Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Italian Riveria (Santa Margherita and Portofina)

Yes, we are basking in the sun on the Italian Riveria.  Of course, we are wearing our sunglasses so people look at us and wonder. . . Isabella Rossellini and Tom Cruise?

Yesterday, when we arrived at the train station in Rapallo, just a few km from Santa Margherita, I noticed a young girl, about 13 or 14, with an older woman get on the train.  I knew immediately something was awry as the young girl smiled at me.  So I kind of kept an eye on them and sure enough, during the short trip, I turned quickly and saw the older woman  reaching for the pack on my back and she quickly took her hand away.  Then a few minutes later, as we were shuffling off the train, the little girl stopped on the step right in front of me for no reason, which made me very suspicious.  I pushed by her and turned around to see the woman reach out for Belinda's pack.  I yelled at the woman and she acted as if nothing happened and I kept yelling at her as she got off the train.  "No comprende" she kept saying and I kept say "you understand very well" in my best Italenglish.  She knew she had been caught but no one else seem to care so I smacked her in the mouth and now I'm writing this from the Polizia Stazzion.  OK, so I wanted to smack her but didn't but what really made me mad was she included this little girl in her scheme.  Parents! 

Santa Margherita is a beautiful little town.  Nice little harbor, great places to sit and watch the water and tourists.  Today we took a short hop to Portofino on the bus.  We were going to rent a scooter but it was 50 Euro and they do drive a little crazy here in Italy.  Well, maybe just in Europe in general.  So we decided to take a bus for just under 5 Euro for both of us round-trip.  Really glad we didn't rent the scooter.  The road to Portofino varies from just barely room for two vehicles to just room for one.  A curvy road where the bus driver had to honk at about half the turns to let other cars and scooters know he was coming.  I could just see us as hood ornaments on a city bus.  Not an image I liked.  Portofina is a nice, beautiful little town.  Much, much smaller than Santa Margherita but very charming.  But we're glad we are staying in SM.  Many more food choices here.

Speaking of European drivers.  As I mentioned in a blog a while back, I do not like to rent a car outside of the States but we had to in Croatia as it was the only way to see what we wanted to see.  As I mentioned it was the smallest car they had and even Belinda said that next time we need to ask how big the tires were.  This one had 13" tires.  Like on a small trailer.  The thought of those tires spinning so fast at 110 km/hr apparently scared her as  much as me.  Anyway, I said never again but Belinda really wanted to see Assisi while we were in Siena.  She told me some story about having a dream and I fell for it. You know, sign from God.  Anyway, we tried Avis but they had no cars so we found this little bicycle, scooter, and car rental place.  I didn't have the best feeling about this place but they had a car for 65 Euro and it sounded nice.  They said it was a great little Opel, which I had been wanting to drive anyway.  I had only heard of the Corsa and they are cool.  Now I've rented some ify cars in the past but this one took the cake.  It was a 2002 Opel Agila !  Have you ever heard of an Opel Agila?  Well, it took me 15 minutes of Googling to finally find a description of one.  And I think that was all Opel ever made and we rented it.  It only had one sun visor.  Fortunately it was on the driver's side.  All the seats were sweat stained (eeeewwweeeeuuuu) and the rest of the interior was dirtier than any car I have ever driven, except maybe for my neighbor's last BMW.  And the exterior was not any better.  There really wasn't any reason to wash it because it had so many dings and dents that it just didn't matter.  But, it took us to Assisi, 130km away, at 110km/hr and back.  It made an interesting sound at that speed and Belinda says "Did you check the size of the tires?"  Well, not exactly but I think they were 14" so we were safe.  We went 10km over our allowance so they charged me an extra 2 Euro so 67 Euro to get to Assisi was well worth it.  We would have paid twice that much.  Assisi was fantastic.  Absolutely beautiful.  Sorry I'm using that word a lot.  I stopped using "charming" after Thomas and Alice left us.  The churches in Italy are breath-taking.  It really doesn't matter who the Saint is that the church is honoring.  They are just fantastic.  It does bother me a little that so much time, effort, and money went into churches in poor areas though.  I'm sure there is some Biblical quote that would sooth me but maybe they could have added free flush toilets or a spa or something. 

