2nd day trekking Sapa

The waterfall next to our home stay in the Giang Ta Chai village.

The bridge and river across the way

The water buffalos resting before they start a work day on the rice fields up above

Our home stay with a huge front porch and the back house we stayed in.

Cat, next to the lady of the house and her 25 year old husband to the right. They are great hosts. Their house was given to them by her parents and their accommodation include (showers and toilets outside on the lower level) WiFi , electricity for homestay

Her husband is Vietnamese as he came from Hanoi to search for a wife who is a black Hmong, an ethnic minority in Vietnam. The black Hmong are Christian.

In these hamlet, a man must be married by age 25 or is considered too old! Then he had to move to a big city. A woman is considered old if she’s not married by 23. So in these hamlets they mostly get married young and there are lots of arranged marriages.

Our home stay was at 1500 meters in altitude valley with stunning views of the rivers, rice fields and huge mountains blanketed in fog.

We now head for the next homestay which will be at slightly higher altitude

Starting our hike by crossing a river

Walking through rice fields

Cat crossing one of the many bridges we’ll encounter

Jumping for joy when we finished climbing one mountain but we will go down many valleys and top many mountains today.

Family burial grounds right on their property.

An idea of what at least half our hike looked like, filled with rocks, lots of mud

Crossing another village, a little shop selling sugar cane.

Their Westfield plaza in the town of Xa Thanh Phu!

We are now close to our homestay In the town of Thanh phu.

This is our last homestay, they also grow everything we will eat. Our joint accommodation will be on the top right

The feast they prepared for us, accompanied by lots of rice wine,

Nga is our interpreter when this inquisitive group ask tons of questions about their lives ( there are 3 generations living in this house)

When everyone is done eating, we get close and personal with Nga find out much about his life, we start singing Karaoke, Nga has such a beautiful voice and he can’t read English but remembers every single word of every song!

It’s time to sleep, these are our joint accommodations with nets over the bedding.

After hiking 17 km in all types of terrain and weather, we are truly exhausted.

Another amazing day in Sapa!

Spending our last day in Riomaggiore, dinner in Levanto!

Josh, Wendy,, Kat, Deborah and I take a train in mid morning to the last of the Cinque Terre towns; Riomagiore. Dom and Alix decide to explore on their own as they went to this town yesterday.

The train station in the last town is sort of at the bottom so we have to hike a good mile to get to the top. This town is extremely colorful as all the other towns.

We see many hand painted murals.

Painted in 1971, not very old

We visit the 12th century church

We get some wonderful views of this beautiful village!

Meandering down the streets

Josh posing unhappily under an old arch

Finding a stunning stairway filled with luscious plants

Posing on another one!

This must be laundry day in Riomaggiore!

and eventually we get to a restaurant on top of a hill with a great view of the sea, having a beer and some appetizers before lunch.

Then watching people jumping off of cliffs.

We walk down to the lower part of the village where we find this rare 2 Michelin star or is it 3 – restaurant (Enoteca Dau Cila)? Where we have this amazing meal with a delicious anchovies shprizzed with lemon and oil- for a main course I get a very delicate conghiglie with ricotta-mmm delicious!.

The meaning of this beautiful poem embodies the meaning of this trip- our last day here! Wendy treats us to this wonderful local wine.

the views from the restaurant- I guess it was a bit hot that day!

we continue our trek on the Main Street where we find various shops to buy soaps, authentic amaretti cookies.

The girls looking at dresses and fabrics!

Posing next to the store, where we spent a significant amount of time buying stones, which are to change our lives, like find true Love, find our purpose, or enhance your 6th and 7th chakra!

We spend a delightful day – taking all the time in the world -with not a care to think of -in this most beautiful village.

After seeing all the villages, which is my favorite??? I think they all have a different energy and rare qualities. They all touch your heart in a different way. Would I go back?? I always say there are too many places to visit in the world. I think these towns- this Cinque Terre is special just like the poem on the wine bottle! So hell yes I would go back!

Dom and Alix in their bedroom overlooking the Ligurian sea.

