10 Years and Still the Same

I've started and re-written this post several times now today, and in some ways I feel like it's time for me to move on from posting a memorial every year. It's no surprise to anyone that knows our family that February 15th and 16th were the worst days of our lives. I know we don't have to tell anyone who knew my mom and brother twice about the kind of shock an devastation their deaths had on our lives and the lives of those around them. I know that I don't have to remind anyone who knew them about what the loss of their presence in our lives means on a day to day basis, because the void is deep and cannot be replaced or filled. It has not been replaced or filled... nor will it ever be. Those closest to us realize the monumental impact that suffering in silence means... that no amount of platitudes or verbal comfort will make any difference. That's not to say that we don't and haven't appreciated the support over the years, but what it means is that truly nothing and no one can ever do anything to make it any less difficult. After ten years I've realized that loss will always be loss.

Not having my mom throughout the last ten years of my life has been the most difficult thing I have gone through on a day in, day out basis. I used to think that time healed all wounds. But really, it doesn't. Time doesn't make me think of my mom less. Time doesn't make me miss them less. Time doesn't make the hurt any less or more bearable. I can vividly remember the details of the 24 hours between 5:16pm on February 15th and 2:30pm on February 16th... the moment I found out my mom died, and the moment we had to let Chase go. I remember each thought, emotion, numb feeling, nurse, hallway, ventilator... I remember the doctor pulling me into the room telling me to prepare that my brother likely wouldn't make it through the night. I remember the surreal grace and overwhelming relief seeing Taylor alive when we were told his injuries were life-threatening (a mix-up by a nurse that we are forever grateful for). I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news, "Brynn is dead." I remember each scent, feeling, word, emotion so crystal clear-- clearer than any memory I have in this world so far and time has not lessened those memories even close. I'd argue to myself that time has actually magnified them for me. 
But see, the thing that I have learned through all of this is that grief and loss can catapult you in a direction far beyond who you could ever be without it. I wish with every ounce of my being that my mom and Chase were alive right now and that we could go back to being the family we were ten years ago... that my mom would know my husband... would journey alongside us through our adoption... would be around to mentor me as I struggled to find my way through my 20s. But at the same time, I have no question that who I am today is a result of the tragedy and loss that ten years ago today marked. I often think about that... would I be living her legacy if she were still alive? Would I have as willingly surrendered the rest of my life to God if he hadn't first rescued me from my darkest place? I don't know if I will ever know the answer to that and so, here are some of my thoughts. 
1. I made a very conscious choice not to blame anyone or anything for their deaths. That would be the easy road. That would be the path that makes sense and would give me an out to direct all of my anger and pain towards and for the rest of my life I would have something to hate and an element of control over an uncontrollable circumstance. Instead, by the grace of God who rescued me, I was able to surrender that blame to Him because no amount of blame, hatred, bitterness or depression could ever bring them back and change my reality. Instead, I chose freedom.

2. I got out of bed. I got out of bed when I wanted to stay in bed for the rest of my life and I took a shower. I took a shower, put on clean clothes, ate food and stepped back into life because life didn't stop even thought my world did. I laid in bed and realized that me laying in bed wouldn't bring them back. Me begging for them to come back wouldn't bring them back. Me crying out asking, "Why us?!" wouldn't bring them back. So instead, I chose to live.

3. The best way I could think to honor my mom and brother was to live big. I realized very, very quickly that life is short and in that moment I didn't want to live with compromise. I didn't want to settle. I didn't want to take the easy path. I wanted to spend every moment, every hour, every day of my life with purpose and meaning and not slip into the comfortable suburban habit that I had grown accustomed to. For me that meant taking stock in my choices and deciding right then and there: Who do I want to be?

