A Travellerspoint blog

Italia in 2 weeks

pizza, pasta, paninis, gelato, coffee, football (soccer), roman stuff and a tower that leans...

sunny 28 °C
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Ah the land of amazing food! Italy was everything we thought it would be when it came to delicious pizza, pasta, paninis, gelati and coffee! Its been a packed two weeks, Ill try keep it brief, but this may be a long one....

Venice
Our first stop was beautiful Venice with its 117 islands and plenty of little bridges. It was here where we got to savour our first real italian coffee - about a million times better than eastern european coffee! Venice didn't smell, and St Marco's square really was breathtaking, especially at night when they had live classical acts dotted around the restaurants on the perimeter. We did a day trip by ferry to Murano where they make world famous glass things and saw a demo - amazing that they can create a horse in less than 5 minutes...

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A mask shop

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Grand canal

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Pizza in Venice

Bologna
There wasn't much here except a provocative fountain of a muscular neptune (and women with breasts that could squirt water in 6 directions). But lets be honest, we only stopped here to sample Bolognese from its origins (but they only call it ragu here), and it was even better than nicks and my mums! This place had the hardest to find, dingiest hostel ever... just catch this bus to this stop they say... 20 mins later we find ourselves outside what looked like commission housing in the middle of nowhere with no signs... the directions said just a 10 min walk from the stop... but in which direction?! Fortunately for us, we harrassed a family who called the hostel, and ultimatley the dad abandoned his family and drove us there, even getting lost a couple of times himself. So lucky for us, we would never have found it otherwise!

Florence
We stayed in an awesome hostel in Firenze (Archi rossi hostel). They ran 2 free three hour tours daily which gave us a much better appreciation of the history of the place and the significance of all the buildings. The duomo was amazing, both from the outside and inside, as was the beautiful view from Michaelangelos hill in the evening. We also loved the Ponte Vecchio the only bridge to survive the WW2 bombings, which had only jewelery stores along it after an order from a Medici ruler, because he had a mezzanine passageway above it connecting his palaces, and he didn't like the smell of the old butchers that were once there. Sacreligiously we didn't actually visit the real David, Nick was satisfied by the two replicas around town and we didn't want to spend our valuable time in a three hour queue... We had a wonderful time here, it really is a beautiful town.

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The Duomo

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David at night in Michaelangelo´s Plaza

Rome
Rome was just as unbelievable as I remembered it from last time. Here we met up with Jane and Kate again and stayed in a camping village out of town which had a pool...luxury!
A lifetime isn't enough in Rome, we ended up staying for 5 days and would have been happy to stay longer, but we managed all the sights - Colosseum and Palatine hill, Pantheon, Sistene Chapel, St Peters Basilica and Square... A perfect time to be reading Angels and Demons by Dan Brown... And the girls actually saw Tom Hanks near the pantheon filming it!!

Highlights:
- History and ruins around Palatine Hill and the Forum - the best ruins we have seen.
- Finally seeing the Trevi Fountain (it was completely covered in scaffolding when I was here last time)
- Hanging out in Piazza Navona and Trastevere - great for people watching
- Fashion! No more double denim of Eastern Europe, but making me crave a new wardrobe.
- The Gelati near the pantheon - so many flavours! 12 flavours of chocolate alone! The best is my opinion - meringue... hmmmmm
- the vatican museum - you could easily spend over 4 hours here and not even realise
- climbing the vatican cuppola - the view from the top the best we have seen anywhere
- sending postcards from the smallest country in the world
- Riding bikes along the Appian Antica (an ancient cobbled road) seeing the ruins either side
- toga party
- Not falling for any scams and not having anything stolen!

Napoli
The home of the mafia and the birthplace of pizza. We weren't sure what to expect here, but it was a really cool place - so different to the rest of Italy - heaps of modern art around the place. And despite Nick being cynical that pizza could taste better from here - it really did! The best being the "Vesuvio" a flat calzone - ie it looked like a margerita, but it had fillings inside the crust! Amazing! Our hostel was great, and organised a big screen to watch the Italy v France soccer match, and it was packed full of their Italian mates - the atmosphere was electric! And the next night was "Brazilian night" where they invited there mates to do capoera which is a kind of martial art/dance with singing and drums - very cool!

