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When things don't go to plan

When things don't go to plan

How taking the wrong train led to one of my favourite travel experiences, in Cinque Terre, Italy

This is the tale of how when something not going to plan led to me being at the right place at the right time.
It’s a cliché, but as they say, clichés are clichés for a reason.
I’m one of life’s planners. And when it comes to holidays, I’m always the one that books the accommodation, researches the town, figures out the best activities and scouts the best restaurants to eat at.
Doing your research is always a good thing – you don’t want to miss out on the best thing a place has to offer or a hidden gem because you didn’t know it was there.
But sometimes, when life throws something unexpected at you, things can turn out even better than planned.
This is what happened when my family and I visited Cinque Terre when I was a teenager.
It was December of 2014 and we had booked a Skiing trip to Cervinia, Italy. 
Because we’d come all this way, we wanted to see little more of the country, so we decided to hire a car and road trip the north-western coast of Italy.
An obvious stop was the iconic and picturesque UNESCO heritage site of Cinque Terre, which forms part of the Italian Riviera.
Cinque Terre means ‘five lands’ in Italian and is indicative of the five historic and beautiful fishing villages clustered along the rocky north-western coast of Italy. 
The Plan
We only had two nights and one full day in Cinque Terre – a criminally short stay. I’d recommend staying for at least 3 days.
What we did have on our side was that it was off season – being mid-December, there were only a handful of tourists and locals wandering the narrow, cobbled streets.
We stayed in Vernazza which I have to say was my favourite village.View from our B&B, Vernazza, Cinque Terre.
Founded in 1000 A.D., Vernazza is steeped in history and charm. You can visit the Belforte Tower that was built in 1500 to protect the village from pirates or the Santa Margherita d'Antiochia church built in the 1300s.
We had dinner right next to the natural circular pier that overlooks Cinque Terre’s only working port.
Because our time was so short, I had planned all our movements down to the minute.
We would visit all the other 4 villages in one day, starting with the southern-most village Riomaggiore, working our way up along the coast and ending our day at Monterosso, the largest village.
Map villages part of Cinque Terre. Image credit: Adventurous Travels 
We woke up early, and after grabbing what was genuinely one of the best cappuccinos of my life at one of the many street side cafes and a complimentary mini croissant, we took the train to Riomaggiore.

Cars are not allowed in Cinque Terre, but you won’t need one as each village is so small. The best way to get from village to village, apart from taking a foot path, is by train.

The Cinque Terre Express runs between the villages and during peak season the train runs every 20 minutes.

After taking the 6-minute train from Vernazza to Riomaggiore, we strolled through what is known as the most peaceful village of Cinque Terre.

Much larger than Vernazza, but no less beautiful, Riomaggore has century-old, pastel-coloured houses tightly clustered together and hanging off the cliffs that look out into the turquoise sea. The harbour in Riomaggiore
Trust me, I did a lot of research on this town, but no amount of descriptive language or saturated image can do it justice. You just have to see it for yourself.

After venturing around this village, we planned to take the next train to Manarola.
The spanner in the works
The trip should have taken us 6 minutes.

But after several minutes, the train was not slowing down… instead multicoloured houses and harbours where whizzing past us, with no indication of the train stopping.
We stood up looking confused.
An Australian family who we had seen walking around Riomaggiore shared our confused expressions.
After a few more minutes the reality set in. We’d boarded the wrong train.
Disappointment sunk into my belly. This was not the plan. We didn’t have time for this!
After 50 agonising minutes, the train stopped at a coastal town far north of what was meant to be our final stop.

At the station in a town we had never planned to visit, we relooked at the train schedule and – with the help of the Australian family – managed to find the right train to Manarola.
By the time we had arrived there, it was the afternoon, and we were way off schedule. There’s no way we’d make it to all the villages in time.
I won’t lie, 15-year-old me was really frustrated. But then again, a lot of things frustrated me as a 15-year-old. Being 15, for instance.
But after getting a slice of pizza and looking at the views of Manarola, I couldn’t stay upset for long. 

The village of Manarola, Cinque Terre
By late afternoon, we took the next train to Corniglia, which the most unique village out of the five.
Located in the centre, Corniglia was built on top of a cliff, 100m above the sea. It’s the only town that doesn’t have a harbour or access to the sea.
We meandered through the town as dusk was approaching, and as we got to the edge of the town, we reached the point where the cliff ends and drops 100m down to the sea, providing the view of the sea reaching far into the horizon, just as the sun began to set.
The cliché
Without planning it – in fact, in spite of planning it – we ended up in the exact right place at the exact right time.
Due to its height, Corniglia provided the best view of the horizon and the sea.
As we looked over at the view sipping our café bought drinks, for the first time that day, I felt calm. Traveling, like a lot of things, doesn’t always go to plan.
But sometimes, you’ve just got to go with it. Take the wrong train, book a B&B last minute, spontaneously decide to to add a destination to your trip.
You may find it leads to the most unexpected, but memorable experiences.
All photos credit: Julia Evans
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