A Travellerspoint blog

The nun or the drunk?

Sicily and Amalfi

sunny 27 °C
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We decided to get an overnight bus from Sicily to Amalfi which was full mainly of Italians, and few tourists. We settled into our journey and after 3hrs arrived at the ferry crossing back to the mainland. At this point you can either get off the bus and go up onto the deck of the ferry - or you can stay on the hot bus which had the air off. So, the choice seemed obvious for us and we headed up onto deck for the 45min journey. We did think it was a strange choice for many who did stay on the bus, until it was time to get back on and our seats had been taken by a nun. She had obviously decided that she wanted a little more space to spread out and had settled into our 2 seats. Now we were in a bit of a bind, as technically they weren't the seat numbers on our tickets as to our horror, at the start of our journey our allocated seats were taken by the drunk we had seen hanging with the gypsies at the bus-stop, filling his water bottle with cask wine for the journey.

Now Scotty being a good catholic boy didnt want to kick the nun out of her new seats, however we now had to decide who would be easier to kick out of our seats - the nun or the drunk!

In the end, we copped out and told the bus driver that our seats had been taken. It was quite funny to watch Scott try to communicate that a nun was in our seat to someone who didnt speak a word of English. He was making the sign of the cross and putting his hands together in prayer to try to get the message across, whilst I was trying to hold back my laughter. It must have worked as the bus driver got on the bus and blurted a few words in Italian to the nun, who with a huff and a puff begrudingly moved out of our 2 seats and back alongside someone else.

Luckily that has been our only transport hiccup, aside from our frustrating bus trip from Catania to Mt Etna where the bus driver and his side kick decided that within a 45min journey they had earned a half hour break to have coffee, buy cakes and smoke a few cigarettes before resuming the journey. (see picture of them in action below)

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So far, Sicily definately wins the award for the craziest drivers in Europe. Mopeds and scooters rule the streets and pedestrians have to step out in front of cars in order to make them stop. This doesnt seem to phase the locals one bit who walk out with their baby in a pram hoping the cars will stop. I cringed everytime I saw this.

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We did our fair share of hiking in Sicily. We visited Taormina which is a beautiful town perched on a clifftop. The train station however is by the sea, so it was a good 30min stair climb to the top. We were rewarded in the afternoon when we stumbled across a beautiful beach called Isola Bella - Beautiful Island (see picture below). The rocks did hurt getting into the water, but the swim was worth it.

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We also did a day trip to Mt Etna, which we were a little unprepared for. ie: we wore shorts, singlets, took hats and suncream and didnt realise that it is a ski mountain during winter, so in the summer was still a chilly 12 degs. We did warm up though when we opted against the overpriced jeep bus to the active crater at the top and walked up instead. We had no idea what was at the top, or how long it was going to take, but about 2hrs later, with slightly stiff legs we made it to the top. We were 'rewarded' with seeing the steam coming out of the crater and feeling the heat coming out of the ground. I'm not sure its something we'd visit again, but the walk up their at high altitude was good to get the heart rate up.

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After Sicily we had 3 much more relaxing days in the beautiful Amalfi Coast. We stayed in a very cute little bed'n'breakfast in the town of Amalfi and did a day trip to both Positano and Ravello, along with some good hours chilling out on the beach and swimming in the nice warm water.

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In total, we've had 3 weeks in Italy and loved pretty much most places we've been to. It definately is a country spoit with lots of beautiful places.

Today we arrived in Croatia and tomorrow we board our 7 day cruise around Central and South Dalmatia.

Posted by EliseJones 06:40 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Malta buses

A whole new transport experience

sunny 26 °C

Unlike most other countries in Europe and presumably the world, the buses in Malta are privately owned and the driver makes a commission on the tickets sold. Factor in the old school Leyland buses, where the front door is always opened and the bus is decorated with the drivers favourite football team and religious sayings and you have a transport experience like no other. Quite often there is a side-kick hanging out the front door yelling obscenities at his mates whilst trying to increase passenger numbers. Now I may not fully understand the language, but coming from Maltese blood I know enough of the swear words to find this hilarious entertainment.

