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.