It’s been a month since I crossed the pond from Europe to America. Now that I am sitting in a comfortable air-conditioned kitchen, and eating ice-cream made with cashew milk, I can write what I remember.
It was Friday, June 9th. I left home at 7:00 am and met Sarah at the Madrid airport for our flight to Milan. When the plane landed and they opened the doors, I heard a musical “Buon Giorno!” that immediately put me back in touch with my love for Italian. I was shy to try what little I could remember from the college classes I took years ago, but with a little help from my phrase book, I managed to communicate with customer service.
If you have never been to Italy, you might have a very romantic image of it. And I will tell you right now that it is all true. But, the fine print of that is chaos. It is frustratingly disorganized in its customer service, and the lack of social order can break hearts. But I knew this already and called out the two ladies cutting line…in Italian. Shazam!
After a ridiculously long (16 hours to be exact) travel day from Madrid, Spain to our final destination (La Spezia, Italy) we crashed in bed without rushing the next day’s sun. It could have been an easy 3 hour train ride from Milan to Cinque Terre, but because Italy…We had a connecting train in the city of Parma (which I traveled in 2015: What Was Once Just A Dream) It’s a funny story, you see…The train doors did not open. No, really. They didn’t. So Sarah, five other Italians, and I missed our stop. It could have been the worst day of our lives. But we ended up catching the last train to La Spezia and getting to our AirBnB earlier than Cinderella left the ball. Sarah also got to try Prosecco for the first time while in the process of bawling. This was not our first sketchy train ride in a foreign country, but something about the expectation of Italy being FABULOUS makes the “fine print” feel like a period cramp on a beach day. That’s how our trip got started.
The next morning, we woke up in La Spezia with new light in our hearts, rested shoulders, messy hair, and pimp-less faces. It really was a brand new day, not just for Sarah & I, but for Italy too. La Spezia is an affordable way to visit Cinque Terre. We stayed near the train station, where we got a day-pass train ticket to go back and forth between villages. Cinque Terre is made up of five beautiful, cliff side/cliff hanging villages facing the Ligurian Sea (and to think that when I was in the water, I thought it was the Mediterranean! *eyeroll emoji*).
So we stayed in La Spezia, which is in the South part of these villages. In order to tackle five villages in one day, we decided to take an early train to the most Northern village and work our way down to La Spezia. Check out this map:
On the short train ride (like 15 or 20 minutes), I noticed a blind man sitting near us with a group of people. Everyone gasped at the sight of the sea, which makes the train ride SO magical. You are literally riding on a train on a cliff. So the man smiled when they explained the gasp. That is the most blessed I have felt in a long time. Like really, truly, unbelievably, impossibly blessed.
MONTEROSSO AL MARE
Our first village. Lovely! I loved the tree lined street with blossoming pink flowers, and the short beach with black pebbles on one side and sand on the other. I loved bathing in the sea, which got deep quickly, and was like a tamed animal on that fine morning. If you see pictures of what the sea can get like here, you would wonder how the villages are still standing.
My heart took a spin and a swirl in Vernazza. In my mind, a quintessencial vision of Italian village by the coast. The falling apart buildings with a church’s reflection on the green water, and the children playing topless in the sand. We had lunch to-go facing the view. The sun was burning our skins, and the sounds were surreal. So obviously away from the city life.
This was a trek up a hill! The highest village of them all, with no beach but views worthy of gods. Walking its narrow streets reminded me of medieval towns, and when we saw the open sea I felt BOUNDLESS. My whole existence felt like this boundless blue water that was full of peace and power.
This view was life changing. As we climbed uphill I began to feel heat-stroke, and thanks to that moment of, “I need to take care of myself right now,” we ended up in a lovely restaurant. I had the best panini of my life. I bit into the crunchy bread, and the warmness of all these flavors: prosciutto, goat cheese, tomato, and a dash of magic made this moment perfect. The shade and the sugary cold drink helped me gain the strength I needed. But more than that, it was the whole arrangement to feel ill in the most postcard perfect village. It made us really stop and stare.
Fate forced us to hang out here a long time. After watching people jumping in the water by the rocks and cliff, Sarah and I stripped our clothes and our watches off. We couldn’t have scheduled this ourselves. We had to simply accept that sometimes you have a once in a lifetime opportunity, and all you can do is TAKE IT (with gratitude). Swimming in these deep sea water was not only the highlight of our day, but later that night we talked about it being a highlight in our lives. —I am not going to lie. I kept worrying the Cinque Terre monster was gonna swim right under me and swallow me like a plus size whale. But who cares about fear when there are literal sunbeam stars reflecting off the water. It was like a Katy Perry video.
A half hour train delay, a quick change of outfit in our AirBnB, and a little walk up the wrong street later…we did make it just in time for sunset in our last village. By grace and luck alone, we got the perfect table to view the sunset. The table people asked if they could take pictures from. We ordered local white wine, and we sipped it slowly. I cannot recall a more perfect sunset in my life. Our time living in Europe was quickly coming to an end, and as the sun set behind the mountain…I knew with unfading certainty that I had made the most of my time in the last two years. Everything from my time in Europe came together in that moment and left me with the Sun that evening. Because nothing is mine, I had to let it all go.
We ate spaghetti for dinner (duh) and returned to La Spezia. I went to bed that night knowing that if I had to die soon, this day would be the bow that wrapped all the other days of my life together. It was so special. It was impossibly perfect.
The next day we spent a whooping five hours under an orange and green umbrella at the Moterosso beach. We rented a locker for our luggage, and had a luxurious morning sipping wine on our beach chairs, and swimming the very salty sea (no really, it is so dense and salty!).
The three hour train ride from Monterosso to Milan was just as breathtaking as the views in Corniglia. The gorgeous sea by the train tracks waved goodbye. When we arrived in Milan, we quickly went to Il Duomo. I had been to Milan before, under similar rushed conditions. We only had time for a quick walk and dinner. But the special part was that it was culture week, and there was an orchestra playing beautifully in the square. A man singing opera in a narrow street, and a restaurant with the one thing I cannot resist, not even with food allergies: tiramisu. The messy way they scoop it and dump it on your plate like a pile of tasteless high school cafeteria pudding. And then you spoon it, and taste it, and it fades into your soul as you swallow. The dumping is a trick. This isn’t some tasteless pudding thing from a cafeteria. IT’S TIRAMISU. No one in the world makes it like Italia.
So this was goodbye for a while. Like my two years of achievement living in Europe, my life changing day in Cinque Terre, and the Riomaggiore sunset. I had to let this moment go. Like every moment. You have to relish it and release it. And don’t you miss it. Simply spend it and let it go…so that your life is filled with space for life changing moments, and wild adventures, and unforgettable friends…one after the other.
I love you, Sarah. ❤ Cheers to our moment in the sun.