We love it when our guests contribute to our blog! Here's a very special posting about Martha and Wally's journey to Florence- enjoy!
If you ask me, the Italian land transportation system takes a backseat to no one's. But as it came time to say goodbye to Rick and Bonnie and their beautiful home-away-from-home, Aisling 1, we found ourselves a bit stumped on transportation. How does one get from Vieste, perched on the tip of Puglia's northernmost region, the Promontorio del Gargano, to Florence, nearly 700 kilometers away in little under two days when the nearest train station and airport are three hours away? Not a problem, according to our enterprising and charming marina host, Caterina, a re-located Torontonian, cum travel-guide, who together with her husband, own and operate the welcoming Centro Ormeggi marina in Vieste where we were moored.
Road Trip - Foggia offered the nearest train station, but a 3 a.m. bus ride was just not on, as far as Wally was concerned. A rental car was the answer. With Rick behind the wheel of our Fiat Panda, channeling Mario Andretti, Wally riding shotgun, and Bonnie and me in the back seat holding on, the lush, dense forest of the Gargano whizzed by, giving way to hairpin curves, mountain top villages, and rolling hills that eventually spilled onto the plains surrounding Foggia.
After our day of whistle stop touring of two of Europe's most important pilgrimage sites - Monte Sant'Angelo and San Giovanni Rotondo - it was time to say arrivederci. Waving goodbye to Rick and Bonnie, I knew the night ahead was going to be a long one when the only place to have a meal within walking distance with four pieces of luggage, was the McDonald's, located conveniently, inside the train station.
Don't Throw Momma from the Train - As the Lonely Planet writes, there's little to detain one in Foggia besides the 12-century cathedral. Though I missed that gem, a stroll along the viale 24 maggio whiled away some time and provided a different sort of entertainment. I came upon a park several blocks up from the train station, where old men sat side by side on benches, listening to classical music pouring out of their portable radios, young teenagers zoomed in and around the benches on skateboards, and kerchiefed young mothers pushed baby carriages. Window shopping on the way back to the train station, I wove in and out among the crowds of couples and families that jammed the street, which is fairly typical on a Sunday evening in Italy, I'm told. And like most places, there were plenty of wily-looking men selling purses, belts and cheap trinkets neatly laid out on blankets near the curbside.
Long after McDonald's closed, our train pulled out promptly at 11 p.m. It wasn't too long, after we were tucked into our six seat overnight compartment filled to capacity - no 1st class travel tonight - that I discovered the Dance of the Twelve Legs. Unlike the Dance of the Seven Veils, where Salomé removes six of the seven veils throughout her seductive dance, there was nothing sexy about twelve legs vying for comfort in a very small space. As one sleeper turned from one side to the other, an unrestrained rhythm of moving legs in search of comfort began, only to be repeated at intervals, throughout the night. After five hours of gentle snoring and leg shuffling, not to mention bobbing necks, our pulling into Bologna to change trains was a welcome relief.
One Good Turn Deserves Another - Though it does not rival the grandeur and elegance of Milan's train station, Bologna Centrale, designed and built in the late 1800's, is architecturally beautiful. Yet an ultra modern, chrome-and-glass public washroom seemed stark and surprising inside this stately building, especially as one needed a Euro at the ready to gain entry through one of the several turnstiles.
Waiting on our track for the 5:15 a.m. train to Florence, we made small chat with hand signals and smiles with a young man travelling to Livorno. He spoke no English, we spoke no Italian. Glancing up at the nearby monitor, I discovered our train was delayed, first by a half hour, then almost by an hour. I found our Livorno-bound friend on the next bench down to confirm this fact, and he seemed at once thankful then peeved knowing he was going to probably miss his connection to Livorno.
As the sky over Bologna brightened, I caught glimpses of the red-brick rooftops of medieval Bologna - what a tease not to be able to tour this city. While Wally was immersed in his e-book, I had been blissing-out on the sounds of birds and the waking city. Neither of us had noticed that the track number for our train had changed. With ten minutes to go, our new best friend conveyed the new track number to us, and with a mad dash down and up flights of stairs and a long hallway, we caught our train, with not a minute to spare. Waving good bye to our new friend, we were thankful for the kindness of strangers.
