N and J’s European holiday.

September - October 2018
MDW (My Darling Wife) reluctantly agreed to another overseas holiday. She kindly agreed to allow me to do the planning which I readily agreed to. So we are off to London, Ireland, Northern Italy including Venice, Croatia and Vienna.
  • Day41

    Wein

    October 24, 2018 in Austria ⋅ 🌧 9 °C

    We got a taxi to the Dubrovnik airport and listened to young driver, formerly from Zagreb, explain about the local real estate prices and rentals. To us it did not seem too outlandish but his salary is quite small he said so it is all relative. Dubrovnik airport is very small and we were shuttled to the plane on a bus. In less than 90 minutes we had landed in Vienna. Vienna only become a destination because China Airlines flew out of its airport. Rather than catch the shuttle into town we caught a fixed price taxi. The hotel is not too bad, a small private hotel, the person next door to us is a permanent resident. We settled in and went to a local shop for milk and other supplies. The cold weather had arrived. It was overcast and very windy. Our 1 month prepaid sim had expired today so we were relying on Google Maps with no directions.
    The next morning we went down to the breakfast room for an organic breakfast, whatever that was going to be. I had organic corn flakes which were made of cardboard whilst MDW had two pots of tea. We then did as the locals were doing and ate freshly made cake. Not a bad idea as it tasted very nice. Brought back memories of my youth when we would sometimes have chocolate biscuits or cake for breakfast, must have been Dad’s European influence. The underground was a minute away, we bought a two day unlimited ticket, validated it at the train station and we were off. We arrived at the centre plaza where the main church was. Absolutely beyond belief. It was so tastefully done yet ornate at the same time. Great sculptures, art work and decorations. Mass was being said when we walked in to have a look but that did not seem to disturb the priest and the two ladies in the front pew. We spent the remainder of the day walking around admiring the architecture. It’s hard to put in words how tasteful yet magnificent it is. This has become our favourite destination these holidays although MDW still has a soft spot for Florence. The wind had really picked up and it was raining. MDW wanted to go to her favourite shop which is usually located in the suburbs around high density low cost housing, get the picture. And it was dark with lots of shadowy alley ways and shady looking characters. The street lighting was minimal but on we marched. The wind had destroyed my $5 umbrella so I had no protection from the wind or rain. Suddenly we were there, well almost because we followed the sign on the building which took us past people possibly doing drug deals and a dead end. MDW was getting frustrated but we walked back a little and found MDW’s planned destination. In we walked but shock, horror, what MDW wanted to buy was not in the store. See MDW has fallen in love with honey cashews and peanuts at LIDL. She was not happy but fortunately I found them in another isle. MDW was happy but now we had to get back. I suggested the tram but had no idea what direction or where to catch it. MDW just asked a couple of girls who happily told us what we had to do to get to the city. We took tram to the underground and now it was about 7pm. The train we needed to catch was packed but we squeezed in along with many others. People would just shove you out of the way as they were exiting which resulted in us shoving other people. We arrived at the centre and headed off for a long desired schnitzel at Figlmuller. There was a queue of people out the door waiting for a table so we joined them in the rain until we eventually were shown a table for two. The schnitzels arrived, bigger than the dinner plate but I managed to eat all of mine whilst MDW did her best but left about half on her plate. We asked for the bill and the eftpos machine was put in front of me and the waiter said I just need to put how much I want to tip. Well my tip is if you are going to charge that much for a schnitzel you should not expect a tip. I indicated I just wanted to pay the amount which did not make the waiter happy, “well no tip then” and his jovial nature had disappeared. Back to the underground, full tummy’s we hopped on full trains and back to our hotel. The wind was so strong someone had their takeaway meal blown out of their hand. The horse and buggy’s had given up with only the hardiest of tourists out and about.
    The next day we decided to get some culture but we tried to wait out the wind and rain. The weather app was saying it felt like 1 degree outside. So after lunch we headed to the museum quarter and spent several hours walking around the museum of natural history. So many exhibits from the smallest to the largest. We possibly saw almost every animal past and present that has inhabited this planet. The buildings in the quarter were also amazing. As we are flying home tomorrow morning MDW did a final bag repack and I weighed them in at under 23kgs.
    Together we saw so much, encountered different cultures, drove on the other side of the road, had a lot of laughs, a few worrying moments and lots of precious memories. The planning went pretty well although we would have changed the length of time we stayed in some of our destinations.
    Thank you for the comments and likes, hopefully it wasn’t too long winded, look forward to catching up with you in the near future when we can show you our 3000 photos.
    P.S. MDW doesn’t know but I am starting to plan our next holiday.. 🤣🤣🤣
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  • Day37

