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Tina-Paul : Croatia/Italy...WOW!: [21 May: ...9 June: 2012]

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Tina & Paul eMails from the Adriatic Coast: Italy and Croatia

21 May: : Arrival:
Just got in and everything wonderful! Going to see the Colosseum this evening.

22 May: : Absolute magic!:
Wow. In Perugia and it is like Venice in terms of magic but instead of canals it has hillside nooks and crannies and stairs and steps that twist and wind around into the next visual adventure. We walked down to the university where Tina went to school almost 40 years ago. Everywhere we go we have to ask for directions which means Tina gets to speak italian and meet locals. Like I said in the title of this email--absolute magic! Love

23 May: More travel stuff:
So our first nite was in Rome and we went to the colleseum which was amazing. As we got to the place where people take pictures Tina went up to a couple and asked them in italian to take our picture. But they did not speak italian but french--so of course Tina changes gears and asks them in french to take our picture. Then we had dinner nearby and by the time we finished it was nite and raining. But we wanted to see the colleseum lit up at nite so we braved the rain. When we got there not only was it lit up but there was a lightening storm also lighting up the colleseum. We got back to our hotel drenched and exhilarated. P.S. I just want to make sure you forward our stories to Reva since we have no other way to communicate with her. So we are still in perugia. We were in the main piazza and Tina was looking for coffee. I pulled out my kindle fire and called tina over. She was saying can't this wait until her coffee and I said no. She was acting like "I dont want to play with the kindle now until I get coffee" but I insisted. Then I turned on music I downloaded and played Frank Sinatra and we danced in the piazza. Needless to say she did not mind the coffee interuption. So then we toured on the "minimetro". It is like a small monorail system from Disneyland but they were small "15 x 8" and egg shaped. They use this system to run up and down the hillside. It is an unmanned metro that has about four stops to the bottom and cars stop about every minute. So Tina and I took the metro from top to bottom and it did feel like a Disney ride with the ancient perugia hillside as a backdrop instead of the Matterhorn. Then we walked some more all around making sure we beat ourselves up so we can tell we are on vacation. At the end of our walk we stopped in a local "salumeria" (cheese and salami shop) and bought cheese salami bread and water--we got back to our hotel and had a gastonomic foodfeast. And now nap time.

24 May: But wait there is more:
So we are still in perugia. We were in the main piazza and Tina was looking for coffee. I pulled out my kindle fire and called tina over. She was saying can't this wait until her coffee and I said no. She was acting like "I dont want to play with the kindle now until I get coffee" but I insisted. Then I turned on music I downloaded and played Frank Sinatra and we danced in the piazza. Needless to say she did not mind the coffee interuption. So then we toured on the "minimetro". It is like a small monorail system from Disneyland but they were small "15 x 8" and egg shaped. They use this system to run up and down the hillside. It is an unmanned metro that has about four stops to the bottom and cars stop about every minute. So Tina and I took the metro from top to bottom and it did feel like a Disney ride with the ancient perugia hillside as a backdrop instead of the Matterhorn. Then we walked some more all around making sure we beat ourselves up so we can tell we are on vacation. At the end of our walk we stopped in a local "salumeria" (cheese and salami shop) and bought cheese salami bread and water--we got back to our hotel and had a gastonomic foodfeast. And now nap time.

26 May: Its a second honemoon:
Our last day in Perugia we took a tour bus around the city, our first tour bus ride in all our travels. It was like taking a bus thru Lombard street, but in an ancient city with streets so narrow you had to keep your elbows in so they would not scrape the 2000 year old walls. Then a train ride to the ferry across the Adriatic sea to Croatia. Trogir, where we are staying is a UNESCO world heritage site. Truly a blend of ancient western and eastern and mediterrian life. In one of the porticos Tina and I were serenaded by an a capella group, all to ourselves -- they were on a break but I asked for a song an they obliged. Of course we could not refuse to buy their CD, but well worth it. The city is all white stone with red tiled roofs on the sea port with church spires everywhere. And we get the best view in the city because we got the top floor apartment -- other than the spires it is one of the highest points in the city and we have great views all around including our patio. Today we took a private tour to a national park called Krka (it is easier to say if you are willing to spit when you talk). The guide reminded us both of Michael Bolotsky in terms of being gracious, manner of speech, story telling skills, and overall charm. It is a deep green forest with deep green waterfalls along thr Krka river. The falls were so green some looked like they had green food coloring like for saint patricks day. It was an old water mill and was the site of a hydroelectric plant put into operation two days after the plant at Niagra falls. Tomorrow off to Hvar and see what awaits us.