Pontes, Piazzas, & Palazzos - Florence at 7 o'clock in the morning is heaven. Ensconced in the back of a taxi we glided through the empty streets, catching sight of the red domed Duomo, the Uffizi Palace, and the Ponte Vecchio as we crossed the Ponte alle Grazie and gave thanks. Hotel Silla, our home for the next 23 hours, was just around the corner on Via dei Renai. We hungrily tucked into the all-you-could-eat hot and cold breakfast buffet on the hotel's terrace. Feeling restored by the delicious food, the sweet smells of honeysuckle, and copious cappuccini, we were ready to take on the city.
Although museums are closed on Mondays, we had no trouble filling our day with architectural and historical wonders. A 15 minute walk from our hotel, the Palazzo de Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria captivated us for the morning. One of the most important buildings in Florence, it was the seat of government from the 14th century on, home to Cosimo I de Medici, and still serves as city hall. So many gorgeous interior decorative elements to really appreciate in less than three hours, we drank in frescoed ceilings, textured wallpapers, grand halls, and glorious paintings, statues and an exquisite view of the Arno River from a terrace on the 3rd floor. But our favourites were the Donatello statue (mine), and the Sala delle Carte Geographiche (Wally's) which displays many maps of the world as the Florentines knew it in the 1500's.
The Duomo was impressive. Its massive size and Gothic architecture takes one's breath away. We decided to pass on climbing the 414 steps of Giotto's Campanile tower next door, as we weren't eager to put their ticket counter sign relinquishing all responsibility for those with heart conditions, to the test. We happily discovered the Tuscan Wine School on our walk back to the hotel whereupon Maurizio Colia, one of the owners, and a Master of Wine candidate, invited us back that afternoon to an extraordinary two hour tasting class on Tuscan wines. Following a lovely dinner at a 'touristy' restaurant with one of the best views of the Ponte Vecchio, it was time to wander back to Hotel Silla to pack up, sleep for a few hours then head for home.
Whizzing through Firenze at dawn once again, this time headed for Florence's airport - which is gorgeous, compact and very modern - we tried to memorize the sweeping views of red brick rooftops, rolling hills dotted with tall Cyprus trees and narrow, ancient streets. But with a final cappuccino at the tiny but so efficient café at the airport, it was time to say ciao bella to her planes, trains and automobiles and much, much more.
|Italy (Mainland) 2012||
If anyone is reading this blog, I apologize if we're confusing you about our whereabouts. Rest assured, Aisling is safely tucked into her berth at Marina di Ragusa, and we are preparing her for her long winter alone. The postings about Croatia are just a bit of catch-up. Croatia is an amazing cruising ground, and while we were there we focused on sailing and sightseeing more than blogging. I know that old news makes for dull reading (it's also a lot less fun to write about) but we want to capture a few memories and cruising notes for the various stops along the way. The visit to Krka national park that is described in this posting actually took place in July. Hopefully, postings about Sibenik and Mljet national park will follow.
To reach Krka national park, we first had to transit the Kanal S. Ante, which leads to the historic city of Sibenik. The instructions for transiting the Kanal took up five full paragraphs in the Imray pilot, with unnerving references to a strong current and the funneling effect that the gorge has on the bora (katabatic north wind). Fortunately, it was flat calm when we motored through the Kanal. Passing Sibenik, we continued northwest up the Krka river, under a large bridge and past several mussel farms, then turned to the northeast and followed the river to the large basin of Prukljansko Jezero. Rather than go to the marina at the town of Skradin, we chose to anchor in Uvala Ostrica, just a short dinghy ride away.
With the thermometer showing a water temperature of 30.6 degrees, we jumped in for a swim. When we got back onboard, our skin felt strangely slippery. We were worried that there was something nasty in the water but eventually concluded that this was likely due to the limestone content. (This limestone, or travertine, makes the deposits that formed the dramatic waterfalls in the park.)
A while later, while Rick was on deck relaxing with his book, I heard him say "Well, aren't you beautiful!" He wasn't talking to me.....
The next morning we took our dinghy to the picturesque town of Skradin and bought park entrance tickets that included a ferry ride up the river to the falls.
