Of Islands and Dramatic Coastlines

I have always felt this innate need to be near a body of water.  It calms me down to hear the sound of water lapping against the shore.  Where I stay, I would normally have coffee facing the marina.  It gives me the best feeling.  And the fact that every time I go there, I have to compete for the best seat makes me realize that a lot others share the same sentiments.  Island paradises have become the preferred holiday destinations.  I’ve been to a few and would like to share how beautiful they are and how blessed I felt to have seen it with my own eyes.  The pictures normally don’t do it justice but here goes.

First up was our 2007 visit to Sumilon Island in Cebu, Philippines. Sumilon means refuge which was what we needed at that point in time. To get here, we took a 3 1/2 hour flight from Singapore to Cebu, a 2 hour drive to the coast and a 15 minutes boat ride. Believe me, the place is worth it. We stayed at the Sumilon Bluewater Island Resort. It is an island paradise which only has 12 cottages all with balconies facing the sea.  We enjoyed taking a dip in the infinity pool before dinner and lazing around on the powdery fine sand bar.  I’m not sure if they had new cottages constructed after our visit or if they let it be as perfect as it was.
Santorini – officially known as Thira always been said to be the lost island of Atlantis. I don’t think this island really needs any introduction. This island forms the remains of a volcanic explosion. It is made up mostly of dramatic cliffs and a jaw dropping view. The drama of the white domed houses against the clear blue sky and the wonderful Aegean sea is something of out of a postcard. To get to this paradise we had to endure a roundabout ferry ride due to the Cyclades literally closing shop for winter. Instead of taking a ferry from Mykonos to Santorini (around 3 hours of ferry), we had to take a couple of ferries: one from Mykonos to Piraeus (near Athens for around 6 hours) and another one from Piraeus to Santorini (another 9 hours) just to be able to see the wonder of Santorini. It was well worth the amount of pills we took to avoid being seasick. The sunset is the highlight of Fira.  People actually try to be early to get the best seat to see the explosion of colors once the sun hits the water.
Positano – this village forms part of the Amalfi Coast. This is where the Port of Mongibello for The Talented Mr Ripley has been based on. Anyway, two words: Amalfi Coast = Paradise/Postcard. To get there from Napoli (where we were based for this trip), we took the Circumvisuviana line (make sure to get your tickets at the local tabacchi and make sure to validate it) all the way to Sorrento. Then from there we boarded a bus (remember to get your tickets and validate in the bus) going to Amalfi that goes to Positano as well.  The speed of the bus as well as the hairpin turns makes it hard to keep your lunch in.  But the view getting there is so breathtaking it keeps you from remembering how fast the driver is taking the turns.  Remember not to get off on the first stop in Positano.  It would be harder on your knees but well worth the nice restaurant we found.  Make sure to get a bottle of Limoncello just for experience.  It reminds me of raki or ouzo but a lot nicer.
Cinque Terre – located on the Ligurian Coast in Italy.  Literally means the five lands.  It is made up of five charming coastal villages: Riomaggiore, Maranola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare.  All the villages are interconnected by paths and railways but not all are open due to the flooding that happened last October 2011.  Nat Geo Traveler featured this beautiful place on one of its covers and I felt compelled to pick it up and bring it to the counter.

These five villages are not as accessible as the rest of Italy.  They are better reached by rail or sea (we took the train from Milan to La Spezia Centrale).  Getting the Cinque Terre Card helps as they have per day passes as well as ones which include unlimited use of the regional trains from La Spezia Centrale all the way to Sestri Levante.  The card also gives you access to paths, museums and allows you to take the park buses.  One of the better known paths, Via dell’ Amore, connects Riomaggiore and Maranola is a must.  We started from the Riomaggiore side.  Make sure to enjoy their cuisine and wine as the freshest seafood and the nicest wine.  The friendliness and helpfulness of the people of Cinque Terre is a plus.  We really enjoyed our stay in Riomaggiore and loved having dinner at La Lanterna da Massimo in front of the marina.
The beauty of these places cannot be captured by our cameras or even by videos.  They have to be experienced.  I have to hear the waves crashing on the shore, see the beautiful cliffs or beach, feel the gentle breeze and smell the sea.  It never fails to put a smile on my face.  I always feel so blessed and humbled every time and it never gets old.
P. S.  Cinque Terre was hit by a disaster on 25th October 2011.  The flooding caused mud to wash away the villages of Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza.  The White Cross of Riomaggiore has set up a site for donations for Vernazza as they would need up to 5 million euros to rebuild it.  Let’s help bring back beauty to Vernazza.

