult to make a decision and I found myself eating more than usual. Loved the chilled Prosecco and will stock my bar when I get home. The sea food is delicious but not if fried. Anchovies with lemon sauce, pulpo, caprese, sea bass, seafood pasta…tastebuds are happy! I did finally try the Pokè bowl with salmon, a conflagration of basmati rice and veggies. I saw this on several menus and passed. It should have been good – it wasn’t.
The United States still requires, needlessly I believe, a rapid antigen test in order to return home. I packed several self-tests to check weekly and scheduled an official Covid test my last night while staying over at Milan’s Malpensa Airport. With this reservation it took all of 10 minutes start to results. For 20€! Still, it was a long 5 minutes of “what if” waiting for the result. Returning to my hotel, I met a woman in the elevator who was repeatedly testing positive. I felt like I’d met a leper and dashed back to my room to scrub down. Sad situation.
Masks were a thing throughout Italy. Many of the elderly, thankful to be alive, wore them full time in the streets. Indoors they were required and all servers wore masks. On transportation masks were required. I did notice more maskless in Genova and Milan. The world has seen millions die of Covid, the least I can do is wear a mask, get a negative test result, and stay healthy to travel another day.
Milan Airport is a long, long walk past high end shops, long, long waits for baggage scans, then an automated passport check, then a human to stamp my passport, then more shops. My head is spinning. I stop at a lounge for coffee. It is another 5 minutes to my gate. I am glad I left my hotel 2 hours before boarding as this process took almost an hour and over a half-mile in steps.
And unnecessarily slowed because people are unable to read or prepare ahead. It is tragically laughable watching people, sorry mostly women, who reach the baggage scan, pull out a tray then begin to open bags, and they are carrying at least two, pull out liquids and electronics, while some 50 people are in the line behind them. Oh, now empty pockets. Then at the opposite end, they wouldn’t think of moving out of the way before putting everything back, putting on their jacket, blah blah blah. Good grief! Read the damn signs and be a good Girl Scout. Not hard to prepare so as to move the line along.
In spite of my impatience, I relax in the lounge over a cappuccino. Where to next? There are so many destinations yet to visit, all a “new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller might have asked: “What do you know now in a deeper way than you knew before?” This question honors how we learn and grow. Wisdom isn’t about accumulating more facts, it’s about understanding big truths in a deeper way. I am convinced if Americans traveled more, we would be very different people. I’m not talking about that trip of a lifetime – I’m talking about eyes-open travel.
When medical problems forced a dear friend to cancel their travel adventures, I literally felt his pain. My response:
“One of the things consistently on my mind is the limited numbers of adventures that we may have before us. Covid has cheated us out of two of our good years, and I really resent that. My current mantra is from Seneca, ‘While we are postponing, life speeds up.’
One never knows how abruptly our adventures can end. And for the adventurous traveler, this is indeed felt as a real loss in our soul.
When I say I feel your pain literally, I do feel your pain. On Friday I had a serious fall which, on the positive side, I was lucky to be able to stand up and walk home albeit in pain. However I could not help but think I had seriously injured myself. I did a very abrupt and solid butt plant that possibly did serious damage to my disks or spine.
Being as stubborn as I am, I continued to think I was all right. My common sense certainly had its doubts, especially when I was feeling so exhausted, in pain, with limited mobility, and an upset stomach. I was not sure if the upset stomach was a result of the ibuprofen or the injury.
When I got up Monday morning, I seriously wondered if I was doing the wise thing to travel far from home. I was boarding a plane to fly for over 21 hours to Milan. What in the hell am I thinking? Is this rational to actually be doing this?
Currently, I am in Pisa and feel myself incredibly fortunate that I am able to walk basically pain-free, if not in some discomfort. My back is getting better by the day and I am hoping everything will be all right. Time will tell.
So when I say that I literally feel your pain, I do. I know how hard it was to make the decision to cancel those trips. To admit that you are limited in your mobility. But I like your attitude and thinking about cruises and resorts. I have thought that I only have a limited number of trips in my future, and when the time comes that I must admit I can not do the independent travel I am accustomed to, then in its place cruises would be the answer. It is a great option.
As fellow travelers, let’s agree we will never give up the adventure of exploration and travel. We can do that in many forms, it just needs to adapt to our present conditions. We can refuse to give in to our aches and pains and indefinite future. There are places to go and things to see no matter how slow and no matter how aged we become. I so hope that there are still places that we may be able to share as friends.“
And there it is.