Saturday, May 31, 2008

Santa Margherita Ligure

Pretty pastel colored buildings from the Baroque Period and tropical palm trees waving along the main boulevard of Santa Margherita harbour.

From Deiva Marina, Blondine and I took the train to Santa Margherita Ligure. Our agenda for the day was to visit Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure. Since many travel reviews said that the best way to arrive in Portofino is by sea, and not really wanting to reinvent the (travel) wheel, we followed the advice and took the boat from Santa Margherita Ligure port to the jet set gulf of Portofino. I will save the Portofino post for the next entry.

Santa Margherita Ligure on the other hand (and which is our topic!) is a very pretty and charming sea side town. It was quite a surprise to us when we stepped out of this narrow street that we followed after getting out of the train station. An attractive well-manicured bayside park that also serves as a marina made our acquaintance. Beautiful palm trees weaved on the streets and Baroque inspired buildings line up the neat boulevard. We were like -- oh wow, nice!

Blondine and I in Santa Margherita harbour waiting for our boat ride to Portofino. The town is known to be an old-fashioned resort in the Italian Riviera and the tourists here (like Portofino) are from a different class of course. The weather was perfect too.

What I also love about the place are the cute little boutique shops dotting the esplanade selling a tempting array of gorgeous shoes and bags. We almost got dizzy just by looking at them. We want them all, lol! The shoes and bags were a good mix of locally (Italian) made brands and known signature brands. Although not as flashy as the signature boutiques in Portofino, here you can find a wider variety and its fun too, to hop from one shop to the other.

A few more fotos of pretty Santa Margherita Ligure. The town has this relaxing holiday feel, a nice combination of modern yet historical aura that suits best if you are someone looking to combine a pleasurable holiday and learning history and art.

This is the boat we took going to Portofino.

I bought in town a stylish hand-made Italian bag that matched the shoes I bought in Portofino. They would be perfect for the summer getup, even for the work place on Fridays. Blondine and I were so eager to wear the shoes we bought in Portofino that when the boat docked in Santa Margherita Ligure port, we right away opened our bags and wore them. A lot of the shop owners were giving us second looks, and I heard a couple of them discuss with each other whilst pointing to our newly bought shoes! The material must have been familiar to them but the design, perhaps not? Or they were probably wondering where we bought them?

A woman even came up to us in the harbour and asked if the shoes were comfortable to walk, and we said a loud YES!

This is in the Centrum of Santa Margherita Ligure - beautiful row of pastel coloured buildings of the Baroque Period, indeed these ancient architecture are the town’s treasure.

Well, it was a nice day to relax and shop for a change. After the tiring long hikes we did between rugged coastlines and ravines in the cliff villages of Cinque Terre, we needed something different, something less of a physical activity to boost and settle down our spirits. What better way to spend it shopping and sitting on a terrace sipping wine and enjoying the beautiful place and watching beautiful and not-so beautiful people =)

More fotos can be found here: Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy

In the early evening, on our way back to Deiva Marina, we encountered an eventful train ride.

We had some Martini in a little cafe in the Centrum after shopping.

Firstly, we were confronted by a nondescript type conductor who initially spoke English to us but when the discussion got thornier, he switched to pure Italian, which didn’t help us any bit. He insists the tickets we have were the wrong tickets, but I, the stubborn strong willed, insisted they were the right tickets, lol. Blondine was silent the whole time while I handled the argument however my exertions fell only on deaf ears. By this time the whole train car was listening to us, and some of the local passengers even jumped ship to help us, lol. They probably thought, -- oh, poor naïve foreign girls being harassed by this obstinate conductor.

And secondly, due to the high feelings spewed at the moment, we were not paying attention that the next stop was already Deiva Marina. Ergo, we missed our stop! We both laughed out loud at the blunder but at the same time cringe at the thought of the conductor coming back and charging us the ticket fee between Deiva Marina and Framura, the next stop where we plan to get out. Ugh! I would really scream foul and squeeze his huge Italian ears!

Framura train station where we got stuck for half an hour waiting for the train back to Deiva Marina.

Eventually we reached Framura, a train stop built literally out of nowhere. The train station was actually a small alcove cut out between 2 tunneled mountains sitting on a cliff facing the Ligurian Sea. We didn’t see any single living soul there and we reckon that the village must be at the back of the rock cliffs as there was none in sight.

The funny thing here was when we stepped out of the train. We heard frantic male voices calling us, and as we turned around, we saw half a dozen heads poke out of the train’s small windows – they all look like they were about to be beheaded if the window shutters had to come down, lol. The men shouted in chorus at Blondine and I, of course in Italian what else, and it took me some time to decipher what the chaos was all about. Then it dawned on me that the worried Italian men thought we were confused with our stop. So I shouted back at them with a reassuring tone that we missed our stop in Deiva Marina and we will be taking the next train back.

