Friday, October 17, 2014

Be a Traveler not a Tourist

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” G.K. Chesterton

I just got back from a trip to the Cinque Terre (Five Lands) National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and even though the villages are beautiful and quaint, I couldn't be more bothered by the behavior of the visiting tourists.   I'll try to explain why.

The Cinque Terre are five fishing villages built on the coast line of the Italian region of Liguria, on what is known as the Italian Riviera.  Their lifestyle seems to have changed very little since the late middle ages, when they first sprouted.  Even though the park groups the five villages under one name, they are actually five independent towns called Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.  You can hike from one to the other in about an hour and a half.  They are also connected by a regional train line that gets you from one town to the adjacent one in about 5 minutes.  

You can choose to stay in one of the towns, Monterosso al Mare being the biggest and the one that offers more options regarding accommodations.  I would recommend against staying in Corniglia, because it's the only one that sits above the cliffs and from the train station to the town you have to climb 365 steps.  Something I wouldn't want to do every time I went exploring the other towns.

Staying in Vernazza gave me the opportunity to really experience the town.  I woke up early walked the two steps to the main and only piazza (city square) and just sat, observing a day in the life of the town.  The postwoman (wearing way too much make-up at 7am) delivering mail, chatting with every store clerk for at least 10 minutes before getting down to business.  The robust garbage man, too big for his mini-version of a garbage truck.  The town elders, the first ones to rise, ready to direct anything that might be going on that day.  The young local guys, ready to help pushing a boat out of the water.  The grandmas yelling at the kids from a second story window.

From seven to about ten in the morning, being in Vernazza was kind of being in an Italian movie set, full of strong characters living a simple life.  At about ten in the morning the trains started arriving loaded with tourists.  They arrived in packs, dressed head to toe in Cabella's, LLBean's and Orvis' hiking gear as if they were about to climb the Himalayas.  The magic was gone.  I know the towns live out of tourism, but do we tourists need to be so disruptive to their way of life?  These are one street towns, with not a lot of room for loud obnoxious tourists.  Like the group that sat next to me one night and started singing "That's Amore" at the top of their lungs, disrupting the piazza's romantic charm.  Or the guy outfitted all in Washington State gear demanding eggs and bacon for breakfast (read all about eating in Italy here).  

If you try to observe your surrounding and catch a glimpse of their conversations you will see the several hand gestures a minute for which Italians are known.  If at the restaurant you didn't ask for your fish to be served without the head, you would witness the surgical precision with which the waiter debones that fish and hear, like I did, how it was caught that very same morning and how proud they are to serve you nothing but the best.

Please, don't ruin the postcard perfect scenery, be a traveler not a tourist.

Arrivederci for now,


  1. #cinqueterre #italianriviera #traveler #liguria #tourists

  2. Great post Gaby!

    With love,
    Bianca @ Italian Fix

    1. Thank you Bianca, my trip was better because of your great post about Cinque Terre.
      Grazie 1000,