An Ending; A Beginning

Well, readers, it’s my last couple hours in Europe, and I’m sorry to have failed you. I totally stunk at this whole “blogging while traveling” thing. Think of this post as an intermission; I’m not done blogging the trip, but I feel that I need to say goodbye to travel properly before resuming the blog. I’m about 8 or 9 cities behind, and have so much to cover. But I can tell you with absolute honesty that I did not fail myself.

This trip was everything – and nothing – like I expected it to be. If you follow my instagram or see the photos I post on Facebook, you might think that my trip was all about glamorous shots in faraway, beautiful places, not a care or worry in the world. There were definitely moments like that, don’t get me wrong. But there were hard moments, too. I once listened to a professor in college lecture about the subject of happiness. She had us look at our lives and ask ourselves when we were truly happy, and then pointed out that you can’t be happy all the time. Instead, we exist in a state of contentment, punctuated by spectacular moments of joy or happiness. The rest of our lives are filled with moments of frustration, sadness, boredom, etc. We are not always happy; we can’t be. This trip made me realize how true that is. I could be blissfully happy one evening, sipping Prosecco at a restaurant overlooking Positano on the Amalfi Coast, and the next morning be absolutely frustrated to the point of tears that our bed bug problem wasn’t resolved, or that I didn’t know which bus to take to get us to trail head for Path of the Gods. The thing about travel is that you come to recognize your moments of happiness, and savor them, tucking them away because of how special they are. And for me, these moments come more frequently when traveling than when doing anything else. This is how I know that this is not my last trip.

This is one of the hardest posts I’ve had to write, for two reasons.

  1. I don’t know how to make this a “goodbye” post, because I’m not saying goodbye. I’m saying “see you later!” to the many cities, countries, friends, cats, and landscapes that I’ve seen. There is no doubt in my mind that I’ll be back someday.
  2. There is only so much that can be captured by words. I can describe the walled city of Dubrovnik to you, with its orange tiled roofs that contrast the blue sea. But it’s an entirely different matter to stand upon the actual city wall, smelling the salty air and listening to the gleeful shouts of the cliff divers. I can only bring you so far.

I can only hope that my words inspire at least one person to take the leap and travel – to a place you’ve always wanted to see, or a place you know nothing about. Take with you a good pair of shoes, a backpack, and a travel towel. Do not go as a tourist: go as someone who wants to see, not look. Someone who wants to experience, not merely dip their foot in the water. Find moments to yourself to reflect on what your experience means to you, and how it fits into your view of the world. Taste the local food, and do not go carefully, or quietly. These are not travel words. Go boldly, go proudly. Shout out to the world what you want, and then take it. And when you do finally travel, leave your bubble behind. The bubble has no place in the big wide world. The bubble will not allow you to meet foreign best friends, order something off the menu that you can’t pronounce, or hike to the top of a mountain.

I hope that you’ve been enjoying this blog so far. While I did fail in my writing mission, I’m partly glad. As I play catch-up with my posts over the next couple weeks, it just means that I get to relive everything that’s happened.

I will miss the daily cappucinos, the buttery croissants, the sound of Aussies wanting to go party, the late nights spent laughing and drinking wine, the endless bottles of prosecco/rose, and many, many more precious moments.

See you later, Europe.

– Kayla

Bit Ihop!

If you don’t know about The Cinque, well, now you’re gonna know.

Cinque Terre is a national park, a collection of five small fishing villages situated on the coast where the mountains meet the sea. The order of cities, from south to north, is Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. They are characterized by their brightly colored buildings, clustered on the edge of the water. Each town is small; it takes no more than an hour – usually less- to see one in its entirety. There is a train that runs through the area and stops at each town, with the shortest travel time between cities at 4 minutes and the longest at about 15. In addition to using the train to travel up and down, there are hiking paths going from city to city. Due to natural forces, some of these paths are closed, but the (arguably) best one is open, going from Corniglia to Monterosso (or the reverse).

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Manarola! City #2

When visiting The Cinque, most people (I’m talking about backpackers on a budget here) try to stay in La Spezia. It’s about 30 minutes south of Riomaggiore, and there’s a great hostel located there. Since we like to book things less than 4 days in advance, this hostel was completely full when we wanted to stay. Instead, we booked the only hostel in Biassa, a small mountain town between La Spezia and Riomaggiore. When I say small, I mean two-restaurants-two-small-markets small. When we tried to eat at the locals’ favorite restaurant, we were given the silent treatment from a couple rude waiters who didn’t care if we ate there or not. They literally wouldn’t give us any of the (open) tables. Safe to say, the people of Biassa really don’t like tourists.

