Hiking in Cinque Terre

After a lot of questions, concerns, and research aka blood, sweat, and tears online, we decided to stay in Manarola during our Cinque Terre trip. Literally meaning “five lands,” Cinque Terre is comprised of five towns: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

The town we stayed in is only important because of its hiking accessibility – or, inaccessibility. In 2011 Cinque Terre experienced a terrible flood and the area still hasn’t fully recovered. The towns have been rebuilt and many of the trails as well, but the two main trails leading out of Manarola – to Corniglia in the north and Riomaggiore in the south – have yet to be finished.

This was a concern of ours, but also a draw. We hoped it might mean that Manarola would be quieter, a little less touristed and we were right: It ended up being our favorite town.

And just because the main trails are closed, it doesn’t mean you can’t hike out of Manarola at all. There are still inland trails you can take up to Volastra and then to Corniglia. The key word in that sentence being “up.”

The two main trails leading out of Manarola used to be the easiest hikes in Cinque Terre, everything that’s left is a little more intense. I say that at the beginning of this post because I did a lot of hiking in Switzerland this summer – and most of it in my sandals – but these trails aren’t as well maintained. And while I successfully completed all our hikes in Cinque Terre, I definitely should have traded my sandals in for my converse.


Our hike began with a train ride from Manarola to Corniglia. We wanted to do the two traditional trails that are currently open – the one between Corniglia and Vernazza, follwed by Vernazza to Monterosso.

Trains are easy in Cinque Terre in the sense that you can combine your National Park pass with a train pass. For 29 euros a person, we had access to all the paths, trains, buses, and bathrooms between Levanto and La Spezia – for two days.

The first thing you do upon arriving in Corniglia is make your way to the stairs that lead you up into the town. It wasn’t until our second day that we realized that just outside the train station is a bus that takes you to and from the town as well! But since this was the beginning of our hike, I’m glad I didn’t know about the bus.

The first thing we noticed on the staircase was how lovely everything looked below – plus we could see Manarola in the distance!


We arrived at the top – already sweaty, thanks to the heat! And quickly found the markers that we would be following for the rest of the day:


Instead of signs, the paths in Cinque Terre are marked with intermittent paint along the way. After a few false starts, we were out of Corniglia and on our way to Vernazza.

Parts of the trails reminded us of Switzerland. Especially walking through the terraced vineyards (Cinque Terre has their own DOC wine) and the provincial lifestyle we encountered.

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Obviously, Cinque Terre is famous for the towns’ colored façades. But we had no idea how luxuriously rich and varied the landscape would be. It felt like a verifiable jungle at times.

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Memorable Swiss Moments

It’s hard to believe our second summer in Switzerland is over. We’ve done so many incredible things: Hiking through the terraced vineyards of Lavaux; visiting Château de Chillon – the Little Mermaid castle; learning the truth about cheese in Gruyères; relaxing in Lucerne; horseback riding in Leysin; visiting Zermatt to see the famous Matterhorn Mountain; wine tasting in Sierre & Salgesch; swimming in Zurich; hiking to mountain fromageries in Leysin. You can catch up on those adventures here.

But there were other, smaller things along the way. Things that may not warrant their own blog post, but certainly deserve an honorable mention.

Things like our neighborhood goats. Chandler passed them every day on his way to and from class. I passed them every time I got groceries or went up to Top Pub for a drink with friends. I saw these guys nearly every day. I’m definitely going to miss them.


Other things I’m going to miss: Being mistaken for famous people. At the Montreux Jazz Festival, I was asked to sit in and do a “fake” interview. I think they just needed to adjust the lighting for whatever real famous person was on their way.

While sitting there – and chatting it up with a former co-worker’s brother (small world!) – tons of people walked by and took photographs of me…thinking I must be someone famous. Sorry guys, you’ve just taken a photo of a Minnesotan on vacation.

