A Travellerspoint blog

October 2013

I LOVE ITALY!!!!!!

Day 40. Our room has a lovely outdoor patio with metal chairs and table to enjoy our coffee and bread in the morning. Two women from Australia are in the room beside us and very friendly. I don't think that there is anyone left in Australia, they are all travelling.
I asked if they had been to Cinque Terre, ( pronounced Chinka Tah Rah ) and they told us about the boat that goes once a day. She saved us a lot of time as we were going to take the train to the first stop and I really wanted to see the towns from the water.

The boat leaves Levanto at 10AM and the dock is only a ten minute walk from here. We arrived early and by the time the boat arrived there looked like hundreds of people were there waiting. I could not believe everyone would fit on the boat, but in the end there were still lots of empty seats downstairs. Most people wanted to be on the top deck outside.

Levanto is not one of the Cinque Terre towns, just north of them and I had read that it was better to stay here as it was quieter and less expensive. The boat stopped at four of the five towns, as one is closed due to a major landslide two years ago. The ride past the villages was fantastic. Small hamlets located on the west coast of the Riviera cling to the cliff face or are concealed in miniature inlets perfectly blending in to this unique and unspoilt landscape. There are few roads to these towns and most people come by boat or train. The area has been turned into a UNESCO site. Many artists have come here to paint these colorful little towns, and a lot end up staying.

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We went to a town further on, outside of the five, and started there, Porto Venere.

The boat stopped here for two hours and we walked along the town that is hemmed in by a number of tower like colorful houses, which effectively turn the harbour into a fortified citadel.

A restaurant at the end of the path looked inviting so we stopped for lunch and had the water on one side of us and the 4th century church perched above us. The sun was shining and it was a perfect 23 degrees.

We walked up the hill to look at the church and the castle above and then wandered back through the town taking our time until our 2PM departure.

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Our next stop and first of the five was Vernazza of which we had an hour to explore. This was a very small town with narrow alleyways leading down to the fairy tale bay. After walking for a while we sat at a seaside cafe and enjoyed a sinful hot chocolate until the boat came.

The last stop for today was Monterosso which has many medieval churches and buildings. We have two hours here so after walking around we stopped for a light dinner. Doug had brushetta with tomatoes and pesto and I had a foccacia sandwich with brie, tomatoes and pesto. The pesto was amazing, the best we have ever had.

There is only one boat back to Levanto, at 6PM so it made for a very long day. It also meant that there were many people waiting for the last ferry. When it pulled up it was already packed to the rafters. Oh oh. But almost everyone got off at Monterosso, it was like the clown car at the circus, the people kept coming and coming. You wonder how on earth they all fit on this ferry? And where are all these people staying in this small town? I figure some of them must be catching the train somewhere else. A lot of people come here for the day.
There was room to spare on the boat for all of us going to Levanto and we arrived back at our hotel at 7PM after a great day.

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Day 41. We had planned on hiking some of the trails today between a few of the towns of Cinque Terre. Yesterday we saw many hikers, all serious hikers with expensive gear, good hiking boots and poles with the points on the ends like ski poles. Hmmmm.

After doing some research on line I found that there is only one hike that is not too challenging and that one is closed because of the landslide. It says that you need proper gear and preparation for the other trails as they are straight up a very narrow path and can get treacherous with sheer drops to the ocean below. My balance is off right now and we don't need any broken bones so decided against it. I don't have proper hiking boots with me any how. We were both happy with what we did and saw yesterday so okay with doing something else.

The Australian women told us about a bike ride they did yesterday so we grabbed two bikes, (our hotel provides them) and went off to explore. We ended up on an old railway line that is now used as a bike and walking trail. It went north on the coast and parts of the trail went through tunnels that went for half hour or more, by bike. It took over an hour each way but we did stop a few times to admire the view. We both love bike riding so this was a great way to spend the day, relaxing, quiet and scenic. We came to the end of the trail which was a railroad station, and there was an elevator to the beach below. We watch from above for a while as people were learning to scuba dive in the very calm clear blue waters of the Italian Riviera. It made me want to learn to scuba dive.

Half way back we stopped at another town and had a nice lunch and explored the area for a while.

This evening we walked around our town and then had dinner in a lovely restaurant in an alley. We had a little table outside and the food, service and atmosphere were perfect. The costs here are much less than Venice. Levanto was a great stop for a few days, quiet, not touristy and gave us a feeling of being in a regular Italian town.

Day 42. The owner drove us to the train station at 8AM and while waiting for our train we talked to a Dutch couple who are now living in Osoyoos. In their 70s they are very fit and energetic. The four of us are in car number 8 and there are usually 9 cars on a train but it depends on where the engine is as to whether it is at the back or the front. The train came screaming in, and in the small towns they only stop for 5 minutes. Number 1 stopped in front of us and number 8 was at the front so we had to run with our bags to get on. The older couple got on in no time and I heard the guy blow his whistle. I looked at him and said, ' wait'
He gestured, ' get a move on'. As Doug climbed on the car the doors slammed behind him. That was close.

