This is Tim and Carol, Felice’s parents, and we have been asked by Felice and Luke to be guest bloggers. This is quite an honor, and we will make every effort to be as entertaining and insightful as they are, although our chances of succeeding are slim. We will start by saying that Felice and Luke travel like they’ve been doing this their entire lives. They calmly make their way through cities and country roads, Luke driving like a professional, dealing with all manner of drivers, and Felice providing healthy snacks and navigating unfamiliar road signs, consistently able to quickly determine where we were and where we needed to be. All this while still admiring and appreciating all they were seeing, and enjoying each other. They are quite the team! We did find ourselves offroading in Croatia; Felice told Luke to immediately turn left before the next bridge, which put us on a dead end dirt road through a vineyard. Oops.
Our heroes are also incredibly well organized – everything has a place, and is in its place – grandpa Hal would be proud! The wonderful custom cabinetry Luke designed and built for the truck makes this possible, and Felice’s endless lists assured every possible need will be met. Traveling with them was so seamless, it is easy to forget the mammoth preparation that made this seemingly effortless travel possible.
Now for our adventures. We met Felice and Luke in Zagreb, Croatia. Felice had arranged a lovely AirBnB, and we walked around the beautiful, old city for a few hours before heading to Slovenia. There we had a remarkable homestay at a small farm with our gracious host, Alma. Her Mom told us an amazing story about her great grandfather, who had traveled to Alaska in the 1890’s for the Gold Rush to make his fortune. Against all odds, he not only made it to Alaska safely, but he also found enough gold to buy the farm they live on today. They were very proud of their brave and adventurous ancestor.
Onwards to Bovecs, Slovenia, where we spent a lovely afternoon on Lake Bled. We rented a rowboat, and the kindly and strong Luke rowed us around the lake. We all managed to not fall in, which was a huge accomplishment, given the size of us and the size of our boat. Tim was quite a spectacle with his ripped shorts (he sat on a nail, no damage to his body) and his giant orange lifevest. The castles on the surrounding hills were spectacular, as they were throughout the trip. We also visited a World War I museum, which was very moving and emotionally exhausting. Luke and Tim were especially affected by the soldiers who dug trenches on the top of mountains, at 9000 feet.
Slovenia was also the site of a mammoth hike that we are pleased to say we survived. Up and down mountains, then up and down again, across a suspension bridge and along a cliff that ended at a waterfall and a bone chilling swim by Felice and Luke while we clung to the side of the mountain, hoping and praying they made it back to us safely, since we didn’t know where we were, where we were going, where the car keys were, where our next meal was coming from…you get our drift.
In Austria we visited Manfred, Huberta and Fritz Barthel, as well as Fritz’s children. These wonderful people hosted Matt, Tim’s brother, when he was an exchange student 40 years ago. There are not enough words to describe the love and kindness they showered on us. We took gorgeous walks through the town, marveled at the mountains they had climbed, and enjoyed our time with them so much. Tim, who had visited 40 years ago, threatened to never leave, now that Fritz’s daughter runs a coffee shop downstairs at the family home.
In Budapest we stayed with our daughter Eve’s college roommate, Julia, her husband Bill, and their adorable baby, Henry. They were also wonderful hosts who gave us a great tour of the city and told us so many stories about the amazing history of Budapest. If Tim, Carol and Luke hadn’t got stuck in their elevator it would have been a perfect visit! (It was a small blip that, while horrifying Julia and Bill, was quite funny after the fact.)
We now have a new respect for Felice and Luke for another reason – writing blog posts is REALLY hard! Just like every other aspect of their big adventure, they make it look easier than it actually is.
We are so thrilled to have been Felice and Luke’s first guests, it was a joy to watch them explore. We love you so much and are so incredibly proud of you! Live your dreams!
*Photos taken by all of us and “curated” by Felice
Welcome to Croatia!
Mom majestically overlooks the city
A church, of course
Delicious looking beans at the market
Non stop photos by Dad have begun!
Another church, of course, this time with neat-o roof tiles! Luke refuses to tell me how much it would cost to get a picture of my face tiled into Mom and Dad’s roof.
Making our way down from the lookout
Awww so pretty
Slovenia: Celje, Lake Bled and Bovecs
Greeting the cheering throngs of admirers at a safe distance at our castle in Celje
A view from the castle in Celje
Luke is much more chill about greeting the cheering hordes.
Maybe I’m not even afraid of heights anymore!
Mom and Dad!
Hooray castle time!
Just a pretty view of Slovenia
And THIS pretty view is taken from the balcony of our airbnb, can you believe it??
Our airbnb, with the host, Alma, who is fantastic
There’s a gravitational pull situation with Luke and tractors, especially strong with brightly coloured little ones
Look at how much the cows love Alma’s mom. They are so excited.
On a farm tour!
Look at this puppy dog! Such a sweet heart, but ran right back into his house after 30 seconds of petting.
A view of Lake Bled.
Before getting into our boat at Lake Bled
Hey look, a couple of those tiny dots down there are Luke and I swimming!
We pulled over to watch hang gliders (and weird motorized hang gliders) crisscross the valley on the way to Bovecs, Slovenia
Our neighborhood in Bovecs
Our airbnb host in Bovecs picks some greens out of her garden for us.
Bovecs. It is one of the gateway towns to the incredible Soca river, and it’s a hub for adventure sports. We liked it’s vibe.
And here it is, the beautiful Soca! Dad, Mom and I are on the trail to the right.
Dad with a bridge we crossed
Dad in one of the WWII shelters
Dad cooling his tootsies
A beautiful waterfall – Slap Kozjac, it’s called, which is great.
And here we are swimming. SO. COLD.
I thought Grandma Shirley would like this natural arrangement! I wanted to transplant the whole thing to some sort of fairy fountain situation.
Mom is making it over the suspension bridge. It bounced. She was brave.
Exploring Roman ruins
These stairs were much, much higher than this photo even shows.
Taking in the view.
Descending some more stairs
This is how they do bee hives! They are all this pretty!
We went to see a concert in the Mozarteum in Salzburg! We were there crazy early, of course.
The show was amazing – Thomas Ades, the British composer, played one of his own pieces accompanied by the Calder Quartet. I was afraid the fam would hate the VERY avante garde music, but they loved it!
Hanging with the other stuffy white folks at the concert. This is totally my element.
And then we went to a beer hall!
Look at that beer! Oh, Mom!
Tourist time with Dad! That’s a Mozart statue! (Mozart is from Salzburg)
Excellent statue. That’s not a real person up there (the OHS regulations would be far too onerous for that, we guessed)
A beautiful building in a row of buildings all dating from the 1200s and 1300s.
A view of Salzburg from the castle on top of the city
Mom listening to her audio guide!
…and Dad NOT listening to an audio guide? What has the world come to?
Good Lukey, listening to his audio guide.
And of COURSE I am.
At the castle in Salzburg
A different church
Bad Haring, Austria
Our first glimpse of the beautiful Bad Haring, Austria
With Huberta, Uncle Matt’s host Mom. She and Manfred took us for walks all over the place.
There’s something funny about this historical mining car, apparently!
A classic Tirolean farm house, according to Huberta. It’s beautiful!
Manfred’s brother was a gifted sculptor. This is in the Bad Haring graveyard, at the family plot. It’s just beautiful.
More of Manfred’s brother’s work.
These type of flower boxes are everywhere. Don’t you just want to eat it!
No one knows what this little guy is, or quite how we feel about him.
There were goats!
Huberta greets Cato
Dad and Manfred on a walk.
