When Seester and I took our infamous trip to the Cinque Terre in March of 2007, our luggage was lost for seven of the ten days of our vacation.

Seven. Count’em. US Airways could not have been less helpful or caring—both during the trip or after when we tried to recoup the costs.

Seester's hair looks great!

Seester’s hair looks great!

 

Eventually, our friend GelsagGirl kindly tracked it down. In Madrid. That’s so close to Milan, isn’t it? Keep in mind the suitcases had locator tags as well as luggage tags.

Later this month I get to meet up with Alex in Lyon, France and then go onto Milan and Florence. The trip is all work for him except for our time in Florence, which is part honeymoon for us. Because I’m traveling alone, I want to see how small the suitcase I pull from the closet will be. That planning brings back the wonderful memories of traveling in Italy with Seester…

We stayed our first two nights in Genoa at the Hotel Savoia Continental–a lovely, vintage place.

 

In the Pharmacy, the kind man did not laugh at my Buon Giorno even though I should have said Buono sera, rather he replied in kind. Illustrated that we need hair conditioner—knew what we meant. The pharmacies are marked with a huge, neon-green cross in front. The pharmacist wrote “8E” on a piece of paper so we knew the cost and taught us to pronounce eight by writing, “otto.” We use the new hair conditioner as both a styling product and body lotion. Seester regresses to short curls and I resort to a long braid.

We discover a shop tucked into a small space in an old building.

The items are new but very cheap. We bought socks (white with orange toes or pink toes). We each wear one sock. Nice Asian woman named Lu in shop wrote down 1.50E.

I made Seester stay awake until ten p.m., so we could time-adjust quickly. In the morning, we exchanged pullovers for a new look and traipsed off to buy coats at Lu’s—two for 35E. Ah, to be warm in the unexpected spring cold. We walked ten yards—drizzling again–and went back for a red umbrella for 2.5E. Lu laughed.

We walked for five hours, stopping once for cappuccinos—two of them for only 2.10E! Perfect. At first, the proprietor seemed standoffish and the small, art deco floored place very cold. But when I carried our cups and saucers back to the counter and gave the customary rounded-up tip, he warmed to us. I always hope that small things like that make Americans welcome in Europe.

We wash our socks using the small packet of Woolite Useless Airways gave us with their emergency kit: Aluminum bladed razors with paper packets of shaving crème. (I am reminded of Cary Grant trying to use Eva Marie Saint’s tiny razor in North by Northwest.) A miniature tube of toothpaste and miniature toothbrushes. Thankfully we had carried ours on. Mini deodorants.

We wash out Seester’s newly purchased pig-printed underwear and she learns that when I tell her to pack a pair in her carry-on, she should do so. I have my extra pair, so we leapfrog washing these things and wearing the others.

We relax into al naturale — face powder and lipstick. We joke about our make-up:

  • You have mascara on your upper eyelid, clean it off.
  • Your eyeshadow is way too dark today, what are you thinking?
  • How does my makeup look?

And about our clothes:

Gosh, I don’t know what to wear, how about you?

The quips entertain us the whole week.

Back in Lu’s, we buy more socks, underwear, and three sweaters. One sweater is a Halloween pumpkin orange angora that I fall in love with and that is warm, but we end up calling it the Sweater-from-Hades because it leaves fuzz on everything it touches. [When Alex and I went to Italy in March of this year, I took the sweater with me and left it in Milan. It seemed right.]

We buy camera batteries for Seester’s camera. I’m thankful that my lithium is holding up and glad that I packed an extra.

Seester is amazed that she did this—that she is here. As I snap photos of my sister in the most historically preserved city center in Europe, I find myself marveling as well. What life turns of events have we gone through that have not only made us friends who would go to Italy together; but also the guts we’ve developed that enable us to take this trip. I frequently find myself saying thank you, Seester, thank you for coming. She laughs and says you dork, thank you for asking me.

