Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cinque Terre Travels

An early Saturday morning Florentine wake-up call arrived at 6 a.m. with squeaky-toy birds, construction noises and gonging bells, all accompanied by insensitive bright white sunlight no one can escape. It was ok though, because this time we were headed to Cinque Terre.

We made our way to an obscure piazza, almost off the map at the southern edge of town, to catch a bus ride we can’t stop laughing at now.

In single-file, we climbed the steep bus stairs, first catching a glimpse of the driver and then peering around the corner at the twin rows of people with whom we would spend the next 14 hours. The mix-up included a few energetic middle-aged women, a handful of college girls and a few boys who were ready to hit the beach.

The quiet chatter about sunscreen, sand and shopping ceased when our young tour guide from Florence University of the Arts, Marika, took the bus mic. The speakers filled the charter vehicle with a loud abrupt, “ciao!”
Our guide Marika works at FUA.

The wheels on the bus started round and round, and our adventure on the Italian coast commenced. Marika, unsure and painfully hesitant, asked who was planning to hike. The survey of hands showed that about 20 brave souls were eager for the challenge. Marika gasped and spewed worried Italian sentiments. She had never taken this trail before, and it was the only one available because of last year’s flood. Everyone on the bus cringed with sympathy as she anxiously joked about being carried up the trail.

A bathroom break beckoned after an hour and a half, so the bus rolled to a stop. A chocolate croissant, a latte and a toilette would tide us over. Fifteen minutes later, we met some lively bus characters.

Entering the middle door of the bus, we landed in our seats, but not before almost running into a serious hiker. A tiny, dedicated adventure enthusiast was getting ready for Marika’s dreaded hike. Grabbing the seats and sprawled in the aisle, she stretched her muscles out with deep lunges.

Seated, we acknowledged the odd occurrence and returned our attention back to our conversion—but only for a few minutes. A loud and obnoxious personality waltzed down the aisle offering “apple juice” to anyone who had a cup to fill. Confused and dazed, we cocked our heads and inspected the bottle in her hand: vino. Our jaws dropped into a smile of disbelief, and the snickering wouldn’t stop. We politely declined her offer as she continued up and down the narrow path. Three minutes later, she asked us to pass the bottle up to put in a trashcan. It was 9 in the morning.

The brink of Cinque Terre was upon us just 60 minutes later. Marika announced that we had six minutes to catch the train to our first city in the tropical Mediterranean jungle. After booking it to the train, we successfully made it to the first city, Monteroso.

We actually debated the hike. It could lead to spectacular views, and we weren’t sure we wanted to miss out. Marika described the trek to us as, “up, up, up, up, and then down,” with a plunging hand motion and exaggerated intonation, so we decided to opt for some down time at the cities instead. She said we were the smart ones.

Adventure didn’t exactly escape us, though. We caught trains to the other cities and even climbed sea rocks on the outskirts of the ocean.

The bus met us back at the first city and gave us a few more laughs. Marika’s heels clicked together as she jumped in the air—she survived the hike and was relieved. Cherries and spray fragrances that smelled like different foods such as olive oil were comically passed around and offered on the drive.

Evening hit us like dead weight and our muscles felt limp. Cinque Terre offered us unexpected adventures, comic relief and gorgeous scenery so stunning that all of your senses combined couldn’t get enough. All of the hikers and beach goers rested their heads on the bus windows and on their backpacks full of souvenirs as they slept. Marika whispered “ciao,” to wake the sleepy passengers as we arrived in Florence to welcome us back home.

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