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Live Trip Report: Three Weeks in Scandinavia, Croatia, & Italy

Live Trip Report: Three Weeks in Scandinavia, Croatia, & Italy

Old Aug 14th, 2011, 11:07 AM
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Yes, just what I would say, i.e., Bergen the loveliest city and then along comes another. Fjords we saw on Bergen harbor cruise and enroute Nutshell trip from Oslo. You did see what we also enjoyed in Oslo...Vigeland, Munch & other art, Viking Museum, Vigeland, etc. A flight from Oslo to Venice? That is a bit unusual. Hope to hear more.
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Old Aug 16th, 2011, 06:51 AM
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Hi Ozarkbill- I thought a flight from Oslo to Venice seemed unusual too, but we did it on Ryan ir and it was very easy and inexpensive too.
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Old Aug 16th, 2011, 06:53 AM
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To see our photos go to explorerbear.blogspot.com



The streets of Venezia were a bee hive of activity today.  With warm temperatures and the sun shining brightly in the sky, we wasted no time getting right out to explore this amazing city on an island.

Scuola Grande di San Rocco is a 16th century building.  Often referred to as "Tintorreto's Sistine Chapel", there are over 50 paintings inside,  Housed on two floors, the museum has conveniently placed chairs around the room with mirrors in wooden frames you can borrow for a better view.  For the first five minutes inside, I couldn't understand why the place was so badly lit.  Turns out I was wearing my sunglasses!

Finding Ca Rezzonico was a bit of a challenge. After a series of left and right turns, many leading to a tiny bridge, or a dead end, and waiting for a vaporetto that never came, we finally found it.  It's a museum showing the life of wealthy people in the 18th century.  The paintings, porcelain, and furniture are nicely displayed although the focus of most of the rooms is what is on the walls and ceiling.

Back on the streets, crowds were gathering around bridges, churches, and gelatti stands.  In San Marco, people sat on the steps to escape the sun while others fed the pigeons, window shopped, or stopped by one of the carts selling Venezia souvenirs.  They appear to be doing a lot of restoration work and while the fencing around the Campanile explains the process, huge cosmetic ads covered one of the buildings and even the Bridge of Sighs.   We are always glad to see continual restoration work in progress, but it was disappointing to see ads placed over scaffolding.

Just off Rialto Bridge, visitors were tempted by machines churning ice cold lemon and orange drinks, and by slices of coconut placed on a fountain. Most appealing of all were cups filled with fresh watermelon, strawberries, oranges, and kiwi slices.  We saw some men selling knock off Prada bags. They create an appealing display for the tourists and then scurry off with them at a moment's notice if the police are spotted. Just to see what they would say, I asked one of them if they were real and he enthusiastically replied' "Yes. Please have a look!"

In the evening we met our good friend, Monika, and her friend Hanne in front of San Marco for dinner.  We started right off with a spritz at a very atmospheric cafe right on the Grand Canal with gondolas docked right beside us and vaparretos motoring by.  

On our way to our restaurant which was hidden behind the main tourist area, we noticed a  full moon rising above the Lido.  With her camera propped up on the rail of one of the bridges, Monika captured the image for us.  

At the restaurant we could tell that this was a place more for the locals.  With not another tourist in sight, we enjoyed a delicious meal surrounded by several large extended families.  With all the happy chatter around us, it was quite loud inside, but when you're in the company of good friends, it doesn't really matter.  After dinner we decided to find Harry's Bar, a favorite spot of Hemmingway.  Like adventurers ourselves, we searched along the dimly lit alleys and along the water's edge, but never found it.  Instead we stopped at Piccolo Martini which was a cute little restaurant.

