A Travellerspoint blog

Jewels of the Adriatic

The Croatian Coast

sunny 28 °C

We get why Croatia is so popular and we're delighted that we got to experience it out of peak season when the cruise ships reign. Sparkling turquoise water and dead calm seas framed by stark and baren mountains, it's more rugged than the Italian coast and less populated than any place we have been so far this trip. Having shaken off the bloody wars of the 90's, tourism has taken over and you get the sense that this is what Greece was like before it got too overcrowded.

We start in the medieval town of Dubrovnik which gives us a good entree to the people, the food, the landscape and the raw beauty of the coast. Walking the city walls was the perfect way to view this compact and romantic port, decked out in its old stone and red roofs. A few cold beers at a pocket bar on the seaside parapet then seafood feast down below and we feel lucky to have dodged the crowds that decend by the thousands.

Braving the Croatian roads, we track north to Split where we found a great apartment in Diocletian's palace. Split is a fascinating place in that it was originally the emperors retirement palace when Rome was still rich and now it is a fully functioning town centre, so instead of ruins you have bars, shops, restaurants and apartments like ours. Tourists seems to stick to the main square so wandrering the tiny alleys which make up the town, it's all local and you get a real sense for life here. Got lost, loved it and stumbled across a guitar duo so stopped for a vino or two.

Split is also to launch point for many of the key islands so we hopped a car ferry to Hvar for sun and relaxation. There are over 1200 stunning Croatian islands that are all jewels of the Adriatic I'm sure, yet if you should choose one, Hvar has it all. The water, the beauty, the seafood, the nightlife and lucky for us, the sun. A whole day of nothing but swimming, eating and drinking was our order with a seaside walk into town to see the yacht set come ashore for cocktails and gen y warm up for a night of DJs and partying.

Loved Croatia and would like to see more of the north but after drinking in as much sun as we could handle, we got back on the car ferry and highways up to Zagreb to catch our early morning flight. Transfers in London and Kuala Lumpur see us to Denpasar, Bali. We've checked into the villa and picked up the scooter. Now looking forward to spending the week with Lee's family and our Bali style wedding on Thursday.

Will try to shoot off another entry before heading back and load some photos.

Keep well. CP & Lee

Posted by cpleehoneymoon 06:30 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Sea to shining sea

From the Amalfi Coast to Croatia

sunny 27 °C

A quick hop through Napoli and we find ourselves navigating the cliff top passes of the stunning Amalfi coast. The only reason why people built into the steep rock here, perched over the sea was to escape the barbarians but now it has created a surreal landscape of little towns and fishing villages. We chose to stay in the latter, a tiny out of the way place outside Priaino. Our balcony view through the vines and over the old fishing boats down the jagged coast is spectacular. Seafood pasta, fish stew with crusty bread and a local vino bianco in the trattoria above us with the same outlook at sunset - this is what we dreamt of.

The sun chairs by the crystal clear water beckoned the following so we settled in for a whole day of nothing, save for a few dips and a 3 course lunch (seafood naturally) with more local wine by the water not 15 paces away. We walk into sleepy Priaino at twilight with views of Positano for dinner and know that we'll be back for a longer stay next time. Anyone keen to rent a house here for a few weeks, let us know.

A day was reserved for Pompei by my understanding wife, yet we took our time enroute to stop into Ravello, a ridge top town with cool mountain air
and magnificent views of the coastline. Being Sunday, the markets were on and the band played as men walked slowly with each other to catch up on town news.

Pompei itself was fascinating. From the villas still intact and the temples, theatres and bath house to the stadium (amphitheater), barracks, shops and even the whore house. You can wander the streets of this town frozen in time and get a real sense for what life was like two thousand years ago, what people did, where and how they ate and what they did for fun. Rather than just a distant ruin, this is all given a human perspective by the plaster casts that the excavators made of people in their dying pose (Google Pompeii cast images for a closer look). The reality of what happened here when Vesuvius erupted in AD79 can be seen on the expressions of the people as the city fell and we owe so much of our understanding of ancient society to this site. Just fascinating.

We stayed over in Napoli to catch our early morning flight which gave us a chance to experience a traditional margarita in the home of pizza and yes every other pizza in the world comes second. Light base, thin in the middle, thicker on the edge, a smear of tangy fresh tomato sauce, the right amount of melted mozzarella topped with a sprinkle of basil. So basic, so good. Connecting flights through Munich ad Vienna land us in Dubrovnik and the start of our Croatian tour.

Looking back, we now get John Steinbeck's quote about the Amalfi in Harper's Bazaar (1953) "It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone."