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We've enjoyed many fun bus rides in Malta whilst steering clear of the "dodgy bastard taxi drivers". My parents were only very young when they emigrated to Australia but one thing they warned me about was to avoid the taxis. After only taking a couple of steps outside customs we were approached by taxi drivers who proceeded to tell us that the only way to get to our destination was of course by taxi....and it would only cost us 25 euros. We refused their kind offer and started the walk up the hill to Valletta city centre which was 'apparently' only a 15-20min walk from the ferry terminal. Some 45 minutes, and many stairs later we arrived at the bus terminal 2 hot and weary travellers given the combination of backpacks and 30 degree heat. A 30 minute bus ride costing a mere 0.30 euros we arrived at my uncles empty flat. The 2 bedroom flat just 2 min walk from the water at St Paul's Bay seemed more like a palace to us after 2 months of hostels, pensions and dodgy hotel rooms with noisy motorway views.

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One thing I haven't been suprised by is the friendliness of the locals, especially the old folk, which I encountered in my search for my mum's family cave. The beauty of Malta is that pretty much everyone knows everyone. Even though my Mum's family left over 50 years ago, I only had to ask a few locals in the town where they lived who somehow could still recall my Mum's family and point me in the direction of where they lived. On many occasions I can recall my Mum saying "Son, if I told you I was born in a cave you wouldn't believe me!" and to be honest I probably didn't. But having tracked down the site where there are about 10 caves built into the side of a rock face where my Mum's family lived amongst others and wandering through them, I now believe her. The caves have long since been vacated but there were still signs that these were well lived in caves. Some were sectioned off into numerous rooms, the hessian sacks used as curtains were still hanging, along with rusted old buckets we're told were used to carry water, and old cooking pots. Visiting these caves was quite a surreal experience to think that people actually lived here, let alone my Mum's family.

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When visiting a country you always gain a much bigger appreciation of the history because you get to see it with your own eyes. In Malta I have been blown away by the amount of attacks and attempted invasions this little island has had to endure, mainly due to its strategic location smack bang in the middle of the meditteranean. We visited some WW2 air-raid shelters when Malta became one of the most bombed places on earth.

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We also visited the Mosta Dome - a massive church, which during WW2 a bomb was dropped, piercing the roof during a service and did not explode or injure anyone. This is considered a miracle by the Maltese. It's after visiting these places that the locals are so proud of their history and these little islands.

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We've had 2 wonderful weeks here and even though you can drive from one side of the island in less than an hour there is plenty to see and do here. We have swum in some of the most crystal clear bright blue water at the Blue Lagoon, had a day snorkelling, did a Jeep Safari around the island of Gozo and experienced a religious festival quite unlike anything I've seen before. We sampled the islands night-life hotspot at Paceville where some of the female fashions really do leave nothing to the imagination. Throw in the hot weather and we can see why this is such a pommie tourist haven.

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Next stop is to Sicily and then the Amalfi Coast.

PS: The pastizzi and Kinnie taste better here!

Posted by ScottBorg 22:59 Archived in Malta Comments (1)

Slovenia and Venice

Ah, the serenity

sunny 26 °C
View European Adventure on EliseJones's travel map.

Slovenia....ah the serenity...to quote the movie "The Castle". In the case of Slovenia though, it couldnt be more accurate.

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With some spare time up our sleeves we decided to take the car to Slovenia. This was my 3rd visit to Slovenia and my love for the country grows each time. We based ourselves in beautiful Bled and stayed there for 4 days. Firstly because it is such a beautiful, quiet and peaceful place and secondly because we were staying in a great apartment with our own kitchen so very much enjoyed being able to cook our own meals for the first time since being on the road.

Slovenia is great for those who love adventure and beautiful outdoors. We did kayaking, walked through gorges, around lakes, up mountains, to waterfalls and natural springs. Personally, I could do this for days as I love just watching the power and constant flow of the waterfalls. Scotty however liked Slovenia but had seen enough waterfalls to keep him going for a while. He is a bit more of a hustle and bustle, city (shopping) kind of guy.

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So, of course he felt much more at home when we had 4 days in Venice!

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My last visit to Venice was 6 years ago on a Contiki tour, and I think I saw St Marks Square, did a overpriced Gondola ride and saw little else of the city. So my memory of it is not that great and I wouldnt be lying if I said I wasnt really that interested in going back to Venice. Scotty, however had memories of good shopping in Venice.....so was keen to go back!

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We had 4 days to explore with no schedules. A little different from my last experience. We walked all the different islands of Venice, did a little shopping (Scotty was restrained) and enjoyed being in this very vibrant city.