From Naples we did a day trip to Pompeii (and Ewan McGregor was there) which is so amazingly preserved - I couldn't believe the condition of the frescoes etc. And we saw the plaster casts of the people who got buried in the ash... creepy.

Day trip to Capri - a beautiful island off the coast, with designer shops galore and designer people... And convertable taxis! It's also the home of the blue grotto, which was.... CLOSED!!! Ripped off!!! The water was too rough to go there, but we did a boat tour of the other grottos on the other coast instead which was fun anyway. Then we soaked up the sun on the beach.

Pisa
It really leans! We did the obligatory pics of holding it up, pushing it over etc. It really is the only thing there though.

Our plan was to head to the cinque terre from pisa, but unfortunately there was no affordable accom (being a weekend) so we have powered on up the med and are chilling out in Nice France!

Next blog - France then Spain!

Posted by hutchie 00:32 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Slovenia

Ljubljana, Hostels in Killer pubs, adventure sports, hidden gorges and cream cakes

semi-overcast 20 °C
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Slovenia is the most awesome country ever!! it is a tough decision to say whether it was better than turkey.

Ljubljana
Ljubljana was a really beautiful city, not a large population so it was really easy to get around, really clean and very friendly people everywhere. We spent a couple of days there with a very nice old man who picked us up from the train station, after the most helpful tourist info girl arranged our accomodation. Unfortunately he had parked in the bus zone and we got waved down by a cop as we left and he got a parking ticket. doh! His place was above the Vegedrom - a delicious vegetarian restaurant with excellent indian food and chai lattes. We walked all around the city, enjoying very picturesque river side cafes and bars, (buy 1 get 2 cocktails,) huge slices of pizza and a great night at a comedy club. The acts were from the UK except for the first guy who was apparently hilarious. The last act was good - made even funnier to us as he had to explain all his jokes, many of which were a play on english words, therefore completely lost in translation...

Bled
We arrived in Bled and found our accomodation above the George Best Bar (for people who dont know, George Best was a alcholic soccer ledgend who died from liver disease) - good name for a pub!? The hostel owner Robi organised everything for us over a few beers, introducing us to Canyoning Bob and the tour organiser for the Emerald tour.

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Canyoning was awesome, right up there with paragliding. Fi says its the best thing she's ever done - what could be better than sliding, jumping and abseiling down canyons and waterfalls? There was even a flying fox! Bob was sensational for an old bloke (40) and the next day we were sorry to hear he hurt his back and couldnt take us canyoning again. He probably hurt it when urged him to jump off a 4m waterfall through a narrow gap that we had all slid down... didn't think he'd actually do it the crazy guy! Crazy Bob with the coolest job ever.

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Fi on the speed slide

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Rapelling down a waterfall

The "Emerald tour" took us all over the national park's Julliane Alps. We hiked through the highest pass of the alps, saw the face of the lady imprisioned in rock, scrambled rocks to the source of the soca river, then went white water rafting on it - the best in Slovenia. The water was a brilliant light blue colour, and the rapids were especially good due to the terrential rain we had had the previous day. The rafting guide was great, making us walk around the edge of the boat (and therefore fall in), and turned the raft over on "penguin rock" so we could bellyslide down it! So fun, except the raft left without a few of us and we had to bob down the rapids to catch it - a little scary... We also hiked to a waterfall in a gorge, but it was too cold to swim in it- apparently only 6° in the water. Kate and I were gutsy enough to jump off a 12m bridge, despite the freezing waters below, Fi was impressed! We rode a train in the car and had beers on the train. It was a fantastic day and the best way to see all of the national park.