    Dalmatia coast.... Split and Dubrovnik

    October 20, 2018 in Croatia ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    One observation during our drive through Lika-Senj County and other areas around Plitvice Lakes was the number of empty and deserted houses. We drove past little villages or clusters of 10 or so houses where the windows and doors had been removed and no one home. Not sure of the reason but maybe related to the war during the early 90’s.
    The highway to Split was excellent although it was a toll road. The speed limit was 130kmh but even driving at 140kmh relegated me to the slow lane with cars zooming past me. The highways have some extremely long tunnels one we travelled through, “Mala Kapela Tunnel” being almost 6km long. They are an amazing feat of engineering as MDW said. Although the tolls add up, the time saving is worth it.
    Our hotel in Split is 300 metres from the Old Town and provides parking. The hotel had sent us an email with a link the the parking area which we allowed Google Maps to take us to. It was supposedly on 20 meters from the hotel. We parked in the space the farthest from other vehicles and probable an 3xtra 20 meters from the hotel. We started to walk towards the destination as directed by Google Maps dragging our luggage behind us. 20 metres, I don’t think so, more like 200 metres. When we were at our destination it took MDW’s sharp eyes to find the entrance. Someone grabbed one our bags and motioned us inside. We checked in and I asked if we had parked correctly and what was the payment procedure for the paid parking showing the hotel manager our parking receipt. “Wrong car park” he said, “just park behind the wall, 10 metres away”. I was going to tell him the link was wrong but we went back to the car and moved it to the correct car park. As we got out I passed MDW the phone and parking receipt that would need to be verified by the hotel. When we got to the hotel I asked MDW for the parking receipt. “What receipt “ she said. In her hand was a scrunched up piece of paper. Between us we flattened it out and although the ink was a bit smudged it looked useable.
    We spent almost all our time sitting in cafes near the water. The beauty of doing that was if you passed wind no one would know because of the smell of sulphur which varies in pungency during the day. Not that MDW would do such a thing. There were a lot of market stalls which were all operated by Croatians. We even came across the famous? fish markets which overpowered the sulphur smell. We also found a lovely restaurant where MDW had half of a huge pork schnitzel and I had a tuna steak, medium rare, which was delicious.
    The old town is right on the promenade and very interesting. Most of it is free to visitors with the underground or cellars of the Diocletian's Palace an exception. There were some clever builders over a century ago with stone roofs still surviving.
    Split is a great place to sit and enjoy the views.
    We needed to book one night at a town between Split and Dubrovnik, preferably on the coast. We ended up at Brela about 90 minutes south of Split. We got there way too early for our room so drove on to Makarska for a drink. Parking was scarce but we found a space on the footpath, along with other cars. We had a drink in the square where we saw more buildings with bullet holes. Off to our hotel, we checked in and the room was lovely but the air conditioning did not work. MDW told me it’s not working but I swear I could feel a trickle of cool air coming through the vents. After a couple of hours in the sauna and me finally admitting MDW was right (why do I ever question or doubt her) I contacted reception who sent a maintenance man down who fiddled for a while then disappeared without saying a word. On the phone to reception again where it was suggested I turn it off then on again. Did that, no good, on the phone to reception. Reception lady comes to the room, presses some buttons, turns aircon off then on. Still no go so we are offered another room. Although the hotel has lifts, we are in the annex which only has stairs, lots of. From our original room it was 2 flights up, 200 metres along a corridor, up 1 flight then down 3 flights. Luckily they sent a young man to carry our luggage as we were starting to struggle carrying ourselves. By now it was 7pm and we had seen nothing but 4 walls. Fortunately our accommodation included half board which is dinner and breakfast. Dinner was a Buffett with plenty of options to satisfy us both. Not only good food but a trio singing a Croatian and contemporary music which made for a wonderful atmosphere to accompany the wonderful meal. The dinning area was full with German tourists as there were at least two bus loads staying at the hotel.
    MDW asked when did we have to have the car back and I said I think the day after we get to Dubrovnik but I’ll check. Of course I was wrong, had to get it back tomorrow morning which meant early breakfast to allow for the two and a half hour trip plus potential google map direction errors. We were quickly on the highway where at times the speed limit was 130kmh and other times 50kmh. We seemed to be following the edge of the Adriatic Sea which provided some incredible views along with the Dinaric alps providing a menacing but impressive backdrop. We were instructed to keep left when we came to the start of a new toll way which wasn’t operational. Panic! Let’s turn right. Dead end. Let’s recalculate the route. Perform a u turn. We were soon heading in the right direction, this was our only potential “getting lost” moment in Croatia. On the way to Dubrovnik we had a couple of passport control areas when driving through Bosnia and Herzegovnia. When we were re-entering Croatia we had to show our passports twice in 10 metres as the two booths were adjacent to each other.
    We arrived in Dubrovnik with plenty of time to get the rental car back. We took our luggage to our hotel where I left MDW to look at the water view whilst she bravely trusted me to get the car to the rental car place and get back. I think this is the first time we have been more than 1 kilometre apart during this holiday. The car returned with out any issues, the rental car rep drove me back the 4 kilometres to our hotel. MDW was surprised to see me so soon. Our room was not ready so we had a drink then caught bus 6 to Pile Gate, the entrance to Old Town Dubrovnik. To get an idea what it’s like, watch Game of Thrones. We have never seen it but apparently some of it was filmed in Dubrovnik. The old town is interesting with lots of streets, a lot better planned than Venice. People still live in the town with washing hanging to dry out of their windows. Lots of Game of Thrones memorabilia for sale along with local Croatian products. Expensive to sit down for a drink, a small bottle of coke 50 kuna or $11 Australian. Needless to say we didn’t sit down for a drink.
    We had dinner at one of the many restaurants near the hotel. When we returned to our hotel I couldn’t find the door access card. No problem, I’ll get one from reception. I tell the guy I have misplaced the swipe card. He says what room. I say 812. I meet MDW on the eight floor and we walk towards room 812. I touch the swipe card thingy and hear the door click, meaning it is open but at the same time see a Do not disturb sign on the door handle. Oops, wrong room. Hopefully we didn’t disturb the people in room 812. I go back to reception and ask them to check what room I’m in. This time they check and give me room 804 access. I wonder if anyone could ask for any card to access any room?
    The next day we did the cable car ride to the top of the hill where there is an amazing view of Dubrovnik and the Adriatic Sea. It was a hard slog up the hill to get on the cable car, more than the 7 minutes we were told by the ticket seller.
    Again we have been fortunate with the weather. Croatia is a good place to visit, plenty of touristy stuff all down the coast plus Plitvice Lakes. It is amazing how the “old towns” survived and are still being lived in. Driving on the other side of the road wasn’t too bad. My navigator, MDW, did an excellent job as we had to rely on the take next right or left instruction because the street names are too long to read. Even the Google Maps voice jumbled the longer names. On the narrower roads overtaking is risky but done on a regular basis with cars happy to overtake over solid lines with a corner approaching. Only twice did we need to hit the brakes to allow an oncoming car to make it.
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  • Day31

    Zagreb and Slunj

    October 14, 2018 in Croatia ⋅ 🌙 9 °C

    We have arrived at Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. As we approached, the city city was under a haze of smog. Our hotel is on the right but no where to park. MDW says do a lap round the block which I start doing and around the back of the hotel MDW spots the parking area. After pushing the intercom we are let in and park in our allocated spot. Checkin is easy and looks like we have chosen well, Best Western Astoria. Our room is great, even a kettle and fridge, but we need milk. The supermarket is down the road near the train station. We get to the train station and MDW says that looks like a train station to me, not a supermarket. I say Google says it is 10 meters away. I have a look at the street view and it showed the railway station building. The supermarket was underground. We find it, not really a supermarket but a corner store. We grab a few supplies including milk and wait in line to pay. The checkouts had long queues with some of the older Croatian women pushing in whilst we patiently waited our turn to be served. Our groceries paid for we walk back to the hotel, right past a corner store which would have had the supplies we needed. Kettle boiled, tea made, I pour the milk. It is in the usual green plastic bottle but it comes out a bit thick and blobs around the cup as it separates from the hot tea. I check the expiry and all is ok so I smell it. Pew, it was pungent. Must be off, then I see the label says “Kefir”. It’s a cultured milk drink. Can’t imagine it would be very nice. Off to the closer corner store where I get some miljeko (it’s obviously milk) and we are able to get our tea levels in balance again.
    Zagreb has an older centre not far from the hotel, lots of museums and a huge area of flower markets and fruit and vegetable markets. There were also regular markets but they were starting to close down when we came across them, MDW was disappointed. Also lots of outdoor cafe and restaurant seating. As we were walking away from the market area a lady asks if we want to buy some perfume, Chanel and some other famous brand. They were in sealed boxes, looked genuine, they were parfume, not Eau de Perfume. 700 kunas for two, about $145 Australian. MDW asks if she can have smell of them but “no no no no” so we walk away. This lady is very persistent and places the two boxes in MDWS arms. “How mush you pay” she asks. I say “we are not interested, try some one else” but she focuses on MDW who doesn’t know what to do. “How much you pay lady” as we have now walked 50 meters away from the original selling point. The price is now 200 kunas which is about $42. I tell her firmly to stop annoying us and suggest it is not genuine. The lady is starting to become aggressive but I drag MDW away who thinks it might have been the cheapest perfume she would ever buy. I suspect it wasn’t genuine or it was stolen or just full of water. Otherwise she would have let MDW have a sample. She made out she was going to open the box but I was worried once opened we had committed to buy. So No Sale!
    We sat down to have drink and there was only local beer available. I asked for the lightest ale that was cold and was told they know just the beer for me. Out comes a bottle of “America’s Pale Ale”. It was disgusting, so bad I couldn’t drink it all. The taste remained with me for hours. Later we found a promising restaurant which sold schnitzel. First we had drinks and watched some men clean up the market square with brooms that looked like witches brooms. They madly swept and stacked the tables which they must do with every market day.
    MDW’s schnitzel arrived just like the original schnitzels used to be before the crumbed Chechen breast became a schnitzel in Australia. This schnitzel was as thin as cardboard making it tender and delicious.
    After a lovely breakfast we packed the car and headed towards our accommodation near Plitvice Lakes. We soon came to the toll gates so I pulled up to the machine before the boom gate and press the button for my ticket. Nothing comes out. I press it again and again, still nothing. We now have a few cars with unhappy drivers honking their horns whilst I get out of the car looking for assistance. Eventually someone comes over and opens up a cabinet and presses some buttons on a keypad. A ticket comes out and we are on our way and now with some distance between us and the angry mob that were lined up behind us.
    On the way we drove through a town called Turanj, near Karlovac which had several houses that were coved in bullet holes. Apparently from the “homeland wars”. A reminder of the conflicts of the past, MDW said she hopes our hotel looks better.

