A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: nzdora

Rome, rugby, ruins and reunion

Italy part 2 - Laura's Return to Sicily

18 °C

After a few problems trying to get in from the airport, Laura, Peter and I rushed to the Stadio Olympico to see the All Blacks trounce Italy. The home crowd was excitable when Italy were in possession and we were happy for them that they scored a late try. Going to the rugby was a good idea Colin! We enjoyed pizza and wine with Colin, Robyn and their other kiwi friends Josh, Steph and Rhys.

The Colosseum played host to Peter, Laura and I on Sunday morning. We arrived early enough to see the ancient arena before the crowds that pour in daily had arrived. We did see Colin and Robyn there and then walked to the Roman forum via a coffee stop and some olive oil tasting at a market on a side street.

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After exploring the sprawling ruins of ancient Rome’s political heart, we walked some more to a premium pizza shop that peter knew.

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We then checked out the Pantheon (which dad will remember me studying in high school) and the Trevi fountain. Peter fed the fountain his coins even though he knows he'll be back. I wonder how self fulfilling this superstition is...

On Monday morning we arrived in Vatican City early. We bumped into Colin and Robyn at St Peter's basilica, which was a huge building which unusually is designed to appear smaller and more intimate than it really is. The statues which are higher up are actually 50% larger - making them look the same size as the statues lower down.

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We then queued for the Vatican museum (including the Sistine chapel), but Laura and I decided that we didn't have time before our train South. Peter stuck the queue out while we grabbed our bags before our Naples train. Peter and I hadn't been to Pompeii before but Laura had, so Laura changed trains to Herculaneum (a smaller ruin from the same eruption).

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At Pompeii we again found Colin and Robyn and then all went together to the train on to Salerno - a cute seaside town with bright Christmas lights!!

Tuesday meant goodbye to Colin and Robyn, who left early to explore the Amalfi coast. After walking along the Salerno waterfront, Peter, Laura and I left a few hours later on a bus to Amalfi itself. That afternoon we walked and walked up hill to the pretty town of Ravello where we saw the last rays of sun hit the peninsula.

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Wednesday comprised a day of walking along the “Path of the Gods" and then travel South. We left our bags at reception in Amalfi town then caught a bus to the start of the trail. We had perfect sunny weather for our walk up and down along the picturesque Amalfi coast towards Positano.

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After our 3 hour hike we only had time to pick up a quick lunch before it was time to leave on our 7 hour transport marathon to the bottom of the boot of Italy.

On Thursday we woke up to another sunny Italian day, this time in Villa San Giovanni. We caught a ferry across to begin our Sicily adventure!

Laura had booked a premium apartment in Taormina with a great view. While we were here we ate great food acc went to the beach and up to the castle above the town but didn't get clear enough weather for a view of Mt Etna.

We then caught a bus to the city of Catania, where Laura's host family had driven for over an hour to pick us up. Laura was immediately catching up on 11 years of life - in Italian - while Peter and I caught what we could of it all. Cetty (mum) spoke some English so she was able to explain things with some vocab from Laura.

The next day we saw all the sites of Caltagirone including the 144 steps, each with a different ceramic pattern.

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That evening was a whirlwind of extended family dropping in to say hi to Laura, mixed in with hearty portions of Carbonara for one course of lunch, and authentic pizza for a 10pm dinner! Both meals had homemade desserts!

On our final morning we were again treated to a meal by our hosts, this time tasty Italian pastry treats. Unfortunately it was time to say Ciao to Cetty and Luigi until they come to visit us one day!

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Posted by nzdora 11:38 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Cruising through Croatia

Cruising at our own speed... and not on a boat... except for commuter ferries

We arrived in Croatia after an uneventful flight and were whisked to our accommodation which was just down the road in a cute seaside town of Cavtat. Our room was great and had an amazing view. We had a much needed late lunch and got David's beer photo, something had forgotten to do in the Netherlands.
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We waited for an hour or two for the temperature to drop a little and then set off to walk into town, which was described by our host as "15-30 minutes walk". It was definitely more than 30 minutes even downhill on the way there!!!

Cavtat was a really cute town, quiet compared to nearby Dubrovnik, but the scenery was stunning, and the water was incredibly clear. I think this may be because most of the beaches on Croatia are quite rocky but whatever the reason the water looked so inviting that David bought some togs as his were in London and we took a dip. The water was cooler than we expected and was wonderfully refreshing.
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We had a lovely dinner on the waterfront and reluctantly hiked up the hill back home!!

The next morning we got a bus in to Dubrovnik. We got a morning coffee (the coffee here is really good and is about 1/3 the cost of London) and wandered through the old town. One of the best finds was a spring-fed fountain built over 400 years ago which spouted delicious cold water.
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We then got a cable car to the top of the hill which had a great view of the old town.

