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Trip Report Live Trip Report: Vienna, Slovenia, Croatia, and Italy

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My husband and I are taking our 18th trip to Europe, and this year's trip will include stops in Vienna, Lake Bled and Ljubljana in Slovenia, Dubrovnik and Korcula in Croatia, and Sorrento and Rome in Italy. We will begin our trip with three nights in Vienna. We will post our trip report nightly, but you can also follow our blog at explorerbear.blogspot.com. We welcome any suggestions for sights to see or restaurants to try.

August 1 - Visiting Vienna

As I sit in our hotel room writing my first journal entry tonight, it's hard to believe all that we have done in the past 24 hours. Yesterday we left Boston on a new Aer Lingus Airbus, crossed the Atlantic in just over five hours, and landed in Dublin at 4:55 am. By 7:30 am we were on our way to Vienna and landed here at 11:00 am this morning.

While riding the airport transit bus to our hotel, evidence was everywhere that Vienna is the jumping off point to some very exciting cities that just 20 years ago weren't the popular tourist destinations they are today. Sign posts pointed the way to Prague, Bratislava, and Budapest. Our hotel, Pension Corvinus, is just one block away from one of the main subway lines and although the room is small, it is clean, modern, air conditioned, and comfortable. Better yet, it only costs 90 euro per night and is right in the middle of a nice shopping district on a tree lined street.

Feeling hungry for a snack, we headed down the street to Buffet Trzesniewski. Here you can choose from an elaborate array of 22 different kinds of fancy open face finger sandwiches served with miniature glasses of beer. Not sure what any of the sandwiches actually were, I decided to stick with easily recognizable ones such as egg salad or tomato and they were delicious. I tried mine with fresh pear juice and it was the perfect combination.

After a much needed three hour nap, we bought a 48 hour transit pass and headed into the heart of the city. Our first stop was the pedestrian zone where they had every store imaginable. An interesting contrast I noticed is that the shops all have bold colorful signs seen in almost any city, yet if you look above them, the old buildings these stores are housed in are beautiful. We had an early dinner at Gingerl Stadtheuriger. It is a heuriger which means it serves wine and fresh food that would normally be served in a vineyard. We tried their spinach strudel made with flaky pastry, and a fresh garden salad.

Feeling energized, we decided to visit the Hausdermusik which is one of the most unusual museums I have ever visited. The self guided tour begins with a visit to a small auditorium where you feel as if you are watching a live presentation of the Vienna Philharmonic Symphony's New Year's concert. Then, following a series of arrows, we visited a series of interactive exhibits which included lessons about tone, rhythm, pitch, and the far limits of the human ear's ability to interpret sound. Feeling a little overwhelmed with the unusual sounds offered to us on headphones such as gurgling, spinning, coughing, sneezing, and rattling paper, it was a welcome relief to enter the classical music section. There was a separate room for each composer which included his music, posters from his concerts, and period instruments. The grand finale of the visit was an opportunity to virtually conduct the Vienna Philharmonic. If you did a good job, they played well, but if you weren't focussed, they stopped playing and told you that you were a bad conductor!

Our final stop of the evening was Zinoni and Zinoni for a scoop of their gelati. I ordered a scoop of raspberry and one of blueberry and it was the freshest gelati I have ever had. We will be sure to go back there tomorrow.

It is now midnight, but outside the streets are still alive with people enjoying cafes and street performers. It's been a long day and it's now time for bed. Seeing the lights of the city outside our window, I can't wait until tomorrow to get out and explore this magical city some more.

August 2 - A Walking Tour of Vienna

No matter how tired you might feel at the end of a day, a walking tour is a great introduction to any city or town, and a walking tour of Vienna is exactly what we did today.

We started our morning off with what might be the highlight of any visit to Vienna, a tour of the Opera House. Built over 140 years ago, it is stunning inside and well worth a visit. As you enter the Opera House, straight ahead at the top of the steps is a room fit for a king, and it was too. In the late 1800s, patrons would check to see if the room was lit. If it was, the emperor was there most likely enjoying a cup of tea. Our guide took us behind the stage where ten trucks per day drive right up on it to deliver the scenery. We heard that one time the maestro couldn't find a parking space. In desperation, he drove his car right onto the back of the stage and parked it there. As in any tour, there is always one family who stands out. On our tour it was an American family who monopolized the guide's time by asking trivial questions. He entertained them with guessing games such as, "Guess how much it costs to go to the opera ball?"

Feeling hungry, we went to the Hotel Sacher for their world famous Sacher torte. It's layers of delectable chocolate cake with apricot filling. A cup of cappucinno was the perfect complement.

During the summer there are numerous classical music concerts all over the city. Everywhere you look are salesman dressed as Mozart. We're hoping to find a concert that doesn't feature musicians wearing 18th century outfits.

Following our walking tour map, lunch today was at Rosenberger Market. It's so touristy not a single resident from Vienna probably ever goes in there, but you can get great salads, fresh fruit, pasta, and a cooked meal served cafeteria style, all for a reasonable price.

Our next walking tour stop was St. Stephen's Cathedral. The oldest part dates back to the 1200s. Sadly, photographs show devastating destruction during the war, but thanks to the generocity of donors, it was restored
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Before heading to the museums, we stopped at Julius Meinl. According to Rick Steves, it's an aristocratic grocery store with cheese, wine, herbs, jams, vegetables, fine chocolates, and even gourmet potato chips all displayed as if they are in museum.

In the late afternoon, David wanted to visit an art history museum and I wanted to visit a natural history museum, both from the Habsburg's empire. After agreeing to meet at a fountain, we went our separate ways to the museums which were directly across from each other. I paid 12 euro for my ticket and never thought twice about the fact that instead of a dinosaur, it had a gilded carriage on it. Turns out I was in the art history museum! No problem, though. David promptly showed up and we toured it together. We saw a magnificent collection of paintings by Peter and Jan Bruegel, Velazquez, Carravaggio, and even a painting by Vermeer. Downstairs was an Egyptian collection and a desk top cameo once owned by Julius Caeser.

By 6:00 our feet couldn't take it anymore. We stopped at Demel, an old world cafe since 1786 for another coffee and tiny torte. It was delicious.

Dinner tonight was in Spitleberg Quarter of Vienna at Witwe Bolte. Eating outside in their candlelit garden, we felt as if we were in the countryside, yet we we were actually in the heart of the city. Not a car was in sight and cicadas chirped in the summer night. Our meal was incredible. I had spinach stuffed dumplings topped with pine nuts and David enjoyed lasagna that was the best ever. Paper thin pasta was cut with a biscuit cutter and stacked in three layers heaped and topped with mushrooms and garnished with blueberries.

We took the Ubahn back to the hotel and noticed an interesting display on the subway platform. Science Goes Public featured a meteorite, fossils, and an 18th century illustrated guide to arachnids. It's now midnight and we're looking forward to another great day tomorrow.

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    August 4 - Discovering the Treasures of Vienna

    When I was a child, I used to wonder what it would be like to be a member of a royal family. Today I got the chance to find out.