Time to pack to make the move from Genoa to the Cinque Terre. Pack what, you ask? Our new sweaters, Seester’s original shoes, our socks and underwear in the big red suitcase for 20E we bought from Lu. She wishes us good luck when we say good-bye for the last time. [When Alex and I visited Genoa this year, I found Lu’s shop. I quickly remembered her, but five years later one more visitor was hard for her to recognize. Without words to explain, all I could do was smile. I should have taken pictures of us wearing her clothes!]

We quickly become redundant saying, “Tall, handsome, Italian men.”

We find ourselves laughing and I say: It’s the hair, as I draw double takes from men. Apparently, real redheads are a rarity. All we see of red are obvious colors from bottles.

Yesterday was spent shopping for clothes in La Spezia. We never figured out the Italian sizes, but somehow wound up with shoes, socks, jeans, sweats, and shirts that fit.

We had great fun with the man in the shoe store. He showed us every walking-type shoe in our sizes. When we were done, it looked like we had blown up his shop. He spoke little English, so I did my pantomime of an airplane and then of no-clothes. He understood lost luggage. At the end of our transactions, I looked up the word for kind (gentle) and pointed to it. He said, is my job, and shrugged his shoulders as if to diminish his assistance. We bought shoes that didn’t fit great solely because of him.

I say, “I must sew the buttonhole on my jacket—it is frayed.” Seester asks, “What is it afraid of?” Dork.

Seester purchased a Cinque Terre guide because mine are in our lost luggage.

Seester is psycho. But at least today, she is a good looking, fixed-hair, perfect makeup and non-jeans wearing psycho. Yes, our luggage arrived as we slept. Gabrielle, the best B&B proprietor on the continent, delivered it right after breakfast. In typical girl fashion, we unpacked everything and took an hour to get ready. The suitcases are damaged. My locater tag is gone (how funny is that?). And someone stole the umbrella with flashlight that Gelsga Girl gave Seester for her birthday.

I’m excited that my suitcase arrived because it contains birthday cards and gifts from family and friends for Seester! The following day is her birthday and we get to celebrate it in style. When we tell Gabrielle it is her birthday, we arrive home that evening to find a bottle of wine and desserts set out just for her.

The following is a list of what you really need for hiking in The Cinque Terre:

  • Your best hiking shoes—no other shoes are necessary
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 2 pairs of pants – not jeans; hiking in them is uncomfortable and cotton pants double as dinner clothes
  • 4 underwear, 2 bras
  • 3 shirts that can be layered
  • 1 fleece jacket/warm, but light coat
  • Woolite–in your carryon
  • If you are going in the spring or fall: Raincoat & Light hiking gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • 1 thing for both sleeping and lounging
  • Slippers or really heavy socks because of the stone floors in the hotels
  • Carry on minimum of liquids: Shampoo, Conditioner, Hair goo, Face lotion, Mascara, Toothpaste
  • Face powder, Lipstick, Toothbrush, Floss and Q-tips
  • Maps—if you’re into them the way I am
  • Ear plugs, eye covers—Jeremiah said Seester snores, but I never heard her
  • Watch (clocks are not common in hotels)
  • Voltage adapter
  • Camera, lens, extra batteries/charger
  • Gifts from hometowns—half a dozen to share with the locals (if you are staying in one town as we did for 7 days; this is a great way to make friends)
  • Moleskin and band-aids
  • Two pairs of earrings—a woman can dress up any outfit for evening with the right earrings
  • Motion-sickness wristbands
  • Hand wipes—not the gel stuff, but actual cloth disposables.
  • Shipping is very expensive, so bring an extra bag to check a suitcase or save enough cash to ship it home.

Advice: Take the smallest carryon possible and a small daypack for camera, water and purse items. Skip the big suitcase—you will hate wielding it to get on/off trains and you don’t need three-quarters of what you’ve packed in it.

Being in Florence won’t be the same as hiking a 27-mile stretch along the coastline, but I’m still going to try to pack small. I’ll let you know which size suitcase I wind up with and what adventures Alex and I have on this new Italian adventure.

Here’s my travel checklist.