We walked down the hill which took about an hour, The views were great but it was very hot!!! We visited the fountain again as soon as we made back :)

Our next stop was an old foundry which had been buried after a massive earthquake hit Dubrovnik in 1667 and was only rediscovered in 2006. Our guide was really interesting and explained a lot about the history of Dubrovnik. There was even a mediaeval sump!
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After this I was in the mood for icecream which was delicious wrapped in a crepe.
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We then did a walk around the city walls, which had some stunning vistas of the old city and its surroundings.
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The next morning we got up really early to get a 7am ferry from Dubrovnik to Korcula, a beautiful island in the Adriatic. We had a look around the old town which was a lot like Dubrovnik but smaller and less busy, and walked to our accommodation. We stopped at a really nice bay on the way for a swim, and then got a drink as I dried off.
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That afternoon we were both tired so David had a nap and I read almost an entire Stephen King book. We ventured out again that evening and explored more of the old town, tried some fantastic Italian food (Croatia's cuisine is similar to Italy's, as the two countries have a lot of historical links), and then went to a traditional swordfighting/dance.
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The next day was a lazy day where we cycled between beaches on the island, stopping to swim, read or relax whenever we felt like it.
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We had a long, slow lunch at a really nice restaurant which overlooked yet another beach with crystal clear blue water.
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It was a beautiful relaxing day, the quintessential island holiday.

We missed out on tickets for the 6am ferry to Split as we tried booking only a couple of days in advance and so were on a 1:30 ferry. In the morning we enjoyed the Croatian cafe culture and had a coffee overlooking the water. We also explored a national geographic photo exhibition about the many different aspects to Croatia which was really interesting and made us want to return even more!!!

We took the afternoon to explore Split, climbing the 1100AD bell tower before joining up with a walking tour of the city. The city was built as the palace for one of the only Roman emperors to retire (and not have his throat slit).
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Then after a fancy dinner, we caught a bus out past the airport to the ancient town we were staying at: Trogir.
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The next morning we walked through the markets and old town of Trogir, before getting a ferry out to a popular sandy beach on the island connected to Trogir. We relaxed on the beach for the day and then returned to the old town for some wine tasting, dinner and bed.
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Unfortunately that was our last night and after a relatively lazy morning it was back to the airport and back home to London. Not to worry - we've got trips on the horizon for a wedding in Ireland, a week in Central and Southern Italy (including an All Black's game and a visit to Laura's host family in Sicily) and for a White Christmas (hopefully) in Germany/Austria to explore Christmas markets and then skiing!

Posted by nzdora 03:56 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Amsterdam - summertime!

Five of us for five days in Amsterdam!

Michael & Morgan have traded in Australia for ten months in Amsterdam. They arrived last week, so we hope there are many more European adventures together!

I was met at Schipol Airport by Morgan late on Thursday night, and after a late night chatting, Michael and I did the same for Peter on Friday morning. We moved all of M&M's possessions to our homely AirBnB for the long weekend. Peter and I rented bicycles, and went for a leisurely bike around the canals of the central city. Biking is the main way to get around: the bike lanes and the awareness of other road users are incredible!

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We met the others at a market where we sampled bitterballen - the first of several tasty local foods which Morgan mandated that we try.

That night we stayed in for Bolognese, board games and banter, a combination which appeared more than once. We are such party animals!

At midnight I met Laura after her 4 hour Eurostar train. We managed to sleep in past the All Blacks kick-off, but fortunately they had managed to create a decent lead even without our support and they maintained this with ease. Morgan was so upset at the Wallabies' inept display that she tipped a whole salt-shaker into our eggs!! Bah.

We had a great morning biking along the canals of Amsterdam, and our next Dutch food adventure courtesy of Morgan was Stroopwaffles, a delicious dish of two thin ginger/cinnamon flavoured biscuits stuck together with caramel. We found these in a nice market which had some cool items but unfortunately no frisbee for the park.
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We visited the park sans-frisbee which was lovely, albeit a bit crowded. We are spoilt back home with nearby beaches and found it strange that a lot of people were in bikinis and togs in the park even when they're is nowhere swim (thus making this technically 'undies' [Reference: Trumpet ad (2006)]).

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Our next stop was an interesting Banksy / Andy Warhol exhibition. We spent quite a long time watching a movie about street art and Banksy's art.
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(Cardinal sin)

We then took the obligatory photos featuring an "IAMsterdam" sign and some other tourists too.

