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Archive for August 2017

6 Days in the Cinque Terre 

After spending a week on the Amalfi Coast, I was curious to see how the Cinque Terre would compare. The two regions are the most celebrated stretches of coastline in Italy, and I’d say their popularity is pretty much equal. As it turns out, the two are quite similar in many ways, but there are some important differences between them.

The biggest difference between the two is that while on the Amalfi Coast you get around by bus, in the Cinque Terre you get around by train. This means that it’s much quicker and easier to hop between towns in the Cinque Terre than it is on the Amalfi Coast. It’s more comfortable, too, because the trains aren’t as crowded as the buses on the Amalfi Coast (although the seats on the train are almost always full and there are usually some people standing in the aisles).

Cinque Terre

The looooooooong, zigzagging staircase from the Corniglia train station into the centre of town

Cinque Terre

Train tracks and tunnel in Monterosso

When you arrive in the Cinque Terre, the first thing you do is buy a Cinque Terre card at any one of the train stations in the towns. This card gives you access to all the trails in the area and lets you ride the train between each of the towns for free as often as you want. It also gives you access to the toilets and the wifi in the train stations (although I never could get the wifi to work in any of the stations). You can choose to buy a card that’s valid for one day (16€), two days (29€), or three days (41€).

If I could give you one piece of advice about the Cinque Terre, it would be to NOT buy a three-day Cinque Terre card. I made the mistake of splashing out 41€ for a three-day card and later found out that all the trails except the Blue Path (the most popular trail) are free to hike. So really, I was paying 14€ a day just to ride the train around. Tickets for the train rides between each city are only 4€, and I knew I wasn’t going to be riding the train more than three times a day. Plus, the only trail that you have to pay for, the Blue Path, can easily be done in a single day. So it doesn’t really make sense to buy a pass that’s valid for longer than one day. Buy the one-day pass and hike the Blue Path, then just buy individual train tickets on subsequent days.

Hiking the Blue Path is definitely the one thing you should do if you do nothing else in the Cinque Terre. The first two parts of the trail — from Riomaggiorre to Manarola and from Manarola to Corniglia — are unfortunately closed until 2018, so you’ll have to skip them. Take the train to Corniglia, then hike to Vernazza, and from there hike to Monterosso. The trail is super easy to find as soon as you exit the train station in Corniglia. The views along the trail, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, are killer.

If you bought a two-day Cinque Terre card (which is only worth it if you plan on riding the train quite a few times), then you can spend your second day hopping between the five towns by train. Although they’re all quite similar in many ways, each town has its own unique vibe, so make sure to visit them all!

Cinque Terre

Prickly pear cacti in Corniglia

Cinque Terre

Manarola

Cinque Terre

Riomaggiore

Cinque Terre

A beach in Monterosso

Cinque Terre

Vernazza

After you’ve seen all there is to see in the five towns, I recommend hopping on a bus and heading to the town of Portovenere for an afternoon. The bus stop is only a few minutes’ walk from La Spezia train station, and the ride only takes about 35 minutes. Portovenere is a beautiful town with great views of the sea. You can easily spend a couple of hours exploring Doria Castle and the Church of St. Peter.

My next and final stop on this trip (where did summer go?!) is the romantic city of Venice. Fingers crossed I meet a cute boy who invites me to take a sunset gondola ride with him along the canals. (I’m not getting my hopes up about that one.) Stay tuned!

A Week in Rome 

I guess I don’t need to tell you what there is to see and do in Rome. The Eternal City and its many amazing sights are so deeply ingrained in the popular imagination that they hardly need an introduction. 

That being said, I’ll try to give you a bit of insight into what it’s really like to be in Rome. What surprised me most about the city was how close together all of the main attractions are. I had assumed that since Rome is such a big, important city, everything would be spread out over vast distances and I would need to ride the metro to get from place to place. In reality, it’s super quick and easy to walk between most of the attractions. You can start at the Spanish Steps and then walk to Trevi Fountain, then continue walking to the Pantheon, the Monument to Vittorio Emanuel II, the Colosseum, and the Roman Forum. I covered so many sights on my first day that I set a new record for shortest amount of time that my phone battery has died. I just couldn’t stop taking picture after picture after picture. Rome is definitely one of the most beautiful cities in the world. 

Surveying the scene in front of the Spanish Steps

Rome

The magnificent Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II

The Roman Forum:where Julius and Augustus walked!

