A Travellerspoint blog

Patagonia, Chile

sunny 20 °C

Day 5.
We had a lazy day and did not get out until around noon. We walked back down to the Plaza de Armas and went into the Museum of National History. It was small and had a few interesting pieces in it. From there we walked across the old part of Santiago and over a bridge that crossed a fast running river the color of chocolate milk.
The area across the river is called Bario Lastarria which was a funky little place with many restaurants and shops on two main roads. Most of the buildings had amazing graffiti art paintings and made it a very interesting afternoon.

Our walk back took us through a park that is narrow and spans around 10 or 12 blocks in the middle of town. Always a well used park, it appears to be full of mostly middle class, not many affluent people here. Many families and lots of young [and old] lovers laying on the grass escaping the oppressive heat.

In the middle of the park is a huge four story fountain and it is full of children and some adults trying to beat the heat. Many fountains are around Santiago and we see people dunking their heads in the water to cool off. Dogs go into the lower fountains to drink and cool off as well.
The park in the city had a number of dog houses for the many strays.

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Day 6
A change in plans meant a visit to the local airline office which was very busy and consumed a few hours this morning. The plan was to take a bus to Concepcion, a five hour ride, spend the night and then rent a car to head south. Looking at it on the map last night we figured we would be spending most of the 8 days in the car, which is not my idea of a good time.

Instead we will fly to Puerto Montt and rent a car for the time and then fly back to Santiago to head over to where our cruise leaves from.

We went for a walk back to the first restaurant for another quinoa avocado salad and then I went back to the room and Doug went off walking. He came across an old railroad station, unused for trains since the Second World War, and found them getting ready for a huge art show in two weeks. Some limes and bananas were purchased at the local market and then we went back to pack for tomorrows flight.

Day 7. The flight from Santiago to Puerto Montt showed fantastic views over the Andes mountains, many lakes and a few volcanos

Upon arrival we collected our bags, (thankfully they arrived with us) and our rental car. This was the fastest and easiest car rental of any we have done. They upgraded us from a small Chevy sprint to a mid size car which is very comfortable. The highway 5 runs from Alaska all the way here and ends at the bottom of the island we are going to.

Following the highway finds us to a port and a large blue and yellow ferry waiting for us. We are waved aboard and there is not an inch to spare as we are sandwiched between many large semis. The island will do all it's import and exporting by these ferrys which leave continuously all day. It is about the size of the Denman Island ferry and takes 40 minutes to reach the other side. The weather is much cooler here, in the low 20s and wonderful. I got out of the car to look at the ocean and thought I saw a very strange looking duck in the water beside me. Upon closer investigation I realized it was a penguin. My first penguin sighting. We also saw a couple of very large sea lions swimming beside us.

Continuing our drive south on the Pan American highway takes us through rolling hills of perfect patchwork squares of greens yellows and browns. Sheep and cattle graze on the Patagonian hillsides. We are on the island of Chiloe, pronounced Chee Low way and not the way I was saying it, Chloe, like our grand daughter's name.
It is very pastoral and peaceful and we are glad to be here.

Two hours later we arrive at our destination of Castro. Lunch was in order and we found a restaurant and the food was so so. This is the second largest town on the island with a population of around 20,000 people. It is a town that is all one way streets and we seemed to go down the wrong way a few times. No one got mad at us they just flashed their lights and waved.

We found our B and B which we had booked last night on line for three nights. It was the nicest house on the street, which is not saying much, a very middle class home with early 60s decor. We had the only room with a private bathroom and it came in at just under $100 per night. Why? We kept asking ourselves that question. Castro is very expensive and we are not sure why that is. I immediately changed our reservation to two nights instead of three which was not a problem.

It was a family home and Maria, Mom, did not speak one word of English. Her Spanish was a completely different dialect so it was very difficult to communicate. Her son came home and he spoke a small amount of English so he changed our reservation for us and answered a few questions.
Then we met a young woman, Elaina, who was working there for two weeks helping out in exchange for room and board. She was around twenty something, incredibly well travelled for her young age, and from Italy but currently living in Portugal. She said that even she had a hard time understanding their Spanish so I don't feel so bad. The island was separated from the mainland for so long that they kept a lot of their own language.

Elaina gave us a lot of information on the area and ideas of where to go on the island. Other than her we are the only guests in the home at the moment.
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Dogs. There are a lot of dogs here. Most families seem to have two or three but there are still so many strays. They are all mid size nice looking dogs, docile, friendly and quiet. Driving down the side streets are like an obstacle course going around them sleeping in the road. They sure don't look like they are going to move. They must be tired after all, they spend all night marauding and barking non stop.

Day 8. Breakfast was included in our room rate and consisted of home made breads jams and nescafe coffee. I will be off coffee until we get on the cruise ship I think. Tea will substitute for the time being.

There are two tourist draws to Castro. One is the colorful row houses on stilts at the edge of the water. The other are the over 16 wooden Jesuit churches in the area painted many bright colors.

Starting off to take a picture of the homes on stilts we are reminded of Ucluelet and Bamfield homes on the waterfront. The older wooden homes of the working class, but painted in bright colors. We went for a walk on the street side and went into a gorgeous cafe to get a real cup of coffee. The cafe was wonderful but the coffee was once again a disappointment. Being summer there are many beautiful roses, hydrangeas and other flowers in bloom.

Driving south we came upon one of the churches and stopped to explore. They remind me of the little houses we built as kids in summer camp with the wooden popsicle sticks.
We only looked a three churches and not all 16. Having just done similar ones in Romania and Russia we were not interested in seeing churches all day again.

The scenery is breathtaking as we go past many rolling hills of farmland and fields.
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Road construction ahead. There was a red sign, Pare, so we stopped. The young man just looked at us. We gestured "do we go?" He just stared at us.
So we went.
We looked back and realized that we just passed a long line of cars at the side of the road waiting.
Well we are committed now, keep going.
No one is yelling at us to stop, they are all just staring at us as we drive by. The road is being widened and we are driving on rough gravel beside large machines at rest and men working and resting.

After about ten minutes of driving on this one lane gravel road we see big trucks barreling towards us. Thankfully there was a place to pull to the side as they passed. We can see a woman ahead with a sign, the red side is facing us. As the last truck passes she turns the sign around and the green is facing us. We continue on. She gives us a look as we drive by. I think it was " stupid tourists" look.

After the next few check points we figured it out. There was a sign that they put up that said stop and they would disappear into a shed to get out of the sun. When we could go they came out and flipped the sign around to green.

This was the longest road construction we have ever seen. It went on for hours.

We finally came to what we think was the end and had lost our desire to go further south at this point. Looking at the map showed a different route back, but
we had to go down a short dirt road to get there , only 7 KMs.

This one lane road took us by few farms and a lot of vacant land over high hills with a large lake below. Traveling at 10KM an hour it took close to an hour to get to our destination. It was a very dicey road for sure. It didn't look like it was going to improve any time soon. I saw a woman in front of her home so went to ask if a paved road was in our future. Charades had me shaking like I was on a bumpy road and then on a paved road nice and smooth. It must have looked hilarious. She kept insisting that we needed to turn around however. No paved roads ahead. Damn

The fields are full of Gunnera, also known as Chilian Rhubarb. It is a prehistoric looking plant with huge green leaves and it can get 6 feet tall. It is everywhere here.

On the side of the road we spot a small animal. We find that it is the elusive Pudu, a small Chilian deer that is hard to see. It almost makes this detour worth while. Almost.
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The road seems worse going back. Chiloe only gets 60 days a year without rain so these roads get washed out all the time. They are very steep and we were so worried we would get a flat or other car problems and be stuck out here.

But we made it. The pavement, for the short time we had it felt wonderful, and then back to the long construction road north. We knew the rules this time however.

One of Chile's National Parks was off to the left so we ventured down this long winding, but paved road past more farms with sheep cows and horses. We picked up two young people hitchhiking to the park and had a bit of a conversation as they had little English and we little Spanish. It is the summer time here and the kids are off school and out of University so you will see many backpackers and families on vacation.