We had our first McDonald's food in Assisi.  It was called a . . . BELINDA, WHAT WAS THAT SANDWICH CALLED AT MC'DONALDS?  Oh, she's somewhere reading or using the toilet or looking at another church.  I'll let you know later but it was really good.  Super thick mozarilla cheese and a patty of some kind of meat on a thin bun with herbs.  Yummy.  Mozarillo or Armadillo or something ending in illo.

Ok, I'm going to go outside and sit in the shade and eat or drink something.  Everything is really good.  Alice forced us to eat black risotto.  It's pasta with squid ink.  Tasty.  We have eaten some of the best meals ever.  Belinda had some pork medallians in Siena that were to die for. And I had the best Tiramisu I have ever had....twice.
Tomorrow we are back on the train, headed for Nice.  The Jolanda Hotel here in SM has been great.  A step up from the 1 or 2 star places that we've been staying.  Not sure what the convent in Siena was rated but it was nice, clean, and blessed.

ciao ciao

Sunday, September 26, 2010


We arrived in Siena yesterday on the train from Rome.  We spent two nights in our worst room so far.  AND the most expensive.  Most of our rooms have been about 60€ but the Rome room (say that fast a couple of times) was 125€.  The room itself was okay but the shower was for all intent broken.  All of our showers were small, one person showers.  Now being from Oregon, I like to have at least one other person in the shower to save water.  Not happening here.  You can not bend over without hitting your head.  You know, like should you drop the soap.  Shame on you for thinking anything else.  So, all showers small.  But this shower had no doors.  Instead, a too-long shower curtain which covered the drain and eventually allowed water all over the floor.  If the water didn't get out through or around the shower curtain, it came out under the broken shower stall wall.  Now Rick (of Rick Steves) is going to hear from me about this one !!

About Rick Steves.  While he has had some great suggestions over the years, he has ruined most of the places he writes about because he wasn't selective about who he told.  I think if he had just given his information to those of us in the Pacific NW, I would be a lot happier.  However, he would sell his info to anyone who was willing to pay. So if you follow his suggestions you end up going to places loaded with Rick Steves people.  Not bad people, just a lot of them.  So I think for our next trip we are just going to throw darts and show up at those locations without any reservations.  Unless they are Rick's suggested places.  Then we throw the dart again.

You may have noticed that I am not posting as much or as often as the last trip.  Mostly because you people with iPhones and the like have run the Internet Cafes out of business !  It is next to impossible to find an "internet point" anymore.  In Lecce we were fortunate to find two nice fellows who allowed us into the Univeristy computer lab after we told them we were "University employees".  College, university, what's the diff.  Anyway, nice guys.  The next day, I found a Bibliotech (look it up) and the man running the lab allowed me to use a computer there.  Now, I am in a convent in Siena!  They are more connected than anywhere else. (And probably in more ways than one, if you know what I mean.  You know, God).  Fast internet running Windows  XP Pro (is there any other) and 1€ per hour !!  Flat panel monitor, ball-less mouse (I just like saying that) and some USB ports.  But no SD card reader so still no pictures.  Sorreeey.

Today we walked around Siena (I do not know what Belinda's fascination is with hills) and decided we might try to rent a car tomorrow to go to Assisi.  Something about a pilgrimage.  I have heard of St. Francis of Assisi but not sure why.  I guess I'll have to look it up !  Oh, we had the best meal of the trip last night. We shared Wild Boar with pasta and Belinda had the absolute best, most tastiest, pork medallions.  I had chicken, which was pretty good too but her pork was soooo yummy.  She gave me one bite and that was all.  Then we shared the best Tiramisu ever.  I mean ever.  A little spendy (55€) but jeez it was good.  We may go back tonight and I'll order the pork.

