Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Cinque Terre

As I am preparing my parents' 57th wedding anniversary gift, selecting photos for them, I realize that I haven't done much here with our photos from our trip to Europe. So I am going to tell you a true story.

One of our dreams has been to hike the Cinque Terre in Italy. Gregg visited this cluster of five small towns, 30 years ago. He and I visited the region with my parents 10 years ago, but we by-passed the Cinque Terre because of time and over-crowding concerns. You see, these five little villages (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) which are mostly fishing villages, with vineyards and olive groves among them, are so beautiful that they have attracted large crowds of tourists. I don't like large crowds of anything, and neither does my dad. We passed by at that time, but Gregg & I always wanted to go back, and hike
the trail that winds its way through all five of the towns, each with its distinct personality.

The opportunity to do so, with David, arose this summer.

We read the guidebook section about the area carefully, and planned our route in reverse order of the recommendations - for good reasons. The guidebook recommends starting with the easier portion of the hike, and ending with the hardest. That is counter-intuitive, to us; we felt we should do the most difficult part when we were fresh, and the sun was low in the sky. We also saw that in moving in that direction (from north to south along the coast of the Ligurian Sea), we would enjoy more shade...and it was very, VERY hot and humid.

So we set out from our hotel in Levanto, took the train to Monterosso al Mare, and began our hike; it was a challenging beginning. Up and down many steep steps, perched on the edge of cliffs, most of the way with nothing but scrub, olive trees or vineyards and the deep blue sea below us, we sweated and enjoyed the effort. When we got too hot, we hiked down to the beach and went for a dip in the sea.

As we reached each village, we would take a rest, get a snack or a beverage and admire the unique character it possessed. We were (unfortunately) in the midst of a great number of other people, all hiking the same narrow trails. There were many times when we had to step off of the trail to allow people to go by us in the opposite direction. There wasn't as much peace as I would have liked, but nothing could ruin the experience; it was even more beautiful than I had imagined it would be, and was well worth all of the work it had taken to get there.

In many places along the trail, I was surrounded by butterflies, of many types and colors, such as I had never seen before. I felt that Katie was making her "presence" known.

During the preparations for this trip, I had been in touch with the writer of this blog:, Chris, who is the mother of the beautiful woman on its masthead, Sarah. Sarah had also had a lifelong dream of visiting the Cinque Terre, and she realized her dream by traveling there with her husband. Tragically, in the beautiful town of Manarola, Sarah was overtaken by a rogue wave, and killed on the very spot where the blog photo was taken. The story as her mother told it entered my heart in a deep way.

I wanted to do something for Chris.

Chris sent me information about the spot on the path where there is a memorial plaque for Sarah. She gave me the name of a woman who has helped the family. I had this information with me as we hiked.

We found the spot where the accident happened, but somehow, failed to find the plaque. But I did find the wonderful woman, Paula, who has been such a light for Sarah's family. We stopped at the Tourist Infocenter at the last town, and they called Paula at her home. She came in a matter of minutes, down to the center of Riomaggiore, to meet us, to tell us of Sarah and her effect upon the small cluster of towns. We talked about how I had come to know of Chris and Sarah; about Katie, about families, and we cried. It was a deeply moving and amazing time of connection, mourning, boundless love and honoring two beautiful daughters, who had both died too young.

Thank you, Chris, for sharing your story, and Sarah's, on your blog. Thank you, Paula, for a meeting I will never forget. Thank you, Katie and Sarah, for inspiring your mothers.

And thank You, God, for allowing us to experience this dream, and to share it with our beloved son, David.


Renee said...

Thank you Karen for inspiring me.

Love Renee xoxo

Gannet Girl said...

We walked a tiny bit of the Cinque Terre with our children on our 2000trip to Italy, and I have always dreamed of going back to do the whole trip. Imagine my surprise and sorrow to read about Sarah on our local paper last year -- about a year after she died, and a few weeks after our son died. I am hoping to visit with her mom next week.

It is wonderful to imagine the journey via your pictures.

Cassandra said...

This was a beautiful and inspiring blog passage, Karen. And, as always, your writing evokes so many different emotions in me--pleasure, curiosity, sorrow and sadness. I, too, have walked that Cinque Terre hike and have taken that exact picture that you posted of Vernazza. Of course, after reading the blog inspired by Sarah, I reflect on my time there differently. But I do agree that the landscape and the people of the Cinque Terre region are wonderful.

Laurie Brandriet Keller said...

I've been thinking of the Cinque Terre for the past few days while I have been putting together a collage of momentos in my dressing room. What a great thing to do while you were there ... thank God that love really is universal. xoxo.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post - the pictures, and the story (although tragic). It is strange to me that a wave can do that when you are just on the beach ~ but the same thing happened to a young Coast Guard man here this summer. Can't wait to read your book! L

Karla said...

Beautiful story, photos and mandy sweet memories from the sounds of it. :)

Karen and Joe said...

What a tale of shared Mother love. I just read "true north" yesterday, and read her words thanking you. I didn't know the whole story though till now. It was truly lovely of you. What a heart you have, Karen.

We also, like many of your readers, stayed in Vernazza a few summers ago, and also found some very kind and generous people living there. I am so glad I can picture where this all took place. It now has a new memory attached.

Love to you,

Busy Bee Suz said...

Chris and Sarah's story is so moving and heartbreaking. I will keep Chris in my prayers as well as you.
I do love your photos and the writing that goes along with know so well how to share your thoughts. Thank you, Suz

Your parents have been married 57 years??? that is just amazing..what an inspiration they are.

christine said...

I am deeply touched tonight as I read your blog-how close our worlds are, you are a dear friend. Can't wait to meet you one day-on this side of heaven, or there.
Your words are like warm oil over my mother's heart tonight. Love you, Chris

Lakeland Jo said...

lovely pics and lovely story

Elizabeth said...

How utterly fantastic. Thank you for sharing the story, the photos and a little bit of your beautiful life and family!

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