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The Goldenhorn monument at the base of the alps with our tour group

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Rafting the Soca river

Bled has a gorgeous lake, there is a castle sitting up high on one end. There is an island in the middle of it with a byzantine church. It's about 6km around and I ran it one morning with Kate. There was a nearby gorge which we tried to walk to by i misheard the directions and took us down the wrong road on a 2 hour wild goose chase. But we did see some nice towns along the way. Ther other thing Bled is famous for, so we found out, was there cream cake - pretty much the most delicious french vanilla slice we have ever wrapped our lips around....

Next stop Italy - Venice, Bolognese in Bologna, Florence Rome etc...

Posted by hutchie 06:42 Archived in Slovenia Comments (0)

Cruising and Road Tripping Croatia

sunny 25 °C
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We finally made it to our long awaited cruise of the Croatian Islands. Over 7 days we voyaged from Split to Dubrovnik and back, making stops along the way at various ports and swimming places. The four of us were super excited, and then we found out that crazy kid Tony would be joining us too. Wow. So our posse, including new friend Peter Johnson, partied our way through Korcula, Hvar, Mljet national park and others.

The highlights:

-The organiser at the port asking Nick if he was Tony Beecroft... busted tobes!
-Playing Twister and limbo on the roof of the boat
-Jumping off the boat, especially at midnight

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-Floating on our beloved lilos, especially the HMAS Ladyboy (don't ask how much Tony paid for his...) and traipsing them through the old town of Dubrovnik to our favourite outside the wall bar (where we were met with rough seas unlike our last placid visit..)

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-Ice cream in Dubrovnik - especially kates free birthday icecream - 20 scoops!?
-Fresh Bar Dubrovnik and their cocktail towers
-Eating mexican at Chiuauas in Dub for kates bday - excellent sangria! pipe down chachi!
-Jane and I talking our way onto a luxury cruiser in Hvar
-Making enemies with the rival busabout boat - Lab-ra-DOR!
-Hvar in general!

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view from Hvar castle

-The long straws at a Mikaska nightclub
-The party shirt
-Scotty's ˝silverback˝ dance
-So much seafood!!
-After breakfast naps, followed by pre lunch naps, then after lunch naps, and pre dinner naps...
-Captains dinner dressed in our (tony's) best shirts and ties, only to be greeted by a captain who wasn't planning to attend, in a dirty polo shirt. Later followed by a round of coin up the kyber and dancing in the dark!
-Norwegians (ask the girls)
-Getting awesome mediterranian tans...

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Captains Dinner dressed in our finest, with Nick in the party shirt. Nice krevat Tony.

The Lowlights:

- Black risotto. Completely overrated.
- Eating too much food on the cruise - but it sure was delicious!
- Diesel fumes in our cabins
- Seasickness and even worse, seasickness tablets that make you drowsy
- Unfortunate wet and windy weather for 2 days straight and getting stuck in Dubrovnik

On our return to Split we watched the Eurovision contest (sadly from our beds - so exhausted!). Azerbijian you rock! Wow some acts are amazingly bad aren't they?!

We bussed it north to Zadar with the girls, where we discovered the apparently world famous one and only water organ on the shores (eh).

From Zadar we hired a car and made our way up toward Rijecjka (where we would train it to Slovenia) over a few days, stopping in many cute seaside old towns.

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Senj harbour at sunset

The highlight of Northern Croatia was without a doubt their national park - Plitvici Lakes. The water here was an amazing aqua colour, we did a beautiful hike/train ride/boat ride that took us from the top of the lakes down about 7 levels of waterfalls. Highly recommend a visit here!

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Our last night in Croatia was spent in Opatija which turned out to be very snazzy, with lots of hotels along the waterfront. Nick claims to have eaten the best pizza of his life here.

Now we are in Slovenia - will write about our time here at a later date - but i have to say, it's competing for the best country in the world title as we speak. Ljubljiana was awesome, Lake Bled is stunning and we went canyoning today, going rafting tomorrow... you get the gist!!

