Hiking Cinque Terre

Hiking Cinque Terre was a beautiful experience that Molly and I will never forget. If you have read articles about Cinque Terre, such as this article from The New York Times, you may even be ready to buy your plane ticket right now. I can confirm that it is a tranquil and relaxing place and that you should keep it on your travel-destination radar. Read below if you want to know your show before you go. The obsession with Cinque Terre is fairly straightforward as far as travel destinations come. You have five stunning towns whose yellow, pink and blue buildings pop out of a lush mountain landscape overlooking the Mediterranean. You will quickly fill up your SD card snapping photos of just about everything you see. What you will also learn is that the best views you will get are from high up in the mountains on the many hiking trails.

Riomaggiore Cinque Terre

A view of Riomaggiore – the southernmost village in Cinque Terre and our starting point

The most famous trail to travel through is actually part of the National Park of Cinque Terre and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This trail is by the sea and has an incredible vantage point – if you get the chance to take it. The path was closed during our stay due structural weakness on the path from recent rain. Mountains help create this dramatic landscape, but have caused difficulties and dangers for residents for years. When heavy rains hit bad things can happen as we saw in 2011. The devastation from this storm can still be seen to this day. One portion of the seaside trail is still closed after the damage inflicted by the 2011 floods. When we visited, the seaside trail was entirely closed due to recent rain so we began began hiking one of the higher paths. The mountain paths are well marked and there are a number of options to choose from, but they are steeper and definitely a better workout than the seaside options. There is enough trail variety to keep you busy for several days. Midway through our hike, a portion of the trail near the edge gave way under my foot. So a word to the wise – be careful and take rain-closed trails (and the resulting landslides) seriously. Also, don’t copy me and stay clear from the edge! With this in mind you can safely enjoy the incredible views.

Cinque Terre Village

Looking down on Corniglia (the middle of the five towns) from up the mountain

Oh, and be prepared for plenty of vineyards and olive groves too.

Cinque Terre Village

A view from the walking trail

Hiking will take you off the tourist trail and allow you to experience smaller nearby towns, historic architecture and a little bit of everyday life. One of my favorite moments – seeing a gardener leaving fresh vegetables and greens on his neighbor’s doorstep. There is a slightly more leisurely feel to life than we are used to in New York. If hiking isn’t your thing, there is another great way to take in the sights of Cinque Terre. There is a ferry service that runs between the five villages. You can see the details of the ferry here. You can take the ferry to and from all of the villages except Corniglia which does not have water access, due to being located on the cliff edge. In addition to the transport, you get a great tour of the coast!

Italy Cinque Terre Dock

Leaving the dock.

Italy Cinque Terre

From the water.

Italy Cinque Terre Coast

Back on the coast.

We highly recommend the ferry. It’s functional, practical and beautiful. The train is also a fine way to get from village to village – just don’t expect it to come on time. Cinque Terre has a lot to offer. It’s a great vacation spot to relax and take in the sights, sounds and pleasures of the Mediterranean. There is plenty of hiking and exploring to do and it is also ideal for drinking wine by the water. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Cinque Terre Italy Sunset

Make sure you get down to the water around sunset!

On the practical side, you can expect to pay more for lodging and food in Cinque Terre than most other Italian destinations. There are simply fewer options to accommodate all the tourists who want to visit. It was the most expensive place we stayed on our entire trip – save for the Great Barrier Reef. You wont find many listings on AirBnB there! Vegan food options may also be limited in the restaurants. However, we found a number of great pizza places that made us vegan pizza in Riomaggiore. Just remember vegans – senza formaggio!

The New Zealand Campervan Experience

Hello everyone. We hope you are having excellent holidays. We were more or less internet-less while in New Zealand, hence the lack of posting. We have left kiwi-land and are now “down unda” in Australia and we wanted to catch you up on the magic that is New Zealand.

On the recommendation of a friend (who wrote this fabulous blog about her time in NZ), we traveled around New Zealand in a minivan that had been converted into a campervan. What does that mean, you may ask. Well I will take you on a tour:

Our home for 2 weeks. Fully equipped minus a bathroom.

Our home for 2 weeks. Fully equipped minus a bathroom.

For two people (who like each other), this minivan is perfect. It fits in a regular parking spot, but contains everything you need for day-to-day living (except a bathroom).

The campervan set up for daytime.

