Monday, April 28

Porec, Croatia

(see on map) trin: We had arrived in Croatia early in the tourist season. Our first day in Porec was sunny, almost hot but the following day the skies opened up. We did manage to check out the town when the weather allowed.

Euphrasian Basilica

Porec was the first of many walled towns we would visit along the Adriatic Sea.

Before we arrived, we knew little about the area of former Yugoslavia. In the coming weeks we would learn a lot about the area and find out that each country has their own take on recent history.

On a lighter note, the area is now set up for family tourism. There are extensive parks and camping areas along the seaside north of the town. The beaches are rock or cement slabs with ladders for access to the ocean. In Porec we coined the phrase, “It is probably really cool later in the season.” We said this often throughout Eastern Europe.

We were surprised to come across a large Chi Gong class in the seaside park.

The town was sleepy and the weather was crappy. So, we quickly moved onto the National Parks.

Friday, April 25

Dolomites, Italy

mike: After Riva we checked into half-board (breakfast, dinner included) Hotel Uhrerhof-Deur just outside the town of Ortisei in the Val Gardena area of the Dolomite mountain range, Italy's Alps. The town and its residents seem much more German than Italian due to Austria's influence prior to WWI. Both the towns and their street names have Italian and German names, St. Ulrich being the German equivalent to Ortisei. The area has an extensive network of ski lifts for skiing in the winter and hiking/mtbiking in the summer.

Photo from our room looking down into the town of Ortisei, one of our favorite views of the trip.

Another pizza for me, my pants are feeling tighter!

One trippy thing was the windy 20 km/h road on the way to our hotel abruptly turned into a 60 km/h immaculate tunnel for one mile before exiting to the same slow going conditions on the other side.

Our first day hike started out with patches of snow but quickly became ankle deep and to make matters worse, it started to snow so we bee lined it back to the car.

One of our tasty meals, the food here was some of the best of the trip.

The following day, we started a hike at a lower elevation in order to avoid a repeat yesterday's mishap.

We passed the hillside Church of Saint Giacomoh. No road access, church goers have to walk up.

Inspired by her surroundings, Trin broke out into an entertaining Sound of Music rendition.

We took the scenic route back to Venice driving over several of the Dolomites' highest passes. We were blown away seemingly infinite mountains leading off in every direction.

Along the way, we passed the town of Cortina, site of the 1956 Winter Olympics.

We spent one night in Trieste (northwest Italy) for logistical purposes (though it was pretty nice) since our next stop, Croatia, was easiest to reach via bus from here.

We took just two photos in Trieste, here is one, Castello di S. Giusto (Castle).

Monday, April 21

Riva Del Garda, Italy

mike: After Venice we rented a car and headed west to a lake resort town called Riva Del Garda on the north shore of Lake Garda. This long narrow lake is scenically located between huge mountains on either side and is a popular short getaway for Italians. Since it was still early in their tourist season, we had the place nearly to ourselves.

We worked off some of the pizza calories by hiking up to this high mountain church passed a old turret that Napoleon blasted with cannons for a great view down to the lake.

Back in the square recovering with a cappuccino. You may be able to just make out the church we hiked up to directly up from the left corner of the blue Hotel Europa.

On a day trip north the following day, we explored this cave where a waterfall (Cascata del Varone ) had carved out a vertical canyon in the mountain.

Next we hiked around this trout filled lake called Lago di Tenno. After nearly back to the car we came across a stream about two foot too wide to cross, gushing with cooold water. Determined not to walk back the long way, we found a long thin branch and attempted to pole vault across. After some tense moments, we gave a half cheer, half sigh of relief when we both landed on the other side, mostly dry.

Wednesday, April 16

Venice, Italy

mike: After a relaxing stay we headed east by train to Venice.

The island of Venice, once a thriving Mediterranean trade center, probably needs little additional introduction. As a cornerstone of Italy's tourist scene, it had the crowds, even in April, to prove it.

On our first day we hopped on the public ferry and cruised up the main waterway,Grand Canal, lined with old mansions each with unique character. It was a chaotic mix of passenger ferries, cargo ferries, taxi boats, and gondolas all headed in seemingly opposite directions. I was amazed no one crashed.

We were dropped off at Piazza (plaza)San Marco, the Times Square of Venice,packed with as many pigeons as people.

The ground was wet and the people waited in line on elevated walkways. Maybe the sinking city rumors are true!!

The Doge's (Duke's) pad.

