July 2017
  • Day1


    July 28, 2017 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    Departing Bangkok after midnight, we arrived 10.5 hours later early that same morning in Rome at Leonardo Da Vinci Airport. The flight was uneventful aboard a new A350-900 which was very comfortable. Very little sleep.

    The Satellite terminal of Leonardo Da Vinci airport is modern and stylish. Even the toilets had that Italian Designer Chic cool. Stewart was amused by the toilet cubicle doors that had automatic opening doors.

    After clearing immigration, getting a thumbs up from the officer, a few moments later we had our bags. After changing clothes we headed to a cafe where we sat for quite a while planning the day ahead. The coffee was excellent.

    We paid for a shuttle van to take us to our Hotel sharing the van with an Australian Couple from Coffs Harbor. There was bad traffic on route into Rome. We arrived at The Hotel Artistes around 9.30 am. The room was not ready, so we left our luggage in storage. We then caught the train from the nearby Casto Pretoria metro station, changing at Termini to get to Sparga. From there it was a short walk to the Spanish Steps. After changing money and buying gelato, we climbed to the top of the steps. We took a right turn along Via Sistina and then left into Via di Porto Pinciana. After reaching the Aurelian Wall we found a nearby Pizzeria where we had lunch.

    After lunch we entered the nearby Villa Borghese built by Cardinal Scipione Borghese. It is Rome's most popular park. We hired a self ride Rickshaw. The 4 wheeled bike was semi motorized. The park is quite hilly, so it was a relief on the legs when the motor kicked in occasionally. We had quite a bit of fun riding the rickshaw visiting the various sites in the park including an 18th century amphitheater. At times we were a bit out of control as we dodged pedestrians on the path ways which were quite busy with other visitors.

    After returning the bikes we walked another 1 km to the balcony of Pincio which has good views of St Peters Basilica in the distance and the Piazza del Popolo below. After walking through the Piazza which has a large Egyptian obelisk at its centre we headed to Flamino metro station. We got off at Termini where at the nearby main station after a long wait we activated our Eurail tickets for our onward journey. We then returned to the hotel at 4 pm where we were able to collect our luggage and check in to our room.

    After a couple hours of rest and showers we headed out to look for an evening meal at 6.30 pm. It was still early, so few places were open. We chose the nearby Ristorante "I Leoni D'Abruzzo". We all ate pasta which was rather average. The Peroni beer was good. It was then back to the hotel. We were all exhausted and in bed by 8 pm. It had been a very long day. The next destination is Perugia.
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  • Day2


    July 29, 2017 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    After a long nights sleep we all woke refreshed. We headed down to the breakfast area at the hotel where we ate a hearty breakfast. We checked out of the hotel then walked to the Termini railway station which was less than 10 minutes away. We had planned to catch the 1053 train leaving Rome to Perugia. We however had a last minute change of plan and checked out the rental cars. At the Hertz counter we were told that all the cars were manual. At that point we are almost ready to head back to catch the train. We were struggling to communicate with him our needs. We decided to try budget avis instead. More queuing. The Avis lady was a lot better. She immediately offered us an automatic car on a good deal. We picked up the car from a nearby garage where the lift had broken down so there was more queuing again for only lift working. We collected the car - a brand new Mercedes-Benz CLA 200 d shooting brake. Very comfortable with the same controls as my regular car. We waited a while to get the GPS fixed then we were off driving on the streets of Rome. This is not for the faint of heart, driving on the opposite side of the road with crazy Italian drivers all coming at you from every direction beeping their horns. Fortunately it was Saturday late morning and there wasn't too much traffic on the road. John really had to keep his wits about him as we managed to get out of the center of Rome and onto the main highway leading to Florence. The local drivers all ignore the speed limits. The maximum speed seems to be about 130 km per Hour. At least that's what the GPS indicated. After a while we got used to the roads. About one hour outside of room we stopped at a roadside service area where we bought some supplies. We arrived in Perugia at around 230 that afternoon. The hotel is located on the outskirts of the town about 4 km . We could see the historic center of Perugia on the nearby hillside from the hotel. Perugia is the capital of Umbria.