4. I had two choices: Blame God, or trust God. Even thought I grew up as a Christian, I seriously doubted God after I begged for Chase to live. BEGGED. I have never prayed or cried harder for something in my life than for him to survive. And when he didn't, I was so confused. I was SO confused. I thought I did everything right and I didn't understand why God didn't answer my prayers. At that moment I could have made a very specific choice to walk away from God... but by His graciousness again I chose to trust in His purpose. I don't know why all of this had to happen to us, but I had to, have to, believe that God is sovereign. God is good. God does only good, and on this side of eternity I may never be able to understand it... but I have the hope of knowing I will see them again some day. And THAT is an answer to prayer.

5. I had to allow myself to grieve in whatever way came to me. I couldn't live by anyone else's definition of grief, nor could I judge anyone else's way of grieving. Instead, I had to grieve what I lost in whatever way happened. And I have grieved and I continue to grieve. The grief comes in waves that I allow myself to ride through and don't run from anymore.

6. I remember the humanity of my mom and brother. 5 years too late from when I should have gone to counseling, I went to grief counseling. My therapist was so wise as I was sobbing over what I missed and loved about my mom, and she made me stop and tell her the things that used to upset me about my mom and the ways that I didn't want to be like her. I felt like it was blasphemy... but at the same time, it helped my healing heart because it allowed me to take her and Chase off a pedestal and remember that they were human too... the good and the bad. I laughed, remembering how my mom would write me passive-aggressive letters when she was mad at me that I would throw in a drawer or rip up in my teenage angst (now I wish I had them!) and when my brother would purposely annoy us with blowing his recorder in our ear.

I wouldn't wish this kind of loss on my worst enemy... going through something like this has softened my heart and given me a capacity to love that I am not sure I would have ever had before. There can be beauty in suffering if you allow it. Don't ever lose sight of that hope. Grieve in your own way. But don't rob yourself of the life you have by spending the rest of it wishing it were different or blaming someone else because it is.

Everything you ever wanted is on the other side of fear

Taking a 7 week trip to another continent isn't easy.

Sure, from afar it sounds exotic and glamorous and magical, which is exactly how I felt when we originally booked our tickets 9 months ago and began planning. Back then, it felt like a dream, like no amount of planning or preparation was going to make it real. Anyone who knows me, knows I love to travel. I thought 7 weeks was the ultimate indulgence-- like when you're gone for two weeks and wish, "I just want to stay a little bit longer!" Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I didn't think the trip was actually going to occur but I would have fun planning it anyway.

And yet, we progressed. The months inched closer, the hotels were booked, the car was rented, and then the anxiety kicked in... with full force.

It's been a constant battle for me to surrender my times of anxiousness to the Lord and allow peace to wash over me. The enemy knows where I am weakest. Weeks before this trip the anxiety doubled, tripled and quadrupled to a degree I had never quite experienced. I got to a point where I literally asked Timothy, a week before we were supposed to leave, if we could cancel it. I cried for at least an hour and walked around in a zombie-fied state, wondering if I was making the biggest mistake of my life leaving my new home in Oregon to explore another part of the world, totally inexperienced, for 7 weeks. No amount of reading guidebooks and travel blogs had prepared me emotionally for what leaving my home behind for that long meant. I wasn't looking forward to the trip and I wanted nothing more than to stay home in my comfortable new house with my predictable life that I had an element of control over and spend all summer reading and resting. Of course, Timothy said "heck no."

I realize as I'm typing this that many of you have experienced far greater challenges in leaving home behind or traveling to a foreign country before (heck, our own exchange student left Sweden for a year to stay in America), so I am by no means trying to act like mine was any greater struggle. We're talking about Western Europe, too. However, for me, leaving home for 7 weeks was as much of a real issue of surrendering fear as anything might be for someone else. Fear is fear.

As the days led up to our trip, I operated towards friends and family as if I was saying "goodbye" for the last time. (I'm not kidding). My narcissistic thoughts acted like they were reality (which is something that I really learned how to let go of during this trip). I was afraid to think things because I was afraid that what I thought would come through.

