This weekend was the free travel weekend. It was our first chance to practice traveling independently, but after our trips in Rome and Florence, I felt ready for it.
On Friday after the test, I took a short ride over to Cortona with Miranda and Meagan. It was a really pretty town on top of a hill (yes, all Italian towns seem to be on top of hills). It was actually very similar to Arezzo, which I guess isn’t surprising since it is so close. It had its own castle and historical center. It even had banners up for each of it’s own four corners. One of my favorite things about Cortona was the amount of shopping it had on it’s main road. I would say that a lot of this shopping was geared towards tourists, and that Cortona was marginally more touristy than Arezzo. Nevertheless, it was a fun town. At the top of the hill in a beautiful old church, we were shocked to stumble across a shrunken old dead body of a saint on display. From a distance, we assumed it was a statue of the saint on top of her grave like we had seen for several dead Popes in other churches. But no. It was an actual dead body. Apparently this is actually a common thing that can be found in churches in Arezzo as well. After that shock, we kept marching up the hill to visit the city’s fortress. I thought it was interesting that much of the fortress had not been renovated like in Arezzo, and it was cool to compare the two.
The next day, Saturday, I woke up early to catch a train to Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is this collection of five tiny towns on the coast, which all combine into the national park of Cinque Terre. It was breathtaking. We got off of a train at Riomagiorre,and I was startled by how clear and blue the water was. I’d never seen ocean water apart from the east coast of the United States. The beaches were rocky, with large black rock formations around the coast. You could see everything which made it an ideal location to try cliff diving for the first time. It was so much fun! I would estimate that the highest point Shelby and I jumped from was about 25 feet. I could have spent a week on those beaches easily. We also had a lot of fun hiking the second day there. To get between towns one can either take a train, or one can hike between towns. The easy paths along the coasts were closed for maintenance, so we took the upper paths. And by upper they mean upper. We ended up hiking from the first town to the second and then from the second to the third. A large part of these paths involve walking up stairs roughly cut into the rock up the entire mountain. It was so tiring but so fun! Once you got to the top, the whole ocean just opened up before you. The tiny towns and beaches where you had spent the day seemed like nothing. I was just amazed with the farmers who manage to grow grapes, olives, and other crops all of the way up the side of the mountains. If I had more time in Cinque Terre I would have liked to spent a night in each town and hiked in between, spending ample time at the beaches. I definitely hope to come back one day!