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The amazing coastline 

After eating dinner at the hostel instead (the food was actually delicious), we drank some wine with a couple of the girls at the hostel. They’d been there a couple days, so they told us about their experiences with the hostel (bad) and in The Cinque (good). The men working at the hostel must have associated me and Em with these girls, who pissed them off, so of course they treated us like crap our entire stay. Still, we did make friends with our girls Anna and Zoe. Anna was a Swede, and taught us the phrase, “Bit ihop,” meaning “bite it” or “just do it.” This became one of our favorite sayings during the trip, and sort of a motto for us.

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Vernazza

For our first full day, we decided that it was the right day for the beach since the weather was warm. Em, Anna and I took the train to Monterosso, the only town with an actual beach. As we laid there for a couple hours, alternating between swimming and tanning, we discovered where to get the pina coladas we’d been craving: a little beach shack serving Drunk Ass Buckets (real name). The bartenders made them right there in front of you, pina coladas and margaritas and other delicious, alcoholic beverages. The buckets were huge and made perfect companions for our beach day. That night, we hung out at the hostel with Zoe, Anna, and our new friends Nick, Cain, and Heather. “Hanging out” means a couple bottles of wine, several limoncello shots, and trading stories. While not a huge fan of limoncello in the past, the stuff in The Cinque is delicious and well known throughout Italy.

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The only “true” beach in Cinque Terre. This is Monterosso! Look at that water – it’s so clear!

Our second full day there, we decided that we would hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, and then (hopefully) Vernazza to Corniglia. Think of it as going from 5 to 4, and 4 to 3. Anna, Em and I took the train all the way up, and followed the crowd up the hill to the beginning of the trail. While it’s not the hardest hike, it’s definitely not easy. The entire thing (to Vernazza) took us around 3 hours. While there are some flat parts, much of our way was made up of stairs. Add to this the fact that the day was warm and muggy, and you can understand why everyone on that trail was sweating buckets.

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The end of the hike, looking down into Vernazza

The hike is one of the best ones I’ve ever been on. It feels like you’re trekking through a jungle when suddenly you can turn a corner and be met with a stunning view of the sea. At certain points, you can look up the coast line and see where the other 4 cities jut out. The water is blue and clear and sparkles under the sun.

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When we finally made it to Vernazza (we ran out of water with 45 minutes of the hike left), we grabbed food and gelato. I ducked into a random gelato place and got some of the best of my life: they were known for their blackberry and their lemon flavors. I got them together in a cup, and I have to say that I don’t think I’ll ever have something that good again.

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After wandering Vernazza a bit, we took the train to Corniglia; we were tired and didn’t want to walk. However, Corniglia is not like the other towns: when you get off the train, you then have to climb 400 steps up the cliffside to the village itself. It was very cute and quiet in a quaint sort of way. The view from the lookout spot is spectacular, especially since you can find 3+ cats roaming around or lying in doorways.

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One of the many cats lounging around Corniglia

That night at the hostel was much the same as before: wine, limoncello, laughing with new friends until 1 in the morning. We made a plan for the next day, however: we would meet back in Riomaggiore at 7 so that we could watch the sunset all together. Anna, Em and I spent a lazy day in Manarola, swimming and sunning ourselves as best we could with not a lot of sun. We headed back to Riomaggiore, where we shared a bottle of cheap, house wine and an awesome appetizer platter. We met back up with the group, picked up a couple of beers and some cones of seafood, and went to watch the show. Riomaggiore doesn’t have a beach, per se; there are a bunch of rocks that you can sit on, and stairs leading down to the water. We clustered on the rocks, each finding our own little nook, and sat back. The sunset was amazing, breaking through the clouds and lighting up the coastline. Somebody suggested a swim, so at 8pm I jumped into the sea and watched the sunset from the water. Trust me, it’s way better from there.

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The best way I can describe The Cinque and how I felt about it is that you constantly get a little jolt of realization. I’m here. I’m in Italy. I am so lucky to be where I am right now. And, most of all, there’s nowhere else I want to be. Surrounded by great people, who are now my friends, and one of the most beautiful places in the world, it’s a kind of perfect bliss that doesn’t come along that often. Fortunately for me, Europe has given me several of these moments.

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Europe is full of fun doorways

We were very sad to leave The Cinque, and our friends. But we were headed somewhere just as amazing, but in a different way… Florence.

Ciao, Cinque Terre!

Bonjour, mini Paris!

(I am writing this entry as we take the train from Marseille to Nice on August 18. Though I have plenty of time, it is hard to take my eyes off the French countryside and coast that flies past the train window. It is beautiful and green out here, so close to the coast. We have already passed one town that sat right on the ocean)

The best way to describe Lyon is that it is a smaller version of Paris. Two rivers, the Rhône and the Saone, run through the center of the city, separating the Old Town and the new section. We had two nights booked, but extended one day because Lyon is just one of those cities that has a lot of to see that shouldn’t be missed.

