I truly peaked abroad…

Written by Jillian Kazlow, (University of Wisconsin-Madison) Student Correspondent CET Florence, Spring 2019

I’ve been trying to embrace the possibilities that proceed the phrase ‘Why not?’ rather than the limitations that come along with the response of ‘I’m not sure.’ I moved to Italy for six months to explore and have been trying my best to approach every new plan introduced to me by friends with a positive attitude. That is why I agreed to embark on an expedition with my friends this past weekend. Never did I think I would agree to hiking twelve miles up winding mountains for an entire day, but I essentially signed up without reading the Terms and Conditions. Luckily, this turned out to be one of the best moments of my twenty one years on earth! Okay, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but it did come pretty darn close.

A sunset at Maranola

I stuffed some workout clothes, tee shirts, and socks into my back pack and hopped on a train to Cinque Terre, a group of five cities on the Western Coast of Italy, for a weekend with three of my friends. I met them all through CET’s program, but was excited to travel with them and get to know them a bit more. We decided to (had no choice but to) climb the hardest of the two hiking trails between each city as the less challenging one was closed to hikers due to a recent landslide. As much as I suffered up some of the incredibly tricky inclines, I might have never felt happier in my life just walking (struggling) up what seemed to be never ending cobble stone steps and just absorbing my surroundings. At first, I thought it was just the endorphins kicking in. But I’m pretty sure that was one of the best moments of my life. Looking at the views uphill, downhill, and outward towards the ocean. It was too beautiful to be true. I could not believe it was real life. If it weren’t for the lactic acid burning in my legs, I could have sworn I was floating in a dream.

One of my friends brought a speaker in his pack, so we were able to listen to some Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody” to be exact, to pump us up initially as we started our journey from the top of the peninsula towards the bottom peak. As we reached higher heights with more flat terrain, our music switched to more calming indie, pop, and R&B. We listened to some Jeremy Zucker and Quinn XCII as we looked out onto the calm ocean that sparkled a hue of blue I have never seen before. The weather was sublime. My friends and I bonded through our mutual tastes in music and told stories to keep our energy up. We all were dreaming of gelato by the time we got to the end of our trail. Despite the taxing physical toll of hiking upward steep and narrow mountains, I never wanted the hike to end. I could have easily sat at any point along the path and just watched the day go by.

I finally felt grounded. “Grounded” is a concept to consider exploring if you have ever suffered from anxiety or great deals of stress. It basically calls for you to stop and smell the roses. It allows for you to feel a heightened sense of security, comfort, and awareness. To be aware of your position on earth. Within your environment. When you feel grounded you feel not only one with nature, but calmness within yourself. For me, typically, laying down in a grassy area and looking up at the clouds in the sky on a nice spring day or looking up at the stars have kept me feeling grounded before. You can feel grounded in a much more literal sense when dirt from the ground rubs up against your ankles hiking between each Cinque Terre town of pastel-colored buildings. Finding pebbles in your shoes and a few new freckles on your nose also prove that you immersed yourself with nature. Stopping to catch your breath and sitting on a rock to take a sip of water allows for time to look around and observe the beautiful scenery around you. Each little problem or worry I had from earlier that day sizzled away under the sun, as did my pale shoulders.

You can pay sixteen euro for a train ticket to get to each of the five cities, but having your breath taken away as you look out beyond the mountains is priceless. If you have the opportunity to ever visit and the capability to climb up a semi-rigorous hiking course…why not?