The madding crowd in front of Trevi Fountain

Rome

The Pantheon

Rome

The jewel in Rome’s crown: the Colosseum!

I should mention that I didn’t actually stay IN Rome. I stayed at Wiki Hostel and GreenVillage, which is located in the town of Zagarolo, about a 30-minute train ride outside of Rome. It obviously wasn’t the most convenient home base for exploring Rome, but it worked out just fine for me. Trains into Rome are pretty frequent, and the hostel provides the complete train schedule on their website, so you don’t have to worry about looking it up yourself. 

There’s not a ton going on in Zagarolo, but Wiki Hostel is fantastic. The staff do a great job at making sure their guests have a good time there. Every Monday they host a free* (*with the purchase of a drink from the bar) pasta party where everyone participates in preparing, cooking, and eating a delicious pasta meal. I had a lot of fun cooking and socializing with the other guests. (Even though I was on onion-chopping duty at the beginning of the night and had tears rapidly streaming from my burning eyes for a while.) 

Even better than the pasta party is the hostel’s Friday-night pizza party. This one isn’t free, but the 7€ it costs is totally worth it. Everybody gets to make their very own pizza from scratch and share it with the other guests. I lost track of how many pizza slices I stuffed into my face, but I can tell you that it was a crapload. There was even Nutella pizza for dessert at the end of the night. Trust me, you will not go hungry at this party. 

For your viewing pleasure, here are some shitty-quality pictures of my pizza-making efforts. 

If you’re worried that you’ll miss out on experiencing Roman nightlife, I can tell you that it’s perfectly easy to have a night out in Rome while staying in Zagarolo. On weekdays, the last train into Rome leaves at 10:58pm (10:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays), and the first train back to Zagarolo leaves Roma Termini at 5:22am on weekdays and Saturdays (6:21am on Sundays). I went out in Rome a couple of times and just took the train back to Zagarolo in the morning. The first time I went out I did the Colosseum Pub Crawl, which was a blast. It costs 20€ and you get unlimited free drinks for the first hour. Plus there’s free pizza and beer pong! Pub crawls are almost always a good bet if you’re travelling alone and you want to have fun and meet new people. Whenever I visit a new city in Europe I always check to see what kind of pub crawls are run there. 

As for day trips, one of the easiest and best ones is to the nearby town of Tivoli. It’s only a 40-minute bus ride from Rome’s Ponte Mammolo metro station, which is on the B (blue) line. The two biggest attractions in Tivoli are the Villa d’Este and the Villa Adriana. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to visit either of them because when I arrived at the door of the Villa d’Este at 11:00 on a Wednesday morning, I found out that it wasn’t opening until 2:00pm that day. This struck me as a bit bizarre, since the sign on the door said that the villa opened at 8:30am every other day that week, and the day that I went wasn’t a holiday or anything. But whatever. I would have gone to the Villa Adriana instead, but it was a walk of a few kilometres and I didn’t feel up to the hike. I knew there was a bus that connected the two villas, but I didn’t want to risk paying for a bus ticket and then finding out the other villa was closed as well. 

Instead I decided to visit the Villa Gregoriana, which is just a few minutes’ walk from the Villa d’Este. (Yes, there are a lot of villas in Tivoli!) I don’t know how the Villa Gregoriana compares to the two more popular villas, but it was a lovely place to wander around. It’s full of caves, grottoes, and waterfalls, which give the place a romantic feel. 

Rome

Rome

Rome

Next up is a place whose legendary beauty I can’t wait to see in person: the Cinque Terre! 

A Week on the Amalfi Coast 

The Amalfi Coast is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in my life. If you stand at any viewpoint along the coast and gaze out at the ocean, you actually cannot tell where the sea ends and the sky begins. The two just blend together into a seemingly infinite mass of blue. It’s almost surreal.

Amalfi

Amalfi

Amalfi

Amalfi

I stayed in a small village called San Lazzaro, which is part of a group of villages collectively known as Agerola. It wasn’t the most convenient place for exploring the Amalfi Coast, since the only direct buses from there are to Amalfi town. This meant I always had to change buses in Amalfi if I wanted to go to any other town along the coast. The other negative about San Lazzaro is that there is pretty much no nightlife there, at least as far as I could tell. It’s a very small, quiet town. 

