Tuesday, October 9, 2012

One Sweet September: Croatia

We ended our September travels (and our two years of Euro travels) with eight days in Croatia. It was absolutely gorgeous, and we loved it even more than we expected. We started off in Dubrovnik, which ended up being our favorite place in Croatia, and definitely near the top of our favorite places we'd visited over the past two years. The city itself was small, but after a few days in busy Rome, we were ready for a chill place with a beach.

Pretty tiled roofs and insanely beautiful aqua water - hard to beat.

View from a walk around the city walls.

Another view of the roofs.

Ken enjoying a dip in the super clear water before our kayaking trip.

We kayaked around an island called Lokrum, just off the coast from the Old Town, and stopped in this fantastic cave for lunch and a swim on the way back into town. The kayaking trip was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip - so fun! (And a great arm workout to boot.)

View of the Old Town and Lokrum from the hill we walked up to get to the guest house where we stayed.

We absolutely loved our room at the guest house! A really nice girl ran the place in the house her family owned, and they had a great garden around the house. We had a view of the Adriatic from our room, there was a pomegranate tree and a lemon tree outside of our window, and there were olive trees outside the front door. We kind of wanted to move in forever.

We absolutely loved Dubrovnik, and will definitely be back some day!

After a couple of days in Dubrovnik, we headed up the Dalmatian coast to catch a ferry to the island of Hvar. We happened upon a ferry stop we didn't know about on the way, and ended up getting to chill on the nice beach in Drvenik while we waited for the ferry, rather than spending another hour or so in the car. Fantastic!

Ken at sea.

More amazing water, and the ferry.

Sun's out, guns out. Ken decided to purchase this tank top in Drvenik to even out his t-shirt tan line. It was in heavy rotation for the rest of the week, and luckily it was able to receive at least one washing during the week.

View of the gorgeous coastline from the ferry.

The ferry dropped us at one end of the island of Hvar, and we needed to get across the island to get to our next destination. So, we drove the entire length of the island, and it was spectacular. This was the view most of the way. Hvar was colonized by the Greeks in the 4th century BC, and they set up an agricultural layout of a bunch of stone walls. These walls and the agriculture have been continuously maintained, and it was really cool to see the tangles of olive trees and lavender fields covering the island among all the stone walls.

Olive trees. Everywhere.

We stayed in Stari Grad, which was supposed to be a more laid-back town than Hvar Town. It was definitely quaint, and very lovely.

We loved this boat we kept walking by.

The main part of the town was full of charming buildings and narrow alleys.

We took a short walk out to the Stari Grad Plain near the city to check out more olive trees.

After a couple of days in Stari Grad, we took the ferry back to the mainland, to the city of Split. We checked out Split for a couple of hours before driving to Zadar to stay the night there. Basically, Split and Zadar were quick stops before the longish drive to Plitvice Lakes National Park we were making the next day. So, I didn't take any pics in either city. It was nice to see them briefly, though.

Plitvice Lakes National Park is in central Croatia, so we drove across the interior to get there, which was uneventful other than the farms all around. There are apparently 16 lakes in the park, but we just wanted to make a somewhat quick trip through since we weren't staying a night there, and needed to get to Istria. So, we just checked out the first lake we came across.

The water is very closely protected, and you can't swim or anything here (much to Ken's disappointment). So, the water is really clean and pretty.

After our quick trip to the lakes, we headed to the small hill town of Motovun in Istria. The main tunnel to the area was closed, so we ended up having to drive around the east coast of the peninsula (which added quite a bit of time to the journey). We were definitely a little put out with all the time in the car that day. However, when we finally reached our destination, it was totally worth it.

Motovun is the town on top of the hill there, surrounded by vineyards and a bunch of other hills. We drove up just as the sun was starting to set, and it was gorgeous!

Ken navigated the car through the narrow streets winding up the steep hill, and we were led to our fantastic apartment with amazing views of the valley and surrounding hills. We watched the sunset from the walls around the town.

Here's our apartment the next morning - it was above a truffle shop (the tuber, not the chocolate). I am borderline obsessed with anything truffled, so this was almost too much for me to handle. Istria is known for its truffles, and every restaurant in the town boasted a truffle-laden menu.

