A Travellerspoint blog

February 2015

Circling the Adriatic: Trip conclusion and best of lists

I've finally come to the end of this blog about our epic family journey around the Adriatic Sea. Not only was this the best trip I've ever taken with Mei Ling (and we've taken a lot), but I'm hard pressed to think of a better month that I've ever had in my life. We had great luck with the places we chose to visit, great health with no one having so much as a sniffle, and an amazing bonding experience as a family. I often find myself reminiscing about episodes of the journey, and trying to remember exactly what we were doing on a specific day of the month. Writing this detailed blog and choosing the photos to post helped me to anchor those memories and put everything in perspective. One thing I wanted to do for people who don't have time to read the whole blog and just want the highlights is to make a couple of "best of" lists.

Best experiences
10. Predjama Castle, Slovenia
9. Bologna town center and Quadrilatero, Italy
8. Kotor, Montenegro
7. Umbrian hill towns, Italy
6. Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy
5. Rocca Calascio and Apennine towns, Italy
4. Ljubljana old town, Slovenia
3. Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia
2. Strolling in Venice, Italy
1. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Of course, this list doesn't include many places that we enjoyed visiting such as Rome, Istria, Bosnia, and the Croatian islands. In all these places there just wasn't any one thing that stood out as particularly enjoyable or memorable, although there isn't anywhere I wouldn't have visited if I could do it all over again.

Best meals
10. Na po ure, Zadar, Croatia
9. Teta Olga, Ploce, Croatia
8. Padua market self-catering, Italy
7. Pri Mari, Piran, Slovenia
6. Antica Osteria de la Stella, Urbino, Italy
5. Konoba Trs, Trogir, Croatia
4. Ljubljana market seafood trucks, Slovenia
3. Rooftop terrace breakfast at Il Marchese del Grillo, Sulmona, Italy
2. Il Molo, Parco Conero, Italy
1. Catalina Mlina, Kotor Bay, Montenegro

The food on the trip could have been much better, although we did have a few memorable meals over the course of the trip. I think only the top six would have stood out if we were home in Miami, and some of those only due to the setting. There were an enormous number of disappointments, even among restaurants that were recommended by the Lonely Planet and had the highest votes on TripAdvisor. Of course, real foodies will scoff at those resources but Michelin starred restaurants were not an option for us given the kids and our unwillingness to maintain a fixed itinerary. If anyone has found better methods for identifying good restaurants on the fly in Europe, I'd love to hear them. In general, I've found it to be a lot harder to find a great meal in southern Europe than in the USA or Asia despite the reputations of Mediterranean countries for fine cuisine. The best they have to offer is extremely good, but the majority of places offer mediocre quality.

Top ten tips for traveling as a family with toddlers
10. Getting lost, ruined plans, and bad meals are inevitable. Arguments about whose fault it was and bad moods will only make things worse. Much better to focus on all the things that go well and laugh about the stuff that doesn't.
9. As annoying as it is to find a wireless store in every country, an unlocked smart phone and a SIM card with a data plan make life much easier on the road. There are ways to make calls and texts in different countries without changing SIM cards, but not to use data without rapidly draining bandwidth allowance due to roaming. If anyone knows of a SIM card which allows data usage across different countries without roaming, please let me know.
8. Keep the kids occupied in the car. Simplest solution: iPads. And keep the trips short. There's no reason to be driving six hours between stops in Europe. If you can't find something interesting to see within two or three hours, you're doing something wrong.
7. Charge all the electronics to the max every night. Make sure you bring all the cords from home. If the plugs aren't compatible with the outlets where you travel, bring a power strip from home so you only need one adapter. Bring a compact recharger as well.
6. One parent is always more absent-minded than the other. The less absent-minded one should keep track of the indispensables (passports, documents, electronics) and make sure all the bags make it back to the car on every departure.
5. Travel requires both parents to make some sacrifices and compromises. This is not a time for trying to win arguments or take stands.
4. Diapers: Find the best quality at the best price as soon as you have your car and buy as many as you have room for in the trunk. Buy more well before running out.
3. Milk: Both parents should know how much milk is left at all times. Buy more before you're down to the last liter. Figure out if your kids will drink the UHT (room temperature) milk that is popular outside of the US because it will make life a lot easier if they do.
2. Ensuring the health and safety of your kids is vastly more important than anything else about your journey. Traveling isn't dangerous, but being out of your familiar environment means you might not recognize some risks. Keep a close eye on your kids and examine every place you stay for hidden hazards.
1. Already know that you enjoy the process of doing all day activities as a family before you leave, not just the idea of doing things as a family. If your spouse or kids drive you nuts at home, traveling will only make it worse.

