The next stop on our tour was the cute little village of Lucca. This was Elisa’s favourite town because she was its queen – there was a gateway, several bars, cafe’s and restaurants all named after her. Elisa, Kay, Theo, Fraser, Robyn and I all wandered around the city together…and as you do, decided the best thing we could possibly do was a rent a six-person-cycle to tour the wall. Yup. Not one of us hesitated when the suggestion was made, which tells you alot about us as a group.
We spent an hour terrifying people all along the upper walls of Lucca. I think we all laughed so hard the whole time that we developed ab muscles we didn’t know we had! We chased innocent pedestrians down, waved and yelled at complete strangers, and I’m proud to say we were videoed by almost every one with a phone. So there’s tons of video evidence of the craziness that was this beautiful group of people I spent my Italian journey with.
After Lucca we headed on to Cinque Terre, which is my heaven on earth. We stayed at the top of Riomaggiore, giving us breathtaking views of the town and the sea. We ate at a beautiful seafood restaurant, and then headed to bed to rest up for our hike the next day. As only one of the hikes was officially open, most of us hiked that one as a group; two hours of straight up and straight down along spectacular cliffs with views that are to die for. I had though the Napali Coastline of Kauai was the most breathtaking hike I had ever done, but it had nothing on Cinque Terre. We hiked into Vernazza and had the most satisfying cone of deep fried seafood I have ever tasted. Elisa and I took a dip into the sea to cool off, and we all sat along the water and chilled out. Then we hopped on a boat and headed back to Monterosso and visited 4 of the 5 villages by boat. That night we all got together for a picnic on the balcony of our hotel, looking out over the beautiful Riomaggiore. I didn’t think that I could have loved anywhere as much as Siena, but Cinque Terre had everything I love, the sea, the hills, the picturesque views, and green lush areas that give you the feeling you are in the middle of nowhere. A beautiful nowhere.
At one of our stops at the villages my group stopped for gelato but I had this desire to keep climbing, so I took the steps up to a beautiful and haunting cemetery on the way out of Monterosso. I wandered around the huge mausoleums and intricate grave markers, looking at all the flowers left by loved ones, and I felt a bit of sadness start to creep over me. The next day as we headed into Lake Como I felt myself becoming quieter and quieter. I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on, until it hit me. My Mom’s last trip, her big 60th birthday hoorah had been a trip to Germany and Italy. And because she’d learned on her trip that something was wrong with her last medical check up (the cancer that killed her a 17 months later), her trip had not been the joyful event she had hoped for. But here I was, 2 years later in Italy, on the trip of my lifetime, having the time of my life. I felt so sad that my Mom had not had the same. She was so full of laughter and love, and Italy was the most magical place on earth, but my Mom had not been able to truly love or enjoy it. The first thing I did in Lake Como was go for a walk and have a cry for my Mom, for everything she had missed, and was missing. I felt so heartbroken.
But of course we had a timeline and a walking tour of Lake Como to do, so I dried my eyes and headed back to the hotel. We started our tour with our fearless guide, I tagged along and tried to pay attention but was having trouble keeping up with the group. As we ended our tour in the piazza, I had lost my attention completely and found myself aimlessly wandering right into a couple without realising it. As I stopped to try to dodge out of their way, I looked at their faces and was struck. Amazingly, against all the odds, I had accidentally wandered right into Debbie and Howard, my Dad’s cousins from back home. In a tiny little village along Lake Como in Italy. Of all the coincidences, of all the places, of all the days. The one day I desperately needed a connection to home, family, a hug, and there were Debbie and Howard. Italy – it is truly a magical place!
Lake Como was a beautiful place, but I will always remember it for those moments. And the amazing food. Daniel never failed to take us to the best little restaurants throughout Italy, with local specialties that made your mouth water. I feel like the food and drink were as magical as the views, combined with the company we kept, it made those two weeks in Italy some of the most magical moments of my life.
After Lake Como we headed out to our last stop of the tour – Venice. I had been warned multiple times that Venice was big, crowded, smelly, dirty. I don’t think I heard one nice thing about Venice before I went there. Everyone seemed to go out of their way to make sure I wouldn’t think Venice was going to be a great experience. So maybe it’s because I had such low expectations, I don’t know, but I absolutely loved Venice. Yes it was dirty, it was crowded, it was a bit smelly. But no more than any other big city, except that it didn’t feel like a big city. It was all tiny alleys and waterways, nooks and crannys. My favourite type of city, combined with water! I loved it, and I felt like 3 days weren’t enough. We toured Murano and Burano, we wandered the little alleyways of Venice, we got lost, we ate dinner on the canal, we visited the Jewish Quarter and had Venetian Spritz’s on a boat/bar. La Famiglia decided to do a gondola ride on the canal. And we said goodbye.
Our two-week tour of Italy came to a close in Venice, as all but Fraser and I moved on. Fraser and I joined our new group and new tour guide for a week trip from Venice to Budapest. It was a hard transition, to leave these people who had become so important to me over the past two weeks, but I had a new trip and new people and another step on my journey to take.