Trin managed to step in the only pile of dog crap on the whole island. I had my back turned when it happened and all I heard was, AHHH! I turned to see everyone in the square staring at Trin and it took the rest of the afternoon to completely eradicate it from her shoe.

Our hotel was in a town called Mestre, just across the bridge on the mainland, an easy bus ride into Venice.It was very mellow here and offered a great balance and break from the Venice crowds.

Near town center in Mestre with an outdoor artist market.

Trin used the hotel's tub to catch up on laundry. Trin loves laundry.

One of our day trips was to Lido Island due east of Venice. The main draw is it's beach which supposedly is jam packed later in the summer.

Trin looking out to the Adriatic Sea. This island protects Venice from rough seas.

There were huge shell piles on Lido.

A Venice canal by night, we were very lost and wondering aimlessly when we took it.

Overall we were glad we came. The series of canals and boats running every which way and the old buildings are pretty surreal. The downside for me was the crowds. Anywhere, no matter how great, takes a hit in my book if we share the experience with hundreds of other people. I felt three days was sufficient for our visit.

Saturday, April 12

Cinque Terra, Italy

mike: We reached our next destination, Cinque Terra, by train from Nice. Cinque Terra is a region along the northwestern coast of Italy with five small towns huging the rocky coastline and linked by hiking trails and railway. Car access is very limited so each town offers a peaceful atmosphere. Vernazza, our choice, is arguably the most romantic and picturesque of the five. The area is very popular with tourist, particularly Americans. Most we spoke with discovered Cinque Terra through Rick Steve's travel guides who raves about its uniqueness.

On the following morning we took the train south to Riomaggiore with the plan to hike back to Vernazza.

The first stretch from Riomaggiore to Manarola, behind Trin, is a spectacular trail wrapping along a cliff above the breaking Mediterranean waves.

All of the towns share a similar color palette with each house different from its immediate neighbor. During peak season (June-Aug) the rocks behind us would be packed with swimmers and sunbathers.

Everything was going great until we discovered the trail between Manarola and Corniglia was closed so we ended up wondering around trying to find the alternate inland trail(6D), running into several people in the same predicament, before eventually resorting to the train to Corniglia.

Corniglia in the foreground and Manarola in the distance.

Almost home, looking down at Vernazza. Five hours is the estimated hiking time to cover the 11 miles from the first to last town when everything is open.

Nice cool big beer in the Vernazza plaza. Dinner was tasty pesto smothered pasta.

On the following day we hiked north to Monterosso, the last town to visit.

Looking down at Vernazza. The plaza at the back of the harbor is where we enjoyed the post hike beer yesterday.

The trail leading down into Monterosso.

Trin in the Vernazza Plaza. All of the local's boats were stored in the harbor due to rough seas.

We diverged from pesto and enjoyed some very fresh fish.

Sunday, April 6

Provence, France

Provence was the first time we rented a car. We got a Peugeot with GPS who became our new best friend with an English accent. "At the roundabout take the third exit."

We chose AIX en Provence as our home base. This first day we walked through the town center and checked out the fountains along the main street.

La Rotonde

The town is very cute with cobble stone walking streets, cafes and shops.

From the town we walked up to Paul Cézanne's art studio and home. While we were there, it was still rainy but we did get glimpses of spring time here and there.

Cézanne's studio

Wisteria in bloom

At one point we got on the right bus but heading the wrong direction. Here's a photo of us unknowingly riding into the suburbs. After a difficult conversation with the bus driver. An elderly lady got on the bus a told us "You sit down." Using hand signals she got us back to the other side of town.

We had the luxury of a small kitchen in AIX. I really liked grocery shopping in France. The cheese selection is amazing. It puts the snooty cheese guy at Whole Foods to shame. Here we are enjoying some home cooking.

Our second day, we visited Avignon on the Rhone River.

Palace of the Popes

Looking back at Avignon from Fort Saint-André in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.

The next morning we drove to Gémenos for our visit with Arnauld (former co-worker at PDI) at his new company, The Bakery. I was happy to see Arnauld again. His studio is growing quickly and it was exciting see all the progress they have made. The visit made me realize that I miss the challenges of production.

Photo from The Bakery's website.

Arnauld recommended that we take a drive to Cassius. It is a beautiful seaside town and from there we took a high coastal road south. We didn't know where we were headed but since we had GPS we didn't have to worry about it.

Beach in Cassius

Looking back down at Cassius

While driving back we cross another toll road. There were so many in France but we think the system makes sense. The people who use the roads pay for the construction costs and maintenance.

From AIX we took a bus to Nice where we sampled the nicoise food and relaxed on the beach before departing for Italy.