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!

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Travel Diary: Berlin

Do you ever put off blogging because you want to write the perfect post—carefully researched, well-selected photos, thoughtfully written… then life just takes over and you never seem to find the time? This is the story of my life lately. It’s already summer, and I have yet to blog about my spring travels.

I’ve decided to say “So what?” to perfection, otherwise I’ll never get any blog posts written! Let’s go for something short, sweet and simple: a travel diary of my (already not-so-recent) trip to Berlin.

Berlin Soho House selfie with Alexanderplatz TV Tower

When I learned I would be sent to Berlin for a client shoot, I was thrilled. What began as a weekend fling years ago grew into a love affair with this captivating city. After being back several times, it has already begun to feel familiar—yet Berlin being Berlin, it will always be unknowable, a chameleon, constantly evolving.

To recognize parts of yourself in a place, yet be confronted with secrets to discover and enigmas to unravel —for me, that makes perfect travel alchemy.

Berlin Brandenburger Tor tattooed organ grinder

It’s no secret that I love food, and in Berlin good food is abundant, varied and best of all, affordable. The Diplomatic Wife and I pigged out on a massive brunch at Cabslam in Neukolln—including the best salted caramel cheesecake I’ve had in years… no, wait, ever—and our restaurant bill was ridiculously low, a fraction of what it would have been for a meal of the same quality in Amsterdam.

Berlin Cabslam salted caramel cheesecake

I love street art, too. In this facet of urban life, Berlin is a feast for the eyes…

Berlin street art girls dancing

a constantly evolving gallery.

Berlin street art JR paste remnants

I’m positive this used to be a huge mural by JR!

One of the press perks of my working visit was a private evening tour of the Alte Nationalgalerie. Led through a darkened museum by a bearded old art historian with thousands of tales to tell, I learned the secret story of why this innocent-looking painting by Manet caused a scandal in the 1800s, and had to be banned…

Auguste Renoir In Sommer Berlin National Galerie

and also recognized shades of my own domestic life, those too-familiar tantrums and tears, in this marble Venus and Cupid. Again, that fine line between discovery and familiarity, being transported and finding yourself at home.

Berlin National Galerie Venus and Cupid sculpture

My shoot was at Soho House on Torstrasse in Mitte, and I loved wandering around that area after work. From hipsters to hausfraus, iced lattes to hot latex, the diversity of cafes, shops, businesses and restaurants makes for fascinating window shopping.

Berlin old book frontispieces wallpaper store

A shop along Torstrasse beautifully wallpapered with antique front pages

Where else can seventeenth-century cemeteries coexist so closely with third wave coffee bars? That’s Berlin, where there’s always a dark undercurrent to all the energy, a poignant counterpoint to all the hipness.

Berlin Alter Garnisonsfriedhof

I’m tempted to say I feel something of Manila in Berlin, and in a way, being in Berlin relieves my homesickness a little bit. Okay, German efficiency and Filipino chaos seem universes apart. If you’ve been to both cities, maybe you can tell me if I’m on to something here, or if I’m just crazy.

Berlin U-Bahn

On your travels, have you ever felt that sweet spot between familiarity and discovery? Where does it happen for you? I’d love to know.

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Sorry, not sorry

I was about to sit down with my tail between my legs, and write a sheepish apology for having been away from the blog for so long.

But, after 4.5 years in the Netherlands, the land of confident directness and zero apologies, this exceedingly polite, too-eager-to-please Filipina has learned to distinguish between the apologies that are necessary, and those that aren’t.

So, as the hashtag goes, I’m #sorrynotsorry…

… that I’ve been traveling for work. In the last two months, work has taken me to two of my absolute, most favorite cities in Europe: Berlin…

Berlin Brandenburger Tor

and Barcelona.

El Born Barcelona plaza

As someone who tends to joke I’m just a WAHM who sits at the computer in my pajamas all day, it’s a thrill to realize that my work as a freelance writer and producer can actually be… glamorous. Backing up footage in a hotel room with floor-to-ceiling views of Barcelona and the Mediterranean Ocean can do wonders for one’s perspective.

Barcelona beach view from the W Hotel

I’m sorry, not sorry… that I’ve been working a lot. Last year I had a Tim Gunn “make it work” moment, when I realized that I need to acquire more local clients in Amsterdam, and develop a network of contacts here as strong as the ones I left behind in Manila and Singapore. Because this is home now.

Well, I’m doing just that. Work has begun to trickle in from local businesses and entrepreneurs, some of whom are doing design-led, inspiring work that excites me (even if the pay doesn’t always).