This is Stefi’s cafe, build under Manfred and Huberta’s house in the centre of the town. It is brand new and absolutely gorgeous inside!
More of Manfred’s brother’s work
This is how Austrians stack wood. It’s perfection. Actually, I think this is the stack that Uncle Matt and Uncle Greg did last time they visited Bad Haring!
Huberta showing us around the idyllic land behind their house
Oh geeze, Dad’s got a scithe. Never give Dad a scithe. Luckily no one got their eye poked out.
Stefi’s part of the garden, in which she plants flowers to decorate the cafe
Our hotel, which Manfred and Huberta arranged for us. Is it not spectacular? It’s on top of a hot spring and has a whole beautiful spa complex in it.
And Luke and I got the nicest room! That’s just one side of the balcony. Serious luxury.
Bad Haring. Huberta told us that when she moved here as a young adult, she said she would climb every peak around the valley. She did it within a year.
In Kufstein, a nearby town
The castle above Kufstein
Mom in the castle
Inside of the castle is a museum about winter sports, of course. And guess who’s in there!!! Manfred and Fritz invented a new binding for alpine skiing that was super revolutionary in the sport, and is now pretty much the only binding used. Here is an early prototype, with their names! Yay so exciting!
A view of Kufstein
The castle – we walked the stairs rather than taking the funicular. So tough.
The toys of Fritz and his son Mathias. Luke was very happy.
Chatting with Fritze before leaving.
With Manfred at the house
Saying goodbye to Fritz, Mathias, and Huberta.
The stunning cathedral in Vienna
There was a (happy) demonstration outside of the cathedral, with people singing and dancing around an American flag and a cross. We thing it was to celebrate the Pope’s journey from Wyoming to Krakow, really not sure of the details here.
a famous modern building by the cathedral.
A lovely mosaic in the city – photo for you, Aunt Marjorie!
Taking a break from an epic day of walking in Vienna.
Luke is biting Goethe’s toe
We couldn’t take pictures of the inside of the imperial rooms, but we could take pictures in the museum that they built to house the dining sets. Museum. For dining sets.
So many fancy huge buildings in Vienna, mostly built by emperor Franz Josef.
I don’t even know what all the fancy buildings are.
Like this one, it’s just another huge fancy building.
But now, we transition to the neighborhood by the Danube, which is totally covered in graffiti/street art.
Apparently, the locals have claimed this zone?
I don’t think it can be called graffiti if it’s this photorealistic, right?
This must make the people doing simple tags feel really inadequate
Lovely feminine graffiti/street art
So grand! (Something tells me they planned/paid for this one)
Hanging out by the Danube
We went to the top of this church (which was 200m from our airbnb, by the way)
And this was the view of Vienna from the top of the church.
Leaving the church
This is where the Hapsburgs would hang out in the summer. This is their summer house.
Mom and Dad at Schonbrun Palace, aka the Hapsburg holiday house.
This is just a pretty thing opposite from the summer house that they built to be pretty.
Walking through the gardens.
Just quietly, this flutist has poor form. Never rest your elbow, people.
Details on the synagogue.
A really chilling and beautiful memorial to the many, many Jewish people who were massacred – or died of horrific ghetto conditions – during WWII. Each leaf has the name of a person who lost their life. (In the courtyard of the Synagogue)
On a lighter note, this is a testament to the designer of the Rubic’s Cube, who is from Budapest!
Walking in the city
Like in Vienna, there are lots of grand buildings in Budapest. But they have slightly different flavour. As Julia so eloquently puts it, Budapest is Vienna’s “edgier step-sister”
The Parliament building
An artistic way to cover but remember bullet holes that once scarred this building (from the time of the revolution)
In the parliament sqaure
The cathedral, which houses the Holy Right Hand of St. Stephen
Inside the cathedral
Look at little Henry! How adorable is he?? And he’s just sitting at lunch, chilling, like the cosmopolitan lil bubby that he is.
Looking across the Danube
Walking across the swaying suspension bridge over the Danube.
A beautiful church on the Buda side of Budapest
Looking at the Pest side of Budapest
Our last dinner together (until our next adventure!)
For my newest excuse explaining the long duration between posts, I would like to offer: blame my parents. We have just had an extremely fun two weeks with them romping through Slovenia, Croatia, Austria, and Hungary. Also our computer broke again.
I’m actually just going to tell you about our days before picking up Mom and Dad at Zagreb airport in Croatia. For their side of the story, I ask you to eagerly await a new segment on our blog: Travel companion guest post!!! This will happen in a couple of days. For now, I’ll just say that the four of us travelled well together and packed in the excellent adventures. I am also happy to report that, to my knowledge, no one in the party tried to murder anyone else. This sets a good precedent for future travel companion arrangements, including Rachel and Manny, whom we met last night at Manny’s parent’s house in Oradea, Romania.
In the days before meeting Mom and Dad in Zagreb, we had a brief taste of slightly more offbeat travel destinations – Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia (preceded by Croatia, which is decidedly not offbeat). We’ve also experienced some more extraordinary hospitality, this time from the much too sweet Rads, Leah, Peter, and Zorica in Novi Sad, Serbia.To disentangle my confusing timeline, remember to check out the “Keeping up with the Shingle to Boggians” link, which has a list of our whereabouts.
The border from Croatia to Bosnia was the first that I was nervous about (though not as much as, say, Kazakhstan to Russia, or China to Laos). I am happy to report, however, that this border crossing was – without sarcasm – simply a delight. We waited for about 20 minutes in a line on a lovely country road with a view over a valley. We did have to buy border insurance for about 30 euros (we knew we would), but the border guards were hilarious. One of them kept telling us that next time we come, we must bring them boomerangs. Travelling on an Aussie passport is fun.
In general, borders in this area are crazy easy. I actually mean crazy. At a couple of borders they’ve barely even looked at our faces to check we match the passports, let along looking at our car rego, insurance, or any cargo we might be carrying. I really thought borders would be stricter given the current refugee situation.
Bosnia has beautiful nature and beautiful people. It’s very mountainous, with lots of forests and national parks. We couldn’t find anywhere online in advance to stay, but luckily we saw a sign for camping in an old national park complex. There were quite a few other people camping too. We did have to engage some 4WD action to get into the grassy area, which was fun (a Serbian/German couple joined us in this adventure with their little car). We “checked in” at the Soviet-looking hotel up the hill. This took us past a set of old tourist buildings that had clearly been shot at, shelled, and abandoned. It’s such a shame – if that complex was in Croatia it would be newly renovated and swarming with tourists.
It was a noteworthy night at that campground. First of all, there was a thunder storm. This forced us to take our glasses of wine and our activities (listening to Phantom of the Opera for Luke, and reading for me) into bed while we waited it out. I am afraid of thunder, so it was lucky that Hogwarts was there to welcome me home.
Secondly, a pack of 20-something guys spent most of the night and morning singing rousing choruses of Bosnian folk tunes at the tops of their very nice voices. I know they were folk songs because I asked the guys, which they thought was weird.
Thirdly, we got an introduction to stray dogs in the Balkans. They were adorable, sweet, well-behaved, and discernible breeds. There were three wandering the campground, getting pats and food from the campers. We almost adopted the puppy, who looked like he might have been part German Shepard. We thought he might be a good wedding present for you, Kim and Doug. Who doesn’t want a tragically adorable flee-ridden Bosnian puppy delivered to them on their wedding day, right? It’s just a LITTLE bit of potential rabies.