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They arent lying though when they say Venice is Italys most expensive city. We enjoy trying to find local places for eating and drinking that arent massive tourist spots. This is harder than you would think to do. On the second day we did find a great little coffee shop (that the Lonely Planet recommended) that served the best coffee weve ever tasted....for the mere cost of €0.70 ea. This was however a day after we paid €8.00 for 2 very average tasting coffees. Needless to say, we started each day with a great little macchiato. Nothing makes us more frustrated than places that effectively take the piss out of unsuspecting tourists. You would think we learn, but on our last day in Venice we sat down for a drink in a square before dinner and had 1 glass of beer and 1 glass of wine for €14.50!! The day before we had 2 glasses of beer and 2 glasses of wine for only €11. So, as I said, it is harder than you think not to get ripped off and it does frustrate you, but we do get a very good sense of satisfaction when we find somewhere great that the locals probably enjoy.

We departed Venice today enroute for Siena in Tuscany. Upon arriving we parked the car (outside of the town, as you cant drive into the centre) and did the hunt for accomodation. Being Saturday night, we werent having much luck as most places were booked out. So we decided to get back in the car and continue onto Rome, where we found accomodation in a hotel on the outskirts of Rome where the receptionist looks like Mr Bean, the hotel is run like Fawlty Towers and the shuttle bus driver doubles as the waiter. Its good entertainment for a Saturday night!!

2 nights in Rome and then we head South to Sicily.

Posted by EliseJones 12:49 Archived in Slovenia Comments (1)

Paris to Como to Cinque Terre to Lake Bled

sunny 26 °C

We've been on the move for the last 10 days and have covered some ground and seen some beautiful scenery. The good news is we have figured out how to resize pics on our camera so can now load more pics on the site as they tell the best story.

After enjoying the touristic side of Paris we met up with one of Elise's friends Lisa, who has just moved to Paris with her French husband and has just had a baby. They say the best way to get to know a culture is from the locals and for French cuisine/culture Jean Philippe certainly did a great job at that.

Elise and I had only been on the road for 5 weeks but we certainly did enjoy the comforts of their wonderful hospitality and some delicious home cooked meals. Jean Phillippe cooked up a storm each night giving us some authentic French cuisine including boudin (specially prepared pig sausages), potatoes (specially cooked in Fois Gras fat) and lots of other food which the names I cannot pronounce nor remember except that they were yummy.

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After spending some relaxing days in Paris which included pushing little one month baby Oscar around the parks of Saint Mande in Paris, we headed through the French-Italian-Swiss alps via a stopover in Dijon. For anyone planning a trip to Dijon can I suggest a quick stop rather than an extended stay as although it is quite famous for mustard there was not a huge amount going on there.

Next stop was Lake Como a really picture postcard place. Elise thought it would be nice to walk around the lake but after checking out the map and seeing it was over 50km long I thought it would be best to take the boat trip, which was amazing with some of the most beautiful lake views we've ever seen.

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The drive to Como was fantastic as we saw some amazing scenery with the snow capped Alps and amazing mountain views, however we did pay for the privalege. On one day it cost us over 80 euro in tolls!!

From Como we did a day trip to Milano which was only 1 hour by train. This is the fashionista capitol of Italy. Every second person has a Louis Vuitton handbag (even the boys) and it is luxury brand paradise. We bought a few things, but had to be restricted by the fact we have to carry everything we buy and of course would be home next week if we bought a few LV handbags!!

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Arriving in the Cinque Terre was an interesting experience as those of you whom have been there will know that having a car in this place can be a little difficult as it such a small and isolated place. We both did not know what to expect as we normally dump the car somewhere when we get to a city and go and hunt for some accomodation. After driving along the very windey Italian coast we arrived at Monterosso which is the last of the 5 towns and we hit a dead end in the road with a boom gate to the Town. Anyway a little old Italian lady tapped on our car window and starting speaking to us. We did not really understand her at all but we assumed she wanted us to come and stay at her place which has a private room. With nothing to lose she jumped in the back of the car and we went back up the hill about 100 metres and dodgy parked the car... I'm getting good at that and went down about 10 flights of stairs and got to the place which was a really nice little flat, and only a 3 minute walk to the town centre. Lady luck was smiling on us and we did not have to do any leg work that day.

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Next day we planned to do the walk through the 5 towns. This is one of the most remarkable and beautiful walks I have ever done. The track is constructed on the side of the mountain with stones that have been laid over thousands of years by generations of Italians. The path is no more that 3/4 of a metre wide for the most part and there are thousands of stairs along the way. The trek is about 9 km from the start to finish and we really did earn our drinkies at the end of that day. We completed the walk in 3.5hrs and it takes the oldies with hiking apparatus/walking sticks 4.5hrs. My heart rate hit over 160 beats per minute heading up some of the stairs. ( I wore my heart rate monitor).