    The kids and John had a swim at the swimming pool. The water was very cold. After that we headed into the historic part of the city. It was a struggle to find a car park. After about a 500 m walk up steep steps and along narrow cobblestone streets we came upon a church where a wedding was being held. Further on from here we found an escalator. At the top of the escalator we emerged inside a fortress. We explored many of the cavenous rooms some of which had been used as a gallery to display art work. Above this area there are many grand buildings and a large plaza. After having happy hour drinks at a sidewalk cafe we ate at Al Tartufo. Not surprisingly given the name of this restaurant it specialized in the local truffles. I was informed by the restaurant owner that there are five different varieties of truffles that can be found near and around Perugia. Tonight we had black truffles. Delicious food. It was almost dark when we finished. We found our way down the hill to the car. Then back to the hotel and sleep. The next day we would be driving to Florence.
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  • Day3

    Florence & Arezzo

    July 30, 2017 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    We made an early start getting up before 6.30 am. We were joined at breakfast by the local football team! After breakfast we set off to Florence for the day. The regular speed limit was 110 km/hr, but most drivers were traveling well in excess of that speed. Maybe it is because the police don't work on Sundays. There are however plenty of speed cameras on route Florence is 147 km from Perugia. It took us almost 2 hours to get there. After Parking the car we headed to the apartment of Rosalind Yunibhandu. Rosie had been based in Florence for almost 3 months. Although her apartment was small it was however well equipped and had real charm. It was located in 600 year old building and looked out in to a lovely garden courtyard. Rosie had spent much of the last 3 months touring the country meeting with regional food and wine producers. It was great to see her after more than 2 years.

    Sunday many of the usual cafes are closed. We crammed inside one of the small cafes that was open near her apartment. There was a good selection of bakery items, small tarts and excellent coffee, per usual.

    We spent a lot of time chatting and catching up on what we had all been up to. We all agreed that Italy was a great place to live and that the Italians really know how to live well.

    For lunch we went to X where we had great pasta washed down with a bottle of Prosecco. After saying our goodbyes to Rosie we headed off back to Perugia stopping on route at Arezzo.

    Arezzo is a city in eastern Tuscany, Italy. The hilltop Arezzo Cathedral features painted vaulted ceilings and a 15th-century fresco of Mary Magdalene by Piero della Francesca. Nearby, the Basilica di San Francesco has a chapel decorated with more Piero frescoes. The Basilica di San Domenico contains the 13th-century “Crucifix” painted by Cimabue. The imposing Medicean Fortress has sweeping city views. After plenty of walking Stewart and John bought Gelate. There were many people dressed up in old costumes. Stewart joined in the fun buying a medieval helmet.

    After leaving Arezzo it was about 1 hour drove back to Perugia. That evening we ate at the hotel. The meal was rather disapointing.
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  • Day4


    July 31, 2017 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    After checking out of the hotel we set off in search of Gubbio. Gubbio is a medieval town in central Italy. High up in the mountains it is about 50 km from Perugia.

    After parking the car outside of the fortified walls of the town we set off to explore this town. After walking for more than an hour through the maze of winding streets we reached the Colle Eletto cable car which climbs to Mount Ingino. We ascended the mountain standing in little more than a metal "birdcage". Atop the mountain we had beer and soft drinks. After that we climbed a short distance to the 5-naved Sant’Ubaldo Basilica with views of the Apennines Mountains. Inside the Basilica is the 1000 year old embalmed body of St Ubaldo which sits inside a glass sacophagus. After coming down the mountain we had lunch at a nearby restaurant - Locanda del Cantiniere. Food here was superb and lived up to the high praise it had received in Trip Advisor. Stewart ate beef Tatare aka "Snappy Tom".

    We headed back to the car for the drive to Ancona. We passed through more than a dozen tunnels the longest of which was 1.2 km.

    We arrived in Ancona at 4 pm. The hotel "Ego" was located on the industrial fringe of the town on the coastal foreshore not too far from the main port. The hotel was new and modern with friendly staff.

    After having a relaxing happy hour drink at the hotel bar we headed out for dinner. The staff had recommended Tratoria Sot'Aj Archi. This Resturant specialized in Seafood. The mussels were excellent.
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  • Day5

    San Marino

    August 1, 2017 in San Marino ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    We woke up late. After a delicious breakfast we set off in search of a bank that would change money. We keyed in "bank" into the GPS and set off. Later we would learn that the GPS was possessed, which explained why we were not able to successfully change any money. More about that later. We were down to just a few Euros and had no change to put in the parking meter. Parking illegally we headed to a local bank. You enter such these establishments through what looks like a time machine. A glass capsule that accommodates one person at a time intended to deter want to be thieves. We queued for over 40 minutes to learn that this bank only changes money for its customers. We chanced using the ATM that was inside. Problem solved.

    Thereafter we keyed "San Marino" into the GPS. 3.5 hours later and 170 km later we were in the middle of the country side. No San Marino. We had passed through some interesting countryside and more tunnels, but still had not spotted San Marino which according to the GPS was still 14 km away. We pulled over and checked the GPS. We soon realized that we were heading to San Marino Italy - not "the" San Marino which is a country in its own right. 40 minutes later we were driving across the border.

    San Marino is a mountainous microstate surrounded by north-central Italy. Among the world’s oldest republics, it retains much of its historic architecture. On the slopes of Monte Titano sits the capital, also called San Marino, known for its medieval walled old town and narrow cobblestone streets. The Three Towers, castlelike citadels dating to the 11th century, sit atop Titano’s neighboring peaks.