There's probably more I could add here. We have always brought our own car seats because once they're latched in the rental car we don't have to worry about them again until we get back to the airport for the return trip. This also means we can take cabs to and from our home airport, don't have to pay outrageous car seat rental fees, and have our familiar comfortable car seats rather than roll the dice on what the rental company gives us. Of course, taking a trip where we only had the car for part of the journey would make bringing our own car seats impossible. With regards to strollers, we've tried two single strollers and one double stroller. The double stroller has the advantage that only one parent can handle all toddler transportation, but it can be very hard to manipulate through markets and crowded areas and hard to carry up stairs. Now that our daughter walks more, we've decided to take one single stroller and two carriers. Ian and Cleo can trade off riding in the stroller, and I can carry the other on my back if he/she isn't walking. For those occasions when we can't use a stroller at all, we'll have both carriers. It's important to experiment with different carriers before you travel and figure out how to set it up comfortably for you and your child. It also helps to know how long you can carry your child before your back starts to feel like it's breaking.

Of course, now that we've had this travel experience, the only thing left to do is to try and top it. Towards that end, we've booked all our flights for a 35 day round-the-world trip starting April 1 that will take us to the Bay Area and Napa, followed by Seoul, followed by Mudanjiang and Guangzhou in China, followed by Delhi and Agra in India, followed by a short road trip in the Loire Valley in France. I think if our luck is as good in terms of avoiding logistical problems and minor illnesses as it was in Europe, this trip has the potential to be even better. As long as I have time, I'll try and blog the trip as we go so that my memories will be fresher. Naturally, there's still a lot of planning to do but time-permitting I may make blogs for our other completed family trips including Mexico, Israel, Pacific Northwest, England, Iberia, and round-the-world 2012. Who knows, eventually I may keep going back in time until I get to our first trip together to Paris in summer of 2008, although that's about 25 trips ago. I think if I get to that point I can safely consider myself a travel writer.

Posted by zzlangerhans 18:46 Archived in Italy Tagged italy best adriatic croatia montenegro bosnia slovenia Comments (0)

Circling the Adriatic Italy: Abruzzo

Pescocostanzo, Sulmona, and the Apennines

By the time we left Vieste, restaurants were already opening for lunch but we hadn't any appetite yet after our self-catered breakfast. Getting out of the Gargano Peninsula was slow going and we wasted a lot of time in a city called Lucera trying to find a castle that stubbornly refused to appear on Google Maps. We gave up on the castle and tried to find lunch in the center of town, but once again were frustrated by the tendency of restaurants to have very limited opening hours for lunch in the offseason. Eventually we abandoned Lucera and set off for Pescocostanzo in the Apennine mountain range of central Italy. At this point I wasn't expecting great things from the last two days of the trip and just wanted to enjoy a little more Italian countryside before the long flight back. I had tried finding an Airbnb in Pescocostanzo but the few options listed didn't respond so I chose a Booking.com hotel in Sulmona a few miles further north, and reduced Pescocostanzo to a stopover. This ended up being a very fortuitous decision.

Dusk was already falling when we reached the hilltop town of Pescocostanzo so we parked close to the center and made a beeline for the old town. The buildings were picturesque but the streets were strangely empty of pedestrians, although cars regularly barreled down the main avenue at surprising speed. Still smarting from our missed lunch, we found a pastry shop where we were able to take the edge off our hunger with apple strudel and cappucino. There seemed little to do in the quiet town and I was relieved that we weren't sticking around all night.

Naturally, when we arrived in Sulmona a little while later we were eager to get a real dinner. It didn't help anybody's mood that our B&B was in a restricted zone and I had to leave the family in the car and walk several blocks to the place to find out where we could park and get a pass. We had to squeeze into a very tight spot so that our wide car didn't block the street, and extracting the gondola and bags was like delivering triplets. Our suite in Il Marchese del Grillo was nice but both beds were in one room, a little more of a cramped situation than we were used to. The hostess at the B&B recommended the Lonely Planet's top choice, Hosteria Dell'Arco. After our usual difficulties locating the restaurant deeper in the old town, we had a very disappointing dinner of lifeless antipasti and greasy overgrilled meat. As usual, it was hard to understand why it was so difficult to get a decent meal even when we were so careful in making our choices. We ate enough to ward off hunger for the night and made our way back to the B&B. Sulmona was a much larger and livelier town than Pescostanzo, so despite the difficulties of the day I felt like we were staying in the right place.

