(September 23-25, 2011)
Cinque Terre is probably one of my favorite places in Italy. Though a bit touristy and crowded, it still had this vibe that made me feel as if I had discovered it myself. This was probably one of my most disorganizedimpromptu wonderfully spontaneous trips with the most random (and awesome) group of people:
Tim, the seasoned hiker from Florida
Anas, the cool guy from Morocco/London
Eric, the funny one from Texas/China
Aileen, the singer from California
Amber, the basketball player from Boston
Bhairavi, the married girl from Boston/India
Angela, the happy camper from Australia/Greece
Maria, the crazy fabulous one from Ukraine/London
The 9 of us spent most of the first day hiking from Levanto to Monterosso, the first of the five cities (hint: Cinque Terre means "five lands"). When you have a group of 9 people that all have different hiking speeds, complaining tendencies, and endurance levels, your patience and temperament can really be tested. But it was all more than worth it to get to know everyone and to share the beautiful ocean views off the cliffs.
We arrived in Monterosso and reality hit us: we actually hadn't even booked a hotel. Being adventurous (and thrifty!), we all had boasted that we would sleep under the stars, on the beach, in the mountains, and be one with the wild. We were taking vodka shots on the beach and chasing with canned peaches when it grew dark and very cold. We suddenly decided it would be better to try to find a room instead.
Luckily, Anas and I negotiated with a lady who rented us a room. Unluckily, we had to squeeze all 9 of us into a tiny room with one queen size bed and all paid 7 euros each for the entire night. Four girls took the bed, and the rest were sprawled across the floor. I think I can only speak for myself when I say that I had a great night's sleep. (Unrelated note: I can sleep like a log pretty much anytime.)
The second day, we explored the remaining 4 costal cities. We floated around the coast of Vernazza. We got lost in the maze of colorful buildings at Corniglia. We jumped off cliffs at Manarola. Maria & Anas got jellyfish stings around nightfall at Riomaggiore.
Maria, Tim, Eric, Anas and I were the only ones that stayed for the second night. We found a ghetto and strange trailer park (something I had previously thought only existed in America), and rented one for the night. We made our own pasta for dinner and swatted mosquitoes while we ate.
Maria and I found seats together and talked the entire train ride back to Milan. It was the first time we really got to know each other--families, childhoods, cultures, past relationships, aspirations, etc. Maria is a very fun person and a great enabler--she was always insisting that we all do vodka shots after every meal--but she also has a huge heart. It's crazy to think how different our backgrounds were, but we could still relate on so many issues.