The midnight bells rang out a warm welcome just as we stepped into San Marco. Surprisingly, only one cafe was still open with people gathering around to hear the orchestra playing romantic tunes. As it was getting late, it was time to say goodbye to our friends and for us to Venezia.  Tomorrow we head to Croatia!
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Old Aug 19th, 2011, 02:11 AM
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 The breakfast room at the Pension Guerrato was less crowded this morning, but at every table, people were planning out their day with their guide books.
Because we were able to leave our luggage at the hotel, there was time for us to make one more excursion.

San Giorgio Maggiore is located on an island across the Grand Canal.  It has impressive art work that would be considered a masterpiece anywhere else, and  stunning choir stalls, each hand carved to tell an episode from the life of St. Benedict.   Hidden behind the church is a cafe where you can get a nice table right down by the water.  

An elevator whisks you to the top of the bell tower for an amazing 360 degree view of Venezia.  Looking toward the town we saw hundreds of tourists milling about in San Marco and on the bridges.  Off in another direction we spotted sleepy villas, a garden maze, and a refreshing looking swimming pool.

Finding a comfortable spot on a vaporetto in Venice can be a challenge, and even more frustrating is waiting in the hot sun for one to arrive, only to learn it is going in the wrong direction.  We were lucky, though, and our vaparetto to the port where we caught our boat to Croatia was less crowded and felt like a sightseeing cruise.   The best part was the 30 minute trip along Venice's shoreline where we were in a parade of small cruisers.  Out at sea the water was smooth the whole way and at one point I saw a magnificent fish leap into the air and dive back down under.

Rovinj, Croatia is so picturesque.  Before WWII this was part of Italy and has a very Italian look about it with stucco houses with tiled roofs.  Our accommodation, Casa Garzatto, is a small flat right in the heart of the old town.  It is decorated in a modern seaside style with lemon yellow walls, a  tiny kitchenette, and even a much needed washing machine. 

Dinner was at the hotel's atmospheric restaurant where tiny votive candles line the walls outside.  It took awhile for our dinner to arrive, but the idea here is to slow down and take time to take it all in that you're on holiday.  David's risotto with asparagus was excellent.

After dinner we walked around the town. Off on a side street we discovered a tiny restaurant, Valentino,  sloping down to the sea where you can sit on a padded cushion with a nightcap and watch the fish as they swim in the water above submerged lights.    As soon as we sat down, the host said, "Might I suggest our evening's recommended drink."  It turned out to be $32 so David  opted  for the less expensive, but chic,  Bellini.  It came served in a delicate tulip shaped glass. The drink was made with Moet champagne  and peach puree which was so fresh you would think it was right off the tree.  Tomorrow we will just take a relaxing day and explore what this island has to offer.
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Old Aug 19th, 2011, 11:41 PM
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Today I feel as if I have stepped inside a picture postcard. We are in Croatia on the Istrian Peninsula, in the town of Rovinj.  It's a charming seaside town with  buildings that rise from the sea to the top of the hill where  a fisherman shaped weathervane stands on top of a bell tower looking  out to the sea.

We took a self-guided tour of the town and were really struck about how pretty it is.  Roaming  through the cobblestone streets with its stone houses with pretty wooden shutters, we came upon artist's studios which smelled of lavender.  The church at the top of the hill is a cool refuge from the mid day sun, but we opted not to climb the creaky wooden steps to the top of the bell tower.  

Back at the waterfront the farmer's market was offering visitors all sorts of treats to sample such as  juicy grapes, truffles with pesto, and sweet blackberries.   I couldn't resist looking through the stalls selling trinkets along the waterfront.  They offered everything from retro beach bags, to candles dripping with lace and glitter that look like a wedding cake and are  not my style.

Down at the waterfront was a perfect place for a picnic.  While we ate, various tour groups walked by following their guide like a scene out of Make Way for Ducklings.  They were listening to their guide by wearing earbuds.  Although in a a church or museum, not hearing a guide speaking loudly to a group is a welcome change from years past, it felt to me as if these people were not really living in the moment and there was an invisible wall between them and everyone else.

