Italy, once I traveled away from beautiful Venice, was like a dream.
Now before you crucify me for maybe possibly contradicting my last blog, I will specify: the land of Italy, the less inhabited areas, are a dream. Traveling from Venice to Cinque Terre, the northwest coast, gave me a chance to admire Pisa and Florence, as well as all the lesser known places, like Viareggio, from—you guessed it—behind a translucent screen. But this kind of spectating I welcome, because at least it doesn’t parade around as something that it’s not.
The ride from Vernazza to Sestri Levanti was equally as beautiful, and the ride from Milan to Zürich was literally breathtaking. I saw mountains and ravines and open plains and waterfalls and quaint little European villages as we glided in and out of tunnels in the late afternoon. Me, in the wrong seat on the wrong train at the wrong time. All of which still happened to be just right.
The frequency of my seeing perfect post card imagery along the route amounted to basically every single time I put down Harry Dolan to check if I was missing anything. And my photo-taking reflexes weren’t always as quick as the train.
I’d missed my 4:23 train from Riomagiorre because who was taking me from Biassa to Centro at those wee morning hours? No one, evidently. The town is serious about its sleep. Once I realised the implications of missing one train (I’d subsequently miss them all) I figured I may as well go explore another of the five lands and catch a later train to Switzerland. Maybe even two more of them. The anxiety, from having the train operators come around to check tickets and either being angels or simply oblivious to the fact that I technically don’t belong here in this first class seat, was totally worth it.
Vernazza and Monterosso were both spectacular in their own rights. These little towns were built within the crevices of five—I guess we could call them cliffs?—on the edge of the Ligurian Sea that separates the Italian mainland from Corsica. As with most things in Europe, the towns were more vertical than they were wide, and I think that and the playful colours gave it all the more character and charm. But unlike most places in Europe, these traditionally Italian towns aren’t tainted in the least bit by the greedy ubiquitous hands of capitalism. (Not one franchised business.) They instead portrayed a: “this is Italy–our Italy–how it has always been. What you see here is what you get, and we ain’t changing that for no one” kind of attitude that I so very much appreciated. Still, each of the five spots along the Italian Riviera had a uniqueness; Riomaggiorre with its haphazardly stacked boxes, Monterosso with its long sanded coastline, Vernazza with its outstretched arms hugging the sea, and though I would have loved to enjoy all five I’m still amazed at how much I got done in less than 24 hours.
When I got to Riomagiorre, I took my first jump into the Ligurian Sea. The water was a charming shade of Aqua, rough and bordered by heavy rocks, but nothing of a challenge for someone like me. I jumped in and tread water while looking around and thanking the most high for all things, and thinking, partially out loud, “I’m in freakin’ Italy, yo!” After I finished there, I got lost a few times on the wrong trains and buses and managed to also see a bit of Deiva Marina and La Spezia as well. The next morning I forced myself out of bed after not nearly enough hours of sleep, and headed down to Vernazza, via La Spezia, bags in hand. I basically was going to take the day as it came. And it was the first time I genuinely felt free—like a true backpacker, to do with my day whatever I wanted.
But it was a slight pain in the ass. If it weren’t for the baggage storage at the Vernazza train station I’d have never made it up the thousands of stairs onto the Cinque Terre hiking trail between Vernazza and Monterosso, even though I only went up there for the view. Time was ticking and I thought I was rushing to catch the last morning train out of Monterosso so I could make my way to Zürich. But then I kept remembering what the guy who checked me in to the hostel kept saying “Ehh. Zürich is nice, but Cinque Terre is nicer.” (Cue super thick and cliche Italian accent. All he was missing was the hand gesture.)
So, I headed to Monterosso. And I decided to go swimming. I rushed myself, though not too much, still thinking I would make the train. But when I came out and checked the time, not even a “five minute dip” was going to be enough to get me on that train. Then, I found showers and a changing room. I got dressed for my trip to Suiza, grateful for the opportunity to finally feel the cleanest for the day, and headed out to Milan.
Because I never stayed on top of the train schedule, I ended up having about an hour to kill in Sestri Levanti. So once again, I went walking. My senses never fail to lead me to the ocean, though this time I realised the extent of my train situation and opted not to take another dive. Instead, I grabbed some food: tomato and mozzarella by accident, (Caprese something or another) the first of which I don’t like and the latter of which I’m trying to stop eating. Gotta love language barriers!
After I ate I headed back to the station in a hurry, a literal minute before the scheduled time, and maybe only made the last train out for the next few hours because it was 10 minutes late. Now, here I am—about three hours into the train ride and still not asleep. Awake partly because Harry Dolan is coming to his conclusion, and partly because the scenery is far too good to sleep through. It’s so good, in fact, that I feel as though I don’t even need to explore Switzerland anymore. I’ve seen at least two hours of it in its most natural state and I am actually satisfied by that alone. (Plus I didn’t have to lug my bags around to do it.)
Still, I’ve got one day left of this Euro trip. And I do plan to make the very most of it, though I admit the Swiss city has huge shoes to fill. I’m open to what Zürich has to offer of course, but it has, I’d say, about 15 minutes after I settle in to make an impression before I seek out a way to spend my last day somewhere overlooking the Alps.
Until next time!