    Our hotel is in a town called Slunj. Not sure how you pronounce it but the hotel is great, big room with fridge, great staff. Our room was fairly warm so when the air conditioning wasn’t working we followed the usual procedure of asking reception to change the settings for us. They tried but as they had switched over to winter mode only heating was available. The offered us a fan which made all the difference and helped dry a few clothes that MDW had hand washed. We drove the 3 km to a nearby supermarket for milk, bread, tomato, cheese and fruit. Google said there was congestion ahead and the 3km trip would take 15 minutes. Sure enough we came to a stand still, must be a lot of people going to the supermarket. We eventually get to the supermarket although the traffic congestion was still ahead of us when MDW told me when to turn which I did but somehow I managed to be driving against the traffic in the car park. I quickly exited and got back on the road and tried again. This time I ended up in a disabled parking spot, oh dear this is not good. Fortunately the car next to me was leaving so I backed out and took their spot. In the store was a bakers so we thought we would buy fresh bread. The customer ahead bought a loaf and asked for it to be sliced so the lady got a knife and hacked 3” thick slices for her. The customer was happy, must have a good thick slice toaster although toast does not seem to be on their menu. We just bought 1 loaf which when we sliced it was yellow inside. Still tasted like bread, just a bit yellow.
    For dinner we went to the hotel restaurant which was overflowing with guests. The hotel manager offered us a seat in the coffee shop which we happily accepted. We placed our orders but were told it would take a while as it was family day. Family day is when Plitvice Lakes reduces their entrance fee from 150 to 50 kunas. It attracts many thousands of Croatians, especially when the weather is nice. So many people went, the lakes became overcrowded and made the visit not worth while. (This is what the hotel manager told us). We asked if Monday would be a good day to visit, “yes” he said, “it’s full price”. Our traditional Croatian meat dinner arrived, MDW had pork and I had lamb. Both very nice but I feel there has been a lack of vegetables with our meals, potato, chips or rice the only accompaniment. MDW doesn’t miss broccoli.
    The hotel is so good and we are not sure how we will pull up after our visit the Plitvice Lakes tomorrow we book another night.

    Next morning we get up early hoping to miss the crowds and the afternoon rain that was forecast and get an early breakfast. Well the breakfast area was full but our table was reserved with our room number on it. We have a look at our options and MDW says you want vegetables, well here they are. Yes I could have had broccoli, cauliflower and zucchini for breakfast but I settle for toast and bacon whilst MDW had her staple of toast and honey. From the coffee machine I got a cappuccino but it tasted like hot chocolate. MDW said it tasted like coffee and chocolate combined. I drank it and had another go at the machine. What I had had was a cocoa drink, I pressed the wrong button. I need my eyes tested.
    With our backpack filled with water, coats and umbrellas we drove to Plitvice Lakes. Arriving about 9am we got a nearby car park, bought our tickets and got to the start of Route B. We were standing on the top with a view of the waterfalls and lakes. It was also a long way down which meant it was going to be a long way up. The path is good although at times narrow which makes passing people taking selfies difficult. I think MDW was tempted at times to shove some in the water. When we were doing our walk there were hundreds of tourists yet at its peak over 7000 a day so it was a quiet day. On busy days it would be just annoying and probably not worth the visit. Most of the visitors today were 60+, not many young people at all. By mid October it is usually cold and wet but we were doing the walk in summer clothing although everyone else appeared rugged up. Again the weather has been unseasonably warm and dry and kind to us. Have a look at images of Plitvice Lakes on the internet, they are better than what we took with the iPhone. Route B included an electric boat ride and a train journey before the final walk. I thought MDW was amazing with her little legs leaving me behind at times. It was about a 5km walk but a lot of downhill and uphill. Reaching the end was fulfilling, very pleased we came. The remainder of the day will be kicking back and relaxing.
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  • Day28

