Oh Liguria

All the photos are from a disposable camera I spontaneously bought from DM after I saw one of her photos on Instagram, a day before the trip to Liguria. The first city we visited was Genova, the hometown of Christopher Columbus. We decided to stay there for a night before heading to our main destination, the marvelous Cinque Terre. The first three photos were taken in Genova. I was impressed (and perplexed) by the narrow alleys (carruggi) lined by tall houses in the historical center, which is where our awesome hostel is also located. It’s much more confusing than the ones in Venice. I was glad that I brought my Nokia walking navigation that can be used offline while in roaming zone for it saved so much time to use it rather than checking on the paper map every 5 meters. I’ve had the best spaghetti ever in Genova, one with pesto and the other one with special mushroom sauce here.

 

 

The next day we took a regional train to Vernazza, one of the cities of Cinque Terre (cinque means 5). We chose Vernazza as the homebase because many people say it’s the most beautiful among the five. It took us less than a five-minute walk from Vernazza train station to our B&B. It’s a very compact town, with the most pristine-looking harbor. After exploring the town and encountering a lot of reconstruction sites due to the flood in 2011, we walked uphill to the cemetery/sanctuary overlooking the breathtaking view of the harbor. It’s so overwhelming to think that the locals have to go through all the “climb” in the process of burying their loved ones.

A friend took the photo above at the harbor of Vernazza. We had lunch and dinner at the very same restaurant that day for the other restaurants were closed. We hit the bed early that night then woke up to a fresh start the next day, ready to explore the other four, starting from the most eastern city in Cinque Terre: Riomaggiore.

 

After several hours of exploring then topped by a decent lunch of pasta and fresh seafood in Riomaggiore, we took a 5-minute train to the next city: Manarola. Its train station has the most gorgeous view among the five. You can sit at ease on one of the benches watching the ocean and sunset while waiting for your train to come. Believing in the general assumption that one has to go hiking in Cinque Terre, we opted for the easiest hiking track according to the list (other than the closed Via dell’amore), which is from Manarola to Volastra, comprising a lush area of vineyard as well as the Chiesa Madonna della Salute (12th Century). The photo below was taken during the hike.

It was almost dark as we got back to Manarola. From there we took another short train ride to the next city: Corniglia. Corniglia is the only town in Cinque Terre that doesn’t have direct access to the shore. Unlike the other four cities, it’s quite far from Corniglia train station to the town while the view hasn’t much to boast so we were very lucky to catch the minibus right before it left. In the town, we stopped by a cafe to have some tea and snacks. It’s the smallest yet the oldest city among the five, and the buildings are more in order compared to the other towns. Too bad we only had like 30 minutes before the last minibus leaves for the train station. We couldn’t walk to the station for the streets (other than the town) have no lights at all. After another less than 10 minute train ride, we arrived in Monterosso. Beyond expectation, Monterosso looks stunning at night we literally dropped our jaws. It’s the most tourist-welcoming town among the five. You just can’t have enough of the view along the promenade so we returned again early in the morning to spend an entire afternoon before leaving for Milan to catch the flight back to Berlin.

 

The three photos below were taken in Volastra after the one-hour hike from Manarola.

 

 

A story behind the last photo: It was around 4-ish in the afternoon as I passed the yard of Madonna della Salute alone (I forgot where all my friends were). I had a big urge to photograph these wonderful ladies ever since I saw them busy chattering and laughing from a distance. As I approached and asked for permission to photograph them, there was an abrupt awkward silence. Taking the silence as a yes, I quickly bent my hip to get a lower position and my behind accidentally hit a garbage bin. They all laughed at me. I think the one in the middle had the loudest laughter.

Medan the Nostalgic City

“You know, as I was little I used to wait for your grandfather to get his big mug and tell us (me and my older sister your aunt) to go fetch him a mug of black coffee from a coffee shop next door every single day. We were very happy to do that because he always let us keep the change.”

That’s one of the childhood memories of my mother in the city where she was born and grew up, Medan. That’s it, I thought. I have to go to Medan, even if it’s based on that single piece of story alone. I guess I’ve always believed in myself as a story-teller, and I’ve always been intrigued by stories. Stories carry me away, listening to them I can’t help creating a stage in my mind where I reconstruct everything I hear. Anyways, I’m kind of obsessed with the ideas related to places and cities lately. I need to see that old coffee shop, the street lined with old colonial style offices on Jl. Hindu, the colonial style of architecture of the main post office my mom told me once, the famous Tiong Sim noodle restaurant that she explained to me with excitement coming out of a buried passion I hardly see in her before, the puzzled feeling I always have towards all passionate foodies, not that my mom is one except when it’s about Medan.