We finally found a passerby to take a photo of all of us on our last night.

We had a very very late dinner at some pizzeria restaurant since we were late of the actual chosen place we had a reservation at. The food was average. I think we all got something out of this eventful week. It made us reflects on the various dreams we all want to achieve, or the various quests our souls are searching.


From Corniglia, up to Volastra down to Manarola

This morning we are set to start another hiking adventure and shall visit 2 Cinque Terre towns.

Wendy chooses to spend the day at the villa and will sit this one out!

The kids, Deborah, Kat and I leave for  the Levanto train station,which is a 15 minute walk from the villa.  Somehow, we almost get lost on the way but manage to race to the  station as the train is about to leave for  the towns. It runs every half hour.We board for  a very short ride,  hugging the seaside to the third town of Corniglua. Most likely this is one of the least traveled town as far as tourists are concerned. 

You have to hike a very windy road through some vtneyards and the town is way on top, I would say for a good mile. Somehow this appeals to my sense of beauty and isolation with very few tourists.

Walking to Corniglia – a view of Manarola

On the way we notice the way the vineyards are built. It is extremely steep and the walls were built in the 11th- 12th century for wine production. Prior to that era, a thick forest butted to the sea. The walls are made of various shaped stones with only dirt binding the stones together and a certain inward angle holding them up. The only trace that we are not  stepping back in time is the little upward motorized track with a little one seat contraption, used today to transport tools and grapes up and down these hills rising from the sea.

The monorail seen all over the villages

I’m somewhat awe stuck by what they’ve created and to this day, not much has changed. You still see farmers at different levels on their land tending to their vines!

Deborah, Kat and I – reached Corniglia

Some of the narrow streets- Corniglia

We finally got to the village of Corneglia. It is sooooo charming, it’s sitting way up on top of this huge bluff, from where you can see the town we are to walk to; Manarola.

We meander through small narrow streets where we see a few cafes and restaurants and arches. I decide to walk up and down  stairs;

every turn greets me with a bit of a surprise,

Perhaps a terrace overlooking the ocean or a lone majestic tree standing tall on the edge of the bluff, or some buildings in a courtyard formation, or a view of another part of the town  on the opposite side of the mountain.

Everyone is hungry, we decide to have our breakfast here. The kids choose the first restaurant they  see on a narrow pathway.

We carefully choose a restaurant with a view of the ocean called ER Posu Cafe. Delicious and very much like a huge AMERICAN breakfast which we will need for the walk we are about to start.

The impatient kids start the hike before we do! Then again, we like to stop often, take in the views and the way of life here. Josh calls me from the trail to warn us that we are in for a tough upward hike.  I don’t think I want to know!

Well he wasn’t kidding-

Kat starting the hike towards Volastra.

the hike is upward with lots of crooked stairs for quite sometime.

As we climb up, Corniglia appears like a pretty postage stamp!

To the left in our peripheral vision in a far away distance, we see Manarola. 

We walked through people’s bed and breakfast with colorful gardens overlooking the sea,

March up through a thick forest with ferns, tall trees, berries, small streams while a  few tourist wish us a Happy 4th.  I think we forgot it was our Independence Day! 

We eventually turn on the mountain  to another enclave. This one has got to be the most breathtaking piece of property I’ve seen so far.

The vineyard  envelops the entire hillside from top to bottom as we walk through it. I just want to pick and eat these green grapes, but they are not ripe yet.  

The best wine in this region is from the Vermentino grapes; a  light fruity white wine. They’re also an old stone structure in the hillside right in the middle of the vineyard! We walk, we stop often taking it in. Fortunately not too many tourist cone on this hike. We also started early, but now it’s getting hot.

We continue our trek always climbing up, where we encounter the highest town in the area called Volastra, my guess is that it’s at least 1000 feet above sea level!

We stopped and visit the church ( another 12th century building)  it’s kind  of funny how the confessionals are all open. I wonder how many people confess when everyone can hear and see them!!

The town is small with one circular

street and one corner store, their version of 7 11. We stop and get something refreshing before going downhill from here on out..