I mentioned before that we saw a bit of physical evidence of the war in Croatia. In Bosnia, it’s a whole other league. I don’t say this to be disrespectful or sensationalistic – it’s just true. Probably about a quarter of the buildings we saw in most places (given our very limited time there) had evidence of bullet holes, some were clearly shelled, many were abandoned (probably because people were killed, or fled and didn’t return). There were a couple of places we drove through where an entire street was thickly peppered with bullet holes. We also drove through a few towns – Foca and Visegrad, specifically, about whose history weread. Very bad things happened in these places. It is not my history to tell, and I can’t begin to understand the complexities of the way that this recent history is recounted by the various groups of people involved. But I doubt that any would disagree that very bad things happened.
All that said, Bosnia (and also Serbia) are the places that Luke and I are most likely to travel to again – above Spain, Italy, France, the Netherlands. They are truly beautiful, they are not overrun with tourists, and the people really are incredibly friendly. We can talk all we want about the hospitality of people in other parts of Europe, but I think locals are just more welcoming in places that do not see packs of visitors all the time. In the case of Bosnia, I think people are happy we have come. Luke got his hair cut in a square in the small town of Trebinje, near the border with southern Croatia. The hairdresser was very sweet and talked to us a lot. She did, however, ask if we were “scared to come to Bosnia.” She said we had nothing to fear, it was safe. I totally agree with her. I would recommend Bosnia to any traveller with a healthy sense of adventure. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that it’s very cheap for people with AUD and USD.
Another huge bonus of Bosnia (and also Serbia) is the booze. Oh, the best booze. We bought some homemade wine in plastic Coca-Cola bottles from some ladies in a market. It was fabulous, much better than a cheap Aussie red. Also, the market ladies are great. Welcoming and informative, and quick to offer a taste of their own wine in a small plastic cup, but they don’t push.
Going into Serbia from Bosnia and Herzegovina was like driving from Detroit into Canada. Material signs of war and poverty vanished instantly in Serbia, though we did get some very small glimpses later. I’m not going to make any speculations or judgements on why this might be the case – I certainly don’t understand this situation well enough.
I will make a judgement about the hotel we stayed in, located in a ski resort area in Serbia. It was MAGICAL. There were ceilings that were AT LEAST 8 feet high, and we didn’t have to bring our own toilet paper. And the wi-fi worked. We ran around in circles like idiots and jumped on the bed when we got in our room. We hadn’t stayed in a building for about a month. (Don’t get me wrong – we adore our little “house”. We’re just very easily pleased now.)
But things got even better when we got to Novi Sad. Rads and Peter work with Luke in Sydney, and they happened to be in Serbia at just the right time, with their wives, Leah and Zorica. Peter and Zorica are Serbian and they come back here frequently. They have a gorgeous house which feels like a little slice of Australian housing (the good kind) in Serbia, it was like being home. Actually, it was way nicer than the house we lived in in Sydney. I don’t think they would ever let chickens inside their house.
Anyway, our main takeaway was a feeling of being very taken care of (more delicious food and drink than we can handle, Zorica washing and folding our laundry, and sleeping in a big huge bed in a bedroom with a view of Novi Sad and the Danube). We left feeling pampered and well-rested, but also educated. Like if you went to a day spa situated in a library, but with home cooked meals.
The education bit: the fam took us on some really good tourist expeditions, for a start. We checked out some ancient Roman ruins and a couple of great historical museums in a town called Sremska Mitrovica. It was a capital of the Roman Empire during the Tetrarchy! It was such a treat to see history in a not overly-touristed place: in both museum buildings, museum staff led us around the exhibitions, explaining and answering questions.
Secondly, we had some really good chats, including with their neighbour, who popped by for a drink. He, from what we understand, is a meteorology professor at a university in Novi Sad. He and Peter were not at all shy about telling us about the history of Serbia/Yugoslavia, including the World Wars. We actually really appreciate people taking the time (and emotional energy) to tell us about their home, especially when it’s had as much history happen as Serbia has.
Just to throw you for a temporal loop, I’ll now tell you a little bit about Dubrovnik, which we visited prior to Bosnia and Novi Sad. The first, but least important, tidbit to note about Dubrovnik is that it is the filming location for all the King’s Landing scenes in Game of Thrones. Luke and I did geek out about that a little, yes. But more importantly, Dubrovnik is a beautiful ancient town. It’s insanely touristed – the throngs were still descended when we arrived by boat at 9pm for a walk around. However, it is one place we would recommend despite the hordes. There’s also very important recent history, having been under siege for several months in the 90’s.
Until next time!
Southern Croatia and Dubrovnik
A Croatian flag flies over a small town near Dubrovnik
A view of Southern Croatia
A riverside town in southern Croatia
Our campsite, across the water from Dubrovnik in a little town called Mlini
Mlini- the best Croatian town thus far
There was a sea water “pool” in the main harbour of Mlini, where a water polo team was practicing
We took a boat into Dubrovnik
A lovely ride into Dubrovnik
However, along the way to Dubrovnik, we passed a few massive resorts that had clearly been heavily hit during the war, and were abandoned. I didn’t know that Dubrovnik was under siege for months, according to a small military museum we visited in the city.
Once again, “super yacht” is used in my photo caption. Our first view of Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik. I asked the Croatian kid working at our campsite if he had ever seen the GoT actors. He had not, but he said a bunch of his friends work as extras on the show – the producers call for locals to be extras. We both agreed that we would both like to meet Peter Dinklage. Ah, violent fantasy television, bringing the cultures together.
We decided to see Dubrovnik at night, assuming there would be fewer tourists.
If this is “fewer” tourists than during the day, than I would never want to come in the day.
But we did find plenty of quiet, dark spots in the city.
This plate, among many others, was found by underwater archeologists in a shipwreck from, I think, the 16th century. The plate is Turkish, or maybe I made that up.
Perhaps you recognise this from Game of Thrones?
No tourists going up the stairs…
I am not sure who this is, so anyone who speaks Bosnian, feel free to translate. Beautiful street art
Sharing the road
A huge monument to the Partisan forces who fought in WWII, near Foca
A lovely campground.
View from our place.
There was a man-made lake at the campground that a bunch of families were swimming in (I didn’t take pictures of the families because it felt creepy.)
I am so, so excited about cheap Bosnian cheese and homemade wine.
An abandoned building by our campground.
Best hay storage ever. If this were Dr Seuss it would stand up and walk away on spindly legs.
A mosque in the Rupublika Srpska, the Serbian area of Bosnia. A mayor in a local town has been advocating for the rebuilding of mosques in the area, most of which were apparently destroyed during the war.
Note on this hillside in the Republika Srpska, towards the bottom – an enormous monument to Tito. Tito was the “benevolent dictator” who kept Yugoslavia together until his death in 1980. This is simply what I’ve read – my interpretation may be controversial.
We loved these tunnels. No rendering, just straight rock. No lights either.
Another beautiful mosque, which we stopped in front of to listen to the call to prayer.
Visegrad, Bosnia – a view of the famous bridge from where we had lunch.
This is a church in a brand new “neighborhood” in Visegrad, which has been built for a film set.
However, it seems to have been built for real use – this is a real church.
It was oddly sterilised and empty.
And had scenes depicting what I assume is the idyllic local life.
There was also a large photography exhibition displaying photos of destroyed churches in the area and other parts of former Yugoslavia. Google the history of Visegrad and Foca and form your own opinions.
Leaving the future film set, back into the real town.
A portrait of Ivo Andric, who wrote a novel based on the bridge a few photos ago. The weird film set will be used for a film recreation of his novel.
Our first view of Serbia: a super quaint cottage
Our fancy-pants place in Serbia
They even make fancy-pants tea!
A Sunday family drive. We actually saw this type of thing a lot.