We had a restful night and woke up in much better spirits. Mei Ling took the kids upstairs for the rooftop breakfast and I followed soon after. What I saw when I came out onto the terrace was absolutely breathtaking. The B&B was apparently one of the tallest buildings in the area with the exception of the nearby bell tower and dome of the Church of the Santissima Annunziata. We had wonderful views over the entire old town and we were completely surrounded by the Apennines, which looked as though they had been painted on a set in the background. The breakfast spread was simply the best I have ever encountered at a B&B, and was high on the list of the top ten meals we had on our journey. There were fresh fruits and tomatoes, a wide selection of salamis and cheeses, freshly squeezed juices, and a delicious olive/truffle tapenade that we couldn't get enough of. Our hostess told us that almost everything there came from her family farm nearby, and it was obvious from the taste that everything had just been picked or prepared. Between the setting and the meal, the effect was overwhelming and gave us a wonderful start to the last day of our journey.

We spent a couple of hours strolling in Sulmona, and eventually found ourselves in the main square. We found a new backpack and duffelbag at a dollar store in the square, which interestingly enough had a Chinese proprietor. The proprietor told Mei Ling he had come to Italy twenty years earlier and opened a Chinese restaurant, but at the time of the SARS epidemic rumors swept through the area that one could contract the virus by eating at Asian restaurants and he was forced to close.

After the shopping and another lengthy episode where we stocked up on dumplings for Cleo at a Chinese restaurant, we had a very late start getting out of Sulmona. Our destination was Santo Stefano di Sessanio, a small town perched atop an Apennine hill that had a reputation for not having changed in centuries. Driving through the isolated mountainous area, it was hard to believe we were only an hour east of Rome. Picturesque villages dotted the hillsides and hilltops while the valleys seemed bereft of human inhabitants.

Once we got close to our destination and had to leave the main road, Google Maps started to get hinky as usual and led us down some back roads. A couple of times we got caught behind slow-moving farm equipment and once had to stop for a herd of sheep that were crossing the road. Eventually we rolled into Santo Stefano and parked in a small lot just outside the center. At first, it seemed like the town was only populated with stray dogs. In order to get to the entrance to the old town I had to practically step over a group of sleeping dogs and I wondered what kind of mood they would be in if they woke up. I needn't have worried, because as we were packing up the kids they got up and ambled around the lot, completely ignoring us. Once we got inside the old town, we found one art shop that was open and otherwise the streets were eerily quiet and empty. Nevertheless, we could sense that the ancient and crumbly walls hid a living community that preferred to exist in peace and quiet during the eight months of the year they weren't overrun with tourists.

We hunted in vain for a restaurant, reaching our last hope just half an hour after they had closed their kitchen. I hadn't planned anything after Santa Stefano, but I didn't feel quite ready to end our trip. We had a late morning flight the next day and we had decided there was no point in dealing with Rome traffic, so we had booked a basic motel in the airport suburb of Fiumicino. Once we arrived there, our trip was essentially over. I thumbed through my Lonely Planet on the iPad and realized we were close to a ruined mountaintop fort called Rocca Calascio that was briefly mentioned in passing. We decided we would make that our last stop and then head back towards Rome and Fiumicino.

Rocca Calascio was just a few kilometers back on the mountain road we had taken to San Stefano, a turnoff just after the small town of Calascio. I had actually passed the fork earlier without taking note of the sign for the fort. We made our way up a steep winding road and past a few hairpin turns until the road eventually terminated in a small parking lot. From here, a pedestrian street led up into another deserted-looking medieval town. We stepped up onto a grassy platform just above the parking lot which was only occupied by a short segment of crumbling stone wall, and could see rolling valleys for miles around. In the distance were peaks and ridges of the Apennines. Behind us was a steep hill on top of which we could see more ruins.

A cobblestone path led into the remains of a town that clearly had no permanent inhabitants. Grass and trees were growing over the buildings and paths. After a couple of turns, the path turned into a dirt road and the walk up the hill started to feel more like a climb.