    Destination Croatia

    October 11, 2018 in Croatia ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    When we were planning our holiday the options of getting from Venice to Croatia were minimal. To fly there would require flying via Rome or with some airlines, Paris. We had agreed we would only fly on National carriers, avoiding the budget airlines. The ferry from Venice to Porec took 3 hours 30 minutes, it was a smooth trip and docked at Porec about 8pm. I thought is was a 2 hour 30 trip and we would lose an hour through the Timezone change but Italy and Croatia are on the same clock.There were taxis waiting to transport people to their final destinations but we thought we would get some milk first then a taxi. We trudged over the polished slabs that made the road until we found a market that sold fresh milk. We asked where we might catch a taxi and were pointed towards the waterfront. When we arrived there was not a taxi in sight. Now we were worried, for some unknown reason the hotel we booked was 5km away. This did not make sense as the hire car had to be picked up the next morning from near the ferry terminal and we always tried to have accommodation near the town centres. Soon about 6 people were walking towards us so I asked if anyone understood English. Yes they said, they were Croatians who had lived in New Zealand for about 24 years. It was our lucky night, they needed a taxi too so they called one for them and one for us. One taxi arrived and as it had room for 10 we all clambered in and shared the one taxi as the taxi driver said he was the only driver working now. After the New Zealand group were dropped off our trip continued to an out of the way area on the outskirts of Porec. Finally we were dropped off out the front of our hotel, paid the taxi driver his fare in kunas then dragged our luggage to reception. No one was there but there was a gentleman in another room watching TV. He finally noticed us and came to check us in. With the little command of the English language he had he photocopied our passports, said something about Adelaide and two nights then gave us the key to our room. He tried to help carry one bag up the stairs and almost fell as he struggled due to its weight. The room was horrible, dirty with a few dead cockroaches on the floor. The bed was a small double that was not the normal length. We started to make our tea and I went back downstairs to get the wifi password. He didn’t know what I was talking about so called his son on the phone who could speak English and we now had network access. The nights sleep was bad, I couldn’t stretch my legs out, the mattress was lumpy and the pillows were the ones filled with crushed foam. Poor MDW tossed and turned most of the night, unable to get comfortable. In the morning we had a cup of tea in our room and refused to have a shower because of its floor having cockroach bodies on it. Bravely we ventured down for breakfast hoping for a cup of tea and a piece of toast. When we finally interrupted the domestic dispute between mother and son, the mother came out and asked us to be seated. We brushed the dead insects off the table cloth, by now all MDW wants to do is leave this hotel. We were the only two having breakfast at 8:30am. A bother table is set for a group but we wonder if we are really the only stupid people staying here. I ordered a coffee and MDW a pot of tea. Coffee arrives as did a pot of tea with a wedge of lemon but no milk. MDW asked for milk which was promptly delivered (hot frothy milk left over from my coffee). So MDW pours her tea into the cup with some warm milk in it. Purple, yes the tea was purple. Not only purple but smelt of berry, maybe blueberry. It didn’t look good blended with milk, really it didn’t blend, with the milk repelling the tea as did MDW who said she wasn’t drinking that stuff. So we now hoped for some toast but got bread with cold salami, maybe ham, cheese and tomato. We ate buttered bread. Croissants arrive prepacked in foil packaging, not good. The woman kept checking if all was ok, of course we said yes and smiled. After the bread was eaten we got our bags, rang for a taxi and tried to check out. For some reason the owners were surprised. They thought or maybe hoped we were staying two nights. I explained we had prepaid for one night showing the son the confirmation email. He said nothing but kept scrolling through the computer screen. I asked if there was a problem and he said he was checking if we had paid. The taxi was waiting so I told the son we had to go then all of a sudden he must have seen the payment confirmation, stood up shook my hand and we were gone.
    The taxi took us to the car rental firm who I had rung earlier to see if I could pick the car up before midday. No problem he said, 11am is suitable.
    We had a look around the Porec waterfront where there are numerous large boats, a few casinos and a dozen or so market stalls. We had a quick look at the markets then got some supplies from a small supermarket before going to the car rental firm to pick up our VW Golf. The contracts were printed off with extra insurance cover when I noticed the cost had risen €80 from the quote I had agreed to online. I questioned why and he said you are picking the car up 45 minutes early so you are being charged a penalty fee. “Well I’ll wait till 12 noon or change the return time to 11:15am.”
    He made some changes and printed out a new contract with the correct fees. We waited for the car to be brought the parking area when along comes a Mercedes Benz Hatchback, B Class I think. Almost brand new. After the inspection we put in our luggage and into the car we sit. It’s an automatic. MDW says I should move as I’m blocking someone so I start the car and can’t find the gear stick. Eventually I find the gear selector is on a steering wheel stick (a bit like an indicator or wiper control). I work out how to put it in drive and drive down the lane then go to turn right but of course I’m in the left hand lane. The car I made room for is on my inside or the right hand side of the road where I should have been. Not a good start. MDW has a good laugh as I’m starting to perspire. I give MDW the job of reminding me to stay right and before long we are following the directions on Google maps as I can’t workout the cars navigation system. We get to our first roundabout and navigate it correctly except we took the 2nd exit and not the third. At the next roundabout we do a u-turn and then take the first right but end up at a petrol station. This is harder than I imagined. I just drive through onto the road and we are on our way to Zagreb. It’s mostly freeway with two toll sections. We came across one of the greatest inventions of all times. We were approaching some road works when we notice a man waving a flag up and down, obviously warning us to slow down. The marvellous thing was it was a mechanical or robotic figure with a helmet doing a wonderful job for no pay.
    So far the weather has been marvellous, low to mid 20’s with beautiful blue skies. Apparently by October Croatia is getting cold but so far the warm weather has stayed and been very welcome.
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  • Day26

    The city of (love, romance, dreams ..)

    October 9, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    We departed the Bologna Inn to catch the fast train to Venice. We had one day too long in Bologna, should have had an extra day in Florence which we loved. We arrived at Bologna Centrale which requires you to go down one level, walk some distance then go down another 3 levels to the departure platform. There are lifts and escalators and as I was approaching the last escalator with the two suitcases, a man who had been following me closely asked if he could help. Not sure wether this person was being nice and helpful or if he had a cunning plan and was going to rob us, I waved him away and successfully struggled to get the suitcases to our departure platform. MDW was pleased I waved him away as she thought he looked suspicious. She is generally a good judge of character, after all she married me. 🤣🤣 We arrived at Venice and from the station we followed the other tourists to the water bus station. Bought two tickets which last 75 minutes and wisely headed for Water Bus 2. It is only 5 stops unlike Bus 1 which goes the other direction and is 12 stops. We join the queue for the bus which departs every 12 minutes. Bus 1 departs every 6. The Bus arrives and fills up with passengers, we are still in the queue. Next bus arrives and we miss getting on this bus as it has filled up also. Next bus we get on and squeeze up against the other passengers with MDW constantly reminding me to protect my wallet. 5 stops and we can get off. My counting must have been off because most people got off at Rialto but not us. Of course Rialto was our stop but too the bus had left the platform. Easy I said, get off at the next stop and get the other bus which goes in the other direction. This is something we did in Amsterdam when I took the tram one station too far. This worked like clockwork and we were soon following Google maps towards our hotel.
    Venice is the city of bridges which makes dragging two suitcases a challenge. Not sure how many waterways we had to cross but everyone has an up and a down and our suitcases were starting to feel as if they were full of lead, even though the scales say they are only about 20 kilos. It was also rather warm, yet many Italians were wearing jackets or coats. We were both perspiring like crazy. Google took us down narrow alleys and twisted streets, we really had no idea where we were heading, just trusting a smart phone to get us to our destination. Eventually it said “destination on our right” but it wasn’t. The phone struggles to get a signal at times because of the narrow laneways and just guesses where we are. Not very helpful for us. We got google to recalculate our path until we found the hotel.
    We drag ourselves up the 3 flights of stairs where we find the hotel manager seated behind a desk on the phone. He continues his conversation on the phone for several minutes whilst multitasking and photocopying our passports. After he finished his phone call he tells us the internet is down, maybe a few hours before it is fixed. We weren’t too concerned as we just wanted to get our bags to our room then buy some milk for our cups of tea.
    The room is a good size but not as nice as shown on their web site. It has a fridge but no kettle, of course we now have our own.
    We turn the air conditioning on as it is very warm then head off to find a supermarket. With the help of Google maps again we are struggling to find our destination. A lovely French lady (MDW says “lovely was she”) asks where we were going and we said a supermarket. She says they are all to expensive around here what do you want to buy. Milk we replied, oh only little bit, ok right then left then right. So we go right then left then right and don’t find the supermarket. A young waiter who’s job it is to get passerby’s to enter the restaurant asks where we are headed, A supermarket, and he pointed us around a corner and we are then at the co-op. After using the online translator the correct milk is purchased and then back to the room. Well that was our intention but lost again. We are starting to see familiar shops but we also find several laneways that are blocked off or bridges that go into private businesses or maybe large houses. The pressure is on, we haven’t had a cup of tea since this morning, must be 5 hours. Eventually MDW notices the green awnings of the restaurant next to our hotel. Relief, we have found our way back. In the room the temperature has not dropped, the air conditioner is just blowing room temperature air, MDW suggests I talk to the hotel manager and let him know the air conditioning is not working. But before I can do that we have to hide the kettle and cups in case he comes to our room, even MDW hid herself away in the bathroom. I tell the hotel manager of our problem and “Oh” he says, “I have it turned off”. He goes to a control panel, presses some buttons and says it will work now. MDW suspected this would be the case because our hotel at Milan had the same situation where the hotel has ultimate control over your rooms comfort. Strange indeed or maybe normal in Italy.
    We spent the evening walking around Venice, not in any particular direction but came across St Marks Basilica and Rialto Bridge. Near the bridge we stopped for refreshments where MDW had her usual Coke Zero and I had a large beer (see photo). We weren’t sure what a large beer would be but it ended up being a litre and in a very heavy glass jug. It require two hands to lift it steadily to my mouth but with great skill I was successful. We sat there for a good hour, talking to a couple of American ladies from a Boston who would love to visit Australia but it’s too far. I said I had no interest in visiting America, not very diplomatic but they still talked to us.
    We headed back to our room with MDWs sense of direction starting to work, lots of shops selling Murano glass and leather hand bags. I think MDW has purchased sufficient handbags (5, yes FIVE although I did buy her one) and also a chance to organise our gondola ride.