Pisa Central was a one hour train ride and then we transferred to the airport train which only took five minutes. We decided to rent our car at the airport so as not to have to drive through the city.

A brand new standard Fiat 500 in a beautiful blue color waits for us. Very cute (translation : small) and sporty we take off south towards our new home in Tuscany.
Doug was a little nervous about driving in Italy, he said " Remember, this is where they invented the Lamborghini Maserati and Ferrari"
The driving is not too bad however, only a few cars travelling at light speed.
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Tuscany. I am in love with Tuscany. It is so beautiful, with the rolling hills, cypress trees, brilliant green crops and orchards of grapes. It is more beautiful than I had imagined. The leaves are just starting to turn and a lot of the fields are plowed. This is my new favourite place in the world. I can see coming back to stay for a longer period and taking an art class or something.

San Gimignano was on our way, sort of, so we went off the main highway to have lunch there. An old walled city from the third century it is one of the more popular tourist sites in the area, and we can see why. You can not drive in the walled area so we found a parking area on the outside and then walked up. The towns are always on a hill.

A very beautiful little village and not too crowded with tourists. Doug and I split up for lunch and I had the best salad I have had since I left home. Lettuce, raisons, walnuts apples and this fantastic cheese. Washed down with a fabulous capuchino. Heaven. Doug enjoyed his grilled chicken lunch too.

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We explored for an hour and then tried to find our way back to the car. Hmm, this does not look familiar. We were walking around in circles for a while until we asked a few people and finally found it.

We had arranged to meet someone to let us in our apartment in San Quirico D'Orcia at 5 PM, but called to say we would be an hour late. The scenery on the way just gets better and better. Six nights are booked to stay here and I wish now that it was longer.

As San Quirico is another walled city we need to park our car outside the wall and walk to the centre. There are 2500 residents in this small town and it is lovely. Christine is from Austria and takes care of the apartment for the owners who are from Germany. We are located right off the main square and on the third floor. It looks better than the pictures I saw when I booked it. We are in a very old building that has been re done. Our one bedroom apartment has every modern convenience that you would want and beautifully furnished with antiques and tasteful furnishings. We love it. Windows open to the towns famous gardens and it is so quiet and peaceful. I could live here.

Dinner tonight was in our new home and consisted of bread, tomatoes, with fresh pesto and I bought some delicious sheep cheese from the local area called Pecorino. Doug had a mystery meat. A bottle of local red wine was left on the table for us and I thought it would be rude not to try it.

I am in Tuscany drinking red wine and having bread with cheese and pesto and local olives.
What could be better than that?
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Day 43. I woke at 5:30AM to booming thunder. Making my way into the living room I opened the windows and wooden shutters and watched an electric storm for about an hour. It was a great light show with sheet lightening followed by the occasional forks. I could smell the bread baking at a nearby bakery.

Surprisingly the weather was dry and calm this morning. I went off for a walk on my own at around 8AM just as the town was waking up. It was very quiet and peaceful. I found a bakery and bought some fresh bread, (you buy it every day here), and butter and honey for our breakfast.

Today is going to be a lazy day just hanging around the apartment and getting to know this small town.

It took around ten minutes to explore. The business all close down between 1 and 4PM except for a couple of restaurants. We found one that made fresh pasta so I ordered the hand made ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta and served with truffles. I had to try them. I don't like mushrooms but thought that truffles would somehow taste different. They didn't. The pasta was great however.

Doug ordered handmade spaghetti with wild boar which he enjoyed.
We don't have any internet in our apartment so I asked the waiter if he had wifi, to which he responded 'of course'.
The only choice I saw for internet was 'Alice-346790'
I asked, it is under Alice?

" Alice?" he asked and looked at me as if I had three heads. " No, it is Aleechiea "

Huh, don't see that one.

Oh, you mean Alice is pronounced Aleechia? This is happening to me a lot. I am not sure who is pronouncing things wrong, them or me????

During lunch we saw that the rain had started and was pelting down, so much so that the bottom part of the restaurant was flooding and the staff were running around like crazy trying to clean things up.

We ran home, thankfully just around the corner, and sat in the living-room to listen to the thunder and watch the electric storm again. You are supposed to count between the sound of the thunder and the sight of the lightening to see how close it is. We didn't get to number one. The storm was right over head. It did not last too long and as we had decided on an inside day anyhow it was quite exciting to watch.

The sun came back at 5PM and we walked again and then came home for dinner and spent time researching the area with the many travel books provided in the apartment.

Day 44. Woke to a cloudless blue sky. We drove east and got lost around noon so decided to stop for coffee in the town of Chiusi. We discovered a church from the 6th century with beautiful frescoes made from tiles, as well as a bronze statue of Romulus and Remus with the wolf mom.

