55 cities/towns in 111 days!
I actually can’t believe what was suppose to be a 2 year work/travel holiday has ended up being our gap year! Its been exactly 8 months tomorrow since we first arrived in London before moving up West Yorkshire way for a couple of months and tomorrow we’re embarking on day 1 of 111 around Europe. We’ll be arriving back home in Sydney just 5 days shy of 12 months away from home and by the looks of the itinerary will most likely need another 12 months to recover from exhaustion!
In order of appearance:
London, Amsterdam, Bruges, Rennes, Mont St Michel, Montpellier, Nimes, Marseille, Cassis, Nice, Monte Carlo, Cannes, Cinque Terre, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Verona, Rome, Naples, Pompeii, Vatican, Positano, Sorrento, Athens, Santorini, Vienna, Split, Milna, Hvar, Korcula, Dubrovnik, Mljet, Makarska, Zagreb, Budapest, Prague, Munich, Istanbul, Ibiza, Barcelona, Andorra la Vella, Valencia, Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Costa del Sol, Fez, Marrakesh, Casablanca, Rabat, Seville, Lisbon, Fatima, Salamanca, Dubai… SYDNEY!
Watch this space!
03/05/12 – 05/05/12
We’re in the south of France!
My cousin Virginia and family lived in Montpellier for (6 or 7?) years … and ohhhh the timing couldn’t have been worse as they just moved back to Sydney in the last couple months! As we walked the streets I kept thinking ‘maybe they lived in this house.. or maybe that one.. or that one?’
Our first impression of Montpellier was quite bad as we got ripped off by a cab driver who covered the meter then sneakily pressed a few buttons which ended up tripling the fare… we didn’t catch any cabs after that!
However the lasting impression of Montpellier is definitely a good one. The people were so friendly to us. Strangers would say “bonjour” in passing, something we didn’t get once in the 6 months whilst living in London and it’s also less touristy than other parts of France we’ve done.
The train ride from Montpellier to Marseille was funny; there were 2 really really really loud and naughty boys about 5yo I think? The Mum and Grandma just let them run a muck throughout the entire carriage and all you could hear was the 2 of them (obviously) then “shhh”, “shhh”, “shhh’s” from different parts of the carriage from all the annoyed passengers. It didn’t help halfway into the trip when the cart came around and the Mum decided to purchase (of all things..) Coke!! I put my headphones on once the sugar hit kicked in :-/
The Calanques cruise, Marseille
A Calanque is basically a steep walled inlet developed in limestone or dolomite. The best formations that exist are the ones we did, that is, the ones along the coast from Marseille to Cassis.
Unfortunately because it was overcast yesterday we didn’t get to see the beautiful crystal aqua colour of the sea, (Google image ‘Calanque’ and you’ll know what I mean) nevertheless the dramatic landscape was still remarkable and we had the added bonus of sailing past Chateau d’If – made famous by Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo.
14/05/12 – 17/05/12
Florence, Tuscany - Italy
Oh the gelato!
There are numerous reasons why I enjoyed Florence so much. The Duomo is amazing! Walking around the corner to see this magnificent landmark made of green, pink and white inlaid marble was awe-inspiring – really quite something.
Secondly, it’s a great city for markets and window shopping. There are over a hundred stalls at the outdoor leather market in San Lorenzo and so unbelievably cheap! I also really liked jewelley window shopping (yes, unfortunately only window shopping) along the charming Ponte Vecchio.
Finally my biggest drawcard in Florence would have to be staying opposite a famous gelateria called Badiani… mamma mia the gelato here is absolutely the best! It tasted realllllly reallllly amazingly awesome, like a party in my mouth and everyone’s invited lol! If I lived in Italy (or any other European city for that fact) I’d make special trips to Florence purely for Badiani’s gelato - seriously. My favourite combination is Zuppa Inglese, Cassandra and Pistacchio. I literally made a really loud ‘mmmmmm ohhhhh oh my ohhhh myyy’ on trying it the first time due to the explosion of flavorsome goodness! Dan was laughing at me and left slightly red faced :-/
Pisa, Tuscany - Italy
Strike a pose!
