Italy. Day 3. Friday in Cinque Terre

So on Friday I slept in a little bit, after a long Thursday. Then after a quick breakfast Tommaso and I bought Cinque Terre cards for the day of travel, and jumped on a train to Riomaggiore, the southernmost of the 5 towns in Cinque Terre.

The Cinque Terre cards are nice – for 16 Euros you can hike as many paths as you want and ride as many trains inside the Cinque Terre network as you want for a whole day.

Riomaggiore is beautiful. When you arrive off the train, you have to walk through a long tunnel to get to the center of town, where the main piazza is. I know just enough Italian to get excited when I see a sign I recognize, and “Centro” with an arrow was always fun to discover. This one pointed to the big tunnel walkway, so away we went.

Like all of the Cinque Terre towns, Riomaggiore is all about the steps and the vertical climb. These towns are built right into the big hills on the steep shores and cliffs of the sea, and space is not wasted! Buildings stack up and up, little terraces are carved into the mountain everywhere, and the alleys, stairways, ramps and streets are an amazing mixture of nice open spaces for public gathering and little narrow walkways that are maze like back into little neighborhoods of homes, shops and apartments.

We had lunch in town, lasagna that was SO good. I had a limoncello for an after-lunch drink. Strong and lemony, it was delicious and potent! Lemons and basil are two of the locally grown things Cinque Terre is famous for, and Riomaggiore had a lot of lemon groves in town, and on the narrow terraced farms carved into the hills above and around the city.

After a couple hours of exploring Riomaggiore, we jumped back on the train and headed to the next town north, Manarola. (The 5 towns that make up Cinque Terre are, North to South along the Ligurian seaside: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.)

Manarola has a big beautiful marina/bay area for fishing, swimming, boating and sunbathing on giant boulders, similar to Riomaggiore. There’s a little section enclosed by rocky outcropping also, and wonderful paths winding around and up the cliff to take you very high above the city itself. Once you get up to the top, there is a big flat(ish) space with a small park for kids, an outdoor restaurant/bar and a small public green space for sitting and gathering. Since you’re on top of a mountain looking out, the views are stunning.

You can even see, far down the coastline, Monterosso!

After enjoying some limone gelato, another local specialty made from home-grown lemons (SO GOOD), and spending a couple hours wandering the streets and stairways of Manarola, we headed back for the train station, and our next ride north, to Corniglia. I have to say also, with all the walking in the sun, I was really grateful that all of the cities had several small water fountains labeled “acqua potabile” for people to know they could refill water bottles with clean, cold, sanitary water!

Arriving in Corniglia was different than the other towns, because Corniglia is the only town not on the water. It’s located much higher on the mountain, and has no direct access to the sea. To this end, the city runs free busses for the short (7 or 8 minute) ride from the train station, which IS at sea-level) to the town itself. Some people do choose to walk the path up, but it’s a very steep climb high up the cliff, and I was quite happy to wait my turn for the bus! After Thursday’s hike to Monterosso, and climbing the stairs and ramps of the two towns we’d already explored that day, my legs would not have been happy to try that climb! Tommaso would’ve had to drag me.

Corniglia, like the other towns, was beautiful. Being so much higher than the others, the view of the sea, as well as the surrounding countryside, was quite beautiful. We found a cool little trattoria tucked into a little terrace a few steps below street level, and sat down to have a snack while looking over the city. The weirdest snack on the menu was a bruschetta with lard and honey on grilled bread, so I had to try it, and it was AMAZING. That and a cappuccino made a perfect combo to keep me going for the rest of our trekking around Corniglia, which was gorgeous.

We also visited, as we did in every town, a couple of the historic churches they have. Amazing architecture, and such history!

After Corniglia, we returned to Vernazza, relaxed and had dinner, and even saw a lovely Good Friday ceremony as the church members marched through the piazza singing, and celebrating the holiday. Then I was exhausted, and slept like a rock!!