    The sun was shining brightly this morning and we were thankful because today's plan was to tour the greatest palace and treasures in all of Austria. As strange as this may sound, we read in our guidebook that there was an early 20th century WC in the Graben and decided to check it out. It featured sliding wooden doors, antique sinks, brass fixtures, fine towels, and even an attendant in a white jacket who kept it spotless. It represented a throwback to the Habsburg empire and was actually much more authentic than another WC down the street advertising "Opera WC mit musik."

    Our first stop this morning was the Hofsburg Treasury. It was an exhibit of a staggering collection of ornate gold crowns, jewels, embroidered royal silk robes, a royal cradle made of sterling silver, and even what is said to be a nail from the true cross.

    A globe museum is not something everyone would enjoy, but I could not wait to go there. Not surprisingly, it was sparsely attended with hardly a soul in sight, but with over 200 objects on display, it surpassed even my expectations that it would be great. Some of the globes dated back to the 1500s and showed only fragments of North America. My favorite item was a miniature globe in a tiny box with an accordion book called "Inhabitants of the World." Curiously enough, the book had pictures of Sandwich Islanders, Tiroleans, and the Iroquois.

    Included in the ticket was a visit to the Esperanto Mueum. We thought it was a display of colorful old posters, but learned that in the 19th century, there was an attempt by a group of people to link all European languages with a new language, Esperanto. This effort failed during the war.

    After a quick lunch back at Rosenberger Market, we visited Schonbruun Palace. It was a summer holiday home for the Habsburg family and also a place where dignitaries gathered. JFK met Khruschev there in 1961 during the Cold War. Today you can tour 40/1000 rooms. We used our downloaded audio tour on our ipod and it was perfect. The rooms are all in different themes giving you a real flavor for how royalty lived.

    There is something for everyone at Schonbruun Palace. There's a world class zoo which includes pandas, mazes, tropical gardens, an apple strudel bakery, and even mock Roman ruins. We enjoyed a delicious Eiskaffee (ice coffee with coffee ice cream) in the same garden overlook where the family once came for a glorious view of the grounds and the city.

    After a busy day touring museums, our budget did not include a restaurant fit for royalty. We headed back to our new favorite restaurant from our first night, Gigerel, where we spent hours at our candlelit table outside talking over spinach and crab strudel and salad. It may not have been a restaurant for the Habsburgs, but for us it was the perfect ending for our first visit to Vienna.

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    August 5 - Riding the Rails to Slovenia

    Every summer we never cease to be amazed with the public transportation system in many countries in Europe and Austria is no exception. Their trains are clean, modern, efficient, on time, and seem to effortlessly whisk you straight to your destination-or maybe not!

    The train to Slovenia left Vienna at 12:30. Our compartment held six people. but there was only one other person inside with us so plenty of room. Our five hour trip seemed easy and we all spent it listening to ipods plugged into handy onboard outlets. Out the window the scenery was spectacular with wooden framed houses with window boxes bursting with flowers, rolling green hills dotted with wildflowers, and churches with tiny onion domes. All too soon it was time to make our one and only transfer to Lake Bled. We settled into our seats when a cry went out from a group of British students, "Get off the train now. They are splitting it into two going two different ways!" and just as we found a conductor, the train pulled away.

    Two other passengers in our compartment, one from Germany and one from Bosnia, were able to speak to the conductor. We were able to figure out we needed to go back the other direction and it would all work out, but when it was translated to us, he had actually said, "Sometimes there are complications and that's your problem." Ouch!

    Thank goodness we had our cell phone and called our accommodation to alert them we would arrive after 7:30pm. After a 90 minute wait in a small train station with nothing to eat except popcorn, finally our new train arrived and after an hour we arrived in Bled.

    The Pension Mayer is an alpine chalet style with a bathroom like one you would find in a first class hotel. We ate in the restaurant and had the grilled salmon and potatoes with spinach.

    After dinner we ventured down to the lake where the castle was all lit up high above the water. Our day of riding the rails is over. It's time for a day of adventure on this alpine lake and maybe a piece of their famous creme cake too.

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    August 6 - Lake Bled, Slovenia

    Sometimes, even when the clouds roll in over an alpine lake, it can still be a day of discovery and surprise. We know because we experienced that kind of day today in Slovenia.

    The day started out as a sunny one this morning and we enjoyed our buffet breakfast outside. Following the path down to the lake, we were amazed at the number of tourist buses at neighboring hotels. This is a very popular tourist destination for families from all over Europe. We talked with an interesting British couple on our shuttle bus to Bled Castle and they told us that Slovenia was just added as a destination with the tour company they use.

    Bled Castle sits high above the lake on a cliff with an incredible view. It dates back 1,000 years although archaeologists can only piece together the history based on fragments from the past. We followed a tour group from eastern Europe whose guide interpreted the English speaking guide's commentary. In one room the group huddled around one object and shouted with laughter. Hurrying over, I peeked over their shoulders to see what was so funny. It was a medieval toilet.

    This area is famous for their creme cake and Vila Preseren is a great place to try it. Their trendy restaurant has tables right on the water's edge. We decided to skip the grilled octopus and have the Mr. Toscana sandwich which was grilled bread with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and mozzarella. Dessert was the creme cake. It's light and fluffy dusted with powdered sugar.

    Vila Preseren is right on a footpath that circles the lake for 3.5 miles. The water in the lake is crystal clear and we stopped again and again to take pictures of the Church of the Assumption on a tiny island in the lake. Picturesque wooden boats with colorful striped canopies called pletnas
    take people out to the island. No engines are allowed so the guide rows the entire way standing.

    Halfway around the lake the rain clouds rolled in, but that only made the lake look more mystical. Umbrellas in hand, we continued along the path to the Vila Bled. Now a hotel owned by the Slovenian government, it was the retreat of Tito during his rule of Yugoslavia. As the rain poured outside, we enjoyed a cappucino in the Vila's lounge. It was served on a silver tray with a glass of water. We had heard there was a mural commissioned by Tito in the 1940s in the vila and it was a pleasant surprise to be able to get a personal historical tour of it. It represents a story leading to the socialist victory of the people of the former Yugoslavia. Today Slovenia preserves the mural as a piece of art of historical significance.

    Tonight the rain poured down, but that didn't stop us from discovering a great pizza restaurant, Pizzeria Rustika. Their crispy pizza cooked in a wood burning oven was delicious and served on their covered porch lit with lanterns. As we left the restaurant, the waiter called out, "Tomorrow it will be a nice day!" Maybe there will be time before leaving for Ljubljana to go out and discover that island!

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    maitaitom,

    Ordering a famed cream cake by the water's edge from the Preseren restaurant is an especially nice way to enjoy a lazy August afternoon. While we very much enjoyed the kremna rezina, we're equally enthusiastic about trying a grmada, a dessert that was preferred by our waitress. Perhaps we'll sample one - as well as an outing to Vintgar Gorge - today.

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    August 7 - Lively Ljubljana

    Leaving a fairy tale alpine lake such as Lake Bled is always difficult, but knowing there are many more sights to see makes it easier. Today our journey took us to the capital city of Slovenia, Ljublljana.

