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Italy, Italy, Italy! September 24, 2006

Posted by Amanda in Travel Diary.
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Is there any other place in the world that not only lives up to expectations but exceeds them every time? If there is, we haven’t been there yet.

We started out with three days in Rome, meeting up with my (Amanda’s) Mum and Dad as they were about to go home after three months away. We went to the Catacombs with them which were fascinating. They are a labyrinth of burial chambers under Rome used by Christians since the third century AD.

This time we also went inside the Colosseum and to the Palatine Hill- last time we were too cheap.

From Rome we went to Naples. It was everything we had heard it would be. It was filthy, chaotic and a bit dangerous and we loved it. As soon as we got off the train, someone was setting off fireworks in broad daylight in the middle of the street for the San Gennaro feast day. Naples seems to be a real city as opposed to those that are very touristy. You can also see why apparently it has the highest population density in Europe. We had famous Napoli pizza and it really was the best pizza we have ever had. It came straight from a wood fired oven in a place that has been owned for at least three generations by the same family. The grandfather reportedly invented the calzone.

We went to Pompeii and that was also a real highlight of the trip so far. It is incredibly preserved and the houses look as if they could be renovated and we could move right in. The Romans certainly knew their stuff. In some places you can still see the tracks worn in the stones of the street by the chariots.

We have spent the last couple of days in Assisi. I thought that perhaps it would not move me as much as last time but it truly is an amazingly spiritual place. The countryside around is also lovely.

We are in Florence now and the Duomo is still at the centre of everything. We always seem to run into it wherever we go. We just had a great Italian fast food experience at a tiny hole in the wall cafe called I Fratellini. They only serve panino and drinks- mainly red wine. There are a number of simple choices on the menu and almost before you have given your order, the bread roll and fillings are on the counter in front of you. The bread is warm and crispy and the fillings are fresh and very Italian. Everyone stand on the street outside with their panini in one hand and drink in the other. After this we went and had gelato at Perche No!, including sesame flavoured gelati. I would never have thought of sesame as an ice-cream but it is divine. We have decided that we are going to go to both of these places every day that we are in Florence (three in total).

We are staying in a camping ground at the Piazzale Michelangelo which has a fantastic view over Florence and is surrounded with olive groves and old enormous villas. Chris is looking forward to riding his bike through the hills to Fiesole tomorrow.

We are going to make a day trip to Siena on Monday and go to Lucca on the way to Pisa on Tuesday. We catch a flight from Pisa to Girona, Spain on Tuesday night.

Ciao!

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Update September 18, 2006

Posted by Amanda in Travel Diary.
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I have been very slack with this blog lately. I will endeavour to do better.

Last week we spent about three days on a yacht sailing the Adriatic off Croatia with Fil and El and Nat, Siobhan and Tim who we hadn’t met before. Need I say it was great?

We left from the marina on Saturday afternoon and went to a cove off the island of Brac. It is amazing to be rocked to sleep by the waves. The next day we went to Vis which is another Croatian island. Vis was a military area up until a few years ago so it is remarkably untouristed. The village was really beautiful.

On Monday we went to the Blue Cave off the island of Bisevo. To get there, we had to go in the small dinghy through a cave and tunnel into a cavern where the light from outside was reflected up into the cave through a hole in the rock underneath the water. The result is an amazing unearthly blue colour in the 16m deep water. It was great! For lunch that day we anchored off one of the many nude beaches in Croatia and went swimming off the boat (we however were fully attired in swimmers!). That night we anchored off another small island and watched the moon come up.

Tuesday, Chris and I were dropped off in Hvar and caught the ferry to Ancona in Italy. We caught the train to Rome and met Mum and Dad. We enjoyed Rome much more this time. We went to the Catacombs which were quite overwhelming in their size. Chris and I went to the Colosseum and Palatine Hill which we didn’t do last time. Unfortunately on Saturday it bucketed with rain all day and we took the day off and stayed inside.

We are now in Naples and will go to Pompeii tomorrow weather permitting. Chris is intending to ride up Mt Vesuvius as well.

Hrvatska September 9, 2006

Posted by Amanda in Travel Diary.
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Why is it that the names that we use for some places are so different to what the country calls themselves? We are in Hrvatska at the moment and have been for two weeks. That sounds very exotic but we are actually in Croatia.

Croatia has been a bit of a holiday from travelling. It sounds strange but in some ways we don’t really think of ourselves as ‘on holiday’ but ‘travelling’. However Croatia is spectacular and we have definitely been on holiday here.

We spent a couple of days in Dubrovnik and then went to the island of Hvar for five days. That was beautiful. We actually spent one whole day one the beach with chairs and an umbrella that we hired. The water is here is incredibly clear and clean. In Hvar we even had a cat for the whole time. He was very affectionate and would come whenever I called him.
We have been in Split for the last couple of days. Split has a Roman palace in the centre of the old town and lots of very tiny passages through the buildings. All the paths are made of very slippery marble.

Chris bought a bike in Budapest so he has been riding around all of the places we have been staying and getting to see amazing views from the tops of the mountains that he tortures himself with. He is riding a Kettler Alu-Rad 52/42-six speed 12/23 (who knows what all that means). It is a bike that is about 20 years old but is very good quality and made in West Germany.

It has been extremely hot on Hvar and in Split and for the first time we have understood why a siesta is necessary. Most of the shops close between 12 and 4 or 5 and the streets are deserted as everyone takes shelter from the heat.

Today we leave with Fil and El on a yacht for a couple of days out to some other islands and then head to Italy to meet Mum and Dad.

Tour groups September 3, 2006

Posted by Amanda in Travel Diary.
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Tour groups of more than 10 people should be banned!!! As should the following of an upheld yet closed umbrella while rushing through every major site of a city in an hour and a half. If the guide needs a microphone with a speaker the group is too large!!

We are in Dubrovnik and it is overrun with groups that each contain about 50 pastel clad cruise ship passengers following guides and gawping left and right and generally getting in everyone’s way. When you have groups that large, it significantly slows the progress of the foot traffic in the whole area.

I for one can’t imagine that it is fun not to be able to stop and duck down an interesting alley way should that take your fancy. To me group travel seems so mindless. It would drive me crazy!!!

But the upside of avoiding the crowds is that the interesting back streets and paths are almost completely empty and provide little surprises like an amazing view through a wall or an 11th century chapel that you just stumble upon.

Croatia is a truly amazingly beautiful country!!