Location: Milan, Italy
So this is our final entry on the blog!!!!!
We have spent our last week in Europe at Levanto, a nice coastal town on the edge of the Cinque Terre. We were fortunate that we had 3 beautiful days so we were able to do the coastal walk between the towns. The Ligurian Coast is certainly beautiful although our preference is still the Amalfi Coast.
The food here is wonderful and we have eaten the best ravioli we have ever tasted here filled with fish and served with a magnificent seafood sauce. The anchovies marinated in lemon are also a specialty here and delicious.
We fly to Singapore tomorrow where we will spend a couple of nights before flying on to Phuket for 10 relaxing days on the beach.
Even though we are leaving for this time, we are quite excited about the prospect of future trips to Europe and, in particular, Italy. We adore Italy and feel like its our home away from home. We have spent considerable time whilst here researching and planning an itinerary of what we consider to be the true highlights of this great country. We have a plan to bring small groups of people to share in our passion of all that Italy has to offer. We have designed a 21 day tour which we plan to trial with a small group in September 2008. So, if any of you have always wanted to come to Italy, but dont want to be herded on and off a big tour bus and would prefer not to do it all yourself, why not consider joining us!!!
We would like to thank all those who have kept in touch with us during the trip. It has been great to hear that people have enjoyed watching our travel updates we cant believe that the blog has had 1200 hits incredible!
So this adventure is nearly over what can we say!!!
Having driven 17,000 kilometres and snapped 1800+ photographs, it has been the most amazing time of our lives and has given us memories that we will treasure always. The fabulous people and friends that we have met; the incredible places and sights that we have seen; the amazing food, wine and beers that we have sampled; the great weather that we have enjoyed; the cultures and history that we have experienced; the languages that we have tried to speak and understand; the time that we have shared together just awesome!!!
So for now, thanks again everyone for contributing to the blog.
Arrivederci, a presto! Bye, see you soon!
Location: Castelrotto, Dolomites, Italy
We returned here as it was one of our favourite stops 4 years ago on our first trip to Italy. We stayed 4 nights at an agriturismo (farm house) overlooking the majestic Italian Alps. We spent a couple of days hiking in the mountains and it is truly spectacular scenery. The peculiar thing about this region is that whilst it is in Italy, everyone speaks German (a hangover from the 1st world war when Musolini gained control of the area from Austria). They have never accepted that they are Italian and all signs are in both languages very strange indeed!
Again we saw the first snowfalls here (just cant get away from it) and the temperature was below zero great for drinking their local grappa which certainly warms the cockles of your heart as we found out.
We are spending our final week in Europe in the Cinque Terre on the Ligurian Coast of Italy and hope that the temperatures wont be quite as arctic. Bring on Thailand for a bit of thawing out!
Location: Lake Bled, Slovenia
We had read in a guide book that Slovenia is the hidden jewel of Europe and we were not disappointed! To us it was like a mini Austria beautiful Alpine scenery, lakes, gorges etc.
We spent 4 nights at the beautiful Lake Bled which is famous for its island church in the middle of the lake. People come from all around the world to be married herewith the poor groom having to carry the bride up 99 steps, otherwise he is deemed not to be worthy. On the other hand, it provides him with the opportunity to change his mind! It really is a romantic setting with a fantastic backdrop of the Julian Alps.
We were fortunate to see the first snow falls of the season in Bled. It was damned freezing but stunning watching and walking with the snow flakes falling. When you see the photos you will understand why this place is worth visiting.
Location: Plitvice National Park, Croatia
We spent two nights in Plitvice what a magical place to spend a couple of days walking around the many walking paths that surround the emerald lakes. It is absolutely stunning particularly at this time of year with the autumn colours of the forest.
We were particularly impressed with the way they have constructed the walking paths so that you are actually walking on the lake and across the many waterfalls. Being a national park there is no fishing, and the water is so clear that you can easily watch thousands of trout happily swimming in the lakes.
Anyone coming to Croatia should not miss coming here. The photos speak for themselves!
Location: Split & Hvar, Croatia
Our adventure out of the EU and into Croatia has been very interesting. We left Italy and had to travel for 10-15 minutes through Slovenia to get to the Croatian border. That 10 minutes in Slovenia nearly earnt us a 400 fine and deportation!
We handed over our passports the young enthusiastic border official who proceeded to examine every page looking for our date of entry into the EU. As he couldn't find any (typical slack customs at Rome), he then asks us when we entered the EU. We proudly replied the 8 May this year - oops, wrong answer! Once he recovered and composed himself he said, "What?????" We then gave him the same answer (wrong again!). He then asked us for our tourist visa. We of course tell him that we are Australian and we don't need one! (oops wrong answer again). This conversation continued for a short time with Trish getting a bit testy with him (oops, not a good move). He says, 'Don't you think I know my job, pull out of the line and park".