Hope all is well and keep in touch.
CP & Lee

Posted by cpleehoneymoon 02:31 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Arrivederci Roma

Tuscany and Rome

sunny 20 °C

We leave the culture of Firenze for the rolling hills of Tuscany. San Gimignano and its towers was the ideal opening chapter. These towers were built higher and higher in noble one-up-manship and while only a handful exist today, they provide both a dramatic scene as you approach the town and from the top, a perfect vantage point to view the town and the surrounding Tuscan landscape.

Degustation lunch at another hilltop gem in Volterra was a culinary highlight, great local food washed down with a series of regional wines (including chianti of course). The trip to our farmhouse confused our gps and as such resulted in many back streets across a string of beautiful hill top towns as we stumble to Torita Di Siena get directions at the local bar and finally arrive via a couple of winding dirt roads through the heart of olive and wine country. The adventure was worth it to stay in this amazing converted farmhouse with the warmest hosts which gave us a more rustic view of this beautiful region.

Waking under a Tuscan sun (had to insert that), we made our way to Siena via Monteulciano and we're getting as sense for how the Utriscians liked the security of a hilltop, the Romans built on this as did the medieval Christians resulting in picturesque hit after hit. Finding a local osteria was a truimphe of Tuscan cuisine with gorgonzola bruscetta, grilled fresh porcini, wild boar and of course chianti all featuring. The afternoon takes us through Umbria to Assisi and more stunning views, cobblestone streets and fresh local food.

The following, we head towards Rome but just when you thought we had seen enough hill tops and climbed enough stairs, there was still time for Spoleto and it didn't disappoint. Within a few hours we would be in bustling and dusty Rome so we took time to reflect on our Tuscan / Umbrian tour and we understand completely why this region has achieved such notoriety, we could have easily spent more time here.

And then there is Rome. You come to Rome for the sights not the tranquility however, we have found a peaceful place in the Trastevere district which is a bit like Surry Hills. I'm got to check my word count here as for a fan of the roman empire this is Mecca so suffice to say the last few days have but a heady mix of temples, pantheons, forums, palaces, stadiums, theatres and ruins. We've hit all the majors including the Trevi fountain, the Spanish steps, the isola, piaza Navona, St.Peter's, the Vatican museum, the Sistine chapel and the colloseum ( two visits for me at the last). Love Rome. Big, busy, bold Rome. The Jewish quarter has given us some great food options harking back two millennia (tripe, innards and brains as examples) and the layers of history and religion guarantee this city as a global highlight.

Tomorrow we say arrivederci roma and head south for pizza in Napoli and sun on the almafi. We don't know which amalfi will greet us. Sexy, romantic amalfi or tourist coach traffic amalfi. Either way, we'll grab a Vespa and make it our own.

Ciao, a presto.

Posted by cpleehoneymoon 10:16 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Crossing the Rubicon

Northern Italy into Toscana

sunny 30 °C

A few days of contrast take us from the coastal cliff towns of cinque terra to the romance of lake Como to liveliness of Florence.

First off, we spent the day walking the five towns of cinque terra and when you catch a break from the waves of the grey army that descend on this place, these peasant towns perched over cliffs are truly breathtaking. Each town has its own story, atmosphere and speciality - fresh tuna in one, gelati in the next and espresso in the other. For dinner, our hosts sent us to one of the highlights of the trip so far. Nonna's house.

Some nights Nonna has people over to sit in a makeshift balconly overlooking a beautiful valley to eat whatever she wants to cook from the season. No menus, no choices, you're in Nonna's hands. For primi, tagietelle ragu. So simple, so fresh. For secondi, we got a serve of crispy roast chicken and another of pork rib pieces. Both melt in your mouth and in our all trip top five. Just prepared tiramisu and sugar cubes of lemoncello round out our memorable feast.

Next we head north to lake Como. Normally films embellish the beauty of a region but not here, every turn is like a romantic scene from a 1950's classic. After much asking, we found our little boat just in time to take us to Locanda dell'Isola Comacina where we had a lunch reservation at this tiny yet amazing island. Another no menu all afternoon feast of local food, wine and tradition. We loved it so much, we left well after the staff had gone home for their siesta. Our hotel was another hit. The 17th century villa is on the lake and our balcony looks over the water to Bellagio. A boat across to Bellagio, dinner and late night walk by the water extend the romance of the afternoon into evening.

Arising to a sunny day, we snuck into the pool area of the next hotel and made friends with the oldies to remove suspicion. Some sun and a quick dip in the lake was the perfect refresher for our drive south. Sorry to leave but much to see, we head out of the mountains again and to Bologna which we're told is the culinary capital of Italy (big call which needs validation). Our 4 course dinner was plate after plate of simple and delicious food (including of course the local bolognese sauce) so Bologna gets the tick.

