Wonders of the Walk

by Helen Armstrong on May 22, 2016

Over the weekend, I took the wrong pair of shoes to Cinque Terre.

Cinque Terre is a town about four hours north of Perugia by train, and it’s a cluster of five towns that climb up the cliff faces like colorful ivy and boast beautiful views of the sea. It’s a place I’ve dreamed of visiting forever, and I finally got to go – and I wore the wrong shoes.

Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but the nature of Cinque Terre is that you walk – a lot. Actually, scratch that; that’s the nature of all Italian towns, including (and especially) my home-for-a-bit, Perugia.

The shoes I took were Converse with no inserts, so no arch support, aka a recipe for pain. My feet have protested ever since, but because I was raised to always find the silver lining, as hard as it might sometimes, here it is: I’ve been given the opportunity to think really, really hard about walking.

The streets are almost all cobblestone in centro, or center of town. It’s either cobblestone or these thick, uneven slabs of rock laid down and referred to as “road,” for lack of a better term, I guess. Because of this road situation – and the frequent rain – I’ve been wearing my combat boots for three and a half months. It’s finally getting warm enough that if I were in the States, I would be wearing flip flops everywhere (or, more accurately, carrying them in my hands while I walk barefoot). Not so in Perugia. Wearing a pair of flip flops is exactly the same as branding a neon sign on your chest that reads AMERICANA!!!

It isn’t all bad, though. The cobblestone streets are what make the vibe of the city so old and authentic, truly Italian. And the places they lead are even better. One of the best parts about living in a town is that you can walk everywhere you need to go. At any given moment, I could walk out my door and be at a park, a 13th-century cathedral, a garden filled with statues, a monastery, or two dozen pizzerias. Perugia is so walkable that there’s a ban on cars that haven’t gotten a permit to be there. So few cars drive through centro that you don’t have to constantly dodge traffic.

Every evening, even in chilly January, Italians come out to take a stroll up and down the Corso Vannucci, the main street. And now that it’s getting warmer, students have taken to centro every night; walking down main street is like being in the middle of a block party.

It makes me nostalgic for springtime on campus. During the cold winter months, everyone stayed inside, shuffling through the snow to get to class, sprinting from the dorms to the library before the cold air caught up with us. But once flowers started to bloom, so did campus life. We emerged from hibernation and brought with us guitars, hula hoops, batons, speakers, blankets. I even saw a small kiddie pool being set up on the green one Sunday afternoon.

It was a desperately welcome change from pacing the dorm hallway during the winter when I just had to get out of my room. But once spring hit, I would kick off my shoes and walk barefoot around the sidewalks that surround the green. Sometimes I’d call my mom and talk to her on the phone for a few hours while the sun set over the Commons and painted the sky into ethereal hues. Other times I would walk until I found the perfect spot, and then I would plant myself with a book and read for hours.

When I returned to campus after a long, hot summer break, the place was still sweltering and the sun-drenched walks from my apartment to campus turned into mild and breezy strolls. I’d kick through the autumn leaves that had fallen onto the sidewalk and admire the ones that were still on the trees, coloring the world around campus.

I can’t wait to get back to Arcadia’s home campus so I can take off my shoes and walk some more, appreciating the feeling of the bricks on the Walk of Pride below my feet, the castle looming large above me. And where what you wear on your feet – or not – is entirely up to you.