365-189 to 365-195 A Week in Pictures

We’ve spent this week going from one beautiful place to the next. We are so blessed in this time of our lives.

Day 189 – Zucchini Flowers

We made some of these beautiful zucchini flowers that we bought in Italy on our camping stove in Switzerland today. Just their colour makes me feel warm and happy. Then comes the taste…

Day 190 – Sleeping Under the Heavens

Ameli having a nap while Martin and I prepare lunch. The campsite had this lovely outdoor kitchen area, complete with Aga which I wished I could take home with me and pop in my own non-existant garden.

Day 191 – Aunty D

As we drove in to the little town of Sreser we saw my sister there, standing talking to someone. I pulled Ameli in to the front seat and she saw her aunty and let out a squeel of delight. They walked back to where we were staying and Ameli smiled all the way.  My sister was with me when Ameli was born, and they have had a very special bond ever since, but I think this is the first time Ameli visibly and outwardly recognised her.

Day 192 – Soccer/Football World Cup Final

Quite a tough match to watch with an overtired little one, and honestly the only reason I watched was because I know it’s one of key moments in history people always refer back to. “So where were you during the 2010 World Cup?” I know the 1996 Rugby World Cup is still referred to often enough! Anyway, so here’s some of me, watching the game in a tiny little Konoba (pretty much a bar on a corner) in Sreser, Croatia.

Day 193 – Water Baby

Ameli loves the water. It’s been great. Born in water, never cried during a bath, splashes the whole bathroom during bath time, loves swimming and now loves the ocean. Every time we leave the house and walk toward the sea, she squeels with delight at the first glimpse of the ocean. When we let her walk, she walks right to it. It’s fantastic. My mother always said I should have been a fish, and I believe I can now say the same about my little girl.

Day 194 – Tristenik, Croatia

This beautiful, tiny port is regular host to seafarers from all over. We come here for the pizza, and my sister and her boyfriend come for the beach parties when it is packed full of ships. The more vessels, the bigger the party, apparently (when the party only starts at 11pm, it’s tough to take your baby along, sadly, so we didn’t go). For me, I just love looking at the boats. It reminds me of my favourite poem Wanderthirst by Gerald Gould – “the old ships sail to home again, the young ships sail away”.

Day 195 – Family

Martin and I have travelled a lot in our seven or so years together, and this is the first vacation where we’ve stayed in the same spot for nine days. It’s really been lovely, waking up whenever, having a slow breakfast, going for a swim, having an ice cream, having lunch, then a nap followed by another swim, a bit of a walk, dinner either locally or at a neighbouring village, perhaps a little sightseeing, an evening swim and then to bed. It’s been wonderfully unusual.

Thank you so much for joining us for our week in pictures

Day 26 – Sintra to London

For some reason the full circle of life has to also apply to holidays, and good things too, have to come to an end.

After an early morning cab ride to the airport, we boarded a very full plane to London Luton airport and had an uneventful flight. After waiting for what felt like forever for our checked in luggage to arrive we left Luton for London, Marble Arch where we sat for a few hours having another sandwich lunch before making our way for the last time as a foursome to Hyde Park Corner tube station. Edu and Simryn took the westbound train to Heathrow for their onward journey to Dubai, while Martin and I took the northbound train to Cockfosters to our friend Brendan’s house where we ended up spending the night.

Exhausted from not only a day’s travel, but also a very busy 26 days we had dinner and went to sleep.

I think it will take a few weeks for the past three and a half to really sink in, and I think we’ll have many days to come where we’ll have flashbacks and thoughts about the whirlwind that was our European holiday.

Of course, the best way to mourn the passing of a great vacation is to plan another, and Martin and I are already beavering away on plans for the next, so keep your RSS feed active or check in from time to time, cause we’re not packing those backpacks too far away!

Day 25 – Sintra

Sintra. Well… it is like stepping off a train and in to a fairy tale, really. Like most of Europe there is Sintra, then there is Old Sintra. We, of course, were interested in Old Sintra. A World Heritage Site whose name means “Mountain of the Moon”, Sintra was made famous by the English poet Lord Byron who referred to it as a “glorious Eden”.

