Florence is overwhelming, unexpectedly. There are cultural sights on every corner and endless museums scattered among the infinite sprawl of Italian architecture. It is a European New York City. There are more cultures than there are locals, it seems: Japanese, American, Egyptian, Korean… it is a melting pot of exploration. The tourist industry is expansive and every shop is catered to visitors. Nearly every Italian speaks English because of the heavy tourist traffic and the streets are crowded late into the evening. This feels the European city that never sleeps.
To experience true Italian culture, you must venture outside the core of Florence. Of course, not every part of the city is globalized, but it was an exciting surprise when my roommates and I would stumble across a true Italian market, restaurant or shop when we wandered into the local neighborhoods and out of the city center.
This past weekend, my friends and I decided to take an excursion to Cinque Terre. The landscapes there paralleled the California coastline and we saw the most exquisite ocean-side views.
Cinque Terre translates to “5 lands”. These 5 lands are located along the coast about two hours north-west of Florence. Each land is essentially a sea-bearing mountain encompassing a town and the towns become more popular as you venture north.
Unfortunately, it rained earlier that morning so the easy hiking trails in the first and second towns were closed. Still, the beauty of Cinque Terre was unchangeable. Here are some of the views from the first and second towns:
There is also a hike to get from the second to the third town. Our tour guide told us that this was a short one. We’re adventurous and love the outdoors, so we decided to ditch the uninspiring train ride and hike through the mountains. Apparently, these tour guides were misinformed about the difficulty of the hike…failing to realize it would take several hours instead half an hour. Or that it would be a perpetual incline. With each step, we had to take extreme caution because the trails were covered in slippery rocks, creeks, and mudslides, and were often cliff-hanging. Though unexpected, the satisfaction of having walked 11 miles (six of which were up a steep mountain) and seeing the most incredible sea waters made the blood, sweat, trips, and slips all worth it.
In the fourth town, there was a peninsula with a tower overlooking the bay. We stopped for gelato and then hopped on the train to the final town.
Finally, we arrived at the beach. The pictures capture how spectacular it was far better than I will be able to explain it.
Each town has specialty shops for wine, pesto, spices, pasta, and souvenirs. Cinque Terre is famous because pesto originated there, so if you take a break for lunch, you should try the pesto pizza or pesto gnocchi.
We used the company http://www.bus2alps.com for this excursion. If you’re looking to travel while studying abroad, they were our favorite company to use. The trips include all modes of transportation, knowledgeable guides, and unscheduled free time. The trips are reasonable, affordable, and 100% worth it. Even if we did run out of money, it has become evident that we would rather see the world than eat, anyway.
Everyone is falling in love with Italy.