27 May: Adventures:
I last left you dancing in the piazza. Immediately after that we went for some quick caffeine at a cafe overlooking the beautiful rolling hills and ancient walls. Then we hopped on our little mini metro futuristic monorail for more sightseeing. Hard to imagine a greater contrast of old and new. For dinner we chose a tiny restaurant where the little bantam rooster of a man, clearly the owner, supervised everything and held court at a neighboring table of six men. Photos of the owner, going back many years, adorned the walls. He proudly carved the proscuitto to order and was very gracious to his guests... to their faces. After their dinner, he ushered an American couple to the door saying all the usual things. Our table near the door gave us front row seats to then hear him say, "Vive la France! " as he closed the door behind them with such obvious derision that we have now adopted this phrase as our own any time we want to discreetly say--What an Idiot! Leaving Italy was hard for me. I feel so connected on many levels. May: be it was a Freudian slip when I got the train time wrong and we missed our train? Turns out the next train was perfect, and we caught the overnite ferry and woke up in Croatia. Arrival in Croatia offered all the eye candy we could wish, and we got the crow's nest apartment of our little hotel overlooking all the rooftops of the historic old town. We have windows opening up in three directions. We are so high (53 steps up says our host) that two windows give us eye level views of the nearby church steeples. People are really nice and exceedingly gracious with old world charm, especially our adorable waiter Marko who calls me My Lady. And the weather is perfect. Tomorrow we are splurging on a personal guided tour in Krka National Park. P.S. Thanks Stan, for the 5-kuna piece which allowed us to tip our first taxi driver! Faithful readers: all the irregularities you have seen--paragraph x 2 and bad spelling, etc., is cuz I am composing finger at a time on the kindle touchscreen and then when I have access to a real computer I am pasting in the text, so please be forgiving as you read.

29 May: Vive la France!
I am sitting here at our hotel in Kocula, a lovely island, and have an amazing view of the sea (we are only 100 yards or so away) with the mountains in the background lit by the setting son. We just arrived and Tina is taking a well deserved nap. Earlier today we were in Hvar and toured the insland on a scooter -- yes we wore helmets which is the law. Yesterday we sailed the islands around Hvar, and I know I can't do it justice so you will have to wait for an email from Tina. Who knows what is in store for tomorrow, May: be kayaking. But for now, it is time to enjoy the view.

31 May: What a view!:
This whole trip seems as if it had been arranged for the gods. I mean everything we do just gets better and better. Paul's dad always says THIS birthday or THIS Thanksgiving is the best ever, and Dad we are turning into you because each day we say THIS day is absolutely the best! First Trogir -- beautiful ancient city, and then our tour of the park with Ernest. Michael -- it was like being with you! He was brimming with enthusiam for everything he showed us -- from the invention of electricity (Edison stole it from Tesla), to how you cook with the old pot, down to the tiniest detail of what you put in the pot -- first some meat, May: be some lamb or chicken, at least 3 kilos, especially if Ernest is invited, then some vegetables, some spices... No such thing as a short story. The best story though was when he told us about Dracula. He was about nine and his parents were out. He was watching a really scary Dracula movie and he forgot that he was supposed to spray the garden for bugs. It was late when his parents got home, but they made him go out and spray. It was really dark. He was so scared and expected the bat Dracula to swoop down and get him. And he pantomimed the story as he told it. Over there, that side of the house, it was really dark so he just gave one one squirt and that was enough, but to this day he hates bats. Sorry -- this story lost a lot in the retelling ; no one but Ernest could do it justice. We took a ferry next to Hvar. These ancient cities are so old - like back to the Ilyrians and even before that -- that you feel they can't be real. And indeed, Trogir was very touristy, so I am glad we started there. In comparison Hvar felt like there was more to it--kids playing soccer in the town square, people doing regular stuff. The first day we went sailing with Damir (quite the hottie for the local girls) out in the Pakleni islands that dot the coastline. Most of these islands are uninhabited and some are so tiny that only a house as little as ours could fit on it. It was just the 3 of us so Damir let me help sail. It was just so beautiful and relaxing and exhilarating all at the same time. We stopped in a cove and Paul stripped down to hisstriped underwear, got in the water, gasped (it was cold!), and then went for a swim. Watching him made me smile because I just knew he was loving it. Just when you think it can't possibly get better... We rented a scooter and toured half of the island. We first came to the tiny village of Brusje (pr broos - i - ya) where we met Sondra who sold us lavender she grows in her own fields right there in Brusje. At the end of another perfect day we boarded the ferry for Korcula. We are in a small hotel overlooking the water. We had a delicious dinner in the hotel where the waiter even brought me a blanket to keep me warm when the wind kicked up. Paul and I laughed together over the silliest things and just had the best time. And tomorrow we get to have the BEST day all over again!

