This is what I know to be true of Italy:
Everyone will give you directions, even though it might not be to where you intended to go.
You can never go wrong with the dark chocolate gelato.
There is a bus stop in Torino called Ciao Mario.
There is no such thing as too much PDA for young couples. Especially on a packed train. Especially if they are sitting beside you. To let me pass, I swear it took them 5 minutes to un-pretzel various limbs. I think one of the limbs was mine!
This trip was inspirational, joyful and meditative and left me pondering some things:
First, even though the conference workshop was held in a historic castle, why did we take the group photo not facing it but rather facing the gates?
Second, why do old Italian men tell you off when you ask if the owner of the Gelateria they recommend in Vernazza is a friend of theirs? They are. So are the other 300 people who live there year round, they say to you like you are pazza (crazy). Is the gelato excellent? It is. Do you go back and say molto bene? You do.
Third, why are you the only one walking the path between Monorolla and Riomaggiore? That one is rhetorical. The direct blue path has been closed...for nine years. But there is the roundabout way that takes you up up up to a village in the hills and across and down to a second village and through the red and white trail that is so overgrown, it seems as if you're being felt up at times. Some vegetation definitely got to second base and it didn't even buy you dinner.
Three hours later, dripping in sweat, past the cliff edge and through the vertical descent to the final step, you arrive to a locked gate at Riomaggiore. Not closed. Locked. WHAT? So you throw your backpack over and you jump that sucker. Because nobody is getting between you and that well earned plate of pasta that has kept your dehydrated, sunburned, aching spirits up for the past 20 minutes. And nobody but nobody is keeping you from your final steps of the five village trek.
This trip has also left me with some lessons.
I started in Vernazza, took the ferry to Monterosso and began to walk after my swim around 7pm. So I arrived in village 2 and took the boat to 1 and then walked from village 1-2, and the next day walked from village 2 to 3, took the train to village 4 and walked 4 to 3, took the train again and walked 4 to 5 (Riomaggiore). Lesson 1: The path is not straight and sometimes it's so much better when it is not straight.
The sign at the start of the path in Monterosso read - this path is closed due to inclement weather.
There was not a cloud in the sky. Clearly the keeper of the path had gone home for dinner. Another couple walked over. It's closed, they said in Australian accents. BS I said, they just don't want us to go when they cannot take the fee. So we went. And it was absolutely breathtaking. Lesson 2: Detecting BS in words and actions will help that you don't miss out on a lot of great things.
I also swam in every village port, like a small baptism of sorts. Lesson 3: Rituals layer on a bit of grandeur and honour to even the most simplest of acts.
And the biggest lesson...There are these little gates between villages on the path. Some swing open easily. Others have to be shaken a bit. Others had these little cords that you have to unwind. And the final one is locked. Such as in life. Some paths are easy, some need to be fumbled with and some are locked and must be figured out. Lesson 4: There is always a way to get to where you want to go, as long as you want to go there badly enough.
This is my first solo trek and a truly memorable adventure for the girls. I feel my thoughts expanding in new directions. I feel more excited and more calm. Everything hurts yet I feel brand new. I am a hobbling contradiction.
And I do admit that I am left with one question that sits with me, both taunting and amusing me.
Who is Mario and why does he get a ciao?
Correction: So it is not Ciao Mario but Caio Mario. The question now is, am I really that dyslexic?