Posted by hutchie 07:14 Archived in Croatia Comments (1)

From Greece to Croatia

crazy buses, wild taxi rides, reunion of friends, cruising and the introduction of jump shots

sunny 25 °C
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its been a while since our last update. since athens we caught a bus to albania. you would think it would have been easy to catch a bus to the next county. Wrong! it took us about 3 hours of greek directions to find a travel agency that actually sold bus tickets at all. ultimately worked it all out and booked a ticket on a night bus to Saranda. The bus ride started out ok with plenty of space on the bus to lie down, but sleeping proved to be all but impossible once we hit albania and the bus turned into a rollercoaster negotiating the hairpin turns climbing endless mountain ranges on roads that were so badly potholed or "under construction" that Fi was thrown out of her seat. she says her head felt like a ping pong ball!

Albania
so the bus that was supposed to take us to Saranda took us to Himare (70km north of Saranda). instead of backtracking we decided to keep heading towards Jane and Kate in Montenegro with the plan to stop somewhere along the way if something good came along. We waited at a cafe with some of the locals who had gotten off the bus with us. no-one spoke english, but we managed to make some friends. The albanian people were so friendly they gave us breakfast and bought us coffee and raki. Nothing like coffee and raki to start the day at 8am!! we managed to ask someone to help us find a bus to north to vlora, but once we got there we decided the beaches were too cold to stay so we kept going to Tirane (capital of Albania).

Once there, we stepped out of the bus and into chaos. again it was very difficult to get directions, it felt like we were on amazing race getting clues to take us to the next destination. There are no organised bus timetables and routes. it kind of works that there is a bus somewhere and it will wait til it is full then it will head to the destination. anyways after taking another public bus and walking round we finally found the fergeon (the bus) down a back alley in the middle of nowhere, to take us to skodra, the next piece of the puzzle to get us to montenegro.

We got to skodra at 5.02pm to find that the mini bus across the border (the last one of the day) had left 2 minutes ago. Doh!! a pushy taxi driver convinced us he could chase down the mini bus and get us across the border. we thought we would give it a shot as we had come so far and if we could just get across the border we could see Jane and Kate by sunset. a hellish ride at 100+kmph speeds, overtaking on blind turns, we flagged the mini bus down with a couple of k's to go.

Montenegro
the fergeon dropped us in Ulcinj and a friendly guy on the bus gave us a lift to the next town of Bar, where we caught the next bus to Budva. At the bus station in Budva we met an american backpacker who had taken a photo of a map to get us to the hostel that Jane and Kate were staying. At Hippos hostel we took the girls by surprise with a joyous reunion a couple of days earlier than planned.

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reunion in budva drinking Niksicko!

Budva was fantastic, we stayed here 4 nights. enjoying the beaches, the paddleboats equipped with waterslides and chilling out at the hostel. One day we hired a car and toured the surrounding area seeing amazing fjords and surviving Kates excellent driving for the first time on the wrong side of the road in a manual car. On one lane roads being overtaken by busses. think great ocean road but one lane, having to move off the road into the trees and allowing the bus to barley brush by.

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the view from a hill on the road trip

We bought the local specialties Prsut (proschuito), Sir (cheese) and Vino (wine). they claim its the best proschuito in the world and i would have to agree. i have never eaten so much smoked meat. we managed to integrate it to almost every meal for the following week!

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the search for prsut

we also scaled the fortress in Kotor which has a beautiful old town.

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above kotor

Croatia
we spent a couple of days in Dubrovnik exploring the old town then we headed to split to get on our 7 day cruise. here we were met by surprise by the international man of mystery himself - Tony Beecroft. We toured the south islands of Croatia, the highlight being Hvar with its beautiful city and nightlife. After a hard week of partying and seasickness for Fi we have rested up after watching the eurovision last night and are debating our method of transport to head north to Slovenia.