The campervan set up for daytime.

Above you can see the campervan as it looked in the morning after we woke up and put it back to daytime mode. There are seats on either side of the van behind the front seats. Those come in handy if it is pouring outside and you need to hide out for a few hours. All of our stuff lived under the seat on the right side of this picture in the two cubbies. Under the left side seat was our pantry. All our non-perishables were in there. Our perishable items lived in the cooler in the center of the picture. We bought a 3 liter bottle of water and froze it whenever we stayed the night somewhere with a freezer. In this picture on the lower right you can see the cooktop where Dan is making oatmeal, our standard breakfast. The cooktop slides back into that white cube on the right and all of the dishes and cutlery fit underneath. On the left is the sink (that we pretty much didn’t use), and the kettle that fits into the sink.

The campervan set up for nighttime.

The campervan set up for nighttime.

In the picture above you can kinda see the bed setup. It goes from behind the front seats up to sink/cooler/stove areas. The bed magically comes into being by pulling out a wooden plank from under the right hand seat, that then fits into the middle section. Then the back cushions from both seats cover the middle plank, and the top left area is filled with a plank and cushion that was standing upright behind the passenger side seat (on the left in NZ!). Then the whole thing is covered by a sheet and duvet. It was actually quite comfortable. It sounds confusing, but after putting the bed together once it wasn’t so bad. Here you can also see all of the equipment (stove side and sink side) properly put away. I can admit to the fact that it usually wasn’t this well organized!

The biggest question we get about seeing the country in a campervan is, how do you handle not having a bathroom? New Zealand is the land of campervans, so the country is well prepared for this kind of travel. There are two kinds of places you can stay at with a campervan: Department of Conservation (DoC) sites or holiday parks. DoC sites are low tech and low cost. A night at most DoC sites is NZ$10 per person. DoC sites almost all have toilets and running water. In some places you need to boil the water before using it as it just comes from the nearby stream. Holiday parks are private businesses that are like motels for campervans. You get a spot for your van and share communal kitchens and bathrooms. Holiday parks are where we took all of our showers. Holiday parks cost in the NZ$30-45 range for 2 people in one unpowered campervan. I think Dan preferred the solitude and beauty of the simple DoC sites, but I liked the community and services of the holiday parks. Also, the holiday parks are everywhere you, as a tourist, might want to go, where the DoC sites are more remote. I think in two weeks we only stayed at 2 or 3 DoC sites. Which, on the plus side, means we took more showers!

Most importantly, how was cooking in the campervan? It was great. We only had one burner, so one-pot meals were all we made. We had ramen with veggies (Dan’s favorite), burritos (my favorite), sloppy joes, pasta with veggie-filled sauce, and veggie curry. We went grocery shopping only a few times during the trip as with some planning our food lasted a while. The trick? When staying at a holiday park, freeze a big 3 liter bottle of water overnight and then that will keep your cooler cold for a few days until your next stay at a holiday camp! Worked for us. We never had any mold issues. Here are some pictures of cooking and eating while traveling in a campervan.

Burrito night, with a great view.

Pasta night, with a great view.

Rain or shine, I will eat ramen

Rain or shine, I will eat ramen

These little guys were looking for some snacks.

These little guys were looking for some snacks.

Burrito night number 2. Our favorite meal while campervanning.

Burrito night. My favorite meal while campervanning.

The reason that campervan travel is so popular around New Zealand is because the country is so amazingly diverse, even though it is quite small. We only had one long driving day, but in two weeks we probably drove over 2000 km, seeing much of the country (but not nearly all. I guess we will have to come back!). The campervan allowed us to go places we couldn’t have gone to otherwise.

Here are some of our favorite pictures that we took over the 2 weeks traveling the country in the campervan:

Now, just one last piece of advice before you all head off to plan your campervan trip in New Zealand: Buy the extra insurance. That way when this happens:

Is that a nail in our tire? Yes, yes it is.

Is that a nail in our tire? Yes, yes it is.

Flat tire off, doughnut on. Dan springs into action.

Flat tire off, doughnut on. Dan springs into action.

Flat tires suck, but we couldn't have picked a more beautiful place to get one.

Flat tires suck, but we couldn’t have picked a more beautiful place to get one.

It doesn’t cost you anything more than some time and energy. Plus, you never know, a nice kiwi family may offer you their driveway to park/sleep in for the night.