#33 Off Peak Travel and Hiking in Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque fishing villages,
Far away from the world,
by the Mediterranean.

Off peak travelling has its obvious perks – less to pay for accommodation, no jostling at the ‘perfect photo spot’, and best of all, having plenty of beautiful spaces all to yourself. But then it’s also the season for locals to hoof it to their own holidays – meaning shops and restaurants are more likely to close, and it would be just the right time for maintenance works to take place – which could mean unexpected closures and potential disappointment, not to mention disrupting your itinerary (if any) and travel expectations (naturally).

Something’s gotta give, unless you perpetually hunt down the sweet spot of shoulder seasons, you’re bound to bump into either extreme. I used to shun travelling during the off time, because in my mind I would have painted a lovely picture of strolling down a cherry-tree lined promenade in Tokyo (did not happen) or a spectacular sunrise at Yosemite (did not happen either), and I have this immense fear that my experience is not nearly complete if the product didn’t look exactly like what was shown to me on paper. I’m telling you, these are silly preoccupations that the sooner you get over, the better off you are.

Most people ogle at the pretty-as-pink villages but take some time to admire the breathtaking Ligurian coastal scenery found in Cinque Terre.

Most people ogle at the pretty-as-pink villages but how about taking some time to admire this breathtaking Ligurian scenery?

Cinque Terre between Christmas and New Year’s is something I’d consider off peak. People do go away on these dates, but I’d imagine most Europeans would be shredding snow and ice on Alpine slopes or sipping Chang beer on Thai beaches, while travellers from faraway lands would choose to go to places like Vienna or Hamburg, which are still sexy as hell when drowning in ankle-deep snow. I imagine that mainstream hikers would not find joy in bagging Cinque Terre hills in 10°C weather and the chilly winds on the slate-gray beaches would also make damn sure you won’t be frolicking in your bikini or board shorts (unless you are Scandinavian or suicidal), either.

Still, those are my guesses. Proof came in the form of having to drive around for more than an hour looking for somewhere to eat dinner on our first night in the Cinque Terre area. You might say, well we wouldn’t have a problem if we’d chosen to stay in Riomaggiore – but for me that’s considered cheating when you make things too easy. We ended up at a pretty decent pizza place (oh wait, it’s Italy) on the outskirts of Sestri Levante – the kind where everybody just pops in to pick up their takeaway pizzas and the doe-eyed pizzaioli spend a lot of time baking pizzas with just one another. We wolfed down the slices in the car, for fear the pizza guys might want to make conversation (no, not really), then drove back in the pitch-dark, winding mountain roads.

We stayed at the Perla del Levante hostel in a perched little village called Ravecca, still nearby but considered totally off the touristy trail (~42km to drive to Riomaggiore). The hostel has a terrace where you can enjoy a great ocean view and hear the sound waves crashing down below. We could also park our car for free at a nearby roadside.

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#32 Reclining Plane Seats Are A Basic Flying Passenger’s Right

I fly a few times a year, and for someone who doesn’t fly for business-related purposes, I represent most leisure travellers with a limited vacation budget, who would try as much as possible to economize my trip. It would be the standard economy class seat on a long-haul flight, or if available, I’d fly budget airlines for short-haul (less than four hours).

It’s pretty ridiculous if I must say, to disrupt a flight because some passengers are not happy with one another, more so about an issue that is really not an issue at all – that is, a long-legged flyer using a plastic device to prevent another passenger seated in front from reclining his/her seat.

So you can’t stretch your legs out – big deal – a hundred over innocent fellow fliers have to waste a couple of hours on an unnecessary detour so you can battle out this non-issue about reclining plane seats?? Seriously, will the cabin crew please duct tape this inconsiderate imbecile to his/her seat until we all reach our destination? (Or throw this jerk out of the airlock! See What Really Happens When You Get Blown Out of an Airlock)

Apparently and very shockingly, to many people, they prefer for airlines not to have reclining plane seats. (See Telegraph Travel’s article on Should Reclining Seats Be Banned?) I’m sure half the people who voted don’t even fly at all.

Have you ever taken a plane before? To have your back settled into an awkward near-90 degree angle for more than 6-7 hours is akin to torture. There’s also a reason why after a certain age, we run away screaming when someone suggests a long, painkiller-popping cross-country bus ride.

