I’m sitting at a sidewalk café in Turin, Italy, stirring my cappuccino as I try to warm up and wake up, recovering from a 12-hour time change and a hellish start to my much-anticipated Cinque Terre adventure. Well, really more of a Cinque Terre misadventure. Such a disaster I write it all down in my journal, hoping that someday I’ll be able to laugh at it – or at least consider it a valuable lesson on how NOT to travel to Italy. Valuable Cinque Terre travel tips…
Flashback – May, 1994
After flying from Honolulu to Los Angeles to Detroit to Frankfurt to Milan (yes, that’s two nights on a plane!), I arrive in Milan safely, but my luggage doesn’t. Sadly, in an embarrassing rookie mistake, I failed to pack extra clothes in my carry-on. Lufthansa promises to deliver my missing bag to my hotel. Unfortunately, in another rookie mistake, I haven’t booked a hotel. “No problem”, they tell me “just call us when you get there.”
Get where? That’s the problem…
I jump on the bus from the airport to the train station, buy a ticket for the 16:10 departure south to Cinque Terre, and I miss the train by about 3 seconds. The next train departs at 17:10…” but you must pay a supplement”, they tell me. So, I pay the extra and head south to Genoa, just missing the connecting train. After killing some time in the Genoa train station, I finally continue south to Monterosso, the northernmost village of the infamous Cinque Terre…finally!
Cinque Terre – five picturesque Italian villages along the Mediterranean coast, built into the hillside. Hiking trails connect these quaint villages, with breathtaking views along the way.
The Cinque Terre area is truly magical, and as I step off the train at 10 pm on a beautiful springtime Friday night, I wander through the charming Italian village of Monterosso with its cobblestone streets, so excited to finally be here and so looking forward to a week of amazing hiking and feasting on delicious Italian food and wine!
Following the advice and maps in The Lonely Planet guide, I locate my “dream hotel” along a quiet cobblestone lane, dreaming of a comfortable bed with a fluffy down comforter…and, sadly, it’s full! A few tears roll down my long, sad face as I walk away, my fluffy-down-comforter-dream suddenly shattered.
I wander through the village and visit almost every hotel in Monterosso…and all are full!
So, I head south to La Spezia on the 23:26 train, a larger city with more hotel options. Arriving around midnight, I cross the street to the nearest hotel… and it’s full! The tears of exhaustion finally explode into a total meltdown on a couch in the hotel lobby. The nice old Italian man at the front desk feels my pain and calls other hotels…all are full.
It’s now 12:30 am on Saturday and I haven’t actually slept since Tuesday night. I’ve got no bag, no hotel, and very little hope. I briefly consider throwing myself (gently) in front of a moving car, so they’ll call an ambulance and take me to the hospital where I can sleep. (Stupid idea.)
A better idea? Pisa! The nice hotel man suggests that Pisa might be a good option, a larger city with even more hotels! So, back at the La Spezia train station, I wait for the 1:26 am train, lying on a cold train station bench, shivering with no socks or warm clothes.
I’m feeling very homeless. I am very homeless.
Arriving in Pisa at 2:20 am, I visit a few hotels near the station. “No Vacancy” signs dangle in the windows, taunting me. I ask a taxi driver for any hotel suggestions and he laughs at me! Haha! Funny! So I laugh too, so tired of crying and so sleep-deprived – I laugh hysterically at this hellish situation.
Back at the Pisa train station, I review my options, thinking that heading north toward my missing bag might be a good choice. The two options: a train arriving in Genoa at 4:30 am or Turin at 6:45 am.
Turin wins and I curl up on the warm train for a 4-hour nap!
Arriving in Turin early the next morning, I walk across the street to the nicest hotel I can find and they have rooms! Yahoo!!! Expensive by my usual (cheap) standards but at that point, I don’t care! It’s a room!! Charge me an extra day for a 7 am check-in? Fine. I don’t even care!!
And with that 4-star price comes 4-star service – the angel at the front desk does some research and finds an available hotel in Vernazza, one of the quaint villages in Cinque Terre. The dream trip is still alive!
Sunday morning at 7 am, my bag finds me in Turin and the nightmare is finally over! (The following day we make the trek to Vernazza…)
So, I sit here at this sidewalk café in Turin, Italy, stirring my cappuccino as I try to warm up and wake up. Watching people, drinking coffee, and writing in my journal, convinced that someday it will make a good travel tale, or a valuable life lesson, making note of the actual timeline of events from my day from hell.
Valuable Cinque Terre travel tip learned from this misadventure?
Don’t be like me – always book a hotel for your first night when traveling in Italy, especially during May Day holiday week!
Be more like these guys…who experienced the Cinque Terre area the right way!
Lisbeth, from “Lili’s Travel Plans” found herself again in “Burnouts and New Beginnings – Searching Myself in Cinque Terre, Italy”.
Els, from “My feet are meant to roam“, took a slow approach to visiting the area in her recent blog post “Slow Travel and the Cinque Terre – a blissful combination”.
Finally, in April 2018, I was able to visit Cinque Terre the right way and experience this stunning slice of Italy. Here’s a guide to planning your next trip: “How to Create the Perfect Cinque Terre Travel Plan”.