I will let the photos do the talking about this place......

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After a marathon 10 hour drive we are now in Lake Bled in Slovenia, an equally beautiful place where we have booked a Kayak trip for tomorrow.

So, as you can see we've had an action-packed couple of weeks, hence no update for a while!

We have loaded lots of pictures but haven't added them all to this blog, so click on our names under Author, and from there you can click on more images to see them all (i think! I'm sure you'll find it)

Posted by ScottBorg 09:02 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Beautiful France

Bordeaux to Paris

sunny 25 °C
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We have been in France for a week now since out last update and loving every bit of it. Having not spent a lot of time in France before both Scott and myself didn't really have set expectations of the place. After seeing some of its beautiful coastlines, experiencing some of its fantastic wineries, exploring some of its tiny towns and taking in everything its jewel Paris has to offer - we can certainly see why France is one of the most popular countries in the world to visit. It has everything on offer.

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We feel like luck has been shining on us every step of the way in France. First of all we turn up in Bordeaux (without taking 1 single wrong turn!!) on a Friday. We hadn't factored in that Bordeaux is a weekend holiday destination, so we were very happy when we got good accomodation right in the centre of Bordeaux.

We had planned to visit some wineries, or Chateuax's as they're called in France (as one has to do in Bordeaux!) and thought this process would be much the same as it is in Australia. ie: rock up to the cellar door, go inside...sometimes hear a bit about the winery and then taste some of their wine. After enquiring at the Bordeaux tourist office we are told in France, you can't just 'turn up' for a tasting - you must have a reservation. It was now all sounding a bit too hard and we were told we could visit some wineries on a guided tour booked through the tourist office. Of alternatively if we had a car (this is the lucky part!) there was a special festival on in the little town of Saint Emilion that we wanted to go to, where for this weekend only the wineries had 'Portes Ouvertes en Saint Emilion'....'Open door in Saint Emilion', meaning we could turn up without a booking.

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Most of the time on this trip we are doing sightseeing and day trips ourselves, rather than on guided tours where a lot of the time you're hearded in and hearded out on a big bus. But in this instance we were edging towards taking the easy/lazy option of the guided tour and not having to worry about finding our way there etc. So having made the decision to go on the guided tour, we return to the tourist office to buy tickets and find out that they have now been sold out (within the 2 hrs of our return).

So fate intervened and we found our way to Saint Emilion with no dramas, explored the medieval town and then started visiting wineries. One particular winery called La Rochebelle Chateaux was our favourite that used old style vats and equipment and had these amazing underground tunnels carved out of limestone, as a cellar storing all the barrels and bottles of wine. Doing the visit on our own enabled us to visit 4 chateauxs (instead of the 1 on the tour) and the money we saved on the tour we spent on wine instead. A much better investment I think!

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We made good use of the car in Bordeaux and took another day trip to L'bassin Arcachon where we climbed the biggest sand dune in Europe. That was good for the buttocks and to burn off some of the yummy french sweets we've been enjoying.

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Our initial plan from Bordeaux was to head to the Sth of France and the Riveria, however we looked up the weather forecast first and the weather in the Sth was ordinary. Having had our fair share of ordinary weather and the idea of being in the French Riveria when it was raining didn't appeal, so we decided to come to Paris instead.

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Paris is a beautiful city that is impossible not to love. We left Bordeaux early yesterday morning for the 5 1/2 hr drive here. Scott did very well driving for the first 1 1/2 hr through very thick fog that you could only see about 15-20 metres in front of you. We arrived about lunch and had pre-booked accomodation that miraculously we found within 25 mins (remember, we have no map and are taking the directions from Michelin to the tee). Yesterday was probably our biggest day so far, as after getting up at 6am, we eventually went to bed at 12.30am after the adrenalin of being in Paris saw us walk the streets for hours. We did the Notre Dame, the Lourve, the Champs Elysees, climbed the Arc de Triomphe, stopped for a couple of drinks before heading to the Eiffel Tower when the sun was going down. We sat on the grass with the hordes of others to take in the beautiful sight of the sunset and the lights of the tower being turned on.

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We had a much less busier day today and had a picnic on the grass in front of the Sacre Couer overlooking the city. Tomorrow we are going to stay with my friend Lisa for a few days who I worked with in London and now lives in Paris with her french husband.

Posted by EliseJones 10:18 Archived in France Comments (0)

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