Visiting Krka park is not a wilderness experience. Carefully constructed paths and walkways took us past the various viewpoints, and we were keeping company with dozens of strangers as we made the short circuit around the trail. But the design allows large numbers of tourists to view the falls while protecting the ecosystem of the park. The scenery was so beautiful that it is easy to see why, according to a posted sign, the Emperor Franz Joseph 1 was "struck dumb" by the beauty when he visited in 1875 and viewed the falls from this Imperial Belvedere that was constructed for his visit.
Spectacular waterfalls, streams brimming with fish, blue damselflies shimmering against the water grasses...I'll let the photos speak for themselves.
We'd planned ahead by wearing bathing suits under our clothes, and finished the day with a dip in the pool under the falls. That's Rick waving in the distance.
As we approached Skradin on the way back, a French woman behind us pointed out a "Dame" in the clouds- a lovely backdrop to the picturesque town.
That evening, we discovered that our swan had a mate. In fact, there are many swans in the river. The ambience on the afterdeck as we watched the sunset was nothing short of superb!
You can find more photos of Krka park in our gallery (Croatia June-July, subalbum Krka)
Although the Imray pilot's instructions for approaching Sibenik sound complicated, the Kanal S Ante is very well marked and in calm weather it is very straightforward. We found it difficult to see the signals at the entrance, but since they do not apply to small boats we just proceeded carefully and kept a sharp eye for traffic.
To visit the falls at Krka national park, you must either go to the marina at Skradin or anchor nearby. Although anchoring off Skradin is supposedly not permitted, we did see boats at anchor so it may be possible to anchor there for a short time. We chose to anchor at Uvala Ostrica in a depth of 34 feet- the holding was good. It was just a short dinghy ride from there to Skradin.
Provisions and restaurants are available in Skradin.
We were rushing to catch the ferry when we bought our tickets, and later wished we had purchased tickets for additional trips to see another series of falls and to visit a Franciscan monastery on the island of Visovac.
Rick Steeves describes Trogir as a "made for tourists village" and "nothing to jump ship for". Stuff and nonsense, I say! This little town was founded by Greeks over 2000 years ago. It was an important port in Roman times. It was held by the Venetians for over 350 years (and believe me, any place where the Venetians left their mark is generally well worth a visit). Throw in beautiful scenery, an incredible cathedral and an old town that brims with history and architecture...it all adds up to make Trogir a great spot for some shore leave.
Obviously, some important people agree with me, since Trogir is a Unesco World Heritage site. Our cousin Peter Rogers loved spending time in Trogir when he was stationed in Bosnia. And if you happen to have a copy of the Imray Guide to the Adriatic, Trogir is the town pictured on the cover. It was obvious that we should pay a visit.
We're up at dawn, and it takes us less than four hours to sail (or, to tell the truth, motor) from Hvar to Trogir. We anchor in the cove to the west of the town, keeping north of the main channel. With a busy shipyard just across the way, we'll be lacking the pristine water and beautiful view we had in Hvar, but we've chosen this anchorage for its proximity to the town.
We're into the dinghy within half an hour, and Rick decides to do a "circumnavigation" of the small canal around the islet that houses Trogir's historic centre. One of the bridges is so low that we have to duck our heads almost to our knees to avoid decapitation. We're a bit horrified by the sulfuric smell of the canal and tying the dinghy to the wall beside the market requires a strong stomach. The touristy bric-a-brac in the market doesn't impress us much either, but things look up when we cross the bridge and go through the Land Gate.
Even Rick Steeves has to admit that the cathedral of St. Lawrence is magnificent, so we make it our first stop. The construction of the cathedral began in 1213 and continued for centuries. The cathedral's spire, which was built between the 14th and 16th centuries, is said to reflect the changing styles during this period (Gothic at the bottom, Renaissance at the top). The intricately carved portal (by the sculptor Radovan) is flanked by nude statues of Adam and Eve, with strategically-placed fig leaves. Underneath Adam is a male lion, the protector and underneath Eve is a lioness, the provider. Inside, the cathedral is glorious, and the Renaissance chapel of St. Ivan is a masterpiece.
