I knew the train ride from Venice to the coast would be long – and it was.

I’ve never gone by train anywhere that I can remember, least of all in Europe.  It’s pretty crazy.  The station in Venice is nice, but it is jam packed.  We finally found the right platform after walking around a bit and were off.  Several stops in, I realized you can’t really see much out the windows other than concrete walls peppered by occasional glimpses of what you know is beautiful, but can’t quite make out since you’re (thankfully) zipping by at high speed.  We stopped in Florence to make a connection and other than me realizing next time I travel to Europe I am only packing whatever can fit into a gallon-sized Ziploc, it was without incident.

By the time we arrived at the final connecting station – La Spezia Centrale, which is the southern hub into Cinque Terre – we were feeling like Magellan in our navigation abilities.  Big mistake.  It’s a good thing trains run about every 20 minutes between the villages.  Our Airbnb owner’s mother, Margherite, was perched on the steps to the local Vernazza Pharmacy and (she’s welcome) had an extra 20 minutes all to herself waiting for our arrival.  Tall and thin with curly black hair, she greeted us warmly with very broken English and started speed walking as she announced, “It’s not far-a!”

Liv and I hustled to keep up as we wheeled our luggage on the broken cobblestone street; only one Main Street exists in Vernazza, adding to its enchanting authentic charm.  Loud and proud we followed Margherite for a quick few steps before she made a sharp right turn down an alley which, if located in most cities in the U.S., would not have held Liv’s and my feet – even in daylight.  Up a short and murderously steep hill we climbed in hot pursuit of an obviously in-shape elderly Italian woman.  Lord have mercy!  26.2 miles does not train one well for The Cinque Terre!

There was one cement stoop between us and what I thought would be the entrance into the flat.  Our short legs were going to have to hoist themselves and 50 pounds of too much stuff upon the stoop, but it looked do-able, especially as Margarhite was smiling encouragingly and say-yelling, “Much-o steps in Cinque Terre-a!”  The second she unlocked the door, Liv and I both pretty much gasped as our eyes were fixed immediately on 15 (more) of the steepest steps I have EVER seen.  High knee warmups at Boot Camp seem silly by comparison.  It was nuts!

By the time we reached the real front door, I was in full on sweat mode and thankful for the pungent aroma of garlic filling the streets so as to cover my stink.  Gross.  Inside the flat, though, was one of the most welcoming and homey environments that you right away sensed has a rich history.  The walls were adorned with a mixture of mirrors and hooks, mosaic glass and pictures, all containing quotes in both English and Italian.  A hand painted fresco ceiling in the master bedroom is the focal point of the entire flat; I have a new appreciation for art and we haven’t even been to Florence yet.

Long and narrow, every room inside the flat is its own, closed off by glass doors to the one main connecting hallway.  A tiny kitchen, two bedrooms and one super small bathroom (although room for a bidet because, Europe) somehow made me, in all my off the charts claustrophobia, want to downsize the second we get home.  Sleeping with the doors to the balcony wide-open with nothing but two fans circulating the Italian night air is not only incredibly relaxing, it’s ideal.

Having my baby girl curled up next to me instead of down the hall was even better.

Once we dropped our luggage and could feel the blood flow to our arms again, we showered off the nastiness and got ready for dinner in Manarola – two villages to the south (back towards La Spezia).  Trattoria del Billy came highly recommended and it did not disappoint!  The cost of a train ticket between the villages is 4 Euro one way, which seems steep but compared to the Cinque Terre terrain, it’s a steal.  While only an 8-9 minute train ride, hiking between the villages is about 1 1/2 hours if you don’t stop.  And trust me…you stop.

Manarola is also small and charming, so even though we had no idea where Billy’s was (other than ‘up’ since I knew there was a view), it was easy to figure out.  You pretty much either turned right or left and walked straight up a hill in either direction.  Since we wanted to climb as little as possible in that moment, I asked and we were on our way.

We had a few minutes to spare and wine was calling our names out of both “We are in ITALY” and…”We EARNED it!” At the bottom of yet another hill was, what looked to be, a normal little bar with what we hoped, was some normal little wine, so we immediately went in.

As I flung open the door, roughly ten pairs of old male Italian eyes were looking at us as if we were clearly lost.  Now, this could have gone a lot of ways.  My experience and familial roots has taught me that back rooms filled with old Italian men usually mean either one of two things:  it’s guys night out and the “little ladies” are back at home minding their business (i.e. cooking), or, Tony Soprano is about to saunter in and explain why you’ve seen too much already and can never leave.

Both options seemed not only tolerable but oddly appealing to me, so I walked up to the makeshift bar like I owned the place, looked the owner (mob boss?) square in the eyes and said, “Vino.”  Not another word was spoken and twenty minutes later, Liv and I had downed our first glass of white wine while watching one card game and one game of what I think, was bocci on a pool table.  Grazie, Gramps!  Total highlight.

Dinner was ridiculously delicious.  We sat atop a cliff, overlooking The Mediterranean as the sun set above, eating and drinking all the things: caprese salad, salted anchovies, lobster pasta, one bottle of “your best white wine” (thanks, Liv! :)), tiramisu, chocolate mousse, and two decaf espressos.  It was literally everything I imagined it would be…and so much more.

I’m so thankful to be able to share in this experience with my girl – who continues to remind me that life itself is so much more than work, work, WORK.  She has made me pause, slow down, and relish each moment of every day.  Italy is awesome, but it can’t touch the reciprocal relationship of parent-child.

So…if you’re ever planning a visit here… Cinque Terre is a must!