Trust me when I say that if you watched our trip from a distance and began a sentence with, "That's great for them, but I would be afraid that..."

whatever your "afraid of" thing was, I feared it.

I feared our plane crashing (all legs and journeys)
I feared getting kidnapped
I feared getting sick
I feared getting food poisoning
I feared getting mugged
I feared losing our passports
I feared losing our money
I feared our home burning down
I feared our home getting robbed
I feared getting in a car accident
I feared our aerial tram crashing down the mountainside
I feared our suitcases getting lost
I feared experiencing terrorism

I feared so much that I never focused on all the good that could happen on this trip and spent my energies and emotions worrying about what could go wrong. I didn't look forward to our trip until the second our feet landed on European soil.

A couple of days before our trip I found this poster online that says, "Everything you ever wanted is on the other side of fear." It immediately resonated with me and I bought it, framed it, and hung it over my bed so it would be the last thing I saw every night and the last thing I saw as I walked out the door each morning.

Even though I felt like a zombie for a couple of days before we left, just going through the motions and "seeing" if everything would work out, I prayed and also reminded myself of that quote: "Everything you ever wanted is on the other side of fear." Instead of freaking out during the flight, being afraid the plane was going to crash, I focused my thoughts on, "Well, what if it doesn't?"

Anytime during our trip that a fear or worry popped into my head about what could go wrong, I thought, "Well, what if it doesn't?" "What if this person/thing/experience/meal/city ends up being beyond my wildest dreams and expectations? Everything I have ever wanted is on the other side of fear, which wants to hold me back."

And you know what, my experience and anxieties were transformed.

I can't tell you how many times fear or worry tried to creep in during our trip. We were constantly in situations of uncomfortability, unknowns, vulnerability and insane amounts of trust in God and other people. But I just reminded myself of that, "Everything you ever wanted is on the other side of fear." and 2 Timothy 1:7 says, "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and sound mind."

Guess what?

Our planes didn't crash.
We didn't get kidnapped
We didn't get sick
We didn't get food poisoning
We didn't get mugged
We didn't lose our passports
We didn't lose our money
Our home didn't burn down
Our home didn't get robbed
We didn't get in a car accident
Our tram didn't crash down the mountainside
Our suitcases didn't get lost
We didn't experience terrorism

Instead, we experienced:

Incredible memories we will never forget
New friends from around the world
Life lessons we will pass to our children
New traditions we will implement
A renewed sense of commitment to each other

I realize that not everyone has the opportunity to take a trip like we did and we recognize that we are blessed and fortunate beyond measure that it presented itself to us the way it did and we had the time and ability to travel that way. However, fear and holding back isn't limited to just big trips to Europe, but anything in our life that we say, "Yeah that's for you, but I'd be afraid that..." or, "There's no way I could..."

Because really, everything you ever wanted is on the other side of fear.

The "Top 5" List

It's hard to believe the 47 days came and went in what seemed like forever and yet the blink of an eye at the same time.

I'll be sharing some thoughts later on about our trip, including recommendations for visiting Provence and the car vs. train debate. I will also share just exactly how much we spent on this trip (eek) so that you can get an idea how much things cost to take a trip like this to Europe and what type of budget you might plan on having based on the type of travel you want to do.

However, Timothy and I have been reminiscing about our trip on the plane ride home so far and we have come up with random "Top 5" lists from various parts of our trip.  (None of these are ranked in order-- just our top 5)

Top 5 Best Cities

1. Jonkoping, Sweden
2. Oppenheim, Germany
3. Ihringen, Germany
4. Castellina in Chianti, Italy
5. Lourmarin, France

Top 5 Best Places We Stayed

1. The Amsterdam Marriott City Center Hotel
2. The Villa with a pool in Chaponost, France
3. The Renaissance Aix-en-Provence
4. The Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel in Stockholm
5. The apartment over the antiques shop in Ihringen, Germany

