A week in The Netherlands

Visiting Netherlands after my trip to Morocco, was refreshing. The people are very polite without exxageration.

While making a query at the train station, I said “Hi”. The girl behind the counter educated me to say “Good afternoon”. I was taken aback but never offended, knowing that she bears no ill meaning behind that. The Dutch says their mind.

For a week Netherlands trip, we spent equal times in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. I would say it was a very relaxing trip and the weather was perfect too.

Netherlands is the bicycle capital of the world. There are too many bikes and I wish Singapore aspire to follow suit. We need a cycling paths for green environment, healthy and safety reasons. I wish cycling is normal, part of our everyday life, and people to be considerate and gracious like what I’ve witnessed in Netherlands.

Amsterdam

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Walking is indeed the best way to see the city. We walked a lot during this trip and Nicky has to get a massage from sore legs. We did not spend too much time visiting museums since we wanted to explore the cities as much as we can. We board a canal cruise and enjoying the unique architecture along the way.

The next morning, we took train to Zaanse Schans, a neighbourhood in the Dutch town of Zaandam, near Amsterdam. This place is interesting with historic windmills and distinctive green wooden houses of an 18th/19th-century village.

I enjoyed the cycling and roaming around the area. It was lovely seeing those old historic windmills, and visiting interactive exhibits on bakery, rare handicrafts such as wooden clog carving, barrel making and pewter casting.

We also visited Haarlem, a photogenic medieval city of cobblestone streets and gabled houses. It’s the center of a major flower-bulb-growing district, and famous for its outlying tulip fields, art museums and hofjes (almshouses built around leafy courtyards).

Rotterdam

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Rotterdam is a major port city in the Dutch province of South Holland. Some of the interesting places we visited were the Cubic Houses at Blaak station, markets, Erasmo Bridge and surroundings.

We also travel to Kinderdikj, famous for its 19 authentic windmills. Another interesting cycling trip and beautiful windmills. As we arrived late, we only have an hour to wander the places but it is worth a visit.

The Hague

Ambassade Arena Aparthotel is the best hotel we stayed in Netherlands. The room is spacious with a cooking facility. The view from the top is amazing and the tram-station is just outside the hotel. The Scheveningen beach, casino and musical-theater are just in walking distance. I love the atmosphere at the beach, it is definitely more than a beach.

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Delft is a beautiful city that enjoys a worldwide reputation due to its connection with Johannes Vermeer, Delft Blue earthenware and the Royal House. I enjoyed wandering along canals, churches, mansions and courtyards.

The Netherlands is not known for its cuisine, but they have fresh produce. Haring (oily silvery-colored fish) or ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’ is probably the most famous Dutch food. The cheese, Gouda and Edam, is also known all around the world. I was excited to see so many Indonesian restaurants, and I went there couple of times to satisfy the crave of spicy foods.

Entering a “coffee shop” in Amsterdam is quite an experience. Official “Coffee shops” which have a green and white licence sticker in the window are a place where one can legally smoke weeds. There is a long menu list at the counter where one choose the kind of “coffee” they wish.

I was impressed with The Netherlands. The trains are efficient, frequent and reasonably priced. The canals are clean and appealing. The extensive bike trails network, historical buildings and architecture are interesting. The people were also friendly, non-judgemental, and helpful. I love to visit again, perhaps during tulips season.

 intansg

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Accommodation:

Amsterdam      2 Nights: Hampton Hilton (Arena Boulevard)

Rotterdam        2 Nights: Hotel Bazaar

The Hague       2 Nights: Ambassade Arena Aparthotel

Schipol Airport        1 Nights: NH Amsterdam Schipol Airport

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3,000 km road trip across Morocco

“Fly out or you will be in jail,” the female custom officer said.

OMG. I always thought I hold one of the strongest passport in the world and can stay almost everywhere without a visa. I’ve just learned that a Singaporean can only stay 90 days out of 180 days in Europe (Schengen countries). So, in order not to overstay, I need to spend some days at a non-schengen countries.

There are some places I love to visit. After some thoughts, I decided to visit Morocco.

MOROCCO

Driving Map across Morocco

Morocco is a North African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. The population is distinguished by its Berber, Arabian and European cultural influences, mainly French.

We started and ended our journey in Tangier. Our first stop was Chefchouen. It was a 2.5 hours drive to our first riad. A riad is similar to a Bed and Breakfast, a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden, courtyard and/or roof terrace. Staying in a riad which usually located in the medina is a unique experience, but it is not for everyone.