    The rugged Julian Alps were peeking out of the clouds high above the lake this morning making that one last chance to ride a pletna boat irresistable. Holding 20 people under a beautiful striped canopy, the beautifully varnished wooden boat glided effortlessly through the water to the island where the tiny Church of the Assumption, lies. Views ranged from the peaceful island church and Tito's former villa hidden behind trees, to the blocky looking aging grand hotels from the Soviet era back in town.

    At the island we were allowed 30 minutes to explore. We decided not to pay the 3 euro fee to enter the church and ring the bell for good luck. Instead we admired an exhibit of handmade Slovenian nativity scenes, and clay dolls dressed in native costumes. They represented the 27 EU countries with 23 official languages. The EU motto is "Unity in variety."

    On our trip back from the island it was so quiet and peaceful. Only the sound of the oars lapping the watter and dueling church bells ringing out from across the lake broke the silence until a college girl from Calgary spoke up. Her voice was so loud it jarred my nerves. Based on her conversation with her friends, we learned she's a novice swimmer, has tried surfing, had toe surgery, and thinks Crocs are utterly useless. Glancing around the boat I noticed the others seemed oblivious to her aimless chatter. Most likely they did not know what she was saying.

    For lunch we returned to Vila Preseren right on the lake for their Mr. Toast (grilled ham and cheese) and a piece of grmada, known as bonfire. It is cake with rum, milk, custard, and raisins topped with chocolate syrup. A small colorful craft fair was set up behind it selling wooden toys and jewelry. I bought a tiny clay bird whistle.

    Our bus ride to Lubljana was one hour. We are staying at the Slamic B&B which is only 5 minutes from the main pedestrian zone. Our first stop was Ljubljana Castle. The original castle dates back to the Roman period, but little if any of it survives. The present day castle was rebuilt in the 1940s and renovated in the 70s. Although you can still see the main foundation, it is quite modern inside with exhibits, a gift shop, wedding halls, and a walkway with fine views. A modern glass funnicular whisks you to the top. One interesting part I noticed was called Library Under the Treetops. It was crates of children's books nicely arranged under trees with mats for the children to use for chairs. It seems like it might be a nice idea for the elementary school where I teach. We also visited the cathedral in town which is an 18th century church dedicated to St. Nicholas.

    Ljubljana is a vibrant lively city after dark. One interesting feature of street food sales is corn on the cob (koruza) roasting on tiny charcoal grills and served right with the husks as plates. Olive oil and salt are offered as condiments. I tried some and it was tasty. Dinner was at Zlata Ribica. Our table was right above the river. We had gnoche with mushrooms. We met a mother and daughter from Arlington, Virginia who were traveling around and exchanged travel stories. The daughter was studying in Italy and is a college student in Virginia. Like us, they are Rick Steves fans too.

    After dinner we strolled along the river's edge and were amazed at the number of outdoor cafes. Various restaurants had entertainment ranging from traditional to trendy. At one point hundreds of people leaned over the railing to watch a canal style boat that had stopped in the water for a moment and played traditional Slovenian folk music. It was wonderful.

    Ljubljana looks like a lot of fun. Tomorrow we will explore the Sunday market in the market square and visit one of the caves. I think it will be a great day!

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    Great report! I loved Ljubljana. Greatly enjoyed the Joze Plecnik House (house he lived in in the last years of his life). Plecnik was the architect who designed many of those quaint little bridges in Ljubljana! (But if you have Rick Steves' book, you know all of this!) His house is fascinating - you can feel him still living there. I think it's only a half hour tour, which is about the right length.

    Considering a trip back to Slovenia to see more of it beyond just Ljubljana. I'd heard Bled is super touristy and your report confirms that...

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    Andrew,

    Thanks for writing. Bled certainly does benefit from tourism - and much of it. But sometimes a strong dose of tourism isn't a bad thing. The lake and its environs seem to strike a good balance between scenic beauty and the various amenities that many travelers crave. In short, Bled is a lovely place that doesn't seem tourist trampled.

    As regards Plecnik, we were looking forward to touring his home, but unfortunately opening hours are limited and we won't be able to get in on this trip. Fortunately, though, much of his work is on display as you stroll Ljubljana.

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    August 8 - Learning About History In Ljubljana

    Have you ever wondered what it would be like to step back into prehistoric times? We actually experienced it today visiting Postojnka Jama, a cave an hour outside Ljubljana.

    We started the day off with a history lesson at The Museum of Contemporary History which had some very interesting displays. The first floor featured the work of Louis Braille. Visitors can try out Braille typewriters and experience a world of darkness by navigating a pitch black room. After walking smack into a wall, I lasted about one minute.

    Upstairs was an extensive exhibit about the history of Slovenia beginning with WWI through 1991 when Slovennia became an independent country. One exhibit had about 30 different kinds of shoes holding down informational banners suspended from the ceiling. The shoes represented the common aim to help Slovenia gain independence.

    Lunch today was at McDonalds. We had their Shankin' salad which is mozzarella balls and tomatoes. Since McDonalds was in a railroad station, it was decorated in a railroad style and actually had some antiques in it.

    We took a bus to Postojnska Jama, one of the biggest caves in Europe. It's touristy, but fun. A small open air train takes you deep inside the cave where everyone breaks into language groups for a tour. The 90 minute tour was amazing. We learned the cave is over 5 million years old and has had visitors since the late 1800s. The caverns were mammoth with enormous stalactites and stalagmites which grow at the rate of 1 mm. every 10-30 years.

    Dinner was at Pizzeria Focculus. Their pizzas cooked in a wood burning oven and salads are excellent.

    Walking around Ljubljana after dinner, we took the elevator to the 11th floor of a building with an interesting history. In the 1930s it was known as the skyscraper and was the tallest building in central Europe. It is a building with a history, but after recent renovations, the top is very contemporary with walls of glass on their outside observation deck. It was great place for a final view of Ljubljana. Tomorrow we head to Croatia.

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    August 9 - In Love With Dubrovnik

    Every so often I see a photograph of a travel destination and I think to myself, "There's a place I must go." Today I am in such a place: Dubrovnik on the Dalmation Coast of Croatia.

    Croatia is a country with an unusual shape. Although it borders Slovenia, Dubrovnik is on the southern tip of the country and a train trip would take all day. We therefore decided to travel by Croatia Air from Zagreb, Croatia (2 hours from Ljubljana by train).

    Our flight on Croatia Airlines lasted just under 45 minutes. For refreshments we were offered sparkling or still water and a gingerbread cookie. At the airport we were met by Pero Carvevic, owner of the Villa Ragusa. Our room in his sobe is just inside the entrance to the Old Town. He gave us a welcome to Debrovnik drink and an orientation of the town in his office.

    No sooner had we put our suitcases down, we were out the door and ready to explore. To get a good overview of the town, we paid to take the wall walk. It surrounds the Old Town and the views at every turn are spectacular. During the 1991 conflict in Croatia, Dubrovnik surprisingly did suffer some damage. The proud residents rebuilt it in the same style, but many places have new red tile roofs.