No need for much explanation here. The city of Pisa is about an hour away from Florence. We had amazing weather for cheesy picture taking! Watching everyone pose with the tower is just as amusing as the tower itself hahahahha…
To get to the leaning tower you walk through a high street; on the way back everything was shut and it was only around 3pm! I’m guessing it had something to do with siesta or something similar.. yeah they’ve got the right idea, I wish we had siesta in Australia :-(
Burano and Murano, Italy
Burano: not like a box of chocolates… more like box of Crayolas!
This week we visited Burano and Murano, two tiny islands in the Venetian Lagoon just a short boat ride from Venice main. So far Burano has been a personal highlight of the trip, it’s so small we were able to cover the entire place on foot in less than an hour. Burano is known for its brightly coloured homes which made it a very cheerful looking village, I absolutely adored wandering here.
Murano, famous for its beautifully made Murano glass was no disappointment either. I loved the gorgeous brightly colored jewelley, ornate vases and other glass items crafted by the locals. I bought a stunning pendant so now I have my very own piece of Murano to take back home! ;-)
17/05/12 – 21/05/12
Pimp my gondola.
A couple of days ago we left Venice, capital of the Veneto region and part of 118 small islands separated by canals and joined by bridges. On researching accommodation in the area we decided to stay in Mestre which is only a short bus ride to Venice island but on the ‘land’ part. Apart from seeing the main attractions we didn’t really have a set plan… a lot of forums just recommended the best way to experience Venice is to simply ‘get lost’! So we did! Even if we didn’t want to get lost its virtually impossible not to as the maps and streets are very confusing. Venice is enchanting, (cliché I know) with its old shabby bridges, smitten couples taking a (very expensive) gondola ride and pretty little streets off the beaten path.
We had a bit of a scare on day 3 when we were woken by the tremors of an earthquake near Bologna about 140kms away. It was around 4am when we felt the 6.0 magnitude quake, followed by a 5.1 aftershock just an hour later. It was a scary experience and felt very surreal; unsure if I was still dreaming or if it was really happening.
On the 19th we took a daytrip to the city of Verona, the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. My inclination towards all things cheesy coupled with all things touristy made a visit to Casa di Giulietta or Juliet’s House on the top of my to do list. Interesting place. The outside facade and corridor leading to ‘the balcony’ is littered with bits of chewing gum stuck on every bit of wall (so gross) and writings/pictures scribbled by the thousands of hopeless romantics leaving their mark. Well not quite my cup of tea and a bit of a disappointment to be honest but it was offset by the fact that exploring the rest of what this romantic medieval city had to offer made the journey well worth it.
One thing I wont forget about this leg of the trip was the train back to Venice from Verona. We had a 40 minute ‘conversation’ with a Venetian who didn’t speak a word of English and we have no idea about Italian, however we managed to speak in ‘charades’ and miraculously understand what the other was going on about. Luckily I’m very good at charades :) From what I gleaned: He is from Venice, he’s moving to Barcelona in August where he has a house, an Italian girl broke his heart, he is a painter and his back hurts from it, he smokes, he didn’t have a train ticket because no Venetians get fined on trains only tourists do and he explained how tourists like us get ripped off e.g. the cost of taxis for tourists vs locals… hahaha yes we understood the last one easily, that’s universal in any language!
21/05/12 – 27/05/12
+ Vatican City
I came, I saw, I conquered
I wish I could say I enjoyed Rome more than I actually did, but unfortunately I was really sick for most of this leg of the trip (and still am!). I think it was the weather in Venice which couldn’t make up its mind coupled with a hectic travel schedule or maybe even the fact I sat opposite a coughing plague of viral infection on the way to Verona? Anyway, we’re in Athens now and its getting harder and harder to keep up with these blogs because we’re somewhere new every 3 days on average. (Santorini tomorrow!)
The first day in Rome is pretty easy to remember. I slept in bed all day and didn’t get out until 5pm… to eat dinner… then I went back to bed.
The rest of the time spent here was split between sightseeing Rome and a couple day trips to Naples and Positano.