A brand new church.
The Danube: a view from Novi Sad!
Fun art in Novi Sad
Touristing with the group!
Roman ruins in Mitrovica
Learning about a Roman sundial
Undulating corn fields
Drinks by the river
Look at that intrepid pupster!
Touristing in a lovely historical town
This is a high school! Not shabby!
We got to peak into this excellent wine cellar
A view of the town
Luke taking in the view
The Danube, the town, and a train
Zorica with a famous Serbian poet
Preparing the car for Mom and Dad. We tore it apart and stacked the bed platform on top the drawers, rolled up the mattress, and opened up the backseat.
We apologise for the long space since our last post. We thought our computer was broken. Luke sat on it, and it now looks like a banana (J/k, but it is bent). It wouldn’t turn on, so we couldn’t use it for several days. We took it into a computer repair shop in Zadar, Croatia, where we pressed the “on” button and it turned on and worked. We thanked the computer man for “fixing” the computer (he said it was the “positivity” in the shop), and now I can write the blog.
This was not the first time we have looked like idiots in Croatia. We realized one day that we had not seen one of our credit cards in a couple days (horrible sinking feeling, right?). We traced back our steps to a petrol station we had stopped at two days before. We drove 20 minutes back to it. The moment we entered, the fellow at the front counter threw his hands in the air and dove into a drawer under his front counter, retrieving our card. We had left it in the freaking card machine. (I say “we” so as not to implicate any individuals in this mistake.) This fellow was so relieved to see us. He said he had called after us, whistling. He had called his friend at the next petrol station down the road, who came out to the street and flagged us down with waving arms. (Clearly we did not see him.) He even called the frickin police, and told them to stop any blue Mitsubishi Shoguns they saw. Clearly they didn’t. We like to laugh at what we would have done if the Croatian police had pulled us over, said something about a credit card, and made us follow them 20 minutes back down the road. We would have found the first available hiding space in the forest. Anyway, hooray for this super upstanding and law-abiding Croatian petrol station worker.
Croatia is insanely overrun with tourists in most places. Example: Plitvice Lakes National Park. Just look at the photos, it is actually the prettiest place in the history of ever. What I didn’t take pictures of was the tourists, clogging the paths and stopping abruptly for photos (like the ones here on this blog). Luke and I were weaving through the hordes, jumping over puddles and squeezing through tight spaces between tourists, because we like to MOVE IT MOVE IT. There was a duo of young French guys who we enjoyed competing with to see who could dodge other tourists the fastest. At one point one of them yelled “WE DID IT!!” after passing a particularly sluggish group. Of course, as you’ll see from the photos, it was well worth the tourist-dodging.
As much as our last blog post showed contrasts in the natural settings we visited, this blog post shows incredible contrast in the touristiness of the places we’ve visited. Examples:
10/10 on the touristy scale: Pompeii
I have been to Pompeii twice before this, and I was thrilled to go back. Luke was unsure. Because I was aware that Pompeii itself would be heaving with our fellow sight-seers, I decided to start with Herculaneum, a smaller town about 20 km away from Pompeii. Herculaneum was destroyed more quickly than Pompeii. The culprit was the pyroclastic flow – hot and dry ash, gasses, and bits of rock. It’s actually way better preserved because of how it was covered. There is an intact 2nd floor wooden balcony over a street, for example. And – bonus – way, way, way fewer visitors. All the photos we have are from Herculaneum.
We did also go to Pompeii, which I loved despite the 10 bajillion people. I listened to ALL OF THE THINGS on the audioguide, including the extra information sections not attached to sites. Did you know that they washed clothes in a process involving urine and clay? I was an annoying student in grade school, yes. However, one thing to note about Pompeii, if you haven’t been there, is that it is a full city. There are busy streets (like the one with the brothel, of course), and there are empty streets where you can just go into empty restaurants and pretend you are a Roman craftsperson taking a break from your day of doing mosaics in the atrium of a house belonging to a local person of prominence, while in a country not far away the apostle Paul was writing some of his letters. That’s what I did.
0/10 on the touristy scale: Salvatore’s place
We did a lot of extra driving to get down to Pompeii, and we had to stop somewhere easy over night on the way to Venice. We found, on google maps, a campground in the countryside in Campania. When we pulled up past a small farm into the campground, it was seemingly empty. A young guy (19, it turns out) came out to meet our car. He said we could camp, and asked where we were from. When we said Australia/America, he got so excited. “WOW! WOW! AUSTRALIA!”. After paying for the night and talking about us having Kangaroos as indoor pets (jokes), Luke went to the car to get him one of the Australia-themed tea towels we brought. He, in turn, held the tea towel with two hands as if he was holding a gold medal from the Olympics, he seemed blown away. What a nice guy.
We got to talking with him. Through some sort of language-related misunderstanding, he thought, at one point, that I had asked to see his horse. He cheerfully said, “OK! 5 minutes!” and ran away. 5 minutes, here comes Salvatore and horse Marta up to our car. We gave her a pat – calmest, sweetest horse ever.
Luke, Marta and Salvatore.
Me, Marta, and Salvatore
Next, after we started discussing chickens, he asks if we want to go to his Grandma’s house to meet her and the animals. Um, YES!!! So over we go, down the country lane, to Grandma’s house, who is a delightful old Italian lady. Uncle is there too. They take us around the house, introducing us to:
the chickens: there are dozens, roaming free around the farm, eating fresh wheat grains harvested meters away
the free-range pig: Uncle throws a melon from a wheelbarrow to the sow. She shows off her powerful jaws by splitting it open in one bite and chomps blissfully.
the kitten: Grandma disappears around the corner of the house and comes back with a tiny kitten, whose eyes had just opened, and handing it to Luke for a cuddle.
Before we left, we bought a few eggs from them, and they gave us some cucumbers growing by the side of the house. We kissed Grandma and said goodbye, obviously gushing about how we love this place SO MUCH.
Later, as we were munching on our delicious cucumbers at our campsite (just olive oil and salt, as Uncle said), who walked up, but Salvatore and Grandma. She’s brought more cucumbers for us. She grasped my face with both hands and told us we are beautiful. She came back the next morning too, with our final batch of cucumbers, to say goodbye. We ate every one of those cucumbers.
At this same campground, there was a couple who were setting up for a group of scouts to arrive the next day. They were staying in a cabin not far from our site. We said hello to them, and they smiled. They didn’t have any English, I don’t think. But they brought us dinner! Out of nowhere, the guy just walked over with a plate of spaghetti with fresh tomatoes, smiled, and left. No word. It was the best pasta we had in Italy, too.
Honourable mention: Pitigliano
I should also give an honourable mention in the non-touristy category to our farmstay near Pitigliano, in Tuscany. We were the only campers here, too. Upon arrival, the owner took us inside and made us 20 minutes of photo montages of the local area on his TV, while explaining the history and sites to us in Italian, broken French, and a few words of English. His pride was justified. Look at the pictures of Pitiliagno (AKA Little Jerusalem) and the nearby natural, public hot springs. I’ll save the descriptions for the captions. Suffice to say, it’s spectacular and it’s locals only. Cheers to a Florentine fellow at a campground in France who told us to go there.
Somewhere in the middle: The Sea Organ
This is a neat thing. In Zadar, a coastal city in northern Croatia, there is a thing called the Sea Organ. It’s stairs, which lead into the crystal clear Adriatic at the foot of the town. There are holes in the stairs, and pipes underneath. The waves pump through the pipes, creating ethereal, ever-changing music. Locals jump off the stairs into the water and dangle their feet in the waves, while a few tourists sit and listen. It’s beautiful.
