Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Day 141: "I met many people in Europe, I even encountered myself."

I arrived in Monterosso al Mare, Cinque Terre after having spent 4 days in busy Rome.  The two locations could not have been more opposite. I stepped off the train that late afternoon and the first thing I smelled was the sea. The second was jasmine.  An irresistible combination. As I climbed down the many steps from the train station I was suddenly in this quaint seaside town, with old pastel colored buildings lining a main road. Each home or hotel has its own stunning array of bright pink, purple and blue flowers growing on them like vines. And just below the main road is another staircase that brings you to the beach.  The ocean was quite loud crashing against all those jagged boulders. It was a storybook come to life.  It didn’t feel real. So this is what heaven looks like.

I managed to find the only taxi in town to bring me to my B&B.  According to the driver, Il Parco (where I was staying) was the very last villa at the top of the mountain and to get there you had to drive or walk up this one steep and winding road. Of course!  He laughed and then told me about some hidden stairs located off to the side of this road that could be used as a shortcut back down the mountain and into town. I made a vague mental note of his directions because I was too busy eyeing the gorgeous century old monastery we were driving by.

He dropped me off at the gated entrance of Il Parco and I was relieved it lived up to the gorgeous photos on the brochure. The owner, Marta, met me at the gate and carried my bag in for me. She was very perky and asked questions about Canada and my trip from Rome.  As I paid her for my stay she told me, with a slight giggle, that I was the only guest here now who was not on my honeymoon. Wonderful! She then handed me an antique key, directions to my room, and hopped on her Vespa. With a wave and honk she was gone.

The grounds of the estate were a magnificent and unexpected marriage of tropical and Mediterranean. And there were wrought iron tables and chairs in rose gardens with large olive trees to provide shade for your breakfast. I couldn’t believe how beautiful my accommodations were.  My room was spacious with a small en suite bathroom. I had a private terrace with soft hammock chairs.  Each side of the balcony had a spectacular view; one of the ocean, and the other lush green mountainside. Wow, this is paradise.

I took a long hot shower, got dressed and headed down the winding road on foot to explore with my camera and find some dinner. It was sunset and every breath was an intoxicating floral bouquet. I sneezed a few times. I tried, unsuccessfully, to find the secret staircase the driver had mentioned and had to walk the narrow inclined road instead.  When I reached the main area of town, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t as busy as when I had arrived. In fact, it was a ghost town. Cinque Terre is definitely not the place you want to be alone for after dark. Apparently all the shops closed when I had arrived and there were only a few restaurants serving dinner. 

I walked around snapping a thousand photos a minute that first hour. And can I just tell you--there were couples EVERYWHERE! Snuggled and holding hands. If not couples, then young families with babies in strollers. I stuck out like a sore thumb and understood why all my friends had told me to keep Cinque Terre as a day trip. Oh well. I was here for the hiking, photo opportunities and some much needed R&R.

I found a cute little restaurant with an outdoor patio by the ocean and had some fresh grilled fish and a cold glass of Frascati white wine. It felt good to unwind after the hustle and bustle of Rome. I hadn’t really slept in days, between all the touring and hanging out with the new friends I met there. It was different to be completely alone. Just a few hours ago I was walking a crowded piazza and now I was at a candlelit table by the ocean under the largest stars I have ever seen. It was quiet and peaceful. My thoughts stopped searching and I just let my heart feast on the sight and sound of the waves crashing.

A feeling came over me. Not loneliness, but profound gladness. There, the farthest from home I've ever been, I realized that being alone with myself was exactly the company I needed.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! You have been speaking just for me! My daughter and I are off to Italy in late April - we will be there for 5 weeks. It is my first ever overseas trip and Cinque Terre is on our list. I am so inspired now I can hardly wait. Thank you!