Cinque Terre, A Little Slice Of Heaven

Travel days can really be the worst. They are invariably long and tiring. Though I’m usually thrilled to have arrived at my next destination, I really wish someone would jump on this whole teleportation thing. We were up so crazy early to leave Morocco and to make matters worse, I was feeling under the weather.  From about the time we arrived at the airport, I spent the majority of the day wishing I could curl up and die.  My stomach was a mess, twisting and gurgling . But of course, David with the stomach of a goat, was perfectly fine.

But really when you think about it, a travel day is probably one of the better times to fall ill.  Sure, turbulence and food poisoning don’t really mix, but at least I didn’t have to stay in bed all day or power through an excursion. And fortunately enough, by the time we arrived to Cinque Terre, everything was better.  David and I were sipping red wine and looking out at the sunset over the Italian riviera.

Cinque Terre Post-10.JPG

Riomaggiore Sunset Witnessed Moments After Arriving

 

Having experienced it, I completely understand why millions of tourists flock to these five fishing villages each year. It’s Italy at it’s best, with the crystal clear aqua water, the brightly colored buildings nestled into the sides of lush terraced hills, gorgeous hiking trails and of course the deliciously fresh food. Cinque Terrre is a dream. A place where babies are conceived because of the wine and gorgeous views.

As I peered out of our window on our first morning in Riomaggiore (the furthest south of the five villages), all I saw in the marina were day hikers outfitted with all of their hiking gear.  Hiking is definitely a must while here. It’s a great way to visit all five of the villages, get some incredible photos and to counteract all of the food you will be consuming. Lorraine, the apartment manager at Allo Scalo dei Mille, had suggested we take the ferry from our village to the farthest north village of Monterosso and hike the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza. So, we set off for the ferry. By sea, you truly get to a unique view of all five towns.

Cinque Terre Post-3.JPG

A Sea View of Riomaggiore

The beautiful views from the trails were endless on the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, but it was hard work. We climbed steep step after steep step, looking back to catch a glimpse of the town that we were leaving or getting peeks at the village we were approaching. It was all so magical really. Water shouldn’t be that blue and the sun shouldn’t make it sparkle so much. And as expected, when Vernazza, the darling of Cinque Terre, came well into view, I couldn’t help but fall in love with it.

Cinque Terre Post-4.JPG

Looking Back At Monterosso

Most of these towns have the spot that everyone has a picture from. The one from Vernazza was just off the trail and everyone wanted that famous photo. But then there was Heather from Canada, a woman, who had plopped her butt right in the prime position with a bottle of champagne and had no intentions of moving.  All I could do was shake my head.

Cinque Terre Post-5.JPG

There’s Heather From Canada

Cinque Terre Post-6.JPG

An Alternate View of Vernazza

Although Vernazza is the darling, and really all of the towns are adorable, my favorite of the five was Manarola. I loved how the candy colored towns were positioned  in the hill and the way the marina hugs it. It just photographed so well. We hiked down from the neighboring town of Volustra (not a part of the five villages) on our second day to Manarola and spent time exploring.  We had lunch perched up at Nessun Dorma, a restaurant that serves yummy bruschetta and has the best views.

Cinque Terre Post-7

Just Imagine My Perfect B&B Somewhere In View

And what’s a trip to Cinque Terre without heading to the beach? Monterosso is by far the biggest and has the most resort town feel. Besides the shopping and oodles of restaurants, it’s blessed to have a pebble beach that we laid out on like lizards under an orange and green stripped umbrella.

Cinque Terre Post-1

The Beach of Monterosso

Cinque Terre Post-8

A View From My Beach Chair

If it wasn’t for all of the annoying tourists, like myself, eagerly hiking the trails, snapping pictures, eating all of the gelato (the best place by far is Alberto’s Gelateria in Corniglia) and stealing all of the dinner reservations, I would sell all of my possessions, learn Italian and open a B&B in Manorola.  Cinque Terre is a slice of heaven that everyone should have a taste of. It’s odd. Normally when it’s time for me to say goodbye to a place, there’s this sadness that comes over me that makes tearing myself away that much harder.  But this experience was different, there was no sadness, no concerns of never witnessing again. I just have this feeling that I’ll be back sometime soon.

