Corniglia From The Hiking Trail In Cinque Terre

Why are we so averse to planning when we travel in our early twenties? Or rather, why are we inclined to listen to our dear friend Liz when she insists that arriving in Cinque Terre without a room booked is a perfectly acceptable idea?

“It will be great: we’ll arrive at 3pm and hike five towns over, where we’ll pass out on the beach for the night.”

It all sounds very romantic, spontaneous and cozy. That is, until you arrive in Cinque Terre and realize it’s March, it’s cold and it’s pouring rain along the otherwise breathtaking Pathway of Love. After hiking two of the five towns, the sun is setting rapidly, you’re hungry and exhausted, and a glimmer of panic sets in. You are miles away from the wet, freezing beach, you have no place to stay for the night and until now, it didn’t seem like an issue. God I miss being twenty-one years old.

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The beauty of traveling, amongst other obvious factors, is the strength of memories formed. Though this night transpired ten years ago I can see myself (panicking, naturally) standing at the bottom of a side street in Corniglia. The street was typical for a tiny, mountainous Italian town—it twisted up a steep hill of cobblestones; narrow, peaceful, idyllic. Liz and I looked at each other on the bottom of that hill, giant backpacks in tow, and realized we were going to hike the streets late at night, praying someone would have an available room within our meager student budget.

We didn’t know where to start. Clearly our desperation radiated, as we quickly heard a woman’s voice call from above, “Ragazzi! Ragazzi!” We looked up to see an elderly woman leaning out her window, asking us in Italian if we needed a room for the night. From that moment on, we referred to her as our Italian Angel. We still do.

Liz and Anne in Cinque Terre

I recall holding my breath, terrified as we followed this fragile, hunched Italian woman—unstable cane in hand—up the steep cobblestone street to an unmarked building which housed a handful of clean, quaint (dry!) bedrooms. I was convinced she would tumble over at any moment and we would be responsible, but as with all natives of mountainside towns, she maneuvered the treacherous street with grace.

She let us into the lovely room and somehow we managed to communicate our extreme gratitude. Before she left, we cobbled some words together and frantically asked where we could find some local “vino rosso, salumi and formaggi” to complete our serendipitous, memorable day. Armed with directions to the nearest Alimentari, Liz and I dashed downstairs for our ultimate prize—we had earned a delicious bottle of local red wine and could not wait to feast in the comfort of our cozy new room.

We opened the delicate paper wrappers and spread the prosciutto, salami and cheese across our bed, pouring ourselves celebratory wine in small, blue plastic cups. The wine capped off our crowning achievement: a truly perfect day in Cinque Terre. I don’t recall the kind of wine, but it doesn’t matter. It was local, and so were we.

Anne Bracegirdle is a Russian Art specialist in New York. She dreams of one day owning a Champagne vending machine.