Downhill  is easy for me perhaps because my muscles are used to skiing. I just got a text that the kids have already reached Manarola. At this point it takes about one hour to get to the town.

This town is set steep on the hillside with a narrow  valley of restaurants going towards the sea.

Finally reached the town of Manarola!

We take the view street on the right of the town and observe beautiful the colored buildings that make Cinque Terre so famous! 

There is a very small beach with lots of tourists perched all over the rock formations and some swimming in the acqua blue sea. From our vantage point, this us a postcard kind of town, but they’re aren’t lots of shops.

We then choose one of the restaurants overlooking the sea and I order a fish, which of course here- it comes with head, tail and all!  We unwinded- had proseco and good conversation. After  browsing though the very few shops, we walk through the long tunnel to the train station to go back home.

Levanto’s town map as we arrive at the train station

It’s still early afternoon, we still have time to wash our clothes,, aahhh this  is interesting here. We have a tiny  slow washing machine but then we have to hang  our clothes downstairs as it drys naturally,  ohhh but it smells so good

Today was a leasurely  8 miler! 

We all decide to go for a swim. So refreshing to just float in the salty calm sea where not many tourists visit during the week!

After our swim, we have a Late dinner as it is customary in Levanto at l’Osteria Tumelin near the bridge. It was the perfect amount of food.  Wendy joins us, she relaxed all day!

It was just a nice calm evening watching the people walk on the boardwalk down below. Taking many photos. We decide to get up whenever tomorrow and just enjoy the area.

It was another beautiful evening. Tonight I open the huge double doors in my bedroom leading to the balcony and just enjoy the hum drum of this quaint little town.

Hiking from Levanto to Monterosso al Mare

Alix, Dom, Wendy, Josh and I set out to start our hike at 7-30 In the morning from the very steep pathway right next to our house for a long hike to the next village, this one being a Cinque Terre Village and the closest to us; Monterosso.

The beginning of the hike with Josh one the foreground-Alix & Dom in the background
The 13th Century Fortress
The walkway beside the house

Behind our house, there is a huge steep hill, where the  13th century building are located.

We first see the  fortress and right next to it, the pathway starts. It reminds me of the Inca trail minus the altitude and minus the many tourists!

We pretty much walk together for most of the trail up to the town of Mesco.

We encounter an enchanting inn, with a beautiful spa outside overlooking the view. 

The tin roof is weighted down by tiny animal shaped ciment objects scattered around the surface. From that area we look down upon Levanto.

 We can’t figure out how tourists actually get there, since we don’t see any roads! 

 There is even a beautiful sculpture on the trail letting us know not to drink the water ” Acqua non Potabile” which flows down through crevasses in the mountain.

As we gain elevation we pass through the town of Mesco, I don’t know how they call that a town; the town is also the dividing line between what is the Cinque Terre and Levanto. there are a few houses and an Inn at the top, which looks like the road stops here. And that’s about all!

At this point Wendy decides to put her earbuds, listen to her music, descends the steps towards the trail 

which is indicated by a RED and WHITE marker and we shall see her in the next town as she races past all of us. Not bad for someone who did not train to master these types of hikes!

The four of us continue, we suddenly walked through this enchanting  forest with very tall trees, giving us some shade we surely welcome. 

Then the kids  starts playing with these rock sculptures and add a few of their own to the existing collection.

We continue strolling along and  a steep hillside vineyard comes into our view. We see a barricaded low rise hotel property with a  great view and an advertising board, indicating it’s being refurbished; it seems to be part of Italy’s plan to give away historical building in off the beaten path location for FREE with the caveat that investors must restore it and make it accessible to the public. I would say in this case, it’s definitely a great dedication of time,

This is the point that might be the highest on this trail, where we gain almost 1000 feet in altitude, the views from all sides are magical. The Ligurian sea is dark turquoise and so clear,

We finally get to the top and now have a perfect view of  the newer section of Monterosso al Mare, where the beach hotels are located, that town has the largest beach of all Cinque Terre towns. We take it all in at the top, Josh takes in the view on top of some old tower. Alix and Dom take photos of each other.