Built on hills and their valleys, there are quite a few castles, palaces and stately homes in Sintra as this used to be the summer home of Portugal’s royalty. From the 8th Century Moorish Castle, to the magical and mysterious Quinta Da Regaleira (a manor house built by a very crazy mind, with caves, tunnels and more) and the Disney-like Pena Palace, there is more to explore in Sintra than we had time for, especially with me hobbling up hill and down hill.

Edu and Simryn tried to squeeze as much in to the day as they could, but we decided to take it easy and make it one of the very first destinations for our next holiday, so we walked from the hotel Pensao Residencial (http://www.residencialsintra.blogspot.com/) to the Liberdade park, where we walked around looking for one of the famous fountains, which we only found, in the end, on our way back, but we had a great walk through the gardens. We found our way very indirectly to the National Palace which had at its origin an Arab palace, but today is a museum where concerts and exhibitions are regularly held.

We spent some time walking around the shopping area of the ‘Old Town’ admiring the ceramics which are produced on site. We looked at and photographed such structures as the Clock Tower, and St Martin’s church, and then took the 434 bus to Pena Palace. On arrival we decided that we would walk directly up to the palace and then take the scenic route down. With all the stairs I wasn’t really up for going inside with my sore foot. The walk down was fantastic. The palace was started as a monastery in the 1400’s but after it was damaged by lightning in 17 something and then almost destroyed in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 it lay in ruins until it was built in to an amazing cake frosting looking castle in 1838. The grounds still have two chapels and a herb garden on it, as well as various other weird and wonderful structures, like a Turkish Bath looking fountain, a Water Wheel which would make an awesome wedding chapel, a ‘Valley of Lakes’ which literally is a valley down the mountain with landscaped lakes and duck shelters on two of the lakes that look like mini palaces. We took about an hour and a half to walk the intricate network of paths towards the exit.

In the evening the four of us went for dinner at a wonderful restaurant that had a fantastic Portuguese flair where we ate delicious duck, steak, sea bass and cod, and Simryn and I had absolutely phenomenal deserts of Strawberry, Chocolate and Vanilla Ice cream (Simryn) and I had the best chocolate mouse I’ve ever experienced! Perhaps not the cheapest meal at E95 for the four of us, but certainly in the top three meals of the holiday.

I for one, cannot wait to go back to Sintra to really do it justice.

Day 24 – Spain to Portugal

We woke early this morning, had breakfast and walked outside to see that the beautiful sunshine of yesterday was hidden behind rain clouds. We cancelled our plans for a stroll to Columbus’ castle as the rain began, quickly loaded up the car, went to the toilet and began the journey to our final destination, Sintra.

You might have wondered for a second why I felt it necessary to tell you that we went to the toilet, right? Well, about half an hour away from Benalmadena, having out driven the rain and for no particular reason I suddenly realised that I no longer had my camera with me. We searched the car before turning around and driving back in to the rain to hopefully find it again. By the time we got back, now just on an hour after we left, the roads were flooded under about 20 cm of water, water was gushing like fountains out of cracks in the road, storm drains spurted like cartoon fountains with their lids hovering above the road, and rain pounded the earth with the force of hailstones. Martin and I ran back up to the reception desk, and from the desk to the flat where I recovered my camera (gratefully) and then back to return the key. By the time we got back to the car we were both soaked to the point that we could wring out our clothes and probably fill a litre bottle! It is interesting how things sometimes only become valid in retrospect. This is the same rain we had two days ago, but as yesterday was so beautiful it didn’t seem to matter, but now we feel exceedingly blessed with the weather yesterday!

Fortunately, even though we stayed wet for some time, we did out drive the rain again, and enjoyed a beautifully scenic drive through some really remote parts of Spain for the next few hours. We drove past some stunning villages, as quintessentially Spain as you could imagine, before the invasion by the tourists and a landscape dotted with ancient castles and ruins.

