My dad was always raving about Cinque Terre, which he pronounced Sink Ter-ray, even after I had studied Italian and taught him the right way to say it.
After I told him I was going to study abroad in Italy, he’d send me pictures and links to websites all about Cinque Terre.
It was one of his dreams to go there himself.
He was a major force, financially and emotionally, in the way that dads are, in helping me decide to study abroad. He really helped make it happen.
As I prepared to study abroad, I didn’t plan to travel a whole lot . Flying halfway across the world to study in a place where people spoke a language in which I barely knew how to count to ten was already enough of an adventure for me.
In fact, everyone I knew was really surprised that I was leaving my hometown, the only place I’d ever lived, and making a temporary home for myself in a foreign country.
Since I’ve been known to stick with the familiar and play it safe, it just wasn’t something anyone expected me to do.
Nonetheless, I embarked on my adventure in August of 2012.
When I arrived, the other students were all talking about their travel plans.
Oh, I’m planning on going to Germany! I can’t wait to see the Louvre! I’ve always wanted to eat a cannoli in Sicily!
I hadn’t even considered the possibility of traveling OUTSIDE of the tiny bubble of Viterbo.
To be honest, I hadn’t truly prepared at all for my study abroad experience.
I didn’t watch YouTube videos or read blogs, and I barely even tried to learn Italian.
So it wasn’t surprising that I hadn’t planned any trips around Italy or to surrounding European Union countries.
(I was in kind of a wild party girl phase in my life, so I was too busy drinking and going to clubs on the weekend to be concerned with travel plans or learning la bella lingua. I would regret that decision when I arrived in Italy and starved for two days because I was too afraid to order food.)
But when I realized that 1) everyone was planning big, elaborate trips and 2) I had nothing to do on the weekends besides the same crap I was doing at home, I decided I better jump on the travel bandwagon.
Sink ter-ray meandered magically into my mind.
The pictures that my dad were always showing me were beautiful, and what better place to travel to than one that I was already familiar with?
I rounded up my friends, and we planned a weekend trip.
It was the first trip I’d taken outside of Viterbo besides an ill-fated weekend in Rome.
Since I knew very little about travel and booking things (and because I could barely ask the price of an item in Italian) I left the fate of our trip completely in Cher and Heather’s hands.
We embarked on the five-hour train journey and arrived in the first of the town of Sink Ter-ray on a sunny afternoon.
What the guidebooks and pretty photos fail to mention (and what my dad probably didn’t realize) is that Cinque Terre is just one hill after another.
This, after learning Italian, makes more sense since the literal translation of Cinque Terre is “five lands”.
After figuring out where our Air B&B apartment was located on a map, we marched up a huge hill to where we hoped our room was.
It was hot.
I had a big backpack full of clothes for the weekend and I was sweaty.
We reached the top of the hill, and quickly understood that we had no idea where we were supposed to be going.
After a couple failed attempts to get a hold of the renter, we realized we were lost in Cinque Terre without a place to sleep.
But after wandering around a small terrace that was, fortunately, shaded, the renter called us back.
He was on his way, but was late because of a train delay. Typical Italy.
We were able to get in the building with the help of a neighbor and were led to the top floor to a small seating area where we could wait for the renter to arrive.
Finally, we were inside.
I sat down and peeled my backpack from my back.
It felt so good to sit down.
Then I looked up.
The ceiling of the stairwell was COMPLETELY COVERED IN SPIDERS.
Hundreds of them.
(Okay, probably around 30.)
They ranged in size from the diameter of an American half-dollar to a big dinner plate.
Their long, stiff-looking legs clung to the ceiling, and they. were. everywhere.
Let me give you a little backstory.
When I was younger, my dad took me to a mini golf course. I was washing my hands after using the restroom and a huge, hairy wolf spider emerged from the drain in the sink.
A severe arachnophobia was born that day.
So this enclosed, spider-infested stairwell was basically my worst nightmare.
I started having a panic attack when I saw all of them staring down at me with their hundreds of tiny eyes.
(Okay, so I couldn’t actually see the eyes.)
They weren’t moving or dropping down in front of me on threads of silk.
They were just there, but their presence was enough for my fear to take over.
Eventually, the renter showed up and let us into the apartment. We followed him as he showed us to our room; I kept my eyes glued to the spider-free floor.
Thankfully, the room we were renting was spider-free.
He left, and we regrouped in the room.
How was I supposed to feel safe in an apartment that had an army of spiders waiting just outside the front door?
What’s more, how was I supposed to leave the apartment to explore Sink Ter-ray when I knew what was awaiting me?
There was nothing really I could do but just deal with it.
Since we stayed the entire weekend in Cinque Terre, I had to walk under the spider army every time we left or returned to the apartment.
At first, the thought of them hanging around up there paralyzed me with fear, but towards the end of the weekend, I was able to walk through with courage and bravery.
Turns out that spiders could sometimes be okay, especially as allies in the war against other bugs, which is, I imagine, why the residents of that apartment building would let them live up there.
Actually, later in my year abroad, I became so comfortable with spiders that I’d let them live in my room so they’d eat the mosquitoes that somehow always managed to get in.
The spiders, though, aren’t what I remember most about Cinque Terre.
What I remember most was eating bread paired with pecorino cheese and drinking wine straight from the carton while watching the sun set with two of the closest friends I’ve ever made.
I remember hiking for five hours, getting lost in the wilderness and making it to the beach just in time to enjoy the water before the sun went down.
I remember getting nibbled on by little Italian fish in the Ligurian Sea – the first ocean I’d ever been in besides the Pacific.
I remember noticing how bright the stars were at night without city lights to obscure them.
While the trip to Sink Ter-ray started off disastrously, it ended as one of my favorites.
Despite being a lot hills and a lot of bugs, I made some of the best memories of my life there.
In Italy, and especially on this trip, I learned to let go.
I learned that the unknown isn’t always something to fear.
While it might have been easier to focus on the spiders and the hills, I learned to concentrate on the sunsets and good cheese of life instead.
After all, che sarà, sarà.