When I set out on this journey, I was heading to Italy. I’d taken an Italian language course. I’d studied books about Italy. I had found a room in an apartment in Florence to rent. I was all Italo-ho! until I went to Portugal and fell in love and well, you know that story.
My trip’s end included a Creativity Conference on the Ligurian coast in Italy, so I decided to spend a few days prior to the conference in Cinque Terre. This part of Italy rings the Ligurian coast, and consists of five port towns connected by hiking trails. It had sounded great and I was eager to walk the trails, enjoy the sea and the seafood and have a lovely relaxing few days.
I took a train from Carcassonne, France to Vernazza, Italy. This 12-hour ride involved six different trains. On the penultimate train, it turns out I had not validated my ticket. The train was also not the one that would take me to my tiny village of Vernazza. The young conductor fined me five euros and helped me figure out how to get to Vernazza.
I was sitting at the harbor taking self-portraits (fun to do and handy when you’re alone) when a woman asked if I wanted her to take a photo of me for me. I accepted and we started chatting. Grazia is an Italian woman who married an American years ago and now lives in the US. She’s a flight attendant and was traveling in Italy with a friend. Turns out the friend wasn’t so into Cinque Terre, so they split up and agreed to meet the next day in a nearby town. I offered to share my room with Grazia, since I had three beds and a giant room.
This was one of the best moves I made, because suddenly I had a companion who spoke Italian. In shops, restaurants, on the streets, I was able to listen in on the conversations. This was awesome for a couple of reasons – it gave me the chance to listen to a live conversation and practice my Italian comprehension. It gave me an in with the locals, because when you speak the language you get more insider information. And it sparked my desire to learn Italian.
And it wasn't just that Grazia spoke Italian. She's a wonderful woman and we had a great couple of days enjoying the beauty of this magical place.
Plus, Grazia coaxed recipes from the staff. The pasta with seafood, the rice with seafood – I now have the ingredients and a vague idea of how to make them. (Plus I’m living with Gigia, an American of Italian heritage and one of the best cooks I know.)
I hiked most of the trail – Vernazza-Monterosso one day, Manarola-Corniglia another day. Grazia and I hiked the longer, more difficult trail and took the boat back along the coast.
- Happy hour perched on the edge of the sea
- Flirting with a sexy Italian bartender who whispered in my ear “I like your shoes.” (Red shoes work every time!)
- The physical activity and sheer beauty during the hours-long hike
- The colors of the houses in the village and the vibrancy of the sea
I fell back in love with Italy and vowed to return. I may be going back in October for a tour in Rome. I had ideas about leading a group of artists in Cinque Terre. I can take an Italian class this summer and buff up my language skills. I can practice my Italian cooking with Gigia. And to remember the peace and beauty I felt in Cinque Terre, I have this photo on my desktop.