After looking at the sign, we have  a half a kilometer to walk to the newer part of Monterosso and one kilometer to walk to the older part.

Wendy is sitting on top of steps to descend to the town. We finally get to the town, at this point  the temperature becomes unbearably hot  and I need a hat!

Neptune holding the waves. The fortress tower is where we will have lunch later.

Point Mesco and the mountain we walked down from. 

As you get to the beach area, these huge 1900 sculpture of Neptune holding waves at bay is the symbol of this Monterosso al Mare, as you look beyond, the huge point protruding into the ocean is point Mesco which separate the Cinque Terre. It is also for us a great satisfaction in knowing that we climbed it and descended gradually from it.

We took the opportunity to sit at a beach cafe, have some snacks and drinks, relaxed a bit and watched the beach goers. This is also where I Bought a large rim hat, I will surely need it for these hikes.

The tunnel under the mountain separating the old and newer section of Monterosso

A quaint walking street with restaurants and Inoteca ( wine bar)

The 16th century church of San Francisco.The 2 Italian ladies in the forefront were born in this town, never left! And told me a little bit of history about the church.

Now that our energy is replenished, we continue to the old section through the tunnel. The old town is simply just charming. We walked the streets, see the eautiful church of San Francisco built in the 16th Century and It has great works of art but we missed it because we did not walk in, so we absolutely must go back!!

We went in and out of shops, most shops were built inside very small enclosures of high ceilings and hand built stone walls.

There was even an Obama 2008 sign that they never took down!

We now decided that we were really hungry, so we picked the newest restaurant in town called “TORRE AURORA”. It literally opened 2 days ago, the city made this spot available for a restaurant, it was a museum fortress before. There is no better view and the food is not bad but the service could be improved, but it’s only 2 days! We were lucky because the views cannot be beaten.

It is the only place that you can have spectacular views of the old and the new Monterosso Al Mare, the last 2 photos are of the newer Monterosso al Mare.

From this vantage point you see Point Mesco

This is a house inside a Stone Mountain. That must date way back!

After a light lunch, we walked slowly to the newer section to catch the train back to Levanto.  

We took the train back, rested a bit and decided to have dinner at Moresco, only Wendy and Josh joined me; Alix and Dom went to the corner restaurant near the bridge, I ordered the trofie with pesto; there was too much sauce. Wendy ordered something with scampi, she only liked the pasta and sauce part. Josh’s  meal was some kind of game meat he did not like.. Oh well you can’t win them all.

It was an amazing day, we covered an awful lot of territory, from the very difficult hike in the heat to visiting Monterosso, we logged in almost 11 miles. 

We got a text from the girls, Deborah and Kay,  and they will join us late tonight. so I stayed up. They arrived from Malaga due to not getting on several flights, and to top it all Kat’s luggage never made it in the plane. They seemed to make the best of it for a couple of days.

So they finally arrived around 11.30 at the house.  We toasted their arrival with some Santa Marguerita wine. Now our group is complete!


Fuji to Haneda and finally home after 24 days!

Fuji to Haneda and finally home after 24 days!
Fujikawaguchiko-machi, Japan

Fujikawaguchiko-machi, Japan

Our last day !!! Number 24! Cat and I have breakfast, the food was ok. We decide to take a walk around the lake . What a beautiful lake, surrounded by lush mountains. There are wild flowers everywhere . I wish I knew the names! Perfect weather, big puffy clouds and a little cool. We check out and drive across the lake. We take the gondola to get a better view. We walk across the town a bit. Then we see a sign for ice cream, so we walk up and no one is serving anything! Except for vending machines! So Cat order French fries, Gilda gets the nuggets from the hot vending machine and I buy a cheesecake ice cream cone from the frozen one. The hot French fries were actually good and the cone was tasty! We definitely should have that in the states. We continue our trek to Mount Fuji past the 5th station. We spend about an hour at the village which looks like their version of a Swiss village. I talk to some Japanese skiers; they actually climb 6 hours to the top of Fuji and ski down the mountain , which takes about 30 minutes. There are no chairlifts on Fuji…That’s some crazy Japanese!!! We now head back to the airport. The Sunday traffic is brutal. After turning the car in; Gilda barely makes her flight and ours is one hour later so we have time for a goodby glass of wine !! I try not to sleep to minimize the jet lag . We shall see! 24 days seemed like so much and so long, but our itinerary was so jammed with wild adventures, great natural beauty, a great deal of culture, lots of varied food to satisfy all palates. The bond we created with each other made this amazing trip feel like a time warp. We walked at a frenetic pace, climbed high mountains, dangled from others, lived with all our senses, laughed a lot and sharpened our communication skills quite well without speaking the same language. Across China and Japan we were blessed to have encountered the nicest, kindest and warmest people. It simply made my life that much richer!