We eventually arrived in Badajos where we left the car and took a coach across the border to Lisbon in Portugal. From there we took a (very very cheap!) train to Sintra but by the time it arrived it was dark. We checked in to our hotel, which we’ve all agreed was the most beautiful of the trip. It is an old villa in the hills of Sintra with 20-odd rooms, large landscaped gardens, a swimming pool and lovely breakfast room. The rooms themselves were spacious, gorgeously decorated and extremely luxurious, and room service is a definite added bonus!

Day 23 – Ronda

With yesterday being as much of a non day as it was, partly due to our exhaustion and partly due to the weather (I forget, did I mention the weather yesterday? The mist was so thick we weren’t aware of the gardens across the road from our apartment till this morning!) we were very happy to find that today’s weather forcast was wrong and not only did it not rain all day but it was in fact rather hot!

After breakfast we drove away from tourist riddled Benalmadena (near Malaga) and the coast line and made our way inland to the town of Ronda. We took the scenic route there and scenic it was. Inland Spain certainly ‘feels’ a lot more Spanish! Beautiful, dry landscapes, mountains, rundown villas, ruins, rock formations, stunning modern villas, olive groves and terraced fields kept us entertained on the +- 100 km drive.

Ronda is divided in to two parts, Old and New and the two are separated by a huge bridge called Puente Nuevo over an equally huge gorge. We walked across the bridge and along the edge of the cliff stunned at such a fantasic view in the middle of ‘town’. We then went in to the Bullfighting ring which was the first to have fighters fight without being on horseback (i.e modern bullfighting) Unfortunately for us, although not for the bulls, fights only happen once a year now, in early September, which we missed. We walked around the grounds, seats and museum within the ring, and the stables etc outside.

A few days ago, I somehow hurt my foot and sprained my big toe, so when Edu, Simryn and Martin decided to climb down the gorge to take pictures of the bridge from the bottom, I went to Ronda’s wine museum instead. It was a really exciting experience, actually, with the little bits they translated in to English and the even smaller bits of Spanish I could piece together.

At the end of my walk through the twelve informative rooms, I went in to the courtyard for my tasters. The lady gave me five 100 ml wines: A local red wine produced in their cellars, very dry but good, a local sherry that tasted a little too much like Aquadent ( otherwise known as Portuguese Fire Water, a totally different story!) for my liking, and three delicious desert wines, one sweeter than the other. I chatted to a German couple about South African wines at the time and was really pleased I had stopped in there.

We took the highway back towards Benalmadena, a quick dip in the ocean and a kilogram of calamari for dinner.

As much as we loved Ronda, and I’m sure we’ll go back, I have to admit that the Costa Del Sol itself is too packed with holiday flats and tourists for me, and I think we’re all agreed, this is one of those places you go once to see what the fuss was about then leave as fast as you can to somewhere beautiful and intruiging, like Ronda.

Day 20 – Grundlesee

We woke up early this morning to another bitterly cold and very overcast day. After a hearty breakfast of bacon, sausages, eggs and toast, and making cold meat, cheese and lettuce king’s cross buns for lunch we braved the cold for Grundlesee. The idea was that we would get there and take the three lakes tour which takes you on three different boats around Grundlesee, Toplitz See and Kammer See. Unfortunately, when they said nothing is open on Sunday, they meant nothing is open on Sunday, including boat trips! It was utterly disappointing to me, but there was nothing for it, so we decided to drive to the three lakes instead.

We got to the top of the beautiful Grundlesee, and followed the signs for the other lakes, only to find that we couldn’t actually drive there. The waterfall and lakes are only accessible by boat or foot, so we decided to walk the 2km to the waterfall, at least. We parked and paid for a few hours of parking, stopped by the public toilet and went on our way, when not 100 m down the road it started raining, accompanied by a blistering wind!

We turned back and hopped in the car with the heating right up! We drove around the lake as far as we could, before turning around again and driving back towards Obertraun. It is just such a beautiful country side that we couldn’t really get enough of it! We stopped in a little town called Bad Aussie at the one open place, a cafe. Edu and Simryn had Apfel Strudel and Heidelbier Strudel, while Martin and Kirschtorte and I had Biskotten Torte. Four hot chocolates (between us) and our delicious cakes, later, we felt less frozen and drove back to Obertraun.