We passed by an open market and bought some fruit and vegetables. You can not choose your own in markets and small shops. You must point and let them pick them out for you, which does not always work out that well.

We re checked the map and went on to Cortona where the book 'Under the Tuscan Sun' was based and some of the filming done. The scenery is breathtaking but it is almost impossible to stop on these narrow winding roads with very few pull offs. We see some serious cyclists and wonder how they can manage on these narrow roads with trucks and cars passing on corners. Nerves of steel.

Cortona is another walled city, we park the car at the bottom of the steep hill but this one has a bonus. An escalator to the top! What a treat for this tired soul. We found a lovely outdoor cafe and had some lunch. There are quite a few english (American) tourists here. There are a number of cute little shops on the narrow roads but our suitcases are already too heavy so we venture off to a museum that houses some amazing Italian paintings from as early as the 4th century. The bottom floor has an Oratory with the original frescoes on the walls and ceilings and a beautiful sight to see.

An Etruscan museum was also in this small town which we explored for an hour. Cortona is an area that has had many archaeological digs and a number of unique and interesting finds are in this building which used to be a palace.

Our drive home took us through more fabulous landscapes, every turn a photo op but so frustrating for me as we could not pull over.
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Day 45. I went out for a walk by myself this morning and came across a woman with a great haircut. I tried to ask her where she got her hair cut, as I am badly in need of a trim. She did not speak a word of English, and I mentioned before my Italian is limited to a few words. She was trying to explain where the shop was, we were just not communicating well, and finally she grabbed my arm and walked me a few blocks to the shop. We went in, they were just opening, and she talked to the woman in Italian, I heard the word 'Canadian' and a few other Italian words, they both laughed and then the other woman left. I thanked her very much and the next thing I knew I was getting a wash and cut. It is quite short but I like my new Italian haircut.

Doug and I set off in the car for about 10 minutes and drove down a small gravel country road a few meters and then pulled off to the side to walk the rest of the way. This was a hike suggested by our host and we climbed the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside for three hours hearing only the sound of our footsteps. It was quite warm, 23 degrees or so and a wonderful peaceful morning. We came upon a small stone church and sat on a bench to enjoy an apple and to drink in this pastoral view.

The fields are plowed for the winter and the colors are intense greens browns and oranges. Cypress trees are planted in rows to act as wind breaks.

Back in the car we decided to drive to the next town, Pienza, for lunch and explore this walled city for a short while before heading home .

A lovely relaxing day.

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Day 46 Thunder, lightening and rain greeted us this morning. We got an early start and drove north to the town of Siena travelling through flooded roads and witnessing collapsed banks into the rivers. We thought about turning back but saw a window of blue sky ahead which was encouraging us to go on.

In an hour we reached the city of Siena and found a place to park at the top of the hill, near the centre of the old town. Once again you can not drive in the centre. The rain stopped and the sun came out.

The main square, Il Campo, is unlike any of the other main squares in that it is a lot larger and slants down. We had lunch at the edge of the square and felt like we were leaning into the square sitting on an angle. There is a nice ornamental fountain here as well, unlike the other squares.

The Duomo, or cathedral, was just up the hill and we purchased our tickets and audio guide for this breathtaking building. There are a number of tour groups but it did not seem too oppressive as we were arrived fairly early. The marble mosaics on the floor and tile work and paintings on the walls and ceiling made this a unique and very remarkable site. There are sculptures of the heads of 172 popes who reigned from Peter's times to the 12th century, peering down from the ceiling above. The interior is very busy with an art gallery's worth of early Renaissance art.

We then went into the museum beside to see more art and carvings from artists such as Donatello and Duccio as well as other well known masters.

A very long narrow winding stone staircase takes us to the top to offer a panoramic view of this city.

The last visit today was to the Crypt below the cathedral. A century after it was built it was filled with dirt to act as a foundation for the Duomo and rediscovered recently when excavated. The original frescoes on the walls are in amazing condition and tell stories from the bible.

After our lunch we slowly made our way back to the car and drove home in much better weather conditions. Siena had so many wonderful gift shops and fantastic ceramics with brightly colored plates and dishes tempting us. Next time I will come with an empty suitcase. A big one.
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Day 47. Doug went out for his Italian haircut last night, again the barber did not speak a word of English and Doug stopped him just in time before he shaved off his beard. Looking good.

A slow morning today, our last full one here so we spent time enjoying the apartment.

We drove for around 20 minutes to the town next to us, Montalcino, which is at the top of a huge hill. I think this was one of my favorite towns, except for the steep climbs. There are a number of popular wineries here and therefore lots of vinyards turning color for the fall.

