A Travellerspoint blog

Ciao Italia...Bienvenue en France!

Our travelling days come to a close.

sunny 24 °C

What could a trip to Italy be without a visit to Venezia! It was with great anticipation that we boarded the train in Verona heading two hours away to Venice. I couldn't visualize in my head a city on water and even when we were there, I couldn't help shaking my head at the number of bridges and the canals. Notwithstanding the large puddle surrounding the Basilica (huh?), it does all seem to work. There are boats everywhere...water taxis carrying touristis, boats carrying constructions workers and equipment, private boats carrying people to work. I was envious that these people have such a beautiful commute.

Heeding Jane Londero's advice, we escaped the craziness of St. Mark's Square and went off the beaten path to the small passageways and bridges which crisscross the city. We listened to singing gondaliers and visited a beautiful church containing several major pieces of art which even got great reviews from Max and Angus. Unfortunately we didn't stay long enough to see Venice at night but I will return...anyone wish to join me?

Nils found a great route from Verona to Montpelier making the train trip half as long as we had thought that it would be. However, we were in for a crazy day of travel as there was very little time to make the 5 train changes that we had. Angus was our point man, jumping out of the train first carrying his MEC backpack asking for directions to the next train platform. The rest of us dashed after him, me bringing up the rear with our longsuffering bag on wheels. We had a few close calls, one very close call, but we made every connection and we were in our Meze apartment that evening by 9:30 pm.

The next day was Meze market day - lucky us! It is truly a feast for the eyes...meat, fish, olives, fruit, cheese, vegetables..fresh and yummy! Nils especially enjoyed conversing with the cheese man and enjoying some delicious samples.

Our apartment is very conveniently located to the market, shops, school and best of all, the ocean. Meze has two sandy beaches on either side of its small port. We have been swimming every day since we arrived. Max says that he will be swimming until his birthday which is in December...we will keep you posted on that. We have been extraordinarily fortunate with the weather. The man told us yesterday that after a chilly June and July, this is the hottest October in almost 40 years.

A few friends from my Wednesday night running club in Whitehorse have asked about running here in Mèze and whether I think that it is a good location for a running field trip. Yes!..although the past few afternoons have been very warm. We would have to get out in the morning and then retire to the café to discuss running strategies before heading to the market to look into nutritional options. The clouds have moved in this morning and the temperature has dropped to 20 degrees so it is much more pleasant for speed work. I have found a nice stretch of a bike path which would work wonderfully for the a, b, c's. This path goes right through the next few villages (Bouzigues and Balaruc-les-Bains) for a distance of 8 km. so there and back is a nice longish run. It is along corn fields and the ocean so very lovely. I am on the lookout for possible races around here so I will keep all you runners posted.

Max and Angus started school this morning. They are both at the same school - it is a middle school with grades 6 to 9. They walked off with backpacks full of binders and notebooks consisting of paper of "grand carreaux" and "petit carreaux"...I am hoping that if the French is a bust, at least their handwriting will improve.

October 1 - Meze beach

October 1 - Meze beach

Posted by clarkesabroad 00:39 Archived in France Tagged venice verona meze Comments (2)

Bustling Naples

or how to enjoy the sites and dodge traffic

sunny 24 °C

Audio tour up, boys!

Audio tour up, boys!

Pompeii amphitheatre

Pompeii amphitheatre

I am sitting in our hotel in Verona with a Venice guidebook planning our day trip in two days time. It sounds like it will be amazing! I am very excited to see this city that prompts so many superlatives in every guidebook I have looked at.

We arrived in Italy after an unforgettable boat crossing from Bar, Montenegro to Bari, Italy..unforgettable because everytime one of us mentions it, I start to sway and I can't get those waves out of my mind. The crossing was overnight which we thought was a win, win since our accommodation costs would be low for the day. Financially it was good but my emotions took a beating as I counted down the minutes until I could be to terra firma. Angus and Max agree with me when I say that it will be a while before I get on another ferry.

Our hotel in Naples was near the train station in a busy, seedy part of the city. The traffic was crazy but we loved the pulse and the takeaway kebabs in this area were fantastic. Our trip to Pompeii was a really special experience. We bought the audiotour and the four of us were kept rapt for 4 hours as we walked through the ruins listening to the history and stories. Our first stop was the amphitheatre which is very well-preserved and large enough to accommodate 7 gladiator battles at one time. The brothel, bakery and House of the Ancient Hunt were other favourites. The crowds were heavy when we first arrived but as the sun was setting, they had thinned and seeing the shadows on the buildings while Max and Angus walked the deserted streets was beautiful and something that I will remember for a long time.

