The biggest fear of international travel nearly struck the Iowa State volleyball team late Thursday night and early Friday morning. When we travel from country to country, when we check into our hotels we have to turn in our passports. “Big Brother is watching,” is what our Slovenian tour guide Cory referred to it as. It is kind of a mixed bag because your passport is your most valuable asset outside the United States, it is what is getting us back home in a few days.
However, it also becomes an obsession to know where it is at all times when you have it. The majority of the travel party has probably had at least one moment on this trip where they had a short panic attack because they didn’t know where his or her passport was, until they either quickly found it or remembered “Big Brother” has it (mine was in the Doge Palace Museum yesterday, it almost caused me to miss the weapons armory).
Word had spread late last night that the hotel could not find Suzanne Horner’s passport. When we awoke in the morning, there had not been many or any new developments (it had also only bee five hours as we were supposed to leave early for Cinque Terre). The hotel asked that our team did a quick check of our belonging to make sure no one had grabbed it on accident. When all hope seemed lost, it was found. According to witnesses, the front desk employee hung up the phone, took a look next to it and there it was. Crisis averted.
Our drive to Cinque Terre was dedicated mostly to sleep, as the late night/early morning combo meant the majority of the travel party decided to take advantage of the long drive to rest up for the busy day ahead. A couple of quick notes from the times I was awake. The first is that my soccer stadium seeking took a tough hit when we drove past the home ground of Serie A side Sassuolo, Mapei Stadium – Citta del Tricolore, and I didn’t even notice until I saw a light structure in the distance behind us. Second, while driving through Parma we passed the Barilla Pasta corporate offices and plant. However, considering Ames has a Barilla plant and not a Serie A stadium I would consider the former more of a cultural education.
Thanks to our bus driver, the alleged six hour bus trip to La Spezia ended up being just four-and-a-half, tight corners and random elevation changes were no obstacle for him. From there we took a train to begin our visit to the five villages of Cinque Terre. We started out at the first village of Riomaggiore, where we grabbed a quick lunch. Riomaggiore is a very historic town, but it is also a very narrow area that was tough to navigate until you got high enough up the hill, but by then we needed to report back to the train station so no one really wins there. It was still nice to see the village.
From there we hoped the train to Vernazza, the fourth village of the five was a beautiful village that had some great views of the Mediterranean Sea. The decision has been made for time-purposes to skip villages two and three (Manarola and Corniglia) to stop by this village before our hike, and it was a great decision. It was very tourist-friendly, but it maintained a nice charm with a lot of happiness around it. The harbor area has a pier-like structure that you could walk around and get some great pictures of Vernazza or the Mediterranean.
I was with Christy when on our way back to town from the pier she ran into a couple whose daughter she had recruited while she was at Wisconsin. They had said that they had noticed our local tour guide for the leg, Tim (tough not to, he is close to seven-feet tall), and said they knew she had to be in town. They told us to go around the corner and we would come out to a beach that was not on the map. So we listened and we eventually saw a cave-like entrance, but we were able to also see light. There was no signage and not too many people cramming to get in. We walked through and came out to a rocky, but scenic beach and got our first touch and taste of the Mediterranean of the trip.
The group re-assembled and it was off for our hike from Vernazza to the fifth village, Monterosso. One of the unique offerings of Cinque Terre is that there is a trail that you can hike (emphasis on hike) that starts in Riomaggiore and ends in Monterosso. However, due to a mudslide a couple of years back and various repairs, not all of it was open so we could not do the full hike, much to Dawn Sullivan and mine’s chagrin (we were ready to take it all on). Yet, the trail we were taking was the most demanding. It is the longest and most difficult in terms of the elevation you go up to and have to get down from, no ski lifts or alpine slides here.
We set off and we looked like we were in for a long one as the first 15-20 minutes of the hike featured a traitorous amount of stairs. The things that kept you going was knowing this was not all stairs until heaven and that the views of the villages and the Mediterranean would be worth it. Once you got through that first portion of stairs, the trail itself settled down, though you had to be ready for anything from crumbling surfaces, low-hanging trees to trail-goers trying to pass on their way to Vernazza. The journey took a little over an hour, but the Cyclones all successfully made it through. It was worth repeating again, it was worth it for the views.
Once we got down to the Monterosso village itself we only had 10 minutes until we had to catch our train back to La Spezia so we did not have much time to explore. A group of players, Mary Meier and myself decided to head down to the beach to get our dirty, smelly feet into the Mediterranean. The waters were cold, but after the hike we endured it felt great on our weary feet.
After getting back to La Spezia, we boarded the bus and began our journey to Milan. Once again, our bus driver did his thing and made the alleged three-hour trip in two-and-a-half hours. Once we checked in, we took a walk to Principe for some pasta and veal and called it a night.
Saturday will mark our first full day in Milan, with an afternoon match. Tomorrow’s match will be ISU’s final match of the European Tour.