The journey to Vernazza started in chaos, as many Italian journeys seem wont to do. I took the train from Bologna to Florence, and in Florence I was to change to a train bound for La Spezia. Predictably, my train from Bologna was delayed, and I found myself rolling into Florence’s Santa Maria Novella much later than planned.
Not keen to wait around in the crowded train station until the next La Spezia train departed, I jumped off my train from Bologna and began my mad dash to catch the train I wanted. It felt like one of those slapstick scenes from a movie, weaving in and out of packs of people, dodging errant rollerbags, frantically trying to figure out which platform my intended train was departing from.
I made it just in time, and even managed to score a good seat (something of a victory for me on this trip). In La Spezia, I disembarked with a horde of other travelers, all of us trying to figure out which train to take to get to the particular Cinque Terre town we were aiming for. Few of the information screens seemed to be working, and the line to talk to an agent was insanely long, so instead, I spent a fair bit of time wandering from platform to platform, searching for a clue.
I prevailed eventually, and made my way to Vernazza. By the time I climbed the several sets of steep stairs to the apartment I was renting in town, I was exhausted, cranky, and more than a little sweaty.
But here’s what’s great about Vernazza: it’s a tiny town, and not ten minutes after that initial low point, I was sitting at a table overlooking the water, sipping on a white wine, and feeling the cool breeze from the sea. My whole time in the Cinque Terre was like that: one moment I was pushing through a crowd of fellow travelers, frustrated as hell, and the next I was walking along the shore, admiring a sunset straight out of a watercolor painting over the Ligurian Sea, and completely at peace.
Save for a bit of hiking, my time in Cinque Terre was blissfully low key. I poked around a lot, in and out of shops, up and down teeny tiny alleyways. I ate gelato by the water. I took one thousand photographs of the sun setting. I dangled my toes in the sea and people watched, squinting in the impossibly bright sun all the while. It was wonderful.
If I did one thing really right this trip to Italy it was this, this mixture of go, go, go and relaxation. I took it easy in Varenna…then I braved the tourist gauntlet in Venice. I relaxed in Vernazza…then I visited all the museums in Florence. I lazed around the Amalfi coast…then I walked all over Rome. It was the perfect balance.