Exploring Cinque Terre

While traveling in northern Italy, specifically the Liguria region, a visit to Cinque Terre is a must!

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Manarola

Cinque Terre or “Five Lands” is comprised of the following fishing villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. These five Mediterranean villages are built onto the cliff-side terraces and are known for their pastel homes with brightly-painted shutters, jaw-dropping coastlines, and hills filled with vineyards and citrus orchards.

While some villages are sleepier than others, between all five is a diverse selection of wine, trattorias, monuments, and places to explore.

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Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore is the most well-known village, and has a variety of shops and restaurants on its main road, Via Colombo. Manarola is a hillside village located on the coastline surrounded by olive trees and vineyards. A nativity scene can be spotted within the vineyards of Manarola.

Corniglia is the tiniest village that is situated on a plateau overlooking the water and is encompassed by vineyards. It also seems to be the least popular because the path from the train station requires a walk up 300+ stairs. The village, Vernazza, surrounds its harbor and still has architectural traces of its past as a defensive fortress against the Turks. Although Monterosso was my least favorite, it is popular with the locals and travelers for its beaches and also the Old and New Towns.

Travelers have two options to explore this area – ride the train or hike the connecting paths. While a hiking trail is a great way to be immersed within Cinque Terre, hikers can be prevented from using the trails from either the impact of landslides or preservation endeavors.

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Vernazza

Fortunately I visited Cinque Terre during the off-season of November, and took the train from Genoa to La Spezia. Since didn’t struggle against hoards of tourists, I explored Cinque Terre at my own pace. I should also mention that in the morning I started out with a hat, sweater, and rain jacket, but quickly shed the clothes during the mid-afternoon’s humidity.

While Riomaggiore and Manarola were my favorite villages because of their picturesque qualities, the locals in Manarola were incredibly friendly. I took the train between Riomaggiore and Manarola because a previous rainfall caused landslides on these trails. I was able to complete the trails between Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. The trail from Corniglia to Vernazza took approximately an hour to complete, and offered scenes of the dramatic coastline and vineyards decorating the hills. At the end of this hike was a stunning panoramic view of Vernazza. The path between Vernazza to Monterosso was more even but took longer than the previous hike. By the end of the day, I was exhausted from exploring and hiking.

Although Cinque Terre is a well-known tourist site, it doesn’t disappoint. It lives up to its excitement and will continue to draw in tourists due to its beauty and history.

You can learn more about visiting this fascinating World Heritage Site here.

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Monterosso

Männlichen Gondola Ride, Views of the Swiss Alps

While staying in Interlaken, Switzerland, my friend and I decided to visit Männlichen. Located within the Swiss Alps, Männlichen stands at 7,687 ft and has the longest gondola ride in Europe. We heard that this ride and hike offered some of the most beautiful views in this part of Switzerland.

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We took the train from Interlaken Ost to Grindelwald, and transferred to Grindelwald Grund. Grindelwald Grund has awing vie

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View from Grindelwald Grund’s train station

ws of Lauterbrunnen Valley and Grindelwald. We rode the gondola from Grindelwald Grund via Holenstein to the top of Männlichen.

Surprisingly, no one else rode in our 30 minute gondola ride up the mountain. Below our cablecar and throughout the mountainside, there were many cows with chiming bells, a few homes tucked away, and hikers.

When our gondola deposited us at the top of Männlichen, there was a restaurant, a playground, picnic tables, hammocks, and plenty of area to explore and enjoy the breath-taking views of the Swiss mountain range. Our surreal viewpoint from Männlichen was of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau.

We took an easy hiking trail from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg, which offered more dramatic scenes of the mountain range. This walking path is narrow and is appropriate for the width 2 to 3 people because of the close edges. Although we went in the middle of July, there was some remnants of snow along the hiking trail.

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Once we reached Kleine Scheidegg, we took the log train to go back down the mountain. However, it is possible to ride the highest train in Europe from Kleine Scheidegg to Jungfrau, fondly referred to as the “Top of Europe”.

3 Days in Ibiza – Off Season

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Dalt Vila – Ibiza Old Town

On our first day– we wandered around Ibiza Old town or Dalt Vila, which is a recognized UNESCO site. We received complimentary maps with walking routes at the tourist office in the centre. The old town is vibrant with pale colors, turquoise harbor views, and medieval architecture. The main castle is from 16th century and it’s one of the main sites but there are various bastions peppered along the cobblestoned pathways, Baluard de Sant Bernat, Baluard de Sant Jaume, Baluard de Sant Pere, Baluard de Sant Joan, and  Baluard de Sant Taules. The panoramic views of the Med and the city below are absolutely breathtaking. During the late afternoon, we took a ferry over to Formentera, a neighboring island. Honestly the boat ride alone was worth it by itself. There are views of Dalt Vila, Es Vedra, and many other parts of the island with dramatic slopes and sandy cliffs. The island itself was more quiet than Ibiza itself. Unfortunately the island was larger than we perceived – we didn’t have enough time to rent bikes, and the water was infested with red tide.