 

Advertisements

Twenty-Nine

It’s weird to even say it aloud that I’m 29. I know, big eye roll. We all get old. So I’ll move on.

Thanks to the help of an awesome guide created by X days in Y and a little bit of research of my own, the 29th anniversary of me was perfection.  We spent it exploring Montmartre, an adorable part of Paris with stunning views, secret alley ways that lead to more stunning views and a little gem of a restaurant that the locals would love to keep to themselves.

My birthday started out simple enough with my favorite meal of the day, breakfast!  I was truly craving bacon and eggs with a side of French toast, so I found Breakfast In America. It’s a sweet yet inaccurate play on a New York diner. Both the pancakes and French toast were boss and I can definitively conclude that the café au lait was absolutely dreamy. And to add to my pleasure, they played my favorites- Ella, Frank and Tony.

Twenty-Nine Post-1

We made a brief pit stop at Place Vosages since it was so close.

After, it was time for our romantic tour around Montmartre. Like champs, we navigated the metro and in no time we were climbing the stairs up from the Abbesses station to begin at Le Mur de Je T’aime.

From there we wandered through the cozy streets as the guide suggested, stopping here and there to capture the beauty and appreciate the scenery.  We passed the Moulin Rouge and the café from Amélie Poulain.

Twenty-Nine Post-9

We caught views of the Eiffel Tower and the beautiful Parisian rooftops.

Twenty-Nine Post-6

Until we finally made it to the main event, the Sacré Coeur.  It was breathtaking, both figuratively and literally. We climbed all the way to the top of the dome and enjoyed the full panoramic view of the city.

Twenty-Nine Post-7

By the end of it, our booties were on fire from the steps and our fingers were frozen from the 40 degree weather, but it was well worth it. And we rewarded ourselves with one of the most delicious lunches from a restaurant called Soul Kitchen. We had a gourd soup, a salad and a rhubarb, apple crisp with hot tea to warm up. It was heaven. We made conversation with the locals who were playing the restaurants daily challenge. That day’s was to name 10 countries with the letter “z” in them. In English, the challenge is very easy but in French it’s a different story.   This place is definitely secret for the locals; they even asked us how we found it.

As we made our way to the metro to our last destination, it had turned cold and windy and began to hail. At our next stop, it was if it the cold never existed and we were greeted by the sun. It couldn’t have been better timed because we were able to have a beautiful, practically uninterrupted view of the Sacré Coeur.

Twenty-Nine Post-8

By the end of our day, everything was hurting. Those shoes that started off as insanely cushy and comfortable were now being cursed. Calves, booties, shoulders, fingers and toes, were all either sore or frozen. The sun was overpowered by the changing weather and disappeared behind thick gray clouds. And by the time we reached our hotel for a little wine before dinner, there were snow flurries. It was some of the strangest weather I’ve ever experienced in one day. But it really didn’t bother me.  I had a whole day doing exactly what I love to do, eating well and exploring a new place. What more could I have asked for. The day ended with dinner and small adventure, but more on that later…

If you ever want to take the self-guided tour of Montmartre go here.  *Note that Le Mur des Je T’aime and the secret view of the Sacre Coeur are not a part of it.

The Bourgie Traveler Is Back

Passport Photo BT Is Back

I’m about to leave the country for thirty days and life couldn’t be more normal.  In a matter of hours my grandmother will be cruising her way through Atlanta to pick up David and me to go to the airport and I’m in my PJ’s casually making breakfast. What the hell is wrong with me? Preparedness. That’s David’s explanation. To his point, our trip has been seven months in the making, but that doesn’t reasonably describe why were so relaxed and reserved this morning.

