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Italy

italians have an obsession with beaches. i mean, i guess it’s kinda warranted what with the most spectacular beaches, crystal clear waters, soft-sand and blazing sun that true makes a beach experience, but still – i’m 4/4 for this month for having been to the beach every weekend. and as a result i look like i fell into some permanent bronze-brown paint vat. seriously. i’m avoiding the sun these coming days.

but talking about beaches, monterosso was pretty much the perfect place for a beach vacation for the casual tourist, what with wide expanses of beachfront, good seafood restaurants nearby and a perfectly hot sunny day along with the cool, therapeutic water. my beach regime at monterosso was simple:

[1] sit on the deck chair with sunglasses playing with phone and just nua-ing (relaxing for the non-singlish enlightened)

[2] when i start to feel warm, notion my friend to head down to the waters for a uber refreshing swim and dip.

[3] get out of water, have a nice shower till the body feels cool and refreshed. if hungry, grab some focaccia and wine at the nearby restaurant.

[4] rinse, lather, repeat.

ah… life.

but to be honest, when we first hiked to monterosso on the first day, i was.. kinda disappointed. the beach was looking kinda small, cold and crummy. it was getting late and the sun had pretty much dipped quite low so it wasn’t that fun. furthermore my friend had mistakenly brought me only to the very first portion of the town, where there was only a real small, kinda dirty strip of the beach. so yeah, i was kinda bummed.

so imagine my utter delight the next day when i saw this.

life’s good eh?

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walking into vernazza from corniglia

vernazza is really beautiful.

a cosily packed bunch of houses on a finger of land that juts out from the cliffs into the sea, forming some sort of a natural cove. well, raymond (my travel bud) had mentioned that vernazza had actually suffered quite siginificant damage due to flooding (inland, not from the sea.. in case you were wondering like me). and things were actually still in pretty bad shape up till march this year.

so i was glad to see a vibrant little township, with things pretty much all restored and the damaged houses freshly painted in cherry hues of yellow and pink.

mind you, the journey from corniglia to vernazza ain’t easy, considering that you first have to scale a ridiculous amount of steps to even get from the train station at corniglia to corniglia, and then embark on a circuitous, hill-climbing journey that spans roughly 2km. i was panting and really annoyed at my lack of fitness whilst huffing along the paths, and very very glad i had bought a full litre of mineral water in corniglia.

so of course i rewarded myself to an artigianale gelato in Vernazza – choosing a crema di Vernazza which is a blend of vanilla, strawberry and white chocolate bits. yummy!

 

a view of manarola

manarola is in fact a hamlet of nearby riomaggiore, whereas corniglia is a hamlet of vernazza. the distance between these two hamlets is roughly 1km, though landslides have closed down the sea-road between the two (as of now), meaning that you probably should that the train to transit between corniglia and manarola.

well, unless you are as foolhardy as us, who insisted on bashing a way through the forest in attempt to find that ‘ridgeline’ to walk along to get to corniglia.

i blame national service in singapore for instilling in all their males a sense of wanting to do a straight-path bash in forest situations. and to doggedly refuse to backtrack even when the path has obviously disappeared and whats left is prickly brambly small openings between trees. lol

well, after that misadventure, we ate humble pie and scrambled to get on the train from manarola to corniglia. to be honest, these two hamlets aren’t exactly very unique as compared to the likes of riomaggiore, vernazza or monterosso, so they don’t get their own post. but its still photo-worthy nontheless, so let’s start the show.

setting off from manarola

along the sea-side path before you hit the “closed” sign. but hey, it’s still good enough for a swim!

the start of the uphill path we tried to bash

a closer view of manarola

the only good thing about attempting to bash? well, we got a nice top-down view of manarola and the surrounding vineyards.

 

 

i just returned from what i seriously consider the best weekend of my italian sojourns thus far. it was a weekend filled with wondrous sights, challenging climbs, good food and wine, and just about the most perfect beach outing that has me seriously contemplating a career as a beach bum. wowzers.

but the beach comes much later – let’s visit the first city along the cinque terre (translates as five lands) trail – riomaggiore, which was the place we stayed for the night. i’m really going to shut up and just let the pictures do (most of) the talking.

the beautiful city and marina of riomaggiore – no sandy beaches here though, but the water is typically crystal clear for most parts

every scene gives one a certain sensation of idllyic carefree-ness. work is pretty much a thousand miles away.

overlooking the main street of riomaggiore, via colombo

riomaggiore connects to the next terre, manarola (which is actually a hamlet of riomaggiore), via a picturesque mountainroad aptly named via dell’ amore (love road). its the earliest of all the paths to walk and correspondingly, the most touristy. and as per all things in italy associated with love, we see tons of padlocks chained to any possible niche or fence along the way.

gee whiz

gee whiz (part 2).

meals here are obviously sea-inspired – and accordingly i chose the spaghetti allo scoglio along with some cinque terre vino bianco. ah, life…

riomaggiore after hours – and yeah, people are still swimming.

talk about being focused! its been a week since i kick started my bucket list, and already two of the (supposedly more tricky) items are settled!

the vatican necropolis is a paticularly tricky one, owing to the fact that (i) not many people know of it, and (ii) even if you know of it, its quite tough to get tickets, owing to the limited number of tourists they allow in. but you know what, after the experience, methinks its so worth it. it speaks volumes despite being quite humble in appearance, and acts to connect your entire ‘vatican’ experience, tracing the soaring beauty of michelangelo’s dome and bernini’s bronzed sculptures right down to the tomb that started it all.

the place doesn’t allow for photography – but in all honesty, it’s not a place to just merely see – photo’s wouldn’t do it justice. it’s meant to be experienced and felt, as with alot of ancient rome sites. in fact, as a gentle advice to future tourists, do note that alot of ancient rome needs to be recreated in your mind — hence people with bad imaginations might actually find ancient rome stiflingly boring when they stare at piles and piles of rocks and crumbling edifices.