My opinion of Riad:

Pros: Unique beautiful experience, easy access to medina, shopping and restaurants

Cons: Usually small and compact, not sound proof – can be noisy for light sleeper, no private parking, no amenities

CHEFCHOUEN

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Chefchouen is a beautiful blue city. We enjoyed getting lost at the medina and the square of Plaza Uta El-Hammam. Life moves at a slower pace in this city. It’s a perfect place to wander and take photos.

I had my first taste of Tangine for lunch. Tangine is the slow-cooked dish of Morocco and revered for its sweet and savoury flavours. Tangine can be cooked up from almost anything; lamb, chicken, beef or even fish.

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In the evening, we had our next tangine dinner at La Lampe Magique restaurant. The scenery was beautiful and the call to prayer, azan, provide beautiful sound to the ears.

MEKNES

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On the way to Meknes, we spotted a Sunday market near Laghdir. Lucky day! To me, a visit to local market is an efficient way to immerse ourselves into one’s culture. It was so interesting to get a sense for the locals, their products, food, and how they live their life.  I bought olives, fruits and a colourful Berber hat.

Meknes has its charm on its own. Some of the main attractions are Volubilis, Moulay Idriss and Bab al-Mansour. We admired the ornately decorated gateway of Bab Mansour, the city square, and the many winding streets of the city.

FES

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The drive to Fes is only an hour journey but the difficulty we had were finding the parking. A Moroccon guy in a scooter spotted us looking for direction and approached us to follow him. As naïve as we were, we followed. He showed us a private parking place, showed us our next riad, and convinced us to take “a professional tour guide” that will show Fes for five hours.

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Fes medina is beautiful, with medieval architecture, vibrant souks and old-world atmosphere. Some of the places we visited are the Couwara tanneries, 14th centuries Madrasa Bou Inania and Café Clock.

MERZOUGA (SAHARA DESERT)

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The drive to Merzouga was the longest but we enjoyed the journey. Beautiful scenery along the way, and the road except in very few places is well maintained. We spent about eleven hours on the road, including stops. We stopped at Azrou for coffee, the cedar forest for the monkeys, and village Timahdite. We had our lunch at Zaida town in the Midelt province.

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The camel trekking across Sahara desert was an experience of the lifetime. With a group of thirteen, we talked and laughed, looking out over the vast of Sahara desert, swaying with the beats and sounds of drums, and staring at the night sky. Beautiful stars.

OUARZAZATE

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Ouarzazate is a city in the south of Morocco’s High Atlas mountain known as a gateway to the Sahara Desert. It is a huge Taourirt Kasbah, home to a 19th-century palace, and has the views over the rugged local landscape, which features in several movies such as The Mummy, Gladiator, and the recent ones, Prison Break.

We had our lunch at Todgha Gorge, the limestone river canons located at the eastern part of the High Atlas mountains near the town of Tinerhir. As recommended by the riad host, I had my first Hammam. The Hammam itself was a nice experience but the massage was mediocre. I had better in Singapore.

KELAAT M’GOUNA

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Link: Morocco’s Festival of Roses 2018

When we planned our visit, the dates for Rose festival were not confirmed. Some websites mentioned that it will be on first week of May. We booked our stay for second week.  We just hope that our dates coincides with the festival week, which they did. How lucky we are!? We were so fortunate to experience the Rose festival which include the visit to Rose valleys where the roses are harvested. The exhibition, flea markets, and traditional musical performances were interesting. We also watched the parade with the selection of the annual Rose Queen. The smells of roses fills the air at el Kelaa M’Gouna.

MARRAKECH

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On the way to Marrakech, we visited Ait Ben Haddou, the red-earth city. My favourite movie of all time, Gladiator, was filmed here. It was a wonderful place but we were too tired to explore more grounds.

It was not good getting lost in medina. We got so confused with the streets, panicking, and an ‘angel’ demanded Dh200 (equivalent to 20) for showing us a public parking. “Do you think this is China?” he said when I gave him Dh100. It  makes my blood boil! A local taxi in Morocco charge around Dh20 – Dh100.

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In the evening, we enjoyed siting in the terrace of Le Grand Balcon du Cafe Glacier, which has an incredible view of Jemaa el-Fnaa, the bustling courtyard and market place. We had to pay Dh20 per person (exchange with a soft drink).