Top 5 Best Meals

1. The German dinner in Ihringen
2. The Italian dinner on our balcony in Cernobbio
3. Markus Knab's lasagne on the first night we met them
4. Annika Thiel's bacon wrapped chicken with cream... so amazing!
5. The restaurant on top of the hill in Gandria, Lugano

Top 5 Experiences

1. Being on top of the Santis Mountain in Switzerland after riding the aerial tram 8,000 feet
2. Riding in the cockpit of a 737 from Stockholm to Dusseldorf
3. The rest & reading time & dinners on the hill in Cinque Terre
4. Riding the Rhine River cruise to St. Goar and hiking around the Rhinefels Castle
5. Shopping & cooking a 5 course meal all day in Florence

Top 5 New People We Met

1. Markus & Anja
2. Our Airbnb hosts, Suzanne & Georges in Chaponost, France
3. Maj Britt with Weingut Vorgrimmler (also our Freiburg Airbnb host)
4. All our L'Eremo Sul Mare friends we bonded with being on the hill in Vernazza
5. Davide & Kerry, our Airbnb hosts in Cernobbio, Italy (Lake Como)

Biggest "Oops" or Frustrations:

1. Being bit by a really intense mosquito and having my entire ankle swell and a rash/ring around it for 3 weeks!
2. Getting on the wrong ferry to Vernazza and taking a 2.5 hour detour
3. Missing our exit in France and having to drive 20km in each direction and spend $7 on toll fees
4. Almost hitting a car in Cernobbio because ours was parked at a downhill angle and the shift gears kept lunging it forward
5. Anytime we got lost!
6. The fact that Google Translate has to use data so many times we couldn't read signs or menus and had no idea what we were doing or where we were eating

Things we are thankful for... (there are more than 5):

1. Staying healthy
2. No one stealing anything of ours
3. All of the people we met
4. Safety in every way
5. The funds to take a trip like this
6. The discovery of how truly good people are around the world
7. Making new friends in other countries
8. European hospitality

A few reasons why Nice actually *is* nice...

Our Europe trip route this summer was designed for the most part to reach locations that we had not been to before in Europe, including some we had always wanted to visit. Nice was one of those spots for me. I think my perception of Nice changed over time, the more I learned about it, but I still wanted to check it out. Ten years ago, Nice to me was a beachy, beautiful French resort town sparkling with fresh food, crystal waters and soft sand. The more I learned about it, I discovered that Nice maybe used to be that 75 years ago, but it soon evolved into a Fort Lauderdale of Europe. However, as much as Fort Lauderdale doesn't sound all that appealing to me (especially when T and I have tried to avoid crowded cities), I still wanted to give it a fair chance. 

We arrived in Nice from the Cinque Terre around 3 in the afternoon, as it was about a 3.5 hour drive from the Italian Riviera coastline. Not a bad drive. Unfortunately it's very expensive to drive on the Italian toll roads (about 30 Euros for 3 hours); however, they are SO efficient, fast, etc. that you really do get far in a short amount of time so it makes it worthwhile when you've just been driving switchbacks and dirt roads for the last few weeks...

I found a cute place on TripAdvisor a few months back called the Nice Garden Hotel which was rated #2 at the time in the city of Nice based on its reviews. Nice is an expensive city to stay in as there are several large chain hotels, many sub-par hotels and some very, very glamorous (and spendy) waterfront hotels as well. Obviously Nice draws in the rich and famous due to its proximity to Monaco, Antibes, Cannes and St. Tropez, so it's hard to find something clean, comfortable and cheap at the same time. Our hotel has turned out to be so lovely. It is located right in the center of Nice in an ideal location, two blocks from the beach and no more than a 15 minute walk to anything we would want to see in any part of the city. The front door actually looks terrible, stuck between a smoke shop and a pet store, and as soon as we pulled up I thought, "Did I make a mistake?!?" There was no way I would ever pick this hotel just by passing it by on the street, but looks can be deceiving...

