Browsing Date

September 2015

Culture, Europe

Visiting Cinque Terre

September 2, 2015 • By

Cinque Terre is a tourist destination nestled in a corner of the mountainous coastal area of the Italian Riviera or Liguria region. Genoa is the capital and Liguria borders France to the west, Piedmont to the north, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany to the east, and it sits on the Ligurian Sea (Mediterranean). If searching for it on a map, it’s at the tip of a sideways “u” at the top of the country.

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Cinque Terre – 5th town Monterosso

Cinque Terre translates literally to “five earth.” Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare comprise the five villages or towns on this strip of Italian coast, all similar but distinctly different in size and personality. Colorful homes in varying shades of yellow, orange, pink and red with green shudders and balconies–some painted, some real–characterize much of Cinque Terre. While nearby Portofino serves as a shopper’s paradise for the pretty people, Cinque Terre provides a more low-key retreat from the big city for travelers on a budget. It’s got a chill vibe that caters to backpackers, young families and a sprinkling of retirees.

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Old Town, Monterosso

People venture to Cinque Terre to hike the terrain at sunrise, relax at the plentiful beaches and taste the rich Ligurian flavors. All will leave you yearning for just one more day on your trip. The towns are about 10 minutes apart by train or boat, making it easy to see one place–or five–depending on your pace. Unless you plan on renting accommodations for the week, Cinque Terre can be easily conquered in a day and a half and is accessible from Milan by train (3 hours) or car (2 hours). While the Italian Riviera has a reputation for playing second fiddle to the French Riviera, in Cinque Terre you will find meticulous, terraced vineyards carved into the hillside along with fern, olive and lemon trees and magnificent mountain and sea views wherever you choose to base yourself.

My mother and I stayed at La Cabana, a bed and breakfast in Monterosso al Mare, high in the hills with a view of the terrain and out to the water. Monterosso has a long promenade connecting the New Town (Fegina) to the Old Town (Centro Storico) and is relatively flat making it easy to browse some of the tourist shops or wander a couple of the historic churches and the local cemetery. Overall, there isn’t much to do but lounge on the beach, swim, hike, eat and embrace the heat.

Since my mother is battling a hip injury and hiking was not an option this trip, I ventured through the trails of Monterosso on a 45 minute loop through local vineyards and winding paths to find rocky and uneven surfaces and steep and challenging stairs. The sunrise over the mountaintop and the sweeping views of the coast were well worth the work, but when done, I retreated, thankful that my mother’s looming surgery provided me with an excuse to skip the more laborious trails. As is always the case, the Germans and the Brits came equipped with polls, gear and attire worthy of the most treacherous paths.

But like true Americans, Joyce and I came to Cinque Terre for the food, armed with bottomless stomachs and our taste buds calling. Liguria is known for its anchovies, seafood salad, pesto, pecorino and Parmesan cheese, white sauce never red, focaccia and white wine. The fresh pesto adorning homemade pasta or lightly basted on pizza will forever leave me scarred for any other food. To say it melted in my mouth is one thing, to admit it danced on my tongue and left me hankering for more is quite another.

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Monterosso, Cinque Terre a most worthy view


We lunched beachside at Ristorante Belvedere where the house specialty, a fish soup, receives rave reviews. We opted for the plentiful seafood salad and it tasted fresh and tasty.

Don’t miss Ristorante Miky (closed Tuesdays) for its ambiance, service and traditional dishes. Miky delivered our favorite meal of the trip so far. Joyce devoured the seafood ravioli and I inhaled the branzino, prepared local style with olives, pine nuts and potatoes. The stuffed mussels starter proved to be a surprise and our bottle of white wine Friulano paired with our food perfectly. If you fancy dessert, try the mint cream (basil) and berries. You won’t be disappointed.

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The best food in Monterosso

Lastly, we followed Rick Steves’ suggestion and booked a table at Cafe Tortuga (closed Mondays) on the cliffs of Monterosso. While the service lacked, the restaurant more than made up for it with delicious, flavorful, well-prepared food. Per our server’s recommendation, we ordered local pasta–pesto lasagna for me and mussels and broccoli for Joyce. The turbot fish for two as a main course prepared with olive oil, olives and potatoes finished us off for the night. A day later we still cannot decide who won the pasta food wars.

If you find yourself around town and hungry, skip the gelato–it’s tasteless. Instead head directly to the bakery and order a pizza, olive, onion or sage focaccia. Every bite is like a step closer to heaven on earth. Make a meal of it or share if you dare. It’s absolutely worth the calories, the carbs or the extra five minutes on the treadmill.

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Vernazza, The 4th town, Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is fun to explore and worth a short stay. The towns are simple, sweet and incorporate a slice of the past–each with their obligatory castle and local church–with a touch of the present. The promenades, filled with restaurants, bars and beachgoers are basic yet inviting.