ESSAOUIRA

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Essaouria is a laid-back alternative to Marrakesh. We heard plenty of stories about Jimi Hendrix in Essaouira. This is another city that I enjoyed the most, together with Chefchouen. The time in the souks was pleasant. I enjoyed the fresh air, walking to Skala du port for the picturesque views over the fishing port.

RABAT

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Rabat is Morocco’s capital of Islamic and French colonial heritage. We witnessed many quarrels and shouting in Rabat. Maybe it was the starting of the fasting month, which testing one’s patience. Or maybe that’s the way it is in the north.

We visited Kasbah of the Udayas, the city oldest quarter, built during the Almohad dynasty in 12th century which has a beautiful garden. We also visited Chellah (old fortress) and Hassan Tower (incomplete mosque) during Friday praying.

TANGIER

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The city of Tangier is located at the western entrance of the Strait of Gibralta, where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Some tourist especially those coming on motorcycles adventures, take ferry from Spain with a sailing duration of one hour.

Overall, I would say that Morocco is a very beautiful country and urge friends to experience themselves. There are many cool sights and contrasting experiences that is unforgettable. We met some nice people and appreciate their warm and kindness. We also met some interesting characters that testing one’s patience. This is why researcher says that traveling is good for mental health.

Written By: 

intansg

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SUGGESTIONS AND TIPS:

  • Do your homework and plan carefully especially if you intend to self-drive.
  • Staying in ‘Riad’ is a good experience, but for a less stressful events, book a hotel with own private carpark.
  • If you are ‘lost’, keep calm and call the hotel for direction. Do not allow anyone to take advantage of your situation, they will demand loads of money.
  • There were many police stops, ensure that you abide to the speed limit. If not, they will ask for coffee money (DH200 – 20) and cigarettes.
  • Hiring a Guide in Morocco is NOT necessary.
  • There are many tourist scams in Morocco, special mention Fes and Marrakech. Some work in groups. I understand that these people are trying to make a living but the events will scare off tourists who are genuinely interested in visiting this beautiful country. Something need to change.
  • Be firm when being approached by the ‘friendliest’ man in the street. Say ‘La Syukran’ (no thanks) for any offers to help or showing places. Our own experience – we were greeted by a friendly man who said we should take pictures from the cafe terrace. “It’s free and has nice view”, he said. From the terrace, he brought us down to another exit which is a shop! He became very aggressive when we told him that we were not interested to buy anything. In the end, we were forced to buy dry dates for Dh100 (which were the “cheapest” in the shop), so as not to create chaos.
  • Stay away from ‘chocolato’ – drugs.
  • Stay away from Henna ladies unless you wanted a henna tattoo.
  • Communication barriers in many parts of Morocco as most speak only Berber, Arabic and French. Best to learn some basic.
  • Take small notes with you. Some vendors pretended they do not have enough change.
  • Be extra careful when taking photographs. Most Moroccon do not like their photos to be taken, or they will demand for money or the camera.
  • In the airport, the immigration queue is long and slow. Make sure to have ample time to arrive at the airport.

ACCOMMODATION:

Chefchouen 1 Night Accommodation: Dar Z’man Guesthouse S$50/night

*Public Parking near Riad Madrid -30 dirham-

Meknes 1 Night Accommodation: Riad Hiba Meknes S$45/night

*Public Parking along the street -20 dirham-

Fes 1 Night Accommodation: Dar Bouanania S$32/night

*Public Parking Bab Boujlad -30 dirham-

Merzouga 1 Night Accommodation: Auberge Le Petit Prince S$40/night

1 Night Accommodation: Sahara Desert Camel Trekking

*Private own parking -no charge-

Ouarzazate 1 Night Accommodation: Dar El Nath S$70/night

*Public Parking -30 dirham-

Kelaat M’Gouna 2 Night Accommodation: Kasbah Tasseurte S$40/night

*Private own parking -no charge-

Marrakech 2 Nights Accommodation: Riad Jnane Mogador S$60/night

*Public Parking across the medina -60 dirham-

Essaouira 2 Nights Accommodation: Ryad Les Sultanes S$40/night

*Public Parking -60 dirham-

Rabat 1 Night Accommodation: Riad Meftaha S$90/night

*Park car in Street of Iran, next to the riad -no charge

Tangier 1 Night Accommodation: Hotel Continental S$60/night

*Private own parking -no charge-

 

 

Saving the Planet – Stop Littering

 

First time in Greece – 12 nights

I have always thought of myself as an independent and organised traveller. For my trip to Greece, I didn’t plan much, except in figuring out the general routes. I wanted to experience traveling like hippies. But this is not my style.