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Morgan again had a good food choices day - recommending an Indonesian banquet for dinner. It was absolutely delicious, apparently there has been a lot of immigration to the Netherlands from Indonesia.
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The next morning we experienced a 2.5 hour brunch in complete darkness - the waiters at cTaste are blind. It didn't seem worth taking photos... but the experience was interesting and we had to rely on touch and texture! Hot chocolate served with cream on a separate plate? Challenge accepted! Plus trying to guess what we had been served, some with much more success than others!!!! Sunday afternoon was an admin day for M&M, but the rest of us visited a windmill from the 1600s.

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Monday was our last full day and Michael's first at his masters course. After a morning of more card games, Michael joined us for a sunny farewell afternoon in the park.

On the Tuesday we again "moved house" and headed for the airport, where Laura and I flew in to Croatia for a further 6 day adventure!

Posted by nzdora 05:42 Comments (0)

Mama Mia! Here we go again...

19 °C

Taking advantage of our current unemployment, we have taken a quick trip before Laura starts work. We took off on our first ever Ryanair flight to see five cities (plus three day trips to towns) in only eight days in Northern Italy.

Cheap flights mean an early start - train from Cambridge at 04:44, flight from Stansted at 06:40. We then had a huge day of walking and sightseeing in Turin. We began with a walk along Via Roma, through town squares and cloistered shopping streets. First stop was the cathedral - which holds the Shroud of Turin (allegedly the loincloth Jesus was buried in, although carbon dating disagrees). We thought it would be funny to visit the dedicated “museum” of the Shroud, but the joke was on us... it was closed from midday-3pm (as is common in Italy).

An espresso boosted our energy for our afternoon walk towards the river Po on Via Po.
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Given the wealth of a Egyptian artefacts in Europe, we were apprehensive about spending time and money on another Egyptian museum, but we were glad we did. This Egyptian museum, the largest outside Egypt, is varied, interesting and well set out, and has a free audio guide.

We had purchased a 24 hour museum pass which also got us entry to the wacky Cinema Museum (incredible movie-themed rooms and a series of science displays and optical illusions). We then ascended the tallest masonry structure in Europe (the Cinema museum).
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We then set out for our accommodation. We had read that you can only buy tram/bus tickets from tobacconists, and they were all closed, so we walked the 80 minutes home on tired legs... We found out later that you can buy tickets on board for just €1 more than at tabacconists… Doh!

After a deserved sleep in we took a short tourist boat on the river Po and later a bus up the hill to Basilica de Superga (the scenic tram up the hill was under repairs).
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We had then booked a cheap ‘Flixbus’ to Milan which was actually quite nice, had Wi-Fi and was quick.

That evening we experienced the famous Italian predrink culture - buy a drink called an "aperativo" at the right bars and get snacks/tapas for free. We drank/ate at a fashionable aperativo bar called Ritas, after a walk along Milan’s canals, which were packed with young Milanese for Saturday night drinks.
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The next day we split up as Laura has visited Milan before. I took a quick look at the glassy shopping building and the busy square, climbed up to the spires on the roof of the church thing, and then looked at sports stuff at the sports place where they were about to host some sports event.
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Laura window shopped... I think...

We then reunited at the Milan opera house for €11 last minute tickets to a pair of short operas. Impressive!

Afterwards we went to a wine bar we had read about for a different style of aperativos, and shared a pizza on our way home.

We were up early the next morning for another budget Flixbus to Florence. Once we checked in at our AirBnB, we strolled through the squares of Florence, circled the cathedral and visited Michelangelo's David and the other art of Galleria dell'Academia.
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We then checked out the cafe at the library which has a view of the cathedral.

The next day we were initially frustrated that our bus to a small Tuscan wine town was delayed, but found out later that a burst water main and subsequent collapse had shut down Florence. Laura was so excited by the engineering aspects of this that we took a walk down the road that evening to gawk at the damage (from a safe distance). Before we had even found out we did manage a day trip to Greve in Chianti. This town had a modern wine tasting shop where you enter the size of your tasting into a machine and it fills your glass for you.
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On our final day in Florence we again took a day trip, this time to visit the towns of Lucca and Pisa.

In Lucca we walked along the top of the grand city walls, and climbed two clocktowers - one with trees on the top.
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In Pisa, we also got away from the main crowd to explore the squares and streets... But really all you want to see is what we did first:
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Once back in Florence we ate dinner at the number one ranked restaurant on tripadvisor - a gourmet sandwich bar. The sole worker recommended we tried the local pastrami-style meat with a light cheese and chutney. Yum!

The next morning we caught an early high speed train to Verona, and had a relaxing day walking around town. They have an arena which is older than the colosseum and again, city walls. The city walls cross over a river and merge into a great castle, built in the 1300s to protect against other provinces, but it was bombed by retreating Germans in the 1940s and then restored in the 60s-70s.

