It’s strange to think that we spent the majority of our lives four hours from each other (me in Pittsburgh, Tracy in Maryland), and yet we didn’t meet each other until we were thousands of miles from our homes. In May 1999, we were both spending our final day of traveling through Europe in the Cinque Terre, Italy. The Cinque Terre is the name given to the five small towns (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso) that cling to the hills overlooking the Mediterranean on the Italian Riviera. Hiking is the thing to do in the Cinque Terre – there is a path connecting the five towns that winds through vineyards, flower gardens and forest, all nestled in cliffs overlooking the sea.
Strangers at first
We began the day as perfect strangers. Tracy had spent the night in the youth hostel in Manarola and was embarking on a hike. Henry, tired of the hostel scene, had spent the night in a nearby bed and breakfast. He was also on his way out for his daily hike to the last town (Monterosso). We each noticed the other while finishing our respective yogurt breakfasts, but neither of us made any initial attempt at a conversation. It’s sometimes tough to tell if someone speaks English, especially in an area as remote (at the time) as the Cinque Terre. Either one of us could pass for an Italian, French or German.
A little outside Manarola, on the way to Corniglia, we passed each other twice. After another thirty minutes of hiking, we passed each other again. Eventually, a group of Italian school children passed by and forced us to stop and move to the side, only a few feet from one another. As the children passed by shouting, “Hello,” we shared our first smile. As the line passed, Henry broke the silence with one simple question, “Are you headed to Monterosso?”
At that point, we began to hike together. As the conversation progressed, we realized that we were both headed to Paris that evening (not a common thing to do from the Cinque Terre because it requires 3 different train changes). We had identical itineraries right down to the train numbers. We had both mapped out plans to go to Paris on an overnight train, via Milan. Uncanny, huh?
Lunch by the sea
We continued to Monterosso where we found a bench by the water to share our lunch of foccacia and gelati. Because we were going in the same direction, we decided to travel to Paris together. We spent the short, late afternoon in Monerosso then headed back to Manarola to gather our things. After almost missing our first two connections, we finally made it on the train to Paris where we chatted with David, our British cabin mate. Quite an interesting chap…
Morning came quickly. We arrived at the Gare de Lyon and decided to split the cost of a hotel room rather than deal with the hostel situation in Paris (it’s not the greatest). We dropped our packs at a hotel and set out for the day. We spent the afternoon milling around the streets of Paris, just wandering around, never a lull in the conversation. We sat for awhile in the Jardin des Tuilieres, watching the ducks and the school children. We had a picnic under a little shade tree in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Again, we sat there just observing and enjoying each other’s company. We eventually found the courage to kiss. It’s been and adventure since.