Hannah Hardenbergh is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An American History and Literature major at Harvard College, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester.
In this week's post, Hannah shares about the time she recently spent in Cinque Terre and what it's like to be spontaneous in new places.
Ciao! As I sit on a train back to Florence from a day trip in Siena today, I can’t help but reflect on my adventures so far in Italy and consider the value of branching out, engaging in a new experience, and exposing oneself to new surroundings, both cultural and environmental. Being present and willing to stumble upon beauty (instead of searching for something in particular) has led me to many exciting moments during my trips in and out of Florence. I decided to try to do an activity in each place I went to; I hiked between the coastal towns of Cinque Terre, “The Five Lands,” I biked in the breathtaking mountainous terrain of the Dolomites in northern Italy, and, due to extremely good timing of my travels, I got to see a historical horse race in Siena today. While it may seem obvious that traveling exposes one to new experiences and excitement, I wanted to share my perspective on branching out.
Corniglia from above.
This post focuses on the value of having a non-plan and being present. While I get to share with you the beauty of the places I’ve visited, I also get to emphasize the value in engaging in my surroundings in social and physical ways. Having grown up in a family with a very active lifestyle, I love working out. It makes me feel happier and as a student-athlete, I really enjoy endurance training like long runs and bike rides, especially when there’s a destination. So, I knew that my love for sport and the outdoors could lead me towards new experiences in Italy as well.
One Friday morning, my brother Dylan and I woke up before dawn to board a train to La Spezia, a town near Cinque Terre in the Italian Riviera. Our itinerary included very little detail – our only goal was to hike leisurely and grab food, at some point. This is not typically how I would go about my day; I usually have a detailed plan, having thought through everything first before jumping into it. However, my experiences in Italy so far have taught me that spontaneity is a beautiful thing. Having a simple plan to go out to experience something can often be enough!
Apartment homes in Corniglia.
Dylan and I had all day to hike between each coastal town in Cinque Terre, giving us a lot of time to walk through the small towns, grab food, try to order our panini in Italian, and people watch. We even took a side-trip off the main trail to check out the beach at the base of the hillside and jump in the water to cool down. Starting in the southernmost part of Cinque Terre, the towns to the north are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, then Vernazza, and Monterosso on the northern part of the coast. Each town is nestled a couple of kilometers from the next between steep, short hills and the water’s edge. Some of them have beaches, like Vernazza and Monterosso, while Corniglia is higher up on the hillside (we did not see Manarola as the hiking trails to the town were closed). Corniglia was my favorite – it was smaller and felt like a community lived there rather than simply seeing other tourists. Perhaps we got there earlier than most.
A view of the clear water over the wall lined with yellow and pink wildflowers.
When we arrived mid-morning in Corniglia, we looked around to see merchants conversing with neighbors, a gardener selling produce, and a couple of policemen chatting casually with passersby, many of whom were older members of the community. The streets are very narrow; only one main street is wide enough to fit cars. And even still, the bus to the train station down the hill had to do a 3-point turn on the main street before returning to the station. Vineyards and gardens have been carved into the hillside looking towards the sea. We walked through the small streets, passing many osterie or trattorie - simple, local restaurants (compared to a ristorante which is more formal and usually more expensive) – and climbed a flight of stairs to what looked like a small concrete soccer field or playground, atop the street with the restaurants and cafes. Peering over a concrete wall, we could see the ocean outstretched before us, the water clear as day lapping calmly at the shoreline. Yellow and pink wildflowers scattered the outer base of the wall.
On the trail, we met French, German, American, and British tourists. There were also some Italian tourists, but it seemed that most of the people we met were French and German. I loved hearing the many different languages on the trail and feeling like just a small part of a larger community of people who were also there to enjoy the outdoors and the town life on the coast. We hiked just under 10 kilometers that day, grabbing gelato in Vernazza to cool down and finishing in Monterosso, taking the train back to La Spezia for dinner before heading for Florence.
Vineyards above Vernazza.
Visiting Cinque Terre was one of many excursions I want to include in this blog, because each place gave me a chance to do the activities I love while exploring a new place. I’ve been really lucky to be able to hike, bike, and walk the streets of towns to engage with people in the communities I’ve visited. Getting a little bit of a workout in is also always a plus! Spending the day in Cinque Terre with a less-structured plan made me feel like we were there to see what was in store for us. The destination is what motivates me to get outside, to get moving and wondering, and once I’m there it’s nice to know that I may run into things that I didn’t quite plan out. It gives me the freedom to be present and feel open to new situations.
Stay tuned for a post about my trip to the Dolomites, and later on, a day in the life of a Sienese spectator at one of the most historical sporting events in Italy, il Palio!
Hannah's journey continues every Thursday so stay tuned.