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Chandler also got to be famous for a day when one of his classmates told him that her nieces thought they recognized him as someone from Project Runway. Instead of disabusing them of this notion, their mom decided to encourage them. So they worked up the nerve to come over and ask Chandler for a photo and autograph.

Now, I don’t watch Project Runway, but if anyone wants to tell me which contestant/judge my husband looks like, I’d love to know. (Just look at those smiles!)


And, of course, jumping back to my previous mention of the Montreux Jazz Festival…seeing First Aid Kit live was incredible. My moment of fame made us miss the opening act, and the main act was so snoozy we left early, but First Aid Kit did not disappoint.

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Hiking in the Vineyards of Lavaux

This summer we’re back in Leysin and, just like last summer, I’m marvelling at how this is our life. Because, as if spending the summer up in gorgeous Swiss mountains isn’t enough, we also get to go on incredible weekend getaways like hiking through the vineyards of Lavaux.

Last summer we hiked through the vineyards between Sierre & Salgesch and, while the vineyards were stunning, we drank no wine until we finished our nearly three-hour long hike.

This year’s hike was significantly different.

For starters, the terraced vineyards of Lavaux are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This area is one of the best-known wine producing regions of Switzerland. The vineyards stretch from Montreux to Lausanne, but one of the best known paths runs from St. Saphorin on the lake level and Chexbres in the hills. Another famous path follows Lake Geneva from St. Saphorin to Lutry.

We decided to combine the two for views both at lake-level and up in the hills. The hike up to Chexbres from St. Saphorin is only 30 minutes and from there it’s about two hours to Lutry. Local trains run throughout this area as well, meaning you can hop on and off whenever you want. But with views like these, why would you get on a train?




And while Google Maps will tell you your hike only takes 2 1/2 hours (and technically they’re correct), the biggest difference between this summer’s hike and last year’s is the wine! Because, along the way you pass through other small towns as well: Epesses, Riex, Villette, and Chatelard.

And each town has its own charm, history, and designated wines.

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When a Hill Feels Like a Mountain: Hiking in Connemara National Park

If you follow this blog with any regularity, you may have noticed how outdoorsy we seem while on vacation. This in no way reflects our day-to-day life living in Accra, Ghana, where it’s too hot to comfortably be out during the day and you’re too likely to get malaria if you go out at night.

So, when vacationing, we like to spend some time outdoors. But when I say “outdoors,” I don’t mean just any outdoor space. I mean carefully curated and groomed spaces. Like parks and nice beaches and eco lodges. Even city squares.

But, inevitably, at least once a trip, things get a little too outdoorsy for us.

On our first day out of Dublin we went to Connemara National Park. We had read about different hikes, both inside the park and around it, and had decided on the Diamond Hill Walk. Classified as “strenuous,” the entirety of it is paved, which seemed a lot easier than clomping around on an “easy” hike through bogland.

We started on the Lower Diamond Hill Walk, the first quarter of which was flat, paved, and had gorgeous views like the one below. How “strenuous” could this get, we asked ourselves.


Next, we came across a noticeable incline, but the path was still smooth and the views still gorgeous. We lost our hiking buddies from time to time (Chandler’s mother, Lesia, and our friend, Erica), but they were never far behind.


Halfway through the Lower Diamond Hill Hike, we found the base of the Upper Diamond Hill Hike. Lesia and Erica, prepared for a hike, but not necessarily a climb, decided to follow the horizontal path back to the visitor center.


We, however, had made the decision to start our ascent.


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Hiking to the Monastery + The Views Along the Way That Make It So Worthwhile

Coming down from the Al-Khubtha Trail, you have to walk along the Colonnaded Street to get to the trail that will eventually take you to Ad-Deir, also known as the Monastery. Originally Nabataean, the road was refurbished during the Roman occupation:


It was a wonderful place to find some shade and devour our lunches (packed from our continental breakfast! – There are limited options within Petra proper).



Sated and ready to begin our short but steep hike, we said goodbye to the Colonnaded Street, Great Temple, and all of its Roman influences.


