Cinque Terre: Monterosso al Mare

I’ve just returned from a staggering three-week trip to Croatia (part of my education in taking long holidays, European-style), another dream come true. But I can’t move on to my next travel series without sharing this last piece of Cinque Terre with you.

On my last morning, right before I had to catch my train to Pisa and flight to Amsterdam, I hopped on a ferry to Monterosso al Mare, the one town among the five terre with the most accessible and swimmable beach.

Arriving in Monterosso, the first thing that caught my eye were the rows upon rows of brightly colored beach umbrellas. Well, make that the *only* thing that caught my eye, because I just couldn’t take my eyes off them!

Monterosso Cinque Terre colorful striped beach umbrellasMonterosso Cinque Terre orange striped beach umbrellas
Monterosso Cinque Terre bright yellow beach umbrellas

I took tons of photos. To me, these images are just brimming over with summer, happiness, and good memories. Just looking at them now, over two months later, makes me smile—and I think they always will.

Monterosso Cinque Terre orange and green umbrellas and lounge chairs

It was a mad dash made enjoyable thanks to the company of a few new friends—Lisa, Nikki and Christina from the Dreamathon workshop. We spent the little time we had in Monterosso swimming in the sparkling Mediterranean, sifting through the pebbles on the beach, and talking ideas, creativity, dreams and action.

Monterosso Cinque Terre crystal clear turquoise water

Mark my words, this will be and Marlon someday. I hope we’ll still be able to visit places like Monterosso together when we’re old and gray.

Monterosso Cinque Terre old couple sitting on beach

If you’re coming into Monterosso al Mare from any of the other towns in the Cinque Terre, I highly recommend the ferry for a short but memorable and highly photogenic trip. 

Monterosso Cinque Terre colorful rows of striped beach umbrellas

And of course a gelato (or three) while strolling along the main promenade never hurts too!

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Cinque Terre: Sunset cocktails in Vernazza

Vernazza Cinque Terre

How do I like to celebrate my arrival at a major bucket list destination? With a drink, of course! I spent my first evening in the Cinque Terre enjoying an Italian aperitivo (an early evening, after-work drink) with the best view of the charming village of Vernazza.

Vernazza Cinque Terre sunset swim

I didn’t get to explore Vernazza, but if I’d had more time I would have loved to go swimming at the marina.

Vernazza Cinque Terre sunbathing

Unlike Riomaggiore’s options of rocky beach or cliff diving, the marina at Vernazza has a dedicated swimming area where one can climb safely into the water via ladders fixed to the rocks, or by walking down a concrete ramp. The latter is also a great spot for sunbathing.

So, back to that sunset cocktail.

Head to the cliffside bar Nessun Dorma, which is near the marina of Manarola, and follow the seaside path to the end of the point called Punto Bonfiglio. From here, take the stairs leading up to Nessun Dorma—and to this stunning sunset view.

Vernazza Cinque Terre golden buildings at sunset

At Nessun Dorma I had an honest-to-goodness “pinch me” moment as the sunset lit up the entire cliffside, bathing the houses of Vernazza in its golden glow. It looked absolutely unreal.

Vernazza Cinque Terre sunset view

Golden sunsets like these (and those palm trees!) remind me so much of home. Maybe many of us travel to find something different, something completely other, but after eight years of living in the otherness I can’t help but search for a piece of home wherever I go.

I tucked this memory among my collection of memorable sunsets: SantoriniBudapest, El Nido, Prague, and of course, Boracay…

Vernazza Cinque Terre twilight

… and watched the lights of Vernazza twinkle to life in the blue twilight.

Mille grazie to the all-knowing Bianca of Italian Fix for leading us to this gorgeous sunset view!

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Cinque Terre: Postcards from Riomaggiore

Cinque Terre Riomaggiore view of town from commune

We all have a place that we’ve always dreamt of visiting. What a feeling it is when the fantasy finally becomes a reality!

Cinque Terre has been one of those places for me since I first heard of it almost 10 years ago. I was at a backpackers’ hostel in Granada, and everyone seemed to be either en route to, or coming back from, these mythical cliffside villages by the sea. Everyone but me!

Many years and many other trips later, I discovered that one of my absolute favorite bloggers, New York Times bestselling author Justina Blakeney would be holding a creative workshop this summer in Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre. I closed my eyes, handed over my credit card details and signed up within 48 hours.

I’ll save my takeaways from my Italian playcation for another post, but from these pictures you will see that I have. Absolutely. No. Regrets.

Cinque Terre Riomaggiore flowers and houses Cinque Terre Riomaggiore colorful buildings closeCinque Terre Riomaggiore laundry hanging from windows

Should you be visiting Cinque Terre—particularly Riomaggiore—for the first time, here are a few travel tips you might find useful. More gorgeous eye candy and hidden gems after the jump!

[Read more…]

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Oude Kerk Amsterdam: The Garden Which is The Nearest to God

Oude Kerk Amsterdam Taturo Atzu The Garden Which is the Nearest to God

I have an insatiable thirst for new ways to experience Amsterdam, my adopted home. While browsing Instagram, I saw glimpses of a shining white platform atop the Oude Kerk in the red light district, offering city views I’d never seen before. I knew I had to go and see it for myself.

“The Garden Which is the Nearest to God” is a temporary installation by Japanese artist Taturo Aztu, who “…is internationally renowned for his temporary art projects which transform our experiences of monuments, statues and architecture.

Radically altering our perceptions, his installations provide public and intimate access to elements within our urban environment.”

The installation itself is a roof terrace centered around the weather vane and bell tower of the Oude Kerk Amsterdam, for this summer only.