I have so many stories and so little time.  Oops, Belinda just sat down next to me so maybe I should quit while I'm ahead.  She says I can go ahead but that's like asking her if she wants to do something I want to do and she says "fine"!

OK, she left after that.  Without Alice around, I have had to go shopping with her.  She did get some really cute --------.  Not saying in case she doesn't give it to you.  Oh, about our train ride yesterday.  We had to take a train from Rome to Chiusiu and change trains.  About 30 of us get off at Chiusiu and find we have to wait about 30 minutes.  So we are all sitting near the tracks and a three-car diesel train pulls in and drops off a bunch of kids about five minutes after we arrive.  It has no markings to indicate where it is going but it is so early that none of us think it is our train to Siena.  So most of us are sitting reading and after about 25 minutes I look up and there is only one other couple and us.  We see no other train and finally I see a conductor loading some bikes on this diesel train and I asked him if this was the train to Siena.  "Of course".  I yell at Belinda that this is our train.  I decided to also mention it to the Asian couple waiting even though he was one of those who ruined the internet experience for me because he was using an iPad.  We scramble on and away we go.  No announcement, nothing.  But I love the train system here.  I guess that's because there is a train system here.  You can get just about anywhere, except Assisi, by train.  You could probably get to Assisi but only back through Rome and then back.

Just a reminder here about my writing.  I tend to be sarcastic when I write about our travels.  It's my style of humor.  I've been told sarcasim is the lowest form of humor and that a pun is the highest.  So here's my pun.  "What did Mrs Frankenstein say to Mr. Frankenstein when she first met him?  'Hello tall, dark, and handsewn.'  (I stole that.)  OK, about my writing.  I love the places and people we see.  I love the things that get screwed up.  That's part of the adventure of travel.  Rather than just write another travel blog, I make fun of things.  If our ferry had sunk on the way to Italy, I would have made fun of that too, if we had survived.  Anyway, understand that we love it all, except maybe the rain.  But I did buy an umbrella in Slovenia.  Who else can say that?

ciao ciao

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Back in Italy

One of these days I'll post some pictures when I find a computer that will do it.  If there's one thing I have learned is that one day in the future, we will all communicate via a hand-held device that fits in your pocket.  You will be able to call someone, like using a telephone, and also get data from the web, check arrival and departure times, reserve train tickets, etc.  I know, it sounds incredulous but . . . wait, I've just been handed a news bulletin. . . crap, it's already happened and I may have to change with the times !!!  The reason I have been unable to post much is that internet cafes, or internet points, are all but extinct.  Fortunately, yesterday we found a university in Lecce that let us use theirs for a brief email and today I am at the Lecce Bibliotech using theirs.  Nice of them to allow me to do this so I will be brief.

We had the best time in Split, HR (that stands for Croatia), and Dubrovnik was beautiful.  Took a side trip to Mostar, Bosnia (don't know the code for Bosnia).  We took an overnight ferry to Bari, IT (that stands for Italy), took a train to Lecce and had a great visit there.  We are waiting for our train to Roma (that stands for Rome) which leaves about 12:50pm.  We arrive in Roma around 18:30 (that's 6:30pm) and hopefully will hook up with Pam, Rob, Cheryl, and Sandra.  We spend two nights in Roma and then on to Siena.  As I said, I will post picts when I can but not today.

It's been relatively hot and humid since we hit Dubrovnik.  Damn that city has a lot of stairs.  A shout out to Belinda's aunt Alice.  She probably saved our marriage by spending time shopping with Belinda.  Like we needed to encourage that !  Anyway, Alice brings this collapsible bag with her just for her purchases.  Now that's not something I want to encourage Belinda to do but the first thing this morning she says "I've just got to get one of those collapsible bags!"  Alice, you may have been a life saver but you may also have created a monster.  And enjoy the seven pairs of shoes !