    Venice Day 2.

    Today is washing day. We do have an issue with the wifi in our room. The signal strength is poor so we have to hold the iPad or iPhone near the door to get a strong enough signal to send or receive email etc. I brought it up with the hotel manager who told me “it’s an old building, what do you expect?”. I mentioned free wifi in the rooms was advertised, maybe another room? “No you have booked the Classic room”. It was the only room available when we booked and I didn’t realise “Classic” meant room down the stairs away from the wifi signal! End of discussion, not the end of the world, a bit like living in the 90’s except there no English language TV shows.
    We grab our bag of laundry and detergent and head off to the Effe Erre Laundromat . After our usual problem of getting lost or being one street parallel to our intended street we find the laundromat. There are about 8 washing machine and 4 dryers. All the washers are being used or stopped but full of someone’s washed clothes. We take a seat and wait. After a few minutes I ask the gentleman alongside me if I can empty a machine that has stopped and put the clothes in one of the plastic clothes bins. With an Australian accent he says “sure”. So with access to a machine we put our dirty clothes in it and MDW diligently pours liquid washing detergent into the top detergent drawer and for good measure down the front of her clean dress. She’s not happy but isn’t going to rip her dress off and sit around in her undies. We insert the 6 euros and press go, 21 minutes to wait. We offer to watch the machines of our Aussie mate whilst he and his wife (farmers from a Tweed Heads) go for a walk. After 21 minutes I throw the clothes into one of the large dryers. I insert 4 euro and suddenly realise I have put the money in the wrong machine. Damn, so I put more money in the correct machine and off it goes. The lady whose machine I have added an extra 8 minutes of drying time to removes her dry clothes from the machine and we grab it and divide our clothes between the two dryers. Ends up I didn’t waste too much on someone else’s drying time. Clothes dry we head back to the hotel.
    We started another journey around the streets of Venice, walk and walk and walk. We really have no idea where we are heading. We have a drinks break and do more walking. The buildings are 4 or 5 floors high so the lane ways being narrow get no sunlight. We come across a pub/ restaurant which also has a toilet. Must be our lucky day. We order drinks and lunch, the place is packed, must be good. MDW’s schnitzel is a deep fried pre frozen lump of something not nice although the fries are not too bad. I ordered pasta of the day and get shell pasta with little green peas (I hope) creamy sauce and ham. I think 5 minutes in the microwave and it was done.
    We did a bit more walking, over Rialto bridge and back through Piazza San Marco. Tonight is gondola night. A night for romance ❤️❤️. We found out last night you just go to one of the gondola stations and before you know it you are on the vessel with a negotiated price, although there is a supposed set price it ends up cheaper for cash. (straight in his pocket) Getting onto a rocking gondola is a bit of a challenge but we managed to get to our seat ready for our trip. Off we go and I ask the gondolier if he will be serenading us. He says he doesn’t have a singing voice but he managed to talk on his phone much of the trip. Still it was a lovely experience and we got to see parts of Venice we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. After 45 minutes the gondola was rolling and rocking back to the dock and my stomach was starting to churn. MDW said I was looking a bit green. I held my stomach contents down, it would have been embarrassing to through up on a gondola.

    Venice Day 3.

    We had a walk along the promenade this morning, not utilising Google, again walking down many narrow laneways and past a shop MDW was very interested in. It was a closing down sale with everything 50% off the marked price. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately it was closed although there was someone sitting inside ignoring us when we pushed on the door. We decided to have lunch and come back later in the day. We came across a restaurant which advertised Milanese chicken which is chicken schnitzel. I asked the waiter if it was prepared in the kitchen after yesterday’s disaster. Yes he said and in the true Italian Restaurant way, if you don’t like it you don’t pay. I had a pasta dish and we both loved our meals. Best food for me and best for MDW since Ireland. We will return tomorrow for our last lunch in Venice. After lunch we tried to find the 50% off shop. We walked for several hours and did not find it. Poor MDW was frustrated but we still had half a day tomorrow. During our walk we witnessed a disgruntled tourist not happy with the exchange rate given for his English pounds. He was loudly saying “don’t go to this money exchange shop, it’s a rip off” “I don’t care if you call the police”. He was getting louder and louder and the passing tourists were giving him a wide berth. Now he may have had a point about the exchange rate offered but it was advertised in the window so he had no one to blame but himself. If you want to complain about exchange rates, look at the Australian dollar. Although MDW couldn’t find the shop she did buy a furry pom-pom to hang off her handbag, so she was happy.
    We sat for coffee at one of the cafes near the waters edge in San Marco. I asked for the bill and the waiter held it out for me but MDW went to grab it. “No madame” he said “ for Sir” and in my hand was the bill.
    One interesting encounter for me was with a restaurant waiter who asked if we wanted a meal. Said we had eaten then he puts on a great Aussie accent. He said his girl friend is from Australia, Moss Vale. No way I say telling him I went to school in Moss Vale. Just for the record her surname is Thirsk which I hadn’t hear of. Small world isn’t it. He gave me a voucher for a free wine but of course we couldn’t find it again.

    Venice Day 4.