A glorious lunch of pasta with truffle shavings. We ordered pasta with white truffles and pasta with black truffles to do a comparison taste test. Ken doubted my ability to discern between the two, but I proved him wrong.

Lovely view of the valley at lunch, and Ken examining our souvenir black truffles from the shop below our apartment.

Needless to say, we absolutely loved Motovun! It's a tiny place, so you can conquer it in a day. We were definitely here for the truffles and the scenery. There isn't much going on beyond that.

The last main stop of our trip was Rovinj, on the west coast of the Istrian peninsula. We swam and enjoyed the last day of sunshine of the trip, and stayed one night there. I didn't take any pics because I was all photoed out at that point. The last day of the trip was cloudy, so we drove to Pula and chilled for the evening before catching our flight to Oslo the next morning.

This is the only pic I have from Pula. We were both really done with the dining choices of Italy and Croatia after two weeks of the same stuff. So, we hunted down the McD's in Pula (after Ken spotted a sign at a bus stop, then I spotted a McD's cup on the ground with the telltale striped straw). Sometimes, when you're out traveling in a faraway place for awhile, familiarity is all you want, and McD's and BK are generally the only familiar places. I was especially thankful to this particular McD's for having a special version of delish curly fries on their menu. It was a good fix, and I'm sure I won't eat at a McD's for years now that I'm back in the U.S. 

I'd say the Moments of Zen were the entire time in Dubrovnik, the impromptu beach/ferry find in Drvenik, driving across beautiful Hvar, and the truffle pasta and views in Motovun. Not a bad way to wrap up two years of travel!

Friday, October 5, 2012

One Sweet September: Josh & Laura Time

We made it home to the U.S. last week!! It's been a week and a half full of errands to set up the apartment, appointments, jet lag, fighting with the movers who've created a debacle in getting our stuff back to the U.S. from Oslo (our container is sadly still sitting at the port in Oslo, five weeks after it was packed...but, it should be on its way to the U.S. soon), and a trip to meet the puppy we get to bring home in two weeks(!!). 

Anyhow, back before all this madness, we were living it up with two of our best friends from Portland, Josh and Laura, who recently moved to Nuremberg. We'd known for awhile that they were eyeing a move to Germany, and we all hoped it would overlap with our time in Oslo a bit more. However, things didn't pan out until it was almost time for us to go home. At least we got one week of fun in together before we moved home, though!

We flew from London to Nuremberg and stayed at Josh and Laura's for a few days, before the four of us set off on an adventure in Italy. Nuremberg was a lot bigger and more gorgeous than I expected - it was a really nice city.

The city center was full of these pretty buildings.

There was a nice castle in the middle of the city.

And there were lots of Christmas shops with nutcrackers. I really wanted a small nutcracker, but they definitely weren't giving them away (plus, he probably wouldn't have survived the rest of the trip).

Making a wish.

There was a carnival going on while we were there, similar to a state fair in the U.S. (only the carnies weren't nearly as frightening). 

He couldn't resist.

And another one.

Showing off his prize.

The Neverending Story was one of my favorite movies as a kid. This ride absolutely cracked me up - as if they aren't strange enough in the movie, the characters look even more bizarre when they're poorly painted onto a carnival ride.

Other than the carnival, we enjoyed the fine German offerings of Nuremberger sausages, soft pretzels, and inexpensive beer. We also walked around the city, relaxed at Josh and Laura's, and took advantage of having a kitchen for this portion of the journey to cook at home a bit. Laura also took us to the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds, which was an extremely interesting museum located on the former Nazi grounds.

We also got to spend a lot of time with two of the nicest dogs in the world, Kaya and Porter (and they enjoyed our guest mattress each night before we went to bed).

We hope Josh and Laura have an amazing experience during their time in Germany! Nuremberg was a really cool city, so it seems like they're definitely off to a good start. It was so nice to see them in their new home, so we now have a place to put them in our minds since we have to go so long between visits.

For the next portion of the journey, we all headed down to to Rome. It had been on my list of places to visit, and Josh and Laura really wanted to hit up Italy as one of their first adventures while living in Europe.

The apartment we rented in Rome happened to be near Largo di Torre Argentina. Interestingly, among the ruins of the Roman temples in the square, there's a cat sanctuary for stray cats. We noticed tons of cats roaming the area, and looked it up to see what was going on. We walked by these cats a dozen times during our stay, and felt like we were friends with some of them by the end of the two days there. We nicknamed this one Smudge. There's about a 90% chance that I'll end up ordering us the Gatti di Roma t-shirts on the Torre Argentina website for all of us for Christmas if I can figure out the sizes...