More later. . . ciao, ciao, ciao.   (That's the way the Italians say it)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dubrovnik, Croatia and Mostar, Bosnia

Dubrovnik was fantastic. . . although again it did have steps and I think we found them all.  At least Belinda tried to find them all.  We met Thomas here and the party began.  Our apartment (two floors and two bedrooms) was within the walled city but above the plaza so our first full day we walked easily down to the plaza and shopped.  Belinda, Alice, and Thomas shopped.  I had to find an ATM.  After a few hours of this, we had to go back to our place.  I swear to high heaven, we walked at least 1/4 miles UP THE DAMN STEPS !  From then on, I insisted that we dine at a little eatery just next door called "Lady PeePee."  There was a statue our front.  If you can't imagine what it looked like, email me and I'll send you the picture.  Belinda won't let me post it.

We hired a local driver, with a nice, large van, to drive us to Mostar, Bosnia, where there was a lot of fighing in 1992.  The bridge above, originally built in 1666, was the symbol of unity between the Orthodox Christians and the Muslims.  It was a fascinating journey and the people were very friendly.  Read more at

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Split, Croatia - Home of Diocletian's Palace (Look it up)


Split is absolutely charming.  Yes, this is Alan saying "charming".  I think I've heard it so many times from Alice and Belinda that now I say it !  Anyway, it is.  Our sobe (room) is actually inside the Palace walls.  We look out our window and see the Roman walls.  If we turn right out of our room we go directly into The Bapistry of St. John (The Temple of Jupiter).  Diocletian thought he was the son of Jupiter.  What a geek!  If we go left out of our room, we immediately cross a small courtyard (Peristyle Square) and walk up a few steps to Diocletian's mausoleum, now the Cathedral of St. Dominus.  You see, Dio (as we call him because it's hard to spell Diocletian), well, Dio liked to kill Christians.  Who didn't back in 300 A.D.?  Anyway, he made quite a name for himself.  Well, karma's a bitch and so now all of "his" things have been renamed and reused by Christians.  Wouldn't he get a kick out of that?

This is one happening place.  The first night we get here it's after dark and there is no parking around.  Did I tell you how much I hate driving in foreign countries?  Anyway, I park the car next to a sign that reads "xcruty  czyyclwwy aazyzbeevva" or something like that.  I leave Alice with the car and Belinda and I go searching for our sobe.  Now I told Alice not to let anything happen to it and we weren't sure how long we'd be gone.  Right?  So, Belinda thinks a priest is going to help us and she asks him for directions.  I think he thought we were asking for a blessing because all of a sudden I felt better.  Well when he figured out what we really needed he walked us into a store with two of the hottest chickies around.  So I pretended to look around (well, I guess I was) Belinda is still trying to get directions in English, Spanish, Italian, and, I think, Greek.  They sent us down the street with some gestures (which may have been meant for me).  Now this area is like one big shopping mall but more like a maze.  It is wonderful but there is no "go here and turn left".  It's more like "go 20 meters and turn right and go into the cellar and take the stairs up to the left and when you get to the tower with the three lions look for a cross and go the opposite direction as the cross is pointing and then climb up to the 2nd floor (which is the first floor in the US) and then ask someone else."  Now if you think I'm making this up, come to Dio's Palace and just try to find Sobe Base.  That's the name of our apartment.

So, after a good 20-30 minutes and five different persons, we find our place about 20:15 (8:15pm).  The owner, Evo, was kind enough to wait for us but a little surprised.  "Three persoons?"  Yes, three of us.  "Did Tina (his daughter) know?"  Yes.  "JESUS CHRIST, SHE DIDN'T TELL ME.  THERE IS ONLY ONE BED.!!"  Now you know me.  I'm really flexible when I travel.  I didn't mind sleeping the three of us in one bed but Belinda pipes up and says "Can't you bring in a rollaway bed?"  "Of course I can.  You go get luggage and I bring in bed and linen and towels.  No problem."  Then he proceeded to tell us a shortcut.  I quit listening after the fourth left turn.  We attempted to follow our first route back and finally found Alice shopping !!! 