Oude Kerk Amsterdam Taturo Aztu roof terrace installation

The Oude Kerk (Old Church) is the oldest building in Amsterdam, founded as a tiny wooden chapel in the 13th century. Generations of prominent city residents were buried here, including Rembrandt’s wife and muse Saska van Uylenburgh. It’s undergone three massive restorations since the 1950s.

The architectural, organizational and logistical complexity of putting such an large scale project on such a historic monument boggles my mind. I have to applaud the ambition—and execution—of it.

What is truly special about Aztu’s “Garden” are the amazing city views. There aren’t many tall buildings in Amsterdam, and especially not in the oldest part of the city known as De Wallen. Most visitors know this as the notorious Red Light District.

View overlooking Amsterdam city center from Oude Kerk Amsterdam Taturo Aztu

I went with my friend Angel on a clear, bright sunny day. We could see all the way across the historic city center (yes, it really is that small!) to Central Station and to A’Dam Toren across the river in Amsterdam Noord (both on the upper left of the photo).

For a part of the city with mostly four-story buildings, this is pretty damn cool!

View of Amsterdam historic city center De Wallen from Oude Kerk Amsterdam

I loved looking out on the busy Oudezijds Voorburgwal (try saying that 10 times fast!), the main artery of the Red Light District.

View of Oudezijds Voorburgwal from Oude Kerk AmsterdamFrom a distance and in the sunshine, it loses its neon-lit seediness and could be any charming, picturesque Amsterdam canal.

View of Dutch canal houses from Oude Kerk Amsterdam

It’s also a rare treat to see the characteristic gables that crown Amsterdam’s canal houses practically at eye level. A feast of details for those who love that kind of thing, as I do.

White wall Oude Kerk Amsterdam Taturo Aztu

I love a good wall to take portraits against, and the best one in Amsterdam right now is this one on top of the Oude Kerk. Thank you Taturo Aztu!

Solo portrait at Oude Kerk Amsterdam Taturo Aztu installation

With sunshine reflected off its pristine whiteness, it creates the best natural lighting ever.

Oude Kerk Amsterdam clock tower

While waiting for the clock to strike three, we spent the time chatting, taking pictures and sunbathing. It feels pretty special to be this close to the oldest clock tower in the city when it chimes its hourly tune.

“The Garden Which is the Nearest to God” by Taturo Aztu is at the Oude Kerk Amsterdam until the 6th of September 2015. Book tickets online at the Oude Kerk website.

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DIY wooden crate toy storage

DIY wood crate Montessori toy storage

Recently one of my lovely Instagram followers remarked that I haven’t posted a home update in a while. True! After buying our first home, decorating it, and having a baby within the last two years, things have quieted down on the interior decorating front. We’ve found a kind of equilibrium, and now it’s mostly about keeping things neat—which is harder than you think.

One quick update we’ve done was to repurpose our vintage wooden crates. These crates have been the gift that keeps on giving. We used them as a TV cabinet almost five years ago, then turned them into hallway storage for our current home. Now, we’ve repurposed them as DIY wooden crate toy storage for our toddler.

Toy storage idea from wooden crates

We cleared out our coffee tables to make our living area a big play space for Tala. Having an idea of Montessori principles for decorating kid’s spaces—I went to a Montessori preschool—I thought it would be good to put Tala’s toys in open shelving at her height. It turned out to be a great decision.

From about 1 year and 9 months, Tala has been able to pick and choose what toys she wants to play with. Even better: she puts them away herself. This is absolutely the best part and a huge relief for us parents. I started teaching her with a pack-away song. Now that she’s 2 years old, I don’t even need the song anymore, I just tell her it’s time to put her toys back.

Montessori play with DIY wooden crate toy storage

Because of the limited storage space, we’ve also had to choose the toys and books. we keep out. If it doesn’t fit in the shelf, we give it away or keep it for later. This is great in a few different ways.

First, it reminds me to pay close attention to what she’s playing with, what she’s ignoring, and how she’s playing. For example, I know within the last three months she’s moved from puzzles to pretend play, and with books she’s done with repeating new words and has moved on to acting out the scenes we read about (with props and all!).

Second, by rotating toys instead of buying new ones , we get to bring out toys that she’s forgotten about and still give her the excitement of a “new” toy. It’s kind of sneaky, but honestly at this age she doesn’t know the difference—and we can use the money for other things.

Third, it’s done wonders to help prevent toddler toys from taking over our home. Tala doesn’t really play in the kitchen or hallway or other weird spaces, because she knows she has her own space with all her favorite things.

DIY wooden crate toy storage for toddlers


Commercial break: can you believe how pudgy and babyish Tala still is in these pictures?! We rearranged the crates and took these photos in January (sorry, bad blogger). Now, she’s definitely more little girl than baby. But she still uses the storage in the same way.

Toddler toy storage from wood crates

Some tips to consider if you’d like to repurpose wooden crates as toy storage:

Consider your child’s personality. We are fortunate to have a toddler who is not “climb and destroy” type, so we felt very comfortable doing this. I know other parents who wouldn’t dream of it. But it’s also possible to teach kids that the shelves are not for climbing. You’d have to do it for other pieces of furniture anyway, right?

Toddler-proof your wooden crates. Sand down wood to prevent splinters. Hammer back or pry out any nails that may cause injuries. Reinforce your shelves with non-nail alternatives—we used rope to tie the crates together in the back.

Try out different configurations. Mix and match! Stack crates horizontally for books and smaller toys. Line them up vertically for bigger toys. Just make sure to keep everything within your child’s height.

I have another DIY wooden crate project up my sleeve, but first I’d love to know what you think of this one. Do you use wooden crates at home and how do you use them?

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