Tuesday, March 14, 2017

CINQUE TERRE, ITALY

 For the first time since OUR HONEYMOON, Jeff and I had the rare opportunity to go on a trip without our, seemingly permanent, appendages. Our really cute ones that we love but also make traveling a little bit harder :)We drove our kids to Belgium where my amazing SIL Kim watched them. We flew from Belgium to Pisa, Italy. And from there took a train to the coast of Italy. Any place that has "the coast" as part of its description is a place I want to be forever and always.

The coast means the lullaby of waves that bring peace, and a freshness, to your soul! In this case, it means blue water that looks like an over-satuated photograph, but is actually a natural, colorful brilliance. It means being blinded by the sparkling water as the sun shines down its warmth and light. Being near the water is awe-inspiring, beautiful, and terrifiying at the same time. The ocean that could swallow us whole in a split second can also provide rejuvenation and joy. God's art is my favorite art. Which is why this place was my heaven on earth!


 We were greeted to the town we were staying in by a gracious airbnb host and some vibrant orange trees. These orange trees were the culprits of my never-ending citrus craving. The oranges there were delicious and I ate so many!
Cinque Terre is the name for a group of 5 villages that are nestled atop some cliffs on the western coast of Italy. The villages are old, colorful, and full of character... and gelato. We wasted no time, and hopped on to the train to visit the first of the 5 villages: Vernazza. The first thing we happily stumbled across was this small italian bread shop. We got a slice with fresh mozarella, tomatoes, and pesto and it was the perfect first taste of Italy. 
 As we were leisurely walking and enjoying our food, we saw this cave that had a bright light at the end; and so we followed it, and were pleasantly greeted with THIS VIEW ^^
A beautiful rocky beach. We took our shoes off and put our feet in the water. Rather, froze our feet in the water. Any hopes for jumping in for a swim were quickly shattered. But we were happy to soak in the rays of sunshine that we have missed so much lately! 
 Jeff facetimed his mom, while I climbed these rocks. It felt so weird to be free to move and climb and walk as fast as I wanted to; wherever I wanted to. Just not something I'm used to as a mom to darling LITTLE girls. :)
 This is one view of the village of Vernazza, just chilling casually on the dark jagged cliff. It's just stunning.
 We continued to explore the town: running up stairs, finding fun little benches to kiss on, trying to find places to stick our camera so we could get a picture with both of us in it, and scouting out all the cool shops and restaurants. The only picture we got of us together was this one, and it's totally blurry but I love it anyways. Seriously, I can't figure out why we never asked someone to take our picture. #touristremorse
 We found this gelato; and it was probably the best gelato I've had. It could've been because it actually was the best gelato I've ever had. But it also could've been because I was IN Italy, and the experience of eating it there just took it to the next level. I can never be sure really; but it's safe to say we ENJOYED them thoroughly. And Jeff was even a trooper to let me take a picture of his before he devoured it.
I was adamant on staying in the village for the sunset even though it was getting quite chilly. The sunset was beautiful, but not quite as colorful as I was expecting. Jeff gave this scientific explanation as to why, which is not unlike him. Always learning new nuggets from him. After the sun set, we found a hole in the wall place where we got a pizza to share. It was DELICIOUS! A perfect way to end our first day.
The next day we woke up and took a train to the village of Corniglia. Full of vineyards that I just loved. To get to this village from the train station, we had to walk up a ton of stairs. (I think around 500) And once we got to the top, we hardly even took a second glance at the village before we started hiking to the next. Our main goal today was to hike to different villages. That was what enticed me to come here; hiking is my happy place! And I've never hiked somewhere so beautiful! Hiking on these trails was truly surreal. I told Jeff I felt like I was on a treasure hunt, with new breath-taking views around every corner. The blue sparkling sea a blissful constant. They were long, steep hikes with SO many stairs. But the promise of spectacular views and endorphins propelled us forward.
 Had to sneak a picture of this cute old man pruning his vineyard. I loved seeing everyone out working on their land.
We were stripping layers real quick as we continued up more and more stairs. It was so FUN hiking with him!
This is an up-high view of Corniglia. Just beautiful! 
 Up high view of Vernazza.
 Jeff saw this quilt hanging to dry on one of the houses and said "My mom would love this!"
 Every morning as you walk around the villages, you can see all the women outside on their balconies hanging up their clothes to dry. Made me grateful for my dryer, but also grateful to be able to see how simply and happily these people live! Today when my dishwasher broke, instead of getting frazzled and angry, I remembered these ladies and realized that it's JUST FINE to hand wash for a few days. Really, I WILL survive.
 We hiked from Corniglia to Vernazza. (a little over an hour) and then took a train to Manarola. We had a nice sit down lunch that was....a little underwhelming. I mean it's hard to go bad with pesto, but it just wasn't my favorite. But we did sit next to an american couple who we had a nice long visit with. Let me tell you, I am just bursting at the seams to talk to anyone I come across who is american on our travels. I get so sad that I can't communicate well with all the people from these different countries, and miss having conversations where I can speak freely.
 And this is where the vacation took a turn for my Jeffrey boy. He kept saying he "just wanted to lay down somewhere in the sun" which isn't totally out of character for him. So I went off on my own to explore and take pictures.
 And would you look at this perfect picture? I could frame it and look at it every day. I don't know if any type of scenery could be more visually appealing.
Even though Jeff wasn't feeling his best, we set off for our next hike: from Manarola to Riomaggiore. This was the shortest of all the hikes, but also the most intense. It was about 3/4 a mile of STEEP stairs straight up to the top of a mountain. There were moments where I was scaling up steps more than walking; using my hands to pull me up. 