    Looking over the wall we saw boats of all kinds: yachts, sailboats, glass bottom boats, and ferries. Sunbathers lounged down and on the rocks and many daring ones climbed onto the rocks to leap into the sea to the cheers of others. We enjoyed the view for so long, they had to signal us several times the wall walk was closed.

    Dinner was at Mia Culpa, an outdoor cafe serving pizza and salads. The town is full of energy. We saw street entertainers on stilts, with macaws, and musicians. People lined up to run and jump on a ledge and cling to a wall, but we're not sure what it's about.

    Thinking back at the end of the day of the photo I had once seen in a glossy travel magazine of Dubrovnik, I can still picture the perfect view it showed of it. Tomorrow we'll see if we can find it!

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    August 10-Delightful Dubrovnik

    No matter how beautiful every corner of Dubrovnik seems to be, you can't beat the location where we had our breakfast today-right on the main pedestrian zone in town, the Stradum. I love eating breakfast at an outdoor cafe where you can see the city waking up.

    Walking back up the steep steps to our sobe, we ran into Pero, the owner, who offered to drive us up to an old fort high above Dubrovnik dating back to Napoleon, but most recently used during the Homeland War 1991-1995. As we passed donkeys by the side of the road in this now peaceful setting, Pero told us about the siege. He said that the people at the fort felt it was always important for the people of Dubrovnik to see the cross on the hill (the original was destroyed) and the Croatian flag. If the flag was destroyed, another was promptly put back up. During the siege, 180 people in Dubrovnik were killed and 600 injured.

    In the fort museum we saw photographs and moving video footage with no narration necessary of missiles destroying parts of the historic old town. This was a solemn moment for many. When one missile hit the historic old town and started a fire, people shook their heads in disbelief. A child standing with his father pointed to a display of mortars, shells, and grenades. "Awesome," he said using the English word although this was not his native language. His father promptly shook his head no.

    We took a gondola back down to the old town and toured a monastery which has one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe. Today in the museum you can see porcelain canisters, cast iron pots, and tiny weights all dating back to the 18th century. We also toured Dubrovnik Cathedral and the Dominican Monastery. Both were a cool refuge from the heat.

    Feeling the need to rest, we sat on the seawall under the old walls of the city and dangled our feet in the water. We weren't alone. Others did the same or swam, parasailed, or played water polo. All sorts of interesting boats sailed by including glass bottom, ferries, catamarans, and even an old sailing ship. Fancy yachts are anchored off the islands.

    At sunset we stopped at Buza. It's set in several levels on cliffs rising up from the sea. Buza in Croatian means hole in the wall. It was nothing fancy, but the views were spectacular views of the Adriadic Sea.

    Dinner was at Oliva, an outdoor cafe. I love how alleys are tucked into alleys here. After eating, we strolled around just enjoying the sights and sounds of thiis amazing place.

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    August 11 - Picture Perfect Dubrovnik

    The sun was shining brightly this morning as we ate breakfast on the Stradum. Without a rain cloud in sight, I knew that today would be the perfect day to find that picture perfect view of Dubrovnik I have been thinking about all these years.

    Before we started sightseeing, we dropped off our laundry just outside the old city walls, but finding the place was a sightseeing trip in itself. We were directed by a number of people to just go "right, left, right" but it never seemed to get us there. No problem, though. It took us through pretty alleys with old stone houses surrounded by flowering bushes all with magnificent views of the Adriatic.

    Back in town we toured the Granary and Ethnographic Museum. It featured a display of posters from the 1940s. Many of them had art work depicting America as a rich country taking over the world. One such poster showed a map of the world and even the penguins in Antarctica had something to say about it. The rest of the museum featured a textile display from the 19th century, traditional costumes, and old harvesting tools for olive oil, grain, and bees. Beautiful batik eggs were displayed in handmade baskets.

    In the afternoon we took the ferry to Lokrum Island ( Love Island) just off the coast. It's a beautiful nature reserve with paths through the forest, swimming beaches, a small lake, and palm trees. It's the perfect place for a picnic and we had ours on an overlook of the water. As we ate, there was a symphony of cicadas. It was all so pleasant, but they were so loud we could even hear them off shore from the ferry.

    Feeling the need for a cool dip we waded into the ocean, but it was very rocky. Instead we swam in the tiny lake surrounded by cliffs and palm trees. It looked like paradise with peacocks strutting about.

    Heading back into town, Dubrovnik looked full of energy. People walking the walls were silhouetted against the sky and the red tile roofs and church steeples looked picture perfect. Everyone had their cameras out.

    Right before dinner as I was sitting on the stone steps leading down to the old town working on the netbook, the lights in half of Dubrovnik went out. I could see the cafes below in the old town and they looked very magical in the dark with candles on every table. We ate at Nishta, a vegetarian restaurant. We tried the lentil cakes and veggie burgers which were served between two rice cakes-delicious. They have a very unusual, but sweet tradition. Even though it's a restaurant with outdoor tables with tablecloths, they distinguish themselves from the other cafes by placing a cute animal bath toy on every table.

    After dinner we walked down to the harbor. Dubrovnik has a lot of cats and we met a mother and her two daughters from London who were cuddling the kittens and feeding them a box of cat food. The girl's mother explained that the daughters had taken pity on the cat family and this was their daily tradition. They will be in Croatia for a month.

    At the end of the day you may wonder if I ever found the view of Dubrovnik I have been searching for that I mentioned several days ago. I haven't, but I have come to the conclusion it does not matter. Dubrovnik is picture perfect from every angle.

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    August 12 - Korcula

    Today I feel as if I am on an island in paradise. We're in Korcula, an island just off the coast of mainland Croatia.

    The sun was beating down this morning in Dubrovnik as all of the tourists arrived. Even though there wasn't much shade on the streets in the morning, everyone looked happy. As a group of men with drums wearing traditional medieval folk costumes paraded through the streets, people ran out for photos. We found refuge from the heat down on the waterfront with an iced cold fresh squeezed lemonade. I checked to see if the mother cat and her kittens were still there and they were. Later in the day, the children from London will be back to feed them. I have heard that many of these cats in Dubrovnik hang out by the seafood restaurant for handouts.

    After checking out of our sobe, a van carrying only 6 people took us on the two hour journey to Korcula. We drove high up in the hills with sweeping views of the Adriatic. Vineyards and olive groves were everywhere and I was amazed by the number of wineries. The best part of the trip was a ferry ride to the island. It only took about 15 minutes, but we had a great view of all of the stone houses with their red tiled roofs and wooden shutters. Pineapple palm trees line all of the streets and people everywhere are relaxing in the water.

    Our accommodation is the Royal Apartments. We have a small dining area with kitchenette. With the market just down the street and the ocean right out our front door, it's the perfect place to stay. Right now in the small harbor in front of us are a few fancy yachts, sailboats, a ferry, and a small ship from France.

    Before coming to Croatia, a Croatian father of one of my students told me to be sure to see the Moreska dances. We are so lucky because they are only performed on Thursday nights in an outdoor small theater lit by torch lights. The performance itself has a history dating back 400 years. It tells the story of a bad king who took a good king's bride. The dancers represent the forces of good and evil and the happy ending is when the bride is returned to the good king. The dancers, all men, are dressed in medieval folk costumes and perform an elaborate dance battling with real iron weapons. They are highly skilled. Arranged into two concentric circles, each circle of dancers moves in the opposite direction of the other and the dancers clang their iron swords in perfect timing.. Everyone sat mesmerized.

