The math simply wasn’t in our favor. We were four girls – admittedly four fairly ambitious girls – against Cinque Terre, or “Five Lands” in Italian.
Italy had the upper hand.
Situated on cliffs overhanging the Mediterranean Sea, Cinque Terre feels like one of the purest and most untouched corners of the world. A national park, Cinque Terre is comprised of five bustling, colorful villages connected by a sometimes-treacherous hiking path. And we were just four girls not quite sure what we were getting into. We had taken the train from the quaint Swiss/Italian city of Lugano – where we were studying abroad – to Cinque Terre, which we would soon discover was as taunting as it was alluring.
We only had one full day in this corner of paradise, and our plan was to hike from Riomaggiore to Monterosso, canvassing the entire Cinque Terre coastline and making our way through each of the five villages. The hike between the first two towns was manageable; we meandered along a paved path obviously created for tourists who didn’t want to exert much physical effort. Thirty minutes later we looked up and saw a 382-step staircase that weaved its way up to the third town.
The fun and games were done.
So we climbed 382 steps to reach Corniglia, stopping for a toilet break and thinking we must be nearly halfway to Monterosso. Little did we know there were several hours of more rigorous hiking ahead. As we hiked, the heat increased, at least one of our shirts was ditched and our legs began to burn from the steep inclines. Not easily deterred, we trekked onward.
Huffing and puffing, we finally caught a glimpse of the last Cinque Terre town – the finish line was within reach. Enlivened with a new burst of energy, we climbed up and down the last hills and tumbled into Monterosso. We stuffed our faces with gelato and relaxed on the beach, scanning for cute boys on the Italian seaside. That night we ate an Italian dinner of – what else? – pasta and wine, which was followed by beachfront mojitos. We needed to sufficiently celebrate what we thought was our conquest of Cinque Terre.
We woke the next morning regretting that we had to leave this little piece of Italian paradise. With our minds on the school week ahead, we made our way to the train station, only to find – l’orrore! – that the Italian train workers were on strike.
Knocked down from our recent triumphant state, we now found ourselves stranded several hundred kilometers from our school in Switzerland. We considered staying an extra day, but were told the trains would be on strike all week. We thought we had outlasted Cinque Terre, but it had come back to outwit us.
Left with no other option, we decided we had to take a cab back to Switzerland. We hailed a portly Italian taxi driver who offered us a “bargain” price of 350 euro to bring the four American donnas back to Switzerland. So we dished out more than $100 apiece for a trip that would have been free on our Eurail passes.
Fail. Epic fail.
Determined to make the most of a situation that had left at least two of us close to tears, we made friends with our taxi driver – who spoke very rudimentary English –and made him listen to American pop music all the way back to Switzerland, duly commemorating Michael Jackson in that little Italian cab.
We arrived safely home and did a little victory dance with our taxi driver, thinking that perhaps in the end Cinque Terre had conquered us, but at least it was forever etched in our memories.