    After repacking a dozen times last night, MDW did one final repack. We left the room for the final time and left our luggage with the hotel until later in the afternoon to avoid dragging them around the streets of Venice.
    St Marks square was partially covered in water due to the high tide. Now we know why there are elevated ramps around the square, we thought it was seating for some upcoming event. We again walked and walked (there is no alternative unless you catch the water bus) and found an interesting shop selling some more unusual Murano glass products MDW had been admiring. We wanted a momento of our time in Venice and managed to bargain the price down a little and got something we both liked. With our purchase wrapped we went for our final drink near the Rialto bridge. We ordered our drinks and the waiter just stared towards MDW. “Dog” he said. No, no it’s just my pom-pom MDW said. “Oh I thought you had a dog in your bag”.
    We had lunch at the same restaurant as yesterday, excellent again. On the board it said no service charge but there was a €6 covero fee. Just pay it MDW forcefully suggested and left me on my own to pay the bill. I did a quick translation to discover covero means inside or covered. There was no outdoor seating so maybe it’s a cover charge. I didn’t say anything and just paid. We started our walk back to the hotel and of course we walked right past the 50% off shop. As we had already purchased our momento we only had a quick glance and continued to the hotel. We picked up the bags and headed to the water bus stop at San Marco. Three stops and we reached the ferry port at San Basilio. We had been a bit nervous about the ferry trip to Croatia but the boat looks reasonably safe and is not overloaded. MDW had visions of an Indonesian style ferry, the ones that are overcrowded and sink.

    Our impressions of Venice.......
    It’s interesting with the canals, beautiful churches, a city of very old buildings in varying states of repair, obviously a different lifestyle, gondolas, no cars or bikes, people have to move everything by boat or on trolleys pushed by men around the streets. Even though it’s not peak season there are a lot of tourists, us included. The gondolier said tourism was a double edged sword, they need tourists to survive but they have pushed up the cost of living in Venice so there are not too many locals. Over 3 million tourists a year. Everything is becoming a hotel or Airbnb. It is frightfully expensive, a coke and a beer costs €20 if you want table service. Often there is a pungent smell along some streets, especially a couple of streets away from our hotel which helped us to locate it towards the end of our stay. One full day would have been enough, again we preferred Florence.
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  • Day23

    What have we done?

    October 6, 2018 in Italy ⋅ 🌧 16 °C

    We catch the fast train from Florence to Bologna, it’s barely a 30 minute trip but we get off at our station and contemplate the walk to the Bologna Inn. The Inn is in the centre of the city. We are struggling with our bearings and one wheel on the luggage is a bit wonky, the Florence streets got the better of it. They have a 10 year warranty so that will be sorted when we get back to Canberra. Taxi it is. We get in a cab and show the driver the address. 2 minutes later we arrive. Poor taxi driver, I apologise for the small fare and even tip him. Where we are is not looking too wonderful, if this is the centre of Bologna, why are we here. We only picked Bologna because it was not too far from Venice and supposedly has good shopping. We enter the building and squeeze into the maximum of 4 people lift with our suitcases taking up more than 50% of the space. The Inn is on one floor of the eight floor building and we don’t know what floor it is on. The doorman says something related to Bologna Inn, sixth floor I think he said. So we get out at the sixth floor and can’t see the Bologna Inn entry. I run up a flight of stairs and there it is. Up a flight of stairs I carry the suitcases and we enter the Bologna Inn R&B. R&B, maybe it’s a rhythm and blues themed hotel? No it’s a Room and breakfast, maybe an Italian B&B. We check in and look forward to our room with fridge, somewhere we can put our milk. The fridge is there but no kettle. What’s going on? How can there be a fridge but no tea making facilities. 4 years ago we encountered this situation in Rome and bought a kettle but threw it out at the airport when trying to reduce our baggage weight. MDW says we will just have to buy another one because she knows what I’m like if I don’t have 10 cups of tea in the morning. Off we venture onto the streets of this ordinary city. Lots of traffic, city buildings and graffiti. We found a kettle at a shop a couple of doors down and were told it had a two year warranty. That’s useful to know. Back to our room we have cups of tea. This is the first time in a week we have been able to really enjoy a cuppa. Mind you we have to hide the kettle when we leave the room because we don’t think it is something the hotel management would approve of. I asked if I could use their kitchen to make a pot of tea and they said no, it’s for breakfast making only.
    Replenished in tea we look for a supermarket, there’s one across the road. Crossing the road in Bologna is challenging. There are pedestrian crossings but if there are no traffic lights it becomes a game of cat and mouse. We stood on the edge of the pedestrian crossing waiting for the traffic to stop but none did. We soon observed people just walk across and force the vehicles to come to a halt. Holding hands we did the same, if one of us is getting hit then we go together, that’s our motto. After safely negotiating a few crossings our confidence is increasing. We start to cross another road which did not go so well, MDW said she looked into the eyes of her potential killer. She was shaken.
    So being in Bologna what do you eat? German food of course, we walk the kilometre to a Bavarian restaurant which has schnitzel’s. We are now in an even seedier part of town but having Google maps, we are confident we will find our way back. It is interesting how reliant on the smart phone we have become. Most tourists walk around with phone in hand, much easier than a paper map. Because it is 7 o’clock we are the only people there that are eating. The food is pretty good but we are eager to kick back and relax. These travel days are quite wearing even though much of the time is spent sitting and waiting.
    The next morning we wait and wait for our breakfast to be delivered to our room. It doesn’t arrive so I venture out of the room to see where it is. MDW has ticked “Main room”. She says I was there when she filled out the form, I get the blame for everything, MDW says. The lady says she will bring it in which she does. Tea and toast, the bread is the ultra thin style although there are patisseries which sell delicious breads. Milk for the tea is provided but it is heated and frothy. I wonder how difficult it must be for tourists who come to Australia from non English speaking countries with different eating habits and customs. Only once have we complained about the food and that was when a toasted cheese and ham sandwich arrived instead of plain toast. Usually we give each other that knowing look of “here we go again” or have a chuckle. Although we are in a very civilised part of the world we have got out of our comfort zone at times which is not a bad thing.
    After breakfast and research we go to the old centre of town and find a breath taking area. Churches, museums and big towers. One has over 400 steps to the top. A challenge for me tomorrow. Bologna is not as touristy as Florence or Milan with much smaller crowds and no waiting time to enter buildings. Most have no entry fee. The basilica is very impressive inside and even had a church service whilst we were there. We caught a little tourist train to the top of Bolgna’s hills. The road was narrow and windy with many near misses but it just seem that’s the way you drive in Italy. From the top you could see all of Bologna which was shrouded in a haze.
    Back to the old centre we did more walking, past the exclusive brands area where the shops appear to try and out do each other with their window displays. We walk past a trendy looking hairdressing salon, no we enter the salon and 30 minutes later MDW is getting an Italian hair cut or this that hair cut by an Italian? Come back in 1 hour, MDW tells me. So I go walking and after 2 hours MDW is still in the chair. I sit at the cafe next door and slowly sip two coffees when MDW appears with her trendy new hair do and colour.
    The weather has been a bit miserable with a fair bit of rain. Many umbrellas are opened to keep people dry, us included but we are on our way to the markets. We only just found out about them and the lady at the Inn said they may not be on because of the weather. We arrive to find most stallholders are packing away their products. Most of the stalls are operated by nationalities from Asia, India and Bangladesh. The prices are cheap as is the quality. MDW is disappointed that it is closing up as she likes nothing better than a good rummage around at the markets whilst I carry on about the quality or ask why do you want that. We came away empty handed, bought some nice bread and back to the room. We have another day in Bologna and not sure what else we can see. We have seen all the historic buildings and I just have the tower to climb. On Sundays, Bologna shuts up shop for the morning.
    It’s Sunday morning and our breakfast arrives. We go through the ritual of putting the tea bag in the teapot, pour a bit in the cups then empty all the contents down the sink. This way the staff think we have appreciated the breakfast and no one has their feelings hurt. Maybe we shouldn’t order breakfast at all but at least the toast is something in our stomachs plus I’ve started eating too many croissants. The highlight of the morning has been FaceTime with our grandchildren in Canberra and Broken Hill, although this makes MDW homesick.
    Today I am planning to climb the Asinelli tower so we walk to the general area to organise a ticket. I ended up buying one online as I couldn’t find a ticket office anywhere, start time 2pm. We found a seafood cafe that offered fish and chips and a toilet. It was down one of the narrow side streets a bit away from the basilica and the other old parts of the city. We were the only two there but it was probably early for most people, 12:30, or it was going to be terrible and no one ate there. We ordered our drinks, cutlery was delivered then came our fish and chips. It came served in polystyrene containers and the batter was not crisp but somehow rubbery and white. We give it a go and the fish wasn’t too bad although it needed to be released from the batter first. MDW struggled, just the look of it was enough but managed to eat some of the chips. After paying and using the toilet it was approaching “climb the tower time”. MDW sat on a concrete block, wished me good luck and told me not to have a heart attack. I joined the queue of mainly 20 - 30 year olds. I couldn’t imagine it being too difficult to do the steps, my only problem would be my fear of heights, so hopefully I wouldn’t end up near a ledge or exposed window. Off we went, one step at a time, I did think about counting the steps before heading off but after a couple of flights that idea had gone. On the way up there were 4 landings and by the time I reached the first landing some people had stopped for a rest or maybe given up. The steps were narrow but the handrail made the task easy as you could almost pull yourself up each step. Once I got to the top I was faced with caged windows, the floor sloping down, away from the centre of the tower. Luckily for me I found an old metal hook which I was able to hold onto when I attempted to take photos. I was not handling this situation well, I need to get back down, now! The trip down was easy although the steps being narrow required more care. Job done my fear of heights is now even greater. I found MDW and we strolled back towards the inn listening to a few of the marching bands that were performing today. We called into the co-op to get milk and supplies for tomorrow’s train trip to Venice. A trial run of packing our bags completed with room for our kettle found, we both agree one full day in Bologna is enough.
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  • Day21