Unfortunately the weather was not conducive to any of the things one would do on the lake, such as cycling (around it) or canoeing, so Edu and Simryn went for a walk, and Martin and I curled up in bed for a two hour snooze.

When we woke up it was time for dinner, so Simryn and I went through the fridge and created a dinner our home ec teachers, if we’d had them, would have been proud of. Chicken stock turned in to a chicken and potato soup, with the help of the leftover potatoes from last night, flour and left over eggs from breakfast turned in to pancakes and the chicken was shredded for chicken stuffed pancakes. Now at the end of dinner, blog written, tummies full and eyes heavy, we will quickly clean and pack, and then sleep in preparation of a full and fantastic final week.

Day 19 – Verditz to Obertraun

There are some days where words just seem so (and now a list of words are running through my head, futile, pointless, unnecessary, unfulfilling… but none of them fit the bill!)I woke up very early this morning, looked out the window at the mist surrounding the Blue Mountain Inn and promptly went back to sleep. I woke up a little later, looked out the window at the gray, grim mist, moved my now freezing arm back under the blanket and, yes, went back to sleep.

My alarm went off fifteen minutes later and I woke up to see beautiful sunshine flooding our side of the mountain, filling the room with light and the mountain with refracted reflections.

We went for a walk in the crisp (read very cold) morning air climbing the mountain to the end of the road. Although the altitude is probably not the highest the air is very thin and clean and fresh. Not something our city lungs are used to! We walked far enough to give us time to get back to the warm bread our hostess promised us for nine o’clock, and met Edu and Simryn in the breakfast room when they came back from their walk.

After a delicious breakfast of muesli and yoghurt, fruit, cold meats, cheese and lovely fresh kings cross buns. (Apparently some king liked having a cross pattern on his bread rolls, so they were made that way for him, and have been made that way ever since!

Although not winter, the ski lift works on good weathered Saturdays, so we paid the E8 to get from ski lift 3 to the top of the mountain. It was such a gorgeous experience. Going up we just had the mountain in front of us, and beautiful as it was, it wasn’t spectacular except for a few parts where we could see lakes and villages over the tops and between the branches of trees. Once we dismounted, gracefully of course (!), we spent about an hour walking around the top of the mountain, first to the Swartsee, a black lake nestled in a dip right at the top, then in the opposite direction to a plateau near the edge. The plateau had strange and beautiful rocks, shining with silver scale like layers that clumped together made the rocks. It’s hard to explain, but yet another thing I’ll be looking up when I’m back in the land of freely available internet. The rocks shone stunningly against the sun and we guessed would do the same under a full moon. We admired the vista for a while, looking up at the blue mountains higher up and further away, and dreaming about the kinds of houses we would build for ourselves high up away from the rest of the world.

The journey back down the mountain was nothing short of spectacular. The view was astounding, crisp and clear and beautiful. We could see for miles up and down mountains and valleys, lakes near and far, villages dotted far as we could see, and some closer ones with their church steeples standing out stark and white against an amazing green backdrop. We reached the bottom of ski lift three (gracefully again, of course) and agreed our exceedingly well spent time.

Back in the car, we drove for Grundlesee.

When we were planning the holiday, we each chose destinations that we wanted included in the holiday. These became known as our non-negotiables. For Simryn it was Lake Como and Florence, Edu’s was Andalucia, Martin’s was the Bernina Express and Oktoberfest and mine were Sintra and Grundlesee, so I was very excited.
The drive through Austria is constantly stunning. There is nothing ugly, nothing dull and any and every conversation can be and was interrupted with jubilant or awestruck cries of ‘look there’ or “wow”! Waterfalls, snow capped mountains, beautiful houses, castles or other structures, valleys, clouds anything you can think of when you imagine Austria.

We arrived in Obertraun around 15:00 and went immediately to the nearest shopping centre, about half an hour away as we were told that everything closes at 18:00 and doesn’t open on Sunday. As we are staying in a self catering place, that would have been a problem! We went to the Spar and ended up spending E55 on 5 meals for 4 people! Not too bad!