From Tokyo to Fuji- climbing Fuji 5th station

From Tokyo to Fuji- climbing Fuji 5th station
Shinjuku-ku, Japan

Shinjuku-ku, Japan

Eduardo drives us to Mount Fuji in our rented Toyota van. The traffic is awful getting out of Tokyo. Cat manages to logistically figure out how to pack this car efficiently. I sit in the very last seat by myself next to luggages and it will become my living room for the next 30 hours! ( at least that’s how I dubbed it!) As we get out of the congested freeway, the views are greener and more mountainous with sparser filled villages. For lunch we were lucky to find this little homey cottage in the middle on nowhere with the greatest Fuji view. I felt like my Japanese aunt prepared lunch for us! The service was quick, the food delicious , the place was filled with handmade quilts and a very old fireplace. After several pee breaks we get to the parking lot at the bottom of station no 1. On the Yoshida trail on Mount Fuji. This portion of the park resembles a rainforest- tall trees- lots of ferns, thick rock covered moss. The walking pathways are very well designed with stones, wooden steps and the occasional volcanic sand. Each station is very well labeled with photos of how it used to be in the olden days. Each of these checkpoints contained tea houses or structures which housed the climbers in the 18/19th century. They were are built for a different reason. One was built to view the 5 lakes off of Fuji. The second checkpoint contained many headstones and shrines, which made it a very spiritual place to sit and contemplate. I’m sure we all felt it, event though the dilapidated structure was still half standing. The 3rd checkpoint contained a statue which female climbers would touch for conception!. Finally when we passed the fifth station, we encountered a gate with a small house resembling a tea house but in fact it was a shrine. It all is sudden started to get colder and the fog slowly rolled in. The crowds were minimal during our hike, many people came as we were climbing up but we were completely alone for the descent. It was a spectacular day, we hiked 10 miles and 22,000 steps. Not bad, not bad at all! We get to our hotel the Fuji hotel. I asked the front desk for a restaurant to eat at and 3 people keep telling me no room, I need reservation. We’re all so tired . Anyhooi! We get to our room and WOW,, it’s a huge room with 2 big beds, a nice bathroom with a heater , washer kind of toilet! As they have in so many places even public all over…Japan.. I don’t miss the squatting bathrooms all over China! Then there is that view on the fifth floor we have of the lake. All six of us are next to each other. I call room service and they tell me no. I don’t give up. I finally get someone who speaks a modicum of English and he tells me I. Need a reservation for the French restaurant. I say OK make one in one hour for all six of us. This is our last supper for the six of us and I thought it should be special. We all race to get ready and get to the Bellevue Restaurant for our French dinner (something we haven’t had on this trip)! The Japanese MD tell me we don’t have a reservation but they let 6 Japanese couples go in front of us. We’re starting to feel discriminated against!!! Finally when Eduardo shows up they let us in! Who would think a French dinner would be amazing in Fuji?? Well it was in every way. We talked about what was special for all of us during this trip! I wonder who was the question instigator??? After this wonderful dinner we; Cat , Gilda, Amanda and I continued the party at the Spa, we all wore a Japanese bathrobe , washed, disrobed and jumped into the various indoor outdoor baths. Extremely relaxing and a great way to end ANOTHER oday and night!