You know how we always say at Christmas time that we wish we could have the Christmas spirit all year round? Well, italy has got it down. Check out this Nativity on this mountain. So many people all traveling in the direction of Christ, I absolutely loved this. Reminded me of the quote "Wise men still seek him." 
FInally made it to the top, and overlooking the village of Riomaggiore.  (side note: it was fun trying to say these villages the way the italians do; I love the way they accent their words!)
^^ the tippy top of this hill is the one that we climbed straight up and back down. 
 I thought the hike was a blast but Jeff kept asking to take breaks; even though I was wearing the back pack and everything! This is the guy who rucks 8-20 miles on the regular. So unlike him. He began to dwindle more and more until he finally said he had to go back to our room. I just figured that hike really tired him out; he later told me that he wanted SO badly to just say "you go do the hike yourself and I'm going to go home" but he wanted to make me happy! I later realized it was a great sacrifice because he was hit hard with something nasty. We think it was food poisoning; but it took EVERYTHING out of him and by the next morning he could hardly walk to the bathroom.
 After going to Riomaggiore, we went to Monterosso, the biggest of all the villages with a huge sandy beach...my thought was to get dinner but jeff was just being a good sport at this point. He had ZERO appetite which made it super lame for me to want to go find somewhere to eat by myself. Jeff just laid here on the beach while I ran around and people-watched like a creeper, while snapping photos of the beautiful beach as the sun was setting. After sitting down next to him and eavesdropping on a conversation nearby (ha!), we decided to leave.  Jeff couldn't last another second. We went home. I went out to find somewhere to eat. I found a place that had pizza to go and brought it back to the room and ate it while jeff deteriorated. I felt so bad, and was trying to keep a positive attitude. It really was horrible timing for him to get sick, and it was the sickest I have EVER seen him!
 The next day I went out early in the morning to try to find some electrolytes, crackers, and bananas for jeff. I had to walk around for a solid hour before anything was open and finally came back with a hodge podge of things for him. He told me to go out and do something so I wasnt stuck inside all day. He got no sleep that night and it was clear he would not be leaving his bed (or the toilet). So I went out to try to find a Cannoli. When in Italy, right? Well I found one, along with some gelato! (again, oops!) And...the cannoli was gross. I know there were other places with awesome cannolis but they were closed. I also didn't eat much of the gelato. I guess eating dessert alone is not as enticing as it is to eat it with the person you love!
 I went to Vernazza again and decided to hike from there to Monterosso. I had already been to both villages but there was more to see, and I hadn't hiked between the 2 yet! It was the longest hike yet, but it was more leisurely. It DID have a lot of stairs, but it also had a lot of flat, scenic stretches. I had some really good moments being alone, saying prayers, and getting some answers. I felt so enlightened and strengthened afterwards. Ready to conquer life. I'm grateful for a loving Savior who can humble and inspire me at the same time.
Another beautiful (maybe my favorite) view of Vernazza.

 This is towards the beginning of my hike. YOu can see Monterosso off in the distance: my destination. There were a few mountains in the way, as you can see :)
 Making progress, getting closer.
^^ some of the flat, and beautiful, spots of the trail. I was the only lone hiker, might I add.
 I sat here for a good 3 minutes having a staring contest with this lizard, daring it to move. I wanted to get an action picture for Jane. But he stayed still and in the end, his patience outlasted mine.
 Made it to Monterosso. And that SUUUPER photogenic rock that I'm apparently obsessed with.
 I had worked up an appetite for lunch....and so I ate a focaccia sandwich, table for one, right on the boardwalk of the beach. #LONER
They warn you profusely about pick-pockets. Notice the person pick-pocket-ing has a bandana around his head. This sign made me laugh out loud. 
And lest you assume this trip consisted of fabulous italian food. This was my dinner the last night. Next to my sick husband on the bed. I came home and brought him lunch and then we watched some shows and I spent a lot of time planning for the week ahead. It was so nice to have a few hours to just plan out the week in more detail than I usually get to.


That trip was unforgettable. For many reasons. It really was rotten that Jeff got sick but we still had a blast together and most important of all: our love and appreciation for each other grew! We had many good conversations and sweet moments I'll never forget. One day as we were sitting in the sun in Manarola, he looked at me and said "You know, you really are the most beautiful girl here. And I really do think that." He is SO not mushy, so it made me blush. He is a good man, a good partner, and I left with my cup completely full. Sometimes life drains your cup to near empty, and other times, life fills it right back up. I needed a brimming cup, and I'm grateful to God for giving me time alone with my husband, with myself, and with Him to gain clarity, gratitude, and a renewed determination to be the best I can be.

I'm so grateful to Kim for watching my girls and LOVING them. I really didn't worry about them once. I MISSED them, but worry- I did not! What a priceless gift. I was SO excited to see my girls again, and I think the feeling was mutual. :)

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