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View near Cova de can Marca of Sant Miguel

During the second day – we rented a car. We started out at the northwest part of the island at Cova de can Mara. Although history about the cave was intriguing, I wouldn’t recommend the bioluminescent cave. During the tour there was a light show intended to impress the visitors -except we all stood there confused. The cave cost 10 euros and last about 20 minutes. When I left – I felt scammed. Anyways – we went to eat lunch at the nearby beach, Sant Miguel. Next, we passed through the  port of San Antoni as we headed along the coast to the hippie area of Cala d’Hort, which offers expansive views of Es Vedra. As the folklore goes – Es Vedra is known to attract a lot of oddities (seek more information here). It’s the third most magnetized place on the planet. At the end of our day, we went the sunset coast and sat along a cliff’s edge to watch the sun set in the sky at Sunset Ashram in Cala Conta (Cala Comte). In fact, the parking lot overlooking the coast was the busiest spot we encountered during our road-trip.

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At Cala d’Hort with Es Vedra in the background

Since we flew out late in the afternoon on our third day, the first part was dedicated to relaxing on the beach in Talamanca. We caught the bus there and walked our way back to Ibiza’s port to catch the bus to the airport. In comparison to the various beaches explored the day earlier,  I wasn’t as impressed. Despite the nearby sounds of construction (off-season), I did enjoy myself and dozed off during while sun-bathing (sunblock was applied). 

Personally – I’m glad I didn’t go to Ibiza during its peak tourist season. I enjoy dancing – but I know during the summer the clubs are active. If I did go back during the tourist season, I would like to check out the Zoo Project. The sunny island was a necessary reprieve, before tackling our remaining finals.

Here are 5 Reasons to Visit Ibiza during the Off Season

5 Reasons to Visit Ibiza in the Off Season

At the end of my final semester in March I visited Ibiza, one of the Balearic islands in the Mediterranean. One of my European friends inwardly cringed and demanded why I was going during the ‘winter’ season and not waiting for summer (ie. May to possibly September). She claimed it would be cold and there would be nothing to do, however this was not the case at all.

  1. Obviously – costs are relatively inexpensive (approx. 40-60£) compared to the tourist season (approx 128-275£). Ryanair offered an impressive last minute flight from the UK that was too good to ignore. However the lack of sun in Scotland provided additional incentive to book the trip. We found there were a variety of accommodations with fair prices.

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    Canons overlooking Old Town in Dalt Vila
  2. With a lack of tourists, the atmosphere is quiet, as opposed to coming during prime travel season (summer) in which all of the clubs are in full effect. When we visited for a few days – the vast majority of fellow traverlers were families. Areas like Dalt VilaPort San Miguel and Cala d’Hort were calm with few people. Honestly – it was the true essence of a reprieve.

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    Es Vedra photographed from Cala d’Hort Beach
  3. At the finale of March, we wore our bathing suits on the beach. In fact, I returned to Glasgow with a cherry nose and honeyed skin. At between 60-75°F, the days were comfortable enough to wear a tank paired with a skirt or shorts, but the evenings required a light jacket or jumper at around 55°F.

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    Sun slowly setting at Cala Comte on the sunset coastline
  4. During our stay, we rented a car for less than 50 euros for a full 24 hours through Avis, which included full insurance.  Most tourist sites aren’t accessible without a car. Between the two of us it was cheaper to book a car than to go on a tour that only went to 1-2 sites. We toured Cova de Can MarcaPort de San Miguel beachSan Antoni, Cala d’Hort to view Es Vedra, and Cala Comte (Cala Conte). The roads were not crowded, besides near Dalt Vila, and the majority of people were locals driving to work. This was ideal as we had downloaded the maps on my friend’s iPad, however whenever we lost satellite (85% of the journey) we relied on the combination of my roadmap, the road signs, and asked locals for directions with my basic understand of Spanish.

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    Ibiza Old Town from ferry ride to island of Formentera
  5. Although most clubs aren’t yet open during the spring – there were parties, spring festivals, and open shops around Dalt Vila. We weren’t at a loss of things to do for the duration of 3 days. I detail our 3 day itinerary in this (post), however we wished we had an additional night to visit more of the island.