    Dinner was at Knoba Marinero. We had delicious shrimp and dined outside in the stone alley. Even though it was close to 11:00, stores were still opened and in the main square, a man was making fresh crepes and another was popping popcorn. On the steps leading to the main part of the old town, young children sat with displays of seashells they had collected and were selling.

    It's past midnight and people are outside dining and walking down by the water's edge. Tomorrow we will spend the day on this island paradise, learning about its history and perhaps going for a swim in its crystal clear waters too.

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    ExplorerB,

    Many thanks for your ongoing trip report. I'm learning much from reading it and I enjoy your descriptive, colorful writing style.

    A couple questions come to mind: Given Dubrovnik's remarkable popularity of late, is it becoming too popular, too crowded to really enjoy? Also, a colleague of mine will be visiting the city in the fall; is there a preferred time to walk Dubrovnik's famous walls.

    Looking forward to your next entry.

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    We did find that Dubrovnik is very busy, but mostly during the mid day when the cruise ships and tourist buses are in. We saw people up on the wall at all times of the day, but I think it looked scorching hot there. We found that the best time was about 5:30. We needed about two hours stopping for pictures and it was much easier to find shade.

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    ExplorerB - We were just in Dubrovnik and Korcula in July, in fact I'm working on editing my photos and writing my trip report. Very admirable of you to write as you go along. Are you going to Split next? Are you planning to visit Mostar?

    You mention the guys lining up to stand on that rock jutting out from the wall - it's apparently a tradition that young men try to stand on the ledge, facing the wall, and remove their shirt before falling off - that means they have achieved manhood. But the little ledge slopes downward making it very difficult to do. So that's why you saw all those people trying to do it.

    hiplederhosen - we did find Dubrovnik overwhelmingly crowded. As ExplorerB is pointing out, it is incredibly beautiful and I am very glad I went, but the crowds, at least in July were about the worst I've encountered anywhere, and I've been to Europe every July for the past ten years. It's mostly the cruise ships. In the evening after they leave (spewing dirty brown smoke that lingers for an hour), and early morning it's not so bad. We did the wall walk from about 5pm till closing (7:30) - cooler and less crowded. We also left for day trips on two of our four days, and took a walk out of town and a boat ride the other day. I'm a big believer in summer in Europe, but Dubrovnik is one place I wish I'd been able to see in the off season. Korcula on the other hand was lovely.

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    Thanks so much for this wonderful trip report of areas that are so beautiful. We've been to Dubrovnik twice and to Lake Bled and Ljublijana once but hope to return. Your wonderful report is pushing us even more in the direction of returning sooner rather than later. Enjoy.

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    Greetings, isabel & Julie:

    Thank you for writing. Following a memorable two-day stay in Korcula, we will take a three-hour ferry ride back to Dubrovnik. Our original plan was to travel to Split for a one-day stay, but we had problems making an easy flight connection from Split to Rome. Still, staying in Dubrovnik for an addditional day is no hardship; from there we will spend three days in Sorrento, then three days in Rome, and then conclude our holiday with an overnight in Dublin.

    Please stay tuned.

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    August 13 - The Enchanting Island of Korcula

    Here's something to ponder when planning a holiday. It's a quote I saw on the door of Gradski Muzej, a city museum here in Korcula-"Old is nice."


    It's a simple statement, but I agree. Everywhere we looked today in the old town, it was like stepping back into the 14th century. St. Mark's Cathedral had wrought iron designs, cast iron weaponry, beautiful paintings,and an old wooden statue of Rocco, a French saint, pointing to a wound on his leg. He is a saint of cures.


    At the Gradski Muzej, we got a glimpse of life of nobility over the centuries here in Korcula. The kitchen was on the third floor with cast iron kettles, on the middle floor were China plates, old maps, navigation instruments, and a handmade wooden piano. Outside the museum we saw several Venetian lions reminding us that Korcula was once controlled by Venice.


    Lunch was right on the water at Kornoba Morski where we had delicious and tuna sandwiches on whole grain grinder (hoagie) rolls. While we ate we chatted with a father and his adult son from Croatia. They had their rescue dog lying at their feet and showed the dog our picture of Cooper on our Ipod Touch.


    In the afternoon we decided to head to the beach. Walking out the front door of our accommodation we were astonished to see a big cruise ship pulling into the harbor. We took some pictures of it and found a flat rocky place our towels. Stepping into the water which drops off rather quickly, but is rocky along the shore, my plan was to wade in slowly, but when I looked down there were sea urchins everywhere clinging to the rocks. Yikes! I had no choice except to leap over them and jump right in. Swimming here is like a dream come true. The water is so clear you can see the bottom even if you are out quite deep. The view of the old town from the water was incredible with stone walls and ancient towers with flags at the top flapping in the breeze.


    Heading back to our sobe, Dave suddenly realized he had put the key in his bathing suit pocket and after swimming it was now at the bottom of the Adriatic. When we told the husband of the owner, he did not look pleased. "Big problem," he said and he told us his wife would be over in an hour. Waiting for her I was worried. I had visions of eating slices of take out pizza and McDonalds for the rest of this trip, but his wife couldn't have been nicer. It turns out the big problem was they wouldn't be able to get us a new key until tomorrow so we would need to ring the bell when we came back from dinner.


    Before heading to dinner we went to Buffet Massimo which is at the top of a wall tower. You actually climb a ladder to get there and anything you order is delivered by a pulley. Our dinner was at Adio Mare in their outdoor garden. We aren't generally meat eaters, but their grilled steak was the best ever. It was served with grilled zucchini and peppers. The restaurant is right behind the old stone house where legend has it that Marco Polo once lived.


    By 11:00 the big cruise ship was gone, but in its place was a sleek elegant small ship from London. Tonight Korcula has an exciting vibe. Seaside cafes are busy with candlelit tables, the outdoor market stalls are still open selling everything from coral jewelry to flip flops which are needed on the pebbly beaches, and children of tourists are on the steps selling shells they have painted. Up at the top of the old town, an acappella group from Croatia is performing and by our accommodation is a guitarist.

    Thinking back to the quote at the museum "old is nice" it seems that although this is true, Korcula has done a wonderful job blending the old world with the new. Much of the old town is stone and, as the museum pointed out, ever since the first inhabitants came to Korcula they have etched their history in stone and we are witness to that now. Yet among all of this is a new modern vibe. I think we have found a new favorite place!

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    Explorer, I am really enjoying your report. My great-grandparents and my maternal grandfather were born in Karlovac, southwest of Zagreb. I've always wanted to go to Croatia and see if I can find long lost family. As a matter of fact, it was this desire that brought me to Fodors.com almost five years ago. :)

    Thanks for sharing... for now I am living vicariously through you! )

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    hi explorer,

    i am enjoying your report very much, not least because you have managed in one trip, to visit places that i visited 30 years apart. 30 odd years ago in the days of package tours and Tito, we went to Bled and Dubrovnik on our honeymoon, and last year we went to Vienna.

    looking forward to more,

    regards, ann

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    August 14 - Back to Dubrovnik

    Traveling independently on a budget may not be the same as a first class tour, but it can lead to some new and different experiences. Today we had an interesting adventure taking a three hour car ferry from Korcula back to Dubrovnik.