Our ticket allows us access to the campanile, which has a sign at the entrance telling us that "You are climbing the tower at your own risk". We're fine with that, until we realize just how risky the journey really is. For the first 40 or so steps, we climb a circular stone staircase with no handrail and treads barely big enough for my small feet. Then we reach a landing, and see that the top of the tower is accessed by an open staircase of rusty-looking metal. Rick takes one look, and takes a stand. He's not going up there. Two teenaged girls are stalled part way up and a British woman is cowering on the landing, looking terrified. Her husband comes cheerfully down the staircase and says "Oh, you really should go up; it's well worth the climb for the view at the top." This may very well be the worst piece of advice I've received in years.
At least there is a handrail. I start the climb, trying not to look down. Part way up, I can hear Rick calling "Bon! Bon!" He wants me to lean over the railing so he can take a picture. Easy for him. I give a quick glance over the railing and feel my stomach hit my toes. Eventually, I reach the top, and pull myself to the landing using a stainless-steel grab bar. Dear God, how am I ever going to get back down? The view is nice, but definitely not worth the agony of the climb. The downward journey is even worse. By the time I reach the bottom, my legs feel like jelly.
Meanwhile, Rick has been having a lovely time, having managed to get himself invited to join a group of Japanese tourists who are being given a guided tour of the cathedral. The guide points to St. Ivan's chapel and, like a schoolteacher asks "Can you tell me what style this chapel is?" and like good students the tourists respond "Renaissance!" "And how can you tell?" "The light!" The guide is a wealth of information, telling us, among other things, that the ornate pulpit is identical to the one in the cathedral in Split. The next day, we see for ourselves that this is true.
Leaving the cathedral, we walk through the square and the streets of the charming old town, emerging on the waterfront. We find a little café and share an order of calamari and french fries while we watch the comings and goings in the harbour. The calamari is delicious, and I have to remind myself that this is how I gained five pounds in Turkey and Greece. By the time we get back to our rocky anchorage, we're ready for a nap, but we're just dozing off when the harbourmaster's boat comes along to collect our 180 kuna anchoring fee (15 kunas per meter). We were expecting this sort of thing to happen more regularly, but in fact this is only the second anchoring fee we have paid since arriving in Croatia. And at least the boat collects our garbage- a nice touch. Over dinner in the cockpit, we decide stay in the anchorage for one more day and catch the bus to Split.
Five years ago, if you'd asked me where Split is, I wouldn't have had the foggiest notion. So in case you're wondering, it is the second-largest city in Croatia, and the site of the palace of Diocletian (Roman Emperor and ruthless persecutor of early Christians). Our day in Split was so action-packed that there's too much to write about here, so we'll tell you about it in a separate posting.
When we arrive back from Split at around 5 o'clock on Sunday evening, we don't relish the thought of another night with a view of the shipyard. So we motor around the corner to Uvala Razetinovac, where the local boats are just packing up to go home. By 7 p.m., we almost have the place to ourselves. What a lovely spot! We stay for three nights, swimming in the clear water, catching up on a few jobs and enjoying the lovely sunsets and moonrises on deck in the evenings. Why don't we do this more often? Croatia really does seem to be a cruiser's paradise!
Trogir has an an anchorage on the edge of the channel west of town. Although the bridge to the east of the channel looks like it will open, it didn't while we were there. I'd suggest you approach Trogir from the west as we did. The fee/day for anchoring was 180 Kuna (15 kuna/meter). You must stay clear of the channel and anchor inside the 16' contour. We anchored in 14' of water with mud bottom and excellent holding. The wind pipes up here each afternoon with welcome breezes so you need to be well set. The anchorage is a bit rolly from all the wash of passing boats and ferries and there is a bit of an unpleasant aroma. It was a 3 minute dinghy ride to town. We tied the dinghy in the channel north of the town next to the market. The large grocery store, local veggie market and the fish market are there as well by the road bridge as is the bus station. There are now 2 marinas in Trogir, ACI in the channel south of the town and a new marina west of town in Seget. Fuel is available with 9' depths alongside on the south channel next to the marina. There is water available at the fuel dock for 5 kuna/ 100+ liters. Chandler next to the ACI marina. T-Mobile and VIP stores are on the south side of the channel, near the road bridge.