These days, work takes up most of my writing time and brain. With what’s left over, I’m sorry, not sorry… that I’ve sought (and found) new things to love about Amsterdam.

WWIM11 2015 Amsterdam

I joined the 11th Worldwide InstaMeet hosted by the local Instagram community in another effort to bring my online life offline. I met like-minded explorers, discovered postcard-perfect spots in my own city, and became more addicted to Instagram than ever. Hmm, time to revive Instagramsterdam?

I’m sorry, not sorry… that I’ve blown off work to go on weekday dates with my husband. Marlon has had a few weekdays off, and after dropping off Tala at the gastouder, we date like giddy teenagers. Shedding the mom-and-dad routine for a day, we get high on the bliss of afternoon movie matinees. We talk about our pipe dreams. We try “that place” we’ve been wanting to try (there’s always a long list).

ArtDeli Amsterdam

Then toss back a glass or two of wine before cycling back to reality, back to the daughter who runs squealing into our arms, and back to the household we have to keep running.

I’m sorry, not sorry… that I’ve been cementing our life with traditions and routines. Friday lattes with my mommy friends at the new cafe with the awesome play corner. Afternoons at the playground and Saturday mornings at the farmer’s market. The food trucks of Rollende Keukens and the orange fever of King’s Day.

King's Day for kids at Westerpark

All of that takes time, effort, and energy—all of which goes into solidifying one’s sense of home in a foreign land. And I can’t do any of that from behind the computer!

Finally, and it should go without saying, that the one thing I’ll never be sorry for… is that I’ve simply been away being Tala’s mom.

Reading her books upon books, and singing her Filipino folk songs. Choosing her outfits in the morning (a power I won’t be holding for long), and searching for wooden legs for her new desk on Etsy. Wiping her hands of chalk after she’s gone wild drawing “polka dots” on her bedroom wall, and brushing her hair despite her toddlerrific efforts to resist.

Tala chalkboard wall closeup

Trying to act normal and ignore her throughout Hulk-sized fits of rage (quickest way to end it), researching her school options in our neighborhood, and worrying about why she suddenly seems to hate the babies at her daycare. Marveling at how quickly she falls asleep after a good long cuddle from me, at how much she needs Mama’s touch to feel calm, safe and loved. And so much more.

This is my life lately, a life that has enticed me away from the computer. I have nothing to apologize for, and everything to celebrate. What are you #sorrynotsorry for?

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Cooking class in Tuscany: Lessons from an Italian kitchen

To end our Tuscan trip, I had planned a special treat for Marlon: a one-day cooking class in Tuscany, in a real Italian kitchen.

Cooking lesson in Tuscany

It’s no secret that in our home, Marlon rules the kitchen and I am mostly useless merely his lowly assistant. I knew he would love learning the secrets of a real Italian kitchen hands-on, from a real Italian mama. I may be bad at cooking, but I’m great at finding things online! So, after searching for a one-day class that would fit our schedule and budget, I found Max&Me: Tuscany Cooking, run by Eugenia and Massimo from their home in Sesto Fiorentino near Florence.

The plan was for me to babysit Tala in Eugenia’s lush herb garden—which by the way contains the happiest, healthiest rosemary I’ve ever seen in someone’s home—and keep her entertained…

Cooking class in Tuscany Tala in the herb garden

not to mention happily fed with the occasional snack of prosciutto…

Tala eating prosciutto

while Eugenia and Marlon worked on our four-course lunch.

Cooking lesson in Tuscany near Florence

And, boy, did Marlon work. “I’m a little scared of her,” he whispered to me before I took Tala out for a walk. Well, if there’s anyone who can intimidate a big man like this, it’s an Italian mama who is the queen of her kitchen! You should have seen his face when she told him that the onions he’d been furiously dicing just weren’t diced finely enough.

But that’s precisely the great thing about doing a cooking class like this. While Eugenia has generously made her recipes available on her blog, there’s no substitute for hands-on learning. How a ball of pasta dough feels in your hands when it’s just right; how long to let the flavor of a ragu develop (or even what “fully developed” flavor is); what the freshest, top-quality ingredients really taste like; the little hacks and tricks picked up over a lifetime of cooking—these are things you just can’t pick up from a Youtube video or blog post.

I like to think Marlon absorbed some of Eugenia’s personal standards and stories that day. All of it just inspired him to cook even more. Some of the techniques he learned have found their way into the other things he makes at home, even dishes like Indian curry or Filipino kaldereta.

Oh, and our onions are really, really finely diced now. They’re practically invisible.

But enough about that. You want to see the food, right?

Cooking lesson in Tuscany roast pork with guanciale and potatoes

Let’s begin. Buon appetito!

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