cinque terre II

waves

waves

Here are more shots of the Cinques taken by two slighty more cautious tourists. Come hail storm or water, we will all be back to celebrate you, Cinque Terre. I will be sure to bring a bathing suit next time, though…

Courtesy of Derek and Les – thank you for sharing!

cinque terre

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The place where I almost died.

I was travelling at the time through Italy with my dear close friend Oksana. We rented a car and drove to the most amazing places throughout Italy. Our trip started with two nights in Rome then we took the train to Florence where we picked up our car and we were anxious to start towards the heart of Tuscany, which was our home for about a week. The best part of Tuscany is the number of places within a short drive: Fiesole, Siena, Florence, Grave de Chianti and the famous Cinque Terre – we visited all these places in our little red car.

As a grandiose sweeping generalization, Italy is a lush country deeply entrenched in history, beaming with love and lots of secrets waiting to be unleashed. If one could have a love affair with a country, Italy would be my choice.

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After a long but beautiful drive that took us past the Tower of Pisa (which we waved at from our car) and up the coast, we started to see signs to Cinque Terre. It was raining that day and driving through the winding roads up to the first of four beautiful towns of the Cinques, it seemed like with every winding road the turns got steeper and steeper as we climbed up the mountain.

The tension in the car could cut a lion’s throat. We were both super nervous of the driving conditions and wanted to get there, park the car and simply take in all the beauty. After about 45 minutes of this circumflexed-like type of driving we finally a r r i v e d! We parked the car and started to walk down a steep hill towards the water. The water was rough that day and the waves were capable of swallowing anything that might cross their path. There was a rock walkway tucked alongside the mountain, which people could walk on to get to a secluded mini beach. So we decided to embark on this walk to explore and photograph all the offerings of this place.

I walked quickly along, losing my friend in anticipation of seeing this mystery hidden beach. In front of me was a sharp corner with very narrow steps which you climb up and then down and you are there. I could see the beach from the first step I took climbing up, and as I turned to my right I saw a wave the size of six whales coming directly at me. I had about 4 seconds to decide what I would do. I knew I couldn’t turn back and run because there was not enough time and I knew I couldn’t keep going forward because I would basically have had to hold onto this rope-like mechanism that was now covered in algae.

In that moment I quickly made peace with the Man above, and held on for dear life to a rusted metal hand rail stuck to the side of a rock attached to the mountain, closed my eyes and there it was. The huge wave showered me with the good old cold salted sea water and pushed me along this little cove not very far from where I was. When the wave retracted itself I jumped out and ran out. I weighed about 200 pounds with my clothes and shoes completely drenched. I looked like a mermaid to everyone and they were all shocked to find out that I survived that huge wave.

I needed dry clothes and stiff drink immediately after the affair. So after a 10 minute hug from my dear friend whom I was happy to see again, we were off in pursuit of clothes first. We found this tiny shop specializing in bathing suits, but I found a purple cotton dress down to my ankles, which I changed into. I still have the dress and it holds great memories of the day that Adelina almost didn’t make it.

Then we were quickly off to find a drink and a meal. The drink felt incredibly satisfying as it went through me settling my fast palpitations and all my anxiety. I think we all learned something that day. I learned the power of an angry sea. My friend came out grown more fond of me. And all others “learned” that I am an incredible swimmer – they all thought I went for a swim – LOL.

sunDay

Every Sunday deserves a picture indicative of how one feels on that particular Sunday. Here is a picture representing my Sunday gestimilations*.

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*gestimilation: an act of inspiration that exhibits traces of pondering and excitement both combined to create a feeling of natural reassurance. Yes, I made that up.

concrete hotel

integration

Architecturally speaking I have always been fascinated how an architect can create an aesthetically pleasing structure and at the same time integrate it into its surroundings, be it a forest, the alps, the countryside, and so on.  My second fascination comes from understanding what certain materials do and feel like.  For instance, I had a deeply rooted preconceived notion that using lots concrete inside of a dwelling would always create a feeling of detachment and coldness. A recent visit to Luxembourg proved me wrong.

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Deep in the winery hills of Luxembourg lives Hotel Ecluse, a recently renovated hotel with its main focus on high glass windows and exposed concrete walls held up by massive wooden pillars.  I was surprised and delighted to see the mixture of all these materials giving off an aura of repose. I will also note the architect achieved a high level of integration – the hotel looks well integrated into its hilly, green grass and river surroundings.

The decor of the hotel played a key part in giving off a warm cozy feeling to this place. With earthy tones being used throughout the hotel and mossy green carpets alongside tastefully splashed of colours found on pillows, blankets, and chairs it’s no wonder I have been converted. The concrete in this hotel holds the structure up in a way that makes you feel protected from your surroundings and the high glass windows allows you to let your mind wander while you look out. All the individual rooms have wooden floors and doors giving off a secluded cabin feel.  I touched the concrete wall in the room and it felt nice and warm.