We moved on the second day to the "delightful anchorage" called Uvala Razetinovac. There are no services or buildings there. Head west out of the channel and when you reach the southern point turn almost due south for 1 nm. We anchored here in 25' of sand and mud. Holding was great. Come early in the day to get a spot as it is popular with the locals and other cruisers and there is not a lot of room for boats inside. Outside the depths can be from 50-80'. At 1.3 miles to town it was a 5 minute dingy ride for us. We avoided the anchoring fee, the smell and rolly anchorage outside town. We stayed for 3 nights here just because it was so pleasant and we could swim off the boat.
|Croatia and Montenegro 2012||
Rick wakes at sunup every day, so the 5 a.m. wake-up call for the journey from Badija to Hvar is no big deal for him. For me, anything that involves getting up before 8 a.m. is an ordeal, but the 6 a.m. departure time allows us to arrive at Hvar by noon and hopefully have our choice of anchorages. We poke our noses into three different spots before finally choosing the cove off the "naturist" beach on the small island of Jerolim. The naturists on this beach aren't the bird-watching kind. It's a bit bizarre to go through the process of setting the anchor while a dozen naked Europeans stand staring at us, zombie-like, from shore. But the anchorage has perfectly clear aquamarine water, Hvar town is just a short dinghy ride across the channel, and our sunset views will be superb. What more could we ask? We jump over the side to check the anchor-it's completely buried and the water feels great.
Hvar town is a delightful place. Many of the town's buildings date back to the 16th century, and reflect the architecture of the Venetians who ruled the Dalmatian coast at that time. A huge castle that looms over the town predates the Venetians, having been built during the 13th and 14th centuries. The large renaissance cathedral of St. Stephen sits at the head of the town square, which positively gleams with white limestone. The entire waterfront seems to smell like lavender, which is currently in bloom on the island and is being sold in small sachets by dozens of vendors throughout the town. Here's a boatload just arriving:
But for us, the best part is sitting in a little café in the square, enjoying a Stella Artois NA (best near-beer yet; can we get this at home?) and watching the people go by. Hvar has a reputation for mega-yachts and glitterati, and the "buzz" reminds us of St. Barth's in the Caribbean. Although we don't identify any celebrities, we do see lots of beautiful people. Without a doubt, the one attracting the most attention is a statuesque young woman with waist-length blond hair, wearing very short shorts, a bikini top and a sailor hat pulled low over her eyes. As she struts through the square, wolf-whistles sound from all directions. Rick dives for his bag, hoping to capture the moment in a photo, but by the time he manages to get his camera out, she is walking out of his life forever.
We visit the cathedral, which has beautiful bronze doors decorated with symbols that reflect life in Hvar. Among the treasures housed inside is a crucifix that supposedly shed tears of blood when a group of plebeians swore an oath to rise up against the aristocrats of the town. (This event occurred on the same day as an earthquake, and threw the citizens into such a state of panic that the planned rebellion was postponed.) But Rick does not want to linger. "This place is depressing" he says. "I'll wait for you in the square". I light a candle for Isabel and leave without finding the miraculous crucifix.
We have not yet had a restaurant meal in Croatia, so Rick suggests that we look for a place that serves traditional Dalmatian food and have an early dinner. We make our way to Konoba Menego, where the owner, Dinko, is carving a huge ham on a table at the threshold.
"This restaurant is not like other restaurants" Dinko tells us. "We don't have beer, or Coca Cola, or pizzas and pasta. This is my home, and my wife and I prepare all the food for our guests. If you eat here, you won't be disappointed." He adds "We're in all the guidebooks." He's right about the guidebooks; that's why we're here. We take a seat in the dimly lit dining room, where hams hang on hooks from the ceiling and old family photos and icons decorate the walls. Our waiter tells us that this house has been in Dinko's family for over 500 years. He helps us select a plate of dried ham, Dalmatian cheeses, olives and vegetables, a stuffed green pepper dish, and a focaccia-type bread stuffed with anchovies, capers and cheese. The bread is described as a "For" recipe, and he explains that "For" is the name that the citizens of Hvar call their town. The food is simple and tasty, but the highlight is the lemonade, which we are dreaming of still!
