Cinque Terre = Beauty

Every semester, as part of the Austrian program, Franciscan takes the students on a 10-day pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi. However, this semester, with the resignation of Pope Benedict, we were given three days off of class before the pilgrimage to attend the final papal audience. I personally did not end up going to the audience, but instead spent those days in Cinque Terre, Italy. 
It was quite the adventure. I traveled there with two friends I really didn’t know too well at the beginning of the trip. I also didn’t know much about Cinque Terre. It was my first experience on an overnight train. But before I knew it, we were off. 
Vernazza, Cinque Terre
There is a lot I could tell you about this trip, but what I would really like to share are the ways I encountered beauty in this place. 
If you are unfamiliar, Cinque Terre is a cluster of five villages on the Italian Riviera. They are extremely picturesque, and you are even able to hike from town to town if you so desire. You not only see the beautiful coastline, but you are also surrounded by gorgeous mountains. I’m convinced that it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. But this beauty came in two main ways.
1. Nature. As I said above, I am convinced this is one of the most beautiful places on earth. With mountains all around, the shimmering blue/green water of the sea as far as the eye can see, red/orange/yellow buildings in the little rugged and friendly villages, the smell of salt water in the air, much warmer temperatures than the tundra that has been Austria this semester, the beauty was overwhelming. Beauty of this magnitude points so clearly and directly to God, the Creator and Master Artist of it all. It amazes me that He would create such natural beauty just for our enjoyment. One of the afternoons we were there, we were able to do a two hour hike between the villages, and my breath was taken away. It was impossible to not praise the Lord in such beauty!
my wonderful travel companions :) 
2. People. As incredible as the natural beauty was, the beauty of those I encountered and came into contact with was so much deeper. I am learning that you can visit anywhere in the world, but what really makes the difference is the connection you make with people. With or without words, my little encounters with people are going to be what I remember most about the trips I have been on. Our last night in Cinque Terre, we ended up having dinner with a family from Missouri that we randomly met on the street. We had been talking with them and so we just decided to eat with them. It was amazing to be able to share stories with and get to know a family I didn’t know before coming and very well may never see again in my life. We met a girl who has lived in Italy her entire life on the train who is studying to be a translator. We helped her practice her English while hearing about her life and she was really an inspiration to us. She knew something like four languages and still wanted to learn more. We went to daily Mass in one of the villages and after Mass one of the women who knew just a little English showed us around the town and talked to us the best she could. Sometimes it is the little encounters that make all the difference.
They do not even come close to doing it justice, but I hope some of the pictures I included help you experience on a small scale the beauty that I was overwhelmed with in this place. I would also like to encourage you to notice the little encounters. In those small moments – the checkout line at the grocery store or the quick hello to those you pass – you can experience true beauty. See the beauty. See Christ. 

our first view of the sea from the train 
a view from our hike

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

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