    As the ship pulled into the port in Korcula, my first impression was it looked like a small cruise ship. Our tickets said deck and I envisioned a nice cool lounge inside with panoramic windows, but for that privilege you must eat at a restaurant. We ended up sitting outside on the floor under the life boats. Not exactly first class, but with our picnic lunch it felt more like a genuine experience. All around us people were reading or just watching the view. Turns out it was a transport ship for people and cars, but for $30, it was worth it. Had we gotten on at an earlier port, we probably could have gotten a deck chair.

    Arriving in Dubrovnik was a bit of a hassle. The street in front of the terminal was blocked off for a festival and we ended up carrying our luggage quite a distance in the full sun to the taxi stand. There's a heat wave here. Our accommodation is Aparments Pavisa and it is right next door to our other sobe here in Dubrovnik.

    As a special treat, we decided to take an evening cruise. There are so many choices here ranging from catamarans to pirate ships. For our budget, we chose a glass bottom boat panoramic cruise and it was perfect. There were only 6 of us on the boat so we could easily move around. Not only that, there was a glass viewing area in the middle of the boat and although we didn't see exotic fish, we all agreed the water here looks almost purified. Our boat driver never said a word, but that freed us up to explore on our own. The brochure for the cruise was amusing. It said, "Beautiful view of maritime soil."

    Walking around after dark, Dubrovnik looks beautiful with the churches lit up, old fashioned lanterns on the streets, and candlit cafes. There's a crowd outside with the parrots and the girls from London are with the mother cat and her kittens. In the harbor there's a fancy sailing ship with tiny lights on the masts. When traveling on a budget, we won't be sailing on it, but traveling like this we are closer to the people. I think I like it this way best.

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    Hello, gruezi and all recent respondents:

    I have only had the pleasure of touring Europe, including Slovenia and Croatia, in August. Therefore, the question about traveling in December is not easy. Clearly, the weather is prone to be more rainy and gray, with certain areas, especially in the Julian Alps of Slovenia, somewhat snowbound. Daylight, of course, is shorter, but crowds are much smaller, too. This can be especially beneficial in highly touristic places like Dubrovnik. In short, I wouldn't consider travelinmg to these` areas in December to be highly desirable, but not bleak either. After all, you're bound to experience some wonderful Christmas markets.

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    August 15 - We're off the Italia1

    Transition days are hard for me. I tend to become attached to wherever I am and leaving Croatia was particularly difficult. Our transition today took us to the Amalfi Coast of Italy to Sorrento.

    When traveling in Europe, it's always amazing to use how cheaply you can travel between countries on cut-rate airlines. Today we too an Easyjet flight between Dubrovnik and Rome, but was it on time? No. It was delayed by three hours. Thank goodness for the free wifi access codes given to departing passengers.

    At the departure gate, it was chaos at Easyjet. People were crowding into a small space to be first. Fortunately we had flown these airlines before and had paid just a little extra for speedy boarding. Along with five other people we got on our own bus to the plane and got to pick any seat we wanted. We all felt like VIP's.

    Our flight to Rome was under an hour and after three easy train connections we arrived in Sorrento. Our accommodation, Settimo Cielo, is high on a cliff above the ocean. We have a balcony with a view of Mt. Vesuvius and the ocean, and there's a refreshing pool right under our balcony.

    Dinner tonight was at Ristorante Delfino. To get there we had to walk down a long winding road to the waterfront below our hotel. Our table was outside literally three feet above the water. This area seems to be a special destination for Italian holidaymakers and their family. Some people were swimming at the beach even though and it was close to midnight and children played soccer on the beach.

    Tonight from our balcony we can see all the twinkling lights of the Gulf of Naples and fireworks to commemorate a holiday are lighting up the sky in the distance. Transition days are hard. When I came here I felt in my heart was still in Croatia, but I am already starting to love this place too.

    Check out the live webcam from our hotel to see the view we have from our room!
    http://www.hotelsettimocielo.com/

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    August 16 - Along the Amalfi Coast

    Whenever I mentioned to anyone that I was going to Italy this summer, they told me I must see the Amalfi Coast. Today I got to find out why.

    We started our day with a bus ride from Sorrento to Amalfi and the trip was just as all the guidebooks said it would be. Cliffs rise high above the Gulf of Naples and the road that follows it is quite a feat of engineering. Skillfully our bus sped up to the top of the cliff and made one hairpin turn after another. Looking down below we could see villages rising like steps from the sea, olives and lemon groves, and tiny beaches tucked into hidden coves.

    The town of Amalfi was much busier than we expected. A sea of holidaymakers sat on the beach under yellow, green, blue or candycane striped umbrellas. Some swam or used paddleboats, others slept or listened to music, and some even had espresso delivered to them in real espresso cups.

    Lunch was at Cafe Francese Amalfi. It is an Old World cafe dating back to 1845 with beautiful wood and brass fixtures. We ordered paninis and frozen lemon mousse which is the best I have ever had. It was light, fluffy, and tasted so fresh the lemons might have been on the trees yesterday.

    In the center of town is the Cathedral of Amalfi. It is undergoing considerable restoration and they have uncovered beautfiul frescoes hidden under centuries of plaster. The church also features a museum of church relics such as the bones of St. Andrew and a intricately carved cross made of mother of pearl.

    Walking around the main shopping street, lemon products were displayed everywhere. Limoncello was sold in beautiful bottles along with lemon soap, lemon table cloths, and lemon marmalade. I found myself attracted to an appealing display of baskets of lemons in front of benches with comfy lemon yellow cushions. I ordered a glass of fresh lemon and orange juice which they hand squeezed right in front of me. I was happy when the owner told me I could have it on the cute benches until I realized I had become a live advertisement for the store.

    Since it was a nice sunny day, we took a boat back to Sorrento. It was a high speed jet ferry with seats inside and out. Watching the shoreline dotted with ancient watch towers, we couldn't imagine what it might have been like for people long ago to make a living on a cliffside that rises like a mountain from the sea. The boat stopped briefly in Positano and it looked like a very relaxing place for a holiday on the beach.

    Back in Sorrento at the dock it was so hot and humid that most people could not picture themselves hiking up the road to the top of the cliff to the main part of town. Everyone piled into a bus including us which was so packed people were literally bursting out the doors. The only problem was this was a 15 minute break for the driver. In this heat no one could believe the driver was casually standing around having a cigarette and conversation and called out in Italian to leave now. Finally he boarded to cheers of bravo. There was so much enthusiasm and energy that the whole bus broke out in a series of Italian songs, possibly sports related. As we got off the bus in town, they all cheerfully called out, "Arrivederci!" to us.

