Ill in Italy: Cinque Terre Becomes Immortalized In My Travel Lore
“One of the great things about travel is that you find out how many good, kind people there are.” –Edith Wharton
Italy has been a top tourist destination for centuries. Every year forty-six million visitors come to experience the country’s rich history, art, cuisine and culture. Italy’s coastline and beaches have also much to offer and if natural beauty is what you’re after, Cinque Terre is widely considered Italy’s crown jewel. The literal translation of Cinque Terre is “The Five Lands,” which is an apt title for this rugged portion of the coast composed of five villages built into the craggy and steep landscape.
During the planning stages of my European vacation, I instinctively knew that Cinque Terre would somehow be a highlight, yet I was blissfully unaware of how this particular place would become immortalized in my travel lore. Let me explain…
Upon arrival, I discovered to my delight that the pastel, jumbled and terraced landscape looked like a medieval fable come to life. I should have been overjoyed to be there, but I wasn’t. I had just spent the previous night in agony, locked in the bathroom of my Florence hotel room, with what I thought was food poisoning. The following day was spent trying to rehydrate on the train, while curled up into a little ball on the seats nearest to the bathroom.
After arriving in La Spezia, a short distance from Cinque Terre (a more cost-effective alternative), we made our way to the Hotel Ghironi. My stomach was in knots but I was starving so I attempted to eat some plain crackers. Bad idea! Once again, I locked myself in the hotel bathroom. There seemed to be no end in sight; It had been two whole days and I was starting to wonder if my tour of Italy would end up being Il giro dei toilettes Italiani or… The Tour of Italian Toilettes.
This was my first (and unfortunately not my last) time being sick in a foreign country and I didn’t know what to do. I was worried that seeing a doctor in Italy might blow my budget and cut short my trip. But after another hour of writhing in pain, I was scared that not seeing a doctor might have the same effect. So I gave in.
I laboriously ventured down to the hotel reception to inquire about a local clinic or hospital. Instead, I was ushered back up stairs by a kind receptionist and told not to worry, a doctor would be promptly sent for. While this did not ease my budgetary concerns, I was in no state to argue.
I gingerly sat down on the edge of the bed until I heard a knock at the door. When I opened it, I found the receptionist accompanied by an older Italian gentleman in his mid sixties. It was almost at once that I took liking to this man, who had an air of olde world charm about him. This guy was pure class. By his side was an antique leather doctor’s case and in the middle of summer, in eighty degree heat, he was literally dressed head to toe in wool with one exception: his shoes, which were Italian leather of course.
The doctor greeted me with a warm smile and a curt nod before entering. He attempted to explain, in his very limited English, that the receptionist would stay and help translate during the examination. After many questions about my digestion and the poking and prodding of my stomach, the doctor went over to his leather case and rummaged around. Much to my dismay, he came back with two very large syringes.
When he saw me eyeing the needles, he gestured to the air with hands as he exclaimed in his thick Italian accent “Don’t worry, you get better!” Let’s just say, I had my doubts. I was pretty sure those needles would leave me feeling worse, but I followed his instructions anyways and rolled over onto my stomach and dropped my pants. I received two quick, but painful jabs, one in each cheek and then was told in the same enthusiastic tone “Don’t worry, you get better.” This seemed to be his go to phrase.
The receptionist relayed that I was not to eat anything for another couple of days and was to stay hydrated by drinking Gatorade or water little sips at a time. As he was packing up, I realized that this was the moment of truth… I was about to find out just how much his visit and medicine cost! I walked over and asked “Quanto Costa?” He looked at me, paused, then shrugged his shoulders “For you” he said “Twenty Euro.” I was stunned. There was no way his visit cost that little! I started to explain that he must be mistaken, but he just waved his hands as if to say it was nothing. So I pulled out the twenty euros that I owed him and started to sincerely thank him for saving my trip. Instead of taking the money, he paused again and then waved his hand as if to say no. “It’s okay” he said cheerfully “Don’t worry, you get better.”
Throughout my protesting he just kept repeating this line in a variety of Italian sounding intonations. So I gave him a big bear hug and thanked both him and the receptionist profusely.
One day I hope to make it back to Cinque Terre, the place where I first discovered what it is I love most about travel. To me the best thing about travel is that one minute you may feel completely alone in the world and the next you may feel like a part of humanity… and if you’re lucky you just might find out how many good, kind people there are in the world.
*Note: Since I didn’t get to see much outside the hotel room during my stay, all Cinque Terre pictures were borrowed from the official Tourism Website for Italy.
** I would also like to thank the people at Gatorade for also playing a part in rescuing my European vacation. I lived off of Gatorade for a full five days.