31 May: Dracula, Sailing, Scootering and More!:
Dubrovnik. As you are coming down the mountainside and you catch your first sight of the old walled city, it simply takes your breath away. How could this gigantic stone work have been built so long ago? Paul and I could not wait to dump our gear and go out exploring. The old part of the city has a main central street from which many little alleyways branch out full of shops and restaurants with people urging you to eat at each spot. The wall is two kilometers long and you can walk along its entire length for 70 kuna (about $12, tho I keep messing up on the conversion and overtipping). We were on our way to the fountain and north portal to buy tickets when a woman with an east coast accent (if I closed my eyes Susie, I would have sworn it was you!) approached me and asked if I wanted two free tickets! She said she was on a tour and they all got tickets, she and her friend went, but their husbands declined. Paul and I gratefully accepted and feeling a desire to share the good fortune, we put 10 kuna in the hat of the human statue performing at the fountain. Paul couldn't stop taking pictures. Each view as we peered over the wall and into the city, the ocean, the monastery cloisters, and even into people's backyards was so stunning that he just needed to try to capture it on film. Tomorrow we plan to do a walking tour in the city and then we'll catch the overnite ferry back to Italy.

4 June: Really O Trulli O:
Croatia was fabulous but Italy just makes me buzz. Even hearing other passengers on the ferry speaking Italian gets me fired up and being here is amazing. Puglia is a region where tourism isnt a big part of the economy and in fact most of the tourists are Italians from other parts of the country. So they ask us if we are German or English. But when they hear that we are from California they are wildly enthusiastic. On our first nite in Ceglie Messapica we went to the center of town for an evening coffee. We met the owner of the bar. When he heard that we were from the States he started calling everyone over to see us. Like we were exotic animals on exhibit. Look. Come over here. And pointing at us...they are Americans. It was hilarious.
So our first two nites we were in the countryside in a little fantasyland trullo...the ceturies old conical style dwelling unique to the region. Nearby Alberobello with the highest concentration of trulli is a UNESCO world heritage site and with good reason. These charming little cones can be seen everywhere and each is special. Some are ancient and crumbling with cactus growing out of the windows and some are fully restored and look almost like little castles. Our trullo has been in host Vicentes family for two hundred yrs. But it has been updated with all the amenities including the ultimate luxury...a washing machine. No dryer but none necessary with the Italian sun to do the job. Vicentes wife Anna made us dinner for the first night which we enjoyed al fresco at a table overlooking the grove of olive and apricot and cherry trees...ceglie for which the city is named and which are in season now so dessert is picked and eaten right there in the yard. As I mentioned we went into town after dinner. It is hard to specify just one time and place as the Absolute Favorite but this might be it. Everyone was out enjoying the cool air.Paul describes it as May: berry Italian style. It was an atmosphere that just makes ou feel great to be a part of it.

5 June: Pinch me!:
I know. You think I am indulging in hyperbole, but I swear it's true: today we have really found the best place of all. In fact we are so in love that we have booked it until the last day possible. At our trullo it was a toss up whether to head south for Lecce or north, and fortunately we chose north. We are in the beautiful beach town of Vieste. We had no idea upon arrival what a gem we had stumbled upon. We drove thru the flat beach part with hotel after hotel. Real tourist season hasn't yet started so the beach chairs are mostly empty. But we drove past resort row to the historic old center of town. Then we got stuck on the narrow road behind a couple delivery trucks which simply stop, never mind the cars behind them, and deliver their wares. In no great hurry. Welcome to Italy. I made good use of the time the car was trapped, though, by hoofing it up the hill and thru the arch to check out the center. Five steps in and I knew that I had found heaven. Of course by then the car in front of us had made Paul back up and and turn up a side street to let him out. We are lucky we found each other. After parking I asked a nice man in a gourmet food shop if there were any hotels in the old town. He directed me (literally by walking me to the road and pointing and counting -- one, two, three, four tiny walkways on the left and down the stairs)...and here we are with a cliffside view of the beach (10 euro extra for view) with Tahiti-blue water. How is it even possible to walk in, no reservation, and get the top floor (unlike Trogir's top floor we have an elevator) with beach view? In a few weeks I am sure it will be packed and impossible but we are just that lucky. We cant stop saying WOW.