A smile crossed my face when I woke and realized that today was the day, but where’s the unabashed enthusiasm? Thirty days. 3-0 days of vacation. On the inside I feel like a kid cracked out on a giant pixie stick, the blue one of course, but on the outside I’m the exact opposite. Why aren’t I dancing in my underwear to Donna Summer?? Could it be that I’m…tired? NO!

Clearly I need to pull myself together here.  In less than 24 hours, I’ll be stepping foot on European soil and you know what that means. Beautifully manicured parks, buttery pastries stuffed with chocolate for the hell of it and glass after glass of wine just because I can. There will be no real sense of time unless I’m chasing the sun for its grand morning appearance or it’s lazy descent into the horizon. It’s only a matter of time until I’ll be staring up into a vast starry sky from the comforts of my desert tent, post camel ride. And I can’t forget about all of the gelato I intend consuming. My guesstimate is about twenty cones, a little conservative, but we’ll see.

I’m psyched about the countless experiences that are before me, I just need to have someone pinch me to remind that this is real. It’s real and it’s happening right now. Maybe when I’m being felt up by TSA, a fun beat will pop into my head.  And when I order a milkshake in the terminal as a toast to America, my shoulders will begin to shimmy in time to my hips. And finally, when my butt hits my seat on the plane, I’ll have an uncomfortably awkward smile plastered across my face as other passengers pass me by, because this trip is going to be AMAZING (my preferred vacation descriptor of all time, at least so says my dear friend David Munz)!

So the long of the short of it is that the Bourgie Traveler is back! And it’s high time that we all get excited for what’s to come.

The Croatian Highlands

The saddest thing happened, okay, definitely not the saddest but certainly something that I wish wouldn’t have happened until maybe towards the end of this month.  I got sick.  Thankfully it’s just a cold but it’s never ideal to get sick while on vacation.  The only culprit I can blame is that disgusting airplane.  Outside of maybe a Greyhound bus, the airplane is the nastiest mode of transportation by which you can travel.  Thinking about them now makes me ill.  Hundreds of people, carrying all sorts of germs, squished together for hours upon hours in a cylindrical tube pumping re-filtered air through vents.  To that poor soul who has to clean those sorry excuses for bathrooms, I pray for you often.  Unfortunately, I picked up something and I’ve been nursing myself back to health for the past day, lots of tea with lemon and honey and plenty of Vitamin C.  The apartment owner is so sweet and took me to the pharmacy, which is a lot different from a drugstore, and translated my symptoms so I could get the correct medication.  Relief is on the horizon!  I’m determined to be better by Friday.  I have to be, because Friday is a very special day.

Yesterday, I picked out three places for us to visit, all within the Croatian borders and an easy drive away.  Our first stop was Lepoglava, which is known for hosting the main prison in Croatia.  I know, I know, why would you want to go to the prison yard?  And quite honestly, I’m still trying to figure out why it’s a tourist spot. I hear they kick ass at making lace but for me, the biggest draw is the restaurant in the prison city.  I was told that the prisoners work both in the kitchen and as servers and that the food is both cheap and delicious.  Unfortunately, I will never know.  When we arrived, it was like the whole village had shown up for lunch.  Families upon families arrived ready to eat and the prisoners, or shall I say staff, became overwhelmed.  As soon as I saw the high-ranking Croatian military officers gathering at a table, I knew we weren’t going to eat any time soon and we would have to abort the mission.  We were 0 for 1.

We pushed on to Krapina, home to the Neanderthal Museum.  Did you know that about 800 Neanderthal fossil remains were found near present-day Krapina, Croatia?  We didn’t either, so we thought this could be interesting to see and it was in the general vicinity. Let’s just say it didn’t work out and I didn’t get to learn the tales of the Neanderthals.  Plenty of people were walking around the grounds but the museum was closed despite what the internet hours said.  We were totally there before 5pm.  We were 0 for 2.