One of Chile's longest beaches is beside this park and the vegetation once again changes. The trees are small and bent from the constant west coast winds, very similar to the West Coast of the island. We spent a bit of time here but it was getting late and so we headed back. It is great that it does not get dark until 10:30PM here now.
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Day 9. What the B and B lacked in style and charm it more than made up for in hospitality. The family was so wonderful and caring and we felt bad thinking that it was not worth the price.

Driving south again we decided to walk the park we were at yesterday. There were some hiking trails that looked inviting.

We picked up a young man hitchhiking who was from from Argentina. He spoke English quite well and told us of places to visit when we are in Argentina.

The paths around the park are mostly boardwalk and the landscape changes again to a combination west coast moss and ferns but with some tropical plants as well. The temperature here is very similar to Vancouver Island and usually does not get much colder than 0.

After a great lunch at a roadside stop we headed back to the north to our destination for the night, Ancud. This is the town that is very near the ferry to the mainland.
I had booked the hotel the night before and it did not take long to find it. The setting was spectacular. On a bluff above the Pacific with views of small islands and rock outcroppings below.
The lovely woman at reception showed us our room. It was very similar to the one we stayed in last night, basic furnishings, very dated, but two main differences.
The large window looking out to the view made it so you didn't even look at the room. And this one only cost $63. We were thrilled to be here.

I had wanted to spend the night here to be able to do the penguin tour in the morning so we found our way into town and a travel agent to book the tour. Thank goodness for Google Translate. The young man did not speak English and I had a million questions so we would just type in our question/response on his laptop. In a half an hour we had all our questions answered and bought two tickets for 11 AM tomorrow .

On the way back we purchased some fruit, bread, cheese and ham and then sat on the front area of the hotel at a picnic table to have a small dinner and drink in the view.

We were joined by a young Chilean woman with three children for a while. She did not speak any English and I tried to communicate but she was rapid fire with her questions and I could not keep up. Her husband joined us and he spoke English so we had a wonderful conversation with them. Their young boy has Down Syndrome and was quite a handful and made me nervous sitting at the edge of the bluff.
When they left us they hugged and did the fake kiss on the cheek thing. This is very common here.
Two young men traveling from Argentina joined us next. Everyone here is so friendly and helpful.
We saw two black faced Ibis wandering the grounds. The bird life here is quite different and interesting.

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Day 10. The hotel provided a small breakfast which we enjoyed and then went out to the parking lot to wait for our 'closed box' (aka van). There was another woman waiting as well and we spent the afternoon with her. She was a recently divorced 63 year old gorgeous German woman who works at a hotel in Majorca in the summer and travels in the winter.
We were the only two non Spanish people on the tour so it was great to get a few explanations from her here and there.
Our group of 10 drove south and stopped a couple of places on the way to see the wonderful views. The landscape keeps changing but it is always so beautiful.

The van drove through a small stream and then down the beach to a restaurant at the end. We were to preorder lunch before going out on the boat.

We are definitely on the west coast, Pacific Ocean. It is so familiar yet so different as well.

We put on our life jackets and then walked to the edge of the water. A cart on wheels was our chariot as a man pushed us out to the boat so we wouldn't get wet. How decadent. It is an open boat with around 18 seats.
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This is the only place in the world where the Humboldt and Magellan penguins live in the same place. We cruise by three small islands that are not far from shore. Some of the younger ones still have their fluffy down. They are born in December and will leave in March. It was fun to watch them jumping into the water and splashing around.

We also saw a number of different birds, cormorants, Ibis, and some others that I could not name. A river otter also swam beside us and made his way up to the rocks on the island.
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We were so lucky to have such a beautiful sunny and calm day. The beach was gorgeous. Kelp was being harvested by some men and women. Seafood is very abundant in Chile. Salmon, Chinook, and fresh water fish as well and many mussels and shrimp. We see a number of Atlantic Salmon Fish farms,( Norwegian) and in the past some sea lions broke into some of the nets and a lot of the salmon escaped. Now there is Atlantic Salmon in the ocean as well as the fish farms.

Our tour was to have us back by 2PM, but at 2:15 we were still at the beach. Chilean time. No one is worried.
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Upon arrival back at the hotel we said our goodbyes and drove to the ferry. Once again we were waved on right way for the crossing back to the mainland. Our destination was Puerto Varas, about 2 hours from here and in the lakes district.

Our B and B owner gave us great instructions and we found it easily. Puerto Varas in on lake Llanquihue and a town and seems to be the centre for a lot of backpackers and hikers. There is every outdoor store you can imagine here. North Face, Patagonia, Columbia, Soloman, just to name a few. Prices are the same as at home.

Our B and B is a big home that has lovely gardens, and looks like an old character home but was built in the 50s. John is from the USA and his wife Chilean. They have three lovely children and we are the only guests. We have the entire upstairs to ourselves and the room is beautifully decorated. We are here for five nights to explore the lakes district.

We walked down to the main centre and the boardwalk on the lake. We were overwhelmed by the snowcapped volcano on the other side of the lake. It is so impressive and the reason a lot of people come here. Osorno is the most impressive but there are two others on the mountain range as well. Just stunning.
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Day 11. We spent the morning walking around the town and getting a feel for the area. There are a lot of other vacationers but most of them are Chilean. Children are playing in the lake, people kayaking, canoeing sailing and windsurfing. It appears to be a very popular summer vacation spot.

The temperature is only about 16-20 C but feels so much hotter. The ozone layer is very thin here. Even with sunscreen on and only after a short while I had a sunburn.

We heard some music coming from the Plaza De Armas so headed over to escape the heat and enjoy some chilean grapes that we bought from a sidewalk vendor. A trio was playing Chilean music and they were fantastic. Various pan pipes from 12 inch to 5 feet long, the sounds were amazing. We enjoyed the music for about and hour and then bought three of their CDs and hope they work at home.

After enjoying some down time in our room we headed north to two other lake side towns. There is a very large German influence here and then next town had a lot of Bavarian homes. Many more people were swimming in the lake here, the beach was packed.

Our drive north and the scenery just seems to get better at every turn. So pastoral and peaceful with so many farms of cows horses and sheep.
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Day 12. After an early breakfast John drove us down to the main square to catch our bus for our day trip to Lake Todos los Santos. We started on a large comfortable bus and the guide narrated in both English and Spanish which was great. Our first stop was a small waterfall. It was flowing over black lava rock which was different for us.

We then boarded a large 200 passenger catamaran for our two hour journey across the lake. The catamaran had seats inside which was good to escape the strong sun. We could go outside to take pictures and enjoy the fresh air from time to time. The lake is glacier fed, emerald green located at the foot of the Osorno volcano and very striking. The trip was very enjoyable and peaceful on the lake.
Outside was a bit of a challenge due to the horseflies the size of hummingbirds. There were large in numbers and very tenacious. I was bit a few times, it was not that bad but really annoying.

We were going to have a three hour stop at the end of the lake and the company offered some excursions, one of which was horseback riding which I was looking forward to.
The young man said that it was cancelled due to the horseflies. I assumed it was because they would bother the horses, and then figured no, it would be the tourists flailing their arms around that would terrorize the horses.
The only other one that appealed to me was the helicopter tour to the glacier, but it was quite expensive.

We were out on the deck and I was standing next to a German man about my age. We were almost at our destination when a helicopter buzzed overhead, circling and banking left and right, having a great time. He and I looked at each other and said "oh yeah, that's what I am doing!!!" He said " hey, you can't take it with you!"

It only took four people so Doug and I and he and his wife ran down and booked it. Talk about an effective sales pitch.

When we arrived we were taken to the helicopter pad and waited in a screened canopy tent to escape the flys. Unfortunately there were as many inside as out.

Our 12:30 helicopter arrived for us at 1:30PM. We went to board and the fellow told me to get in the front in the copilot seat. YES!!! I love the front seat, you have glass in front, side, above and below you. The young man flying was very cute and personable. We took off in no time and were flying about 10 feet up from a river down towards the mountain, banking this way and that. It was like a roller coaster ride.
We flew over the glaciers and the tops of the mountains over many lakes and waterfalls. It was breathtaking and worth every penny. We were very glad we were so impulsive.
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All in all a wonderful day and after a great lunch we took the boat and bus back to town. We slept most of the way back and enjoyed dinner before heading back to our home. We are here a couple more days and then fly north again.

