Exploring Cinque Terre

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

DSCN1063
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.

IMG_0015.jpg
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.

DSCN1117
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.

DSCN1126
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.

img_1512-e1526161269285.jpg

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

IMG_1505.jpg
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.

IMG_1554.jpg

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”.

Snorkeling Belize’s Coral Reef

When I heard that Belize is home to the second largest coral reef in the world, I knew I needed to snorkel it. Especially since I already snorkeled the largest one – the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, Australia. Belize’s reef stretches to be just shy of 200 miles and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

During my trip to Belize, my friends and I took a tour from Belize City to visit a coral reef about 45 minutes away. The coral reef in Belize did not disappoint. spotted starfish, rays, eels, living conch and varieties of vibrant fish. Even on our way there a dolphin curiously hitched a ride in the boat’s wake. I was relieved to see that the coral at our snorkeling site was still colorful and healthy.

During my snorkeling experience, I learned that there are over 500 different types of fish at this coral reef.

After snorkeling for a little over an hour, our boat stopped at the quaint, but privately owned “Starfish Island”. The island very touristy, but relaxing in a hammock merely steps away from the Caribbean water was the perfect way to end the day. The island has plenty of lounge chairs, a swing-set in the water, playground, hammocks, a bar, restaurant, and also rentable floats and kayaks.

You can learn more about traveling Belize and seeing it’s Coral Reef here.

48 Hours in Iceland

During my first trip to Iceland, I realized that it truly is a land of ice and fire.

When I went in the summertime, theres a midnight sun that refuses to set completely. The darkest it ever became resembled twilight. It was just before 8pm when I arrived at my hostel in Reykjavik, but since it was June, I was able to enjoy the city until midnight because of the sun. I wasn’t the only tourist taking advantage of the evening’s light.

Since I was jet-lagged I only lasted the few hours, but I saw Hallgrimskirkja, Reykajavik’s iconic church with it’s prominent statue of Lief Erikson, and the Prime Minister’s Building. I walked the popular shopping street, Laugauegur, and also sat at Faxa Bay to soak in the views of the gorgeous volcanic mountain range of Esja.

28685362_10156790075183797_153350651957477376_n
Þingvellir National Park

On my only whole day in Iceland, I went on the Golden Circle Tour with Gateway to Iceland, which is a popular tour to do from Reykjavik. I found that the tour guide, Gauti, was upbeat and incredibly knowledgable.

  • Þingvellir National Parkthe landscape here was full of Purple Alaskan Flowers and the peaks of the mountains were speckled with snow. Its not only home to the largest lake in Iceland, but also the Great Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian Plate straddles the North American Plate. Walking through the park, you can spot the fissure within the earth.
  • Gullfoss waterfalla site I found comparable to Niagara, but with views of mountains and glaciers in the far distance.
  • Haukadalur geothermal area – this is an interesting stop with diverse geysers, but most notable are Strokkur and Geysir.
  • Secret Lagoon hot spring nature bathunlike the Blue Lagoon, this is a natural hot spring. Although the facilities were small, it had an intimate and relaxed vibe. The water smoked against the cool afternoon air and the hot spring’s walls were (unexpectedly) lined with thick multi-colored algae.

On my last day with only a few hours remaining to explore, I visited Reykajavik’s Opera House, Harpa, which resembled the interesting architecture of the opera houses in Oslo and Amsterdam. I wandered more of the street Laugauegur, the downtown area, and purchased Rúgbrauð (dense rye bread that has been cooked in the earth beside a geothermal spring).

28872082_10156790075503797_3626154932832305152_n

In the late afternoon, I was on my way back to the airport via the shuttle.

While I only had about 48 hours to explore Iceland, I really enjoyed myself and plan to return.

Here are some additional suggestions for the Reykajavik area:

  • Blue Lagoon
  • Snaefellsnes Peninsula
  • South Coast and Jökulsárlón Glacier
  • Puffins and/or Whale Watching Boat Tour

Savoring Sicily

Have you been to Sicily yet? Have you considered going? Sure, Rome, Venice, Florence, and Naples are great, but standard tourist sights. I’m not saying skip any of those, but I don’t know why Sicily hasn’t become a HOT destination. In fact, the only types of tourists I met were from Eastern European countries, students/Erasmus students, or Italians (from the it’s larger counterpart). In this post I’ll detail my favorite Sicilian destinations.

To be honest, before I committed to a Workaway program at a hostel in Catania, I never thought much about visiting Sicily.

1476640_10152685728583797_1382274733_n
View of Mount Etna smoking from a terrace in Catania, Sicily (2013)

My first introduction to Sicily was when I was younger. After my dad recounted the story of my great grandfather leaving an obscure village in southern Italy called Bocchigliero, he pointed a finger to an island off of Italy’s foot on a map. He warmly referred to Sicily as Italy’s soccer ball (or should I say football? Sorry, I am American after all).