You can also dine at their in house restaurant which is full of seasonal surprises.  They prepare a mean escargot a la French style.

Between the perfection of the architecture, an earthy peppery Pinot and a super comfortable bed I can say the renovations have all paid off, in my opinion!

images © Paul Ott / Hotel Ecluse

good old times

I love walking. Walking helps things settle in my mind and forces me to take deep breaths.

When I lived in Toronto I could often be found walking around Ward’s Island. It’s a short ferry ride from the hustle and bustle of the city. As soon as I would board the ferry I couldn’t wait to step off it and see nature, small houses and the lake. I thought of it as mini weekend vacation.

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My routine was quite simple. I would get up on Saturday mornings and walk down from Bay and College to the ferry. Hop on the ferry and 15mins later I would be on Ward‘s Island. I would always stop at the Island Cafe for a refreshing bite and summer beverage. After it’s off to the beach I went to read a book. Contemplating my place in the world is always a lot easier next to a body of water and in nature.  Then, I would walk around the island and head back home in the dusk.

I have been known to throw picnics and motivate as many people as I could to join in my island fun. I reminisce as I write this post all the good times that were had on those beaches.

You simply have to visit Ward’s Island when you are in Toronto!

11.11 @ 11:11am

I toyed around with the idea of not writing about the most obvious topic occurring on November 11 of every year at 11:11am here in Köln. Then it dawned on me that in fact I should write about it only to highlight a key difference between Köln and North America regarding the date of November 11.

In North America, since the end of World War I, we celebrate Remembrance Day on November 11 of every year to remember the soldiers who dedicated their lives to fight for our country. It’s a day of grieving, mourning and remembering lives that were lost of brave people out on the battlefields. I have always felt rather close to Remembrance Day because it’s my way of showing gratitude for the sacrifices that were made in order for me to live in a peaceful country.  Thank you!

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On the other side of the globe, however, the atmosphere is quite different. Here in Köln on November 11 @ 11:11am, crowds of what once appeared to be proper Germans lose their properness and enjoy a day of marching in the streets dressed in all kinds of costumes, drinking and dancing! It is really quite a sight. I embraced the crowds at 11:20am and already an ambulance was busily shifting through the crowds to get somewhere, presumably a case of partying too hard. I would say everyone puts a serious effort into their costumes and beads. Yes, a bit like Mardi Gras except no floats from what I saw (but I am told we’ll have those in due time). The city of Köln, at the start of “Karneval”, becomes an outdoor club for people dressed in costumes. So Germans do have a sense of humour – one just needs to be at the right place at the right time.

November 11 has a different significance here. Kölnians have a unique way of showing their cultural patriotism.  Kölle Alaaf and Prost!

j a c o b s

According to my viewers, my Toronto category has been lacking a bit. So this post is for my fellow Torontonians.

Think steak with fries, red wine and dessert. Not bad, right?

Now how does this sound:

Starter: Caesar Salad prepared at your tableside
Main: Wagyu, California Cut Striploin
Sides: Duck Fat French Fried Potatoes with foie gras, and beefsteak tomato slow roasted, with feta and oregano
Dessert: Belavitano Balsamic cheese
Wine:  Copain 2010 Les Voisins Pinot Noir

To me, this sounds like Jacobs & Co Steakhouse, located in the heart of Toronto at 12 Brant Street.

The menu above is what I crave pretty much once a month. These guys know their steaks and wines never mind the Caesar salad, which can easily turn into anyone’s favourite.  Their wine menu is quite intimidating; however I will forever remain loyal to Copain.  The steaks range from different regions depending on your budget.  The sides are seasonal but I can always count on my foie gras duck fat fries.  Cheeses are yet another layer to be discovered in this restaurant, but, of course, they have others, like vanilla crème brule with pistachio biscotti and cardamom shortbread, or warm apple crumble – the sky is the limit in this establishment.

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The first time I dined at the restaurant I was taken aback by the excellent service and our waiter. What is always a topic of discussion every time I have gone back since are the conversations and people around me at adjacent tables.

Fine-dining people watching has never really appealed to me until Jacobs. But here you hear things like, “I think Woody Allen is great! I had dinner with him the other day…” or “I closed a huge deal. I mean, of course, I did – do they know who I am?” and then there was the odd table where no one spoke a word for an entire dinner.