We arrived back in Obertraun, the only place close to Grundlesee that we could afford, basically, to a lovely two bedroom apartment with gorgeous mountain views in a quaint and picturesque village. It was raining, the clouds were hanging very low and it was very very cold, so upon discovering a dvd player in our lounge and the owner’s dvd collection, we decided that that would be a good way to spend our Saturday evening: a bottle of wine, a dvd and some popcorn. I cooked a goulash type stew with baked potatoes and we spent our evening watching Charlie Bartlett and The Bucket List before another very quiet, peaceful and thankfully warm night’s sleep!

Day 18 – Venice to Verditz

We spent this morning in and around Venice. Martin and I went to Burano, the fishing village beyond Murano where women (apparently, we were too early to see it) sew lace all day while the men are out fishing. The houses are all painted different colours: bright pinks, blues and greens, a perfect fishing village. It is absolutely beautiful!We left quite early as we had to get back to Venice to check out of the hotel, which was quite unfortunate. We spent the rest of the morning around Venice wandering streets we’d not walked before and seeing buildings and churches not listed under the attractions but beautiful in a more unadulterated ways.

Something that really struck me about Venice was how many churches there are in the squares all around the city. It is amazing. They seem to open them every morning and evening so that the people who live in those squares can pop in for morning and evening prayers, which we did this morning too. There is something so beautiful about a church that is ornate and used as a church, not an attraction. It’s a beauty that can’t be photographed.

Meanwhile, Simryn and Edu went to Murano where they were fortunate enough to be able to see one of the masters create a beautiful glass horse and sign it. They were smarter than us and managed to escape without spending their fortunes!

We took a train from Venice that afternoon to Villach in Austria, where we picked up a rental car and went in search of our accommodation for the evening. The directions were a bit bad from where we were but we eventually found our way there. And “there” was pretty amazing! The Blue Mountain Inn is one of the highest lodges on a beautiful Alp in the Verditz Ski Resort. The apartment had one double room and one four bunk bed room which we were upgraded to from just a normal four bunk

room as we were the only guests in the hotel, so Edu and Simryn got the double bed this time round.

The owner, Michelle Lively (who owns it with her husband Tug who was off with a tour group) cooked us a stunning dinner of goulash soup, chicken schnitzel and a delicious fruit compote in the middle of a donut thing with ice cream. Absolutely delicious!

By the time we’d finished eating and chatting to the Australian Michelle with her twin daughters, it was very late and time for a very quiet, peaceful, thin-aired night’s sleep.

Day 17 – Venice

Venice really took me by surprise. Last time Martin and I were here, we had a relatively dismal time, but I am so pleased we decided to give it a second chance!

It was a bit of a strange day too since we were staying in a hotel and went down for breakfast at different times we ended up not even seeing Edu and Simryn all day!

Our first stop was St.Mark’s square and the Doge’s palace but the square looked like it was covered in ants there were so many people! That didn’t suit us so we walked to the other side of the island from where we caught a river boat to the island of Isola S.Giorgio Maggiore where there is pretty much nothing but a really large church. From there we went to the island of Murano

Murano is famous for the glass they produce. There are large factories with their own furnaces, apprentices and masters as well as their own shops which sell their products. We walked in to one showroom and I’m not sure if the guy thought we were rich dressed down or something, but he took a special interest in us. He took us in to the private showroom where they keep their one of a kind or new items where he showed us pieces by one of their Masters (they have to work for 15 – 20 years before they become masters) Valentina, and explained the perks of purchasing from that selection: You get photographs of the signed item in production, a folder with the biography of the artist and a photo of the artist with the item. Also, you can get up to 55% off the price. also told us some of the history of Murano. Back when they started making the glass they did it on the island of Venice until one of the furnaces exploded destroying a large part of the island. The doge at the time decided to move the furnaces to Murano, which is where the name now comes from. Back then, masters and there apprentices were basically held prisoner on the island, unable to leave because the secrets of blowing the glass were too important to risk it being leaked!