We would love an email with any of your news at ho

Posted by debbep 05:28 Archived in Chile Comments (2)

Part two. South America.

Hola Amigos, desde Santiago Chile.

sunny 30 °C

Day 1.
Jan 01, 2014. Our flight is on the 2nd but we decided to play it safe and overnight in Vancouver. Sydney picked us up at the ferry and we went for a wonderful Malaysian meal before checking into our airport hotel for the night. It made it so much less stressful than trying to do it all in one day.

Day 2. Our flight to Dallas left at 1:40PM, or it was supposed to anyhow. A mechanical had us delayed on the runway for over an hour and then upon arrival in Dallas they could not find a gate for us. There were a lot of folks connecting to other flights and therefore some very anxious passengers. We had originally two hours until our next flight and we had made up some time on the way so still had an hour. As we were leaving from the same terminal we were not too worried.

Our flight from Dallas to Santiago left on time at 9:30PM and the next 9 hours were incredibly long. We are seriously going to try to avoid overnight flights from now on.

Day 3. Arrival in Santiago was on time at 9:30AM. So were the other five international flights. It was crazy busy in the small airport. We had to line up for 40 minutes to pay our reciprocal fee of $135 US and then another hour or so in the immigration line, to be followed by fighting our way through the congestion to the baggage area. We were the last carousel and because we took so long to get there all the baggage was off. Unfortunately ours was not among the ones there. Our bags did not make the flight.

We then stood in another long line behind many other American Airlines passengers who did not get their bags either. When we finally got the the front she said they located one bag in Dallas but the other was still unlocated.......... Hopefully both will be on the flight tomorrow and we will have them tomorrow night.

We then had to stand in another very long line to go through agriculture, where you put your baggage through an xray machine [leaving the airport], to check for plants and food etc.

Finally, outside we catch a cab to our hotel.

Santiago is a very large city, 6 million people [almost half the population of Chile lives here]. Our apartment in the the centre of the old part of town and because it was only 1PM we had to wait an hour to check in. We both felt like zombies from lack of sleep but ventured out to find a cafe for some lunch. We managed to find an excellent little sidewalk cafe and had a wonderful quinoa salad and vegetable crepe. And the best Americano Coffee that we have every had, or it seemed that way anyhow.

At 2P we were back and checked into our very trendy, Bohemian style small apartment. It looks like something that would be in Yaletown. The downstairs has a small leather couch, basic kitchen and brick wall and a small balcony overlooking Santiago. We are on the 16th floor and have a great view of not only the city but the Andes which surround Santiago.

There is a floating staircase to the second floor where we find our bed and bathroom. There is another small balcony here. The only thing kind of strange is that the balcony door is glass and there are not any curtains on this window, just the ones in the living room. The sun rises at 6:30 so I guess we will be getting an early start which is okay.

We slept for a few hours and then went out to find dinner. We came upon a recommended area that has many cafes with out door seating and alive with wonderful street musicians and artisans selling from stalls. It is Friday night and the places are packed with young couples out on the town. It is a very young area but that means it is very lively as well.

Our food was wonderful in the chic artsy restaurant that we found. Dinner is usually not until 8PM or later here. On the walk home we stopped at a grocery store to get some breakfast food and fruit.

Day 4. Slept through the night until 9AM!!! What a treat. At 11 we wandered off to the main area, Plaza de Armas. A large church invited us inside and we sat and listened to taped music by a woman with a magnificent voice.

We spent the day wandering the old city. The two museums that we really wanted to see are both closed which is disappointing, but we went to a very small archeological museum which had some hats and decorative items that I had never seen before. A very small sidewalk cafe was attached and we both had fantastic salads and amazing iced tea.

The weather is 30C but there is not a lot of humidity. By the time we walked back to our apartment, around 4PM, the smog was thick. We could not see the mountains from our room, and could barely see the skyscrapers near by. Santiago has a big problem with smog because it is surrounded by the mountains. There was no wind today which made it worse.

We were so ecstatic to see both of our suitcases in our room upon our return. Mine had been opened, which I don't mind, it looks like everything is there, however they did not put my lock back on. But we are thrilled to have our bags, and summer clothes!

After a sleep we went back to the same area as last night for another great meal but at a different restaurant.

My Spanish is coming back. Not many people speak English which is great and I am hoping by the end of the three months I am pretty comfortable speaking and understanding.

We are in Santiago for a couple more nights and then will take a bus to the coast and rent a car to explore for a week. I will post around once a week again,.
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Posted by debbep 18:49 Archived in Chile Comments (2)

New Orleans

Day 71
The ship sent out a schedule for disembarking, ranging in time from 6AM to 930AM. We were scheduled at 830A which was civilized. We went up for breakfast and sat with some people from USA, ex England. Today we are hearing a lot of people saying they did not like the ship for various reasons. Having nothing to compare it to we thought it was great, for the most part. Nothing is perfect, especially for 16 days, but we're happy overall. Some people expect a lot for their $50 a day I guess.

Our turn came but we were instructed to wait in the lounge as there was too much congestion at customs. We were finally able to line up around 9 and it was like the lines at Disneyland. They snaked around and you weren't really sure how long the line was.

It was long.

We stood, shuffling slowly ahead for over an hour and a half.

Finally got to customs which took two seconds and then a cab to our hotel. We booked " The Inn on St. Peter " which was in the French Quarter and a block off Bourbon St. A very charming small heritage hotel that we fell in love with. Our second floor room was beautifully furnished and recently renovated.

We explored Bourbon St. and up to the Main Street of Canal. I have already used 3 memory cards for my camera and on the look out for a new one,which I found.

New Orleans is very busy with a convention of Ophthalmologists from all over the world as well as a big football game, New Orleans against San Francisco. New Orleans is very passionate about their football and the streets were teaming with fans wearing jerseys, shirts and "Saint" apparel. It was now noon and the drinking and partying has already long started.

After a rest in the room Doug decided to go to the game, which started at 3PM, but he went a bit later to get a ticket for less, which he did. He really enjoyed the game and The Saints had a big come back late in the game and won. The crowd went wild.

I decided to go check out a shopping mall about 1/2 hour away by cab. I found the prices rather high but did manage to find a couple of pieces of clothing that wanted to come home with me,

When it was time to leave the mall you had to line up to wait for a cab. There were lots of people waiting, and no cabs because the game also just got out.

I loudly asked if anyone in the line was also going to the French quarter and wanted to share a cab. I just got blank stares like I was nuts.

There was a gorgeous woman around 30 something in front of me who finally said we could share. She was an ophthalmologist from Brazil and we had a great conversation.

After waiting an hour we finally caught a cab back and then Doug and I went down to Bourbon St. to have dinner. We ate on a terrace overlooking the street, and although the food was mediocre the view and entertainment was fantastic.

People were partying, dancing and generally having a great time. Drinking is allowed on the streets and strongly encouraged here. This area is actually very seedy, the underbelly of Louisiana I think.

Lots of strip clubs, Larry Flint " barely legal" bars on every block, three for one drinks, huge novelty glasses with slushy bar drinks and lots of loud music. From where we were sitting we could hear four different songs all blaring. There is not a lot of jazz in this area, mostly country rock and rock.

A lot of people are wearing the mardi gras beads, masks and feather boas. It was such great fun to watch it all from our vantage point above the street. It looked like it was going to go on for a long time into the night

They block the street off every night so it is a no vehicle zone.
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Day 72
Walking down Bourbon St at 9AM looked like a ghost town. This part of town does not rise early. Street cleaners erase all evidence of the previous night to start it all fresh again later this evening.

Today we wandered around the French quarter and then took a small bus tour which we really enjoyed. Our driver had a great sense of humor and full of wonderful and insightful information about New Orleans and the state of Louisiana.

We toured one of the areas that was devastated by Katrina and learned a lot about what it was like for people who lived there, and what it is like today as well.

From there we went to a cemetery. The dead are buried in above ground crypts. George, or guide, explains that the water table is so high here that if you bury someone in the ground ,"Grandmas going to be popping up outta her coffin the first big rain"

A bunch of families will all be buried in one crypt, going back many generations.