Sicily is nestled within the Mediterranean and offers beautiful beaches, mouth-watering cuisine, delicious wines (please try Nero, like now), and fascinating archaeological sites. Sicily is a blend of ancient cultures because the island was conquered only a few times (ie. the Spanish, French, Greeks, Germans, Italians, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Phoenicians, Arabs, and British). These conquests are evident in their architecture and historical sites. If you’re interested in learning more about Sicily’s history, visit here – the material is broken down in a digestible manner.

Mount Etna
Smoke emitting from Mount Etna’s crater

Recommended Sites to visit in Sicily

  1. Catania
    • Located on the eastern part of the island, and is the second largest city in Sicily after Palermo. I’m biased about Catania because of my month-long Workaway at a hostel mere steps away from its most prominent square, Piazza del Duomo. In the this square is the Catania Cathedral are great cafes, the Fontana dell’Elefante, and the daily Fish Market. Nearby is a lengthy shopping strip, the University of Catania, and Bellini’s theatre. This place is an Art Historian’s fantasy because of the breath-taking baroque architecture. There’s also a variety of places that feature live music and nightlife and because of the students.
  2. Mount Etna
    • The largest, active volcano in Europe. Yes, I hiked all the way up and back down the volcano. Yes, it was arguably one of the most physically taxing things I have ever done, and yes I wanted to die. Was it worth it? Yes! I value this photo because it shares my accomplishment. If you hike it, wear good shoes that don’t ‘breathe’ – the volcanic rock and debris will sneak into your shoes and become incredibly uncomfortable after hours of trekking.  Also take it easy if you’re not used to that kind of altitude. It sits 10,991 feet above sea level.
  3. Agrigento Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi)
    • A UNESCO Heritage site dedicated to 7 Greek deities – Zeus, Juno, Heracles, Concordia, Asclepius, Pollux, and Vulcan.
  4. Taormina
    • This town is also on Sicily’s eastern coastline. Taormina is known for its incredible beach, Isola Bella, and its ancient Greek Theatre. It’s Old Town is quaint to explore, and provides picturesque sights to enjoy a glass or two of wine.
  5. Scala dei Turchi
    • A natural limestone rock formation on the coast of Realmonte. Since we took local transportation and walked to Scala dei Tuchi, it was a little difficult for us to find it. While the sunset was incredible, it’s best to go early in the day because we missed our last bus and hitchhiked back to the bus station.
  6. Alcantara Gorges
    • This gorge is very close to Mount Etna, and approximately an hour long drive from Catania. The gorge was crafted thousands of years ago by the volcano’s lava, and the river that winds through the gorge cut into the hardened rock to create it’s textural geometric appearance. Although I went during a humid autumn day, when the cold evening settled in, I saw the best starry sky. Also, please be careful of leeches!
    • You can find more detail about this site in a previous post.

If you’ve travelled to Sicily before, comment with some of your favorite spots! I’d love recommendations.

Scala dei Turchi
Scala dei Turchi

Rest & Relax in Cape Cod

Hyannis Port
Hyannis Port

The Cape is a quintessential vacation spot for New Englanders. Before I was born, my family used to make the venture on an annual basis to the Lewis Bay in South Yarmouth, however when I started university, the vacationing ebbed. Much of it contributed to changes occurring in the family-dynamic, and being genuinely occupied with work/studies.

My top 5 favorite things to do in Cape Cod

  1. Lewis Bay will always spark my childhood memories. I love walking the gray misty coastline in the morning with a cup of coffee, flying kites, kayaking, fishing at the docks, and sun bathing on the beach.
  2. Pirates Cove Miniature Golf in South Yarmouth. Freakin’ Pirates. How can you not appreciate the Black Beard proving himself as a complete bad ass?! The courses are fun and interactive; Jimmy Buffet and pirates themed music play in the background.
  3. Providence Town A little town settled at the Cape’s tip with a peaceful vibe. Gay friendly. An ideal spot for whale watching. Unique boutiques and incredible views of the Atlantic.
  4. Hyannis, Cape Cod At least a whole day should be dedicated to exploring the bars, shops and sites of Hyannis Port. You will find a ton of memorial sites/museums for JFK because the Cape reveres him as a corporeal god.
  5. The Barnstable Fair Farm animals, face painting, comfort foods, and artsy vendors.

This weekend, I was able to go with my mom and brother to the port of Hyannis. Although we were only able to run up for a quick weekend I’m glad we could make it, especially since I leave to study abroad for my postgraduate studies.