    Florence Part 2, eating

    October 4, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    As we are deprived of tea we went to one of the few cafes open at 8 o’clock in the morning. We sit and ask for tea and toast. The waiter brings a selection of tea bags along with two tea pots filled with boiling water. Milk still hasn’t arrived but instead of toast two plates with toasted cheese and ham arrive. We send it back making sure it is understood we want toasted bread with butter. Milk arrives and we finish our tea but still no toast so I get up to pay, explain that we did not get the toast. The man at the cash register is not happy and after I pay the toast arrives. Too late. Pleased I didn’t wait for the toast as it was not bread but thin wafer style biscuit.
    Next meal we try is lunch, well I do. I have a four cheese pizza at a pizzeria. It arrives, lovely base beautifully smothered with cheese. I start to slice it when cheese or more likely milk, starts running off the pizza. I wait a while to see if it would set but no, it stays runny. I manage to eat it anyway.
    Final meal of the day is cannelloni for me and pork steak and potato for MDW. The meals arrive, mine perfectly aligned on the plate whilst MDW’s looked like manufactured pork with potato slices and salad. I know MDW is not going to eat her dinner. Mine is bland which is disappointing as I expected something special in Italy. The waiter came out and proudly told us that as they don’t have a kitchen he managed to find a packet of potato to heat up with the pork. What, no kitchen? We were given microwaved meals? We were not impressed but just paid the bill and left the food on the plate. This was very disappointing, if we had been home we would have complained but the cold beer at this place is pretty good.
    During one of our strolls we hear an almighty noise and saw the result of a wheel falling of the cart with 4 tourists in the back. One wheel had rolled to the side of the street with the passengers clambering off the cart and left to their own devices to get to the centre of town. It’s not surprising the carts wheel fell off, the paved roads are quite bumpy. I wonder how the wheels on our suitcases will survive the walk back to the train station.
    Florence is a wonderful city, the centre is magnificent, it’s more touristy than Milan but also more laid back. Plenty of places to sit and have a drink and watch the tourists go by. Next stop Bologna, our Italian is working well with the locals appearing to appreciate our efforts.
    Arrivederci!
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  • Day21

    Florence Part 1

    October 4, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    Continuing our love of public transport we caught the Metro to Milan Centrale Station and found our way to the departure area for the inter city trains. MDW was keen to get there so we only had a three hour wait and no seats were available. It was packed. So we went to a cafe where we paid extra for seating and purchased a coffee and hot chocolate. Italian coffee is fairly strong but usually of good quality and I find it very drinkable. The size is small but because of the strength it is probably sufficient. MDW’s hot chocolate came in a large mug and was like a cup of melted chocolate. Thick brown syrup, MDW said there were enough calories in it for a year, you have it. So I slowly spooned the chocolate until I had half finished it. That was enough. We took our bags to the departure area and spent the next hour looking at the departures notifications along with a thousand other train travellers. Eventually we were able to board and found our seats. It was a high speed train from Milan to Florence. With speeds of 300km it was a two hour journey and quite comfortable. The Florence station was 1 kilometre from our hotel, The Hotel Villini. 10 minutes walk, no public transport options and a mile long queue for the taxis. Google maps pointed in the right direction and off we trekked. The non existent foot paths made us wheel our bags along the paved road along with many others including cars and push bikes. It was a battle at times and we did think the wheels could fall off at any moment. After our 10 minute walk we found the entrance to our accommodation. This hotel was picked by MDW, 2 Star. I think 1 star for having a bed and 1 star for having a bathroom, a disaster of no kettle so no cups of tea, but 5 stars for location. We were greeted by two work experience students who explained the bar opens at 6pm but if we wanted something earlier they would look after us but don’t tell the boss. We unloaded our bags, noticed there was the standard bidet in the bathroom, something that will remain unused, and headed out. 20 meters from the front door we were in the main piazza. The 3rd biggest cathedral in Italy I was informed by a tourist guide. It is immense, spectacular, amazing etc etc. We walked around it, up and down many streets then sat near it for a cold drink. My glass was frosty and the “almost a long neck” very cold. I poured the beer in the glass and suddenly had a frozen beer in front of me. But it was refreshing. After dinner we walked around for a few more hours marvelling at the spectacular buildings, watching and listening to buskers and walking in and out of a 100 shops. Back to our room we collapsed and even the hard bed seemed almost comfortable.
    One thing whilst people watching, we have noticed is the various stances people take before having their photo taken, it is an art form and at time amusing.
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  • Day19