I should have taken a foto of their dark heads sticking out of the train’s window. It was one of those priceless moments.

Travel Period: May 2008
Destination: Santa Margherita Ligure (Genoa - Liguria), Italy

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Random thoughts about my life

My life nowadays is a busy tangle of everything. Work being occupying 80% of my activities. Well, mostly in my mind anyway; they even creep into my dreams at night and when I wake up! Politics are a fulltime job. No wonder politicians grow old (or get grey hair) the next day into their term.

But things are doing great at work. So far. I cannot ask for more. Although, a promotion in order would be nice I guess, but unfortunately, I am just 3 months old into this new position. Big boss told me during our chat, “You are not even with us for a quarter!” You know, I can’t have a head as huge as a football field.

Meanwhile, headhunters still keep emailing and calling me. I even receive post mails. I wonder where they get my CV?

On the domestic chores front, I still do a bit, mostly cooking. I share half of the chores anyway with the Dutchman. Can you imagine having a man do all the laundry, drying, and vacuuming at home? Having someone to pick up things after me is actually the major thing I truly miss about living back in the Philippines.

If I was single and living in the Netherlands I would still get a maid, but unfortunately the Dutchman has very grounded domestic principles. He grew up seeing Dutch women with impeccable cleaning skills. Amazing, these Dutch women are so gifted; they have domestic talents! At least he doesn’t mind doing it for me, so the maid I guess can wait until he gets tired doing it all by himself, lol.

I also do a little bit of socializing lately, drinks here and dinner there. Mostly to keep in touch with a few friends I made in my previous jobs. I am not the friendly type who makes everyone their best friends. But I have a few – very, very few. Apart from that, I always prefer to stay at home anyway. I realized years ago, like more than a decade actually, and this was when I started living on my own, and alone, that I am a 101% homebody. I am glad the Dutchman is like me.

Right now, I am (or we are) busy looking for a house with nature views; a house with some outdoor space, which unfortunately is a luxury in this tiny country. But I am just tired of urban living. I am tired of seeing highways and cars and buildings. I am just soooooooo tired.

So a few weeks ago I saw this really nice villa in – just right, not too big, and with a terraced garden. I especially loved the garden because it was just perfect and trouble-free for the undomesticated me. Hint: there was less grass on the ground and barely any plants. I have a black thumb right so I always avoid complicated gardens with multitudes of flowers and shrubberies. Well, Dutchman was excited about it too. So we went to check out the villa but the visit was a big disappointment. We saw how tight the space was to the next door neighbors. No way.

There was also another house I fell in love with. The description says it is a monument house, and the scenery was just awesome, endless green. The horizon could not be as greener as the views of this house. But it was somewhere in the North near Hoorn. Sigh - too far from Amsterdam.

So there, back to looking again.

I will be 38 in June. Now I can truly say I am in my late thirties, which sound quite odd really. Dutch sister is already eyeing a lake where we can picnic for my birthday, which reminds me I need to call her about it.

The other day, I had a chat with a 31 year old. He said he is way older than me. I had to laugh out loud which tickled him to bits.

“Why are you laughing?” he asked while laughing with me – you see I am contagious.

“Because you think you are older than me.”

“Why?” –pause– “No way you’re older than me--I am 31! You must be like 24 or something?”

OMG! LOL – Hellooo... I am now 24 years old!!!?

Sometimes it’s irritating to always defend your age. For once in my life, I’d like people to think and see I am 38.

Dutchman on the other hand just returned from Asia and already gave me the task of searching for our Greek summer holiday. He wants us to go in June, which, looking at our schedules at work would be impossible. But I’ve started my online research anyway, and read travel reviews and saw fotos of the Cyclades Islands. Now I can’t contain my excitement!

Last weekend while in the car going to the supermarket, Dutchman pointed to a woman walking on the sidewalk pushing a prom. Beside her is a little girl.

“Do you ever see yourself like that?”


“If it’s your baby you will like it I guess. That’s what many people always say.”

“Yeah I am sure.” “But I love my life right now. I don’t want to change it.”

“Me too.”

As for emails. I am your lazy queen of procrastination. So to those I owe one or two, please bear with me. The email will come but just (as always) late. Unfortunately, emailing is a weakness I have not overcome :-(

Monday, May 26, 2008

Classical Concert at the Amstel in Amsterdam

Before I write 3 more travel review entries of my Italian Riviera holiday (Portovenere, Santa Margherita-Ligure, and Portofino), I forgot to post these pictures that I took a couple of weeks ago in Amstel in Amsterdam, so I am posting them now.