A little further up we encountered the abandoned 17th century church of Santa Maria della Pietà. Although beautiful, its forsaken appearance on that desolate mountainside made it an intimidating sight. I don't think you could have paid me enough to spend a night in that place.

At this point, there was no path left at all and rocky outcroppings impeded our view of the top. After a couple of false starts we eventually rediscovered the upward route and proceeded to the fort, which was absolutely spectacular. At the lower level of the ruin, we had the best views yet of the Apennine mountains and valleys extending for miles in every direction. The wind was forceful and would have chilled us to the bone in a cooler climate. As it was, I was grateful that Ian was kept snug by the carrier and my own body heat. We picked our way up the rocky slope to the main fort which was better preserved, with continuous walls and corner turrets. Cleo insisted on walking across the short wooden bridge into the fort by herself, although I was afraid the wind would blow her off her feet.

Rocca Calascio was one of the best experiences of the entire journey, and it came right at the end when we were practically ready to pack it in and head to our airport motel. It's very hard to find the words to describe the isolated beauty of the mountain fort, which felt like walking on the surface of another planet despite being only an hour away from Rome. As we descended the winding roads towards the highway, I wistfully looked at all the other hilltop towns and wondered what other Apennine secrets would remain hidden from us forever.

In our zeal to avoid being caught in Rome traffic, we wasted much more time getting lost in search of a TripAdvisor recommended restaurant in the suburb of Frascati that turned out to be average, and then becoming hopelessly disoriented when our phone signal disappeared on the way to Fiumicino. Eventually we found the motel and the rather surly proprietor and spent a couple of hours reorganizing our belongings for the flight home. It seemed like we'd only just closed our eyes when the alarms went off and we were piling into the car for the drive to the airport. We had one last panicky episode where we couldn't figure out where the dropoff was for the car, and then we were ready for the gate agent, security, and the eleven hour flight to Miami.

Posted by zzlangerhans 08:24 Archived in Italy Tagged santo sulmona pescocostanzo rocca calascio stefano Comments (0)

Circling the Adriatic Italy: Puglia

Alberobello, Locorotondo, and Vieste

The sound of voices outside the cabin window ripped us awake at seven in the morning. We looked through the curtain and saw that the ferry was slowly settling into the port and passengers were making their way down to the lower deck. I quickly jumped in the shower while Mei Ling changed the kids and then we grabbed our bags and squeezed out of the narrow cabin doorway. We crammed everything into the tiny elevator and tried to remember what floor the car deck was on. We got out on what I thought was the right floor but the car deck on that level was completely empty. I ran up and down the staircase a couple of times trying to find the right car deck but couldn't find another one. After a few more attempts to find the Iceberg in different areas, we returned to the level we had tried first and saw that there was exactly one car still on the deck. It was ours. Everyone else had driven off the ferry before we had even left our cabin. We were THAT family. We sheepishly loaded the kids and the bags and drove off the boat into Bari.

The Lonely Planet had very little nice to say about Bari and we didn't see anything through the car windows to make us think otherwise, so we wasted little time in getting to the highway headed south. Due to the ferry schedule, we only had the option of spending the last three days in Italy rather than the five I would have preferred. I had reluctantly decided not to attempt to make it to Lecce in the heel of the Italy boot. It was simply too far and would have meant too much of our last three days would have been spent in the car. However, it seemed like there were plenty of interesting towns not as far down south to occupy our first day back in Italy.

It was an exhilarating feeling to be out on the open road at 8 AM. Being two hours ahead of our normal schedule made the day seem like it had unlimited possibilities. Our first stop was Alberobello, famous for its hundreds of trulli. These 18th century stone huts with conical roofs look better suited for housing elves or hobbits than humans, and no one seems to be quite sure why they were built rather than more conventional dwellings of the period. I couldn't figure out where the tourist parking lot was so we drove through the narrow streets of town until we eventually found a illegal-looking parking spot near the central Piazza del Popolo. At one end of the square was a vantage point from which we could look out over the trulli neighborhood of Rione Monti.

We descended a staircase to the lower level of town where I naturally found the large tourist parking area. From there, the trulli of Rione Monti are clustered on a gently sloping hill. Few of the trulli in this area are private residences. Most have been converted into shops that cater to the numerous tourists that the town attracts, although in mid-October the streets were blissfully uncrowded. We did explore one little trulli bakery where the owner had a living quarters in the small upper chamber of the hut.