Rome is such a majestic city. Filled with massive and beautiful renaissance structures still standing after so many centuries. Impressive as they are now, I often found myself imagining how much more so back when they were a world power – jaw dropping I’d say.
The Vatican Museums were nice also. I thought the €18 entry was a bit steep at first but you get access to a lot of the place and we spent a good few hours there. I really only bought the ticket to see the Sistine Chapel art, however I found it slightly disappointing when all you have are guards shouting “No Photo, No Video!” followed by “SSHHHHH”, which seemed a bit contradictory :-/
Didn’t really stop 99/100 people pretending to look up at the ceiling while taking sneaky snaps at hip level LoL.
It’s why we’re here, right?
It was sometime late 2010 in Burwood cinema watching the movie Eat, Pray, Love – Julia Roberts is going through a life crisis and decides to take a year off to ‘find herself’. It was in the same moment when she took a bite of a margherita in a small pizzeria in Naples (which happens to be my favorite food), when a lightbulb switched on in my head and I thought to myself ‘why couldn’t we live overseas for a while?’. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t going through a life crisis, actually up until that point my life was quite peachy – I just figured there was nothing holding us back. I clearly remember starting to plan this adventure in the car on the way home from the movies – we were that determined.
So with all that said, we couldn’t come to Italy and not visit that little pizzeria in Naples which inspired us to come here in the first place! It was just this shabby place, tiled, clinical and unappealing at first glance YET completely packed and buzzing! We couldn’t believe how cheap the pizzas were - €4.50 for a large margherita and €2.00 for a bottle of Peroni. Naturally we got 1 each and I’m glad we did. I’m not being bias here, but the pizza was truly delicious, one of the best margheritas I’ve ever had. Woodfired of course, but the crust was so soft (but not soggy) and had a naan bread kind of taste. The tomato paste and mozzarella was top notch stuff – bellissimo bellissimo! It also tastes better when you’re being serenaded by two Italian men on guitars wandering through the shop – total bliss when all the senses are engaged. I’m really glad the owners didn’t decide to cash in on all the hype and inflate prices or renovate the place to appeal more to tourists. Clearly they didn’t need to anyway because on leaving the pizzeria there was a queue of 20-30 people just waiting to get in! I’m glad we made the trip to Naples, it’s been one of the best days so far and this year is turning out to be the best year of my life! No time like the present.
A very long daytrip.
Getting to the village of Positano on the Amalfi Coast was a bit of a hike from Rome but we had to do it. Diane Lane did it in Under the Tuscan Sun so naturally I had to as well - hahahaha just joking, I don’t ‘always’ follow what I see in Hollywood movies if that’s what you’re thinking.
Positano was nice… the journey was anything but.
The bullet train from Rome to Naples for the both of us costs €180 return but we used up a daytrip on our eurail passes (thank goodness because I wasn’t paying €180 just to get halfway there), this took 50minutes. Then from Naples there was a painstakingly long all-stops train to Sorrento (partly eased by buskers playing the piano accordion) which took 90minutes. Finally a bus from Sorrento to Positano which took 60minutes – we were the last on the bus and left standing :(
By the time we arrived it was just about lunchtime!
Lunch was awesome, we went to a small deli and got tomato, eggplant, smoked ham and buffalo mozzarella panini – YUM, very very good mozzarella indeed.
The village was such cute little setting with lots of boutiquey shops selling all types of crafty things including plenty of locally made limoncello. We considered visiting the other places along the Amalfi Coast but realized we’d be spending more time on wheels that day than on land so decided to pass up on it, spend more time in Positano and take the long journey back to Rome. Next time we make it over we’ll definitely have to stay in the area because I’m not doing that again!
03/06/12 – 05/06/12
First I was sick…. now my feet are sore.
Thanks to a lot of reviews regarding the ferries never running on time and also given we have 4 months to kill, we stayed a bit in Athens before Santorini and a bit in Athens again after Santorini.
Athens before Santorini, well, I was still majorly sick and hoping to rest as much as I could so apart from staying in an apartment overlooking a gorgeous marina we really didn’t do or see much. I recall sleeping in most days, waking up for food or to watch a downloaded movie then back to sleep. Needless to say I actually recovered to about 90% which was good. The stray dogs in Athens freak me out – rabies alert….!!! We’re still only half immunised due to only deciding to get our shots the day before leaving London, smart.