Laura and Smudge.

Portico di Ottavia, just around the corner from our apartment.

The Colosseum.

St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. I couldn't get a good pic with the dome in it, but it was amazing.

Don't think this is anything special, just found it when we got lost taking the tram the wrong direction, and liked it.

The Pantheon.

Piazza Navona.

This is pretty dark, but we had drinks at the very picturesque Bar della Pace one night. It was covered in ivy, and we sat outside on the prettiest little square.

Trevi Fountain.

After a couple of days in Roma, we headed down to the Amalfi Coast. Mt. Vesuvius and the city of Pompeii are directly on the route to Amalfi, so we took advantage of the educational excursion and spent the afternoon exploring. It was pretty fascinating.

Pompeii, with Mt. Vesuvius in the background.

After leaving Pompeii, Josh navigated us along the super curvy road along the Amalfi coast in the early evening, just before the sun started to set. The weather was gorgeous, and we got to see (well, Ken, Laura, and I got to see...Josh had to focus on not hitting another car coming from the opposite direction, or the rock wall we were driving next to) the beautiful stretch of coast in its turquoise glory. After some tricky parking, which involved a man named Mossimo navigating the car through the extremely tiny streets of Amalfi, it was dark out, and we headed out to the main square for dinner. During dinner, fireworks started going off for some sort of celebration.

Amalfi really rolled out the red carpet for us the first night.

Unfortunately, we woke up the next morning to the sound of heavy rain. Like pouring buckets. We only had two full days in Amalfi, so we figured we'd make the most of the rainy day, and have hopefully one more day to salvage the trip (since really, you only go to the Amalfi coast to enjoy warm weather activities).

The rain stopped long enough for a walk and a few cloudy pics.

You can see the potential for the beautiful colors in the water here.

This is what a rough storm does to a normally pretty beach - murky water and rough waves. Ken went down to check it out.

I'm not a car person at all (could care less if I ever own one again), but thought this one was adorable.

The narrow streets of Amalfi.

There was a lemon obsession in Amalfi. The lemon sorbet from this place was tasty.

Duomo di Amalfi.

Ken and I try to make ourselves order seafood when we're by the sea, to really get into the spirit of things. However, we absolutely do not enjoy peeling away the shells of crustaceans. Ken went big with the Frutti di Mare platter here. It was a crustacean shell extravaganza. Luckily, Josh is into that (and sardines), and he helped out.

Laura and Ken enjoying some gelato, despite the chilly weather.

Sadly, we awakened the next morning to buckets of rain again, and realized we wouldn't be partaking in the glorious warm weather activities of the Amalfi coast. So, we spent the day and evening dashing through the narrow streets and alley ways of Amalfi trying not to get drenched, and bumming around the apartment we rented.

Mini soccer ball keg of Moretti.

The only photo of the four of us from the trip - soaking wet after a tasty dinner at Taverna degli Apostoli, a cozy little restaurant next to the steps of the Duomo.

Oh look at that! The next morning was sunny and glorious. Unfortunately, Ken and I had to catch a bus to the train station early in the morning, and Laura and Josh had to head back to Rome with the rental car. 

Ah well, we had a lovely time getting to hang with Josh and Laura, even in the rain! And, we'll always have Rainmalfi memories (thanks Josh - though, I'm not quite sure it's as good as Ken's Catlanta). We're so glad we got one trip in all together before we were once again separated by a huge ocean. Thanks Josh and Laura, for a really fun week! We miss you guys to pieces, especially now that we're back home in P-town.

I will note one thing about traveling in Italy that I'd like to remember: as much as I love pasta and pizza, after two days of eating it, and realizing there are absolutely no other food options in Italy (other than the grilled meats they offer as a second course), I had no desire to ever see another plate of pasta or another slice of pizza again. We were in Italy for five days, and then Croatia for nine days (they have a similar diet). Apparently, I like variety, and even weeks later I can't bear to eat at my fave pizza or pasta places in Portland, which I normally love. Maybe in November.

I'd say the entire week was a Moment of Zen, since we got to hang with some of our fave friends!