6 June: Highlights:
And my stories are just a fraction of the whole. Paul was just saying that it's been like three vacations, each part fun and different. We have done some amazing vacations in the past but I think this is the best. And guess what--Rick Steves has a tour group that just checked in. He isn't here this time my front desk staff tells me. He was here a month ago. He has about ten groups in all. Like us, his groups come now and not again until fall. We are pretty sure this place is a zoo in summer so we got here at the perfect time! While in our trullo, we took a day trip to Matera to see an entire village cut into the stone mountain. These cave dwellings or sassi were started centuries ago but were inhabited up until the 50s or 60s. We took a guided tour through the lower half of the sassi and were the only English speakers with a French family of four and about a dozen Italians; probably be similar to us going to Alcatraz. This is another UNESCO world heritage site. I read somewhere that little Italy has more than any other country. Anyway, people living in the sassi had no running water or gas or electricity. Apparently the government was terribly embarassed about allowing its people to live in such squalor (they slept with the animals beside or below their beds for warmth) and just about 50 years ago or so, the people were removed and placed in government housing. This was explained to us with a sense of national pride, but I wonder if the residents went willingly to this "upgrade." Or is it like sending Native Americans to reservations? Now the sassi are cool and desirable plus the gov't kicks in 50% toward renovation. But seeing this is unbelievable. Right across the little canyon is where Mel Gibson filmed his crucifixion scene.

7 June: Mario Andretti at the Wheel:
Seriously. Driving here is really a challenge and Paul has been fabulous. We don't know what half the traffic signs mean, can't always figure out which are one -way streets, and some streets are so narrow that u can stand in the middle and practically touch both walls. We got a Smart car which is great for parking and narrow streets but has no zip. Most people are really nice when they realize that we r tourists and don't know what we're doing but today we came nose to nose with an old guy with attitude in a narrow street. Paul politely backed up but he charged at us. If Paul hadn't handled it so skillfully (including the mutual exchange of gestures after the fact), the guy would have plowed right into us. This morning we took a boat ride to see the grottoes that line the coast. I specifically asked my friend at the desk to direct us to a boat that would not be taking the Rick Steves tour group that arrived yesterday. I just didn't want to feel like one of the herd. The caves were wild--some with "windows" and one with colors ranging from metallic -looking green to bronze and gold. One of the highlights that I glossed over was our overnite in Trani. It's really a working fishing town and not very touristy. All the B&Bs we tried upon arrival were closed and locked with no answer to doorbell or phone. We always say that we end up where we r supposed to be, and indeed, we feel that fate and good fortune stepped in to put us in the right place. Grandma and Grandpa have a 17th C monastery converted into rooms. Ours was lovely and spacious tho the shower was too small to turn around in. Seems to be normal tho since our shower here isn't much larger. But the windows opened onto the courtysrd which was so cool and quiet no matter how hot or noisy the activity outside. In this city we found the best park I have ever seen. It was so wonderful that you could smell pine trees before you entered. Once inside, you could inhale the high -oxygen air just as I do in a nursery, but this was wide open with the ocean on one side. Sections were laid out with desert plants, pines, flowers, a place for kids with playground, and more. It had such a sense of peacefulness that I felt a need to whisper. At one end was an aviary and at the other an arch leading to a parapet over the water. At the very end were some thigh -high gates, standing side by side. We saw locks and thought at first that the locks held the gates together. On closer inspection, tho, we found that they were lovers' locks, many labeled ti amo with names and dates. Some were new and some old and rusty. I guess lovers have been locking up their love for a long time! Since we have not managed to adapt to Italian time for meals, we often eat in near -empty restaurants. It was a big advantage in Trani where we had the delightful waitress to ourselves and she was happy to tell me the history of the painting and how to make trallani, the delicious bread rings common in Puglia, and anything else I wanted to know. I would have loved her anywhere, but having such a conversation in Italian....how does the MasterCard ad say it...? Priceless!