Walking around the edge of the town we met a woman from England who had arrived for the 'Thrush Festival' which was happenig this weekend. She had read a book about the area a few years ago and it was her dream to come here one day. I don't think she had too much money but her family got together and paid for this trip for her and she was so excited to be here.

We stopped for coffee and croissants and then slowly made our way back to the car. I say slowly because it was at the top of a very steep hill.

Tomorrow we drop the car back in Pisa and then take the train to Florence for a few nights. Our Italian vacation is coming to and end and I am wishing it were longer.
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Posted by debbep 09:26 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Croatia part 2 and Venice

Day 31. Our boat left very early in the morning, but thankfully the rain held off for us. The bus station was a ten minute walk from the dock in Split and we bought tickets to Zadar, which is four hours north, about half way to our destination.

We asked at the train station about taking the train, and she said
"You are much better off to take the bus"
The buses in Croatia are very modern, clean, inexpensive and extremely punctual. At exactly 8:30AM we headed north on our four hour journey. They lock the bathrooms on the bus, but the drivers all smoke so I know we will stop every two hours for a cigarette or bathroom break.

Our hotel in Zadar is a short walk from the bus station and although we booked a studio he put us in a one bedroom apartment. It was clean and nice enough was somehow strange. We were not comfortable there and glad to be only staying one night.

We walked into the old town which was about 40 minutes away. Zadar is about the size of Nanaimo, a university town, walled city and has some nice points of interest. We just walked around for a while, had lunch and then back to our room with some food bought at the market.

Day 32. Another early morning to catch our bus to Opatia, which is northern Croatia and very near the Italian border. The bus showed an American movie but the sound was turned off as there were Croatian sub titles. It was a nice distraction once in a while even though we could not really follow the movie.

The bus drivers are careful, not going too fast which is a good thing because the narrow road twists and turns through the mountains with the sea below.
We passed many seaside villages with lots of sailboats, sea walls hugging the coast and they all so very inviting. Most of the homes are white or light colored with red tile roofs and against the dark blue Adriatic it is very dramatic. In almost every small town however there will be one rebel who paints their home bright pink or yellow or something.

" We are in the yellow house, you can't miss it"

The weather changed quite often during our five hour drive from sun peeking from behind the clouds to rain pouring off the bus so that you could not see anything.

We arrived in the small town of Opatia and the skies opened as soon as we got off the bus. It was like standing under a waterfall. There was not a bus station, we didn't know where to go, so we dragged our luggage through a few inches of water to an overhang to collect our thoughts.

Normally I get instructions to our hotel the night before, but we did not have internet in Zadar. No taxis were to be had. After 10 minutes or so the rain subsided and we asked directions to the Hotel Istra. It was about a 15 minute walk so we decided to drag our bags there, as there were not a lot of options.
The hotel is older but nice, waterfront and the clerk upgraded us to an ocean front room with a small balcony which was appreciated. Our suitcases are soaked so we took everything out to dry them. Most of our clothes are in plastic compression bags so they stayed dry thankfully.

The town is very beautiful and later in the early evening we walked back into town to explore. The waves were crashing on the promenade and were about 10 feet high. We were not sure at the time if that was normal or not, but found out that it was not. I was sorry that I did not have my camera with me as it was really spectacular.

During the night there was an amazing storm with booming thunder, sheet lightening, lots of heavy rain and huge waves.
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Day 33. Buffet breakfast is included with our room and there is a good variety to choose from. We walked into town to take the promenade to the next town of Lovosko.
Five minutes in to our walk the skies opened. I am really starting to get fed up at this point. I am not a happy camper, enough is enough. We went into a cafe so that I could have an attitude adjustment and a hot chocolate was just the thing to do it. The hot chocolate that we have had in Europe is unlike anything we have had anywhere. It is like chocolate mousse or melted dark chocolate in a cup. Heavenly.

The rain stopped, my attitude was better so we set off again to finish the 4K walk along the water. On tripadviser it says to take your bathing suit as it gets very hot on the walk and there are many platforms to go into the water along the way. It looked very inviting and must be a wonderful place to come in the summer months, or even at this time of year when the weather is normally much better.

The small fishing village is very picturesque and we stopped to have lunch at this very fancy looking restaurant with white tablecloths and elegant furnishings. We enjoyed one of the best meals we have had so far, which was a wonderful surprise and the price was very reasonable. Our walk back seemed much longer for some reason but the weather was better and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

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Day 34. Rain again. We walked into town to buy our bus tickets to leave tomorrow.
We sat in our hotel room and read until the rain finally stopped at 4PM. We walked the seawall in the other direction to the town of Icici. There was a marina with some of the biggest yachts we have ever seen, and so many of them. There is a lot of money in this town, it appears very prosperous. The homes are very large and some extravagant.

Half way back we stopped at a restaurant and sat on the patio overlooking the water to have our dinner. There was hardly a cloud in the sky, the moon was reflecting on the water and we watch as sailboats search for shelter for the night. What a perfect way to spend our last night in Croatia.