When we get to the car there is a tow truck there.  Did I tell you I hate driving?  Fortunately, he had one car to go before ours and I told him we were lost and showed him the map where Evo told us to park.  He said to follow him and he would show is the spot.  Then we watch as he puts straps on the car next to us and lifts it with a crane onto his truck.  A few more minutes and that would have been us.  Thanks goodness the directions Evo gave us were so clear and allowed us to get back to the car in time.  Anyway, we follow the tow truck and find a spot to park for the night on the sidewalk.

Now I mentioned this is a happening place.  We are now about 1/4 mile (if I knew meters I would use that) from the sobe so we are dragging our bags with wheels and they click-click because of the cobblestones.  Sounds charming until you do it for 1/4 mile.  Then we cross the Peristyle Square where eveyone (like maybe 100 people) is sitting because there is a lovely guitarist playing and our bags go clickity clack in front of everyone. Belinda was dying.  So we put our bags away and go back down to the square and sit until midnight listening to this wonderful music.  This whole palace is one big mall.  It is fascinating.

And this is just the first evening.  In Split.  So yesterday (Wednesday) we drove out to Trogir, a little seaside village.  I sat in the car and read.  Belinda and Alice walked around.  THANK GOODNESS FOR ALICE ! although I was having second thoughts when she almost let the tow truck get our car.  Then we attempted to take the car back to the rental agency at the airport.  Did I tell you...oh nevermind.  We needed to fill the gas tank up and the only gas station for 30 miles was "broken".  I bit the bullet and decided to let the rental agency fill it up and screw me.  Our plan was to return the car and take a shuttle bus (5 euro each) back to the ferry terminal, which was close to our sobe.  Never make plans in foreign countries is my new motto.  We finally found the parking for "renta-a-cars" and walked up to the only rental agency on the 2nd floor.  All the others were easily found on the first floor.  There was a line, of course.  Damn tourists !  While I was waiting, a man walks up and asks if we are returning a car.  I said yes and he said he will help.  Now, while not a criticism, we find the Croatian service people to be a little shy of friendliness so it made me nervous because I was told to be careful about car thefts when I picked up the car.  So this guy has no "official" shirt on and takes my keys and paperwork and he and I walk out to the car.  The girls are in the WC (bathroom) as usual.  On the way out, he offers to drive us back to town for 200 Kuna, about $40 US.  About twice the cost of the bus but we didn't have to wait.  So I said I would have to get the girls and walk back in to the terminal all the time thinking the car is gonna be gone when I get back.  Well, we were lucky but not out of the woods yet as we had not discussed the gas situation.  When we picked up the car, it had 7/8 of a tank.  When I brought it back, it had 5/8.  When he looked at the gauge he told me 200 Kuna for gas.  We got into a little discussion about what gas costs (It is about $7 US per gallon, by the way) and he finally accepted 50 Kuna but still wanted 200 Kuna for the drive and I was so tired and hot I agreed.  So he has one of his friends take us back to town in a much bigger car.  (We had rented the smallest four-door I could find and I have a lot of stories about that if you have time later).

OK, my fingers are tired and it's time for gelatto.....ciao  Oh, I just learned something.  NEVER use a spell checker in a foreign country.  It took five minutes to check this blog and marked 98% of the words as incorrect. So if there are misspellings, correct it yourself.

Oh, and check back to this post later.  Since we now have a computer in our room, I'll try to catch you up with our car and hill adventures today.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

News From Zadar, Croatia (Look it up ! )

A brief update to let you know we are back in urban Croatia, having spent the last few days on a hill town (Motovun) and at Plitvice Lakes National Park.  Beautiful days and nights with wonderful sunsets in Motovun.  Not so nice in Plitvice.  But it was perfect hiking weather. 