There wasn't much to see in Alberobello besides trulli so we drove to our next town, Locorotondo. This was another one of those cities which looks very drab and ordinary until you find your way to the right area and suddenly turns into a beautiful old neighborhood of smoothly paved streets, whitewashed buildings, wooden doors, and colorful planters.

After strolling around the old town for a while, we found the road that curved around the edge of Locorotondo and provided wonderful views of the fields and farms on the outskirts.

We had already seen two towns and were still on track for an early lunch. We made one attempt at a recommended restaurant in the town of Cisternino, but they weren't open for lunch. We decided to try Martina Franca instead, where there were at least two restaurants that sounded promising. Martina Franca was somewhat larger than the last two towns, but I kept losing my phone signal amidst the tall buildings and narrow streets of the old town. We found one of our target restaurants which was closed, and were unable to find the second. Eventually, we decided to eat in a small restaurant we came across that had an inventive menu and a wide selection of craft beers. It wasn't close to one of the best meals we had, but we considered it a success after our struggle to find an open restaurant.

Once our hunger issue was solved, we explored the narrow streets with sunnier dispositions. Martina Franca's old town was similar to Locorotondo in some ways, but seemed to have more ornate doorways and windows.

On the way back to the car we did find one impressive open square called Piazza Plebiscito with a beautiful curved building with an arched portico. Close by was the baroque Basilica di San Martino.

Castel del Monte was another place that I learned of for the first time when planning our trip, and was surprised that it wasn't more well known. This bizarre 13th century octagonal citadel looks almost as though it was carved from styrofoam a few days earlier. It stands on a solitary hilltop in a rural area, and no one knows for what purpose it was built. Spiral staircases lead upward to a second floor with barren, intimidating rooms.

From the castle, the windy path spiraling down to the parking lot is lined with umbrella pine trees and provides vistas over the surrounding countryside.

I had decided we would spend the night in a rather unusual location: the town of Vieste at the tip of the Gargano peninsula. This isolated promontory is far from the touristic areas of Italy and I thought this might be our only convenient opportunity to see the area. Most of the peninsula is forested and Vieste was the only city that seemed to be of interest to us. We made good time on the highway all the way to the peninsula, but we were aware of a developing problem. We were running out of milk. I had forgotten our prime directive of always making sure we were well ahead of the curve when it came to milk and diapers, and hadn't focused on restocking in Martina Franca. Now that we were on the highway, all the gas stations seemed to have the limited stores that carried beer and water and snack foods, but no milk. We stopped at four or five of them but it soon became apparent that we would have to get milk in Vieste, and darkness was falling. We went through a series of tunnels and then came to a fork in the road where a road sign pointed to Vieste on one side and Google Maps directed me to the other. After some deliberation, I followed Google Maps since signs sometimes don't point to the shortest route. We drove in darkness on a looping road when I realized we were no longer following the blue line on the map. We drove back slowly and I found the turn off Google Maps was requesting that I take: a steep dirt road going up the hillside. Fool me ten times, Google Maps. We retraced our steps back to the fork and followed the sign to Vieste.

We only had 20 kilometers left to go but they were some very slow and harrowing kilometers. We were now in the "Forest of Shadows", a dense collection of trees that forms the Gargano National Park which occupies most of the interior of the peninsula. At night, there was no light except the stars and my high beams. Meanwhile, stomach-wrenching hairpin turns slowed us to a crawl every few hundred meters. Thankfully, we had the presence of mind to text our Airbnb hosts about the milk situation and they offered to buy some for us, which we gratefully accepted. This last stretch of our drive took about forty-five minutes but we ultimately found ourselves in a surprisingly pleasant and modern-appearing town. After a relatively minor directional struggle we located our Airbnb hosts who led us into what seemed like a mostly empty apartment complex in the new part of town. As was usual for Airbnb's in Europe, the apartment was true to its description and even more importantly, two liter bottles of whole milk were waiting in the refrigerator.

At this point, our only goal was to get a filling meal before bed so we took the car to the gate of the old town and squeezed it into a narrow spot. I scouted out the restaurant Osteria al Duomo, which I found halfway down a steep staircase that led away from the cathedral. The proprietors were especially friendly and very accommodating to the kids. The thick walls were constructed of large irregular stones set into mortar, giving the restaurant a grotto-like atmosphere. The food was good but not on the level with the best we had on the journey.