We pushed through two separate sets of locked doors to reach the lobby of the hotel, and that's where is appeared to be a pearl inside of an oyster. It is the most adorable French hotel, so quaint, air conditioned and with large, comfortable rooms and sweet service by the owners (a mother and her daughter). Definitely the best choice that we could make for our visit to Nice and for a great price as well. If anything, we thought, we will just stay holed up in our room overlooking a beautiful garden and take refuge from the busy and touristy center!

I was initially very unimpressed with Nice. It literally looked like Ft. Lauderdale when we pulled in, the streets in the middle & "new" parts were quite dirty and littered, there were dozens upon dozens of American chain restaurants, and hawkers pawning off swim toys and Cuban hats wherever we turned. Not to mention that it's been incredibly hot and muggy. The unfortunate part is that our hotel is located right in the center of this unappealing side of Nice. There is also a pedestrian-only walkway near our hotel that has all of the cheap and tacky shops you could ever want, people handing you brochures for parties that night, touristy restaurants with menus showing pictures of the food and mimes trying to take their pictures with you for 1 euro each. The exact type of place we try to avoid.

We were starving though when we arrived and asked our hotel where we could get lunch nearby. Unfortunately there really was no other option except to eat at the tourist spot, so we chose what we thought was the best, and ended up being the worst and most expensive. Beware of eating in touristy spots, as they charge you for sitting at their tables, charge you for bread and water (which they do in Italy called a coperto, but they don't do anywhere in France except the tourist spots) and charge a crazy amount for food and drinks. One salad and a San Pellegrino cost us almost $30. Sigh.

You can see the kind of touristy shops that line this block... probably not the best choice for a restaurant and we quickly learned that when we saw the bill!

After eating lunch, we asked our hotelier to secure us reservations at a locally recommended restaurant, and we were not disappointed. It was a small restaurant called Le Petite Cafe, and we received the most hospitable and sincere service that I can remember in recent memory from a restaurant in France. It was also delightful to have an actual steak and potatoes with a salad, and not have pasta and bread! I do love Italian food, but it became rather cumbersome to eat pasta, tomatoes, bread and cheese every meal for over two weeks...

Menu at Le Petite Cafe

Back in Italy I had the foresight to book a bike tour of Nice since we knew virtually nothing about the city and knew that a bike tour would be a great way to get oriented and at least see parts we may not have discovered. Boy was it a great option in this particular city. Our opinion of Nice vastly changed based on where we were taken and what we saw. I guess our area of Nice is still in a "good" location, but is touristy since it's near the water. All we had to do was venture 1 or 2 kilometers to the left and we ended up in exactly the type of area we would have wanted to spend our time in-- the old city of Nice. This was France. The small alleys, the Belle Epoque architecture, the fresh markets, the small bistros, the little shops with soaps, lotions, pastries, herbs and more... all of the best restaurants we have eaten at in France so far have been in the old town, including the best gelato in all of Italy and France combined!

Views from the top of Nice, courtesy of our bike tour

Worth the ride up... and included free Coca-cola! :)

The Nice harbor, the "cheapest" place to dock a boat, at $6,000 euros a week for the mega-yachts

Our guide told us that yacht costs approximately 60 million euros. The rule of thumb is 1 million per meter for each yacht, and that yacht is about 60 meters long...

The oldest shop in Nice in its original form, also happens to be a confectionary which was a favorite of the queen when she was young. 