While the exact site of Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon is unclear, during the next morning we crossed it somewhere so with a quick salute to Jules C we took on the bustle of Firenze. Hot, dusty, hectic and flooded by tourists our first impressions were not aligned with our expectation. Then we had a massive re-alignment when we checked into our apartment. Right next to the Duomo, we're currently staying in a converted mansion complete with library and roof top patio providing magnificent views of the city and dome. We relax while the sun wanes and then walk the 463 steps of the famous Duomo to take in all of Firenze from a height. A shop and a wander take us to the Ponte Vechio at sunset before finding a back ally trattoria to rest and reflect.

Today, we experienced the Renaissance and the Medici's contribution up front and in person at the Uffizi gallery and Acadamia. The masterpieces of the Medici private gallery at riverside Uffizi in the morning was a worthy warm up for the awe inspiring Michelangelo's David in the afternoon. Now that might sound a bit rich, thousands of works as a warm up for one, but anyone who has seen David will attest to the perfection in form that captivates all and to wit, all before and all after is measured.

Culture today, wine tomorrow in the Chianti region, then the hill top towns of Toscana. Thanks for your messages (especially Lio Messi, thanks for the note we know you're a huge fan).

Alla prossima Volta

Posted by cpleehoneymoon 08:49 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Alps to Coast

Provence, the Alps and the Cote d'Azur

sunny 23 °C

We returned to France from sunny Spain and our brains are struggling to switch gear back into 'bonjour' and 'merci'. Not sure if the French think we're Spanish or just very confused. We stopped off at the stunning walled town of Avingnon, the scene of so much drama and the reality was a living fairytale movie set complete with castle, misty river and medieval bridges.

We followed the Rhone river north to Lyon and the culinary capital of France. A traditional dinner of local recommendations with a regional red didn't disappoint. We discovered ancient Lyon overflowing with late night eats and funky bars. Daytime Lyon was dominated by the food for us. We started with a wander through the riverside market, taking some breakfast treats and marvelling at the quality and variety of the produce. We walked this off at the cathedral and roman ruins before a storm set so we settled into the posh market in the town's north. This undercover fair was more like a very French David Jones food hall with amazing produce and bar tops to sit and eat. We took our time and absorbed as much as possible, including a wonderful lunch and take away treats for the car.

Completely satiated, we tracked into the Alps and to Annecy. This little alpine town made us realise the range you can experience in Europe, from the heat and bustle of Barcelona one day to the crisp air and serenity of mountains the next. Well, fondue was the only option for us here and we loved it. Over breakfast we realized how close Geneva was so decided impromptu to jump across the Swiss border for a hot chocolate which we enjoyed by the lake. A quick by pass the UN and back down the mountain to Provence.

For a change of pace, we found a picnic spot at the foot of the mountains to enjoy the wonderful treats that we had accumulated; Spanish ham, Swiss cheese, French bread, local mustard and a cheeky red. A light breeze and snow capped mountains in the distance were the perfect accompaniment.

Further south we stopped in Cannes for the local specialty, bouillabaisse. Now done properly, a fresh garlic clove is rubbed on a bit of crusty bread then smeared with a Rouille sauce and dipped into this tangy fish stew . . . Amazing! We stayed at a great boutique hotel near the beach in Nice to complete our alpine to sand day.

A side note: we're listening to an engaging reading of the Count of Monte Cristo in the car. For those familiar with the story, it seems appropriate to be walking in the shoes of Dantes as we explore this region.

The morning gave us a look at the colors of sea and sky that the renaissance artists attributed to this coastline and hence the name azur. The drive from Nice to Monte Carlo was without doubt the most picturesque and spectacular either of us have experienced. The shimmering sea flashing here and there as we wind through cliff passes, in and out of mountains and precariously perched hill top villages all seems like a James bond film. Lucky Shirley Bassey was playing on the radio to compete the scene as we descended into Monaco (seriously!).

Now to an unexpected and wonderful surprise. Monaco Grand Prix is in 3 weeks and we won't be there but we did one better. While they are setting up the track, there is a small window where you can actually drive the circuit as the barriers are being arranged. No planning and all luck had us driving the Monaco F1 circuit, from the main straight, up the hill to casino, down to the grand hotel hairpin, through the tunnel, across the waterfront, around le rascasse and back to the start. This will mean nothing to most, but as a big fan I was as giddy as a school boy.

Now into Italy, lunch at Portofino, dinner in the cinque terra region and staying in the quiet hills above Levanto. What an incredible entree to our Italian tour. Mindblowing and almost numbing beauty.

More from Italy in the days to come but first signs are good.

Ciao

Posted by cpleehoneymoon 13:30 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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