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a cool bar outside the walls of the old town

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walking the walls of the old town

Posted by hutchie 00:55 Archived in Montenegro Comments (0)

Greek islands

Beaches, gyros, 4wd bikes, blue domes and Greek wine!

sunny 25 °C
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We have just emerged to athens after a week or so in the greek islands

Samos
we arrived from turkey by ferry to Samos town where we had planned to catch a bus to our accomdation 20km's away. but unfortunately we found everything closed down due to easter monday. all the greeks were eating and drinkning and smashing colored eggs while we pondered our options. luckily Dougie came to our rescue and fetched us from the port. crisis averted! We stayed with Dougie and Sue in their wonderful apartment in a little town on the north side of the island - Agios Konstantinos. from there we did a few walks to neighbouring mountaintop villages - Manolates was awesome, a labyrinth of white washed walls and red roofs with no cars. walking room only. Stavrinides was similar, here we had lunch in the remoteness of greece. no english and we ordered a salad, everyone else was getting greek salads, and we were surprised when we received a bowl of lettuce. Doh!. who would have thought you would have to specify you wanted a greek salad in greece!

On our last day there, there was a festival that the whole town attended. souvlaki (meat on sticks), pommerades (fried honey dumplings) and as much free wine as you could drink. this lead to a cute old greek, maybe senile man dancing on his own to the live band.

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The beach of kokkari (walk from where we stayed)

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The foreshore of agios konstantinos

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The streets of manolates

Naxos
Here we stayed with a recommendation of Dougie and Sue's In Agia Anna. Glorious beach only 400m away. but still a little cold to go in the water, but we went in anyway. its our beach holiday right... we hired a 4wd bike and toured the island, this was awesome! the best part of the day was clambering up to the cave of Zas on the highest point of the island mt zeus. we finally had a real greek salad and perfected the ordering of greek wine. meso kilo kokkino crasse parokalo.... did we mention the greek feta and olives and olive oil are amazing! the other side of the island was freaking windy and cold but we saw the beautifull town of apollonos and the unfinished statue of dionysis lying in a quarry. pretty cool!

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the view from Mt Zeus

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Standing on the statue of Dionysis with Apollonos in the background

Santorini
Santorini is everything you imagine a greek island to be. as you come into port on the ferry you see high cliffs, dusted on the tops with white washed walls of the towns. they look like icing sugar. we stayed in the old port town of Fira, where we discovered the best gyros ever! (except for the richmond kebab house, they are still number 1) Fi fell in love with the town of Oia (ee - ya) which is exaclty the town seen on the postcards, paintings etc. we crawled all over the town trying to find all of the postcard spots! we went there both night to see the famous sunset of santorini looking out over the caldera. did i mention that santorini is a live volcano and our guide said it will probably erupt in the next 5 years?! we took a boat tour of all the islands that make up santorini and swam in volcano heated hot springs. considered taking a donkey up the very very steep climb into the villages but saved our money and hauled our own asses up instead - gotta work off those delicious gyros and greek wine. on our 4wd adventures to see the closed archaeological site of the ancient akritori (like pompei) and the black and red sand beaches, we got distracted by the oldest winery on santorini. Here we were given a tour and tasted the wine. our favourite was the local speciality of sweet wine called vinsanto, its a bit like a port. given the option of purchasing a 500ml bottle for 22 euro or a 1.5 water bottle filled diretly from the barrel for 23 euro, you can imagine the outcome of that transaction!

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View from the middle of the caldera. you can see the villages of Fira dotted on the horizon

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Waiting for the sunset in Oia, amazing view of the caldera

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The sunset in Oia

Athens
today we are in athens - arrived this morning by ferry and leaving this evening by bus to albania. we concluded that this was plenty of time and we could have seen everything here in about 4 hours. thus the blog. we did see the acropolis, the parthenon and the ancient agora (market). all massive and impressive but all except the market were under total renovation and covered in scaffold or even removed for restoration!

The next few days will see us working our way towards dubrovnik in croatia and catching up with our friends jane and kate in montenagro. then it's cruise time.....

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Us at the Parthenon

yasas

Nick and Fi

Posted by hutchie 06:17 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

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