    Tonight was decided to have a picnic dinner on our balcony. As we ate, two giant cruise ships all lit up sailed right by our accommodation with their long deep horns echoing throughout the town.
    We could see hundreds of flashes from cameras all over the ship. I am sure Sorrento looked as magical to them as they did to us.

    Right now we are sitting outside on the balcony enjoying the lights in the distance. Everyone was right about what they said about the Amalfi Coast. In Italy, it certainly is the place to be.

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    August 17 - A Day at Pompeii

    Today was a day of culture, learning, and fun. We visited the ancient ruins of Pompei.

    Since it was a sunny day outside we decided to stroll down the long winding road leading from our hotel to the town and stop at some interesting sights along the way. Just parallel to the main street is a pedestrian zone that's a tourist's delight. One store after another offers limoncello samples and products and you can actually watch how it's made and bottled. Hundreds of shoppers were there and the streets were so narrow we had to rescue a long trailing silk scarf off David's backpack that got snagged on a keyring. In the middle of this area is the Sorrento Men's Club. Surrounded by frescoes on the walll, men, mostly retired, talk and play cards. No women are allowed.

    Another interesting sight was the Lemon Grove Garden right in the heart of the city. As we walked through the lemon grove it was hard to imagine that right beside it are apartments and a playground. Benches made of logs were conveniently placed on the paths. Suddenly a voice called out, "Hello!" It came from an organic lemon stand at the entrance. We tried traditional limoncello along with blueberry and licorice flavored. It seemed so surreal that it would be there in a place where we were the only visitors at the time.

    On the train trip to Pompei, an accordion player and his preschool age son appeared. The skill of the accordion player was terrible, but even sadder was the son solemnly walking in front of him, hands cupped, but receiving no coins.

    Our visit to Pompeii was amazing. In August 79 AD, Mt. Vesuvius erupted and buried Pompeii in 30 feet of volcanic ash. It wasn't until the 1600s that the area was discovered and excavations began in 1748.

    Pompeii was much more extensive than I ever imagined. There is an incredible network of stone streets with chariot wheel tracks worn right into the stone over the centuries. People seldom cooked so there is evidence of restaurants with huge brick ovens, stone wheat grinders, and marble counter tops with holes to hold warming pots. Several houses had mosaic tile floors and frescoes on the walls.

    Continuing on our tour we discovered several dogs lying in the cool shade of the houses. One was even sleeping inside a bathtub in the bath house. Signs at the entrance encouraged people to consider adopting one of these dogs. In the meantime they are being sheltered and cared for by the Pompeii Heritage site staff. Before leaving we toured an ampitheater and saw ancient lead pipes, jugs, and plaster casts of people and a dog as they were found during excavations.

    Tonight in town we were pleasantly surprised to discover it had become a pedestrian zone for the evening. Hundreds of people casually strolled down the street and even the most fashionable shops were open.

    Dinner was at Ristorante Pizzeria S. Antonio. The manager was so friendly and made a point to stop at each table to chat with the people.

    On our way back to the hotel we stopped at Gelateria Primavera. The gelati here is so good that even Pope Benedict has been here and they have the pictures to prove it. It was so jammed in there you just had to just order the first flavor you saw. For us it was Irish Cream and it was delicious.

    Looking across the Gulf of Naples after midnight, we can no longer see Mt. Vesuvius. It's hard to believe what happened so long ago at Pompeii. I'm glad I got to see it today.

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    ExplorerB,

    I'm very much enjoying your continuing Euro-report. I especially liked hearing about the dog adoption program at Pompeii. I wish the staff there the best of luck in their efforts - most commendable of them to do it.

    A quick question: Italy's Circumvesuviana line between Naples and Sorrento seems a little sketchy. Would travelers going between those two points be better served taking a` bus? It seems many tourists have had run-ins with young thugs. Can you provide us with more details as regards safety on that trakin line?

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    Thanks for the great report. We are spending 2 weeks in Slovenia next June. We are planning 4 days at Lake Bled and a week in a hiking facility in the mountains (no tourists!)
    I still haven't found the cheapest way to get there, but am still trying !

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    Great trip report! I like your writing style and level of detail. FYI, for people asking about the crowds in DBV, we were there in mid-May last year and it was not crowded at all, in fact it was difficult to find a restaurant where we were not the only people in it. During the day it was crowded a bit with cruise ship folks, but by afternoon it was quite empty.

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    Hiplederhosen- We have also heard some reports about`Italy's Circumvesuviana line between Naples and Sorrento. When we were on it there were lots of tourists, but we did make sure to hang onto any bags or cameras, especially when the doors opened for a new station. It is a line where there are pickpockets. We were advised by some locals whom we met on the eurostar to avoid this line at night.

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    August 18 - Rome

    Early this morning when we woke up, a huge cruise ship was in the harbor with bright orange tenders ferrying people to shore. Below our balcony people were already splashing in the inviting pool and at the beach below, brightly colored umbrellas were popping up everywhere. Zipping our bags closed, I impulsively suggested we spend one more day here, but after considering all the costs, we decided to move on to Rome with a promise to ourselves to return to this same hotel, Settimo Cielo, in the future.

    On the train trip to Naples, the first leg of our journey, there was a lot of "entertainment." The accordion player and his son from yesterday reappeared followed by a more talented player and even a small group with a saxophone, bongos, and a tambourine. I'm not sure if any of them got money from our car.

    Fortunately the train to Rome, a eurostar, was more comfortable. We grabbed some last minute sandwiches out of a vending machine. They looked like they were bursting with cheese and mushrooms, but it was a trick. They were only sticking out of the side of the sandwich and the inside was mostly bread.

    Our hotel, Hotel Paba, is just down the road from the Colosseum. We visited San Pietro in Vincoli to see Michelangelo's statue of Moses. It was very striking with a detailed cloth and beard all carved in marble. This church is a significant pilgrimage site. The church also featured the prison chains of St. Peter.

    Using our Rick Steves' Rome 2010 guide, we decided to check out all three of his suggestions for good restaurants in the ancient section of Rome and all three were out of business. It just goes to show that good restaurants come and go all the time. We ended up at a fun pizza place near our hotel called Wanted.

    After dinner we headed over to the Roman Forum. People were everywhere taking photos, and looking down into the site, it showed that Rome will forever be an ongoing archaeological dig.

    Tonight the Colosseum looked stunning all lit up with a half moon behind it. Some families posed with outstretched hands as if they were holding it up while others just sat and stared at it in awe. We climbed the steps behind the Victor Emanuel Monument and discovered an Italian tv show being filmed with part of the Forum as a backdrop. Tomorrow will be another hot humid day in Rome, but I can't wait to explore some of the ancient parts of this amazing city.

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    August 19 - Touring Ancient Rome

    When I was in high school and college, I was never a fan of ancient history classes. Perhaps it's because it was a requirement to graduate or the teachers, as I recall, had a dry textbook approach. Today in ancient Rome I became a student again, but this time an enthusiastic one.

    We started our day on Palatine Hill. This former palace high above the Roman Forum was built in 80-81 CE. It was the home of an aristocratic family. Although in ruins today, excavations have uncovered remarkable artifacts including frescoes now pieced together like puzzles. We toured the ruins of Emperor Octavius' house where there were remains of intricate frescoes with vines, leaves, and flowers, yet after all these years, many had retained their brilliant color.