Day 35. Our 5:15AM wake up call seems just too early. There was only one bus to Trieste this morning so we arranged a cab to pick us up at 6AM. Waiting at the bus stop we chatted with another couple around our age from Australia who have also been travelling around Croatia.
Our drive to Italy takes us though many fields of wheat and farmland.

Upon arrival in Trieste we walked next door to the train station and bought our tickets to Venice. We splurged and spent the extra $8 on first class. The train was not a high speed train but travelled quite fast through the countryside.

In two hours we arrived in Venice. Stepping outside the train station we were on the canal with boats, gondolas and the grandeur of Venice in front of us.

A vaparato, boat, took us to the Rialto bridge which is where the instructions for our hotel said to get off. Venice is crowded. I can not imagine what it must be like in the summer because it is wall to wall people now. The alleyways are only for pedestrians, there are not any cars or bicycles allowed here. Others like us are also pulling their luggage behind them,running over toes and feet along the way. It is a maze. We are walking in circles.
We stopped for lunch and checked the map, I went on google maps on my ipad and we were still no further ahead. We asked directions every 30 yards. Two hours later we found it and it was not very far from where we had lunch! Apparently this is very common. You will see so many people with suitcases walking around confused looking at the maps and just fed up.

Doug's sister told us that she had stayed at this monastery/ convent last time she was here so we booked it for four nights. The location is perfect. A five minute walk to St. Marks Square and not much further to the Rialto bridge,so right in heart of everything. We are on a canal and there are gondolas right outside our door. We have never stayed in a convent before so this is another first for us.

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Our room is very basic but large and clean and the price is 80 euros per night, which for Venice is fantastic.

After a rest we explored the area for a few hours, and love it here. The weather is warm, sunny, dry and the food is so much better. Being a vegetarian has been extremely limiting in selection for me, but so far the food in Italy is great.

Doug's sister Sydney ended up at another convent about a half hour from here but we met for a fantastic dinner and caught up on all our travel news.

Day 36. Sydney met us at St. Marks Square this morning and we spent a few hours walking Venice. The shops are amazing. I want it all. The fashions, leather handbags, gloves, shoes and merano glass jewelry is fantastic. I will spend one morning shopping for sure.

We arrived at the Academia art gallery which houses many huge incredible Italian paintings. We all enjoyed the gallery a great deal.

We found a small restaurant and had another delicious meal and then I headed back to the room and Doug and Syd went to the Peggy Guggenheim museum which they enjoyed.

During the day the convent has a Catholic school and a daycare and there were many adorable little children in white smocks and pinafores playing in the reception area with the nuns and some of the parents. It is very noisy but with my earplugs in I was still able to get a couple of hours sleep.

The three of us all enjoyed our dinner tonight and then went to a small grocery store to get some fruit to keep in the room.

Venice, although incredibly crowded with many tour groups and cruise ship passengers, is a wonderful city and we are so happy to have four days here.
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Day 37 We had pre booked entrance to St. Mark's Basilica for 10:45AM and as we were just around the corner from it we were able to have a leisurely morning and breakfast beforehand.

There was water around the church and platforms with scaffolding were arranged to get into the building. Apparently this happens all winter at high tide. By noon it is dry again and the planks are removed.

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It was unfortunate that the audio guides were not working and we did not have a guide and although it was a beautiful church I am sure there was a lot more to it than what we thought. The crowds once again were oppressive and we all shuffle around from room to room.

I spent some time taking pictures outside of the square and we just hung around for an hour or so taking it all in and people watching.

Sticker shock. We were living on a total of $60 per day in Romania. I knew Venice would be more, but we are lucky if we can get through lunch on $60 here. The way to do it would be to do a lot of stand up fast food take out which is more reasonable, relatively speaking.
This morning for example we ordered two plain omelettes , one piece of toast each, one coffee each in a pretty plain cafe and it came to $45.
Yesterday I had a big piece of fantastic vegetarian pizza at a take out place, but you could still sit down and it was only $6.
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I convinced Doug to do a Gondola ride with me and our driver pointed out a few sites along the way through some narrow canals and then onto the Grand Canal which has bigger boats as well.
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Everything here is delivered by boat. Flowers, fruit, vegetables, beer kegs, lumber. Delivery men need to unload the boat from the canal point nearest to their destination and then use a trolly for the rest of the way, negotiating through the hoards of people. I saw two guys this morning with a huge trolly of liquor bottles working together to go up the stairs to get over the bridge and then down again. Everything is an effort.

While I was resting in the room Doug went exploring for a few hours to other parts of Venice. He arrived back shortly before we we met Sydney to go to an Opera that we had tickets for.

We all really enjoyed the opera which was a medley of different performances done by very skilled musicians and two male and one female singers. Everyone was in Venetian dress from the Baroque period and they involved the audience at certain points. I just loved it and the one and a half hour show was over too soon for me.

