Personal Journeys

PERSONAL JOURNEYS

October 05, 2003|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

Peaceful village hidden in Italian hills

By Stuart Sierra

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

On the west coast of Italy, just south of Genoa, lies a small region known as Cinque Terra, which is doted upon by travel writers in the sort of guides read by American college students visiting Europe.

Unspoiled! Not a tourist in sight! No cars! -- just a few thousand other American college students who read the same guide book!

These books also enjoin the beginning backpacker to concentrate on where he is, rather than worry about where he is going. Good enough advice, but it presumes a certain insouciance on the part of the traveler.

I am not, and have never pretended to be, the freewheeling sort, perfectly comfortable sacking out in a packed train station. So the unspoiled, hotel-deprived and solidly booked towns of Cinque Terra left me a bit frazzled, not to mention exhausted, after lugging my pack to and from each tiny train station searching for rooms.

Not until the end of the day, the end of the line and the end of my rope did I find the last available hostel bed in a village called Biassi, hidden in the hills above the port of La Spezia.

Biassi is not listed in any guidebook. It has no museums, no monuments, no historic sites, nor any other significant traits. It has one cafe, one bus stop, one church and one hillside covered in vivid-green forest. I did not see any tourists. It was beautiful.

But I could only hold on to my bed for one night, so the next day found me aboard a train headed inland. Guidebooks often cite the efficiency of the European rail network, but fail to mention its beauty. A train buff since the age of 6, I found many peaceful moments on the rails during my month-long trip.

On this particular rattletrap old local train, a warm summer breeze drifted in the open windows, carrying the scent of flowers, grass and livestock. A stunning mountain peak appeared and disappeared around a bend in the track. I dozed through endless fields, waking up at each dusty little station to return the nods of the elderly locals sitting on the platform under wide-brimmed hats.

The train finally rattled and wheezed its way into Pisa. Late. I had missed the connection to Florence, and there were no rooms available in Pisa, but I remained unperturbed. I had already found the Europe I wanted to remember -- in a tiny town, on a slow train, and in the journey that brought the two together.

Stuart Sierra lives in Owings.

My Best Shot

Cindy Koene, Stevensville

Picture perfect

On our last trip to the Dominican Republic, we traveled along the spectacular coast of Samana on the northeast corner of the island. Every few miles, we would stop along the side of the road to stare in wonder at the blue ocean, or to hear the roar of the waves and smell the salty air. It is difficult to take credit for capturing a good photo in the Dominican Republic, because wherever you point the camera, it is sure to be picture perfect.

Readers Recommend

Assateague Island

Lynda B. Salamon, Arnold

Although the ranger at Assateague National Park told us that we probably would not see any wild ponies the day we visited, we were delighted to see an entire herd walking toward us on the beach. My son and his 4-year-old daughter hurried to get a closer look.

Dunkirk, New York

Norma Jane Lipski,

Jarrettsville

Only 7 1/2 hours away, you can enjoy gorgeous sunsets on Lake Erie. This picture was taken at Van Buren Point, Dunkirk, New York. I used to go there with my parents some 50 years ago. The sunsets are still breathtakingly beautiful.

Let Us Hear From You

We want to know about your travels, your experiences, your pictures. Here's how to participate in this page:

* My Best Shot -- Send us a terrific travel photo with a description of when and where you took it. (Cash value: $50.)

* A Memorable Place -- In 500 words or less, tell us about a travel experience that changed you, about the nostalgia a certain place evokes, about the power of a favorite beach, the mountains, a city cafe. (Cash value: $150.)

* Readers Recommend -- Briefly tell us about places you've recently visited that you'd recommend to other readers. (50 words or less; photos are welcome.)

Because of the volume of responses, photos and manuscripts cannot be individually acknowledged or returned. Submissions from all categories may be used for Readers Recommend, and upon submission become the property of The Sun.

Send by fax to 410-783-2519, or write to: Travel Department, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278, or e-mail to Travel@baltsun.com. Be sure to include your name and phone number.

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