Our final day consisted of a whirlwind tour of Venice. We caught a vaporreto (ferry) to Murano island where we saw an expert glass blowing demonstration. We then came back to the mainland where we wandered around the maze of small streets, stopping at intricate bridges and hidden public squares.

We finished our walk at the famous St Mark's square. I was surprised how intricate and golden the inside of the basilica are... I had thought it was famous largely because of the location.
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We paid to also explore the art on the upper floors and exterior balcony which had a great view over the square.

Then it was time to get to the airport for our inevitably delayed flight... Meaning we arrived at close to 1am back at Stansted... Too late for a bus to Cambridge. On the bright side we've now used uber.

Posted by nzdora 10:56 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Captivating Cappadocia

sunny 14 °C

After dropping our rental car with little trouble in Izmir, a city of almost 3 million (via traffic at 5pm...), we flew to Nevsehir for the final leg of our Turkish adventure: Cappadocia. We stayed in Göreme, a central town amongst the unusual rock formations for which the area is famous. For our first two days we enjoyed a traditional 'cave hotel'...
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Then for the final two days we moved to a 'stone room' at a beautiful new hotel.
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Both were interesting and comfortable! They had more modern comforts than the historical cave/stone dwellings occupied by locals centuries ago (and some locals today, although we did see one cave with a satellite tv dish).
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On our first day our mission was to book a hot air balloon, which we managed quickly and then were off to an 'underground city' at Derinkuyu - created in 8th - 7th centuries B.C. but enlarged and used more prominently by persecuted Christians in 8th Century A.D.
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We returned to Göreme for the Open Air Museum. This is a collection of 8th-11th Century churches carved into the stone outcrops in the hills.
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It was a good idea to do this late in the day, with many tour groups leaving as we arrived. Tourism in Cappadocia hasn't taken the same hit that the big cities and Aegean coast have, which was irritating for us as we weren't able to explore empty attractions!

On day two we rented bikes, cycling a loop of the valleys, rock formations and rural towns.
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We were emulating a chunk of the standard "red tour" circuit and getting some exercise doing it.
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Our last stop was at Ürgüp, where we had googled a couple of vineyards at which we hoped to try some wine before our slog home over the hill back to Göreme. The first, Mahzen, didn't allow tastings, nor wine by the glass - it was essentially a bottle shop. The second, Turasan, did have a small free tasting, or alternatively a NZ$10 paid tour plus tasting of three wines. We enjoyed the free tasting red so we purchased a bottle for $14, and didn't pay to taste more. We cycled back to our hostel to enjoy it with some chips and other snacks, but first we watched the sunset over Göreme from Sunset Point.
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The next morning we left at 4:45am for our dawn hot air balloon tour. This is what Cappadocia is famous for, and we can see why - this was a magical hour or so. Even on a Monday in low season and with the downturn in Turkish tourism, there were at least 50 balloons above, below and around us.
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We started with a low ascent over the rocks, drifting higher for sunrise, before we dipped down (the sun 'set again' for us!) and flew low amongst the 'fairy chimney' rock pillars of one of the Cappadocian valleys. The pilot showed extreme control to guide us through the valley and with balloons all around.
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We then rose 700m for a bird's eye view of the valleys and balloons. The whole balloon flight was a breathtakingly beautiful experience.
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Back on land, we enjoyed a glass of champagne as the balloon deflated, then second breakfast at our hotel (the balloon tour included hot drinks and snacks before the fight). We packed our bags for a day hiking through the pigeon valley to Uchisar.
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Here we visited the highest point in the region a 'castle' fashioned into the rocky highpoint, before trying a few wines at Kocabag winery.
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After a nice 'sung lunch' at House of Memories (apparently every dish and drink is sung to the table by the waiter), we were too full of food and wine to contemplate a walk home, so we caught a bus back to Göreme for an afternoon nap.

That night we ate at a fancier restaurant, Old Cappadocia. I ordered the traditional claypot cooked 'Testi Kebab', which was served on fire!
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The next day was our final full day in Turkey. We checked out and caught a lift to Avanos with Lisa, a kiwi who works at our hotel. We bussed to Kayseri, where we fly out from early tomorrow morning, to spend an afternoon shopping and relaxing. We met several locals who insisted they had friends in obscure NZ towns (Ashburton, Kerikeri, Te Kuiti). Inevitably they were all Turkish carpet wholesalers... We even had tea and an explanation on carpet process with one - who will be visiting Aotearoa in November... Look out!

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We'd recommend the parts of Turkey we visited to anyone... vibrant Istanbul, emotional Gallipoli, 'Greek' Aegean coastline, and the alien landscapes of Cappadocia. Ask us if you have questions.

Our next European blog may be some time away - once we have jobs in England!

Posted by nzdora 11:57 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

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