To cut a long story short, about half an hour later, gagging Trish, producing my freddie and profusely apologising, he stamped the passports and allowed us to leave without a fine (we suspect he may have been looking for a backhander, until freddie appeared!). We left good friends and he assured us that Slovenia was a wonderful country to visit with a few suggestions. We have since checked and discovered that Aussies don't need a visa, however, the maximum stay in the EU is 90 days with no provision to obtain a tourist visa to extend the visit. Oops, it appears we have been illegal immigrants for the last 2 months.
We are now enjoying Croatia - we spent a few days in Split which is situated on the coast just north of Dubrovnik and is surrounded by hundreds of islands. We had some fabulous meals here and found the locals generally helpful and friendly.
We have spent the last few days on the island of Hvar which is fantastic and reminds us very much of the Greek Islands. Of course it is now out of season so there are few tourists (except for a lot of Aussies). The apartment we have found is great with a huge terrace overlooking the sea and islands and only $60 per night - what a bargain. As an added bonus it has been sunny and about 22c - You can tell the summer is over now as the nights are cool. The water is crystal clear and probably the cleanest we have ever seen in our travels, so it would be magnificent in summer.
We are now planning to go Nth to Plitvice National Park which is meant to be great and then back into Slovenia (that's if they will let us back in the EU). We may need to retire in Croatia - bugger!
Location: Venice, Italy
Well, Venice was just as magical as ever. We just spent two days here this time as we had seen most of what Venice has to offer previously.
We spent a day visiting the islands of Murano, famous for its glass and Burano, famous for its lace. We went to a couple of glass blowing demonstrations and admired all the beautiful glassware in the many shops. We love Burano with its colourful buildings, great restaurants and wonderful atmosphere.
We feel at home in Venice now and enjoyed returning to a couple of our favourite places including a wine bar and glass shop. The people in the wine bar greeted us with hugs and kisses and we felt like old friends. The guy in the glass shop was quite happy to take our money in lieu of some more wine glasses and plates.
To us, there is nothing better than St Mark's Square at night when all the day trippers have gone and the orchestras are playing - it's out of this world!!
We were thrilled with the B&B we found this time in Venice - it was by far the best and reasonably priced accommodation we have ever had in the centre of Venice (generally outrageously expensive even for 1 or no star accommodation).
No doubt we will return again to this magical place.
Location: Lake Garda, Italy
We have just spent the most delightful 4 nights at the largest of the Italian Lakes, Lake Garda. The good news is the weather has been fine and sunny again although you can tell that summer is now over as the heat is out of the sun and the nights cool.
We have stayed at a town called Sirmion at the southern end of the lake which is 75 kilometres long (hardly a lake, more like a sea). The lakeside towns are breathtaking and only a short distance from Verona, Milan and Venice.
We visited the famous Romeo and Juliet town of Verona yesterday and like every other tourist took the mandatory photos of the balcony and statue of Juliet. Trish also left a lovely inscription on the wall as you enter the R&J courtyard which is set aside for lovers she joined the other million graffiti artists!!
We found a wonderful hotel backing directly onto the lake with a balcony view to watch the magnificent sunsets over the lake (see photo). We had only planned to stay here 2 nights but have enjoyed it so much that we stayed 4.
We are off to Venice tomorrow (and those bloody gondolas 400 of them apparently) and then plan to head towards Croatia and the Dalmatian coast which we have heard is amazing.
We think it is hard to beat all that Italy has to offer, despite loving our time in France and Spain.
Location: Sardinia, Italy
We spent last week in Sardinia overall, it was disappointing for us due to a bad patch of weather. The landscape is rocky (granite) and barren with the main attraction of the island being its beautiful coastline and beaches with crystal clear water. Unfortunately we didnt get to swim or take a tour around the smaller islands due to the bad weather.
One of the highlights of our stay was the dinner on our first night when we stayed at an Agriturismo (farm stay). The guy could speak no English but offered full board and given we were in the middle of nowhere (see photo) we accepted. There was no menu but they just kept bringing the local fare as follows:
Antipasto pickled onions, salami, prosciutto & cheese board, marinated zucchini, capsicum, artichoke and a bread basket you couldnt jump over. This was followed by deep fried zucchini, frittata and eggplant, tripe in tomato based sauce, pasta with tomato, ravioli with ricotta. Then came the mains lamb and potatoes, roast suckling pig with salad. For dessert there was meringue and sweet twisted thing a me jigs. This was all accompanied by unlimited local vino (the more you drank, the more they brought!) along with a jug of dessert wine known as Vin Santo. Needless to say we could hardly walk back to our room and we had to say Basta (enough) whilst the locals continued to eat, drink and be merry. It was quite a night.