We toured the levies, a beautiful park, and an area of town with gorgeous wooden heritage houses.
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Day 73
After wandering for a while we decided on either a plantation tour or a swamp tour. We decided on the latter. A van picked up 23 passengers from various parts of the city which seemed to take forever but we finally reached the Bayou River at 2PM. We chose an air boat tour that held 12 passengers and our pilot, Bebop, was a very cute young man with a great sense of humor.

Our tour took us through a few arms of the swamp looking for alligator and swamp creatures. I am not sure however if they ever see any animals as this boat is so incredibly loud, we need to wear ear protection. I would think that they would scare everything within 10 miles away.

The boat goes quite fast when he opens it up, but it did get cold. It was called a " swamp tour" and not an alligator tour, but he did have a baby alligator on board which he showed us, and let us hold. They do rescues for the area and he has 5 babies at his house. When they are old enough they release the females into the swamp but the males will go to zoos. He gave us lots of interesting information about the animals, vegetation and history of the area.

Back in the French quarter we had an early dinner and then back to the room to pack. Bourbon St was just starting to wake up.
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Day 74
Going home today. I am now in Dallas waiting for our flight to Vancouver to leave. We were taxiing out when they noticed a nail in the wheel and we are delayed over an hour to fix it. Not sure if we will make our connection to Nanaimo but it is all out of our control at this point.

Southern hospitality was very apparent in New Orleans, people were so wonderful. Overall, however, I find that everywhere we have traveled in the world people are so kind and helpful.

We had such an amazing trip, learned so much about each of the areas that we visited and loved it all.

We are home now for six weeks for Christmas and really looking forward to reconnecting with our family and friends.

On January 2nd we are off again to South America.

Stay posted and thanks for following along with us for this half of our trip.

P.S. Well the stars aligned and we made our harbor air flight with one minute to spare, literally. We flew over the islands to Nanaimo on a cold but beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky.

Like Dorothy said " there is no place like home".

Posted by debbep 19:27 Comments (2)

Transatlantic Cruise

Barcelona to New Orleans

We arrived at the cruise ship terminal close to noon and the line up was very short. We ran into Greg,who sings in the choir at home with Doug, and Greg's three friends in the line up. We knew they were coming on this cruise but did not expect to run into them so soon. Doug, Heather and her sister Sally are from Red Deer and we all seem to get along really well.

A buffet lunch was waiting for us and it was so wonderful to see a salad bar and different menu choices, (ask me how I feel in16 days from now though.)

The ship is huge and we spend a bit of time exploring the upper deck. Hundreds of lounge chairs surround the small pool and above is a large screen where they show movies (outside) and during the day they have scenes of snorkelling the reefs. Loud music is played during the day from the rock and roll era of the 70s 80s and 90s.

The floor above has a serenity pool with a water fall and it is also surrounded by many lounge chairs. This is an adult only area although there are only a dozen or so children on this ship anyhow. There are double hammocks and double lounge chairs.

We also find a sports area with walking/running track, ping pong, billiards, basketball, huge water slides and a rope challenge course.
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At 2PM we are able to get into our room and find that is is larger than most of the hotel rooms we have had. We booked a cabin on the lowest passenger deck in the middle of the ship as I am prone to seasickness and this area has the least movement. Our ocean view cabin is bright, furnished in blue and yellow and we are very happy here.

After a rest for a couple of hours we made our way upstairs for dinner in one of the many dining rooms. I am happy to see a few choices for vegetarians on the menu.

Our 16 day repositioning cruise came in at $700 each, so with tip it works out to $55 a day. This includes meals, room and entertainment. It's cheaper than staying at home.

Day 56. Our ship arrived in Mallorca, Las Palmas islands. Sally, Greg, Doug and Heather joined Doug and I on a hop on hop off tour of Mallorca today. We hopped off at two stops, one at the castle on top of the hill and the other the church and palace in town.
It is a very beautiful city and we enjoyed our short time here.

Later in the evening we had a wonderful dinner and then watched a comedy show which was pretty funny

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Some of the street entertainment we have seen.

Day 57. Sea day. I joined a boot camp up in the gym and today was the first day. The gym is very modern and it felt great to work out again.
This afternoon was spent watching a live musical show with Beatle tunes, swimming and sun bathing by the pool, and talking to the many staff on board who are from all over the world.

The average age of the passengers on this ship is probably 60. There are many well travelled people aboard who love to share their stories, wether you want to hear them or not. Some folks are on their 60th cruise. It appears that for quite a few it is a contest as to who has been on the most cruises. There are some very interesting people aboard but like any large group of people, there are some that we would rather not spend time with.
There is one older couple, we will call them Jim and Millie, I can't remember their real names. We sat beside them at lunch and asked if they had done many other cruises. Well the flood gates opened and he told us about every place he had ever been, as though he was the only one who had ever been there. Millie didn't say a word, Doug said he saw her nodding off a few times as I am sure she has heard these stories a million times.
After 40 minutes or so of this one sided conversation I stood up to leave. He started talking about another destination that he had been to. I put on my backpack. He kept talking. I slowly backed away. He kept talking.
I finally said, "well, gotta go now". And we left.
He did not even ask us where we were from, the basic question on a cruises ship. Greg and crew said they met them as well and had the same experience.

People like Joe and Millie, and there are a number of them, must love cruising because they have a new audience every day.

Day 58. Malaga was our port of call today and once again we did the hop on hop off bus to tour the city. Another beautiful Spanish city with wonderful beaches and interesting buildings.

This evening we did another comedy show, and then up to the pool deck to watch a movie under the stars.
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Day 59. Sea day. Boot camp again followed by pool time, sun time, lunch and then another Beatles sing along. I look around and see all of these old people swaying to the music and singing along. How can these old people be Beatle fans? It is hard to comprehend that they are probably the same age as us. Perceptions.

After a wonderful siesta and a great dinner we watched another comedy show and then went to the piano bar to listen to a young man play piano and sing some of Elton John's and other songs.

Day 60. A short port day in the Canary Islands, Las Palmas. Because we only had four hours we opted to do the ships shore excursion which was a tour of the island. The passengers were lined up and slowly boarded the many buses waiting in port. The roads to the top of the lookout to see the crater from the volcano were very narrow and winding. When two buses or cars meet it would be quite a nail biter. The tour meant sitting on the bus 90% of the time, so not my cup of tea but Doug and others really liked it.
I think that there are beaches and prettier areas in the Canary islands but the area we saw was very dry and hilly. They have not had rain for a long time and it shows. There are many different types of cactus and bougainvillaea, some grapes and potatoes growing.
This evening we went to another comedy show after dinner

Day 61. We have sea days now for six days. Nothing but water on all sides We are following the equator so the weather is quite warm, (29C) and blue skies. The sea is fairly calm, a bit of rocking and rolling at times but my ginger pills and the absence of alcohol seem to be keeping sea sickness at bay for now.
Boot camp followed by more sun bathing and swimming. The pool is like a wave pool with the swaying of the ship which is kind of fun. They show old tv shows in the morning at the pool, Happy Days, I love Lucy and Mash followed by loud music from the 70s and up.

We gained another hour today. We gain 7 hours over the course of the cruise which is pretty cool. No jet lag when we get home.

We spend a lot of time talking to other passengers and crew as I said and the time passes much quicker than I thought it would.

The crew are involved in a murder mystery game where we need to figure out 'who done it' in the next week.
After dinner there was a fantastic show "Epic Rock from the 80s' the singing dancing and visual effects were amazing and we were all blown away by this 35 minute show.

After this show we went to another area for an hour to listen to live rock and roll from the 80s again and watch others dancing.

Day 62. Miles and miles of ocean. Another hot and sunny day spent pool side. Today I decided to mix it up a bit and do pool and sun first and gym later. I watched tv while in the pool, it is getting very hot.
Working out in the gym is challenging when the boat is rocking so much.
The movie 'Lincoln' was playing at the pool this afternoon which Doug watched but I found it hard to hear so went to the cabin.

After dinner we watched another comedy show which was funny.

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Day 63. Another time change last night. I can't figure out what time it really is anymore. Hot and muggy today. We look to be in the middle of the Atlantic right now. We see some of the same people over and over and forming a friendship with a few.

Pool time and boot camp at 2PM today which was a bit too late for me but I survived,(barely). We started with 6 women and 4 men and 3 of the men dropped out cause it was too tough....