The good thing about staying in San Lazzaro, though, is that it’s much cheaper than the more popular towns on the Amalfi coast, such as Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello. The difference in food costs was actually striking. I paid literally half as much in San Lazzaro restaurants as I would pay in Positano for the same amount of food. I couldn’t believe how much cheaper San Lazzaro was. Another nice thing about it is that it’s so much less crowded, less touristy, and more laid-back than the other Amalfi Coast towns. It’s a good place to unwind at the end of a long day of hiking and sightseeing. 

Amalfi Leonardo's

Salad, pasta, and bread for daysssss. All this for only 9€ (including the cover charge) at Leonardo’s in San Lazzaro!

In order to get around to the other towns along the coast, you have to take the SITA buses that connect all of the towns with Amalfi. Make sure you buy your tickets in advance at tobacco stores or souvenir shops because they’re not sold on the bus. The price of the ticket depends on how far you’re travelling. (I always paid between 1.30€ and 2.90€ for a one-way ticket.) The buses are easy to figure out but they’re extremely popular, so don’t expect to get a seat most of the time. I almost always ended up standing in the aisle on my way back to San Lazzaro from Amalfi (an hour-long ride). 

If you visit none of the other towns on the Amalfi Coast, make sure you at least visit Positano. It’s definitely the most beautiful town in the region. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of pictures of it elsewhere, but here are some more. Because how can you ever get tired of looking at Positano? 

The best way of getting to Positano is to hike to it along a trail known as the Path of the Gods. It’s the most popular trail in the area, and the views it affords are spectacular. The trail starts in a town called Bomerano (which is a 15-minute bus ride from San Lazzaro) and ends at a town called Nocelle. From Nocelle, you simply walk down a looooooooooooong staircase to reach Positano. The whole hike, from Bomerano to Positano, took me three hours. Make sure you start early to beat the heat and the crowds. I started the trail at about 8:30am and that was perfect. People would pass by me every so often, but I was alone for the most part. 

Amalfi Positano

My first glimpse of distant Positano: love at first sight

You’ll also definitely spend some time in the town of Amalfi, since that’s where all the bus routes connect. It’s slightly less pretty than Positano, but it’s still an absolute beauty. Make sure you take a look at the beautiful Cathedral of St. Andrew in the Piazza del Duomo. 

Another town that you should be sure not to miss is Ravello. It’s not quite as well-known as Amalfi or Positano, but it’s a very pretty town that’s definitely worthy of a few hours of your time. It’s only a 25-minute bus ride from Amalfi, and you can save yourself a one-way bus fare by walking back. It took me a little under an hour to walk down the stairs from Ravello to Amalfi. (I wouldn’t attempt walking UP those stairs!) The top of the stairs in Ravello is right by the Villa Cimbrone. Just follow the signs to the villa and you’ll find it easily. 

If a nice beach is what you’re after, you’re spoiled for choice on the Amalfi Coast. There are tons of beautiful spots to go swimming. Personally, the only place I actually went swimming was in the town of Maiori, which happens to have the longest beach on the whole coast. It’s almost a kilometre long. I wasn’t ambitious enough to actually manage to snap a photo of the beach (I was too anxious to get into the water) but here are a couple pictures of me awkwardly posing in Maiori.

My next stop is none other than Rome. I visited the Eternal City five years ago when it was one of the stops on a cruise I took. I only got to spend a few hours there, so of course I barely scratched the surface. I’m so excited to be able to actually explore at my leisure this time! 

A Week in Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik is the Croatian city that everybody comes to see. If you visit no other part of Croatia, you have to visit Dubrovnik. It is super touristy and ridiculously expensive, but it’s also one of the most beautiful cities you will ever see. 

I have to say one of my favourite parts about Dubrovnik was the bus ride there from Split. I showed up early to the bus station to make sure I would get a window seat on the right side of the bus (i.e. the opposite side to the one the driver sits on) because I knew there would be some seriously sick scenery on this ride. Well, it turned out to be even better than I expected. For the last couple of hours we were driving right along the water, the glorious Croatian coastline, in all its sparkling turquoise beauty. I had my face glued to the window the whole time, and I couldn’t stop taking pictures and videos. It was seriously the most exciting 4.5 hours of my life. I felt kinda bad for the people on the other side of the bus, but then again — they should have gotten to the bus station sooner. Sucked to be them!

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

As for Dubrovnik itself, the #1 tourist attraction in the city is the wall around the Old City. It costs 150 HRK (about $30 CAD) to climb up to the top of the walls and walk around the city. That’s a ridiculously high price, but as I said, Dubrovnik is a ridiculously expensive city, and walking along the Old City walls is something that you absolutely MUST do when you are there. The views you’ll get from the top of those walls are priceless. 