In the morning it was time to get the kids good and clean ahead of our flight back to Miami in just two days. For breakfast, we finally ate the salami that had been rattling around in the back of the car since Bagnoregio as well as tomatoes and cheese from the market in Kotor and the last few oranges from Croatia. It's not often one gets to eat a meal whose components were purchased in three different countries.

Vieste's gate to the old town was a portal between two worlds. On the outside were cars, convenience stores, hardware, and street signs but once through that archway there was only antiquated architecture and an eerie stillness. Virtually no one from the outside came to Vieste in the offseason.

We found a lookout from which we could see the beach far below and on the other side a narrow peninsula extending into the Adriatic.

We made our way down to the low part of town and walked down the narrow streets at the base of the peninsula until we found a road that led to an enchanting little church.

We reversed direction on that road and followed it back to the pedestrian zone, where we encountered a colorful cafe with a giant loaf of freshly-baked bread cooling on an outdoor table. We decided we weren't hungry enough for an early lunch and would find a place in the next town.

On the way back out of the Gargano Peninsula, we found the Forest of Shadows a much more welcoming and scenic place in the daylight. We couldn't resist one selfie with the foggy hills in the background.

Posted by zzlangerhans 07:21 Archived in Italy Tagged castel del monte martina frança alberobello vieste locorotondo Comments (0)

Circling the Adriatic Montenegro: Kotor

We crossed the Montenegro border as uneventfully as we had entered Bosnia three days earlier, except that we had a welcoming committee of cattle at the first gas station we came to.

We reached the Bay of Kotor just a few minutes after crossing the border. This was one of the more strangely-shaped bodies of water that I've encountered. Its appearance on the map reminds me of a coronal section of the human brain, with the bodies of water being the ventricles.

This cerebral bay was lined with massifs of the Dinaric Alps that crowded the small coastal towns against the water's edge.

Once we were driving along the water I thought it wouldn't be long before we reached Kotor, but in fact it took us another hour to traverse the winding road to the far western end of the bay. Our Airbnb host had told us there was parking right outside the apartment, but I soon realized she was referring to the small parking lot across the road from the walled city. Within the walls there was no automobile access. I located the main gate into the city and set out to find our hosts, but was far from surprised when the street number they had given me didn't seem to exist. For our trip, that was par for the course. My Croatian SIM card didn't seem to be functional in Montenegro either, so I couldn't call. The closest business was an incongruous Chinese restaurant that didn't seem to have any Asian staff. A waiter at the front door was very friendly and helpful. Interestingly, he thought I was Slovenian because I hadn't bothered to relearn my few travel phrases in Croatian. Eventually we figured out where I was supposed to go and I found our host, a very sweet Montenegrin with her own small children. Our Kotor location can be seen by clicking on the link below.

See the itinerary of this trip, and details about each destination.

We ended up having dinner at the Chinese restaurant since we were all somewhat sick of Croatian style seafood, but the quality reflected the lack of a true Asian influence. We learned that there wasn't even a Chinese person among the kitchen staff. We took a quick evening stroll around Kotor, which had its own unique charm but was in many ways reminiscent of the other walled cities we had visited.

The next morning we explored Kotor by day, which allowed us to see the beautiful old buildings of the town against the backdrop of the massive cliffs behind the city.

From one open square we could see the old ramparts extending up the mountain as well as the Church of our Lady of Remedy far above us. The Lonely Planet recommended a hike up the ramparts to the Church and the top of the mountain for amazing views of the city and Kotor Bay, but with the kids it wasn't going to be possible.

The old town was busy with tourists in some areas, yet it was easy to find beautiful, quiet squares and streets away from the center.

We eventually found the River Gate at the northern end of the city that led to a bridge over the river Skurda. There was a movie shoot just inside the gate being carried out by a local production company.

We returned back through the main gate where we found the daily produce market just outside the city walls. There was a wide selection of cheeses, fruits, and vegetables and we bought enough to keep our bellies full on the ferry back to Italy that night. On the drive back towards Croatia, we saw the tiny bay islands of St. George and Our Lady of the Rocks. The latter is a man-made island created centuries ago by sinking ships loaded with rocks in the bay. In the 17th century a Catholic church was built on the island. We didn't have time to take one of the boats out to the islands and so we had to content ourselves with pictures.

