The sun was setting on Manarola. Its hillside scatter of colourful buildings sparkled under the soft light, forming a picture-perfect panorama that immediately outshone (ha, ha) every postcard, stock image and screensaver of the region I’d seen.
This was Cinque Terre – a place I’d heard so much about, a destination that up until now had existed as merely a dream: images that decorated my thoughts while I slept, a dot-point on a bucket list. Two words typed into Google’s search bar.
It now figures in my all-time top 3 travel destinations (so far 😉 ). The sun, the style, the stracciatella gelato… All five of the “terre” just got me. As someone who had been roaming around France telling everyone “I’ve decided this is The Best Country,” I really had to shut my mouth for a second when I got to Italy. Like damn, Italy is nice. I’m not saying it overtakes my love for the land of wine and cheese, but damn, Italy is nice.
But this post isn’t about perfection, because in case you’ve forgotten, that doesn’t exist. Not even in Italy. And especially not when you’re me.
Here’s a snippet of my time spent in Cinque Terre – 8 rollercoaster hours in a ridiculously beautiful part of the world.
Hour 1: I used my Cinque Terre card to take the train to Monterosso – village number 5. It was my last day in the region, and I started it off feeling pretty good. I’d grown accustomed to spending long, lazy days strolling along scenic routes, stopping only to gaze at vibrant umbrellas that decorated beach fronts and swim in impossibly turquoise waters. As I joined a free walking tour and tasted local limoncello from a friend of our tour guide, I became more or less convinced that this was the beginning of a new life phase for me: glamorous, jet-setting.
Pizza, but make it fashion.
I felt a change in the air. A transition, from poor student backpacker to sophisticated traveller. ‘Italy suits me,’ I told myself as I took a selfie next to someone’s front door (what am I supposed to do when they’re so cute and colourful and adorned with flowers?) I considered myself a mere two perfectly pronounced ‘Ciao!’s away from embodying the quintessential Italian woman: running into fountains in a ball gown as men chased after me like in La Dolce Vita. My confidence, my optimism, were at an all-time high. And you know what that means: time for Reality to kick me in the bum.
Hour 2: And kick me he did, all the way down a staircase. Si - I literally fell down some stairs along a scenic walking route, in plain view of chunks of tourists. It probably wasn’t as bad as I remember it being; I can’t have travelled more than three stairs. But I have long lanky legs and from memory, they failed quite a bit. It wasn’t a good look.
I was alone during my time in Cinque Terre, and perhaps have never been as comfortable with that fact as I was over the three days I spent there. But that falling-onto-my-arse moment proved an exception.
Hour 3: I enjoyed a blissful swim (to cool off my embarrassment) at a pristine beach. When I first arrived, I rolled my eyes at having to sit on the ‘public’ part of the sand, because the number displayed on my bank account didn’t quite allow me to rent one of the fancy deckchair-and-umbrella combos along the central strip (I will never stop tutting at this persistent need for class distinction and commodification. Capitalism, amiright?) But it worked out okay, because I found my people. I set up my towel next to an American mother-daughter duo, and we got to talking, and they ended up minding my stuff while they swam, and vice versa. Next minute I was deep into conversations about parenting, exchanging opinions with the mother while we watched her young daughter play in the shallows. This was an interesting position to find myself in, as a childless person in their early twenties… 🙂
Hour 4: I hopped on the train to return to my Airbnb for an afternoon pause. I wanted to get some sand out of places it didn’t belong in and take a little post-spiaggia snooze. I made my way over to the bed – the side by the big open window, and bent down to pick up a stray hair elastic I noticed on the ground.
That’s when I got stabbed.
Oh, sorry to sound alarmist; I don’t mean stabbed like Scream Movies stabbed. I just mean that when I stood back up, one of the windows that had moved slightly outward during the time I was bent over (thanks a lot, breeze) made contact with the side of my body. The window frame was a sharp, pointy, pointy sharp metal one. You know the type. So it really hurt when it stabbed my skin. Particularly because I was only wearing a bikini at the time; the sharp corner dove straight into the bod. Delightful.
Look, the resulting cut wasn’t super deep, but there was très quick, très ugly, très bloody bruising. Oh, and a lot of pain. I rolled around on the floor for a while crying. Then after five or so minutes I facetimed my parents to show them the sick wound!!
In hindsight, I probably should have gone to the doctor, but I had things to do like eat pizza on beaches.
I still have a scar, to this day, but I really should stop telling people that I Got Stabbed in Italy.
Hour 5: Shower, nap, stovetop gnocchi as a between-meals “snack.” Tended to my Window Wound, conducted a photo shoot starring Window Wound. Changed outfits so I could watch a cute seaside sunset in a cute outfit (it would only be right.)
Hour 6: I took the train back to Manarola – my equal-favourite village alongside Corniglia. It was nearly Sunset O’clock, and I was very excited. While I waited for the moon to make its entrance, I took artistic shots of shadows of trees, as well as couples holding hands as they pondered the view and I pondered my perpetual singledom… 🙂
Just as golden hour was truly hitting its stride, an Italian stallion appeared in my viewfinder. An attractive man, I mean – not an Italian horse. Just wanted to clarify.
Anyway, this uomo was a 10/10 on the I’m Dizzy Scale. I decided that he was the real evidence of my sun-kissed and sensational Italian destiny. I could picture our wedding vows, the gushing conversations between our beloved guests as they almost exploded with jealousy recounting how we’d met on top of a viewing point, on the beautiful Italian coast, surrounded by flowers and endless ocean and rainbow villages and the smell of cheese on tomato sauce on bread (okay yes, I’m talking about pizza again.)
“Ciao,” he said, and I began melting faster than the Wicked Witch of The West. “English?”
I nodded and fumbled out a ‘Yes, si.’
He hesitated before continuing, turning his bright eyes towards the sky as he searched for the words he needed.
“Would you mind take picture of me and girlfriend?”
Hour 7: All hopes I’d held for some glamorous transformation disappeared with the exit of my once-amore. My face felt tight and sort of stung – sunburn. I checked playback on my camera and realised the last three selfies I had taken – in the hope of composing a killer new profile pic – were all blurry. If not even Italy’s stunning coastline could transform me from a regular gal with a constantly sweaty neck into an eternally well-postured, perfumed, irresistible ‘Is that a local or a tourist?’ traveller, what could? …. (nothing.)
So despite having fallen victim to some slippery stairs, a minor stab wound and some misguided fantasising, I made the decision then and there to stop dreaming about some imagined future where me and my perfect skin would effortlessly navigate cities, countries and continents with a super expensive camera whose lens cap I would never lose, and a wad of cash to shoot me straight up to the highest floors of every fancy hotel.
From now on, I told myself, I would stick to celebrating glamour only when performing Fergie’s iconic 2006 single on wild karaoke nights. Because when I looked around me, I noticed things that were much better than glamorous. A stunning sunset, for one; the calming sound of water lapping, baby-sized boats bobbing in the sea, deep blue water and deep yellow street lamps coming together to create an image straight out of a painting… There was beauty and life and yes, a mosquito bite or two. And it didn’t matter what kind of person or traveller I was, just that I was lucky enough to be in the midst of all of the above.
Hour 8: I caught the train back to my apartment with stars in my eyes and a sore side – you know, from when I Got Stabbed in Italy.