Bailamos Flamenco

With thoughts of Tapas and Flamenco, we boarded our Vueling flight to the city of Sevilla.  The date was 25th September 2010.  We were supposed to stay there for a couple of nights but due to the visa delay, we had to be content with just one night.  Sevilla is actually a huge city.  Most of the attractions are in the old part of town where we stayed.  During this stay, we tried to use this booking site that I found called Airbnb.  The concept is renting a room with the owner of the house.  It’s like staying with a friend who lives overseas but here you are strangers.  Some rent the whole place out.  Some just rent off one of the rooms.  Even couches are offered in places like Paris.  Anyway, getting back to Sevilla.  We stayed at Calle Aposentadores.  It is very near the center but since we couldn’t find the place in the map we had, we found out after we took a cab.

They weren’t kidding when they said that the tapas here are good.  We went to a very small tapas bar where the lady can only speak Spanish or Russian and got some tapas which were so delicious.  It didn’t look like gourmet stuff but it tasted really good.  That evening, we tried a place called Bodega Gongora where we found out that roasted red peppers are fantastic especially with anchovies and that adobo in the menu means marinated fried fish cubes.  We also ordered some Calamares.

Once we got food in our system, we tried to get out of our little neighborhood.  We kept on going around in circles so we decided to take a cab.  The pretty lady cab driver told us that it is really quite near.  But due to the small one way streets, it would be harder to drive around.  At the city center, we saw THE Cathedral.  Believe me when I say it is HUGE!  The camera can barely capture the immensity of the whole structure.  They started construction in 1402 and continued well until 1506.  Their idea at that time was:  “Let a church so beautiful and so great that those who see it built will think we were mad.” Before Seville Cathedral, Hagia Sophia held the honor of being the biggest cathedral in the world.  It is currently the largest Gothic Cathedral and the third largest cathedral in the world.  We wanted to go in to see the interior and to see Christopher Columbus’ tomb but there was an ongoing funeral service.

While Jore was getting bored and asking where we should go to see a live Flamenco show, we heard the sound of music and shoes tapping against the cobblestones.  We followed our ears and found a big group of Sevillanos doing the Flamenco.  It was loud, fun and wonderful.  You just start clapping to the tune and smiling as they twirl in their lovely costumes.

All in all, I have to say that Sevilla is as charming and warm as people claim.  It is one of those places you immediately fall in love with.  The food, the people and the place itself were so nice and quaint that you feel like staying a bit longer to know it better.  We really wished we could have stayed longer but we couldn’t extend as the room we stayed in has been booked and with the Huelga General just around the corner, it would be wiser to chug along to Madrid via the AVE.

The Legend of the Roman Aqueduct

Since I still have my Spanish Holiday loaded in my hard drive, I will continue with Segovia. It is just 2 hours and around 12,80 euros away with trains every hour. What got me interested in Segovia is the roman aqueduct. There is a legend behind how it was built. Since it is such a huge and marvelous feat of ancient engineering and me, being such a sucker for legends, it became a must see.

Legend starts with a maid to a very rich household who had to bring water from the river far away to the house everyday. One day, in despair, she made a pact with the devil that he could have her soul should he be able to solve her dilemma before the next day starts. That night, she was awakened by the sound of thunder and saw thousands of demons working — building an aqueduct. Gripped by fear, she prayed that the devil would fail. Before the last stone was placed, the cock crowed announcing the devil’s failure. The maid then quickly went to the priest and confessed. The gap for the last stone now holds the figure of a saint.