It’s Saturday now! Tommaso has boarded his train to head home to Cerignola and I am returning to Milan, and checking into my hotel, for a couple days of exploring the city on my own! It’s been an absolute joy to see him again, and travel around with him. I’m looking forward to bringing Jeanne with me next time, and getting to meet his family! I will miss him, and I’m so glad we got to visit.

Such a fabulous experience, being here. The cities, the culture… I’m practicing my Italian, but most of the folks who live here probably wish I wasn’t, because it’s not good! We’ll see how I do for the next few days, without Tommaso to translate for me!

Change change change

I was thinking about how much is changing, how it currently feels like I, and my family also, are in this period of transition.  It feels like a lot is happening right now: 

  • Maggie graduated high school, and is off to Finland for a year of student exchange where she’s basically taking a fifth year of high school in Finnish and living with a wonderful family, immersing herself in a foreign culture on the other side of the globe. I’m really proud of her. You can follow her exploits at her website!
  • We decided the house would be too quiet with only one kid, so we agreed to have an exchange student live with us for a year! Tommaso is from Italy, and living with us now through next summer, going to school as a senior at Chelsea high. It’s a fun transition and experience for all of us.  You can check out his blog where he chronicles his exploits here…. If you read Italian!  
  • Max is in the process of getting his driver’s license, and will be a junior this year.  We’ve begun talks about his desire to do a student exchange program of some kind, and what happens after high school!  
  • On Sunday we closed our 10th Season at Williamston Theatre.  We’e begun work on our second decade already, and rehearsals for the first show of next season start this Tuesday.

So, Jeanne and I were discussing how, in about two years, we could be officially “empty-nesters”!  That’s another chapter that came up faster than I expected!  Still, as I was thinking about how much change is currently underway, I also started thinking about how funny it is that we call it “change” or “a period of transition”, and act like it is something that only happens once in a while. 

The fact is, life IS change.  My kids were never the same people from one year to the next.  Their goals, personalities, likes and dislikes hobbies and habits – all these things are in flux all the time.  Our family schedule, our work schedules, all of those change regularly.  I mean, sure, I now have a tendency to categorize things in my life based on whether it happened before, during, or after my coma (The Before, the Dark Time, and The Now, as we jokingly call it!).  Still, I think that’s because even though life is CONSTANTLY changing, we tend to try and make sense of it by labeling the things that seem like the biggest, or most dramatic changes.  Then we can celebrate them, have a communal sense of understanding and compassion with each other about all of the shared changes that most of us go through: births, deaths, graduations, marriages, things that many of our peers share. 

I think that tendency to categorize the big things in our lives is natural, but I also wonder if it stops us from realizing that ALL of it is changing, all the time.  This feeling of “normalcy” or “a routine” that we seem to want, or pretend to want, is something that I think we’ve created to fill the gaps between the big changes we wait for (or long for), but I wonder:  

Does this idea of a “normalcy” between Big Changes cause us to minimize the importance of all of that life and change that happens in that time?  Do we lose sight of the beauty and wonder of our lives because we are waiting for Change with a capital C?  Do we forget that we owe it to ourselves, and our world, to live fully and embrace all the “stuff” that happens every day, and that EVERY DAY is when we should be shaping our lives and the world around us?   

Maybe. Maybe we just need that reminder that NOW is what we have.  The more I remind myself that THIS RIGHT NOW is what I can be sure of, the more I want to explore and experience and help and cherish the world and people around me, because the next breath may not come. That’s what I’m sure of – that I’m not sure I’ll get tomorrow.  So I don’t want to slip into trudging along, day by day, putting out the neverending onslaught of metaphorical fires and looking for the next Change somewhere on the horizon.  How we see our world shapes our world… and it’s being shaped every day, whether we pay attention or not.  

So, I think the lesson I need to stay focused on is this: Pay attention.  Beauty, wonder, magic – it exists around us every day.  Learn, grow, make a difference, marvel at the world – those opportunities exist around us every day, too.   Go out and find them!