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Our convent has a 10:30PM curfew which I did not think would be an issue, but we would have liked to gone out after wards for a drink of something. Mother Superior would have us locked out if we were late I think, so we walked back just in time.

Day 38. Every year at this time there is a huge modern art international exhibition in Venice called the Biennale. Sydney and Doug spent the day exploring some of the exhibits that were at various locations around Venice and really enjoyed it.

I am not a big fan of modern art so chose to spend the day on my own shopping and had a fabulous time. I learned pretty quickly that every store has pretty much the same price for the same goods, it was just a matter of choosing which one.
I bought two Italian leather purses, some Merano glass jewelry and a sweater. All for me!! The prices were not that bad, not much more than at home but completely different from anything I could buy at home. As a matter of fact my Italian leather handbag was less than dinner for two. So I have it all figured out, don't eat, just come to shop. There were so many amazing things. The clothes and shoes!!! The jewelry is all bright jewel tones and lots of fantastic glass work.

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I got back to the room around 2PM exhausted. Doug and Syd were still out until 6PM so at 4 I went to St. Marks Square and just walked around and enjoyed the sun for a couple of hours.

Sydney is leaving Venice tomorrow as are we. She is heading home in a day and we are off to Cinque Terre. After dinner we packed our suitcase in preparation for our train tomorrow.

Day 39.
We wandered around Venice for a few hours and then left on the Vaporato for the train station. It took a lot longer than we anticipated and we had to go straight to our train and not pick up any food for the ride.
There were a young Australian couple beside us with their two adorable girls around age 6 and 8 who had taken a year off to travel around Europe. The first half of our trip to Milan went by very quickly as we talked the entire way.

A short connection to our next train but Doug took the luggage and I ran off and was able to find some food for the next three hours of the trip. We were joined by four 30 something women who were going to Cinque Terre for the weekend and spoke Swedish the entire way and were having a great time. I put on my headphones and tried to sleep.

We travelled across Italy to the West coast and came into Genoa. What a gorgeous city, large palatial looking villas with palm trees overlooking the Italian Riviera. I think it may warrant a trip back at some point.

At 7PM we arrived into Levanto, our home for the next three nights. We were picked up by the owner of our hotel who does not speak a word of English and our Italian is pathetic. We have a cute little room with a terrace. We walked a short distance to find a place for dinner and find that none of the menus are in English or anyone speaks English. This will be interesting..

Posted by debbep 12:19 Comments (2)

Croatia part one

Trogir is an island connected by bridges on both sides to the mainland. Sardines were on the menu for lunch today for Doug which he enjoyed a great deal. He remembered having them in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s when he was here and had been anticipating them for weeks. Apparently they did not disappoint.
Our leisurely walk around the island took about 15 minutes. There are many large sailboats tied up for a regatta that is taking place. Large tour groups and individuals come from Split for a day trip to Trogir exploring the narrow alleys with the many shops selling jewellery wine and souvenirs.

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Day 26. There appears to be a huge church bell ringing in our room at 5:30AM. It sure sounds like it is in our room. Who thought 5:30 was a good time to wake up? I just get back to sleep and another set goes off at 6:30. No call to prayer here though, all Catholics.

After breakfast we caught the bus to Split for a few hours. Doug notices a huge difference from when he was here last. The small boardwalk has been redone in the past couple of years and is very wide with palm trees and vendors lining the walking street which hugs the Adriatic. On the other side are many outdoor cafes and behind lies Diocletions' Palace. This palace is huge, probably two or three blocks long.
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The sun is out and it feels so great to have the warm weather and blue skies.

We hired a guide to take us through the palace and she was worth every penny. Unlike many other Unesco sites, this area still has people living and working inside. We considered staying in Split instead of Trogir and a couple of options were small hotels inside the walls of this Palace. Hotels, stores and restaurants line the narrow cobblestone streets.

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Diocletions' Palace was first built in the turn of the fourth century. Diocletion was a soldier who rose through the ranks to became a Roman emperor in the year 284.
He had the palace built as his retirement home. Over the centuries it has been modified a number of times, but there are still many of the original walls and statues today.

We missed the bus back and had to wait an extra hour which made for a very long but enjoyable day.

Day 27. It was a very relaxed day, partially due to the weather which has turned on us again. We walked across the bridge but did not find anything of interest on the other side. A fortress tower was at the far corner of our little island so we climbed to the top and enjoyed the expansive view it offered.
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Today is Sunday and the Church bells rang quite frequently. We came upon a small monastery and went inside to look around. I think they may be the ones who have the bell at 5:30AM.

A number of large wooden boats are tied up, with cabins for passengers and bicycles on the dock to use. These boats go from island to island over the course of a week and you use the bikes to get around when you dock. The prices were not that bad and if we are able to come back to Croatia in the future I would love to do this.

