Being one of those American students who are negatively commented about by many an older traveler, I’d like to take the chance to share my experiences in Cinque Terre, both as a student, tourist, and lover of Italy. I had the opportunity to live in Florence for 5 months and study with Florida State University, one of the first universities to establish a learning center in Florence, and therefore a smaller and more intimate program focused on becoming immersed in the culture of Italy. I was in Italy from the rainy, sometimes snowy, and cold month of January through the beautiful and mild month of May. While the weather was atrocious at times, being there in the extreme off season was a blessing – wandering the deserted streets, having time to sit, converse, and become friends with the locals, and really learning to love the Italian culture without the tourists and hustle of the high season. Many students in my program traveled to Cinque Terre in the early months, late February and early March, and while I don’t know if they were the rowdy American type, I’m more apt to believe from their personalities and the stress on respect from our director, that they were respectful and thankful to visit such a beautiful region.
I visited Cinque Terre the first time for a day with my close friend from the program. We’d started to make an exciting game of arriving at the train station and picking a destination on a whim, that’s how we discovered Assisi (charming and beautiful, especially when deserted in early January), Cortona (it was an experience staying at the convent and waking up to a blizzard! An American, Diana, works at the shoe shop on the main street – she took us to lunch and was a lovely woman, look her up! I went two times, first in February when I experienced the blizzard – it was beautiful in a blanket of snow and not a tourist in sight, and then again in May during a festival, and although crowded, the weather was sublime and everyone in a festive mood), Verona (beautiful in February and a great place to stay during Carnevale in Venice, when there isn’t a room to be found), and many other places. Cinque Terre was unbelievable. We poked around in shops, ate seafood by the water and drank caraffes of the local wine, which was delicious, practiced our Italian with the obliging and wonderfully hilarious waiters and shop keepers, and had an unforgettable time. Some students are obnoxious and disrespectful, I agree, but we tried to be as warm, friendly, and respectful as possible. The second time I returned to Cinque Terre was with my parents and what a wonderful time that was as well. We left Florence on a gloomy morning in mid-May, and I was afraid the weather wouldn’t cooperate, by the time we got to Monterosso al Mare, however, the sun and sea was dazzling. After having a quick snack at the little cafe overlooking the sea close to the train station, my parents and I wandered to the beach, poked around the shops, and boarded the train to Vernazza (my mother had recently fractured her foot so we couldn’t hike, unfortunately). Vernazza proved to be more quaint and beautiful than the already breathtaking Monterosso. My father and I had fresh seafood, delicious local white wine, and watched the small boats cruising in and out of the tiny harbor while my mother explored the tiny shops. I found the other tourists to be in equally blissful moods, as I was, and knew we were all reveling in the beauty of the place. Corniglia was wonderful, and Manarola exquisite and highly entertaining as there were throngs of young Italians and other foreign kids laying in the sun and diving off the rocks into the crystal clear water. My parents and I just sat and took it all in. Tourists or not, students or not, everyone who visits Italy deserves the experience of Cinque Terre – I love Florence and lived there, it became my home, but my favorite trip was definitely to Cinque Terre – my mother and I are going back for a post-college graduation Mother-Daughter trip! Thanks for the great website and the opportunity to post comments – everyone should go to Cinque Terre and Italy in general to experience the warm, vibrant culture that I love so much!
(Atlanta, GA, USA)