An early night after dinner.

We have a different towel animal on our bed every night. Sometimes we are not too sure what it is....

Day 64. Had a great night sleep. There are a lot of people with colds, it is sweeping the boat. I am fighting it off but Doug is suffering.

After breakfast I went to check out the water slides and decided to try the slow one, yellow. You had to climb up around three stories or more and then choose one of three slides. It felt like it went on forever and threw me around inside a lot.

After that Doug and I went swimming and laid in the sun for a short while but it was over 30C today so too hot to stay out of the pool for long.

Greg and I decided to tackle the rope sky course. I had my sandals on and one of the young men said that I needed runners. I told Greg I would have to come back and the young man gave me his runners to wear! The staff is fantastic here. I felt like a clown from the circus, they were a few sizes too big but I got harnessed in and off I went.

The first station was a tightrope across. You had a rope to hold on to and also your harness.
"I think I made a mistake, I don't want to do this"

There was a line forming behind me. So I went.

The old "don't look down" didn't work too well here. I made it across the first two stations and then freaked.

A balance beam that seemed to go forever. One of the young men who worked there came over and talked me across and stayed with me the rest of the course.

I watched others just zip across, but my balance is terrible and I am terrified of heights. I could not believe I finished this without falling off, or freezing. One woman a while ago just stopped in the middle and would not move. They had to get a pulley system to bring her down.

As soon as I got down I ran into a woman that we sat with at dinner a few nights ago and she wanted to do the water slide with me. After I stopped shaking from doing the ropes we headed over.

She got in the blue and I did the green, we were going to have a race. I crossed my ankles, laid down and crossed my hands across my chest as instructed.

We went so freaking fast, but my head was banging on the back as I went down.
Bam bam bam. Ouch, that hurt. I am going to have a headache from that.

Hazel said the blue one didn't do that and talked me into going down again on that one.

The blue slide was so fast! I got to a corner and flipped around and got a face full of water and before I knew it I was at the bottom. With a huge wedgie. Damm that was fast.

That's enough of that!!

My body is a little sore right now.

Another great dinner tonight and then we went to another comedy show and in bed by 9.
No wait, 8 , another time change.
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Day 65. I went up to the gym to weigh myself this morning and the digital scales went up and down 15 pounds continuously because the waves are so bad today. It was quite funny. Kevin, our trainer, said we would not use weights today because the ship is rolling too much, just our own body weight and the resistance of the waves. I would be doing push-ups and thinking "wow, this is so easy" and the the wave would go up and it would be so hard. Really cool but a tough work out.

Pool time, reading, relaxing. Lots of wave action in the pool. You can do laps without moving, it's like one of those resistance pools. No seasickness yet which is fantastic. I find it fun so far.

Most of the passengers are American, then Canadian followed by European, Russian, German, English, Israeli and Spanish.

Today is November 11, Remembrance Day. I made each of our 6 a poppy from the daily newspaper in our room, Carnivals colors are red. We had a moment of silence at 11am.
There was a remembrance gathering in the after noon that Doug went to.

After dinner we went to another "playlist" show. This is with the professional dancers and singers and tonight was a 70s theme. Our cruise director and some of her staff came out to where we were all lined up to go in, and asked who wanted to be a VIP, who could do the "YMCA song."?

For reasons that remain unknown, I yelled out " I do, I do!!!"

I was given a VIP neck tag and interviewed about the 70s and then my party , Doug ,Heather, Doug and Sally, were al escorted in and put in front row seats. What have I gotten myself into? They did the same with about 10 more people.

Sally took off thinking that they would have all of us do something. Greg was In his room nursing a bad cold.

The show started and the music,dancing and costumes were fantastic. Third song in one of the women dancers came over to me, put a pair of glitter cats eye glasses on me, which really impacted my vision, and we started to dance. There were six other guests on the floor partnered with the other dancers.

We then made our way on stage to do " the hustle". Well I have no rhythm but was doing pretty well following her lead until they moved me to the front and I had no one to watch, I was two left feet dancing.

She brought me up again at the end of the show to dance and it was a lot of fun. Normally I hate this type of thing but really didn't care that much.

Day 66. Changing the clock back every night is getting tough. Everyone is waking up at 3 or 4AM . A lot of tired people in the gym this morning.

I have a siesta around 2 or 3 every day, but find I am not tired then and feel the need to sleep at dinner time instead which is inconvenient. I haven't had my nap for three days now, but going to bed around 8 PM is helping.

I sat at the pool and read but only lasted around a half hour in the sun as it is so hot, over 30. The pool looks like there is a convention happening, standing room only. There are so many crispy critters laying by the pool. They are going to be sore tomorrow.
I moved into the shade to read for a few hours and then the pool side theatre showed the Michael Jackson movie "this is it" . I have seen it twice before but still loved it the third time.

After dinner Doug and the other two guys went to a ventriloquist show which they said was great. I stayed in tonight.

Day 67. Port day. Turks and Caicos. Another carnival cruise ship pulled in just before us so the place was packed. But what a place! The ships pulled in just a few meters from the beach. We walked down the walkway, through the duty free shop and out to find our shore excursion. We are on Grand Turk, one of a few islands here.

Carnival owns this part of the island which has stores, bars, a huge swimming pool, and many lounge chairs on the beach and under to palm trees. It is a great set up.

The beach has powdery white sand framed with Palm trees and the water is a gorgeous turquoise. We can see the tropical fish from the pier.

Doug and heather and the two of us signed up for the "ultimate snorkel tour". There were around 50 of us on a catamaran that had two snorkel stops. The crew were all wonderful and we left for our two and 1/2 hour sail at 10:30am.

The first stop was not great. I am so spoiled from Belize but just dead coral and a few fish. I was so disappointed.

The second stop was much shallower and there were many more tropical fish and some colorful coral. Two nurse sharks and a barracuda were swimming with is as well.

All too early we had to head back but stopped to watched four dolphins playing in the water. It would have been great to snorkel with them.

The rest of the afternoon was spent swimming in the beautiful warm crystal clear water and relaxing under the palm trees. This was such a wonderful break from the ship. I think I would like to come back here one day for a couple of weeks. When the cruise ships aren't here it would be very peaceful.

After dinner we went to a show by one of the entertainers who sang and performed and we all really enjoyed it.

No time change tonight. Yeah!!!!
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Day 68. We talk to the crew a lot, especially the wait staff. One young man from Indonesia has really touched our heart and we spent some time talking to him about his plans etc.

I said I would like to ask him a question but he didn't have to answer if he didn't want to. Does Carnival pay you well?.
"No, we don't make any wages, only tips"
What? really?

Three years ago they changed their policy and quit paying them, but after a straight 8 or 9 month contract they will pay their flight home and back after a holiday.

He said they book them on the milk run to get the cheapest flights, he would rather get a salary and book his own flight.

These guys and girls work so hard, 12 hour days or more. If you talk to them they give you all the time you need, and now I know why.

There is a mandatory tipping of $11 per day per person divided between staff,, but you can also give extra to whom you want.

No wonder cruises are so inexpensive.

After my boot camp Doug and I sat on lounge chairs on the upper deck and read. The weather changed and it rained a bit, we moved under cover.
There are a number of silly, (in my opinion) games on the ship and today was no exception. Today was the men's hairy chest contest.

Did I mention the average age on the ship is 60? It should have been the hairy back contest. Older men with pot bellies strutting their stuff and then two women in their 70s would run their hands through the chest hair of these strangers. Yuck. It got really silly after that and I tried not to watch and just read my book, but it was like a car accident, I just had to look up now and then.

Lazy day, lots do reading and then we dressed up for our second, and last, formal night dinner. We were also treated to another playlist production with more amazing dancing and singing with the eight very talented young men and women. The theme tonight was Latin songs and the colors and costumes were fantastic.

After the show we went to a comedy show and he was the funniest we had sen yet.
Stayed up until 11PM tonight and then had another time change back to 10PM. Whohoo

Day 69
After my workout in the gym Doug and I met for breakfast and sat with a couple from England who were probably in their early 70s. They lived close to Liverpool and had a very thick accent, but delightful to talk to. They described the Serenity deck (the top pool deck), as an old folks home. People go there and lay in the hammocks and lounge chairs all day and don't move. He said he saw one guy even drooling as he slept, and they even have their meals brought to them. It was very close to the truth and we found him very funny.

