I arrived in Cinque Terre from Florence around 10am. That gave me just enough time to lather on sunscreen, drop my baggage off at the hostel and grab a map of the trails. I only previously learned about the existence of Cinque Terre (which means Five Lands in Italian) while I was on my flight to Italy. It was a small paragraph in my travel book and I thought it sounded interesting, though I hadn't the foggiest idea as to what it was.
Sure enough, I read up on it and saw that it was 27 kilometers of hiking in between five beautiful coastal towns. To be completely honest I thougth I had read 7kms instead of 27 so maybe my ambition was blind, but that's okay!
After visiting Rome and Florence, though they were beautiful, I was entirely sick of crowds and the big city and so the idea of getting outdoors away from the masses sounded extremely appealing. At this point in my trip I had seen everything much faster than intended so a day or two detour to Cinque Terre was definitely doable.
At an information booth I learned that there were two types of trails to hike: the blue was the mostly-flat stroll along the coastline that cost 7.50 euros and the red trails that were quite intensive, as they go way up into the mountains and back down into each city. The reds were free and mostly unpopulated so I opted for that challenge.
With a jug of water and some fruit in my bag, I headed out unknowingly into the great outdoors. Within the first 100 feet of the trek I was gasping for air. The steps I was climbing went straight up into the mountain without the slightest break. I didn't want to wear myself out too quick so I began taking frequent breaks. During my breaks I noticed another English speaking couple who seemed to be doing the same. I made a witty comment and they laughed. Before too long we were hiking together as a three person party. Heather and Jeff were recent Engineer graduates from Canada. They were on a European vacation first together, then later joining Heather's parents in Rome before splitting up again so Jeff could do a three-week tour down the coast of Croatia and Greece.
I thoroughly enjoyed the hike, not only for the invigoration and the view but also for the pleasant company. We covered several topics from politics in north america to gender norms and post-university plans. They were fascinating people with great personalities and even their humor seemed to match mine.
Together we hiked from Riomaggore to Manarola where we stopped for a lunch by the sea and from Manarola to Corniglia where they decided to give their legs a break and finish the trail the next day. By this time it was five o'clock and we had done some solid hiking on some extremely challenging trails. We had hiked for five hours (not including breaks) and there were two stops left in the trail. My legs were shaky and my skin was wet and sticky with the constant sweat that had covered me throughout the entire day. I decided I could finish the last two treks if I took the blue trails. I was willing to pay at this point, just so I could cross the finish line and move on to my next destination.
To my surprise, I started off on the next trail only to find out that the blues were closed and I had only reds available to hike. Exhausted, I pushed through and told myself I would be rewarded with a big bowl of pasta at the end. After an hour I reached Vernal, which looked like a very inviting town. I wanted to roam around but the sun would soon be setting and I had one more trail to conquer. An hour and a half later I made it to Monterosso, where the evening life was just coming alive as the sun was setting. I was starving and ready to collapse but I still needed to ride the train back to Corniglia, where I was staying the night so I pushed through again until I reached my home for the night.
Inside my hostel room I sat down with a big bowl of carry-out pasta and a single-sized bottle of wine. I had no more than taken my first bite when four loud Americans busted into the room. I introduced myself and learned they were from all over and had kind of just combined this morning into this fun and inciting group. A girl from Seattle and a guy from Chicago had previously studied abroad together and now they met a girl from Philadelphia and another from St. Louis. I was the girl from Oklahoma and within five minutes we had plans to go out and get drinks as a group. Just then another two girls walked in the room, they were from Georgia! What were the odds of so many Americans ending up together in one room?
That night we ran into two brothers from Denver who were celebrating a birthday. Our huge American group laughed and sang a Beatles song with the Italian bartenders who were very charming. We discussed all things travel and decided that Rome was basically Hercules in real life and Paris was the place where the Hunchback of Notre Dame becomes real. Typical high-brow American commentary here.
The night was grand and the conversation was wonderful but by midnight my thighs were giving out and my eyelids were closing. I had had a very long day and a certain mattress was calling my name. Still, what a great way to end the day in Cinque Terre, Italy.