Monday, June 24, 2013

If we had blogs in 1997: The Five Lands

The latest installment from my 1997-1998 study abroad journal reveals the trip to Cinque Terre, Italy with what had to be at least twenty other students. We took an overnight train on Friday night down to the area and hiked as what was probably an obnoxious group. But it was one of my favorite weekends during the whole year in Luxembourg. Grammatical, spelling, and factual errors have been preserved.

10 Sept 1997 

Ok, so Kristine is cool. We went to a place called Scott's in the Grund District. It was cool. Outside there was the most beautiful scenery. Some people said it reminded them of Venice. I met Dan, who was really cool. I hope it wasn't just a drunken conversation. I had a lot of fun. I also talked to JJ, who was suprised to find out I was tired of the cliques. After a week?!? He was really cool. I got a letter from Lynn today that made my day. Ok, I couldn't spell surprised, I used "cool" twice in one paragraph, and this is a lot of nonsense from a dumb college kid.

15 Sept 1997

Cinque Terre was great. It was the most difficult hike I ever encountered. Perhaps because I didn't exchange money before we started and it was hot and I couldn't buy water and I was dehydrated. Also because I rarely hiked, and Ohio is pretty flat, whereas these trails were on mountains. And I was fat and out of shape. It was beautiful. The train ride was long. I had to ride with the quiet girl and she slept the whole ride to Milan. I have no idea who this is. I was quite bored and disappointed. I got two or three hours of sleep, but I wasn't tired all day. We got to Riomaggiore about 10am and started hiking. I was starved but had no lire. That would be lira. The first hike, after finally finding the start of the path, was about 45 min. It was easy because it was a flat path made for tourists. The second part was more difficult, but it wasn't bad, except for the steps at the end. The town was Corniglia, but there was nothing there but a few houses and a couple of restaurants (one with a bathroom). The next hike was hard. We kept going up and up the mountain. The air was getting thinner, and breathing was harder. The path was very narrow, and it was a long, long way to fall. It took about an hour and a half to get to Vernazza, where we stayed overnight.

It was an interesting night, one not soon to be forgotten. We sat on the rocks on the coast forever and watched the waves hit the rocks and the lightning flash over the sea. It was incredible. Everyone was drinking Italian wine. As if we'd drink something from Napa Valley in Italy? We ended up sleeping on/in a porch or something in front of a winery. We left for Montoroso the next morning. There was a half hour of continuous stairclimbing - I thought I would die; it was so hard. But it was worth every breath (or lack thereof). The other hour and a half was spent hiking extremely narrow trails, looking down at the most incredible scenery I have ever seen. Pictures do not do the place justice. We encountered a lot of Americans - it was difficult and scary when you had to pass people - but I was really suprised and glad to talk to Americans. Every person we encountered thought Miami was in Florida. Miami was a university before Florida was a state! I guess that's to be expected, but it's kind of annoying.

When we finally got to Monterosso, we bought some fruit and a sandwich and went to the beach. As soon as we bought chairs, dark clouds came creeping out from behind the mountains. Within minutes it was pouring and everyone was standing under the train bridge. The rain felt wonderful, as I had sweat out a 2 Liter bottle of water. We were all so disgusting, having not taken a shower since Friday morning left, and then sweating the Meditteranean. I was really tired of people complaining about everything. Fun times are what you make of them - why couldn't they just have fun in the situation they were in? Besides, we didn't smell any worse than the Italiens. This sentiment interests me greatly, because I say the same thing all the time now. (Not the thing about the Italians.) Some of the kids who did the Luxembourg program had wealthy parents and they slept in nice hotels and stayed away from the locals. A lack of a shower and sweat never kept me away from experience, but I often wondered why some of them even bothered going to Europe because they lived as if they were in the US and complained when anything wasn't comfortable. I suppose they're doing well now, and they enjoyed themselves, but I wonder if Europe is just something they did or if they got something out of it.

We left Monterosso at 4:30, but it was a waste. We went down to La Spezia with intentions of catching the train straight to Milano. We took off from La Spezia, heading towards Milano, and one of the stops was Monterosso. We spent an hour and a half riding a train we didn't need to spend. It was ok, though. We switched trains in Milano, the most Americanized city in Italy. Americanized? Really? Good grief. We went across the street to McDonald's before we took off for Lux. Again with the American fast food. Don't worry, I come to despise it during this year. We left at 9:30pm and arrived in Lux at 6:50am this morning, caught a train back to Differdange, took showers, and headed for class at 8:45am.

For whatever reason, I failed to write about many details about the trip, including the best moments, the ones that stand out the most to this day, the ones I remember down to the smallest detail. I also avoided the rumors and the "college moments" that happened, the who-kissed-who and who-hooked-up-with-who moments. My favorite moment of the whole trip was the dinner we ate the evening of the storm at a small restaurant with an outdoor terrace. I ate pesto in the land where it was invented, drank locally-made Chianti, and sat up the hill from the Mediterranean Sea across from Matt Heitzman, who ate gnocchi (and who has seemingly disappeared from the Earth), when a downpour forced us to grab our plates and our glasses and run inside. An out-of-tune guitar sat in the corner of the restaurant; John P. picked it up and played Pearl Jam's "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" as we tried to dry off and the waiters looked at us with a mix of annoyance and appreciation for the business. I did mention the storm over the Med, but I failed to capture the transcendent moment with the right words, the way all of history seemed to be at peace with itself at that moment and how I thought about the ancient Greek ships crossing the sea with prayers to Poseidon, many of them finding their final resting place at its bottom. I didn't write about scrambling to find more wine that night or the unlabeled two dollar bottles of Chianti we found in what appeared to be the only remaining store open after 10pm or the Turkish toilets (holes in the ground surrounded by porcelain) we had to use at the train station bathroom because there was nothing else open and we had no hotel. I neglected to elaborate on sleeping on the ground in that enclosed area, all of us sprawled out on the concrete using our backpacks for pillows, or the confused looks on the faces of those who passed us in the morning. I didn't mention the beach in Vernazza or the fears of Portuguese Man-O-Wars that had been spotted in the area.

But I remember it all. I remember it as much as I remember the trip to the Amalfi Coast I took a mere three months ago. It's not a moment in the past; it lives within me. It was my first "unsupervised" trip anywhere. It was my first real travel adventure. I fell in love with the Mediterranean on that trip, and it altered the course of my life.

No comments:

Post a Comment