The weather was very rainy and bleak today. We did a lot of reading and after dinner went to a comedy show which was funny. At each port stop we have new comedians and entertainers board and the old ones leave.

The ship was really rocking tonight. I had a hard time walking.

Tonight we had a jazz band from New Orleans, the "dirty dozen" which had 7 men playing brass keyboard and drums. Not sure why they were called dirty dozen? They were very good but incredibly loud. The only thing about this cruise I would complain about is that the music and events are far too loud. A lot of people ended up leaving the show because of the volume, including me.

Day 70. My last morning in the gym. Doug and I went for a swim this morning after breakfast, the weather was great today.
We arrived at the Mississippi River and started our way up to New Orleans. We sailed past many oil rigs and then to an area of marshland. Large pelicans flew overhead, cows grazing on the grassland. Everyone was on deck and it was very exciting to come to New Orleans this way.

After lunch there was a Mardi Gras party on the pool deck, with the jazz band from last night, who turned the volume down thankfully. It was a lot of fun to watch and a great way to spend our last day on the ship.

At 4pm the ship anchored in the middle of the river and immigration boarded to go over all the papers, mostly of the crew. Because this is our first point of entry into the USA and the crew is from all over the world they will clear them fist so that no one slips in tomorrow when all the passengers disembark. Paranoia about crew jumping ship to stay here I guess.

We gave some extra tips to some of the staff members who went above and beyond for us. It is hard because they are are all so wonderful. One buss boy that Doug gave a bit of money to was so grateful, well they all were, but he said, " you know it's not the money, it's the respect"

We had an early night tonight. Had to pack up and get ready to leave what was our home for the past 16 days.

On to New Orleans.

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Posted by debbep 20:53 Comments (1)

Florence and Barcelona

Day 48. A different route was chosen for our drive back to Pisa though some very hilly and winding roads. The landscape changed the further north we got, with many more trees, hills that were more rugged and grapes replaced by olive trees. The trees were heavy with black and green olives just waiting to be picked.

A detour to the hill town of Volterra took us up a very steep climb and offered great views from the top. A stop just long enough to stretch our legs and walk around and then back on the road to make sure we were on time. If we are more than a 1/2 hour late we are charged an extra day on the car.
We found one of the few Roman ruins that we have seen here in this small town.

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Very pleased with ourselves we check the car in, no dents or marks and a half hour early, not getting lost.

A short train ride into Pisa central and then we took the next train to Florence. We had planned to go into town to see the leaning tower but decided that we just wanted to get to Florence right away instead.

Our hotel is spacious and clean and only two blocks from the Duomo, which is in the major tourist area in Florence. We went out for a walk down the pedestrian road which was very crowded with tourists from all over the world. The stores and cafes look fantastic. A few stalls are on the side streets selling leather goods and scarves etc.

Our walk takes us to the Ponte Vecchio, a well known medieval bridge in Florence which dates back to 996. Shops selling gold jewelry are lining both sides of the bridge and there are many people and vendors here tonight.
We look forward to exploring more tomorrow.

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Day 49. We had prebooked tickets for the Uffizi Art Museum for 930AM. This is one of the most famous and oldest museums in the western world so it gets very busy.

The museum is overwhelming. Paintings and sculptures by DaVinci, Raphael, Botticelli Rembrandt just to name a few. After an hour of seeing so many amazing works of art your head is spinning. We took a coffee break on the roof for an hour and then went back to discover more masterpieces for the next couple of hours.

I think that visiting this museum would be better over a few days to really appreciate the art in smaller pieces. It was one of the most amazing galleries we have ever been to.

After lunch we went back to the room for a few hours and then walked the streets for a few hours before dinner.

I love to people watch and notice that the tourists must get up in the morning and say to themselves " I want to be comfortable" and dress accordingly.
Italian women on the other hand must wake up and say " I want to look Fabulous" and they do. They throw together items of clothing that shouldn't work but do, and look amazing. They have such a sense of style. The men throw sweaters over their shoulders, wear bright scarves looped around their necks and expensive looking shirts and shoes. If they wear glasses the frames are very colorful, and some quite outrageous for the age of the wearer. I love it.

There is also a lot of passion on the streets. Lovers young and old practically making out on the streets You will be walking behind someone and they will just stop and get into this very heated embrace. We are so conservative at home.

I went shopping tonight for a short while and did end up finding a pair of boots.
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Day 50. The Duomo was on the agenda for this morning and so we lined up early and got inside when there were not too many others there. What a gift. The Duomo, or cathedral, called the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, is huge and unlike the others we have seen. The building was started in 1296 and finished being built in 1436. At the front of the cathedral is a dome that has wonderful paintings on the ceiling.
The tour groups and throngs arrived. We all do what I call the tourist shuffle. Cows to slaughter. We MOOOVE slowly from place to place in a huge crowds shuffling our feet.

Doug and I sat on a bench for a while and just looked around at this extraordinary building. We can see the dome from our hotel room and it is a great landmark. When we don't know which way is home, we just look up for the dome.

I love watching other tourists. I turn around and there are about a hundred or more all with their cameras pointing up to the ceiling, a few more hundred iphones doing the same thing. It makes you wonder exactly how many of the same photo there are in existence.

We wandered next door to the museum but there are under construction and only a half of a dozen or so works on display.
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Day 51. Tonight we fly to Barcelona on a low cost flight so we packed our bags and left them at reception for the day. I have been reading reviews of the airline and I barely slept last night worried about our luggage being over 23Ks as they will charge you $20 for each kilo you are over. That can quickly add up to negate any savings on the airfare. You can also bring 10K as hand baggage which they weigh and measure at the gate however. We have no way of weighing our luggage so we spend the morning throwing out any thing that we didn't need. I wore most of my heavy jewellery and three lawyers of clothing. More on that later.

We had tickets to the Academia where the statue of Michalangelo's David is. The crowds were not too bad and the museum also had other paintings and statues that we found very interesting.
David ,however, is a masterpiece. I thought, " yeah, I have seen pictures, and I even saw the copy that is in one of the squares in Florence, how great can it be?"

We sat and just marvelled at it for close to 45 minutes. The perfect body made from marble. It is truly magnificent. Every vein and muscle is so perfectly carved. You wonder how on earth he could have made this from one huge piece of marble. And a piece that was turned down by many other sculptors as being too narrow and imperfect.
We were very glad we went and it really is worth seeing in person. We could not take pictures of it, so this is the copy in the square.
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Exploring Florence for a few more hours until it was time to take our cab to the airport. Florence is a huge city. We did not realize how big because we just stayed in the old quarter. Our cab driver is very skilled at driving as it is a real challenge in Florence with the narrow roads shared by bicycles, pedestrians and other vehicles.

Our bags were each 14 lbs less than the maximum. Can I take some clothes off now and repack? Too late.
Our knapsacks were also under weight. All that worry for nothing. THe flight was good and we arrived in Barcelona at 9PM

Barcelona. What a surprise this city was. It is so huge, the cab ride from the airport cost more than $50.
Our hotel in on the Ramblas which is a very popular walking area with many hotels shops and places to eat lining the streets. A wide pedestrian area in the middle is flanked by streets on either side and many trees to offer shade in the heat of the summer. This well used walkway is always crowded with young old as well as many families. Tourists and locals alike are found here.

It was a very long day and we went straight to sleep.

Day 52. After breakfast we walked the Ramblas and came upon a large indoor market. Once again it is similar to Granville island but larger and extremely crowded. We bought some fruit for our day and wandered around looking at the different types of fish fruit and offerings.
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As the city was so big we decided to do a Hop on Hop off bus tour and got the two day pass. Today we did the green route which took two and a half hours and we did not hop on or off, just enjoyed the tour.

We went past many different areas of Barcelona, as I said it is huge, and past a large marina with thousands of boats, some of which were large yachts. They have a very big aquarium here with the water tunnel above so that the fish, sharks and rays will be swimming all around you. We did not have time to visit however.