Plitvice (Plit-vee-chay) has a number of lakes that all cascade down to the next one in a series of waterfalls (I'll post picts hopefully in the next day or so).  Very beautiful.  Overcast there but as I said, perfect hiking weather.  Of course, Belinda the Goat, as her Aunt Alice calls her) was not happy with a 2  hour hike and had to continue with Alice to some caves.  Me, I watched people.  You could count the US folks on one hand, if you wanted to.  The people here are very nice, I think.  I can't understand them but they smile at us.
One thing I think I've mentioned before is that I do NOT like to drive when I travel outside the US.  First, I don't get to see anything.  Second, I can't read the signs.  Third, I can not figure out the rules of the road.  I do know that flashing headlights in my mirror mean "Get out of my way you stupid tourist !"  And some of these drop offs are 300 or 400 feet straight down to the Adriatic.  Sheeeeit !  I quit looking.  And then Belinda says from the passenger seat "I've had my foot on the brake for the last 50km", like she knows what a kilometer is.  Well, neither do I, I guess.  So we come from the north through this long tunnel at 130km per hour.  That's the limit anyway, and some guy in a Porsche SUV blows by at least twice my speed.

OK, the little voice in my computer says I have two minutes left so I'll sign off....ciao

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lake Bled, Home of Tito

Dobar Dan:  (That's Good Day in Slovenian)  We took a bus ride through the rain today to Lake Bled, about an hours drive north, at the foot of the Julian Alps.  They're call Julian Alps because they are named after Julian Lennon.  At least that's what they told me.  When we arrived at the lake, Belinda prayed for sun and there it was.  Like out of nowhere.  She's awesome !!!  We brought Belinda's aunt Alice along to keep Belinda company.  It's worked out well.  They talk and I people watch.  It will make it a little more difficult to have some private time together (if you know what I mean) but "We made love in Slovenia" doesn't have the same ring as "We made love in Italy" so I'm happy to wait until we get to Italy.  (If you check back and this section is missing, you'll know Belinda has found it.) 

Internet cafes are few and far between in Ljubljana (Lubiana).  But we have tried to Skype, if only our kids were home.  What do they do when we are out of the country?  Don't they sit and wait for our emails and texts?  Remind me to tell you about Belinda and the "neck pillow" on the plane.  Anyway, it's been a nice day and tomorrow around 1pm (1300 for you Amerikanskis) we catch a train for Pula, Croatia.  Should be another interesting trip.  We change trains twice with a 3 minute connection for one transfer and a 6 minute connection on the 2nd.  We may not get out of Slovenia for a few days.  More later.  ciao (That's goodbye in cool talk)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New York, Milan, Venice, Udine, Villach, and Ljubljana

WOW, all these cities in three days.  All is well.  We hooked up with Alice in Venice and stayed our first night (not counting trying to sleep on the plane) in Udine, Italy.  I expected a small village but it was quite large and the hotel was exactly what we needed.  A 2 x 2 shower (that's feet, not people) but the water was hot and the bed comfortable.  (You'll notice little humor in the posting.  I'm tired and I have a lot of pressure to be funny since the Egypt blog.  I'll do my best though.)  Bus to Villach, Austria (cute town) and then train to Ljubljana.  We're having a good time.  Been to a number of churches.  Belinda and Alice seem to think that's important.  I keep telling them I've been baptized in the Jordan River.  I don't need any more.

It's been pouring almost all day.  I even had to buy an umbrella but it is raining so hard it barely keeps the rain off my rain hat....

Going to find a restaurant and get something to eat.  Really can't tell what it is but I know it's good because it is expensive.  Oh well, I guess I'll drive the Camry another year.       Ciao