The first impression that struck me as I first arrived in this third biggest city in Indonesia is that its cleanliness. I mean, you can hardly spot any garbage piling up on its pavements. Or maybe it’s only the main streets I didn’t dare to be decisive about it, for as I brought up the subject to my cousin who spends all his life there to get some sort of affirmation, I noticed that he had never even thought of that.

Medan is a rich city. However it’s too bad that the locals don’t seem to be fully aware of it, or even if they do most of them have a hard time to really present the richness of the heritage, monuments, and historical values to the outsiders. This is the city that is far than boring (I’m not talking about the lunatic betor or becak motor that will, believe me it will, drive you crazy with the slowness, heedless turnabouts, and ridiculous size/width). Medan skillfully presents a mixing scene of old and new, of pristine and modern. On one side of the street you may find the typical character of big cities tattooed with numerous amount of billboards wherever your eyes look upon, but there’s also this positive stubborn air of collaboration among the Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese, Malay, Western, and Islam seen through its urban architecture shaping the diverse cultural heritage of this city. In almost every street corner, there’s always a scene that captures my eyes. A Hindu temple with a shabby-hipster-looking Indian sleeping at its entrance (they might not be homeless for then I knew from my cousin that when those people have money they spend the money on liquor, get drunk and sleep on the streets but when they run out of dough, they stay home), some Colonial ruins right in the city center, the grand style of architecture of Lonsum (London Sumatera) originating from the colonial time, the black-white pavements and wide streets that strongly remind me of Bandung, the Maimun Palace adopting the blend of Malay, Islam, Spanish, Indian and Italian styles of interior, the impressive Tjong A Fie Mansion that most Medaners have never been to, the ancient to modern Buddhist/Chinese temples, the historic Hindu street (Jl. Hindu which happens to be where my mom’s childhood home was located), and last but never the least, the fabulous multinational food scenes that would leave Bandung’s to be worth no mentioning at all.

The Medaners, yes, they’re a bunch of community that try to convince you that the traffic in Medan is worse than in Jakarta and if you bother to argue and convince them of the opposite (like I did), you’ll end up desiring to have the worst traffic, which is nothing but pointless if you really think of it. The Medaners, I believe, always have a hard time wiping the smug look off their faces every time you give kudos to their chili paste, pork, and whatsoever being served on the dining table alive or dead. And if the Germans drink beer like water, the Medaners eat durians like monkeys or some of us eat peanuts. And when you tell them how expensive and distasteful the durians in Jakarta are, they will gasp in fake disbelief “no waaaaayyy” as if it’s the most disgraceful thing on earth and when you don’t see it, their pitiful look will reach out to the back of your head “oh look at these poor Jakartans let’s feed them with durians while they’re here.” I guess I didn’t go there for the food for I’m more of a light eater and I’m not a die-hard fan of durians either, and besides, I believe that the weight of my body determines the chance of happiness I get. But still, I was deeply impressed by the overly-packed Soto Medan restaurant that my cousin took us to for breakfast, of Tip Top which happens to be the oldest surviving restaurant in Medan whose wood-oven is exactly as old as my father. I was fascinated by the fortune that Ucok the durian “Donald Trump” might make from feeding hundreds of people coming to his duriandom every day, I was enjoying the night scene on Jl. Semarang which is mushroomed with food stalls, and I took notice of how the Apek’s coffee shop still keeps its interior as well as exterior ever since 1922 perhaps out of idleness or an anchored fondness for nostalgia (I’m not sure which). And how a group of Chinese-Indonesian middle-aged businessmen were enjoying the coffee in their tight bike outfits while parking their fancy bikes outside the coffee shop unlocked. And the combination of all those, I believe, is what makes Medan rich, in my own terms.

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more photos.

before sunset

It’s funny how safe you would feel being in an old bookshop in a foreign city, traveling alone. From all those places you spend money at, an old second-hand bookshop is certainly the one place that won’t rob you blind from buying. On the contrary, you feel everything is a steal.