Some of the architecture of old town Nice

What once was the largest opera house in France, now second only to Paris

The hotel that started the whole "summer holiday" in Nice trend 
Many of the windows on the building are fake-- it was a big part of the development of the city, nearly 80% of buildings in Nice have painted on windows and decor. It is an art form called Tromp L'oeil which has to do with things not appearing as they seem and tricking your eyes. Kind of like Disneyland... :)

Our guide gave us historical information on the architecture of Nice, the history of Nice (it has only been owned by the French for 150 years...), and then finished our tour by taking us to the top of a very large hill to take in some beautiful views of the entire town. He gave us a list of restaurants that they recommend that are locals-only (and they really don't get any kickbacks from their recommendations). Their recommendations couldn't have been more spot-on. Cozy, delicious, great service and no English menus. :) Just the way we like it. Nice has several food specialties as well and Timothy tried a food called Socca, which is like a flour cake that you can fill with various different ingredients like a fried tortilla or crepe. The best Socca place in all of Nice (if you like Socca) is in the old town called Bella Soca. The best gelato place (literally won the award for best gelato in all of France this year is called Roberto 1er and was definitely the best gelato we had this entire trip. We've already been back twice!

For dinner last night we ate at a wonderful restaurant called Oliviera which is owned and run by a husband and wife. The husband takes the orders and serves the food, and the wife cooks it, one by one. They only have eight tables in their restaurant and they don't "turn over" tables, as the husband put it. They are also only open for three hours for dinner and closed Sundays & Mondays. That's how you know you're getting a great restaurant. They let you have your table for the entire night, and he said, "We're really in the olive oil business but we love food. So we are happy. We don't need to turn over tables!"

When we sat down he brought us a small menu in French and then kindly said, "Don't worry, I'll be back to help!" as he scurried off to assist other guests. I consulted my Google Translate app which has been wonderful, so by the time he came back I already knew what everything on the menu was. But I didn't let him know my secret. ;) He would come by all of the tables serving other guests their food and say, "This is the pesto tagliatelle, it's delicious," or "This is the ravioli, I'll be right back," so we could see what each item was when he brought it to other people. It was a sweet gesture. When we were ready to order, after each thing I pointed out that we would like, he said, "Oh, you will love! Oh this is delicious. Oh, that is so great." and you could tell he was so, so passionate about their food. I highly, highly, highly recommend a visit to Oliviera if you visit Nice. It was a really memorable meal with great food and service-- and it's fun to support a couple like that. :)

Our very passionate server at Oliviera and the owner... telling another guest "You will love1"

This dish was called "Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes." Picked fresh from their personal garden that afternoon... our server said, "These are amazing. You will love!" and made a kissing gesture with his lips. :) 

We asked our bike tour guide before we departed yesterday, "Please please please recommend a restaurant that serves a proper breakfast... you have no idea how much we can't stand to eat another croissant!" He recommended a popular place called "Wazo" which is a brunch spot. It was AMAZING. Probably similar to anything we could have back home but unlike anything we have eaten on this trip. They just don't do bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, etc., here and Wazo did. Timothy also had a bacon breakfast sandwich which was incredible as well. I am so tempted to go back there again tomorrow before we head to Aix-en-Provence just to savor the deliciousness of a fresh egg and coffee... I will never take it for granted again!

I am still drooling looking at this!

After brunch today we shopped all around Nice off the Place Massena, the Galeries Lafeyette, in old town and at the Cours Saleya. It was a perfect place to shop for exactly the types of small French goods I was looking for: spices, soaps, home wares and lotions. I couldn't resist a stay away from L'Occitane en Provence which is my favorite store of all time. :)

Cours Saleya 
One of the many patisseries and confectionaries in town

Shopping was a success today!

My new favorite store!

We leave tomorrow but still have a great dinner on the agenda-- hopefully it lives up to the expectations we have for it since we've had such great meals so far in Nice!

If you plan to visit Nice, I have a few pieces of advice depending on your travel style:

1) Stay at the Nice Garden Hotel (seriously: The best price for this kind of hotel and location in Nice, despite the Pizza Hut next door...) It really is primo for seeing and doing all of the things Nice is known for. And it's two blocks from the Promenade Anglais and beach.