We enjoyed our stay in Monterosso and  short visit to Vernazza but check out Cinque Terre for the views and stay for the local kindness and the delectable food.

Do's and Don'ts, Travel Tips

Why I travel alone

September 1, 2015 • By

When describing my wanderlust, I am often asked why I travel alone by friends, colleagues and even relatives. It’s not something I intentionally set out to do when I started my solo travel adventures nearly 11 years ago; it occurred more out of a desire to travel and a lack of people interested in doing the same.  Now that I am on day four of a nine day trip with my mother, I think it’s a swell time to give this topic further attention.

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After a day poolside enjoying the marina and a gelato with my mom

Occasionally, I’ve traveled with friends and, together, we have tackled cities across Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and South America.  I enjoyed these bonding experiences and the moments shared eating, drinking, laughing and sightseeing.  It was most fortunate that I was not alone in Peru as I fell ill with a parasite and altitude sickness, or when I succumbed to “Delhi belly” in Jaipur. Sharing Oktoberfest in Munich with companions is absolutely as amusing as one would think after several pitchers of beer and oompah music. Climbing Machu Picchu, wine tasting in Mendoza and Stellenbosh, shopping in Bali and dancing until 4 am in Istanbul with friends are some of my most treasured memories from my travels, and I appreciate those dear souls who contributed to the joy of the journey.

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Pam and me in Munich 2013 – just a wee pint

Amongst all the treasured memories, travel with friends also has its share of ups and downs. A trip to Montreal turned disastrous when a friend insisted on saving her money and eating at McDonald’s, something I wish she shared prior to me selecting the city’s cool restaurants to try.  A girl’s trip to Paris placed four women, ages 30+, in one hotel room with a queen size bed and a shower down the hall–a catastrophic fact the planner failed to mention until I arrived after a seven-hour flight.  I ended up eating alone and booking myself into a more adequate hotel across town.  Lastly, I booked a post-college European trip with girls from school who preferred partying and sleeping to visiting churches and museums. The group split apart and I traveled to Spain and Germany independently.

A bad travel experience can not only ruin the trip, but can also terminate the friendship. It’s more common than you would think because you are spending excessive time with a person day in and day out who may not possess the same enthusiasm for hiking or biking and eating or relaxing, or whatever preferences you may desire.  You must be clear about your intentions from the beginning for the trip to go smoothly.

I prefer to travel alone because I’m cognizant of my strengths and weaknesses. I’m single, live alone and I’m fiercely independent.  In other words, I am not always accommodating to others.  It’s nice to wake up when I want, traipse through cities at record speeds or meander with no plan, sleep when I want, exercise if I must and spend money on emerald rings or Indian rugs if I feel like it.

I prefer personal guides to tour buses, trains to cars, shopping to sunbathing and lots and lots of activity where I am learning history, sampling local culture and meeting kindred spirits.  People assume solo travelers are lonely, but I prefer it because I can assimilate easier, talk to locals and force myself to do all the things I am too afraid to try at home.  It’s the best, my version of serenity.

However, I really do enjoy traveling with my dear friends Pam and Jill, and I am blessed they still sign up for my shenanigans from time to time.

Where are we going next, ladies? Wimbledon and Paris are calling!

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Jill and me at our dinner at Sortie in Istanbul where we danced until 4 AM

Top 10 Considerations for Traveling with a Friend (or Alone)

1.) You must both agree and be excited about the planned destination.  If you like the beach, don’t go skiing.

2.) Discuss your aspirations for the trip.  This includes a budget and planned activities.  Your budget may allow for only one meal a day or one museum and a lunch to go. Share that information with your travel partner(s).

3.) Admit your quirks, faults or needs in advance of departure, preferably before booking flights and hotels.  Would you prefer your own room?  Are you afraid of heights?

4.) Discuss payment in advance of trip.  When I travel with friends, we keep accurate records on spreadsheets and match with credit card bills to ensure the conversion rate matches.  It usually works out that we break even or close to it at the end of the trip.

5.) Plan a reasonable schedule of time together and time apart.  Ask yourself and your friend, “Do you need ‘me’ time?”

6.) If you are sharing accommodations, confirm with your travel mate sleeping patterns, safety needs and also whether or not you expect or will permit new found friends in your room at any time of the day.

7.) Plan any balloon rides, hikes or group activities together in advance.  This way you can both have something to look forward to at some point during the trip.

8.) Strategize who carries cameras, electronics, toiletries etc. so you can share and not be lugging around multiple items.  It saves space in your luggage and your sanity.

9.) Be open and honest and agree to disagree.  There will absolutely be a few hiccups in the road.

10.) Have fun and share your experience with others.