And just a really good place: Slovenia
Slovenia was a hit. We only spent two nights, sadly, but we’ll be going back with my parents in a week or so. The campground was the first that was so fabulous, it inspired me to write a TripAdvisor review (Dujcevi Domaciji).For the first time on this trip, we got to have a fire, which was excellent in and of itself. Not to mention the Slovenian (read: potato-based) meal cooked up by the owner’s mother for dinner.
Skocjan Caves: If you are ever in Slovenia, go there. If you would like to see a real-life Balrog habitat, go there. If you are terrified of heights and/or not seeing the sunlight, don’t go there. It’s an underground river, which includes an underground bridge perched 60 metres above the river. No photos are allowed inside, so if you’re curious you’ll just have to look on the internets.
A final word: Yugoslavia’s war
Because I love to end things on a depressing note, let’s talk about war. Not long after crossing the surprisingly easy Croatian border, we drove through a small town with a bit of a town hall in the middle. It was boarded up, with roof collapsed in and the walls completed riddled on 3 sides with bullet holes. I didn’t take pictures because something inside me says that might not be respectful.
We read a short history of each country we enter as we drive. We have had to read about the Yugoslavian war, about which we knew shamefully little. (Despite my social justice-conscious mother giving me a book about a girl trapped in Sarajevo under siege – Zlata’s Diary, it’s fantastic). I just remember joining in on joking around “with” two kids in my high school, one Bosnian and one Serbian, about their hatred for each other. I realise now there were probably no jokes there at all.
It’s odd to think, as we float on our backs in the salty Adriatic surrounded by European kids jumping around on plastic inflatables, that this country was immersed in a war only a couple of decades ago. I’m guessing I’ll have more to say on this as we enter Bosnia and Hercegovina, Serbia, and the Eastern parts of Croatia and Slovenia in the coming days.
Until next time!
Florence and Siena
At Florence’s town hall, of course with heavy Medici influence. A tiny angel sculpture.
A very different sculpture in Florence.
And again, an even more different one. (This one is contemporary, of course). We really only stayed in Florence long enough for a sculpture tour – we were feeling touristed-out.
On to Siena. The famous Piazza del Campo.
The bravest bird in Siena
Laundry – a telltale sign that a place is actually lived in.
We headed to a large garden area near the Piazza for some respite and recreation.
There was no one else there.
And there were gladiolas! Photo for you, Dad!
We ate some delicious takeaway tortellini
And explored the gardens
There was a peacock!
And a weird sculpture. Can you see me being a creepster?
Generally, I would say that Siena’s light fixtures are downright inspirational. I don’t know why this little guy hasn’t been reproduced for every McMansion in America.
Country Tuscany: Pitigliano and surrounds
Tuscan countryside. It’s exactly what you’d imagine, right?
This is what I’d call golden hour, brought to you by Tuscany.
Golden hour on haybales at our farmstay
Our farmstay. That’s our campsite in the background
The pool at our farmstay host’s house
And our dinner-cooking area
A short drive from our farmstay were these man-made canyons, which lead to the town of Pitigliano. These were dug out by the Etruscans THREE THOUSAND years ago. Probably for religious reasons (but archeologists always say things were for religious reasons, so.)
And in the canyons, there are man-made caves, also over 3,000 years old. They were probably tombs. Many seem to be in use as storage facilities by locals.
One of the Etruscan canyons
And, the first glorious view of Pitigliano. Can you see how it was dug into the rock, and the stones from the holes were used to construct up from there?
This demonstrates that better – dig in, and build up with the rubble.
Pitigliano has a long, interesting Jewish history. Here’s the Synagogue. (I covered with a towel, I didn’t have anything else)
There were large underground rooms under the synagogue, built in the 1400’s so that Jews could continue their religious activities while hiding from the persecution of the day. This tunnel leads to the kosher cellar.
Here I am, reading about the kosher butcher.
A list of Jewish Pitigliano residents who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis. This is one reason that a town with ancient Jewish history only has two Jewish people living in it today.
Pitigliano. Luke’s happy pictures are always with cats.
Relaxing at our campsite
Oh you, silly Tuscan tomato!
Our Tuscan campsite
These baths are 100% natural, nicely warm, and totally free. These are all Italians in there, from what we could here.
Can you spot me?
This was just a cute little guy.
Herculaneum, Vesuvius, and Salvatore’s place (WARNING: Real skeletons)
A view of Herculaneum. All following photos are in Herculaneum.
In the women’s baths, where there are benches they sat on, and shelves to store their clothes.
Tiles in the baths.
I don’t know what’s going on with me, but there’s the bath back there. Looks like I could use a dip, to be honest.
An incredible mosaic.
Totally original painting
It was so. goshdarn. hot.
The town isn’t fully excavated at all – there are heaps of spots with hard rock still needing to be chipped away.
I’m not sure why Luke wanted to include this picture. Any guesses?
Original wine urns in a wine shop.
And the worst part: Skeletons of people who fled to boathouses on the seashore to escape the eruption. It really is heartbreaking, and odd to take photos. I wouldn’t have taken photos if they died 20 years ago, why does 2,000 years make it ok?
A view after an intense slog up Mt Vesuvius.
The crater. Can you see the smoke still coming out?
Luke and the crater. He’s so excited.
Luke guessed that this whole flat area used to be ocean, and was filled in with volcanic material over many many millenia. Turns out, he was right! He’s so smart.
On the top of Vesuvius.
Plaques nailed to the rock on the top, literally praying for safety from the mountain.
Luke and kitten.
Salvatore and Uncle show us the farm.
We camped across the water from Venice proper. On the way over now.
First view of venice.
The Grand Canal, where we had a massively overpriced and under-delicious pasta meal.
Golden hour on the city.
There was a university graduation, and the Piazza was packed!
How many times am I going to have to write “super-yacht” in my photo captions??
Sunset over Venice. We only spent a few hours in the city, just dinner and an evening stroll.
Leaving Venice – is this the Netherlands or the Veneto??
Slovenia and Croatia
Skocjan, Slovenia: Walking across a dam over a creek at our campsite, to the firepit.
Our campsite in Slovenia.
Building a fire.
I used a saw, you guys!
A view at the disused wheat mill on our campsite.
We hiked from our campsite to Skocjan Caves. There were ruins of a castle on the way.
Pretending I’m in The Secret Garden.
Taking a pumpkin seed break on the way to the caves, in the village of Skocjan.
The only place where photos were allowed in the cave – gives you an idea of the walkways inside. See the people?
Exiting the caves
About to attack the hike out (It was very cold in the caves)
Outside of Skocjan. This is the river that flows through the cave
We did not attempt to jump, abseil, or otherwise adventure-sport in this waterfall.
Near the caves.
We found an enormous friend at the caves!
Into Croatia. They love unbagged (unrendered) houses here, we think it’s a fashion thing.
Luke freaked out about the woodwork.
Croatians give proper respect to cheese here. (Jokes – Sir means cheese)
Getting ready to dodge them tourists in Plitvice
Look at the fishies!
Captions probably aren’t even needed. It’s just puuuurty
Love the flooring.
Waiting for a boat to take us across this lake.
On the boat.
Little known fact: Plitvice Lakes National Park is the only known habitat of hobbits in Croatia.
A last view of Plitvice. In all, we hiked about 12 km through the park.
A view of where we are now – on an island near Trogir, Croatia.
Trogir, Croatia – speed boats and medieval buildings. Tourist hordes, ATMs, and crappy restaurants not included in photos.
Where we wrote this blog post.