A few quick, perhaps facile observations about Naples and Italy in general. The local brake shops must do incredible year round business.
The many cars and scooters in the downtown core try to remain perpetually in motion at crosswalk intersections until the last split second, at which time the alternative is eliminating a dumb tourista or slamming on their brakes. Surprisingly, the system seems to work....but, you have to learn quickly. You have to move consistently and confidently. If you stop, you will be punished. For consideration in Canada ?! It would certainly liven things up. As well, is it not evident that Italian is the absolutely perfect language for Italians ? What a fantastic vehicle for these Southern Mediterranean people to express themselves. It is so lyrical and full of the important facial and hand expressions - just like my lovely spouse
Janet, who fancies herself partially Italian anyway...just like her sister . ;)

Loving the overnight cost savings, we took an overnight train to Verona. I will also not soon forgot the sight of the four of us curled up like cats on the folding train seats. We had our own compartment ("just like on Harry Potter") so we could spread out. It wasn't a great sleep but lying awake in the dark as the train moves over the tracks is a cool experience.

We will be making our way over to Meze in two days and we are all keen to see what our place looks like and what the school is like...okay, I am the only one looking forward to that!

Posted by clarkesabroad 01:56 Archived in Italy Tagged verona naples pompeii Comments (1)

Lazy daze in Montenegro

With some exploring and volleyball thrown in.

storm 24 °C

looking down on the city of Kotor

looking down on the city of Kotor

We stayed in the Kotor Hostel's private apartment for 4 days.  It was a great location with the only drawback being that the room WiFi wasn't working.  This meant that each day we would visit the reception of the hostel and meet the new 20 somethings who were passing through.  Most were great and interested in our travelling family...one or two were idiots who complained about the "tourists"...conveniently forgetting that they are not indigenous to this area either.  

We love Kotor...it is a walled city, at the very end of a fjord, butted up against a steep mountain.    Max thinks that Montenegro is the very best name that he has ever heard for a country.  With such a great name, it comes to no surprise that it is the location of the casino that James Bond went to in Casino Royale  (actually the movie was filmed in the Czech Republic but they knew that Montenegro was a much sexier party name.)

The Old Town is a maze of stone streets (with no cars) which we loved to explore.  At night, it was a so fun to find new routes and come upon places that we hadn't seen before..or at least we thought that we hadn't been there.  One night, we went out for a walk and saw a volleyball game on a screen in a nearby pub.  We sat down for a beer and juice and watched Serbia triumph over Italy to win the European Championships.  Max is keen to get back into the game...and we are hoping that he will find it in France.

We found a beach near the city where Nils found beer for under an Euro...I may never get him to leave!  The most popular Kotor attraction is climbing the wall up the mountain to the Fortress of St. John.  We set out one night at 5:30 which made for a cool walk on the way up, beautiful views of the Bay of Kotor from the top, and seeing the setting of the sun on the way down.  When we were at the top, Max looked over the back of the fortress and saw the ruins of old stone buildings.  He was intrigued and found out that it was the village of Spiljari once the entry to the heart of Montenegro.  We decided that we would do more exploring the next day.

The next morning, the Clarkes lept out of bed at the crack of 10 am and watched the end of Avatar (we thought of downloading Casino Royale but it was $25 versus $5 for Avatar).  I was the sole member of the family who hadn't seen it and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  As we watched the movie, the clouds started moving in...for the first time in a month.  The wind started to blow, we heard thunder...and then it started to pour!  When it stopped raining we headed out to the Cathedral of St. Tryphon which we had discovered in on of our evening strolls.  It is an impressive Catholic church and we feel that knowing the St. Tryphon is the patron saint of gardeners will hold us in good stead for future Trivia Pursuit games.  

Max and I headed back up the town walls and we were part way up when it started to pour again.  We took refuge under an arch but the clouds were moving so quickly that the shower didn't last long.  When we left the main wall to go behind to explore the village, the sky was turning orange and the wind was blowing.  Max perched on the side of the abyss and said to me "I feel like Frodo climbing Mount Doom"...it was hilarious.  We walked around the village and took a picture at the quite well-preserved church.  Instead of walking down the stairs, we opted to take the less-trod path from the village.  There were many switchbacks and it got dark as we walked, but we had a fascinating conversation about censorship in the Vanier School Library (there isn't any).

Nils, Max and Angus are now playing D&D with Angus as dungeon master.  There is lots of jumping around and laughs...perhaps it has been worth carting those two big manuals around.  Tomorrow we will take a bus to Bar and then an overnight ferry to Bari.

Posted by clarkesabroad 11:35 Archived in Montenegro Tagged hiking Comments (0)

Our climbing days in Dubrovnik

sunny 30 °C

Our apartment was up 390 stairs from Dubrovnik's Old Town...not the "best choice" (Angus' words) but it was quiet and the owner Stjepo was very helpful in printing off our proxy voting papers to allow us to vote in the upcoming Yukon election.

Democracy in action!

Democracy in action!