    After parking the car we walked a short distance to the cable car that would take us to the top of Mount Titano. There are splendid views from here and throngs of tourists. We visited the 3 towers atop the mountain. Apart from souvenir shops there is not much else to see.

    We headed down the cable car to the parked car. Keying in "Ancona" into the GPS we were surprised to learn that it was a little over 100 km back to the hotel. We were mostly on the AutoStrada and arrived back by 6.30 pm.

    For dinner that evening we went into the old down town area. We ate late at La DegOsteria. The food was excellent as was the local white wine.
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  • Day6


    August 2, 2017 in Slovenia ⋅ ☀️ 32 °C

    After breakfast we returned the rental car to Avis. We had planned to walk back to the hotel, but after walking 20 minutes eventually caught the bus as there was no footpath to continue on.

    We returned to the hotel where we checked out, putting our bags into storage. We then caught a taxi into the down town area of Ancona getting dropped off at Pinots del Passetto. We decided not to walk down to the beach below which is reached by a long flight of steps. It was another very hotel day in Ancona. We decided to walk back into the central down town area and the historic city.

    We had lunch at Trattoria all Tredici Cannelle. It served simple food street side. The fish was particularly good here.

    After lunch we suffered through the heat exploring the down town area. We went into a few shops. We then had gelato.After that we caught a taxi back to the hotel to collect our left luggage. From there we went by taxi to the Port where we checked in. With our boarding passes in hand we caught a bus to the ferry. After clearing immigration, we boarded the ferry. There were many uniformed staff to greet us. We found our way to our cabin. The cabin was quite small but well equipped. It had its own small bathroom. There were 2 sets of bunk beds.

    We then headed upstairs to the bar. We had one drink there and then decided to try out the Resturant. We were some of the first to arrive and were seated at a table near the windows. The food was basic and reasonably priced. By the time the ferry departed the Resturant was quite full. The ferry left about 1 hour after its scheduled departure at sunset. It was very exciting to finally be away.

    Shortly after setting of we returned to our cabin.
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  • Day7

    Going banannas in Split

    August 3, 2017 in Croatia ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    We awoke early at 5.30 am. The ferry was approaching Split. We endured a sleepless night in a stuffy cabin with poor air conditioning. We had a quick breakfast before disembarking the ferry at 6.45 am.

    We were met by large crowds in Split. The promenade area that runs along the foreshore is crowded with open air restaurants and souvenir shops. There are many youngsters about. Split on first impression seems quite the party town.

    Located on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, Spit is known for its beaches and the fortresslike complex at its center, Diocletian's Palace, erected by the Roman emperor in the 4th century. Once home to thousands, its sprawling remains include more than 200 buildings. Within its white stone walls and under its courtyards are a cathedral and numerous shops, bars, cafes, hotels and houses.

    We found a nice Resturant for breakfast just outside the walls of the Diocletian's Palace where we relaxed drinking coffee until 9.30 am. We headed to our apartment nearby. We were met by the owner. She was very friendly. The apartment was lovely. 2 bedrooms with a large central kitchen and small lounge area. Most importantly it had air conditioning and a washing machine. We were just about running out of clean clothes after a week on the road. As the previous guests had just checked out we were asked to return in 2 hours time. We left our bags at the apartment.

    We wandered around the nearby shops until 11.30 am. We returned to the apartment and did the formal check in with Anna. Anna was a friend of the owner and works at the nearby Museum. She had plenty of tips including the best beaches to swim at.

    After several loads of washing in the afternoon we caught the bus to Kasjuni beach. It was a pebble beach. The beach was very crowded. The water is refreshing and quite clear due to the presence of limestone and favorable currents. Stewart cut his foot on the sharp rocks.

    We caught the bus and returned to town. We headed back to the apartment where we got cleaned up. For dinner that evening we ate at "Augubbio". The food, service and atmosphere were great only ruined by the poor air-conditioning in the Resturant. In defense it was swelteringly hot day. We would have stayed longer but it was insufferable. Of particular interest in the restaurant was the stone floor which was original Roman.
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  • Day8


    August 4, 2017 in Slovenia ⋅ ☀️ 32 °C

    We set off early to meet up with our coach tour for the day that would take us to Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is a city in southern Croatia fronting the Adriatic Sea. It has recently gained much notoriety due to it being used for filming of many scenes in "Game of Thrones' including "Kings Landing".

    The small bus was full with other tourists of various nationalities. Getting to Dubrovnik takes 4 hours and requires passing through Bosnia Herzegovina each way. Passports are inspected at both border crossings. Our tour guide Igor explained that the highway between Split and Dubrovnik was one of the most expensive roads to be built in Europe. Consisting of mostly bridges and tunnels, it passes through a very mountainous region referred to as the Dinaric Alps. The mountains are quite nude with low bushes and visible outcrops of limestone. Enroute we passed Croatia's tallest mountain Mt Dinara which is 1831 m high.