After your walk along the walls, go for a wander through the beautiful streets of the Old City. 

There’s one other thing that you should definitely not miss while in Dubrovnik. There’s a cable car that takes passengers all the way up to the top of Mount Srð, a mountain just outside the walls of the Old City. There’s a viewing area up there that allows visitors a magnificent view of the city. The cable car is expensive (surprise, surprise) at 140 HRK per person for a round-trip ride, but there are other ways of getting to the top of Srð. There’s both a road for cars and a footpath, so you can drive, take an Uber, or walk. Personally, I didn’t actually take the cable car, so I can’t tell you what it’s like. I had made plans with a girl I met in Zadar to have a picnic at the top of Srð while watching the sunset. We decided to take an Uber up the mountain because it was a little cheaper than the cable car if we split the cost. Once we got to the top, the view blew us away. Going just before sunset was a great idea. 

The only downside to taking an Uber up the mountain,  of course, was that we had to walk all the way back down. The footpath is not an easy one — it’s full of rocks and stones, so that you’re never stepping on even ground. My feet were hurting pretty badly by the end of the walk. It was a long walk, too, probably about 40 minutes or so. I thought it would never end. On top of that, it was dark at this point, so we had to use the flashlights on our phones or else we wouldn’t have been able to see anything. I can’t even imagine walking UP that hill, especially on a hot summer day. I’m not going to tell you not to attempt it, but please be aware that it will be far from an easy hike! 

Let’s talk about day trips, shall we? Just like other cities on the Croatian coast, Dubrovnik is well situated for day trips to nearby islands. Three popular islands — Lopud, Koločep, and Šipan — are part of a group known as the Elephiti Islands, and they’re all very easy to get to from Dubrovnik. 

I chose to visit the island of Lopud. It’s only an hour away from Dubrovnik by ferry, and a round-trip ticket cost me 46 HRK. Lopud is best known for its beach, Sunj, whose white sand makes it a rarity in Croatia. (Most beaches in Croatia are rock or pebble beaches rather than sandy beaches.) It’s not an amazing beach by any means, but it was definitely nice to see a beach with actual sand for a change.

The only other thing I really did on Lopud was to hike up to the fortress overlooking the island. This is something I definitely recommend doing. Not only is the view from the fortress beautiful, but you’ll probably have the whole place pretty much to yourself if you go up there. I hung around the fortress for quite a while and only saw a few other people the whole time. It was definitely a welcome respite from the incessant crowds in Dubrovnik.  

If you fancy ticking another country off your bucket list, you can take a bus to Kotor, Montenegro from Dubrovnik and back in a day. Just make sure you catch one of the earliest buses of the day because traffic at the border can be heavy, and the trip will take at least three hours each way. You’ll feel that the long ride was totally worth it once you set eyes on the majestic Bay of Kotor though. It’s one of the most beautiful places on the Adriatic coast. The Kotor bus station is conveniently located only a few minutes’ walk from the bay and the Old Town of Kotor. 

The first thing I did once I arrived in the Old Town of Kotor was to climb the steps to the fortress overlooking the town. (It seems like I’ve been doing a lot of hiking up to fortresses on this trip.) If you wander through the Old Town you’ll see signs pointing you to the fortress, so it’s easy to find. Climbing to the fortress is something you should definitely do if you visit Kotor, but be warned: It was by far the most gruelling hike I’ve done on this trip so far. It was about 35°C that day, and there is very little shade on those steps. My romper was drenched with sweat and I had to keep stopping to rest every couple of minutes. I thought I was going to spontaneously combust. But eventually I made it to the fortress and was rewarded with the most incredible view. That Bay of Kotor is something else. 

In short, I’m glad I did the hike up to the fortress but I’m even gladder that it’s over now and that I’ll never have to do it again. 

After I got back to ground level I bought myself an ice cream cone as a reward for my terrible labours, and then wandered through the streets of the Old Town for a while. The Old Town of Kotor is quite similar to the Old Town of Dubrovnik. It has a couple of churches that are worth stopping to photograph. 

When I had had enough of the Old Town, I decided to walk along the waterfront for a while. That bay is the #1 thing I came to Kotor to see, after all. It certainly is lovely, with its glassy, greyish-green water, and those majestic mountains looming over it. It seems like every body of water in Europe has its own distinct colour that you can’t find anywhere else. And they’re all stunning. 

Next up: the one and only Amalfi Coast!