Our final stop was Trakošćan Castle, former residence of the aristocratic Drašković Family.  We rushed to get there before closing time and thankfully made it.  This place is truly a gem with its expansive grounds, private lake and well preserved interiors and furnishings.  Situated perfectly on a hill, this castled oozed with superiority, nobility and power.  Standing in its glory, I think we were able to capture some of its beauty.  We were 1 for 3, not good but not so bad.

Trackošćan Castle looking over the lake.

Trackošćan Castle looking over the lake.

The First Saturday- Market Day and Hlebec

Every Saturday, near the castle, there’s an open market where the locals go to buy fresh produce, cheeses, meats and breads. I’ve been to open markets in Europe but this one had a different feel to it.  It seemed that the whole town went there to take their morning coffee and get the fresh stuff; none of that grocery store food for them today.  I was amazed at one of the women who sold chicken.  Her line stretched so far that it blocked shoppers from approaching the other stands.  Everything looked so incredible that I was ready to go on a grocery shopping spree.  Thankfully, David put me in check and made me realize that we don’t need three heads of cauliflower just because they were so beautiful.

Stacked up red peppers ready to be taken home by a girl like me.

Stacked up red peppers ready to be taken home by a girl like me.

Delicious nectarines and tomatoes, so juicy and ready to eat.

Delicious nectarines and tomatoes, so juicy and ready to eat.

Look how fresh everything is, and the amazing part is that it was grown maybe 10 minutes from the outdoor market.

Look how fresh everything is, and the amazing part is that it was grown maybe 10 minutes from the outdoor market.

For the afternoon, I really wanted to go wine tasting because I’ve read so many raving reviews about the region’s wine offerings.  We were advised to take a 40 minute drive across the border to Slovenia, to find a winery called Hlebec (the h is silent-ish) in the city of Kog.  Note to self, avoid Google map directions while traveling the Croatian countryside.

One of the many vineyards we passed along the wine.  This is wine country!

One of the many vineyards we passed along the way. This is wine country!

We’re about an hour into our trip and I see that we’re almost at the border but it doesn’t look very official, like the other border crossings we’ve been too.  Google tells us to turn down a narrow road surrounded by woods, so we reluctantly did. This narrow road turned into a twisty gravel road that somehow took us into a field behind an abandoned house where  the dead-end border crossing is.

The road or as I would call it, a field, in front of the closed border crossing to Slovenia.

The road or as I would call it, a field, in front of the closed border crossing to Slovenia.

After another hour and two additional dead-end border crossings, we finally found our way into Slovenia and in the city of Kog.

A crest from the city of Kog, Slovenia.

A crest from the city of Kog, Slovenia.

In a matter of minutes, we approached Hlebec Winery. I loved everything about Hlebec; the wine, the atmosphere, the owners, everything was wonderful.  We decided to go with a tasting which turned out to be more like full pours of wine, but let me get to the nibbles.  The owner’s son suggested we get the cold platter with meats and cheese and vegetables.  This platter was to die for!

Ham, Onion, Tomatoes, Cow Cheese with Pumpkin Seed Oil, Wild Garlic Spread, Red Pepper Sauce, Pickled Peppers, Lard Spread, and Sausage

Ham, Onion, Tomatoes, Cow Cheese with Pumpkin Seed Oil, Wild Garlic Spread, Red Pepper Sauce, Pickled Peppers, Lard Spread, and Sausage

Everything on the plate was made by his mother or grown in their garden.  My favorite part was the red pepper sauce; this sauce would be amazing just dipping with tortilla chips or adding it to bread with the cow cheese spread on top.  This stuff was so good, that I bought a jar of it.  I’m hiding it away from my husband so he won’t destroy the jar of goodness.  I was a little hesitant about the lard spread (lard from a pig with salt and other spices cooked down) but it was actually quite delicious.  The health-nut in me only allowed for a few tastes, but it was something special.

