No-one else was awake when I started walking. Away from the streetlights the sky was just starting to colour, as the village gave way to terraces of olive trees and vines.
I had on me: phone, €40, 0.5L bottle of water.
I had in front of me 6km of hiking. Going south, Manarola was the next of the five villages. It wasn’t until I got there that I even saw another person.
In Riomaggiore, the southernmost of the five villages, I kept walking until I felt like not walking any more and looped back. Then I took the train one stop back to Manarola for a late lunch.
I sat on a terrace, slightly above the town. On the opposite hillside a steady stream of people in bright hiking gear were ascending the path towards Corniglia. With another short hop on the train I was back there too.
That evening I got chatting to a couple from Texas. We spent a few hours on the terrace at the end of the village, drinking Aperol Spritzes and eating olives.
They were in Europe for the first time. Their experience was so unlike mine. Everything was new. Their parents were worried about terror attacks because that’s what happens in Europe, on TV at least. But they were here in the world, looking at it, even when they weren’t sure what it was.
Rather than going somewhere unfamiliar, I’d removed the things that make being away feel similar to home. We’re still—the Texans and I—tourists. And that’s OK.
If you go to the same place every year, or have the same holiday in different places then maybe it’s another story. But it’s the excitement of the new that has you standing on a hill with people from all over the world, looking at the same view, as others did yesterday, and still others will do tomorrow.
The night before leaving I slept at my friend Paul’s flat (thanks Paul!) to be closer to the airport. My flight was at 8:30am but nervous anticipation and the summer sky—light so early—had me out of the door at 5:30am.
I left behind a bag containing the clothes I’d worn the previous day. Everything else I distributed amongst my pockets (3 in my shorts and 2 in my jacket). The experiment had begun.
After two buses, three trains, a flight, and many flights of steps I arrived in Corniglia at 3pm. Plenty enough time to walk every street in the village and go for a swim in the sea.
I had three nights booked in a camera (literally ‘room’) in Corniglia. It was big enough for a single bed, wardrobe, fold-out desk and nothing more. I—yawning before sundown—was only interested in the bed. Days with flights are like that.
Before going to sleep I thought to make the most of the early night. Sunrise would be at 6:30am; I set my alarm for 5:30am. You can do that when you travel by yourself.
I usually travel with minimal luggage. But in the last couple of years my trips have always involved motorbikes, camping, or cold weather. Each of which need special clothing or equipment.
On this trip, none of those things were a concern. So I thought I’d do an experiment to see just how little it was possible to take.
Here is everything I took:
Clockwise from top left:
New brake pads, old brake pads. Again, they don’t last long in the mud and the salt.