However, here are somethings to keep in mind before booking a trip during the off season…

  1. Hotels or low-key shops outside of Ibiza’s immediate city centre/Old Town might be closed until summer or under construction.
  2. The busses are far and fewer in between. Instead of coming every half hour, they were scheduled to come every hour, however the busses were often late with a nonchalant tranquillo attitude. We stayed outside of Ibiza at a beach front accommodation in Playa d’en Bossa, and felt stranded whenever the bus refused to show.
  3. If you want to do sightseeing outside of Ibiza and its immediate centre, you will require a car. The bus system near Ibiza remains close to the heart of its central tourist hub. WARNING: some roads along the coastline are winding, which may make individuals susceptible to motion sickness feel ill (guilty).

Check out my 3 day itinerary here 🙂

Returning to London after 12 years…


jkasbdMy friend Lindsay and I went to London to see the Gala Performance of Doctor Faustus, which features Game of ThronesKit Harrington as the leading role (its ongoing from April-June 2016). The show was a contemporary adaptation to the late 14th century play. They made references to President Obama, and President Trump (unfortunately as the next leader of USA). Faustus (Kit) sells his soul to the devil to become famous and loved by all, but at the expense of not being able to selectively love.

Before the show, we stood behind the Paparazzi and saw several celebrities such as Alfie Allen (Theon on GOT), Natalie Dormer (Margaery on GOT), Kit’s girlfriend Rose Leslie (Ygritte on GOT), and surprisingly Tony Blair’s wife Cherie Blair.

The show was highly erotic (I didn’t mind) – as scenes unfolded extras in the background would fondle themselves, some performers were fully nude, and there were at least 2 rape scenes. This isn’t a typical theatre show – it’s not Wicked or War Horse or the Lion King. However, I would describe the play as an abstract form of ART. I went with my friend Lindsay and at first we decided it was weird – perhaps we didn’t like it – but days went by and we kept referring to and joking about certain scenes in the show. Isn’t that what a successful show does – it remains with you? If not – then I will admit I enjoyed it 🙂

Post performance, I met Kit Harrington. This entailed nearly an hours wait, and standing next to a belligerent, older man. Kit was so sweet – he tried his best to meet with every fan that was waiting for him. I was within the first 10 people he stopped to meet. Although I kept telling myself to remain composed, words failed me and my mind went blank – I gushed about how good his performance was.

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EARLIER IN THE DAY— we went to Kings Cross for the Harry Potter photo at Platform 9 & 3/4s.  12 years ago marks my first visit to the city, and the station hadn’t had the feature yet (FYI – I’m totally Ravenclaw). Our day was busy – we shopped briefly and visited the Imperial War Museum. At the museum we saw the main exhibits, the First World War galleries, the Holocaust exhibit, and the Witnesses to War. During January, we visited the concentration camps in Aushwitz, and it was surreal to be brought back to that emotional day at the IWM’s exhibit.kjg In regards to their temporary exhibits, we saw the ‘Fighting Extremes: From Ebola to ISIS,’ ‘Visions of War From Above and Below,’ and ‘Peter Lennard: Unofficial War Artist’.

We went to Trafalgar Square to capture the photo on the right… The left is
2004 with parachute pants and boys clothes vs.
2016 wearing a dress for a gala theatre performance. Trafalgar Square is a lovely spot, and you can spy Big Ben past the statue of Charles I at the end of the road.

Since I’m currently residing in Glasgow, I’ll be back in London soon to revisit other sites like the National Gallery and the British Museum.

Machrie Moor Stones at Isle of Arran

On the 5th of March, I wanted to get out of the fine city of Glasgow, and since I enjoy the coastline thats the direction I wanted to head towards. As I grew up on the coastline back home in the states, I really miss not being able to see the beach from my house. On a random Friday, I took an hour long train ride down to Androssan Harbor, coupled with an hour long ferry ride, which reminded me of the ferries that frequent Long Island.

9573_10154542208753797_7140773807402476575_nThe Isle is enormous – and boasts itself as a ‘miniature Scotland’ – I can confirm. The snow was a recent touch, as some of the locals excitedly told me.

The northern part of the isle, includes some of the highlands. There are caves, various golf courses, waterfalls, bike paths, seals, hiking trails, and Neolithic monuments. The island even has seals, except we didn’t find any during our brief time on the isle. Since I really wanted to see the Machrie Moor Standing Stones, which is located on the far West side of the Isle, I took another bus ride. However this one last just short of an hour. Since the weather was so decent,  I was tricked and wore Converse. Never wear Converse when doing a hike with questionable Scottish weather – truly a rookie mistake.