Further down the road we were in for a real treat. We saw signs for a restaurant called Catovica Mlini that seemed like it might be a good bet and turned off the coastal road for lunch. We followed the signs for about a mile and came to a small empty parking lot. I had a sinking feeling that the place would turn out to be closed Mondays, but I found a traditionally dressed waiter inside who said they were indeed open. The restaurant occupied an old flour mill, and the owners had preserved the small streams that powered the mill and converted them into duck ponds. There were fruit trees, bridges, and grassy lawns everywhere. In the background were the Dinarides as imposing as ever.

The setting was one of the most beautiful I've ever eaten in, and the food was delicious and well-prepared. The Montenegrin beer Niksicko was also excellent. The only meal that came close to being as good as this one was the seafood lunch by the beach in Portuondo three weeks earlier. Later we discovered that Catovica Mlini was one of the best known restaurants in all of Montenegro, and we had the good fortune to come across it by chance just when our stomachs were growling.

We got back to Dubrovnik with a few hours to spare before our ferry back to Italy, so we decided to spend some time at the Trsteno Arboretum about fifteen minutes out of town. The Arboretum occupies the former estate of the Gozze noble family and contains a goldfish-stocked fountain and an aqueduct along with many beautiful gardens. Cleo had a blast feeding breadsticks to the goldfish, and it appeared they enjoyed themselves tremendously as well.

After the Arboretum there was time for one last walk in the square outside the Pile Gate, and then dinner at Defne in the old town which had a beautiful terrace but average food.

Once dinner was finished, it was time to bid farewell to Dubrovnik and Croatia. We drove to the ferry dock and patiently awaited our turn to get on to the night ferry to Bari. We were only three days away from completing this great circle around the Adriatic. We had wisely booked a private cabin which was well worth the added expense as we didn't have to worry about the kids disturbing other people trying to sleep. There was a little play area next to the dining room and Mei Ling actually found another Chinese family for us to hang out with until the kids were exhausted.

Posted by zzlangerhans 18:18 Archived in Montenegro Tagged kotor Comments (0)

Circling the Adriatic Croatia: Korcula and Dubrovnik

By the time we reached Korcula, we had already seen an amazing number of beautiful and unique cities from the Umbrian hills to the Veneto to Slovenia to Dalmatia. Nevertheless, Korcula was unlike anything we had seen before. The old town resembled a giant trilobite fossil projecting into the bay, with a long central street bisecting the city and several evenly spaced transverse streets running from the center to the perimeter on either side. I've borrowed an aerial photo from the web that captures how truly amazing this city looks.

By the time we found our way to the town from the ferry port, it was already almost 10PM. We parked in a small dirt lot above the old city and I set forth down a stone staircase to find our Airbnb. I went up and down the stairs a few times but between the lack of street names and house numbers I wasn't getting anywhere. Fortunately on my third pass down the stairs I encountered an elderly couple who turned out to be our hosts. As usual, the Airbnb accommodation turned out to be roomy and comfortable and our Croatian hosts were friendly and helpful despite the lateness of our arrival. We weren't inside the trilobite so to speak but on the hill directly behind the town. However, it was only a short trip down the stairs to arrive at the town gate. The location of our Airbnb can be seen by clicking the link below, since only one map is permitted per blog post.

See the itinerary of this trip, and details about each destination.

Due to the lateness of our arrival, we only had time to explore around the town gate and get some ice cream for Cleo at the one shop that was still open. The next morning, however, we had time to explore every street of the old town. There were wide promenades around much of the peninsula that gave great views of Peljesac and the small islands in the bay.

Our next stop was the town gate and the small square immediately behind it. The white paving stones were somewhat reminiscent of Zadar but Korcula had much more character even though most of the pedestrians seemed to be part of tour groups.

We explored a few of the narrow sidestreets before heading to the perimeter to enjoy smoother strolling and water views.

The old town didn't have continuous walls but it was well-defended with forts and cannon. Cleo took aim at a city across the bay, but fortunately for them the cannon wasn't loaded.

We found a restaurant whose menu we liked and sat outside until they opened, upon which we devoured generous portions of fresh seafood. Ian seems to have inherited his mother's fondness for squid ink risotto. Dessert was sour oranges from a tree in the old town.