On another positive side the people were friendly and we are glad that we have seen it. It is really a place for summer beach holidays. We had planned to catch the ferry across to the French island of Corsica, however, when we arrived at the port, they could manage to fit us on the ferry but not our car hence change of plans. Instead we took a ferry back to Rome (8 hours) and headed north to the Italian Lakes where we are staying at Lake Garda for a few days.
Location: Tuscany, Italy
As expected we have just had a wonderful 3 weeks in Tuscany. Based in San Gimignano we have visited many other hill towns and walled cities, eaten like kings and sampled the local wines. We returned to the same villa we stayed at 2 years ago and it is just perfect.
In between eating and drinking we have also made trips to Florence, Siena, Lucca and the Chianti Region. We have also met some fabulous people from around the globe, and generally had a very relaxing time.
On our first night here we met up with Alison Aquilina, her sister Lorraine and friend, Nicolette for dinner in Siena. We had a great night and it was great to catch up with people from home.
We leave tomorrow and have no set itinerary for the rest of our time in Europe. We are catching a ferry from Livorno to Sardinia, a seven hour trip and we look forward to exploring this island in the Mediterranean.
Tuscany remains one of our favourite destinations and a place we hope to return to many times in the future.
Location: Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
Okay, we got a bit carried away with excitement in our last update about our time in the French Alps and how magnificent those mountains are. Well, we wont get that excited this time, despite the fact that we moved on to the Swiss Alps to a place called Lauterbrunnen (just near Interlaken) which is in a valley surrounded by very high mountains (yep and they also have snow on them all year round). Surprise, surprise, the day we arrived it was sunny blue skies with an uninterrupted view of all the main peaks Jungfrau (4158m), Monch (4107) and Eiger (3970). We had another room with a view down the valley towards another mountain peak, water falls and Jungfrau (ho hum).
Anyway did the touristy thing and took a few trains, cable cars and gondolas up the bloody mountains and walked up down and around them, took photos of the tourist cows with big bells, until we got tired, and then came home for a rest.
Have a look at the photos to see what we are talking about.
We move on from here tomorrow and head to Tuscany for 3 weeks feet back down around sea level and some warmer weather.
Location: French Alps, France
Wow, Oh, my god, this is unreal, look at that!, unbelievable! - these are the expressions we have been using for the past week spent in the French Alps. It is truly superb!
We spent 5 nights around Lake Annecy and its surrounding mountains which are approximately 2400m high. The lake is surrounded by 35km of bike paths (mostly flat), so cycling is very popular. As a special treat for Trish we hired a tandem bike for half a day - the bloke told us that it was a divorce machine. We returned after 2 hours to save the marriage! Trish said she didn't feel at all tired and had pleasure from giving directions from the rear. Pat was exhausted and could hardly stand at the end.
The last 2 days have been spent in Chamonix at the foot of the highest mountain in Europe - Mont Blanc which stands at 4810m - just awesome. Yesterday was one of those days when you thank god you are alive. We headed up the mountain via cable car to the viewing platform overlooking Mt Blanc and then took a further cable car across the Alps into Italy. We were blessed with brilliant blue skies and no wind - we think the photos speak a thousand words! On our descent we hopped off half way and took a 2 1/2 hour hike across the mountains just below the snow line. One of the best days ever and something that shouldn't be missed if coming to France.
Just in case we haven't had enough spectacular scenery we move into Switzerland today for the next week.
Our month in France has been amazing - we visited 5 different regions and they have all been completely different but spectacular in their own right.
Au revoir France (for this visit).
Location: Buis les Baronnies, France
We have had a great week in the Provence region with our English friends, Peter and Simone Guest. The countryside consists of small villages, vineyards and Rocky Mountains. The small town we stayed in called Buis les Baronnies is very typically French with virtually no tourists it proved a good test for our French skills as there were very few that could speak or understand English. Thank goodness Trish and Simone brushed up on their school girl French and managed to get us through apart from one dinner where they ended up with turkey instead of veal!
We visited a number of the local wine cellars a.k.a. caves and tested the local wines. One night we ended up in a local village which had a wine and food festival which the locals say attracts 10,000 people not sure where they all came from but everyone had a good time, without a drunk, fight or copper in sight.
We also drove up to the highest mountain peak in the area, Mont Ventoux which sits just under 2000 metres above sea level. It provided spectacular views across the region and surrounding mountains. It is very popular with cyclists probably because the Tour de France (farce some are calling it after the drug scandals) has passed through here before. However, none of us felt the urge to try having seen a few of the faces of those cycling up, along with a few who decided to lay on the ground trying to recover after making it up just part of the way.
The local markets in the villages are quite a cultural experience and we visited a couple, stocking up on the gourmet food and local produce which provided us with quite a few lunches and a gourmet dinner. This ended at 2am one night and resulted in a very slow start for a few the following day.
We certainly enjoyed the company of Simone and Peter for the week and they are already talking of a return visit to France.
We have decided to stay on in France to visit the Alps before heading to Switzerland next week.