It turned out that it was more expensive to purchase ferry tickets and hotels on the go. And it was very stressful to figure out how to go from one place to the other. We spent two nights in Athensthree nights in Santorinitwo nights in Naxostwo nights in Paros, and three nights in Nafplio. On our last day, we took early bus from Nafplio to Athens, stored our luggage, and explored Athens for the last few hours.

ATHENS

Staying at a hotel next to Monastiraki station is the best choice. Monastiraki neighbourhood is near to many iconic landmarks, restaurants, flea markets, and direct metro to and from Athens airport, and Piraeus Port for island hopping.

Monastiraki Square is lively and provide a very nice experience. I love hanging out in Monastiraki and Plaka, and soaking in the ambience. Athens streets are picturesque, full of graffiti, with views of every day life accompanying by soothing Greek music in the background.

We climbed the Acropolis hill and had our first view of the Parthenon, the iconic temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. Once we’re done with the sacred rock, we headed to the Acropolis Museum before stopping for a lunch-Greek style.

We visited Syntagma Square to see the changing of the guard in front of the House of Parliament. It was rather unique. Their uniforms and movements were so interesting and they have the greatest tassels on their shoes.

 

In the evening, we went to Mount Lycabettus to enjoy the sunset and panaromic view at the top of the hill. Indeed it was beautiful.

During our last day in Greece, it happens to be a Sunday where Athens flea market is opened. We visited the bustling and quaint market and have a late lunch accompanied by live Greek music.

SANTORINI

As soon as I arrived Santorini by ferry, I was overwhelmed by it’s beauty. I was in awe. Everything about this place is stunning.

From Santorini port, we took a bus to Fira, and changed another bus to Oia. Oia is a charming, bustling village and has plenty of exciting places to dine. We witnessed the beautiful sun set over the caldera as the town literally lights up into wonderful shades.

 

Oia village is the most popular spot for sunsets, and we were happy with our choice of stay. We wandered at the boulevard at anytime of the day and able to take good pictures without any other people in the frame.

During our stay, we rented a car and explore the island. We visited the ancient Akrotiri, Pyrgos, Emporio, Ancient Thira, Kamari Beach, and Perissa Beach.

 

As we were short of time, we didn’t complete the full trail to Ancient Thira. It was worth the hike up to the top of the hill to see the ancient ruins and the entire island from a bird’s eye view.

We were fortunate to experience Easter in Pyrgos village. The prayers, chanting, and the lightings were spectacular. The entire village glows ablaze, it is a true magical sight not to be missed.

NAXOS

The first thing we noticed when we arrived Naxos is the unfinished Temple of Apollo (also known as Portara), that has become the postcard for Naxos. The view was amazing especially as the sun goes down between the columns.

We were looking for our place of stay, but got confused with the little alleys. Greek people are warm, friendly and eager to help. The lady walked with us to our destination, we were so grateful.

I rated Pension Irene as the best value for money accommodation we had in Greece. It really is such a great place to stay! The rooms include a kitchenette with a mini fridge, stove top, and kettle. The location is ideal and the host is wonderful.

 

We rented a car and enjoyed wandering around the island. Naxos is a big island in the heart of Aegean sea. A very interesting place that we can experience variable activities. One needs at the minimum three nights to explore, and we had only two.

The church of Ayios Nikolaos is peculiar and the surrounding environment is full of nature. We also visited Halki, Apiranthos, Filoti, Koronos and Koronida.

PAROS

Upon arrival at the port, we couldn’t find our hotel host. It turned out that Andreas has waited for us the previous midnight,  mixing up the ‘am/pm’ as they use 24 hours time format in Greece. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our stay at La Sellini.

Parikia is the main village and it was wonderful. It has everything; shopping, eateries, bars, castle, beaches, and lovely locals who go out of their way to make you feel welcome and special.

We rented a car and drive around the entire island. We wandered through beautiful traditional villages like Naoussa. Naoussa is a charming and colourful village, where the ruins of a Venetian fortress stand at the entrance to its beautiful small harbor.

 

Lefkes is a quaint village in the middle of the island with lots of little nooks and crannys. The Byzantine church is beautiful with a breathtaking views of the sea.

The island itself has some nice beaches with sand and clear blue waters, some great mountain and sea experiences.

NAFPLIO

Upon reaching Piraeus port, we bought bus ticket at the Nafplio ticket desk (across the road), crossing back, and took bus 420 to Kiffisos bus terminal. From there, we took a bus to Nafplio.