On the way back to the car we took in one last view of the tiled roofs of Korcula against the mountainous backdrop of the island.

From Korcula there was only one last place to go on the Dalmatian Coast - Dubrovnik, the undisputed champion of the Mediterranean walled cities. After the short ferry hop back to Orebic, we drove straight down the Peljesac peninsula and connected with the coastal highway to Dubrovnik. We didn't stop along the way because we'd only given ourselves one day in Dubrovnik and it didn't seem to be enough given the reputation of the city. Our main trouble when we reached Dubrovnik wasn't so much finding our Airbnb but parking. The streets were jammed and even the parking lots seemed to all be full. We managed to find an illegal spot that wasn't obstructing traffic too badly and located our host, who was able to guide me to a parking area about a mile away and give me a lift back to the apartment. Our location was very good, just outside the northern city wall, and we got settled and headed for the old town as quickly as we could. A map of Dubrovnik showing our Airbnb can be seen by clicking the link below.

See the itinerary of this trip, and details about each destination.

We had seen other walled cities, but the walls of Dubrovnik are by far the most formidable. They are so tall, thick, and solid-appearing that the only word that can properly describe their appearance is impregnable.

We entered the pedestrian zone of the old town through the northern Buza Gate and were immediately grateful we had chosen the carriers instead of the gondola. The only way forward was a steep and seemingly endless stone staircase that descended into the heart of the old town. Halfway down we encountered a transverse street that seemed to be entirely lined with busy, touristy cafes and restaurants.

At the bottom of the staircase was the wide main street of old Dubrovnik, the Stradun. The Stradun is always filled with people on their way from one part of the old town to another, and is also a showcase for some of Dubrovnik's most famous landmarks.

We saw there was a lot of activity at the western end of the Stradun close to the Pile Gate and walked in that direction. We soon realized we were in the midst of a wedding celebration.

After the wedding party passed we walked out the Pile Gate, the most famous and ornate entrance to the old town.

We returned through the Pile Gate to the eastern end of the Stradun and made a right turn at the Palaca Sponza. This took us to the Dubrovnik Cathedral.

We ate at Oyster & Sushi Bar Bota in the shadow of the cathedral. Unfortunately, the quality of the food paled in comparison to seafood we had elsewhere on the coast. We then climbed a wide staircase to a courtyard in front of another ancient church close to the southern city wall. From a balcony we could see the busy square below and the lights of the restaurants on the northern side of town.

Around this time we realized that we were running out of diapers and hadn't taken any from the car when we parked. We embarked on a mad search for an open supermarket at 9 PM on a Saturday night which predictably ended in me taking a one mile uphill walk to the car for diapers. Fortunately we got a good night's sleep after a very exhausting day.

We began the next day with a cable car trip up the mountain behind the town. Once we got to the observation deck we realized there wasn't anything at the top except for the view and a crappy looking cafe. The top of the mountain was as barren as a desert, a stark contrast to the thriving city below.

We went back down and re-entered the old town to find a place to have lunch. The city looked very different by the light of day.

Cleo got some exercise running up and down the stone staircases.

After giving away a substantial sum for the cable car, we didn't feel much inclination to double down for the cost of walking the ramparts. Instead we wandered through the maze of streets and squares at the southern end of town until we found the entrance to Buza, a multilevel cafe that spills down the cliff at the edge of the sea. From the cafe we could look out across the deep blue water to forested Lokrum Island. Canoes and replicas of 16th century galleons plied the waters just offshore. Buza is a unique spot in Dubrovnik that is definitely worth searching for.

Our next stop was the harbor with its pretty backdrop of white houses with orange roofs creeping up the hillside to the tree line. Near the harbor, Cleo got to enjoy another street band. She was having so much dancing I eventually had to cart her off screaming.

We clambered up old Dubrovnik's steep staircases one last time to the Buza Gate and returned to our apartment to collect our laundry from the clothesline and pack our bags. We were surprised to find another family in the apartment patiently awaiting our return. Even though we had informed our Airbnb hosts that we would be departing late, they hadn't mentioned to us that other guests would be arriving. We apologized and recommended that they skip the cable car and walk the ramparts instead. Then I made the long walk to retrieve the car and we were on our way to Montenegro, the last country of our journey.

Posted by zzlangerhans 19:45 Archived in Croatia Tagged dubrovnik korcula Comments (0)

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