2) Take the bike tour of Nice! It was flat nearly the entire time and only a little hilly (in which everyone including the guide got off and walked their bikes up for a few meters)

3) Eat in the old town and be sure and make reservations a few days ahead of time

4) Shop in the old town or at Galeries Lafeyette 

5) Take the food tasting tour of Nice (we heard this was great  but did not have the time to do it. It's offered by the same company who ran our bike tour and there were many repeat guests!)

Nice has so much charm and beauty that extends past it's crowded city center and "new" parts that really are quite tacky and run down Florida beach-like. There are so many hidden gems in Nice that make a visit very worthwhile.

(We chose not to visit Monaco, St. Tropez, Cannes or Antibes on this trip... mostly for lack of time but also because we didn't want the temptation of jealousy for those mega-yachts lining the harbors! ;) However, we do know that they are close and very easy to reach from Nice train stations and buses in case they are cities you do want to visit.)

Strolling the waterfront Promenade des Anglais is also a fun thing to do after dinner in the evenings

The famous Le Negresco hotel

In my opinion, Nice really is a nice place to visit for a few days.

My candid thoughts on visiting the Cinque Terre

For as long as I've known it's existed, I've wanted to visit the Cinque Terre. In fact, on two trips to Europe in the last 12 years, I had a stop in CT planned but we had to cancel them on two separate occasions for various reasons: One of them being it's relatively difficult to get to. Especially on a broke college student's budget. ;)

Finally, after many years of dreaming of that colorful, sleepy fishing village on the Italian Riviera, steps from crystal seas and as much fresh prawns as I could dream of, we arrived in Vernazza, the claimed "jewel" of the Cinque Terre.

Did it live up to my expectations? Meet all the hype I had dreamt of for ten years and then some? Yes... and no.

I actually feel very, very sad for the residents of the Cinque Terre. I have mixed feelings in terms of the surge they have experienced in their economy and perhaps they are loving the extra money they receive from tourism and rooms and restaurant-ing, but I have to really wonder if it's worth it to them. They were, after all, only known 15 years ago for their exports of fish and seafood since they are situated on an ideal fishing sanctuary and whale "retirement center" based on the proximity of the villages to as much fresh seafood as they could ever want. Fishermen from Sicily would come up to the Cinque Terre just for their fish and they exported it all over Italy. That was their simple life, along with growing lemons, producing limoncello, excellent olive oil and wine based on their heat and terracing, and the random tourist who might by chance, happen upon their village while on the way to Genoa or Nice. Certainly not to visit Cinque Terre as a destination.

That has all changed since Rick Steves shouted the Cinque Terre from the rooftops in the 90s.

Now, I am very concerned that the 5 villages are at their maximum capacity for tourists and have no more room if the people keep coming. They have tried to start charging on the trails for the hikes... that has done no good in quelling the amount of people who hike from village to village. With each new train and ferry that arrives in each village, hordes upon hordes of day tripping tour groups from La Spezia, Levanto, cruise ships, Florence, Pisa and more descend upon the Cinque Terre, in search of that "Italian jewel" that Rick Steves talks about.

What they are met with, instead, are swarms of hot, sticky, sweaty people and lots of flags and signposts up in the air, directing them where to go. Oh, and the ever present selfie stick.

I wish I were exaggerating and speaking from a bad-day sort of view. But we stayed in the Cinque Terre for nearly 6 days and visited all 5 villages, including La Spezia, and the only thing that made it worthwhile was the 450-step hike up to our refuge above the sea, L'Eremo Sul Mare (literally: The Hermitage of the Sea) to actually take in the magic that is the Mediterranean, and we ate at Bar La Torre every night, another 199 steps from the village-- not one any eager tourists try to make-- in order to savor the heart of what the Cinque Terre truly was. Once the day trippers left, the city became magical again and we loved every minute of our sunset evenings in Vernazza.