On our first day in the city we descended looking for somewhere to swim. Beside the wall, just to the right of the fort, there is a secluded bay with some great spots for jumping and only a few other swimmers. When I swam out beyond the bay and turned around, the view of the high walls surrounding Dubrovnik was fantastic. The next morning we came down to walk right around the walls. We had hoped to get an early start to beat the heat but we aren't very good at that so we were making our way around at about 11:00 am and it was hot, hot. There was no shade so Max and Angus kept retreating into the shaded sentry towers which appear on each side of the wall. If I had had a padlock with me, I may have locked them in to stop the complaining! The views were amazing from each side and it was very easy to look down and imagine people living and working inside the walls in Renaissance times. Now there are many tourist apartments and restaurants but we did pass a school where the students were chatting and working just steps away from where we were walking.

That evening we went to a concert in the atrium of the Rector's Palace. There was a guest conductor from Indonesia, Noorman Widjaja, and he was so energetic, it was hard to take your eyes off of him. The Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra was wonderful and being inside the palace but with the ceiling open above us was awesome. The programme was Mozart and Dvorak...with a Wagner encore. Angus especially enjoyed the clarinet soloist.

On the subject of music...a big thank you to Sylvie Hamel for suggesting that we bring speakers to play our iPod. The Colby was the last thing that we bought before leaving Vancouver and we have loved arriving at each stop and putting on some familiar music. We hooked it up to the iPad and watched Philadelphia (part of the kids' education of movies from the 90s) and last night, we listened to This American Life before going to bed. A family that listens to TAL together....

Outside the gates of the Old Town

Outside the gates of the Old Town

Posted by clarkesabroad 09:41 Archived in Croatia Tagged dubrovnik Comments (0)

Sarajevo

Nils takes a turn at the blog

sunny 30 °C

Max and Angus in the main hall of the Olympic centre.

Max and Angus in the main hall of the Olympic centre.

3 days in mid-September in Sarajevo.

A whimsical entry or the stark, yet hopeful impressions of a centre of Balkan unrest and strife ?

Perhaps a bit of both. On the 2011 side of the ledger, Sarajevo has a cracking social scene and a very well designed and utiilzed pedestrian zone.
The Clarkes have experienced the pulsating beat of a number of pubs and clubs we are optimally located to experience second-hand out of the 10 foot windows of our room at the Residence Rooms Hostel in the Old Town. Wake me up before you go go, keep going, go, go, repeat, and, eventually quiet. Celebrate good times, come on.

As well, the reconstruction continues apace. But, as was the case in Coventry and Berlin and London and Dresden, it takes time and money. There has been some time, and likely a fair bit of money, but it is clear that this city was devastated during the 4 year seige - 4 years...
I think we all vaguely remember the news of the time, as many of us were finishing our formal education and starting our professional lives at the time. In contrast, the  similarly aged young adults in the Balkans were taking up arms in the beautiful mountains and valleys around Sarajevo.

The photos of the freshfaced boys/young men from that time period are quite chilling. They have long, floppy late New Wave hairdos with bandanas of various colours dressed in both quasi-formal military uniforms as well as in hastily assembled para-military outfits. In North America, we were enjoying the final, relatively carefree period prior to our collective launches into adulthood, while these young adults were about to be battle test all of the most recent East and West, short and mid-range arsenal of weapons on each other and their respective citizenry.

In both Mostar and Sarajevo, there are, not surprisingly, cemeteries devoted to the very discrete time period of 1992 - 1995. Actually, in Mostar there is one cemetery which only honours their young men from bloody battles from the Summer of 1993. In Sarajevo, the hillsides are dotted with graves just north of the infamous "Snipers' Alley". The most emotional juxtaposition is around the downtown former Olympic Site.

On the long-track speed skating oval, where the pride of Canada, Gaetan Boucher won two gold and one bronze medal, local Sarajevans were forced to start a mass provisional war grave.  The site is certainly less provisional now, but it is no less stirring. All of the concepts of world peace and the brother/sisterhood of humankind which the Olympic Games are intended to promote stands in jarring contrast to the terrible violence and suffering which occured during the most recent Balkan Conflict.

All of the Olympic sites were destroyed. Some have been somewhat rehabilitated, but the majority are being taken back by nature, a sort of real life Discovery Channel episode of "When Humans Leave". We walked on a good portion of the former bobsled track in the hills to the East. Suffice to say, they won't be hosting any sliding events in the near future. The track was near the Serbian frontlines and is now part of the Serbian geographic area of Bosnia Herzogvina. I understand it used to be a very popular municipal park area of Sarajevo, but now, it appears, mainly for political reasons, is falling into disuse and disrepair. By comparison, it would be like Cypress and Grouse on Vancouver's Northshore being abandoned.

The ultimate objective is for Sarajevo to host another Winter Olympics. This will not happen anytime soon, but this hopeful ambition provides strong energy for this storied and resilient community.

Posted by clarkesabroad 02:05 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Tagged balkan sarajevo conflict nils Comments (0)

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