Athens after Santorini (which is now), well we only wanted to tick off the Acropolis from the ‘to see’ list. I decided to wear a pair of newly purchased plastic jelly shoes…. bad move especially in 28° heat. As soon as we arrived at Larissa station my feed started to blister up (nice mental image, I know) to the point where it looked like I was walking on hot coals – facial expression an all.
Luckily to my great relief ‘ding ding ding’ around the corner comes ones of those touristy road trains that provided a 50 min tour of the main sites in the city for only €5 each! Bargain, considering I would’ve paid €30 for a new pair of Havi’s at that point. We actually didn’t take that many pictures because of the moving carriage etc (apologies in advance for the shocking pictures), however my favourite part of the entire journey was when the drivers little chubby son bought an ice cream at one of the pit stops and ran back screaming “HA HA HA HA HA” then continued to enjoy scoffing it down in 3 mins flat. So cute, I couldn’t stop laughing and wanted to squash hug him.
30/05/12 – 03/06/12
Santorini, Greek Islands
Santorini Santorini Santorini… I wish we stayed longer. Not only is this place so beautiful because of the amazing landscape and people but such wonderful memories were created here. We spent 2 days in a hotel a stones throw away from the black sanded Perissa beach, followed by another 2 days in the historical Akrotiri. We wanted to experience ‘both’ sides of Santorini, that is, beach side and caldera side. Call it luck or whatever but we were extremely fortunate to have great weather during the whole trip and NO crowds! Perhaps they arrive in droves around July/August because wherever we went be it beaches, villages, restaurants, sights, it was practically empty! Awesome!
The best day of our European adventure so far (which now kicks the daytrip from Cannes to Monaco off its #1 spot) was exploring the entire island on a quad bike! It took about 20 minutes to get from Akrotiri to Fira then 20 mins from Fira to Oia… so in one non stop trip you can get from the bottom of the island all the way to the top in less than an hour. Obviously quicker in a car and even quicker if it’s a local madman driving the car but we had such a blast on quad. The poor 80cc engine was struggling up hill with all the yeeros and galaktoboureko we’d been eating! Ahhhhh - wind through my hair, sun on my back, and all the while singing Video Games by Lara del Rey into Dans ear while driving along some of the most spectacular coast. (Side note: while some of you may think that song is depressing, well I’m in love with it at the moment hahahaha).
Despite thinking Santorini was going to be a rip off when it comes to eating out, well it’s quite the contrary. I’m not going to mention the ‘other’ countries we’ve been ripped off in…. hmm caperto…? Anyway, we ate out every single night and each time we were given free ouzo shots or another jug of red wine or dessert on the house! The service provided and people on the island are just genuinely friendly happy people – I mean why wouldn’t they be, they live in Santorini!
“Slovakia: Little Big Country”
So we had an extra day in Vienna then found out it was a public holiday and everything was going to be closed. Finding ourselves in this predicament we needed to organize a daytrip so as not to waste an entire day.
Well, Bratislava seemed to be a no brainer because it was only 1hr away on the train and 14euros each return!
Bratislava is very small compared to other places we’d been to e.g. walking in, out, around and through the old town took less than an hour!
It was quite fun posing with the bronze statues scattered in the old town: Cumil (peeping from the manhole), Paparazzi (photographer) and Napoleon’s Soldier (leaning over a bench). We hadn’t done much planning for this daytrip so I was happy to have stumbled across these unusual statues which are a bit of an attraction in themselves.
Among the other things we visited, I have to say the Blue Church was another ‘unusual’ find. Lets just say it’s called the Blue Church for a very good reason!
09/06/12 – 16/06/12
Topdeck - Croatian Islands tour of:
Milna, Hvar, Korcula, Dubrovnik, Mljet, Makarska & Split.
Where anything goes and everything is unique!