While washing clothes at our flat, the doorbell rang and an image appeared on the phone showing who was there.  We've never seen anything like this before at an accommodation.

Dinner tonight was at Maistral. We had a table right at the water's edge and watched the sun sink down into the western sky until it seemed to disappear into the sea.  In the distance I saw people silhouetted on the  peer enjoying the same view.  Later we discovered they were all standing in front of a huge yacht that had pulled in from Australia.  It was sleek, gray, and to me looked like an alien spaceship.  People were photographing it for hours while four people dined on the stern, oblivious to the whole scene.

This evening all of the stores were open until after 11:00 and children were having a great time riding scooters, playing games, and even dancing to a  band that played energetically in the street.  This seems to be a family holiday spot and so safe we never saw a policeman anywhere although we were told to be aware of pickpockets,We discovered a new place down on the rocks by the water's edge called Monte Carlo where we had a nightcap sitting on comfy cushions for half the price of the place we visited last night.  It had a great view of the town across the harbor and the Dean Martin music added to the ambiance.

Back at the hotel as I hung a load of wash on a clotheslines out our second floor window, I noticed someone below taking a picture of me.  It's nice to see so many people enjoying this picturesque town where we hope to return to some day.
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Old Aug 19th, 2011, 11:44 PM
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Our bus to Opatija left Rovinj at 12:00 with one easy transfer.  Driving through the countryside, we saw pretty stone houses with tiled roofs, donkeys, and little farm stands selling strings of pepper and garlic.

  One thing we noticed is that the bus drivers here are very determined to keep moving forward and show no mercy to anyone in their way.  On our first bus, the driver forced a woman in a fiat off the road and gestured his irritation with her as he drove by.  On our second bus, the driver didn't think I was moving fast enough onto the bus with the luggage and just drove right off with me standing on the steps of the bus.causing all the luggage to spill into the aisle, He almost hit a bicycle too and the rider grabbed onto the open  door of the bus to speak his mind while the bus continued to roll with him hanging on!

Our room at the Hotel Galeb is the best yet. We are on the top floor with private a balcony and expansive views of the  Kvarner Gulf. There are parasailers, beach umbrellas, and booths selling boat excursions.  The public beach offers all sorts of fun activities for children such as trampolines, sandy areas to build castles, and an array of inflatable seaside friends to borrow.


We decided to go for a  swim, but first we needed a beach towel,  A man with his own beachside kiosk told us his Croatia bath towel at $30 was a bargain, but we knew better and found one for half that price with a map of Croatia on it.  To reach the water, we enjoyed a free pass from our hotel to use the facilities at the four-star Hotel Savoy which enjoys an especially nice setting, along with amenities such as a bar and reclining chairs.  While there we met a young employee from Mostar, Bosnia, who claims he especially enjoyed speaking with us because he could practice his English language skills.  Swimming in the Kvarner Gulf, by the way, proved quite refreshing with a blend of hot and cold spots.

In the evening the town was full of energy.  As we walked around,  I enjoyed a special treat I  had in the Balkan region last year: corn lightly salted and grilled to perfection. We ended the evening at a hip seaside restaurant named Hemingway's.  Down the coast, the lights are glittering on the hillside and the moon shines a path across the bay. Tomorrow  we will visit one the most beautiful places  in the world according to National Geographic- Plitvice National Park
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Old Aug 21st, 2011, 04:43 AM
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Deep into the heart of Croatia just west of Bosnia, lies a paradise which would be hard to rival anywhere else on earth.  Plitvice National Park is a wonderland with 16 terraced pristine lakes connected by waterfalls and lush forests.

 Without a car, the best way for us to experience the park was through an organized bus tour.  Our three hour ride took us past typical Mediterranean towns with stone houses which seem to rise up from the sea in a series of steps topped with a church, small seaside villages, and through the industrial city of Rijeka which we learned is ranked 8th in the world in ship building.