My first reason to visit Segovia is the Aqueduct. The second would be Alcazar. The third is the Cochinillo Asado. We got 2 out of 3. Not bad, right? The Aqueduct is in the center of the city itself. There is no way to miss it. It is a colossal structure made without the use of mortar. The Alcazar, on the other hand is a medieval castle said to be an inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle. Before you dispute me, the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany is the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. I have to agree though that they both look Disney-ish. When buying tickets for Alcazar, check if your knees and lungs are fine battling with around 6 stories worth of winding, slippery stone steps. If yes, buy the ticket with the tower access. If no, just save your money and buy the basic entry ticket. The way down is the same winding, slippery stone steps…

Ah! The Cochinillo Asado, was sadly a failure. We got lost trying to find a non touristy restaurant. We ended up not getting to try it since we had to make sure we get to the train station to catch our train back to Madrid. But before we went in the station, we grabbed a bite at a bar in front which served the coldest beer in frosted mugs! The food was so-so only but the beer was good:) For those planning to visit, let me know if the Cochinillo Asado is worth coming back for…

Gaudi on my Mind

Since I am starting this based on past travels and would be journeys, I shall start with one of the most memorable trips we had – Barcelona. Barcelona is not Spain’s capital although you have to admit, you thought it is. It is the 2nd largest city in Spain and is the capital of Catalunya. It is mostly famous for Gaudi and the Olympics which was held there in 1992. You must know one thing — they don’t really speak Castillano or the Spanish that we know. They speak Catalan.

Getting on with the story — 24th September 2010. We arrived at Barcelona El Prat Airport around 11 am due to a flight delay on KLM via Amsterdam. Since France and Spain were having transport strike, it was expected. We took a cab to our hotel which was located at La Rambla. The guy was quite nice. He was trying to make small talk with us. Unfortunately, he knows no English and I know no Catalan. What I gathered from what he was trying to say was: “Be very careful. La Rambla is not a very safe location. Take care of your belongings and make sure your camera is not just slung over one shoulder.” We have been warned within the first 30 minutes of arriving.

The main reason we were in Barcelona is Gaudi. My friend is very much a fan of his works. First stop, we visited the exterior of La Casa Battlo. I have to say exterior as everyone had the same idea. The queue outside was a long dragon’s tail. Next stop was La Casa Mila, better known as La Pedrera as it looks like a stone quarry. You could say that George Lucas might have been influenced by the sculptures at the top of the building for Star Wars. Last stop, was La Sagrada Familia. This is Gaudi’s most famous work. 200 years after, it is still a work in progress. If you only have time to visit one place in Barcelona, make it La Sagrada Familia. It is like the Eiffel Tower of Paris. It is THE place you really have to see to say that you’ve been to Barcelona.

Visiting Barcelona needs a strategy. You need to know where you want to go and what you want to see before you start walking. There is this famous old hospital way up north near Parc Guell and La Sagrada Familia. Near the middle are Casa Battlo and Casa Mila. Near the port are Palau Guell, La Bocheria and La Rambla — which is nice for a walk or people watching.

Oh I almost forgot! Remember the cab driver’s warning earlier? My friend’s purse was stolen while we were dining at a restaurant in front of our hotel. We didn’t notice as we were so tired and each of us thought that the other was carrying the purse. We only realized the theft the next day. My friend accidentally stashed all our credit/debit cards and identification cards in her purse. O_O You can imagine the horror of not having any way to get money on the first day of your trip. We spent the whole morning calling the banks for cancellation of cards and filling a police report. Judging by the queue at the station, we were not THAT stupid. It was a widespread problem and one of them was even mugged. Good thing we still had our wits with us. I had Jore (my friend) call our friend to wire some money to us via Western Union. To pay the hotel, I asked my sister for my debit card info which is with her via instant messaging. So you wouldn’t see us pouting in any of the pictures. I have to say this — BE VERY CAREFUL IN BARCELONA! The place is nice but be very careful. We were not the only victims. I have a friend who is over 6 feet tall whose wallet was stolen in Barcelona. After that, his iPhone was taken in the Metro. Because he was so upset, he shouted. His phone miraculously was being returned by some stranger who “picked” it from the floor because my friend “dropped” it. My friend noticed the pickpockets calling for reinforcements so they got off at the next stop.


Welcome to The Travel Crowd.  Our blog (mostly me, but my friend contributes a lot as well) about our whereabouts in the last 6 or so years.  We only thought of writing about it after going through Europe and Asia with a beat-up guidebook in one hand and fistful of luck and hope in the other.  It just hit me that I have to document it.  It won’t be chronological, but then again…. 🙂