Located in the eastern Peloponnese, Nafplio is a seaport town with it picturesque bougainvillea streets and lovely sunny squares. We are forever thankful that a friend, Gio, is kind enough to let us stay at his cozy and beautiful place near the main square.

While we can take taxi to Palamidi fortress, we enjoyed the climb up to 999 steps. The views were spectacular and we had plenty of stops along the way to catch our breath and taking pictures. The site provides a great vista to see the surrounding area and other castle ruins dotting the neighboring hills. It gives you the sense of what it was like to live in those times.

On Saturday, we visited farmers’ market that stretches from Kyprou Street to Martiou Avenue. There were plenty of fresh fish, vegetables, cheeses, fruits and daily stuff. We paid €1 for 3 kg of oranges! Maybe the old lady likes us or just wanted to clear her produce. Whatever it is, the oranges that came straight from her farm were sweet and juicy.

 

On one of the evening, we visited Bourtzi, another fortress on an islet west of the old town. The boat sails along the coast and we enjoyed the beautiful view of the sunset. We also enjoyed relaxing at the lovely Aarvanitia beach with white pebbles and aqua water. The view was spectacular.

 

We encountered some greatest food moment while in Greece. We enjoyed the food at Lotza, Oia – Santorini, Relax Pizzeria at Naxos overlooking the port, and Bairaktaris Tarvena at Monastiraki Square in Athens.

Relax Pizzeria at Naxos. What a view!

Greece has many islands to discover, and is a fantastic country to visit all the year through. This country has plenty to offer and we truly enjoyed the picture-perfect scenery, fascinating culture, the friendly people and cats, and the food.

 

SUGGESTIONS AND TIPS:

  • Be sure to plan ahead – plan and book early.
  • Purchase ferry tickets online. The tickets were sold out fast even in the month of April. Blue Star Ferries – www.bluestarferries.com
  • Stay in Oia for an exclusive view to the sunset, comfort and serenity.
  • Rent a scooter or car to explore the villages. Like everywhere else, we suggest you to take pictures and videos of the vehicle before signing the dotted lines. In Santorini, they wanted to charge us for a small dent on the car, which we seriously did not commit.
  • Travelling between the main towns is easy on the comprehensive KTEL bus network – www.e-ktel.com
  • Do not flush toilet paper.
  • Be culturally sensitive – bring scarf to cover shoulders when visiting holy places.

ACCOMMODATION:

ATHENS           2 Nights Accommodation: Cecil Hotel Athens www.cecilhotel.gr

SANTORINI      3 Nights Accommodation: Pension The Flower http://flower-santorini.com

NAXOS             2 Nights Accommodation: Pension Irene II https://irenenaxos.com/home-2/

PAROS             2 Nights Accommodation: La Sellini http://laselini.com

 

Morocco’s Festival of Roses 2018

Portovenere – the Gulf of Poets

“Why are there so many English flags here?” I asked. I’m so confused seeing St. George’s flags being worshipped in Portovenere, Italy. They were hanging everywhere.

Lorenzo explained that St. George’s flag is originally the flag of Genoa, a province in the Liguria region of Italy. Portovenere became part of the Republic of Genoa in 1113, and the flag is still used in Genoa today. The St. George’s flag was “borrowed” by England to benefit from the protection of Genoese fleet, and they later adopted it. It was also believed that King Richard (the Lionheart) adopted the flag during his crusades. How could I not know about that? It was satisfying to learn more about the world when we travel, it shows how travel is the best education we can get.

Portovenere is not one of Cinque Terre, but it is located strategically on the Gulf of Poets, formally known as Gulf of La Spezia. This city was built by the Romans, and during that time, Portovenere was a small fishing community. The town was later used by the Byzantine Navy as a base. When we were sourcing for a place to stay in Cinque Terre, Nicky thinks that it is better to explore a place that is off the beaten track. Portovenere is equally beautiful and much less touristy, and it was much convenient to park our vehicle here.

The first thing we noticed when we arrived at Portovenere was the bright colorful houses perched on a rocky shore, and beautiful boats docked by the beach. Portovenere is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was made famous by poets and authors who have been struck by its beauty and sought inspirations for their many creative works. Grotta Byron bears a plaque honoring the English poet, Lord Byron, who swam across the bay of Portovenere to meet his fellow muse, Shelley, in Lerici. Lord Byron is believed to have written his poem “The Corsair” in the grotto.

