Monday morning we had a scheduled hiking tour.  How did I know how to pick it, you ask?  Solely on the basis of the name:  “Climb the Stairway to Wine Heaven.”

We took the 8:37am train from Vernazza to Manarola and met the group, led by a guy who I immediately knew was from the Midwest.  Doug was wearing a Mountain Dew T-shirt and a nice, albeit cocky attitude that I would only later find out originated from his U of M days.  He has been living in Italy for the last 17 years with his Italian wife, Erika, and their 3 kids.  Cool life, even if he is a Wolverine.

At any rate, he wasted no time in taking us straight up the hill in Manarola (the other one – not the one that leads to Billy’s where we had climbed the night before for dinner) to the trail.  Armed with waters, bug repellent and sunscreen, 11 of us started the trek.  The marketing ploy said it would be a “difficult 45 minute hike” – yeah…something like that.

It was HOT and STRAIGHT UP for who knows how long, but I loved, loved, loved every stinking (literally, after about 4 minutes) minute of it!  The 8 other people on the tour were from 3 different countries: Canada (although originally from China), Australia, and The Netherlands.  Thus, in total, our fast friends group represented 5 countries in all.  That’s the interesting thing about traveling.  Although you may not speak multiple languages, which is a U.S. educational system travesty by the way, you still find ways as humans to communicate and bond, especially when under duress and/or when promised wine.

After twisting and winding and turning climbing, carefully navigating the stairs, trails, vineyards, rocks, and questionable “paths,” we finally reached the top!  Awaiting us was a town called Levanto, population: 30.  No one is in a hurry EVER there; it’s more like an understood Italian retirement community functioning as a straight up commune.  It was crazy cool, but since the main attraction is the wine-making castle and there’s no library, I would never be able to live there.  Visiting for an hour was great, but I was all about hitting the trail again and bidding the locals Arrivederci!

Six of us – Liv and I, along with the Aussies and the couple from The Netherlands – decided not to take the optional bus back to Manarola and instead, somehow thought it wise to hike STRAIGHT DOWN into Corniglia for lunch.  By the time we got there, we were famished and disgusting – two totally perfect conditions for dining.  Doug had suggested a local favorite, so we sat outside amidst another beautiful backdrop and promptly ordered food.  And 5 bottles of wine.

The good news is, while we had hiked from Levanto to Corniglia each with 3 bottles of wine in hand that we purchased from the castle (U of M apparently produces decent salespeople, too), we didn’t have to hike back to Vernazza with the extra weight.

Oops (and yay us!).

Turns out, being the oldest person in any group is good for storytelling, but not so great if it’s been roughly 25 years since you have properly participated in day drinking.

Pretty sure I won’t forget any of this trip and definitely not this day.  It was long, but one for the books!