but anyways, part of what makes the necropolis scavi tour so special is that it offers and intimate, close up experience of the vatican and the heart of catholicism/christianity. because of the small size of the group, you don’t get annoyed by the throngs of tourists, camera flashes, inappropriate laughters and such. instead, you focus on what is in front of you and you re-imagine the scenes and the emotions of the past. our tour guide paints a compelling image, telling us of how the circus of augustus (i think), which was on top of vatican hill, used to be the scenes of much christian martyrdom, and where peter was eventually crucified upside-down and martyred.

i think the strongest point of the tour for me was when we were right underneath the papal altar, a position closest to peter’s grave and where we could look up from the grate in the ceiling to glimpse at the basilica built above and at the amazing dome that capped the basilica. it spoke to me in a certain way — that amidst all the grandeur and pomposity of the renaissance basilica, and the adornments of the constantine basilica below, lay a very simple, and humble grave. a grave of a man who was deeply flawed as well – having outright denied Christ three times.

such emotions drove home two points to me – christianity was never intended to be about grandeur and riches – and this is an uncomfortable truth, but one we ought to take heed especially in light of all the brouhaha that has emerged what with the city harvest mismanagement saga in singapore. christianity is a personal relationship with God, one who understood our flaws, never left us and uses each flawed individual to accomplish great things as long as we let Him.

so yeah, call it a pilgrimage of sorts, but this tour certainly was an emotional and special one for me. and to be honest, as we emerged from the lower levels and re-entered the main basilica, my mood instantly dipped when i got hit with throngs of tourists talking ridiculously loud in this special place and just obstructing and preventing any form of reverence and worship. and to be honest, i also didn’t feel as inspired in the renaissance basilica – if there was ever a time something could be too impossibly big, or too impossibly grand, then st peter’s basilica definitely could be considered as such. and what with the maddening sounds of the tourists who didn’t seem to have much understanding of the significance of the place and were chattering excitedly about their previous day’s prada purchase, there wasn’t a greater contrast to the experience i just had.

and that’s sad.

to access the vatican necropolis, you need to send a special email indicating the number of people and preferred dates well in advance to the vatican excavations office online. and hope that they have space for you. it costs 12.50 euro for entry and a guided tour of roughly an hour or so.

[photos are from my previous visits of the vatican compound, including the st peter’s square and the vatican museums]

dreamy mediterranean island

after a really good lunch, we set off for a boat tour round the island – which is essentially THE WAY to travel around these mediterranean islands. i mean, a day in ponza essentially constitutes of waking up, heading off in your private boat/yacht, docking at some incredible sight/beach for some sun tanning, grapes-eating, late morning snoozing. and if it gets too hot, just jump in for a swim in the crystal clear waters before continuing.

wowza. i could get used to that.

the rocks here are really special, formed from the interaction between the lava and sand (that was all my bad italian could pick up)

what was really awesome was the chance to swim in the grottoes at the cliffs. grottoes are these sort of stone formations carved by the churning water into the cliffs – some of them form some sort of passageway/channel daring you to swim across. and it’s kinda intimidating initially – there’s not too many people around (well, none) and the channel is pretty narrow and long, the rocks seem kinda menacing and the waters are frothing, but oh boy.. there’s the inherent thrill factor which makes for the memorable experience. it’s like famous five’s demon’s cove all over again. i’m giving enid blyton lesser and lesser credit for thinking of such adventures.

and of course, for the more relaxing swim, you head toward places with less wave action, anchor your boat and just frolic in the water. amazing stuff.

the little town on the island is pretty chic in its own right as well – sun-drenched and exuding these colorful, relaxed vibes. but who are we kidding – ponza is for the beaches and the sea.

ponza can be reached via hydrofoil from terracina or anzio (which is closer to rome). it can be done in sort of a daytrip like what i did, but methinks you should spend at least a weekend there, in order to experience the beauty of palmarola as well (which we sadly missed). but honestly, i was super satisfied already.

bucket list #1, complete!

i’ve realized that a bucket list is really awesome! it gives you focus and forces you to get yer (my) butt off that computer chair and actually plan some awesome weekends! so yeah, the first on my list to tackle was that trip to ponza, an offshore island close by to rome. well, i wouldn’t exactly call it close by technically, considering it took us 1 1/2 to drive to terracina, and then an hour’s ferry to actually even get to ponza.

but it’s well worth it. i’ll let the pictures do the talking.

disembarking at the port, you instantly feel as though the work woes of the week have been left behind in mainland italy and that knotted up, stressed feeling within oneself starts to slowly unravel as you breathe in the sea breeze and gaze at the merry islandfolk and well-rested tourists.

what blue skies you have, ponza

 

going along with an italian friend for this trip proved to be such an awesome decision – considering that things really just fell in place despite us not having planned a single thing besides knowing that we wanted to be at ponza on saturday. having that ability to converse and ask for privy information is something that no matter how many years of practice at italian wouldn’t yield. so we essentially, reached the island, hopped on the only local bus, and headed to one of the beautiful coves in the island.

and yes, you have to climb down and up by yourself. there’s no other way. yup, we met tired, old ladies panting and emphatically saying ‘fa caldo‘ (too hot) and ‘muore‘ (i die) on the steps as we headed down.

everything just seemed to fit in place to form this mediterranean heaven. and speaking of beaches, santa marinella, you just got pwned pretty bad.

      

guys, i just found my future summer residence. and LOOK at that crystal clear water.

LOOK AT THAT WATER. i do not dare comment to my italian friends about fort siloso beaches. (*hides face*)

part 2 coming soon.