Honestly, just a shameless plug for fading haircolour.
It’s been a few days of contrast for us since our last post. From the flat French mediterranean coast, up into the mountains, down into the Gorge du Verdon that cuts through said mountains, and then down to Monaco, along the French coast to Genoa, where we camped in the hills amongst redwoods. We spent last night and today traversing the Italian coastal towns of the Cinque Terre, and their accompanying vineyards terraced high above the sea. We moved onto a campsite outside of Florence, which also happens to have a section of cabins that belongs to the Contiki tour company. There are three bus-loads worth of pre-drunk 18-35 year old Australians swarming the place, but luckily the campsite owner told us where to park so that we can’t see or hear them, and it works. We did a half-hearted tour of Florence (it was hot and we were tired), and now we’re sitting by the campground pool in Siena.
Adventure Sports Time
I don’t consider myself a particularly brave person when it comes to heights, so when I jumped off of a 6 meter (18 foot) rock into shallow water not once, but twice, I admit that I was quite chuffed with myself. It was peer pressure that made me do it. Backing up, the Gorge du Verdon in southern France is a spectacular, you guessed it, gorge that is up to a kilometre (800 feet) deep at some points. It’s crowning feature is the Verdon, which is a magical green/blue river that runs down the middle. Luke and I decided to explore it in two ways: By hiking and canyoning.
For the hike, we started at the top of the gorge, walked down to the river, and back up again, an elevation change of 460 metres each way. We cheerfully joked as we descended that it was really going to hurt on the way back up. It did. I would like to brag that Luke ran the last 20 minutes up, just for some extra fitness. I went slower and tried to have conversations with the lime-green butterflies (they said to say hi.) But the gorge at the bottom was well worth it. See photographic evidence below.
As for the canyoning: for those of you who haven’t previously been annoyed by our repetitive canyoning stories (we’ve done it twice before), canyoning is basically just walking down the middle of a river/stream that’s in a canyon. It involves jumping off rocks, sliding down waterfalls, swimming, some abseiling, and general silliness. We wanted to canyon down the main Verdon gorge, but unfortunately the power company upstream had let water out the dam off schedule, flooding the river dangerously. Instead, we canyoned down an equally beautiful tributary. There’s no photographic evidence of this journey, sadly, but suffice to say the canyon was made of lily white rocks (limestone!) and crystal clear blue/green water.
We took to the canyon with 8 friendly French people, including our guide. We found friends in the most adorable teenage sisters, who giggled when they saw Luke braiding my hair, and then insisted on helping me get my wetsuit on. They took it upon themselves to translate everything for us (“Log underneath here!” “Jump to the left, there’s a rock to the right!” “Careful, slippery!” “Only small people through this waterfall running through the slit in the rock and under some boulders, Luke must climb over and jump!”) When we got to the 6 metre jump, I thought about chickening out. I did it, though (as did Luke of course). It feels like you’ll never hit the water. Just as I thought I was done, triumphantly swimming towards the clapping group, the adorable sisters called my name to clamber up the rocks with them and do it again. I was peer pressured. I did it again. (To be fair, it was really fun.)
Luke didn’t do the stereotypical “finding yourself” European backpacking trip in his 20’s like I did, so we joke that he’s doing it now. We’ve decided he is on a real, bonafide journey of personal exploration now that’s he’s wearing Moroccan linen (he bought it in Granada.) A person can’t find themselves without earth-tone linen tunics.
As for me, I “found myself” when I saw my heritage reflected in a fun conversation with a bunch of Italian rock climbers at a campground in La Palud sur Verdon (a small and non-touristy town in the Gorge du Verdon area). I got into a discussion with them because the woman had bright fuchsia hair. Turns out she’s a hairdresser from Bologne and, fun fact, married her husband (also present) at an Elvis chapel in Las Vegas that is now a supermarket. Anyway, they group got into a discussion about where we should go in Italy. Things got dramatic when they started to discuss wine. It was all in Italian, but I could understand them shouting, “Chianti!” “Multepulciano!” “No, Chianti!!” “No, no, no, Multepulciano!!!” while waving their arms in the air and tsking loudly. This sort of thing happened frequently in our lengthy conversation.
Other fun characters we have met along the way include a befuddled-looking Czech walker who I first met when he absentmindedly wandered into our campground, his phone dead and having taken a wrong turn. I helped him find his way (he promptly went the opposite way of what we had decided), only to run into him again two days later in a mountain village about 80 kilometres away. He said he reached it on foot. I expect to see him somewhere in Kyrgyzstan or Laos, having lost his socks or gotten stuck in a telephone booth.
Pretending to be James Bond
We did a big driving day to get from the Gorge to Genoa, Italy. It was our most diverse and probably most beautiful day of driving. We decided on a whim to pop into Monaco, as we were driving fairly close by anyway. For today’s geography lesson, we’ll learn that Monaco is
the second smallest nation in the world (after the Vatican), it is not part of the EU (but uses the Euro and doesn’t have border checks), and has enough Lamborginis and Ferraris to make the BMWs, Audis, and Porches pedestrian and unexciting. It seriously lived up to its glam hype. We didn’t eat anything or spend the night, but I could feel the money being sucked out of my pores when we passed the Monte Carlo, the famous casino that seems to cover half the country. Luke enjoyed driving on the twisty roads, pretending he was James Bond and our car was something other than a dusty Pajero with a bag of stinky laundry in the back.
Also, the drive from Monaco to Genoa, along the French Riviera: I totally get why it’s a toll road. It’s either tunnel or dizzyingly high bridge, without any normal road, for about 100 kilometres. It passes over a valley, barrels straight into the next mountain, and pops out over another deep valley. I’m happy to pay my €8,70 if it means that bridge doesn’t send me flying into the ritzy village below. Also, there are a lot of terraced greenhouses. We have learned that they grow a lot of basil, which goes into Genovese pesto, which we are binge eating.
More about driving
An Italian stereotype we were aware of prior to entering Italy was that the drivers are insane. So far, our experience has only confirmed this. According to Luke, there are two types of Italian drivers: ones that do double the speed limit, and ones that drive at half the speed limit, swerving erratically, talking to passengers or on their cell phones, gesticulating wildly with both hands (“like they are tossing a salad”, Luke says).
Shhh, they don’t want you to know about this
In closing, I would like to let you in on a conspiracy. Some devious mastermind, for unknown reasons, has been teaching all Europeans to say “funny” when they mean “fun”. Seriously, even people with otherwise 100% flawless English. We don’t yet know the goal of this widespread and mysterious conspiracy, but I’m sure it has something to do with world domination.
Entering France, and the Gorge du Verdon (including the villages of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, Annot, and Entreveaux)
Our first campground in France, literally on the beach. We did indeed get sand in our bed.
We happened upon a walled Medieval city on our drive.
And just did a little touristing before moving on.
An uninspiring photo, but a lovely place. The Camargue, a national park on the Southernmost Mediterranean coast in France
A beach in the same area. We were beached-out and did not stop. (15 is my limit on beaches, baby)
Incredible lavender fields in Provence, France. It smelled so good it almost smelled bad.
A close up view, so that you can’t see the hordes of Asian tourists in white dresses getting their Instagram photoshoots on. Seriously, that was a thing.
We learned the danger of beauty when one of the multitude of bees flew in the car. I screamed incoherently while Luke calmly pulled over and shoo’ed the bee outside.
IMPORTANT! Look at the star hanging in the middle of the canyon. Can you see it? It looks like a yellow fleck in the sky. It’s about a meter wide – and, get this – it’s been there for at least 1,000 years and no one knows how, or why, it got put up there. It’s suspended on a chain from one mountain to the other. (This is the lovely village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, the Western entry to the Gorge du Verdon)
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. A small quiet area in an otherwise lovely but touristy town.