Because of the heat and humidity, my pet peeves quickly escalated as we ascended the steps to our B&B every day where dozens upon dozens of tourists blocked the paths in order to take the "money shot" of Vernazza-- this one:

We were fortunate enough to pass by this view every day to and from our B&B. But when it is 95 degrees out and we've just climbed 250 straight steps and we have to stop and wait and stop and wait for more pictures, selfies, selfie sticks, etc. while we want to keep going, we (I) start to get a little cranky. This happened every day, every time we climbed the path. This also happened during our hikes, in other villages, and at any point that was considered a "view." It was blocked by dozens upon dozens of tourists wanting "that" shot with and especially "that shot" with their selfie sticks. I have more problems than one with selfie sticks... :)

Because of the mounds of tourists clogging the city and the servers trying to turn over table after table as hungry visitors search for a "cute" place for lunch is that the food starts to lack. We never had a "wow" meal in Cinque Terre at any time. The foccacia was terrible (they needed to make it so quickly that it never fully cooked since they had lines of people outside the door) and the waterfront cafes produced their food within minutes of ordering. Our favorite restaurant, Bar La Torre, became our favorite solely because the service was decent, they paced our food and the view was amazing (and it was private and quiet). But it was mediocre food at best.

This may come across as a surly review... but it is a realistic one as well. We had many moments of beauty and appreciation when we were above the cities. The views are worthwhile and our haven was such a necessary retreat which we absolutely adored. We were also so glad that we parked our car in the Vernazza parking lot because the train was always late when we tried to catch it and jammed to the gills with people-- any time of the day. It would have been crazy trying to fit our luggage in there, not to mention that it was hot, crowded and we were tired.

Personally I feel like there are much better Italian Riviera towns out there and I am going to do my best to find them. Positano is already one that I know of which we absolutely loved when we visited there two years ago. Timothy and I were trying to determine how the Cinque Terre can preserve its legacy (and its sanity) and effectively deal with the tourism problem. All I can come up with is charging people to enter the "parks" (which in essence is the villages proper) with a daily pass-- maybe 15 EUR-- to keep the people there who want to be and the people popping in from the cruise port or Florence, not really intent on patronizing the city, out.

So, should you visit the Cinque Terre?

I would say, with hesitation and if you know what you are getting into, yes.

If you like peace and quiet and are athletic (or don't mind climbing 450 stairs each day), stay at L'Eremo Sul Mare. Gorgeous views of the town of Vernazza, amazing hosts, great breakfast, and the most peaceful surroundings we've had in all of Italy.

Eat at Bar La Torre for incredible sunset.

Venture down into town only at night or very early in the morning, before the day-trippers are there.

Buy charcuterie, bread, cheese, etc. to store in the fridge at L'Eremo Sul Mare so you don't have to go into the village for lunch.

Swim in the hidden cove where the locals swim (the owner of L'Eremo will tell you where) instead of in the harbor.

Or, better yet, stay at Hotel Porto Roco on the cliff in Montessoro al Mare and have your own private pool and your own beach chairs on the sea. :)

I am sure that I'll have people who disagree with me... but I just left there this morning so this is all very fresh on my mind. And we lived it every day. :) The villages really need to work on (for their own sake and the sake of tourists staying there) how to solve the crowds upon crowds of tourists in each and every one of their villages or they are going to lose a lot of repeat visitors.

Main walkway in Vernazza

Dining waterfront in Vernazza

From the harbor in Vernazza

Views along our hike to Monterosso al Mare

We found a hidden swimming cove in Vernazza! Blissful 
Walking down to La Torre from our B&B

Monterosso al Mare beach...

Peacefulness on our balcony at L'Eremo sul Mare

Some of the property grounds of L'Eremo sul Mare

More property views of L'Eremo Sul Mare

Fresh lemon trees at L'Eremo sul Mare

Our little haven... L'Eremo sul Mare

Our favorite nightly sunset restaurant, La Torre

Our view every night from La Torre on the hill... worth the sacrifice of lots of steps and braving the crowds in the village below!

Blogging tips