The glass is amazing… They use minerals such as selenium, cobalt, gold and silver to melt in with the glass to colour it. They then melt the rods in to the glass for the different colours. It is pretty amazing. The glass is then melted again in to different things, vases (starting from about E300), bowls and plates (starting from about E300 each) and anything else you could imagine (including the E9800 fish I really wanted to buy!) The gold and silver in the glass have to be pure, otherwise the heat in the furnaces burn the impure gold or silver and make them come out black. It was really an interesting afternoon! We did walk out with a very expensive (but cheaper than the average as it was end of range) vase, which we’ll be treasuring for many years to come!

Leaving the factory shop we walked the wrong way and ended up called back from the ‘wrong way’ and were shown in to a furnaced area where we could watch three different groups of people blowing, heating, knocking and shaping glass. It was really amazing to watch, because it is impossible to imagine these big burly men making things so beautiful and so delicate.

We were very fortunate to find a Spar on the way back to the boat where we found the cheapest food, chocolates and wines on all of the Venetian waters! We bought a lovely bottle of Lemoncella, a local lemon flavoured liquer which we absolutely love for about E7 and a bottle of 12 year old Balsamic vinegar which cost us under E3!

At the boating station there was a market stall where the lady was selling a few of the things we really liked for less than they were in the shops, so we also bought a beautiful wine bottle stopper.

By the time we got back from Murano we were so tired that we stopped in at a cafe on the way back to the hotel for a dinner reminiscent of our first trip to Venice, a rather dismal calzone with tinned mushrooms and cold sandwich ham before going back to the hotel, and soon after, to bed.

Day 16 – Rome to Venice

Well! So much for good rest! Our room is on the corner and has two windows on two walls. As it had been very warm all day, it didn’t occur to any of us to close at least one set of windows. It also didn’t occur to any of us during the night to do so! When we awoke slightly blue around the edges we bemoaned our stupidity loudly before setting off at speed (partly to warm up, partly because we were later than planned!) to the Vatican City and the Vatican museum.By the time we arrived there we already tourbuses full of people cueing up for entry to St. Peter’s, so we decided to chance going to the museum (wherein lies the Cistene Chapel) first. This turned out to be a very good move, as there was no queue and the crowds inside were light.

Having been there before, Martin and I first went to the ‘side’ exhibitions of statues, paintings, friezes and so on before going through all all the passages laid out with different themes that lead eventually to the Chapel. There are passages with Romantic wall hangings, Cartographic (old maps) wall hangings, statues, woodwork, jewellery and much more, but they all have highly ornately done ceilings, many painted by master painters. It truly is an amazing experience, but beware! The price of truly appreciating these great works is a very stiff neck!

Just before we entered the Chapel, there were various galleries with more modern art. Three Dali paintings depicting Jesus were among those in the gallery. I did take photos of them,
but as flash photography is prohibited and that specific gallery had its own guard, they’re not great pictures!

We met up with Edu and Simryn and went into the Chapel where we promptly lost them again, misunderstanding which exit we’d be taking. We communicated by sms (txt) and realised that we had left the building and they had not!

We walked back to the entrance and as Martin says “sometimes it is best to let a frantic looking woman ask”. As it turns out you can only enter once and that’s final! Sending in me with my ‘we’ve lost our friends’ helped and the friendly, Italian guard let us in. As it turned out, our fast walk back towards the Chapel revealed a whole section we had missed, so we went through there before going in to St. Peter’s Basilica.

This is another place Martin and I have been before, so we went in to the crypts rather than the Basilica which provides an amazing view down on to the inside of the church and also the roof which has magnificent views of the square and the Vatican gardens.

The crypts contained many year’s worth of deceased Popes including John Paul II. People were kneeling at and praying at his tomb, which I found a little eerie, but I’m sure it meant a lot to them.

From the crypts we climbed the stairs to the main building. As a work of art, St. Peter’s is an amazing structure, tall, beautifully decorated with angels, crosses, saints and Jesus, ornate and rich in presentation, but it does lack in feeling like a church with people walking around talking, taking photographs and tour guides one speaking louder than the other. It is a magnificent structure though!

We left the Vatican and with it Rome, boarding a plane to Venice. We arrived quite late and after dark so after checking in we went for a quick stroll around to familiarise ourselves with the area.. Tomorrow will be a busy day with an early rise so early to bed for us!