It looks like there were Marines in there guarding the Amstel Canals. Boats could not go further the bridge where I stood while taking this shot. The concert stage being dressed up, 2.5 hours before the festivities started. The wooden bridge on the lower photo is the Magerebrug (Skinny Bridge).

There was a classical concert dedicated to the Queen (this was a week after Queen’s Day) in the Amstel Canals which was perfect timing as my colleague just moved into his very chic apartment in nearby Keizersgracht and invited us over for a drink.

I know it is a struggle to walk in my high heels on the cobblestones but there is no way would I, in my sane mind, bring the car to the Centrum. Not in Keizersgracht!

Two glasses of white wine was enough for me and I retired for some water. Later, I bid goodbye to the host as I didn’t want to leave when it’s dark.

Outside, the police already barricaded the roads and only permitted pedestrians on foot to pass by. Bikes would have to make a detour which garnered a lot of disapproving looks from the locals on their bikes while the unabashed went cursing on the air: gadt-fer-dam-me! lol

The crowd was quite big, and out of curiousity, I got lured to the pack and squeezed tiny me between the sea of tall shoulders standing on the Magerebrug (exact translation: Thin Bridge), which is also known as the Romantic Bridge in Amsterdam. An acquaintance living in Amsterdam once told me that many lovers pass through the bridge and stop midway to kiss. Romantic indeed.

The classical concert in full swing, around 10pm+.

At any rate, I could never stand too long on the cobblestones with my high heels but I watched the concert for a bit before I hurried off, tiptoeing as I go, to the tram stop.

Visit Period: May 2008
Destination: Amsterdam Centrum (Amsterdam - North Holland), the Netherlands

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Cinque Terre, Italy: Vernazza

Before this Cinque Terre trip, I did a lot of research online, read many blogs, googled travel reviews, queried Lonely Planet Thorntree, and more. There is one thing though that seemed to be the common denominator, and that is Vernazza being the most picturesque of all the 5 Terres.

The picturesque pastoral village of Vernazza from the hiking trails (going to Monterosso).

So during the 2 hour hike from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza I had this I-can’t-wait-to-see-Vernazza feeling brewing up, also because we underestimated the hike. Firstly, we thought its going to be easy just like the Manarola to Corniglia route, and secondly, we didn’t know it will take us 2 hours! So this growing feeling has been staying inside my stomach for the whole journey -– When are we going to get a glimpse of Vernazza? When?

And alas, we saw from a distance the little village of Vernazza. Blondine and I were like, WOW... Our tiredness immediately faded away at what we just saw. I had to get off the trail to go down to a small alcove, it was actually a crag. The locals probably cleared the bushes as it’s the perfect spot to take a foto of this bucolic little village.

Vernazza is indeed the most picturesque of the 5 Terres from a bird’s eye view, although in my opinion, not as authentic compared to Riomaggiore and Manarola. It has this faultless and idyllic setting a photographer dreams. The oxidized pastel colored buildings clinging to the rock cliffs were huddled together forming a U-shaped fishing bay. The Santa Margherita Church in the waterfront, its dome soaring above serving as a highlight against the impressive and only proper harbour in the whole of Cinque Terre, while the ruined archaic stoic tower of the Belforte castle overlooking the Ligurian Sea gave the perfect touch. Truly a post card site!

I also loved the small winding and staircased alleys we passed through going down to the marina, but after the 2 hours trek with just a 15 minute stop, I was not in the mood to discover the lofty and charming passageways. The last thing I wanted to do was mount again my very tired legs. The last leg of the hike was actually a long rugged decline. Too much weight put on my knees and legs during our downward descent made them tremble a bit, and we were HUNGRY! So hungry our stomachs were grumbling for seafood! Growling I suppose.

We picked a nice restaurant by the corner of the haven and ordered our seafood: mussels and seafood mix pasta with half a liter carafe of dry white wine please. It was one of those enjoyable meals I have ever had. Or could it be when you are tired and hungry, any meal is enjoyable?

The pizza looked so mouthwatering but Blondine thought it was bland and she took some of my pesto sauce in my mussels as additional flavour.

After our late lunch we wandered a bit avoiding any road that would make us climb. In Vernazza the side streets were all staircased narrow alleys, and some were hidden passageways, which are totally charismatic and inviting, but, not when you just finished scaling a mountain range for 2 grueling hours.

Also, in the travel reviews I have read, Vernazza is said to be built around 1,000 A.D. and the town has currently about 500+ households and a total of 1,000+ inhabitants. Like any small town place, the locals are said to be a very closely-knit community.

I managed to do some little shopping and bought a few pasta herb packs which will be my present for the Dutchman. We also hung out in the marina soaking under the sun and watched the people go by. I will not argue that watching and studying passersby has always been a great pastime during traveling.