The wines ranged from the very dry to the very sweet.  My favorites were the Sauvignon and the Muškat, called Illuminati.  I wonder if Jay Z or Beyoncé have anything to do with it…  By the fourth pour, I began to wonder how we were going to get back home and that’s when he broke out the Cognac.  Oh, was it delicious.

From the beginning, David had been secretly pouring some of his wine into my glass while I wasn’t paying attention, so he was more than good to drive us home.  I love how sneaky he can be sometimes, especially when I get to reap the benefits!  With our bottle of Illuminati and jar of red pepper goodness, we made it back across the border and home to Varaždin in 35 minutes, with no border crossing problems to report.

The Unicorn Has Arrived

I’ve made it to the promise land but it wasn’t all hearts, stars and rainbows to get here.  The trip started off well; my flight which I expected to be delayed wasn’t, I didn’t have to take off my shoes for the security check and I was able to leisurely sip one final PSL (Pumpkin Spice Latte) before boarding the plane.  Then things took a turn down.  When I arrived to my seat, I was surrounded by a family so big that they took up nearly three rows across.  There was constant chatter and yelling to relatives on the other side of the plane.  The experience was really annoying, but I could have dealt with it, had that been the only frustration.  But no, there were these “little” people or as I referred to them as, twin screaming demons.  They were actually two cute girls dressed in matching outfits like they were twins but they weren’t.  They reminded me of me and my sister when we were little and my mom would dress us in matching outfits. People would always ask if we were twins and the two of us would roll our eyes and inform them that we were two and a half years apart, duh.  I never really understood why my mom put us in matching outfits.  Mom- Why did you do that?

So, they reminded me of me and my sister except for we were raised right and knew how to behave in public.  These girls ranged from screaming and crying to singing and laughing and they climbed all over the place.  At one point, I was watching Harry Potter and I felt a presence close by.  I looked to my right and nearly screamed when I saw one of the demons looking right at me with her chin on my armrest.  Her seat was two rows behind me.  What killed me was that their parents would do nothing but laugh and send them to a different relative on the other side of the plane.  I learned quickly that the amount of wine and Bailey’s that I consumed wasn’t enough to knock me out, so I suffered through nine hours of complete and total screaming demon hell.   I rolled off the plane exhausted with a headache but things got better.  I had an easy flight from Frankfurt to Zagreb and David was there waiting to drive me away to Varazdin.

View of the Church of St. Nicolas on a cloudy day in Varazdin

View of the Church of St. Nicolas on a cloudy day in Varazdin

Last evening was a bit of a whirlwind; we drove around town, picked up food and moved my stuff into the apartment.  From there, David took me to his favorite restaurant called Angelus and I had the most delicious risotto and wine.  After, we walked around town and David pointed out some of the main attractions.  This may sound a bit ridiculous, but I also managed to join a gym last night.  I think I may have a slight exercise addiction, but you know, I love my Tone It Up workouts and I plan on eating this city out of food, so a little exercise will be good for me.

Colorful little feet dangling over our heads in old town.

Colorful little feet dangling over our heads in old town.

This morning, after I eventually got up and went to the gym, I was able to do some exploring on my own.  I discovered that Varazdin is an absolutely adorable city with lots of churches, bakeries, and cafés.  This city boasts both a palace and a castle.  There appears to be a lot of history and culture for me to learn about, so that gets me excited.  The people here are very friendly but I’m beginning to feel like the town unicorn.  In less than a day of being here, it’s clear that they’ve never seen anyone quite like me in their city, and by that, I mean a black American woman.  Some people stare as I walk by, others will turn their heads after they’ve passed by me, but my favorite is when they stop everything they’re doing, whether it’s walking, eating or even talking, to stare and then discuss me to their companion.  Instead of feeling totally uncomfortable about it, I’m embracing it.  It’s preparation for when I become famous and the paparazzi are hunting me down for that perfect photo.  With my shades and a scarf, I intend to strut down these streets like Gisele and give them something to look at. Work!