The skies opened so we went back to our room and read for the rest of the afternoon and evening which was just fine with us, some well deserved down time.

Day 28. Check out was at 10 so we left our luggage and walked for a while and then had lunch at a sidewalk cafe where the sailboats had been the day before.

The one o'clock bus to Split had us there early for our 4PM boat to the island of Brac so we sat on the boardwalk and nursed a couple of drinks for two hours and people watched. The rain held off for the day so we felt very fortunate.

One hour on a catamaran took us to the town of Bol, on the island of Brac and we were instantly charmed by the place. Our one bedroom apartment is a five minute walk from the port and has a balcony overlooking the sea.

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Oranges, grapes, cheese, meat, eggs and bread were purchased for our breakfasts before stopping for dinner at sidewalk cafe. A young man played guitar and sang while we ate and made for a wonderful evening.

Day 28 Turned into an inside day today. Torrential rain greeted us this morning. At 11AM there seemed to be a break so we went for a walk along the sea wall only to have the skies open after ten minutes. That would not have been too bad except that it was accompanied by howling winds so from the raincoat down we were soaked and lost another umbrella turned inside out. Headed back and spent the day reading, playing cards and having a relaxing day. Very thankful for the large apartment to spend the day in. We ventured out at 7PM for dinner at the same place as it was close and we enjoyed the food and music the night before.

Day 29. Could the weather get any worse? Apparently so. The forecast looked very dismal. Our landlady came up with cake in hand for us, feeling so badly about the weather for our sake.

There was a break in the rain at 11AM so we dashed out for a walk. A wide pedestrian walkway follows the coastline and we follow it for just over half an hour. There are many vacation homes and three large hotels along the way as well as vendor carts which are locked up for the winter.

We came to a large beach area and sat on the lounge chairs and imagined what it must be like here in the summer heat with hundreds of tourists sunbathing and swimming in the crystal clear sea. I think I need to come back when it is warmer.
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On our walk back the skies opened again and we went home to dry out and rest.

I was woken from my nap by something shinning in my face. What is that? The sun?
Quick, lets go for a walk! Once again we went to the beach at the end of the boardwalk and watched a few brave souls go swimming. This was a gift as the forecast said it would get worse.

Tomorrow we will take the boat back to Split early in the morning and then take a bus north. We are not sure where we will spend the night at this point, we will decide that tomorrow, but hopefully we will find some sunshine and warmer weather.

Posted by debbep 11:32 Archived in Croatia Comments (2)

Bosnia and Herzgovina

Bosnia

Day 22. Periods of heavy rain followed by constant torrential rain. We arrived into Sarajevo at 7PM and were met by our pre arranged cab driver. The city is huge, around 400,000 and a mixture of old and new. Our hotel is located on the top of a very steep hill on the outskirts of the old town and is very quaint and full of charm. Apparently Michael Moore and Richard Gere have stayed here in the past (not together).
We went down for a wonderful breakfast and the back to our room to procrastinate going outside. At 11 AM it was apparent that it would not let up we ventured out.
We walked around and we were soaked to the skin even with raincoats and umbrellas. Are we having fun yet? No.

The old town was a series of shops, many coffee houses and restaurants on a cobblestone pedestrian walkway. We ducked into one for some Lebanese food. There is such a strong Turkish influence here. I would swear we were still in Turkey and not Sarajevo.
Fed up and still soaked we started to walk back and came upon a photo gallery museum about the war in 1993 so we went inside. A young man gave us and 6 others a history of what happened. He spoke very quickly with a heavy accent so we only caught around every second word, but we got the idea.
I realize just how ignorant I am about politics and history when I travel, which is one reason I love to do it so much. I have always had a hard time figuring out exactly what happened in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and now I am a little bit clearer.

We started in a room with hundreds of photos of men and boys between the ages of 12 and 70. There were a couple of women too, but mostly men. These were just some of the people who were killed during the war here in 1993. Ethnic cleansing. Once again.

A 27 minute video was shown at the end as well as interviews with some of the survivors, mostly women. Heartbreaking. Like Poland the men and women were separated and the men were taken away and shot. Some escaped into the hills.
The Dutch arrived to staff a UN base and it was a safe zone for the refugees. Thousands of women and children arrived. Eventually the Serbs told the Dutch that they had to send them all away , and as the Dutch did not have a clear mandate of what they were supposed to do, they did and most of the refugees where then killed. The Serbs also took some of the UN uniforms and tricked a lot of the people who were hiding into thinking they were saved, only to be shot.
There are still many who are considered missing as their remains have never been found.

The Serbs would be up in the hills with sniper rifles and fire into the city. You can still see so many bombed out and shot buildings. They have done a great deal of rebuilding but there is still much evidence today.