“Oh! too convincing–dangerously dear–
In woman’s eye the unanswerable tear!
That weapon of her weakness she can wield,
To save, subdue–at once her spear and shield.”
Lord Byron, The Corsair (1814)

Despite its small size, there is a lot to do in Portovenere. This town is a definite destination and a hidden treasure among other destinations in Italy. We enjoyed the walk through the lovely typical narrow streets, where we explore the steep staircases, houses, churches, castle, and shops. We walked on the waterfront, watching people sunbathing, swimming, and small children playing in the water. The promenade along the harbor is a pedestrian-only zone, and like the rest of the people, we admired the magnificent sea and many caves in front of us. The scenery was mesmerizing.

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On Sunday, Lorenzo accompanied us to explore the beautiful Doria Castle, which remains a landmark in Portovenere. We climbed the steep and narrow stairs to the top and our effort was well paid off by the amazing panoramic views from above. Doria Castle belongs to the extremely wealthy and influential Doria family from the 12th to 16th century. The ruins of the castle structure give us a glimpse of how amazing this castle was centuries ago, with the breathtaking view over the typical Ligurian black and white church of San Pietro, and the sea. The place was well taken care of, the fruit and vegetable trees look lovely. The figs were so sweet with a soft, smooth texture.  Nature perfumes the air with breezes that drift through the plants and added to the delicate charm of Portovenere.

Suggestions and Tips:

How to go?

By Car

We drove from Verona, where we stayed overnight in Pisa, with a lunch stopover at Lerici, a lovely seaside town with wonderful Ligurian feel. Once we reached Portovenere, we parked our vehicle at “Il Golfo” (top of the hill of Portovenere) which cost only €10 for the weekend (Friday, Saturday, Sunday).

By Boat

There is a ferry service between La Spezia, Portovenere and in four of Cinque Terre villages (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, and Monterosso). Other stop includes Lerici, Levanto, and other interesting islands.

By Train & Bus

La Spezia train station is connected to cities across Italy which includes Florence, Milan, Venice, and Rome. Italian trains are incredibly efficient and relatively inexpensive (www.trenitalia.it).

In La Spezia, take bus 11/P at The Mercato Nord Bus-stop. You need to buy a ticket prior to your trip; tickets are normally sold in Tabaccheria (tobacco shop). Buses run frequently to Portovenere, about every 20 minutes from 7am to 11pm. After 8pm, it runs once every hour. In Portovenere, you can get your bus tickets at the shop near the bus stop. It is possible to buy tickets from the bus driver, however, the price will be double.

Bus stop at Portovenere

In Portovenere, bus tickets are sold at the shops behind the bus-stop.

Where to stay?

As per our previous Blog on Cinque Terre, we would suggest separating the stay between Cinque Terre (three nights) and Portovenere (two nights). It would be good to explore and enjoy this amazing places without rushing through it all.

I would definitely recommend Lorenzo’s apartment for those who wanted to experience a beautiful home that is close enough to the main bars, restaurants, and the sea. Lorenzo made the booking process very easy and he could arrange everything (directions, information, and place of interests). He even let us borrow his scooter for a ride to Cinque Terre. If the weather is right, you can join him for a fishing trip.

Our stay at Lorenzo’s apartment was amazing. Everything felt so cozy and the house is beautifully decorated. The bedroom was quiet and peaceful with a private balcony. Having breakfast while looking out to the charming sea of Portovenere was an experience I will always remember.

If B&B is not your thing, the four-star Grand Hotel Portovenere located nearby looks promising. It is centrally located near the bay with bars, restaurants, and supermarket and bus stop just around the corner. This hotel has a charming character with a beautiful view.

What to do?

History says a lot about this wild bay being a place of inspiration for Poets and Writers. The key element to visit Portovenere is relaxation, enjoying time with loved ones while being inspired.  Take your own sweet time to explore its beauty and timeless picturesque village. I would suggest spending two nights in Portovenere. It would be nice to enjoy the beach, sunbathing and swimming too. If the weather is good, take a boat trip to the Three Islands. Or even go kayaking or fishing.