So much happened in this week of sailing the magnificent Dalmation islands, I don’t even know where to begin! After a nightmarish all day travel day from Vienna to Split (9am to 8am the following morning) we were looking forward to 8 days of smooth sailing… however, this didn’t always end up being the case. Here are some brief highlights from the week!
Day 1 Milna: Milna is a tiny village which took us about 15 minutes to see in its entirety! The remaining time was spent getting to know our sailing companions, majority of which were from Australia, then a mixed bag Canadians, Americans, French, South Africans etc. There were about 30 of us on the boat. Our cabin was as spacious as a sardine can – yes very cosy!
Day 2 Hvar: I won’t be forgetting the day we spent in Hvar anytime soon. There was simply no better place to watch Croatia defeat Ireland in the Euros. The Croats are such a passionate bunch! Couple this with what seems to be a land of ‘anything goes’ meant every time there was a goal a whole bunch of flares would go off! We partied the night away with our new friends and the rest is simply a case of ‘what happens in Vegas’…
Day 3 Korcula: On day 1 our amazing tourguide Fiona warned of sea urchins if we decided to make our way to shore throughout the various swim stops. Low and behold I manage to (unknowingly) stumble on one less than 24 hrs from when the warning was given. I didn’t even realize until later on in day 3 because although my foot felt bruised and sore I just assumed it was from dancing all night in thongs and getting stomped on!! Anyway, Dan managed to get it out entirely (in 2 parts)… and I lived. Korcula has an amazing historic fortress which has been converted into a cocktail bar! We had to climb up a vertical staircase through a hole in the floor to get to the top. Such a unique spot.
Fact: Korcula is the birthplace of Marco Polo!
Ohhhhhh (sigh) and then there was the boat ride from Korcula to Dubrovnik. If you were not on the boat you simply wouldn’t understand how rough the seas were on this day! No one was on deck because we were all either knocked out in bed from all the seasickness tablets or hurling overboard. If you’re old enough to remember the Pirate Ship ride at Australia’s Wonderland then this was pretty much it :-|
Day 4 Dubrovnik: Possibly one of my favourites of all the islands, we explored Dubrovnik’s gorgeous and well preserved old town. Another unique spot we visited here was a bar… perched on a cliff! I still can’t believe we paid €7 for 2 espressos! I guess that’s what you pay for the stunning views.
Hands down the funniest moment though was coming across the balancing stone shaped as a gargoyles head. As legend has it, if you can balance on the stone all the while taking your shirt off AND then putting it back on, then you will find the love of your life. It was hilarious to watch all the guys compete to see who was man enough to do it but no one even came close to even standing on it let alone take their shirt off! Of course, my Daniel couldn’t do it because he’s already found the love of his life :-)
We danced all night in Dubrovnik where they served cocktails in a bucket! Another great night… Oh and I also bought a necklace from a gypsy. Random.
Day 5 Mljet: At Mljet we decided to have a relaxing one so just ended up walking along the peaceful shore talking about anything and everything really. The town was smaller than Milna but it had a national park with saltwater lakes which some of the group went to see. Dinner that night was tantalizingly great – Dan got mussels fresh from the sea and I had a seafood risotto… both were divine.
Day 6 Makarska: I loved Makarska because of its beautiful beach which we spent most of the day on. The weather was good to us and by this point we had the tans to prove it! Drawing very close to the end of the cruise the boat held a Pirates and Sailors themed party. I hate to use the word ‘unique’ again but seriously Croatia just seems to have some sort of unique landmark at every corner… this time it was a club inside a CAVE right by the sea!
Day 7 Split: And so we were back in Split after a crazy fun filled week. Not only did the cruise end up at Split on the 16th but we spent an extra couple of days on our own as well. The town is rich in culture and history and we were never bored here. The best part of Split in my opinion was the time we spent sitting on red cushions by candelight listening to live music over a drink at LVXOR. It was located in an ancient square surrounded by old ruins and simply had the most wonderful ambience. The guitarist played all my favourites so we went back every night. It was truly…. ‘unique’.
Big shout out to all the wonderful people we met on this tour as well as the fantastic staff and crew of the Vrgada who made this week one we won’t forget… You know who you are x.o.x.o