As an added bonus, the restaurant makes sure breakfast is taken care of the next morning by sending each guest off with in-house made chocolate chip muffins – yummy…

Jacobs is one of those places for special occasions… oh how I miss my steak!

images © Jacob’s & Co Steakhouse

a la tarte

A woman started making quiches and pies. With that vision she opened a charmingly bohemian café serving just that. For her, this café is a place she has always wanted to run.

A la Tarte is more than just a coffee shop, it serves organically made pies, quiches, cakes and cookies made in-house every day and (I am personally excited) to see a variety of other savoury treats. You can find this cafe on Darmstädter Straße 19 in Köln’s popular Südstadt area.

The cafe’s additional charm comes from being located in what used to be a milk shop. With high ceilings and decorative tiles you can right away feel the transcendence of the predecessors.

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I simply love the feel of this place. It makes me feel at home and appeals to all my taste buds. The baristas are incredibly sweet (and well versed in English, should one need it). There is nothing better on a Sunday morning than settling down right by the window at A la Tarte with one of the papers they supply, sipping on a cappuccino while nibbling on their freshly made organic strawberry white chocolate pie or – for the more discerning foodie – fresh basil white chocolate pie, another personal favourite.

On the savoury side, a special fall treat is the orange fennel quiche.

I would rate this cafe right up there with another favourite and equally satisfying cafe, based in Vancouver, called Aphrodite’s Cafe & Pie Shop.

I found my place on this side of the globe!

gallery images © Bernward Malaka – Café A La Tarte

haida gwaii

-inspirational self journey-

is the simplest, truest statement I could come up with to describe my sailing experience in Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlottes) back in 2010.

I will do my best to describe a paradise that should be experienced firsthand in order to understand its true beauty.

The West Coast has been and will always be the mecca of natural wonders; however, Haida Gwaii takes it to another level. For me, Haida Gwaii is the most astounding place one can sail to – and nothing tops making that journey on the Ocean Light II, a 71’ ketch-rigged sailboat, and of course, with the enormous knowledge of the BC coast wilderness provided by Tom, Jen and Sarah.

Sailing gives you the advantage of a close campground to a varied assortment of the rarest marine wildlife. I say you can also do this trip in a kayak but it will be less comfortable and extremely challenging at times. Sailing also gives you the advantage of self reflection which I think is extremely important when you are surrounded by the magnitude of such beauty. When I entered this perfect world all my worries were lifted and they seemed far behind and I transformed into something I would like to call, “agent of nature.” There is no shortage of wildlife here. I was amazed to see lots of seals, humpback whales, porpoises, crabs, all sorts of fish, coloured starfish, and that’s just to name a few.

There is not a feeling in the world that describes the serenity of being out in a zodiac in the morning embracing the calm water in search of wildlife.

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Day 1 captured:

  • Kayaking in a sea of algae watching the pink, purple, orange starfish looking all proper in their nooks.
  • A half day hike that took me to a place where I felt like an eagle on top of the world, and on the way down I dove into the cold sea water, aching to be that much close to nature and wanting to become entrenched with more of my poetic surroundings.
  • After that full day I retreat back to the sail boat for a freshly caught crab dinner.

Imagine 7 full days of captivatingly serene adventures. I would retreat at the end of each day to the sail boat trying to not let go of anything I just experienced. I was bursting from it all…

Most of all, this paragon of nature offered me a peaceful cover to reflect, ponder, and explore myself and the very nature of humanity.

For me this is a special place that I can forever tap into.

images © Mike Bernard

tofino

Aside from surfing, Tofino is a gem for photographers, nature enthusiasts and a vacation spot for many.

I have surfed the icy ocean waters of Tofino and can say it was a special treat.

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What continues to attract me to Tofino is a somber nostalgia for all those things I experience as soon as the car passes the Long Beach sign on the major road leading towards the highway. There is nothing quite like it – as I sit in the car driving along and all of the sudden the only thing I can see in front of me is a warm fog sheet covering the sky. It’s quite the sight. I’ve met a lot of people that use the word ‘depressing’ to describe Tofino, yet they all keep coming back for more.

Photographers can have a field day out there. The perfect photos appear onto your camera as though they belong.

As for nature enthusiasts, you can literally spend hours and hours walking around simply looking and taking it all in. There are many hiking routes – a popular one is the Pacific Rim National Park trails. I mean one can’t go wrong with any trail really. Once you are here everything is about fresh ocean air, animals, and watching nature just doing its’ thing.

Vacationing in Tofino is a real challenge because you never want to leave. There are many amazing spots, for example, the Wickaninnish Inn with a renowned restaurant – The Pointe – where the chef works wonders with local ingredients and storm watching is particularly personal and mesmerizing. There are also pretty unique camp grounds and private villas/huts one can rent: Ocean Village right on the water offers a romantic, secluded experience.

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What is one to do with all this beauty? Take it all in and keep coming back for more.