If I had to choose my favorite place in the entirety of Europe that I have visited, Cinque Terre would be in the running for number one.
I´d never heard of it before, never even knew it existed, until Ryan (again, the girl knows her stuff) told me about it during the semester. Cinque Terre is five cities along the Western coast of Italy. It´s roughly two hours north of Pisa by train and the main station where you can buy a pass to the train and the trails for all five cities is called La Spezia Centrale.
From La Spezia you can buy a pass to the hiking trails in Cinque Terre as well as unlimited use of the train between the two cities. I bought a 2 day pass for 15 euro. From the first city (Riomaggiore) to the last (Monterosso) it is about 9 km hiking, so the hike is possible to complete in a day. However, some stretches of the trail are solid stairs, up and down, that lead you up over the hills that separate each city.
On the train I ran into two guys from Canada who were traveling together for vacation. They were staying in a hostel in Riomaggiore and although I had originally planned to camp out I decided a bed and kitchen might come in handy during the trip, so I booked a bed at a hostel for the night.
I immediately met a guy from Australia named James who had already been there a few days and lt me tag along with him. We caught the train to the last city (Monterosso) and he took a boat while I hiked the 4 km back to Vernazza. I´d have to say that part was the hardest of the 4 sections of the trail, but the views are spectacular. We returned to Manarola (the 2nd city) and walked back to Riomaggiore on a particularly easy section of the trail.
That night (well, both nights) we came down to the rocks of Riomaggiore to watch the sunset. The sunset itself was pretty uneventful but the people there were awesome. Again, I ran into the Canadians, and with them were a big group of people from Australia, New Zealand, various states of the U.S., and even a girl from Golden, CO. After a few hours, I went to bed so I could hike more the next day.
I missed the meeting time to go hiking with the group from the night before, but I took the train up to Vernazza to hike back to Riomaggiore. I can´t describe how beautiful this place is. At about lunch time I finished up the hike, went back to the hostel to get my things, and ate lunch on the same rocks we watched the sunset on.
As I sat there reading familiar people began to show up. They were going swimming! I hadn´t been in the water yet so decided then was as good of a time as any. The water was a little cold, but nothing to complain about.
When we got out of the water almost all the people from the night before were back on the rocks, with dinner and wine, to watch another Cinque Terre sunset. I talked to Claire for a little and we wound up talking to two parents of a family that was traveling together. We talked well past sunset, and I had plans to travel to Florence on night trains, but as they were leaving the Dad (I later found out they were the Field family) invited me back to sleep at their apartment on a spare bed. He had traveled exactly like I wa whe he was in college, and remembered sleeping on trains was not fun. Their daughter, Kenzie, is a little younger than me, has visited 22 countries, and had already been in Cinque Terre so before bed we climbed into the hills of Riomaggiore where she lived during her last visit and admired the view before pulling both of our beds out onto the balcony to sleep. In the morning, they gave me breakfast and we said our goodbyes. I hope Kenzie gets to visit Colorado because I think she´d love it. What an incredible family and what luck I had to meet them.
As I got to the train station I saw Claire (from CO), and a few others who were going to have a beach day. With my ticket still valid for half a day and in no particular hurry to get to Florence I joined them and got to swim in the ocean and finish my book, ¨The Afghan¨, before catching the train to La Spezia and then Florence.