My Flight of Freedom

I started my first day of freedom with mimosas and a Donna Summer dance party.  It was amazing.  As much as I love a champagne breakfast, the best part of my day so far is not having to put on work appropriate clothes and then fasten a name badge to my belt loop.  I’ve been walking around in my underwear for the greater part of the morning and it’s been fabulous.  I’ve managed to finally finish cleaning my house and from my bible to my jump rope, I am packed and ready to go.

Grandma, aka GBetty, is scheduled to arrive in an hour and I’ll be on my way to Hartsfield-Jackson airport.  For now, I’ve got time to relax and rest before the long journey.  Lena Horne is singing her heart out in the background and I’m finishing those last drops of champagne.  What will next Wednesday be like?  Will I be drinking a cappuccino at a café as I people watch? Or perhaps I’ll be running my new favorite route around Varazdin?

Reality still hasn’t hit me yet; maybe I’ll have a moment tomorrow when I realize that this is happening to me.  I think my mind is still going through my mental checklist of things that need to be taken care of or maybe I’m just sleepy.  Fortunately, my reservations about this trip are few.  My biggest concerns right now are:

  1. Living in a small studio apartment with my husband for a month
  2. If I brought enough shoes
  3. How much weight I’ll gain from stuffing my face with all of the yummy goodness
  4. Making sure my plane outfit will keep me both warm and cool

Honestly, I’m in such a good mood right now, nothing can bring me down.  Not even Lufthansa, who has for the third time today changed my departure time.  My mind is firmly set on seeing my babe and persuading him to take me to Sofra for ćevapi.  Oh the ćevapi from Sofra, it’s like heaven in your mouth.  But there’s no need to get myself worked up, I have nearly 15 hours to dream about it.  So for right now, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy Lena.

Bye Felicia!

I’m spent from reconfiguring my bag for the third time just so I could get that extra pair of boots to fit, but it was worth it. I can never have enough boots. That’s one bag down and another three or four to go, but I can’t be bothered now. I need a frozen yogurt break.  In just a few days, I will be reunited with my husband in Croatia for a month-long pause on life and I couldn’t be more thankful for it.  Lately, I’ve been so mentally and emotionally exhausted that I knew something needed to happen in order to maintain my sanity.  This opportunity couldn’t have been better timed.  I’ll have a whole month to decompress, quiet my mind and just be.  To think, I almost let this trip slip away.

These last few days at home are passing by more quickly than I expected and there are so many ridiculous things I still need to get in order. Like thoroughly cleaning my house, hiding the dead plants from view of the neighbors, making sure my DVR is properly scheduled, and justifying the need to drink the last bottle of champagne from when my sister was in town. The list is endless but I refuse to become overwhelmed. What’s really driving me insane are the food cravings I’m getting from knowing that I’ll be deprived of certain things for a while.  It’s causing me to be even more deliberate than usual about how I choose to spend my calories.  Right now I’m dying for fried rice and pork dumplings followed by chocolate hazelnut Pinkberry yogurt on a sugar cone.  I have just over a day left and not enough meal opportunities to satiate all of my hankerings.

I have to say that I’m really grateful to the women that encouraged me to go after this opportunity.  I’m proud of myself for stepping out and really taking a chance on something that quite honestly made me feel uneasy in the beginning.  It’s laughable to think that I almost let someone convince me that going to Croatia was like running away from my worries.  Bye Felicia!  I know I’ve made the right decision, and I’m pumped about everything to come.  It won’t be Instagram gorgeous all the time and some activities will be downright mundane, but it doesn’t matter. My life for thirty days will be authentic living, time with my hubby, drinking at inappropriate times and delicious food.  What more can a girl ask for?