Out in the countryside we passed small stone farmhouses, many with tiny stalls set up to sell their local honey.  Just as you might see in rural Ireland, some houses are abandoned and the roofs are missing, but here it's a different story.   We learned that during the homeland war in the 1990s, many of the houses were destroyed or abandoned and today they have no owner. Even more startling to hear was that it will be difficult to repopulate this area for awhile because there are many hidden mines in the fields which have yet to be cleared. 

Once at the park we were immediately struck by its beauty.  Each of the lakes has minerals which reflect the colors of the landscape causing the water to be a crystal clear aquamarine color.  Fish large and small, basked in the water in the sunlight and were completely unafraid of anyone passing by on the natural wooden boardwalks. It was if time stood still for them and we were looking at them in an aquarium with purified water.   I wanted to plunge right into the refreshing water with them.  

A highlight of the trip  was a boat ride on a boat powered by batteries so there is  no impact on the environment.  As we glided across the water past feathery reeds dancing in the breeze,  we noticed branches at the bottom of the lake which may have fallen in decades ago, but were perfectly preserved.  All around us, small waterfalls tumbled down the hillside, and ducks and fish coexisted in perfect harmony.  It was one of the most serene  experiences I have had in years.

Feeling hungry and thirsty, our group was grateful when our boat docked in an area with picnic tables.  Attracted by the smoky smell of a barbecue, we scrambled over to an open air  barn where they were roasting chickens on a spit over a roaring  wood fire. It reminded me of a folk park and smelled delicious.  

Hiking back toward the parking lot, we came upon the tallest waterfall in the park.  The water cascaded down from above and must be truly magnificent in the spring after the melting snows.  Although you are requested not to go off the path, many members of our group pranced over there and posed right under it to the dismay of our tour guide.  Much of the group was made up of medical school exchange students and our guide was like a task master trying to keep them in step with the tour.

When we arrived back at our hotel, I realized it was after 8:00 pm making this a long but memorable day. Just when you think there may be no more magical places in the world, one appears before you.  I'll keep a mental photograph of this place in my mind forever.
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Old Aug 21st, 2011, 01:45 PM
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Today was a transition day for us from Opatija to Rab Island.  As I've mentioned in previous years, transitions are hard for me when we are staying in a particularly nice place.  We were upgraded when we checked in to a suite at the Hotel Galeb with expansive views up and down the coast from our balcony.  Not only that, the hotel had a private beach at a sister hotel, friendly service, and a breakfast fit for a king.  The hotel also honored a Rick Steves' discount even though we paid with credit card rather than cash.

Since our catamaran didn't leave until 4:30, we spent some time walking the promenade which you can follow for miles.  The water looked so inviting and I couldn't help but feel envious of the people just floating around without a care in the world.  This looked especially appealing because today the heat is oppressive.  All along the path, craftsmen showed their works of art.  One humorous sight was a woman in a straw hat with palette in hand pretending to  carefully study the scene as she painted. Looking closer I noticed the houses didn't resemble anything in the area at all.

At the bus station we waited in the shade and thank goodness the woman from the hotel spotted us because she told us we were at the wrong spot and pointed us in the right direction.  It was the same beaten up bus from the other day with no a.c and no seats but it got us to the ferry terminal.

Our catamaran to Rab Island was identical to the one we took from Venezia to Rovinj and cost only $12 for a 90 minute trip.  Because our accommodation Pension Tamaris cost less than $100 per night, we expected something small and rustic, but it's actually a small hotel right on the water with a restaurant.

Walkinging around the old town in the evening, we were amazed to discover scores of booths and stores selling everything from tacky souvenirs to really nice artwork.  it's been a long day so we'll check it all out tomorrow. I can't wait to go swimming too!
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Old Aug 21st, 2011, 02:18 PM
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The sounds of cicadas chirping, sparkling aquamarine water, and an inviting old town with cobblestone streets, palm trees, and stone houses with wooden shutters. It's  all so inviting, but I have to admit it, it is hot and humid here today.