Barcelona is on the coast and they have developed a cement pathway along the many wide beaches that go for miles. People are walking , jogging, skateboarding roller blading and biking on this wide promenade. It looks like it is well used. There are a few people sunbathing and a number of sailboats in the water.

The architecture is so diverse. If you were a student of design this would be a great place to come. The buildings are all different. There is no area where only one style is permitted. You will see Art Deco next to modern next to Gothic. It is really quite spectacular to see all the different styles together.

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We got off a few stops before home and went to the cathedral of the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia, also known as the Barcelona Cathedral. It is a gothic cathedral and seat of the Archbishop of Barcelona Spain. It was completed between the 13th and 19th century and quite fantastic.
I was here in 1973 and don't remember too much about the trip but do remember this cathedral and wanted to see it again.

Doug and I went inside and marvelled at the paintings and interior design.
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On our walk back we came upon another indoor market, this one was more of a cross between Whole Foods and Granville Island and offered many varieties of cheese, nuts, vegetables and what ever you wanted.

A restaurant was attached and we stopped to have lunch. The design and atmosphere reminded us very much of being in Granville Island.

Later that evening we went out to find a place to do our laundry. The fellow there convinced us to let him do it for only a few Euros more and it would be ready in an hour and a half. How could we refuse?

A few doors down was the Gaudi Palace. Gaudi was an architect and has designed many buildings around Barcelona. They are very distinct and quite unusual. After giving him his diploma, his teacher at school said," he is either a genius or a lunatic".

It was a great time to visit, 7PM, because there were very few people there. We had seen extremely long line ups for many of his building's today and did not want to spend the day queuing up.

His design is fantastic and so unique. He used metals, leather and wood all at once. This was a home (palace) commissioned by a wealthy industrialist to be built by Gaudi. The price of admission included an audio guide which was very informative and there was a short film about his life to give you a better understanding of who this man was. We spent just over an hour touring this work of art. The chimneys for the many fireplaces were colorful pillars on the rooftops

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Our laundry was done, we dropped it off at the hotel and went out searching for dinner. We found a square lined with restaurants on all four sides. Doug wanted a paella but most only make them for two and he wanted seafood and I vegetarian.

We managed to find one in an out door seating area and the paella was fantastic. It took forever to arrive but worth the wait and fun to people watch in the meantime.

Day 53. The orange route was explored today on the bus tour. The top of the bus offers great views and the temperature is nice and warm today. This route took us through a different area of the city and then up to the top of a hill to see a wonderful panoramic view as well as where the gondolas leave from to take you over the city. If we had more time I would have loved to do that.

The summer Olympics were held here in 1992 and at the top of the hill is the massive indoor pool and stadiums. Nearby are the old buildings and exhibits from the World fair that took place here in 1929. We also pass a huge art gallery that would have been worth a visit had we had the time.

The bull ring was on our route. Not used any more and now a shopping centre, I can remember seeing a bull fight in this building in 1973. Linda and I were cheering for the bull, which did not go over well with the other spectators. It was a horrible event and I am glad this building is now closed.

Lunch was at another of Gaudi's buildings that had part of it turned into a cafe. Doug wanted to go back onto the bus tour 'green line' again. I went part way and then got off to shop for a few items needed for our cruise, toiletries etc.

This evening, our last in Barcelona, was spent walking the small streets looking for a place to have dinner. We found a small one and once again had paella which was very good.
It is Halloween today and many children out dressed up going from shop to shop. We see a number of young adults in creative costumes as well and there was a party atmosphere in the air tonight.
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Day 54. Barcelona deserves at least a week in my opinion. There are so many things that we would have liked to have done here. Today however, we leave for our cruise towards home. We will make our way to the ship around noon and start our 16 day cruise to New Orleans. I am excited but nervous about this next chapter.

Posted by debbep 03:28 Comments (2)

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)

Romania

Transalvania

Day 15
Not knowing where to go next we decided on Transylvania because of all the great reports and it sounded so different from where we had already been. Our train arrived at the Sighisoara Station at noonish. We hailed a cab and made our way across the river to our home for the next three nights, 'The Joker' hotel. A few minutes walk from the centre of the old town for $30 a night it proves to be a great place to wind down for a few days. After a rest we walked around the small town. We instantly fall in love with the new and different architecture and the many colors of the buildings.
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Sighisoara is a Unesco world heritage site. This well preserved medieval town has buildings dating back to the 13th century and quite different from what we have seen so far on this trip. The clock tower and churches are at the top of the hill in the old walled city so we make our way up the cobblestone road to look around. There are not many tourists here and it is all so laid back and relaxed.
Dinner was a hearty vegetable soup and bread. Bread is a staple everywhere in Europe it seems. They have little take out windows here on a couple of storefronts that sell these round bagel/pretzel looking things that people line up all day for. We had to try some of course and were immediately hooked.
The roofs of the buildings are very steep and have the rounded red tiles. Home owners take great pride in their homes and gardens with many flowers in bloom and tomatoes, grapes and corn ready to be picked.

Day 16. A short hike back to the top of the hill to the walled city allows us to explore the many buildings.
This is the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, AKA Dracula. The real story is that Vlad's father was given the order of the dragon for bravery and dragon in Romanian is Dracu. There is a very long story about Vlad, but the short version is that he became a very good but brutal fighter against the Turks. He killed and tortured up to 100,000 men women and children burning entire villages. He became very feared by the Turks as when they were advancing upon a town to conquer, they would find people who had been impaled by Vlad lining each side of the road and so the invaders would quite often then retreat.
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Bram Stoker did a story and movie loosely based upon this and in fact he had never even been to Romania before.

The walled city is all hilly and difficult to walk on the narrow roads with uneven cobblestones. I feel drunk. No high heels are worn here.

People are still living inside the walls and there are two schools. The high school is at the top of a covered walkway which has 176 steps. We climbed to the top and found a lovely old church and a very informative and friendly young man who explained about the area for us. Under the church was a crypt. I asked who would have been buried there and he said the rich. That is where the saying 'stinking rich ' comes from. The rich would be put under the church and the congregation would have to endure the smell of rotting bodies during the church service.

A graveyard adjoined the church and dated back many centuries with family plots that still have residents buried there now, condominium style I assume.
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A large Catholic Church rings the bell at 7AM, noon and 7PM daily. It rings and rings and rings, maybe 25 or more times a go. This is a tradition that has carried on from days gone by so that people knew when to stop and have their meals.

Later in the evening we went out for dinner again. There are not many restaurants here as it is a small town. There seem to be a lot of coffee houses where you can get alcohol as well, but other than pastries no food. Everyone seems to smoke and inside the restaurants as well. The non smoking area appears to be outside.

DAY 17. Last night we arranged to have a local guide, Peter,our guide and driver, picked us up at the hotel at 9AM for a day out in the country. Peter is around 35 years of age and the name of his company is Wanderlust, which I thought was appropriate. He had a great deal of information to share with us about Romania. There are a lot of German speakers in Romania and communities of people of German ancestry. For that reason Romania was not bothered too much by the Nazis in the Second World War until 1944, (unless you were a gypsy). The EU so far has not been great for Romania. Farmers are paid an allowance of so much per hectare for farming their land. More if they let it go to grassland than farm it. They want France to provide most of Europe with produce so a lot of farmers and factory workers have been displaced in Romania. It sounds like there really isn't much of an export business here at all any more.

During communist occupation, which similar to Hungary was after the war until 20 years ago, everyone was working but the factories were not profitable so after the occupation many of them closed down.
70% of the produce that the farmers grow are organic. There are monsanto and fertilizer companies but most farmers can't afford to buy it and figured out pretty quickly that the old fashioned way was better anyhow. Most of the farming is done by horse or hand. The miles and miles of corn are all picked by hand. Most farmers around here can't afford tractors and the cost of gas is high. The farms are on hillsides and they find that horses are better to traverse them than tractors anyhow.

Our first stop is an old church in a small village. On the hill we see a fortress. At one time there was a tunnel to the hill from the church so that people could escape from approaching invaders. These churches are both a place to worship but also a place to hide and fight the enemy.
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When an enemy was coming the church bell would ring to warn everyone. There were three kinds of rings. One to warn of enemies attacking, one for a fire and one for church.
The woman, children and large animals would head up the hill to the fortress. The men would go to the church.