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and me.
Luke at the campground.
Dinner up the hill from our campground in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, gotta love that golden hour.
A view of the artificial lake at the end of the Gorge du Verdon, near Moustiers-Sainte-Marie.
A first glimpse of the gorge.
Hey look, we gonna hike!
The view that was obscured by our gobs in the last photo
On the way down, laughing at my future self for the sweat I will produce.
The building on the hill is where we parked.
Uh oh, it’s a high footbridge over the river.
Kick in fear of heights. There’s gotta be one in every one of our posts, doesn’t there?
look at my face though
I made it over the bridge and felt safe enough to take artsy photos of the bridge.
Luke looking taller than the gorge
Just before turning around on the hike.
Luke rescued a butterfly from the hot car, but it didn’t want to leave his finger.
Back up out of the gorge, in the quiet and non-touristed town of Palud-sur-Verdon.
Driving along the Gorge
A lake in the mountains
More of that Lake
The village of Annot, where we stopped on the advice of our canyoning guide. We seemed to be the only people there other than a few people hanging out their laundry.
And this guy.
Annot had fountains fed by mountain springs scattered throughout the town.
And this one, we just happened across! Look up there, that ain’t a mountain folks!
And once you turn the bend around those pointy rocks, you see this. It’s a medieval village called Entreveaux with a little bit of tourist infrastructure, but not much.
Entreveaux and one of its residents
Monaco and the drive to Genoa
More fancypants apartments
Fancypants people on even fancierpantsier boat
Literally the entire nation of Monaco.
This is once we exited the freeway and drove below it. All the bridges were this high.
Checking out the boats. Also a good hair day.
Italy: Genoa and Cinque Terre
Amenities at our campsite in Genoa. It’s just so pretty. And it was shaded by redwood trees and fern-covered hills on both sides.
But otherwise Genoa: “Faded glory” is the phrase we kept thinking of. Apologies to any of my ancestors who enjoyed walking these fancy streets.
We had binged on pesto here in this very spot.
Look at the Italian businessman judging us in the background.
Church in Genoa.
The lion guarding the church looks sad.
But then there are these houses. These were actually houses. Now they are a UNESCO world heritage site and office building, but in the 1500’s they housed Genoa’s crazy-rich merchants and royalty, who would take turns hosting foreign dignitaries in them.
This is someone’s entryway.
And someone’s grand staircase.
And someone’s facade.
When you see this interior courtyard just remember that it was someone’s house.
This is probably the house I would choose.
An odd choice of structure for one’s front door.
Sitting in the ruins of the convent next to the house where Christopher Columbus grew up.
And, welcome to Cinque Terre!
Cinque Terre is a group of five villages without car access that were built on the side of mountains rising above the Mediterranean. This one is Manerola.
And there are terraced vineyards all around them.
We went for a nice long hike from one village to another (Manerola to Consiglia)
Such a nice hike
These are gonna make a yummy sweet white wine
Views of the Mediterranean
Crazy clear water
The village of Manerola (we took the train there)
Prettiest hiking trail ever.
The half way point in our hike – a tiny village with about 6 houses, one convenience store with cold drinks, fresh pesto, and focaccia, and of course a church
There was a small forested area
And our destination – one of the Cinque Terre villages, Consiglia
Someone’s lovely path in Consiglia
Back in the campsite in Levanto, near Cinque Terre. Luke attempts to be enthusiastic for the photo.
Friendly reminder: We suggest that you click on the title of this post to read it on the website, rather than reading it in your email.
It’s a positive news day: we now have our Russian visas! We popped by Madrid a few days ago to pick them up at the visa office, at the exact date and hour they specified, of course. This means that I can now tell the visa story without jinxing things (though I suppose we still have to actually be let into the country – twice – which is not a given).
But first, some more contemporary updates. We have now officially ended the Spanish leg of our journey, as we crossed the border back into France yesterday afternoon. We’re now staying on the beach (again) near the Spanish border, and we’ll be spending the next week travelling across southern France.
Literally off the beaten track in Costa del Sol
We were warned not to go to Costa del Sol, which you’ve already heard me talk about a little (I wrote our last blog from there.) We were told it was a soulless, non-Spanish wasteland whose formal coastal beauty had been demolished to make way for high-rise apartment blocks to house Brits. Largely, we found this to be true, though we just couldn’t find it in our hearts to hate it. Whatever, if people want to hide away in dodgily built condos and eat fish and chips all summer, that’s their business. We did, however, try to avoid it. So, when we required groceries, we were not too excited to leave our campground oasis to go into town to get some.
We decided a bicycle ride would make the trip tolerable or even pleasant. We were told to go to out to the main road, cross it, and immediately turn right. We thought we did this. We did not. We cycled happily for ages (the shops were only supposed to be a couple kilometres away), on a dirt track, through banana groves and fields of recently cut sugar cane. We started to wonder where we were. Litter was strewn across the path and chain link fences guarded the few derelict properties we saw. A dog started barking menacingly, and my life flashed before my eyes. (Shut up, I’m dramatic, leave me alone.) It turned out to be a chihuahua, but there were others we could not see, so I’m sure my fear was totes justified. Also, a horse followed me along the path for a while, on the other side of its fence, which was friendly. We finally decided we were absolutely not headed towards the market, and veered off the path. And before you accuse me of being an irritating millennial who insists on misusing “literally”, as in the title above: we ended up on a track through a banana field that was not actually a track, but a bit of an irrigation ditch/trash collection point. We had to get off of our bikes and semi-run to avoid being eaten by the pack of rabid dogs in my head that were just trying to protect their property. Anyway, we eventually made it to the store and bought beans and carrots. The end.
Perhaps the lovely Nick and Louise invited us to visit them in southern Spain before they realised that we would be overstaying our welcome in Louth by at least thirteen days. Perhaps they are masochists, or maybe just love the thrill of a risk. Whatever the case may be, they welcomed us into their lovely holiday accommodation in the Sierra Nevadas for a night, and, no less, on their 15th wedding anniversary. This is fitting, I think, because my family and I also went on their honeymoon, so infringing on their personal moments seems to be our schtik. Anyhow,
we had a fun and pee-inducingly hilarious reunion in the small white village perched precariously on a hillside, a world away from the grossness of the coastal high rises. This village – Valor – can only be reached by terrifying mountain passes (more later), has the most fabulous little tapas bars, and, to top it off, has beautiful sparkling water just pouring out of a spigot down the hill from Nick and Louise’s house. It’s seriously fizzy like Perrier but far more delicious, and you just fill all of your bottles with it. Magic.s
During this visit, Luke was hanging out the laundry and decided to see what it would feel like to repeatedly brush up against a big ol’ cactus, because he’s a guy who’s open to new experiences. It was VERY FUN for me to pull the pricklies out of his arm with tweezers, once he realized his painful mistake. I even got to use duct tape to peel out the little suckers. So satisfying. Nick and Louise were disturbed by my joy.
But about those roads: I thought the Pyrenees road was scary. This one, this one. In places, it was one lane, with traffic going both ways. There was no shoulder- the road fell straight off an inch outside of the line, down a cliff on one side and into a huge ditch on the other. On the switchbacks, there were signs to honk your horn to tell invisible oncoming cars to slow down. This was not fun for me, but we were lucky. We saw few cars, and those that we did see were going slow, and happened to appear on segments wide enough to slip past each other. We live to tell the tale.