  • Doria Castle – It costs 5€ to visit, but with two charming Italians beside me, we paid nothing
  • Town Gate and Tower
  • Grotta Byron
  • Churches of San Pietro and San Lorenzo
  • Sunbathing and Swimming
  • Boat trip to Three Island (Palmaria, Tino, and Tinetto)
  • Walk the island of Isola Palmaria
  • Hiking to Cinque Terre – there is a trail from Portovenere to Riomaggiore (5 hours)
  • Explore the tiny lovely streets and offset alleyways of Portovenere
  • Eating and Drinking – Walk around the tiny street, and don’t miss trying delicious Ligurian street food and having romantic dinner on promenade
  • Buy Souvenirs – Pasta, Foccachia & Pesto Sauce, yummy!

Cinque Terre – Charming Italy

Six years ago, on October 25, 2011, a freak rainstorm hit Cinque Terre and buried Monterosso and Vernazza in the mud. It was the most devastating floods in the area with 13 people dead. The people worked hard in rebuilding their villages and since then, Cinque Terre has undergone a miraculously recovery.

When Nicky first mentioned about Cinque Terre, I was like, “What is that?” I immediately google and fell in love. I can’t help feeling a little ashamed for not knowing one of the most beautiful places in the world. Where have I been hiding?

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Cinque Terre literally means five villages; Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The five fishing villages are a UNESCO world heritage site and easy access by train.

We chose to base ourselves in Portovenere. On the first day, we took a bus to La Spezia, and then a train to the northern-most village, Monterosso. The next day, Lorenzo, our host, is gracious enough to let us borrow his scooter. So, we started off with the first village, Riomaggiore.

Some roads in Cinque Terre are a bit scary with impossibly steep sections and hairpin bends but the road journey was extremely picturesque. On the way back, we stopped in a middle of nowhere and taking in gorgeous sunset views. We loved the experience of riding through the “Terrazza”, steeply terraced cliffs with the unbelievably breathtakingly scenery. Nonetheless, the parking in any of the little villages is limited and we were forced to walk a long distance from the parking place to reach each village.

Monterosso

The beach of Monterosso in the northernmost of Cinque Terre is the biggest and nicest. The sea is blue, and the view is stunning. It is well protected by the giant, “Il Gigante”, a rocky statue. Il Gigante has broken arms and legs, suffered from an allied bombing during the second world war. He looks ill and weak and becomes a symbol of Monterosso beach with a hidden story of luxury and tragedy.

We enjoyed walking along the beach and taking photos of lovely scenery. We visited the beautiful black and white Saint John the Baptist church, and Mortis et Orationis Oratory, the black confraternity which is also known as a religious “club”. The mission of this club was to arrange for funerals and taking care of people in needs: orphans, widows, and shipwrecked people.

After that, we enjoyed our sumptuous seafood lunch in Monterosso before heading to the next town, Vernazza. We thought of hiking to Vernazza but were informed by the hikers we met that it took them about two hours. Timing and stamina was an issue here, so we missed out on the spectacular views of the town from above.

Vernazza

Vernazza is a charming small fishing village. In 2013, this town was listed as the top 20 destinations to visit in the world by the New York Times. Beautiful colourful little houses clustered around a picturesque harbour, topped by a small castle.

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Tourists were crowding near the main square and enjoying the view when the big waves came by, and then crashes down making a huge splash of spray. Everyone was clapping and laughing. Those affected by the splash took it in stride and enjoying the fun. What a beautiful day, smiles and laughter of people surround us make our day sparkle with happiness. We ventured the tiny squares and little alleys and had our aperitif.

Corniglia

Corniglia is our least favourite, just because of the difficulty to reach the village on top of the hill. To reach Corniglia, after exiting the train, we must either walk the street followed by climbing 382 steps or take the shuttle bus up the hill. Not feeling quite that adventurous, we waited for the bus. It was a small bus, and as the queue was long, we had to take the next cycle (that was the only bus). It took us almost one hour to arrive at the destination (including waiting time).  Corniglia itself is a relaxing and authentic town where we enjoyed another aperitif with the view of the statue and church Oratoria di Santa Caterina.

Manarola

When we arrived Manarola, we took a stroll down to the waterfront where the crowds were already forming. This village has the most stunning view of the sunsets.  We took the trail up until we reached the perfect lookout spot. We were graced with an amazing view of colourful houses in the steep hills, and beautiful amidst cloudy sky. The sky was divided into two parts; one part was pouring, and the other half still showing off beautiful sunset over Manarola. The sunset sparkles reflecting off it, and the village became a curtain of gold. The view must be seen to be believed, it was magical!

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore is located in the most southern village in Cinque Terre. It is the most rustic village with big rocks and pebbles and stunning views of the Ligurian sea. It is in a beautiful natural environment, and we enjoyed people watching; avid photographers taking amazing shots, families enjoying gelatos, people sun-tanning and swimming, and lovers walking hand in hand.