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#31 I Like Being Cheap – Here’s Why

When it comes to travelling, especially. Being frugal doesn’t have to be painful – in fact if you can look waaay beyond that, it can become a true competitive sport. Not those annoying conversations in a backpacker hostel’s lounge about who-got-the-cheapest-(bedbug-ridden)-bed-in-Lima though, no.

While I haven’t been desperate enough to sleep on a park bench, or to pawn off a Swiss Army knife to subsist on some bread rolls, I relish the conscious choice of going cheap, occasionally. Rest of the time the southern route IS the only realistic choice.

So it’s fun to flip through pillow menus, peruse the never-ending aisles at a Continental breakfast buffet, to train for triathlons you’ll never qualify for in the Olympic-sized hotel lounge pool with its muscle relaxing water-jet Jacuzzi ponds. When I’m just going in to crash on a bed that is almost always too soft on my off-the-trodden-and-smashed-path body, I don’t see why I have to pay premium price just to enjoy the cheap pleasures of swiping 500 bars of soap and calling the chambermaid up to replenish the bathroom supplies. Continue reading

#30 How Travel Opened Up My World to Live Music

Travel: Hey, meet “Music Festival”.
Me: Hello, nice to meet you.
Music Festival: Well, lucky us, because the pleasure is ours.

In these times where many people think vinyl discs are for antique collectors, where most of us hardly buy CDs anymore (if we even ever did, and what the hell are ‘singles’ anyway?), sometimes the only ways to show our love for our favourite band and music are to listen to them religiously and regularly and track their progress on their official social media page, checking out new material as they come onto the scene. And then of course, when they go on tour, we scrimp and save and buy the more-often-than-not exorbitant tickets to watch them in the flesh for a measly 2 hour gig.
While I do listen to my music with gusto and passion, I was never one to “go all out”, attend concerts and buy their t-shirts and stuff. For one, I never budgeted for that sort of thing — I was a poor student, plus I grew up as the Napster generation. My love and my support are what that really count, my cynical side thought: they can make their money from people who can actually afford. Continue reading

#29 Thank You for Those False Expectations

I feel the most alive right before visiting a place I’ve never been in my life. I remember myself, sitting on a train heading south towards Lake Constance from Ravensburg (the town where I stayed with my host family), inhaling the familiar scent of leather upholstery mixed with black coffee, staring out at the emerald and sienna and earthy tones of the countryside, and the thing that occupies my mind the most, is imagining what the lake looks like in summertime.

Last time I was nearby, the trees were topped with snowy caps, everywhere, save for the asphalt autobahns and winding roads, was blanketed with a sea of white white white. What shade of blue would the lake be now that it’s summer? Would I still be able to see the mountains in Switzerland? Do the seagulls here squawk like their cousins in Brighton and the French Riviera?

The train slid into the station at Friedrichshafen Station, where I followed the flow of day trippers and bikers and everyone else to the other platform to catch a connecting train heading eastwards to the famed lakeside town of Lindau…

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#28 Deported, Bags Like Chekhov’s Gun

I thought about writing this for quite sometime now. I didn’t before, because I felt ridiculously sore about it  weeks after. To be a warrior at travelling, I have to accept that bad things happen, we fall, we brush ourselves off, we get up and we go again. (Plus it makes for a good 5-minute dinner party story.)

My boyfriend and I booked a trip to visit the famed Borobudur and some of the volcanoes in Java in February. I was more than psyched because it was close to the top of the to-see list for me. I sold the idea shamelessly to him, and since I did all the legwork as usual — trip planning, booking and all that jazz — he was agreeable. Sounds like another adventure waiting to happen.

A little sense of foreboding nagged at the back of my mind. My psychic mind told me it’s not going to be a volcanic eruption or anything of that sort. I prayed that the budget airlines plane will fly straight.

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#27 In Travel, We Gain Some, We Lose Some

I am the kind of person who likes to run all over the place. I don’t like to be forced to stick around too long in one place. So I wandered here and there, whenever I can.

I always thought that travel makes a person more tolerant, more easygoing, more devil-may-care. In a way, yes, you learn to accept all sorts of things, just having experienced something, you usually get a sense of “oh it could be worse” in retrospect.

Indeed, it could be worse. As I moved through places, culture and people, I slowly turned critical, and started to paint a picture of what a correct world should look like. It is ironic, for I have gone from uninitiated and inexperienced, to fairly tolerant, and then back full circle again, to being a stickler about things.

Let me explain.

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