The next day, we set out to see the Benedictine Convent and the Franciscan monastery. At the convent (where the sisters, who do not go outside the convent's walls, make a delicate type of lace) we are disappointed to be told that no visitors will be permitted that day, because they are setting up for a wedding. Based on our short glimpse of the courtyard, the bride and groom will be married in a very beautiful setting! Trudging to the other side of town in the hot sunshine, we find the monastery and pass through the cloisters, where chairs are still set up for a concert that had occurred here the previous evening. The musty-smelling sanctuary is small and intimate, but the monastery's most prized possession is a huge painting of The Last Supper. According to legend, it was painted by an unknown mariner who was abandoned by his shipmates and nursed back to health by the Franciscan monks. A small museum inside the monastery also has an interesting display of amphora and other artifacts from the wreck of a 2nd century AD merchant vessel from Ephesus. The museum's explanatory sign tells us that one in every fifty voyages during this era ended with the loss of the ship.Yikes!
Before leaving the monastery, we spend some time in the shady garden, where the branches of an enormous cypress tree are propped up with wooden supports and lavender and capers bloom beside the wall. When we step back out into the real world, the sight of tourists sunbathing on a small pebbly beach nearby seems almost incongruous. The day certainly is a real scorcher! We decide to pick up a few things at the market and head back to the boat for lunch and a swim. We're on our way to the market when I decide I want to take a closer look at the cathedral.
The man at the door (Boris) tells me that he will be closing the doors for lunch in five minutes, but he lets me in and I ask him to show me the crucifix. He walks with me to an unobtrusive glass-fronted case in a chapel at the front of the church and points out a small, ornate silver cross. "You cannot actually see the cross" he says "It is inside this silver cross to preserve it. We take it out once a year on Feb 6th, for a special service. We have been praying to this cross for over 500 years". A small glass jar beside the cross holds a blood-stained cloth. Whether or not you believe that a crucifix can shed blood, this is a remarkable piece of history. Boris tells me that a young man who was plotting the uprising against the nobles died shortly after the crucifix bled. "A miracle", he says. (Not for the young man, I think.) Boris goes on to tell me that he had been a fisherman and a non-believer for many years. until one day he experienced the presence of the Virgin Mary on his boat. He is clearly a devout man, and he only flinches a little when I admit that I am not a Catholic. But then the topic somehow changes and he begins a tirade about disrespectful tourists who try to enter the cathedral wearing revealing clothing. I know that he's not exaggerating (I'd actually seen a girl walking out the door in a bathing suit the previous afternoon-what was she thinking?) but the whole exchange is getting uncomfortably intense. I am happy to make my escape into the square, where Rick is wondering what on earth I have been up to.
Our last stop is the market, where the produce is fresh but the prices are high. We indulge ourselves and cough up big bucks for a small box of blueberries; the first we have seen since leaving Nova Scotia. They taste just like home.
Just one small thing left to do. The naturists have inspired us. That evening, when the beach is finally deserted, we slip down the ladder and enjoy the freedom of a "suitless" swim, something we have not done in over 20 years. I recall a long-ago magical vacation with our children in Mahone Bay, and a now-lost video of a tiny Katherine swimming beside our old boat Hocus Pocus, calling out "I'm skinny dipping! And my mommy is too!" Can I go back please?
The sunset is spectacular. It's becoming clear that anchorages in Croatia are difficult to leave, but Trogir beckons. That's where we are now, and we're having difficulty leaving this place too!
Cruisers' Notes, Hvar and area:
We first attempt to anchor in Luka Vela Garska. It's a small cove NW of Hvar with depths to 140'. It's deep until you get way inside and the tight quarters make me uncomfortable. This is the second time in 8 years the Spade anchor does not hold and we bring up heavy weed roots. We could have tried again but both decide there has to be a better spot than this. The pilot mentions Otok Jerolim (North side) where we find crystal waters 25' deep over sand, ie. perfect. The naturists are standing and staring when we arrive (see above).The anchor sets first time. It's protected from the south, although the ferry caused a bit of a roll when it went by. You can also anchor in the harbour itself and Med. moor to the east wall north of the ferry stop.
In Hvar town there is a market just off the town square near the Cathedral. Fuel is available in Krizna Luka just east of the island. The dinghy dock, if you can call it that, is in the extreme North of the harbour, on the north-south wall opposite the mini harbour with the water taxis and small boats. It is not protected here and there is lots of wash. Hvar is a very cool town!
|Croatia and Montenegro 2012||