Cinque Terre is incredibly enchanting. There are plenty things to do here; nature walks, trails, photography, getting inspired, getting lost, exploring the villages, the food, the monuments, enjoying the sun, the beaches, the people, and visiting vineyards and olive groves in the surrounding areas.

Suggestions and Tips:

How to go?

By Car

Portovenere (125)We drove from Verona, where we stopped at Mantova and stayed overnight in Pisa, with a lunch stopover at Lerici, a lovely seaside town with wonderful Ligurian feel. Once we reached Portovenere, we parked our vehicle at “Il Golfo” (top of the hill of Portovenere) which cost only €10 for the weekend (Friday, Saturday, Sunday).

Depending on your stay, you can park your vehicle near La Spezia Centrale Train Station or Levanto. The parking in any of the little villages in Cinque Terre is very limited and expensive.

By Train

For those flying from Singapore, choose a direct flight to Milan or Rome by Singapore Airlines. And then continue the journey by taking the train to La Spezia Centrale (3 hours from Milan or 4 hours from Rome). If you are travelling to Italy for the first time, I highly recommend flying directly to Milan and back from Rome (vice versa) so that you can plan to visit the most beautiful cities Italy has to offer.

La Spezia train station is connected to cities across Italy which includes Florence, Milan, Venice, and Rome. Italian trains are incredibly efficient and relatively inexpensive (www.trenitalia.it). In La Spezia train station, purchase a Cinque Terre Card (16 EUR for the day) that grants unlimited access to the trains, buses, and the footpath that connects the villages for a day.

By Ferry

There is a ferry service between La Spezia, Portovenere and in four of Cinque Terre villages (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza and Monterosso). Other stop includes Lerici, Levanto, and other interesting islands. On our first day, we planned on taking the ferry to Cinque Terre but the ferry services were suspended due to bad weather forecast. I can only imagine the beautiful views of the villages and surrounding areas from the water.

Where to stay?

Portovenere (23) copy

We based ourselves in Portovenere for three nights. While Portovenere is a wonderful place to stay, it should be visited separately. It took us about one hour and a half to reach Cinque Terre by bus and train. We had to rush after sunset to ensure that we did not miss the last bus from La Spezia, and waited an hour for the bus to arrive.

We would suggest booking in advance and staying three nights in Cinque Terre (our pick would be Monterosso), and another two nights in Portovenere. It would be good to explore and enjoy Cinque Terre without rushing through it all.

If budget is an issue, base yourself at La Spezia, which is less touristy and have more of an authentic feel. It is easily accessed to the train station in Cinque Terre, and to other cities across Italy.

What to do?

Discover the charm of each village in Cinque Terre, and enjoy the stretch of beautiful beaches at Monterosso. The water is so blue, and the sound of the sea is relaxing. Cinque Terre has its own distinct personality that you won’t mind sharing with the crowds.

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The water level during flooding that hits Cinque Terre on Oct 25, 2011.

If you are physically fit and have great stamina, wear comfortable shoes and hike Cinque Terre’s coastal trail. Lorenzo told us that the trails to Cinque Terre provide most amazing walks, you can even hike to or from Portovenere. He showed us the starting trail in Portovenere, and the view is strikingly beautiful.  Whatever you do, do not miss visiting Portovenere, the forgotten ‘sixth village’. You won’t regret it!

What to eat?

Eat, eat, and eat! Italy is a paradise of food, don’t be afraid of growing fat because you will never be. According to the Bloomberg Global Health Index, Italy is the healthiest country in the world. The food is healthy, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and local herbs, and you will not gain any weight from being physically active, walking up and down steep streets. There is a lot of walking in Cinque Terre.

We love seafood, and Cinque Terre is a paradise for seafood lovers. I ordered “Muscoli” (muscles) for three days straight and never got sick of it. I also savour myself with anchovies (fresh Ikan Bilis), octopus salad, and Spaghetti Allo Scoglio (seafood pasta) with focaccia bread. Focaccia is a local speciality, simply a bread infused with herbs and olive oil. To have it on its own with pesto sauce is also heavenly.

Cinque Terre grows its own olives and DOC designated-origin wines. This country is also famous for its coffee and desserts. When I say desserts, it includes cakes, pastries, tiramisu, pannacotta, and gelato. Yum! So, after every walk, stop for a drink and try their olives and desserts.

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