I found this very lovely bookshop in Malá Strana, an area below Charles Bridge, the Holy Grail of every visitor coming to Prague. I have to struggle with this kind of bookish greed each time I’m at Dussmann as well, but there’s something (lots in fact) you can’t resist from an old bookshop stuffed to the gills with second-hand books and dusty crisp pages of old/odd journals. Its loveliness may be defined as unpretentious, just like the whole Prague is. The humble location indicates its confident status of being a gem. Unlike some soulless chain bookshops run by some corporate firms, this independent local shop gives the impression of being owned by probably some nerd whose main interest isn’t to gain profit from, ironically, selling books. At both sides of the entrance door you would find these two small shelves stuffed with second-hand books that the owner would refill once one or two books are sold (I was there long enough to witness such an insignificant routine). There were Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Steinbeck’s The Wayward Bus and a travel book Indonesia among several other names I wasn’t familiar with. My penny-pinching miserly soul leapt for joy.

With an initial intention of simply looking for some postcards other than the ‘lame’ kind of postcards you normally find at any tourist shops, I stepped into the dimly-lit front room. The front room in which the postcards are also contains new books, consisting of huge collection of authors arranged in alphabetical order, Czech authors, a shelf of self-help books and many others. The guy behind the counter (presumably the owner) was a 30 something wearing black-framed glasses, constantly too busy in front of the computer to even bother looking at visitors entering. Once in a while he would utter furious sounds indicating impatience from some process he was dealing with on the screen. Nevertheless, the absence of hospitality wasn’t a killjoy at all. It’s in fact strangely alluring. You’re completely free, unsupervised and unattended with pretentious greetings or suspicious stare. I felt like expressing my admiration towards the shop and was really going to say it once we made eye contact, but we didn’t. After all, his nature of indifference slightly gestures the lack of needs in receiving compliments (nor critiques) about the place. The rear part of the room was larger than the front one, consisting of great sections of classics Austen to Dickens, an extensive collection of poetry, books on films, politics, world war and children books.

My pupil dilated as I discovered that the shop has an underground part. Larger than the ground floor, this underground lavishly consists of old sofas and wooden chairs. Extensive genres ranging from philosophy, literary critiques, french-language, yoga to cooking books seem untouched yet. This large room was a combination of damp woods, dusty corner, old rugs, and 100 year-old pages all stirred by the summer chill sent through the let-open window.

I was totally alone inside that rabbit hole. Near the open window some wooden long chairs are placed against the wall, above it is a rope with some drawings hanging. A small box in another corner was filled with handmade earrings and green stone pendants, all with a touch of dust that you would instantly doubt whether these were meant to be sold.

 

happily purchased

bookmark from previous owner: a train ticket

 

Growing thoughtless of my first day’s itinerary, I decided to stay longer there til a while before gazing at the sunset on Charles Bridge. Mainly I was just scanning the shelves, took a handful, opened the first few pages, returned them and repeated all over to another different sets. Oh the joy of traveling alone. With that sense of relief, I walked up the stairway, paid for the postcards then walked out. As effortlessly as the smile upon my face, it started to rain. I took out my umbrella and walked searching for the famous John Lennon Wall nearby, unknowing that I would be returning the next day.

road trip

It’s one of the things I like to do in life. Like really really like. Maybe that’s why I really like this film that I’ve seen it 5 times already and this music video. Having a roadtrip is inspiring to me, despite the mundane scenes of cows grazing and electric poles.

Venezia

“It is by living there from day to day that you feel the fullness of her charm; that you invite her exquisite influence to sink into your spirit. The creature varies like a nervous woman, whom you know only when you know all the aspects of her beauty. She has high spirits or low, she is pale or red, grey or pink, cold or warm, fresh or wan, according to the weather and the hour. She is always interesting and almost always sad; but she has a thousand occasional graces and is always liable to happy accidents. You become extraordinarily fond of these things; you count upon them; they make part of your life. Tenderly fond you become; there is something indefinable in those depths of personal acquintance that gradually establish themselves. The place seems to personify itself, to become human and sentient and conscious of your affection. You desire to embrace it, to caress it, to possess it; and finally a soft sense of possession grows up and your visit becomes a perpetual love-affair.”

“The barbarians are in full possession and you tremble for what they may do. You are reminded from the moment of your arrival that Venice scarcely exists any more as a city at all; that she exists only as a battered peep-show and bazaar.”

Venice -Henry James (1843 – 1916)

I’m out of words to describe this city. Here are some photos I made.