By Lane McAree
One of my favorite memories from the Oxford Program last summer was a day trip that I took on a rare and much needed free day on the travel portion of the program. We were only supposed to have one free day over the entire six weeks of travel, but our professors moved around our museum schedule in Florence to give us a free day before a travel day to Paris. Since we had quite literally explored almost every square inch of Florence in our few days there, my friends and I considered day trip options outside of the city.
We decided on a place about 80 miles away and right on the coast of Italy called Cinque Terre, which is a string of centuries-old seaside villages on the rugged Italian Riviera coastline, all linked by hiking trails and one railroad. We bought tickets for a 6 A.M. train to leave Florence and tried to catch up on some sleep during the 3-hour ride there. We got off at Riomaggiore, the southern-most town, and started to hike a path to the next town over. As we passed other hikers, the British/American/Australian ones who noticed us speaking English kept warning us that we had a lot ahead. We just smiled, laughed, and tried to pretend like our legs weren’t already crying from the hike.
Although it was physically demanding, the breathtaking views along the way made the climb beyond worth it. By the time we reached the top of the mountain, our whole group was covered in sweat and ready to ready to relax, but also appreciative of the workout after all of the gelato we had been enjoying in Italy that week. We huddled up for pictures and stopped to admire the amazing crystal clear sea and sloped city below us. I will never forget how beautiful the coast was as we walked down the mountain and onward to find a cliff jumping spot.
We followed a path to a small swimming area that had a ramp going into the water and a ladder for swimmers. It seemed like a cool, local spot, with a class of about 20 elementary school aged kids learning how to scuba dive there. When we started swimming, we realized why this was such an ideal place to scuba dive; the water was so clear that I could see pebbles on the bottom over 30 feet down. One of my friends ran back up to the village to buy goggles from a local shop, and my other friend whipped out her GoPro to take underwater videos of all the fish. After we got some cliff jumping and swimming out of our system, we walked up to a cliff-side restaurant, with the most incredible view ever, to grab lunch. With all outdoor seating and amazing sandwiches and appetizers, it was the perfect place to refresh.
Since we had gotten our fair share of hiking for the day, we decided to take a train from that town to the northernmost one, Monterosso. This was more of a beachy and touristy spot, with “sand” that felt more like rocks on my tired feet. We relaxed on the beach for a few hours, before having to head back around dinner time to make sure we caught a train that could get us back to Florence in time to shower and pack for our journey to France the next morning. What made this day so special to me was being in one of the most beautiful places I had ever been with friends that I made over just the 5 weeks before that free day. That day in Cinque Terre led me through the extremes – from being high up on a mountain, to floating down in the sea; from losing my breath from the physical strain of scaling over rocks in the sun, to losing my breath at the beauty of the calmness the water and mountains around me. After that trip we were all rejuvenated and I was more excited than ever to continue the journey of the most amazing summer of my life.