Soon we were back in the natural landscape of Petra. The lower levels were bathed in light, enhancing the golden shades of the sandstone. The higher we traveled, the more muted the colors as the Ad-Deir (Monastery) Trail was luckily covered in shadows for the afternoon.




Just like the Al-Khubtha Trail, while easy to follow, the steps did have a tendency to fall into disarray. We started to see more visitors on donkeys (while plenty of people take the Al-Khubtha Trail, the trail to the Monastery is much more frequented), but they always looked more nervous and less secure than those of us who decided to take on the 800 steps by foot.

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Vegetarians eat ham, right?

Moving on from Paris, we made our way to Leysin via train. Now I have to say, trains are my favorite way to travel…to most places. We did take a pretty terrifying sleeper train from Hanoi to Dong Hoi back in 2014 on our way to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam. I’m pretty sure I shared a bunk with a rat – a top bunk that I somehow got placed in even after paying the upgrade for the bottom bunk. So that train sucked.

But European trains are incredible. Especially when traveling first class, something we were forced to do when purchasing our Eurail passes. At the time, we thought the train passes were a little pricey – $812 for both of us to take trains on 5 separate days anywhere in France, Switzerland, and Italy (next year it will be $900, because I’ll be 28 and no longer considered a European “youth”).

After that initial fee, anytime you travel between countries you have to pay a reservation fee of $20-$50, it was starting to feel ridiculous. Until we traveled round-trip from Leysin to Zurich and learned that those tickets alone would have cost almost $800. That was when we realized that Eurail is actually quite reasonable! But more on that in my next post.

First things first, we settled into life in Leysin. Chandler had grad school classes Monday-Friday, usually from 8:30-5:00, with homework half the nights during the week. Needless to say, we didn’t see a lot of each other.

While he was gone, I was in my Swiss paradise. An Airbnb that was nice & cozy with a great view of the mountains.






But as lovely as the apartment was, I didn’t want to spend all of my time there. Our first full weekend in Leysin (after Chandler’s first week of classes), a colleague from our school in Accra was in town on her way to the Montreaux Jazz Festival. Another colleague from Accra was also in the program with Chandler and so the four of us set off on a morning hike.

Lazy things that we are, we took the cable car to the mountain peak and planned a hike that wound around and back down. I should also probably admit that the route was chosen very specifically because it passed a fromagerie that we had every intention of stopping in when we came across it.

The views from the top were stunning, but a bit limited due to the fog/clouds that surrounded us during our hike. That said, it made the temperature quite enjoyable for the four hours we spent strolling along.




We finally made it to the fromagerie about two hours in and were pretty hungry. We looked at their chalkboard menu and one thing stood out: Fondue. But no matter what we said, they wouldn’t serve it to us.

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Happy Holidays from Fiche

Last year, I spent Christmas in Yirgalem with 10 other volunteers, and then I traveled a day and a half to spend New Year’s Eve in Bedele with my boyfriend and a few other friends. This year, my holidays were pretty chill.

I went to Fiche for the first time to see Chandler’s new site and we spent Christmas Eve/Christmas holed up in his house drinking hot chocolate and watching Christmas films. We only ventured out to buy supplies like bread and eggs – because Chandler had thought everything through except meals…sort of important, right? : )

The day after Christmas found us a couple of miles down the road at a bridge carved hundreds of years ago. But it was the surrounding scenery that was really captivating.


Gorgeous, right? We got ourselves a coke at the little cafe perched on this lookout and spent a good while enjoying the view.


And then we were off exploring. There were hundreds of these little puddles as we made our way down to the lagoon just below.


Chandler claims this was an actual waterfall when he first came a couple of months ago (instead of the water trickle it had become) – but I guess that’s the difference between rainy and dry season. Either way, it was incredibly beautiful. Though we did nix our initial idea to go swimming due to the stagnant water – no one wants schisto.

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