Our first night, we got to the hostel and found it to be probably our cleanest one yet. There was a small, grassy courtyard with a hammock and some bean bags and a picnic table. There was usually always someone hanging out down there, chatting on the phone or to another traveler, or dozing after a long night of drinking. We met our roommate, a woman named Jules who we got along with immediately (love you Jules!) and drank wine with her and other visitors at a dinner they held for us that night. The wine flowed, we all got to know one another, and soon someone was suggesting a bar for us to go to (keep in mind, this was a Monday night. There’s never really much going on). There were 11 of us, but at the end of the night it was our group of 6 girls that we didn’t want to part with. Jules was the German girl who’d lived in Australia for the last couple years and was now going to work for a winery in France; there was Marwa from Virginia but originally Sudan, who was only in Lyon for that night before she had to catch a plane to Amsterdam for the weekend before she returned to Lyon to study abroad; there was Maddy from Germany and Kim from Korea, roommates in another dorm of the hostel who helped us polish off a basket of frites at the next bar/club; and me and Emily. We danced, helped each other ward off creepy French guys and get to know the nice ones, and basked in the ecstasy of travel and freedom. We took a picture on the bridge on the walk home, drunk off of the feeling of France, making new friends, and life in general (ok, so there may have been several shots adding to our happiness as well!). It continually stuns me how people of different backgrounds, nationalities, ages, and languages can fall so seamlessly into friendship.

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“Starfishing” after we ate: they’re too full to move!

The next morning, Emily, Jules and I woke up late, bodies tired but minds alive with the happiness of being in Lyon. Emily and I extended our stay one more night, knowing we couldn’t leave the next day. This is the great thing about not planning things out; we had nowhere to be and could stay if we wanted. A little hungover, we started the hike up to the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere, a beautiful cathedral that overlooks Old Town. We quickly sweated out any lingering alcohol as the sun beat down on us relentlessly. On the way up, we rounded a corner to see the Roman ruins that we’d seen in a “Things to do in Lyon” article. You could enter at will, and walk among these stone amphitheaters that have been around since ~1200 B.C. There is so much here in Europe that you can touch and know that it’s something that has been around for hundreds of years, and endured. History at your fingertips, indeed.

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either the Rhone or the Saone; I don’t remember!

At the top of the hill is the Basilica. We were happy to get there, due to the fact that we were sweating buckets, but when we stepped in the main room we nearly forgot all of that. There are mosaic masterpieces everywhere: the floor, walls, ceiling. We tried to take a couple pictures, but nothing can accurately capture what it looks like. It was dark and cool, and we just sat in there for a good 20 minutes, cooling off and looking around. The inside is beautiful beyond words, and no matter how much I wanted a good picture, cameras just can’t capture how amazing it was to see it.

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la Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere

Outside, there’s a lookout point so that you can see all of Lyon, which is stunning. When we were too hungry to stay, we went back down the hill to find an eatery. I stopped in front of one in Old Town, and we stared at it for a minute, confused. I was given advice to only eat places where you can’t understand the menu because it’s in the native language, but you don’t realize till you’re doing it how hard it is to order when you have no idea what the dishes are!

After a kind employee took pity on us, we sat and ordered a late lunch. Emily got a salad and a crepe, while I decided to try authentic Lyonaisse food: saucisson chaud de Leon. It was a thick sausage, sliced and marinated in a red wine sauce accompanied by cheesy potatoes (best ones I’ve ever had, sorry Mom), asparagus, and a small salad. My bet paid off because the entire dish was absolutely delicious and one of the best meals I’ve had in Europe. We went back to the restaurant the next day for dinner, and I had the same thing – no ragrets! (Le Petit Grouton in Old Town Lyon, for curious food lovers)

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saucisson chaud de Lyon

We spent one more day in Lyon, doing a walking tour and taking a boat back up the river, followed by nap/rest time. Meaning Emily took a nap while I watched a couple episodes of Orange is the New Black.

As of 2 hours ago while writing this, we reached the coast. We have encountered so much bad weather in the past couple weeks (Paris was lovely the whole time, but this morning in Lyon we woke up to pouring rain!) that we have been itching to reach the coast and the beach. Despite what happened in Nice a couple months ago, we’re very excited to take a couple days and relax. Even just changing trains in Marseille earlier, we breathed in the air and agreed that it felt incredibly good to smell the sea. Read on to my next post to find out just how nice Nice is!

Au revoir Lyon!

-Kayla