Outside there were a couple of women about my age, or older, with their hand out for money. One was quietly sobbing. I couldn't help but wonder what her story was. Did all of her men get killed in the war? Was she now alone. I keep thinking about her.

We walked back to our hotel and just hung out in our room for the rest of the night.

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Day 23. Church bells ring at 6AM to wake us. Two sets. They are followed by the call to prayer. One is right beside our hotel and very loud but the fellow has a lovely voice and we don't mind starting our day this way.
A drier day greeted us today which we were thankful for. We had booked and paid for four nights here but have decided to leave one day early and head to Mostar. Sarajevo is a big city and the weather is not great so we will try something else. But for today we are here, so we walk the city.
The woman at our hotel told us that the transit strike was still on today. The trams run on electricity and the company did not pay their electric bill so they were cut off. Half way to our destination we see the bus' and trams running again so I guess they paid their bill.
A very small museum was near the bridge. This is a famous spot where the Arch Duke Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated which started World War One. Yugoslavia was part of Austria at that time and he was here on an official visit. Five men were involved with the plot to assassinate him, the first attempt of a bomb failed but the second attempt of shooting them was successful.

Once again we wandered the old town, had lunch and went to an open market to buy some fruit and bread for breakfast tomorrow as we leave to early to eat at the hotel.

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Day 24. 7AM train to Mostar Herzegovina. The train must have been luxurious in it's day, but falling apart now. We choose the non smoking cabin but it did not seem to matter as everyone smoked in their anyhow. I am under the impression that pretty much everyone here smokes and there are not any no smoking areas.
The train passes through beautiful rolling hills , craggy mountains and farmland as it goes through the mountains on the many switchbacks and through tunnels. At 10 AM we arrived and walked blindly to find our hostel. A lovely woman asked if she could help us, we looked lost. I said that I could not find any street signs and she said ' Yes, since the war they have not been replaced'. She pointed us in the right direction and we dragged our suitcases down the broken sidewalks for about 20 minutes. Just before we found it she came around the corner again to make sure we were still on track which was so nice of her.

We have booked a tiny room in a hostel that is very clean and in good repair. Run by a lovely German couple it cost only $27 per night. After dropping off our bags we make the short walk to the old town and the famous Stare Most bridge. As soon as we rounded the corner I was so happy that we left Sarajevo for Mostar. It is just beautiful. Another old walled city with narrow cobblestone streets with vendors on each side selling the many scarves, copper ware, jewelry, and souvenirs. Years gone by there were vendors here selling silks, copper and goods for the people in the area. It was a very important area of trade from Turkey to the Far East.

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Mostar is a very popular destination for day-trippers from Croatia and Sarajevo. Large tour groups speaking Italian, German, Japanese and French congregate on the bridge.

Warm and sunny it is a breathtaking sight to see the green fast flowing river and the white bridge and towers beside it. A small museum was in one of the towers which we explored and learned more about this Unesco site.

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The bridge was blown up in 1993. The rebuilding was symbolic as a sign that the war was over. It did not get finished until 2004 however. One of the pastimes of the local boys is to jump off the bridge and we saw footage from the 1950s of the original bridge as well as recently the boys do somersaults, backflips and swan dives into the river below. Judges hold up numbers from 1 -10 after they jump to say how they have done. We only saw one young man jump while we were there.

Once again there are many bombed out buildings and damaged homes. I have never been anywhere with such recent evidence of war.

Another small museum was toured and then back to our hotel for a few hours before venturing out for dinner and poking around the shops. We both just loved Mostar and were very glad we spent a night here.

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Day 25. 6:30AM we are driven to the bus station by the owner of the hostel. Our bus is modern, clean and the no smoking signs are obeyed. Doug and I each sit on opposite sides of the bus as it is not crowded. The drive to the Croatian boarder takes us through many switchbacks and mountain tunnels. The small towns in the mountains look prosperous with newer homes and huge vineyards. Rolling hills and grapes as far as you can see.

Three hours later we see the water. Oh how I have missed the ocean. We are high up on the mountain highway and the dark blue Adriatic Sea is below fringed by turquoise blue and white sand at the edges. It looks so lovely, although I don't see anyone swimming in it. It is October after all, but none the less it looks magnificent. Our drive takes us along the Dalmatian coast for around an hour before arriving in Split. Our bus for Trogir is leaving right away so we are fortunate to transfer to another 30 minute bus ride.

Upon arrival we drag our suitcases across the bridge and through the tunnel in search of our home on this small connected island for the next few days. The instructions were vague so we need to ask a number of people. We are in a walled medieval village and head down narrow cobblestone roads with high walls on either side. It is like a labyrinth. Finally we find it (well someone else found it for us). We are staying in a heritage site, a former palace, and make our way up the small, narrow circular staircase to our lovely small room. The sun is warm and the sky blue, water surrounds us. I am very happy to be here in Croatia.

Posted by debbep 00:35 Comments (4)

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