    We arrived in Dubrovnik just after 12 noon. The down town area is extremely crowded with tourists, many of whom arrive via the massive cruise ships which are moored nearby in the harbor.

    Dubrovnik is known for its distinctive Old Town, encircled with massive stone walls completed in the 16th century. Its well-preserved buildings range from baroque St. Blaise Church to Renaissance Sponza Palace and Gothic Rector’s Palace, now a history museum. Paved with limestone, the pedestrianized Stradun (or Placa) is lined with shops and restaurants.

    After a short tour of the city by the guide we set off on our own to explore this amazing city. First though we had some lunch at a Sushi Resturant that also served the locally grown oysters. From there we found our way to the city walls with 2 rather contancorous children in tow. It was very hot so it was understandable that the 2 youngest in our group were a bit put out by the 1.9 km walk around the top of the fortified stone walls that surround the old town. The views afforded however are spectacular. It was worth the tension.

    After that we found our way back to the meeting point to catch the bus at 4.15 pm. On the way we had ice cream.

    We arrived back in Split at 8 pm. After getting cleaned up we headed out at 9.30 pm in search of some food. Every Resturant was packed. Perhaps not surprising given the fact it was Friday night. We decided to get take away fish and chips instead. That was a good move. We headed back to our comfortable and very cool apartment to eat that before a well deserved rest. Another long day with a longer day ahead.
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  • Day9


    August 5, 2017 in Slovenia ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    We got up late. We had a simple breakfast of pastries bought from the nearby bakery. After packing our bags we checked out of the apartment at 11 am and headed to see Anna at the City Museum where she kindly allowed us to leave our luggage for the day.

    We toured the small museum for free as her guest. In the museum we spotted the new UN secretary General Antonio Guterres. There was a lot of security.

    We then headed to a nearby Resturant for lunch where we had mostly mussels and salad.

    After lunch we had a look at the 2000 year old sub-structures below the old palace. After that it was off to the beach. This time we swam near Ovcice beach a 30 minute walk from the down town area. The water here was very clear. The kids and I swan between several rock outcrops. The water here was quite deep.

    We then returned into town and had home made ice cream at "Luka". We had earlier been informed that most icecream sold in Croatia is made from powder imported from Italy. From there we walked back toward the museum and ate an early dinner (having skipped lunch) at a nice courtyard restaurant called O-Zlalta. We then collected our bags and made our way to the train station 20 minutes away.

    We killed the time waiting for our 9.44 pm departing train to Zagreb playing Uno and charging our phones. Eventually the train arrived and we were able to board.

    Although the cabins were well appointed, they had no air conditioning. Croatia had been having its worst heat wave in years. It was very hot on board. As we left Split we were boiling. Fortunately it soon cooled off as we climbed up into the mountains. The train was on route to Zagreb where we were to make a very brief change of trains to or next destination Ljubljana.
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  • Day10


    August 6, 2017 in Slovenia ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    We awoke on the outskirts of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Another sleepless night. The train was running 45 minutes late, so our changeover at Zagreb was swift. With 5 minutes to spare we boarded the train to Ljubljana.

    The countryside between Zagreb and Ljubljana is quite stunning. The train travelled mostly along a river valley. We passed several pictureque villages on route. At the Croatian/Slovenian border we were checked by the police who came aboard the train to check our passports.

    We arrived in Ljubljana - pronounced La Jubble Jana shortly after 9 am. We walked to the hotel where we left our bags.

    Ljubljana is Slovenia's capital and largest city. It's known for its university population and green spaces. The curving Ljubljanica River, lined in outdoor cafes, divides the city's old town from its commercial hub. Ljubljana has many museums.

    We walked toward the rover where we had breakfast. We then caught a river boat cruise. From there we headed toward the castle. We bought postcards on the way which the kids filled out and we posted. After that we caught the Funicular up to the Ljubljana Castle. The castle complex stands on Castle Hill above downtown Ljubljana. It is a key landmark of the town. Although there have been extensive renovations done and attempts to put together a interesting story behind its history, altogether we found the castle rather uninteresting.

    Just as it had started to rain we headed back to the hotel where we checked in. We had some rest and caught up on emails and this blog.

    We headed to a restaurant near the river for dinner. We sat outdoors under a large canvas umbrella at "Most" just in time for the heavens to open up. We managed to stay dry although we had to. E moved to another table. It was the first rain in 2 weeks - which is apparently a long time in Slovenia - which is one of the wettest countries in Europe. The food was excellent as was the service.

    After that we headed back to the hotel for a well earns rest. Unfortunately the aircon was warm - so it was another restless night.
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