In the Fall of 2011, I was a worry free college Junior studying abroad in Florence, Italy. Fall break was fast approaching and my parents were coming to visit. Anxious to show them a wonderful time and obviously nothing close to dangerous, I created a whirlwind itinerary. After spending a few days in Florence and the Tuscan countryside, we would rent a car and drive to Lucca, where we would visit our family. The next day we would drive up to Levanto, a coastal town just north of our destination: Cinque Terre. After spending the day hiking and riding the trains between the towns, I’d planned to head back to the hotel before dark. Per the itinerary, we would continue on to Milan the next day to stay with my Aunt and Uncle, making day trips to Como, Chamonix, and Portofino to conclude our adventure.
Mudslide north of us and the conditions to the south were too dangerous to proceed
The trouble started early on October 25, 2011. Visibility was down to about 25 feet as we drove toward Levanto along the road that snakes its way up the coast just above the five small fishing villages of Cinque Terre. By the time we reached the train station in Levanto, the rain had let up, making us anxious to continue. This was our chance. Armed with only a digital camera and about €150, we proceeded to Riomaggiore, the southernmost town of the national park.
As we hiked toward Manarola the rain started again, and with just as much gusto as ever. We took refuge in a small bar and had a glass of wine. Watching the torrents of rain ever increase, we decided to resign. There was no use in pushing on in this weather, so we boarded the train to head home. Enough was enough.
We made it one stop to Corniglia. Through broken English, the conductor told us there had been a mudslide north of us, leaving the track unusable. The conditions to the south were too dangerous to proceed. We were stuck in Corniglia with little more than the clothes on our backs.
We quickly realized how lucky we were; only a couple of minutes earlier and our train could have been knocked off the tracks by the mudslide.
Acting quickly, we ran into town and started asking locals for insight on renting a room for the night. An older woman named Caterina came forward and led us by candlelight to a loft apartment she rents to vacationers in the summer. It was small, cold, and dark, but at least it was dry. We were prepared to hand over all of our Euro and barter our camera for the room, but Caterina was no swindler, she would only accept €40 given the circumstances.
Sitting in the small candlelit restaurant around the corner a little while later, we swapped stories of the day with other tables.We all tensely drank wine and gorged on the feast the chef managed to prepare despite the lack of electricity. There was something eerily comfortable about the atmosphere, despite the overwhelming sense of uncertainty, everyone felt lucky to be safe and dry.
Rumor had reached us that in the northernmost town of Monterosso, the mudslide and the flooding had nearly wiped the town into the sea. Many people were missing. Suddenly, our itinerary didn’t seem so important.
After a sleepless night, we were at the train station before dawn. Word soon came down from the TrenItalia office that a train would be allowed to head south to La Spezia. From there we could catch a specially routed train around the affected areas to Genova, just north of Levanto. It was a long (and smelly) day of rail travel, but our dilemma was trivial in retrospect.
Milan bound , we were exhausted, had lost almost two full days of our trip, but were no worse for the wear. Despite it all, we were overwhelmingly relieved. The fact that we had lost time on our trip seemed far from important. We had it easy for how dangerous the situation was, and we certainly had to be thankful for that. By this time the full extent of the storm was known–many were left homeless, some missing, and several were confirmed dead.
We had it easy for how dangerous the situation was, and we certainly had to be thankful
But we got to continue on our merry way…
On the road, delays, missed flights, and setbacks can seem like the worst-case scenario, but such situations serve to put it all into perspective. We were safe and together while so many others couldn’t say the same..
Six years later, we still recount the story with a bit of nostalgia. Despite the close call and discomfort, we were brought together and forced to find our way out of a dicey situation. At the end of the day, who cares about where we were planning to go or how far behind schedule we were? We learned to think on our toes and to act decisively. Today, we are better off for having gone through the experience.
About the Author
Nick Bacci is a San Francisco based travel blogger with a passion for aviation, adventure, and culture. His coming adventures include Hawaii and Holland. Follow him on Instagram and keep an eye out for the new travel blog he and his fiancé are launching in the coming months!