    Magnificent Milano

    October 2, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    We arrived at Milan airport where the plane stopped about a kilometre from the airport arrival area. We were herded onto a bus with few seats and lots of standing room. It was pouring rain but not cold. The bus shuttled us to the airport building where we joined the long snaking queue through passport control. We grabbed our bags and bought tickets for the airport - city shuttle bus. It was a “put your bags in the cargo hold yourself” arrangement so I shoved our bags on, pushing other bags further into the hold. We found seats and the driver kept asking where people were from. A large number were from Boston, and each time someone from Boston boarded, the driver, who only knew a few words of English, would say “Trump” to which many passengers would laugh so the bus driver happily kept repeating “Trump”. The bus delivered us to Milano Centrale Railway. From there we needed bus 81 which would take us within 100 meters of our hotel. Google maps was not being very helpful but eventually a kind lady escorted us to the bus stop we were looking for. Of course you can’t buy tickets on the bus so I bolted to a Metro shop and bought the tickets. Bus 81 eventually arrived and we got on but didn’t know what to do with our tickets so we did nothing. We disembarked near the hotel but had no idea which direction it was as when we eventually found it, it was hidden by tall buildings on the main street. It also had rained the entire time we were trying to locate it. Checkin was straight forward and the room great. Must say the location is not the best being 5 kilometres from the city centre. Next door to the hotel, a building is being demolished so there is a constant noise from the smashing of concrete and brick. We decided to have a night in and get some rest after the early start. MDW insisted we have room service although the menu was limited and not much either of us really fancied. MDW said I should have the pulled pork with crispy vegetables. MDW said she would be happy with a bowl of fries. Our food arrived and when the menu says “crispy vegetables” it actually means diced pieces of carrot, celery and zucchini served raw and crispy. Still it was filling and our only meal of the day.
    Next morning we started with breakfast. I headed straight for the cornflakes, well more like anaemic flakes as they were almost white. In the bowl I added milk to the flakes and sat down ready to hoe into my cereal. Of course the milk was room temperature, something I should have remembered from our last visit to Italy although I thought it was Paris where I had the milk problem and Rome was ok. I managed to separate the flakes from the milk before filling up on toast and a bacon alternative of pancetta or prosciutto. The butter is also looking very pale, almost looks like lard. MDW was happy with her bowl of rock melon followed by almonds.
    Breakfast over we caught the Metro to the Centre of Milan. We walked up the steps and were awe struck by the duomo. The Milan Cathedral is a stunning building out doing the Notre Dame in Paris. It is full of sculptures and works of art. We strolled around this main piazza which is surrounded by all the big name fashion shops. We needed a Post Office for a stamp so Google sent us to one edge of the piazza. We found a postal box but no post office. I asked the security guard if this was the post office but he did not speak English. A couple of young guys offered to help, and told us the post office closed and is now a Starbucks. They didn’t know if there was a post office in the old part of Milan. Needing a toilet we went to McDonalds, always a reliable place for these facilities, but at the entrance was a large security guard so MDW said she wasn’t going in there. Using Google translator I searched for “toilette” but nothing close by showed up so an hour later we decided to venture into McDonalds as a last resort where we walked past the security guard who surely must be wondering if we are a serious consumer or just casing the place. This McDonalds had 4 or 5 seating areas and security guards in each area. I ask one of the guards where the toilets are and he tells us upstairs. This means we have to walk past the security guard at the entrance again but I have bought drinks and we walk confidently past this large figure. All this security seemed like overkill but still the coffee was extremely good and we felt very safe consuming our drinks.
    We did a bit of window shopping and determined to find a Post Office asked a lady with good English where a Post Office might be. She gives us directions, past Foot Locker, through the arcade then turn right. No her companion says, go through the perfume shop and you can’t miss it. Well we follow these directions and still no Post Office. We ask a lady near where the Post Office was expected to be only to be told there is no Post Office around here. What is going on with no Post Office in Milan?
    We even ventured to the outskirts of the old city finding ourselves wandering down many lane ways until after 6 hours of walking, we were worn out and headed back to the Metro to go back to the hotel. Before going to the hotel, we caught bus 53 to a LIDL supermarket to get a few thing for a simple dinner. This is not such a simple task, the bus stop was hidden around a corner and MDW still needs to remember the cars and buses drive on the other side of the road and a couple of times has stepped off the kerb only to quickly jump back as a car heads straight for her. This bus trip going past 13 bus stops, took us to a much slummier area of Milan. Google maps did a good job on the bus counting down the stops as the announcements on the bus are in Italian only where on the Metro an English announcement is also made. This area of Milan was filled with dated high rise apartments that probably started as modern living areas for the expanding city. Although we had tickets for the bus, still like everyone else that got on the bus, we never swiped or displayed our tickets. I don’t imagine the buses are free but no one seems to be paying. Shopping at LIDL was interesting as we used an online translator to make sure we were getting what we wanted. Bus 86 took us past 15 stops to a Metro where we had one stop before getting to our hotel. I think we are getting the hang of this public transport system in Milan. Tomorrow Florence and our hotel is in the middle of town. We are nervous about the hotel because we sacrificed comfort for location, will this be the right decision?
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  • Day17

    Ballinasloe, Athlone and Dublin

    September 30, 2018 in Ireland ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    Today we have a simple plan, drive from Galway to our hotel near the Dublin Airport, return the car and have an early night as we have to be at the airport at 5am. It’s a two hour drive along the highway. We quickly find our way to the highway and put the foot down till we reach the 120km per hour speed limit. Along the way we decide it is coffee time and take the turnoff to a town called Ballinasloe. Off we go when all of a sudden we are brought to a stop by the traffic jam in front of us. What is happening in this town but then it crosses my mind there is possibly a local football game on or everyone is off to church. Then we overtake a horse and buggy. In Barellan, NSW, they have the Clydesdale Weekend where there are a few horses but here we are seeing hundreds and probably over a thousand gathered in the local show ground. This is part of their horse fair week. There was absolutely no parking available unless we paid €10 to park in someone’s driveway. We meandered through the town, passing many fabulously groomed horses. There were even donkeys in the street. No shops were to be found and access to the main street was blocked. Back on the highway we decided coffee at the next town.
    Next town was Athlone, a town with medieval castle, churches and rivers. The only place we could find to get a coffee was a pub which we stumbled across and became the first customers of the day. Also toilets were available, coffee not too bad. We continued walking with MDW confident we would find our way back to the car. She was right as we walked down a road where people were taking photos of this road so I did too. Not sure the importance of it.
    We got back on the highway and the Navman kept trying to divert us onto a side road. I checked the Navman settings and it had avoid tolls. This might be why we didn’t drive through the tollway out of Dublin, the one that you can’t avoid, yet we did. We checked into the Premier Inn, reliable hotel with a good bed. MDW did some hand washing whilst I returned the car and found my way back to the hotel on the shuttle bus. We finished off the evening with a nice meal at the hotel.
    Ireland has been lovely, even with the cold weather at times, got to see lots of great scenery and towns.
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