This weekend brings about a delightful, memorable, and highly anticipated addition to my life as Reverend Rich (click here in the event you missed my Smirk about being a reverend). I get to perform the wedding ceremony for my oldest brother this Saturday. In preparing for this ceremony, it did get me a bit nostalgic for my own wedding almost four years ago … this in turn got me thinking about two of my favorite people, who gave Angela and I one of the most memorable wedding gifts of all time … a treasure hunt in Italy.

For clarities sake we were already heading to Italy for the honeymoon, it’s not like they surprised us with tickets there or anything. We had visited Italy a few years back and had fallen in love with the place. As a result we planned a two week visit for our honeymoon. One week some place new (Tuscany), and a week in a place we had fallen in love with the first time we went (Cinque Terre). It was our love for Cinque Terre that motivated our friends, Mike and Kathy, to visit there when they planned their trip to Italy. They returned from their trip about a week or so before our wedding.

So when they showed up on “the big day” carrying a little paper-made treasure chest that placed on the gift table, curiosity ensued. As friends and family started to gather for the reception and Angela and I found ourselves with a few free moments, Mike and Kathy brought their gift to us, insisting we open it right away and reminding us the rest of the evening that we make sure we take the contents of the chest with us to Italy.

Inside the treasure chest was a booty (treasure for you non-pirate speakers) of plastic imitation bullion, and several pages folded together. It was the paper that we needed to make sure we took with us. As I unfolded the paper there before me was a treasure map! Drawn out on papyrus looking copy paper with candle singed edged to add to its authenticity. Along with the map was a collection of printed out visual identifiers to ensure we did not get lost following the map. Then they shared the following story.

While they were in Cinque Terre they got something for us, and then with camera in hand went on a little walk. Cinque Terre is a national park that included five small fishing villages. Between the last two towns Manarola and Riomaggiore is a famous walking trail called Via dell’Amore, or “Love’s Trail”, and it was along this trail that they decided to burry our treasure. They found a side trail that had a lot less traffic and hiked away from the flow of tourists toward an isolated picnic area. Once there they found a stick and as one played lookout, the other began to dig. Once the hole was big and deep enough they placed the in treasure and covered it with dirt. Then they placed a stone square slab over the top of it so no one could tell the ground underneath had been disturbed, and scratched an X into the slabs surface, adding some dirt and dry foliage as a finishing touch to detour any interest toward the slab.

Now when you are using sticks to dig holes in the countryside along the coast of Italy during the early part of September there is a certain physical alteration that occurs. Things like an excess of perspiration, which can alter ones hair from styled to frizzy and unkempt. Also, ones face can become flushed and changes its hue to bright red. All of these things happened to Mike and Kathy and as they walked down the side trail towards the main trail some tourists who had witnessed them head up the path noticed this change as well.

Seeing Mike and Kathy head up the trail and return ten/fifteen minutes later, all flustered, flushed, sweaty, and a little out of breath led the couple to believe that my friends had been up to something not at all related to burying hidden treasure. The man nudged the woman he was with, nodded toward Mike and Kathy, held up one hand, making the “okay” hand gesture, and then with the index finger of his other had proceeded to move it in and out of the “o” making the international hand sign for “getting it on”. The couple started laughing.

“All we could do was smile and wave, and walk hastily away,” Mike told us, adding, “I wouldn’t have minded if we had been doing what we were accused of. Still, I can see how they made the mistake.”

I took the map and stuck it in my pocket, and kept it with me the rest of the night and for the flight to Italy the next day. There was a buried treasure waiting for us in Italy, and I had no intention of letting that map out of my sight.

It wasn’t until our last week in Italy that we made it back to the beloved town of Manarola in Cinque Terre. Once we arrived and got settled it was too late to venture out treasure hunting. So the very next morning … we slept in, but after a late breakfast we filled my backpack with the necessities, two large bottles of water, one back of granola, one camera, one fully charged spare battery, out Guide to Italy book, and one treasure map.

Conveniently, Manarola was the starting point for the map. The first clue was the flight of stairs that we needed to ascend to get us on “Love’s Trail”.

Once on the path we followed it until we came to the next clue, a “Bar” pole along the path. (There was a little bar along the trail that allows hikers to get a drink, sit at a shaded table, look out over the ocean and enjoy the serenity of the place. This was also the place where the couple “caught” Mike and Kathy coming down the hidden treasure path.)

Just past the bar was the next clue, “Turn left off the Love’s Trail and ascend up toward the Green Point Pic-Nic Area.”

We followed this new side path until we can to the next clue on the map, “Stop at the first blue flag with yellow stars.”

Once there we followed the next instruction, “Turn left and head toward the first pic-nic area.”

There hidden in the back corner of this area was a stone square slab that had and X scratched into the top of it. So I grabbed a stick, picked up the slab, and began to dig.

An inch or so down I hit something that wasn’t dirt. It was the rustling sound of rocks on plastic.

I shook off all the dirt and debris and opened the decaying bag.

Eureka! We found the hidden treasure chest! Granted it was a Barbie doll sized treasure chest, but a treasure chest all the same.

Inside the chest was our booty of European bullion!, which translates into a bunch of one Euro coins and a note instructing us to continue to the end of “Love’s Trail” to a quaint little café with good wine and a beautiful view of the ocean.

We continued our walk to Riomaggiore under mountain side walkways,

next to rocky cliffs and serene blue waters,

and finally arriving at the establishment that our booty was intended for the Viz Della Amore.

Even though it had been about two weeks of amazing Italian wine, I had no intention on detouring from that splendor. Angela, however, does have a soft spot for margaritas and when she saw it available on the drink menu, she could not resist the allure of enjoying a margarita in Italy.

And thus our treasure hunting in Italy came to an end, filling us with love, joy, good food, great wine, one extra strong margarita and a toast to our dear, dear friends who took the time to bury a treasure in Italy and then they gave us the map to for our wedding.

Even though the box full of coins and the lunch they purchased are long gone, the true treasure was the experience that these friends gave us. Treasure hunting in Italy is always there with us whenever we think of Cinque Terre, any time we talk about visiting Italy again, and every time we thing of our amazing honeymoon starting our life together a husband and wife. So it is with this Smirk that I wanted to thank you, Mike and Kathy, for your gift and the lifelong treasure that it, and you, shall always be to us.

Image Sources: Photos from my honeymoon and …
Google Images, keywords: treasure map and doing it hand sign.

© Richard Timothy 2011