I Dreamt of Seeing Cinque Terre. Turns Out, I Wasn’t The Only One.
Cinque Terre. It was one of the places I’d wanted to visit most since arriving in Italy seven months ago, but something always seemed to stop me. Last-minute lessons, cancelled trains, the weather. But now, miraculously, I was here. Coughed out of a Sunday train packed with Italian families and excited tourists, I finally stood in front of the sea at Monterosso. And it was glorious. The sun glimmered onto the sea, turning it every shade of blue imaginable. It was just as beautiful as I’d imagined.
The only problem was, it was difficult to properly take it in. Just as I’d wanted to come here for so long, apparently so had every other person in Italy. Crowds and crowds of people piled onto the beach, almost stacked on top of each other; tourists jostled each other down the tiny narrow streets; orange umbrellas drowned my view of the hillside.
Part of you secretly wishes the impossible: that you could see these places alone, untouched, how they used to be.
That’s one of the selfish–and hypocritical–things about travel. All the beautiful and interesting spots in the world are crowded 24/7. Venice, Ko Phi Phi, The Louvre, Florence, London. These are filled with people who have the same dreams and views as you. They want the same pictures, the same experiences and feelings of excitement. You are a tourist, just as they are. But a part of you secretly wishes the impossible: that you could see these places alone, untouched, how they used to be.
With that possibility never going to happen at Cinque Terre, I settled for the next best thing. I decided to take the more-secluded route from the beach, and hike over the hills. There’s the possibility to hike between each of the islands, and my friend and I opted to walk between Monterosso and Vernazza. We were told it would take 90 minutes. The reality was actually double that.
The walk was no easy feat. Within five seconds of starting, we were already climbing up, up, up impossibly steep slopes, teetering goat-like on the smallest of stairs. We huffed and puffed our way through 34 degree heat, passing only a few other people with the same idea. No one looked particularly happy to be staggering up a sheer hillside during the height of summer. What were we thinking?
These are filled with people who have the same dreams and views as you. They want the same pictures, the same experiences and feelings of excitement.
From my new, impossible height, I gazed wistfully down again at the glimmering sea, and at the hordes of sunbathers, now the size of ants. Oh, how I wished I could be one of them. Irony strikes at the strangest moments.
Still, on we walked. And walked and walked. The path never seemed to falter, twisting further up and up. The sun shone ever-relentlessly. It was not easy. Take proper shoes, enough water and the knowledge that I wasn’t given before: that it is a really quite difficult hike.
But once I stopped thinking about the pain in my legs and how narrow the path was, and started taking in the view, it all started to be worth it. The sunbathers I envied only minutes before now seemed a million miles away. Even though we weren’t alone by any means–the number of tourists we saw increased the more we walked–there seemed to be a new feeling of peace high up in the mountains. To be both in the mountains and by the sea at the same time was both surreal and wonderful. I felt like I was in a fairyland. Greens seemed too green, blues seemed too blue. It was almost too beautiful to be real.
Now I remembered why I wanted to come here for so long. And why so many other people did too.
I took picture after picture. I wanted to show everyone what this place looked like. Even more, I wished everyone I knew could be here with me now, to see what I was seeing. I longed to tell my friends, my family, the whole world. Now I remembered why I wanted to come here for so long. And why so many other people did too.
By the time we descended three hours later, I went and collapsed straight into the sea; the water was surprisingly cold, and had never felt so good. I accidentally got in the way of another woman, who tutted angrily as she passed me by. But I didn’t care. I was exhausted, hot but incredibly happy. I’d finally achieved one of my travel goals. I’d seen Cinque Terre from every angle, and from a new perspective.
Sometimes crowds are annoying, yes. But places like this are too beautiful not to be shared.
I Dreamt of Seeing Cinque Terre. Turns Out, I Wasn’t The Only One photo credit by Unsplash and Alex P.