Speaking about people, we noticed that the average age of the tourists visiting Cinque Terre was around 50? Blondine argued its 80, lol.

When we got back to the Netherlands our friends were asking us if we were chased by the suave, assertive, and good-looking Italian men. Well, hello? There were only older men there, and they all have their wives in tow! Not a chance, haha!

Travel Period: May 2008
Destination: Cinque Terre (Liguria), Italy

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Cinque Terre: Monterosso al Mare

Deiva Marina, our temporary home away from home in Liguria is just 18 minutes by train to Cinque Terre’s Monterosso al Mare, making the sea side town a perfect place to use as a base to explore UNESCO’s world heritage Cinque Terre and Portovenere, and the jet set bay of Portofino.

So for the day, our plan was to do the trek from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza. We first went around and enjoyed Monterosso, the only village in Cinque Terre that is not hanging from a cliff and has a beach shoreline. It is also the least authentic among the 5 villages - we saw cars passing through! Who said Cinque Terre is car less? Maybe it is in the other 4 villages but surely not Monterosso al Mare.

The Centrum, like any Italian village, is old but what makes it interesting is its collection of impressive antiquated petite churches. While staring at this black and white edifice in front of me, a middle aged woman passed by and said, breaking my thoughts, “Its marble. Everything is marble.”

I smiled back at her, nodding and saying – Si, which means Yes in Italian.

So I stepped inside St. John the Baptist Church and was brought back in time, fleetingly during the time of Cleopatra. Strangely, the black and white patterns on the pillars remind me of Cleopatra and Egypt. As a little child, I have watched tons of historical movies, and I guess some things and scenes just get stuck in the recesses of the mind. But also, the marble pillars bring to mind the beautiful churches in Siena and Orvieto.

The popular usage of marble in construction within the region is really no surprise as during the train ride to Pisa where we stayed over for a night before catching our flight back to the flatlands the next day, we saw this mammoth sized white mountain range. Blondine and I debated for a moment -- Is it snow? The Dolomites surely is not situated in Liguria?

Then, from our moving fast intercity train, we saw vast marble job sites along the railway. Huge industrial plants specializing in cutting and glazing marbles one after the other. The white mountain we saw was actually a marble quarry site. Italy is rich in mineral and natural resources while the Netherlands – the Dutch had to reclaim land.

Here are fotos of Monterosso al Mare:

Here, the church scene:

Again, the beach area:

Anywho, after our visit in Monterosso al Mare we were ready for our trek! We walked along the cemented snake path suspended from the rock cliffs. After reaching the end part of the cemented path we were thrown into a much more challenging journey. And little did we know what we have to endure past the Cinque Terre National Park kiosk controle (a little kiosk that sells and checks Cinque Terre tickets).

Needless to say, this is where our ultimate challenge began. It was also a very hot day and I was glad I had a bottle of water reserve with me. For half an hour I mounted this rugged staircased mountain. I was panting, heavily. There seem to be no end to the flight of steps. Step by step, I was was gasping desperately for air. I am not exaggerating, OK.

Halfway through the mount I reached to a serious point of crisis. I just know it was critical for me to stop. I was so out of breath, dehydrated, my fangs were already showing due to the non-stop wheezing, and more importantly, my heart palpitations was running at 300 kilometers per hour which would definitely send my mother up the wall screaming HALT! So I stopped for a 15-minute tank and rest. Heaven forbid you know, that I faint and roll down over back to Monterosso, lol. We definitely don’t want that to happen, don’t we?

Blondine was surprisingly faster than I. She was a few meters ahead of me and was unstoppable, although she was also panting like a hyena and struggled a bit with the climb. Sigh, sigh, sigh, I realized what an old cow I have become. At almost 38 years of age (in about 4 weeks), I seriously need to better my condition.

After the grueling half an hour constant climb, we reached the top and thought it could not go worse from here on. We were right on our deliberation as the next hour was spent hiking through rows of vineyards, terraces of vegetation, forests, and one-way traffic cliffs (other hikers have to wait and give way) where we had to lean back, grab the protruding slabs of stones close to us like our lives totally depended on them, and tread slowly and carefully watching our steps as the overhangs were quite steep! Scary.

A few fotos of the hike:

I personally loved the variety of flora we saw along the trails. Beautiful flowers, interesting plants from species I have not seen before, the vineyards, the view to the Ligurian Sea, and how could I forget the romantic little creeks flowing like gentle hymns in the forest? They all make the hike really worthwhile.

It took us 2 hours to reach Vernazza and when we looked back at the mountain we scaled, we marveled for a moment at what we have done and our close encounter with nature and crags. You see, there are no mountains in the Netherlands to mount and there are no steep cliffs to hoof it sideways.

Travel Period: May 2008
Destination: Cinque Terre (Liguria), Italy

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