Our day started out with a walk into town. With our guidebook in hand, the plan was to follow a self guided walking tour  to see the old church towers, but we barely made it into town before collapsing into chairs at an inviting cafe with cool misty water emitting from a fan.  Continuing on, we visited an interesting shop Natura Rab selling organic locally made honey, olive oil, lavender, and pottery, but after that we couldn't take the heat anymore and took a taxi back to our accommodation.  No wonder no one was out on the streets this morning.

The owner of our accommodation pointed us in the direction of a water taxi to take us to a swimming place. We figured he meant it would take us back into town to swim, but instead we headed out to an island with hiking tails, a sandy beach, or secluded areas to choose from to put down your towel. I felt like I couldn't get into the water fast enough and when I did, it was beyond refreshing. We floated for about 90 minutes in water that was so clear you could see the bottom quite far out.

We followed a walkway along the water's edge into town for dinner and along the way made some  discoveries. The first one was a set of hidden steps which led up to a landing with an amazing view of the harbor and over the tiled roof houses in town with four stone bell towers in the distance. The second discovery was an archaeological dig site where they are uncovering the site of an old church.

After dinner I decided to buy a cute travel bag I had seen in a shop. Much to my surprise, the owner of the shop offered it to me for 1/3 less than the price on the label.  Down the street I saw a miniature version of the same bag and the owner there tried to sell it to me for more than the big bag I had bought, and when he dropped the price, it still was no bargain.  I have noticed that bags such as Louis Vuitton  and other designer brands are sold in shops side by side with flip flops so I am sure they're not real. 

it is now 11:00pm and still hot and humid.  Too bad the beach is not open at night.  It's the perfect night for another swim!
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Old Aug 26th, 2011, 12:54 PM
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Yesterday morning the sun was already quite intense by the time we had breakfast on the outdoor patio of our accommodation. With cushions in hand decorated with smiling seaside creatures, families headed off for a day at the beach.  Many took the water taxi out to the island to go swimming while others lined the stone promenade just below the walls of the old town where pine tree branches bulging with pinecones provide shade.

We walked around the old town before noon, but again ended up at the cafe with the mist spraying fans In the 100 degree heat, people looked absolutely wilted there.  One man dumped a glass of water down his shirt while his wife actually removed her bra right at the table and draped it across her husband's lap.

The bus ride from Rab Island to Zagreb was both spectacular and miserable.   The spectacular part was the scenery.  After a short car ferry ride, the bus ascended into the hills on a series of switchbacks. All around us the landscape was astonishing with nothing except white barren rocks and low lying shrubs.  This is because the bora winds which blow salty air and water prevent anything from growing.  No one could live here, I thought to myself, and there wasn't a house in sight.

Soon we entered a more low lying mountainous area. Scattered here and there were small tidy farms or bungalows which showed no sign of life except for an occasional table set up selling honey.

All this beautiful scenery was in stark contrast to our seats on a crowded tour style bus, except it wasn't, it was a state run bus company.  We were assigned the last row which had zero leg room. Picture yourself for five hours crammed into a little kiddy car and you've got the idea. 

Our  hotel in Zagreb was really nice and right in the heart  of the city. We walked around and discovered a small pedestrian area with lively cafes in a neighborhood that was more like a small town.  

At noon today we took a BritAir (Air France) flight from Zagreb to Paris. It was a small plane only holding 72 passengers.  Once in Paris at the airport, we felt a little lost until we found a screen offering virtual assistance.  A crystal clear  image of a person appeared on a flat screen and gave us directions. It was the most high tech system I have ever seen.

It is now 5:00 pm and as I write this entry from the airport cafe,  the sun will soon be setting on our holiday  this summer.    With lots of good memories it's time to go home.
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Old Oct 25th, 2011, 06:15 AM
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Bookmarking your excellent report and blog.
Thank you for posting.
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