    Passing the Arch of Titus on the way to the Colosseum we were amazed at the restoration work that has been done. Tour groups clustered in the shaded areas. It was very hot here today so we sat on the steps of the Colosseum and watched the action. Push carts sold traditional souvenirs such as snowglobes, postcards, and models of the Colosseum. Alongside them though, were many hawkers selling knock off designer handbags, sunglasses, and hats. They keep a watchful eye out for the police and if one is spotted, they roll up their wares in a sheet and scamper away, only to reappear moments later. Happy gladiators posed for photos with unsuspecting tourists for a higher fee than they may have bargained for.

    We had gotten a tip from Rick Steves to buy a combo ticket for the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum at Palatine Hill. This meant we could skip right past hundreds in line for the Colosseum and walk right in. Right at the entrance we were stopped by a friendly Australian who wanted to give us a tour. Spotting our Rick Steves' audio tour on our ipod Touch, he admitted our tour is good. "Rick Steves is the bane of my existence!" he said.

    The Colosseum was staggering in its height. Built in 80 CE, only 1/3 remains. At one time it held 50,000 spectators. We sat on a marble stone under one of the arches. As David read aloud about what happened here, I commented I didn't like what the colosseum represented. Those were heartless times. Thousands of people and animals were killed. I do remember hearing this story in ancient history classes, but tuned out the professors because the stories were so brutal. Here, however, you are confronted with the harsh reality of the gladiators. Below the reconstructed stage are all the rooms where animals and prisoners were kept. Reconstructed uniforms and weapons along with some authentic artifacts were on display.

    In the afternoon we took the metro one stop to Santa Maria Maggiore, a pilgrimage site. It was built in 432CE before St. Peter's Basilica. There was a mass in session, but right after we were able to view the delicate mosaics on the ceiling above the altar. The church also features the humble tomb on Bernini and fragments of the manger crib kept safely behind gold doors. Just down the street is Basilica di Santa Prassede where the finest mosaics in Rome are found.

    Dinner tonight was at La Gallina Bianca. We were interrupted twice by the same guy selling roses. He was very persistent. Before heading back to our hotel we visited Trevi Fountain. It's tucked into a small space but the statues surrounding it and the cascading fountain are enormous. Hundreds of tourists were there posing for pictures and tossing coins in the fountain. Beside us on a bench above the fountain were a couple who had just arrived from Seattle and had been pick pocketed on the metro. They said it was the classic bump and grab technique.

    Thinking back to the ancient history classes from highschool and college, I wish I had taken more of an interest in Roman history at that time, but it's never too late. Tomorrow I will be a student again as we explore more of this ancient city.

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    August 20 - A Day of Sightseeing in Rome

    The last day of vacation in a major tourist destination is always difficult. There are so many sights to see and so little time. Today it was brutally hot and humid here in Rome, but we made the best of it and saw some incredible sights.

    The Basilica San Clemente was built in the 12th century, but like much of Rome, excavations have revealed it was built on top of a 4th century church which was built on top of a 2nd century pagan temple. We descended the stairs of the brightly decorated church into a dark and musty underground world dimly lit to see the remains of the original churches. In one room I was drawn to the sound of running water. Centuries ago it was the first Roman house of spring water which still flows today into the Tiber River.

    After lunch at a modern cafeteria called a snack bar, we visited Piazza del Popolo. In 1480 it was the original entrance to Rome for pilgrims visiting the city from northern Europe. In the center is a refreshing fountain with four lion statues with water pouring from their mouths. I plunged both arms deeply into it to cool off. Another tourist dunked his entire head. Topping the fountain is a 10 story Egyptian obelisk that once decorated the tomb of Ramses II.

    Not able to resist the shopping district known as the Golden Triangle, I made a beeline to my favorite store, Swatch. I also checked out the home goods section in a departement store. It's always fun to go in a typical department store. The Golden Triangle is just down the street from the Spanish Steps.

    San Giovanni in Laterano is the home church of the pope and a Vatican Church. In order to be officially become the pope, he must sit in a certain chair on the altar. Beside the church in a separate building is a set of ancient wooden stairs. It is said that Jesus climbed these stairs. Today it is a pilgrimage site where hundreds climb the stairs daily on their knees.

    Dinner tonight was at Old Bear. It's on a small street hidden behind Piazza Navona. Their pumpkin ravioli with specks of smoked ham was delicious. To get there we took the infamous Bus 64 known for pickpockets, but fortunately we didn't see any.

    Piazza Navona was busy tonight. Street musicians entertained the crowd, artists sketched portraits, street vendors sold colorful flying saucers to kids, and people were enjoying the candlelit cafes or sitting by the fountain. Tomorrow we're headed for Dublin. Arrivederci, Roma!

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    To get there we took the infamous Bus 64 known for pickpockets, but fortunately we didn't see any.>>

    the worst experience I've so far had on a bus in Rome is being berated by an elderly roman matron for getting in her way as she was trying to get off. roughly translated [I think] she was saying "bl..dy tourists"!

    glad you had such a great time, and looking forward to more.

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    August 21 - To Ireland for a Day

    I love Ireland. We have been fortunate to spend many summers in the countryside here so in many ways, a one night stopover feels a little like coming home.

    Our Aer Lingus flight out of Rome lasted just under 3 hours. We headed to passport control and on to baggage claim where unfortunately our luggage never appeared. Feeling dismayed, we spoke with an Aer Lingus representative for baggage claim and he couldn't have been nicer. It turned out that our luggage had been tagged to go all the way through to Boston tomorrow so he actually went and retrieved it for us.

    Airlink is a bus company with a quick transfer from the airport right into Dublin. On the way in, I noticed all of the colorful Georgian doors on many of the buildings in Dublin. The Best Western Premier Academy Plaza hotel is not a characteristically Irish hotel, but its right off O'Connell Street near the airport transfer bus. We lost no time heading right out the door to a few favorite shops. Eason's Bookstore has a wonderful selection of books on all topics with many in paperback that are only in hardcover in the US. We also headed to ELC (Early Learning Centre) which is a British toystore that I really love, and to Boots. The city was buzzing with shoppers in this area of the city which is a pedestrian zone. We stopped briefly at the main post office which has retained the old world style of deep woods and brass fixtures.

    Dinner tonight was at Le Bon Crubeen on Talbott Street just of O'Connell Street. We actually had the best meal there we have had on the entire trip. I tried the grilled salmon and David had the baked sole. It was served with new potatoes which were delicious.

    Walking back to our accommodation the temperature difference between Italy and Ireland was striking. It seems as if fall comes early to Ireland. For us our summer holiday is over tomorrow. We tend to say this every summer, but this summer has truly been our best holiday ever!

    Stay tuned for final reflections.

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  21. 21 Normandy in October
  22. 22 How many bus/metro rides in Paris is too many in a day?
  23. 23 Trip Report I went to Paris in June
  24. 24 Berlin: Itinerary & Acco help pls
  25. 25 Christmas Markets and White Christmas in the Alps
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