The beauty of Islam
Some of our dear readers may be aware that I’m a bit of a fangirl of Islamic architecture. The tile mosaics that are symmetrical on up to 8 axis, praising the perfection of God. The ornate plaster carvings with beautiful Arabic poetry. The white buildings that seem to float in air, the gardens that are a delight to the senses – smell, sound, touch, sight, and taste. Nowhere in the Western world is this stuff demonstrated better than the Alhambra (at least to my limited knowledge). The Alhambra, nestled in Granada, southern Spain, is a royal city that’s been constructed, added to, demolished, re-constructed, constructed differently, forgotten about, restored, and so forth for at least 1,000 years. It’s got palaces, theatres, churches, fortifications, houses, baths, monuments, and hordes of overheated American tourists. This particular overheated American tourist took ten million pictures and has included them below. I’ll skip the history lesson this time, but I will direct enquiring minds to the wikipedia article.
The beauty of Catholicism
I saw La Sagrada Familia while travelling with my friend Mikaela over 10 years ago. We didn’t go inside, maybe because we were poor student types or maybe disorganised or maybe lazy? In any case, I was prepared to be blown away again by the outside of this church in Barcelona. It was designed by Gaudi, the Spanish architect famous for being the most austere Christian guy producing the most wacky of buildings. It’s been under construction for about a century and is still a long way off from completion – at least another 10 years – but it is already mind-boggling. It’s got completely different architecture on the outside for the stages of Christ’s life, especially contrasting for his birth (organic shapes, animals, plants, realistic people) and his crucification (hard, scary lines and almost cubist people).
But the inside I was not prepared for. The light and the feeling are totally unlike any other church I’ve been in, and I’ve been in a few. It made me cry a little. Also, it made the goth couple at the entrance make out really intensely while blocking everyone’s paths into the church. Actually I won’t do any guesswork as to the inspiration for their extreme version of PDA, but it was definitely inappropriate (maybe their goal?). In any case, I won’t try to describe the church, I’ll leave it to the photos below.
Gaudi’s architecture is dotted throughout Barcelona. He has about 16 works in the city, ranging from sets of lampposts, to a failed housing estate-turned-public park (Parc Guell), to La Sagrada Familia. We did a very long touristing day, all on foot, to an apartment complex, office building, La Sagrada Familia, and Parc Guell. Luke was extremely impressed with Gaudi, which was a relief for me, having planned a whole day of the architect. He loved how the buildings lead your eye from one place to the next, and lack reference points as we normally know them (corners, sharp edges, defined points of view, etc.). Every element – down to individual columns or windows – is unique, and are often arranged asymmetrically. He also commented that Gaudi is one of the only architects he’s seen who produces not only beautiful, but highly practical and excellent feeling spaces. The architecture works with light and air beautifully, it’s very holistic. I’m sure Gaudi would be happy to know he has Luke’s approval.
OK, finally the Russian visa story.
In order to help you properly understand our pain in this situation, I require that each of you, prior to reading further, must list, in the comments, places and dates for everywhere you’ve been in the last 10 years, the full names of your parents, any organisations you’ve ever been affiliated with, the technical specifications of the cars you own and the names and contact numbers of every boss you’ve had.
We actually had to tell Russia all of this. We spent a day preparing the information. We went to the visa centre, me with my overachieving student posture fully deployed (back straight, chin up, neatly organised folder of paperwork clasped in my arms, judging gaze towards others who look less prepared). It did not go as expected, because I did not understand Russia. I’ll do this in bullet form:
Wait. Reach the desk, only to be told by the frenetic Russian gatekeeper, in Spanish, repeatedly, that it was 100% impossible to get a visa in Madrid, or Spain, or anywhere in Europe, in all cases, because we are Australian. There was absolutely no way, ever, to get a visa, other than actually flying to Sydney. So I cried. She called the embassy, and voila, she was telling us to take a number and sit down.
Wait. Reach the paperwork-taking desk, where we were told we had the wrong visa invitation. There was no way they would accept it, lo siento. Of course, we were supposed to have read the Russian letter and seen that it said “tourism” rather than the required “auto tourism.” We retreated to the car park, where we arranged for a new invitation online. Wait.
Wait. Arrive at desk again, where we were told the car paperwork was all wrong, all wrong, there is no way they could accept it. Go gather this long list of paperwork, lo siento, we cannot accept this. We retreat to gather the paperwork.
Come the next day, wait. When the frenetic front desk lady sees us, she tells us we must leave. Turn around. They are closed, no longer seeing customers. Today is Friday, she tells us to return Tuesday, maybe Wednesday. Lo siento, she is sorry, we must leave, no choice, goodbye. I cried. This is where our English-speaking angel stepped in to translate for us, and we were told to sit down and wait. We waited there until after closing, until they called us to the front desk. They looked at our paperwork briefly. They handed back almost all of it to us, without recording any information or taking copies. They took an enormous chunk of money out of our bank account and told us they would submit the visa to the embassy, no promises. We left, our spirits broken despite our half-hearted victory.
Despite all this, I’m still quite excited to go to Russia.
That’s all for now, folks. We love you all!
Granada (including the Alhambra)
Churros in chocolate to kick off a day of intensive tourism in Granada
Entering the gardens of the Generalife, a palace complex connected to the Alhambra.
Still fresh-faced before a day of sticky tourism.
Note the oranges – the Islamic royalty could stroll through these quiet gardens and pick them off the trees as the walked.
A view of the Alhambra from the Generalife.
The palace in the Generalife, giving the Islamic kings respite from the work to be done in the Alhambra.
A lovely view.
Gardens in the Generalife. The Islamic kings preferred more gentle, low fountains. The Christian romantics added the big boisterous fountains in recent centuries. (1800s, I think?)
Lovely plaster carving.
Gardens in the Alhambra.
Inside the palace complex in the Alhambra.
Beautiful columns inside the palace.
Tourist time! Whoo!!!
Look at this ceiling! As all of this Islamic architecture, there’s heaps of symbolism in it. For example, the stalactite shapes represent the cave where Mohammed received the Koran.
Plaster carving. Arabic words in Islamic architecture is roughly equivalent to the religious pictures we Christians put in our churches.
Tiling and plastering in the palaces.
In the palaces.
Beautifully carved wooden ceilings.
And painted ceilings.
Many of the plaster carvings would have been painted in bright colours. Here’s a recreation.
A vision of Granada.
Looking over the military section of the Alhambra from the top of the highest fort tower.
Frogs in a lily pad in palace gardens.
In the Alhambra
Meanwhile, outside the Alhambra…
And we got to see some super nice street art!
Girl playing the violin: not your average street art.
Lots of Moroccan wares to be had in the winding tourist alleys of Granada.
Also, lots of dark “arabic” tea rooms that pay homage to Granada’s North African heritage and also get lots of money from tourists.
Lanterns in the tea room.
A nice quiet way to finish the day.
Valor and the Spanish countryside in/near the Sierra Nevada mountains
Nick and Louise have a pool!
Tapas in Valor
The view from that tapas place.
Paparazzi shot, very flattering, thank Nick 🙂
This is the drive down. You get to see our dirty windshield too, lucky you. Do you see how this is only one lane? And it drops into the end of the world!
We tried to drive to this castle at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas. There was a half-hearted sign, but the road just kind of ended. We think it might be a private castle.
Gum trees liver everywhere, don’t they? A beautiful lake we drove near.
A similar, but different lake, with a weird thingy. We do not know what it was.
We decided to drive through a little town, and it was little. We had to pull in the mirrors to get through. Bonus: our dirty windshield again!