At the back of the church, which dates back to 1300, there is a stone circular staircase. It is narrow, dark and difficult to climb. Circular stairs always cork screw the same way. They are designed for defending. The soldier coming down the stairs could fight with a sword in his right hand, however the attacker is unable to use his sword because of the angle of the stairs. I suppose most were right handed back then.

We arrived at the top and were in a room above the church. There are small windows and holes in the floor where the residents would defend their church from. They could pour hot oil, water and drop rocks onto the attackers with ease. They also would shoot arrows and crossbows (and later muskets) though the windows. These men were not soldiers but farmers and town folk. It is amazing that this church still stands, relatively in tact as it was centuries ago.

The next town was down a very long and badly kept road. We pass many shepherds with their flocks of sheep. It would be a very lonely and boring job to be a shepherd I would think.
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Prince Charles has a home in the town we arrive at. A very modest home in a town of only a few hundred. He likes to come here for a couple of weeks in the year to get away from it all and just be a regular person. The towns people leave him alone and he gets to walk the hills, hunt and ride the horse and wagon around. It is a very peaceful place.

We tour another church /fortress which has a museum in it. We are learning about the life of Romanians from early times to present day. Transylvania is a melting pot of religions and cultures. There were never any wars over religion here during the past few centuries. I find the Romanian language sounds a lot like Italian to me. They sing when they speak, it is quite lovely.

Lunch was waiting for us in another small town at a farm. Everything was from the garden, or in the case of the meat, shot by the sons of the owner. Doug had a plate of beans with Venison and Wild Boar. I had beans, vegetable soup, sour cabbage and macaroni with sheep's cheese. We were offered a fruit liquor, like schnapps , that everyone has a shot of for lunch. When we politely declined we were brought a pitcher of wine. We declined that as well. Drinking for lunch and dinner is the norm. I sit and eat my lunch in a lovely room decorated with antlers, skeletal heads of big horned animals and taxidermy on the walls.

The owner was redoing the roof of the building. The clay roof tiles will last up to 300 years, only the wooden struts need to be replaced and the tiles used over and over again.

A final church was toured, each one different from the last, and then we started our journey back home after a long but interesting six hour tour.

Day 18. The train to Brasov was supposed to leave at 11:30AM but we did not board until 1:30PM. We splurged for first class seats for an extra $10 but find that there is not much difference from second class really. The costs here are very inexpensive. We are living on around $50 each a day, but this will quickly change when we reach Italy I am sure.
Upon arrival at Brasov we arrange a taxi to our hotel. For the second time we are charged four times what it should be.Funny thing is that the driver gave us some great rates for day trips while we are here, but because of the rip off we won't use him now.
Our hotel is in the old part of Brasov and the nicest we have stayed at so far. New and clean we are happy to rest here for a short while before exploring the old town.
A wall surrounds the main area which we followed past a small creek with the white and black towers on top of the hill.

Brasov is another lovely medieval town and we are instantly captivated with the old colorful buildings with the various architectural styles.
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Transylvania was part of Austria in the past so there is a definite Viennese style once again. Many outdoor restaurants are found on the pedestrian walkway but we chose to eat inside as there is an unusual cold front right now. Everyone is in their winter clothes, I definitely did not pack enough warm clothes.

Day 19. Last night I emailed a fellow that was found on the internet and arranged a tour to three outlying castles. He website said 'tour guide' but alas he turned out to be only a driver who talked as we went from place to place. When we arrived at our location we were on our own which was a disappointment. While driving he was a wealth of information and very opinionated about the Romanian Government and politics in general.
A sunny but cold day we started off at Bran Castle, the one used as the castle for 'Dracula' movies.
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Bran is located at the top of a hill and was given as a gift from Romania to the much loved Romanian Queen Mary and King Ferdinand. It is a very modest castle, as castles go, but I loved it.

One of the most interesting things at this castle was a weigh scale that they used in the Middle Ages to see if convicts were followers of satan or not. The prisoner would sit on one side and they would put rocks on the other. They believed that if you weighed less than they thought that you should, you must be a Satan worshipper. You were then tortured until you admitted being a follower of Satan. If, however, the convict weighed what they thought he should, he was then set free.
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Outside the castle was an area of tourist souvenirs and food items for sale. This is a large sheep farming area and you could find slippers, vests and items made from sheep skin. There were a lot of tour groups here today. An older man was selling apples from his farm and I took one and asked how much. He said in gesture "only 1?" No charge. I insisted on paying but he was adamant that I needn't pay for only one apple. I got another for Doug and paid him a small amount. The Romanian's are so kind and gentle.

Our next stop took us through the Carpathian mountains and hills which are covered in deciduous trees of yellows oranges and reds. In a couple of weeks they will be an explosion of color and rival the East Coast of Canada I am sure.

Rasnov Fortress was perched high on a hill overlooking the farms and villages below. A young man asked if we would like to have a guide and we accepted his offer. This was a decision that we did not regret as he was full of interesting historical information about the fort and the area. In 2000 an Italian businessman bought the fort from the Romanian government and changed a number of things in the hopes of turning it into a hotel. He made up stories of historic events that did not happen and had no knowledge of restoring the fort to keep it's historical significance. Eventually the Romanian government realized what was going on and bought the fort back from him before more damage could be done.
Our guide informed us that in medieval times they used poison ivy to cover the meat in the cold area of the castle as this would help to preserve it as well as keep the flys off.
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Peles Castle was the third stop and the Grand Palace of Queen Mary and King Ferdinand. Even the Hermitage in Russia was not quite as over the top as this. It was quite fantastic and rather than see if for the gaudy and opulent place that it was, I looked rather at the amazing work of the artists who contributed to it. There were walls, ceilings and furniture with intricate inlaid wood and marble pictures. Mirrors and glass work that must have been created by very talented craftsmen lined the walls and chandeliers.

We were at the end of a very long but full day and went for dinner before heading back to the hotel. Our guide did not allow us the time to stop for lunch so we were famished.
The food here is very good, but everywhere we have been thus far has a huge Italian influence with most of the menu being Pizza and Pasta dishes.

Day 20. Satisfied from our full breakfast we left our luggage at the front desk and spent the day exploring Brasnov. The city is the size of Victoria but we concentrate ourselves only in the old historic part. The pedestrian walkway is very busy, it is the weekend and there are lots of people from Bucharest and outlying areas that come for a holiday. A weekend market is set up with farmers selling their produce and locally made preserves and baking.

I found a pair of sandals to replace the ones I lost in Vancouver. They are not great but only cost $8 so will do if I can't find anything else on our travels. An art museum was on the agenda. The two floors of Romanian art displayed had virtually no light so the dark paintings, which I am sure were great, were very difficult to see.
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Our last stop was 'The Black Church' which is called that because it was in a huge fire in the 1600s. We tried to visit earlier in the day but there was a wedding taking place. Someone was tuning the organ so we sat in the pews for a while and listened to some beautiful music. The church is very unique and magnificent

Our train left for Bucharest on time and took us through picturesque farmland, craggy mountains and hills ablaze with trees in transition.

The only problems we have had in any country so far with being ripped off has been in train stations by taxis so we arranged to have our hotel send a car for us.

Romanian people are very patient people, until they get behind the wheel of a car. We were originally going to rent a car but saw how they drove and the cost of renting a car and driver was not much more so glad to have made that choice. Lanes are just a suggestion and tailgating a national sport. It is not quite as bad as India but nerve-wracking for sure. Our ride tonight was with a man who had been a champion rally driver and it was very apparent. He was very skilled at weaving in and out of traffic with ease.

Day 21. To travel west by train proved to be quite an ordeal and was going to take 24 hours because you had to go north then south. To save time and money we decided to fly, but need to fly to Istanbul to then fly west. That is where we are now as I write this, killing time on our 7 hour layover in this huge and busy airport.

To sum it all up Romania was a wonderful surprise. The people, countryside and history was more than we expected. It was a very inexpensive country to visit and we always felt safe and hotels and restaurants were always clean and more than satisfactory. We are very glad that we decided to go.

Now onto find some warmer weather......

Posted by debbep 12:15 Archived in Romania Comments (2)

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