Over Christmas break, I talked with my grandmother about the spots I would visit this summer. She told me she had been to some of the cities and was excited that I would have that opportunity to explore Germany. The conversation changed when I told her I had the opportunity to visit Cinque Terre. A women that has travelled across the world expressed her desire to travel to Cinque Terre, and I was going to explore it on my first trip out of the Americas. She even showed me the small etching in her kitchen of the colorful stacked hills for which this region is known, and we continued to discuss our love for the sea and for quaint villages and for seeing for ourselves the places famed in photographs.
Naturally, when I arrived in Riomaggiore, I stepped onto the balcony of our small hotel and snapped a few pictures of the houses and of the landscape and sent them to Grammy. Her response changed my perspective of the whole experience–a simple response, but one that reminded me of the incredible privilege it is to travel. She said “I’m happy you get to see it in person,” which prompted me to reflect. I immediately begin to give thanks for the multiple aspects of life that must fall into place for adventures like this to occur.
I gave thanks first for the honor of being chosen for CR. Dr. P sees something great in each of us and decided we should be given this opportunity and the challenge that comes with it.
I gave thanks that I have the resources that make an experience like this possible and comfortable.
I gave thanks for a healthy body that allows me to navigate the multiple terrains we have endured thus far (the hikes to the castles, in Interlaken, and Riomaggiore and 10 mile days in Berlin).
I gave thanks for the people chosen alongside me–for their intelligence, their wit, their kindness, their openness. I gave thanks for their similar desire to explore and learn and succeed and change.
I gave thanks (most of all) for the God that created us and gave us brains capable of anything. Talking with Peter at the church in Riomaggiore, I told him that I have learned to thank God not only for the people in my life, but for the way He has crafted their complex brain in a way that can understand and love me and for my brain that can do the same. CR has pushed my noggin to understand history and the emotions associated with it and the common threads within European cities. A lot of the intellectual work for me, though, has come with learning to understand the other 17 people on Cultural Routes. I have been encouraged to be sensitive and understanding. With each life story told, I work to remember the events that have shaped each person. With each academic passion discussed, I have worked to understand the way these thoughtful tendencies differ from my own. Overall, I have had to learn and study much, and I have not opened a textbook once.
In Riomaggiore, I found rest in the beauty of the scenery, the peaceful lifestyle, and the quiet sounds of both nature and the city. We jumped in the refreshing ocean, explored by boat and by foot, and ate delicious meals. My favorite experience, though, involved Daniela and Piero and their love for our group.
Daniela and Piero run a business in which they cook meals and create experiences for groups in the comfort of their (or in our case, a friend’s) home. Sounds dreamy, right?
On Wednesday, after our boat trip along the coast, I showered and dressed in the most European outfit I could create out of my 50 pound mess of a bag. We hopped on a train to Monterosso and met Piero, who walked us up a steep incline lined with fragrant flowers and framed with views of the Italian hills. Down a flight of steep stony steps lay blankets and pillows overlooking more beautiful stacks of houses and a blue sea. Truly, this was a sight I imagined only in movies.Daniela and Piero prepared and served a delicious meal. Italian sodas and a focaccia bread course were followed by fresh pesto on tagliatelle, mozzarella and tomato sauce on rigatoni, salad lightly dressed with olive oil, chicken and potatoes with herbs and lemon, and a delicious strawberry shortcake. Yummy!
This satisfying meal was followed by even more satisfying conversation and bonding. Daniela joined our circle and began to delve into the details of her life story and how she came to live such an interesting and dynamic life so far from her hometown of Chicago. She gave us her advice–to be kind, to be tolerant, to be open. She reminded us that there is a whole world outside of our hometown, TCU, and even the United States. Daniela, who spoke eloquently of her life, reminded us to explore and adventure, to love and be loved, and to be resilient in the face of life challenges.
Daniela’s wisdom resonated with me. The biggest lesson I learned through freshman year was to be kind to anyone I met. As she spoke of leaving her home to explore and start a new life, I realized that nothing in my life right now is permanent. The life ahead of me can be shaped and lived however I choose, and that may include a spell spent cooking for groups and sharing my wisdom with young people in Cinque Terre.
Riomaggiore opened my eyes to the world outside for many reasons, but mostly it made me overwhelming thankful. So Grammy, I did savor every second. Riomaggiore, I will be back again with more people who crave your charm and simplicity.