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The bus deposited us off at a carpark, in front of a farmer’s field with a pathway caked with mud and sheep bits…. During our trek of approximately 30 minutes, we experienced a hailstorm, rainy downpour, and angry gusts. We had our packs with us, and I did use my (unreliable Primark) umbrella for brief stints of protection when it would cooperate against the wind. My converse were no longer black, but encrusted brown and sopping wet by the time we reached the stones in the gapping countryside. My toes were numb, and I could merely feel my heels.

It was worth it – but I’ve never been so fatigued from a 2 mile walk. I’m contributing it to the weather. There are various series of short and tall standing stones peppered throughout the fields. fs

By the time we returned to the bus stop we waited patiently for a half hour and noticed it past due. We were lucky to flag down an upcoming bus. Although the bus driver finished his shift, he explained there were no more available busses for the day, but was kind enough to offer us a free lift back to the port. Otherwise we would have been stranded, since we were pressed for time to catch our ferry back to Androssan. Unlike our earlier bus route, this driver cut through the center of the isle, which has very narrow paths. During the majority of the ride, we spoke with the friendly driver and found out him and his wife are Glaswegian! When his wife retired, they moved to the isle since that’s their favorite holiday location. I could definitely understand why!

We made it back in time to catch the ferry. That night, we stayed in a small town called Largs through an inexpensive cottage listed on Airbnb.

I’m planning to explore more of Scotland’s Isles :).

Stirling Castle

I spent over 3 hours at Stirling Castle with a few of my friends in my MSc program. We were impressed by the sheer size of the castle. It offers a variety of interactive modules such as – dress up in medieval regalia, games, instruments, movies, and impersonators. The castle has been owned by a myriad of hands and this influence is demonstrated architecturally.

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The tapestries are impressive, and the unicorn decorations are a pleasant surprise.
If the weather is fair – go along the wall walk, a footpath that surrounds the parameter of the castle. The castle boasts many views of Stirling and the Wallace Monument. Cue my Game of Thrones reference, I felt very ‘watcher of the wall’ esque.
In no way was I compensated to do this review. I paid full price of 14.50£, as there is no student discount. However! If you find yourself touring throughout Scotland’s heritage sites, I will say that joining their membership program would be the ideal way to visit.

Norway and Krakow

On the last weekend of January, my friend Lindsay, and I arrived to Oslo City Centre by 18:00 on Saturday evening, and stayed at Anker Hostel. Although it was a little ways away from the city, it was only about 15-20 minutes walking distance. We traveled to the Sculpture Garden, but on the way we walked along Johan Street and through the city centre. We saw the cathedral, city hall and …we searched extensively for the Eternal Flame, however found out much later, that it was taken down.

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On Sunday morning we wandered about the Akershus Fortress before official opening time. We watched the raising of the flag and enjoyed the panoramic views of the harbor. The clouds were colored with the sunrise and mirrored on the waters surface. Also, the architecture of the opera house was quite pretty, especially since that part of the harbor was frozen. We departed Oslo, and headed for Krakow, Poland. Certainly it was not enough time spent in Oslo- as it were more of a layover, however next time I return to Norway it would be nice to visit the Viking Museum, Edvard Munch Museum and take an excursion around Oslos harbor/fjords.

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Although we arrived late to Krakow in the evening – we found ourselves in the market place of the Historic District – after enjoying a bottle of champagne… As we stayed at a Flat in Kazmirez, the walk over was brief and we could spot all of the monuments. We sat in Rynek Glowny – the main plaza – and drank Polish Wodka recommended by our waitress. We were cozy under our blankets, heat lamps and the holiday lights strung around the canopy.

We started early on Monday morning, as we had a full day tour of 2 UNESCO heritage sites, Auschwitz, followed by Wieliczka Salt Mines. I don’t typically do tours unless if I’m limited on time, but we booked with Krakow Shuttle. I would recommend the company as zero stress was involved, and they picked us up outside of our Airbnb flat.

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Unlike everyone else, I only took 1 photo during my visit to Auschwitz, which was of the entrance to Auschwitz I. I wanted to be wholly present. The tour started with touring the grounds of Auschwitz I, and was followed by the museum. I’ve heard about the piles of shoes and hair, but personally witnessing and smelling shook me. It’s a very tangible experience. To be honest, when we were brought to Auschwitz II (Birkenau) I wasn’t sure whether I had the strength to see more. But I walked along the road of death and entered the gas chamber with the fingernail markings engraved into walls.

sdfI think if possible, everyone should try to visit – it’s an incredibly powerful and haunting experience.

The Wieliczka Salt Mines were impressive and our tour guide was incredibly witty and comical.

After dinner in our flat, we visited the perimeter of Wavel Castel, and Krakow’s Old Town once more.