10 June – Another glorious day heralded in Bob’s big day. Breakfast was typical Italian, extremely basic and certainly not the value for money that we have come to expect. Today’s destination was over on the east coast, so it required a mix of motorways and ordinary roads to achieve that objective. Hit the coast at Sibari and followed the coast almost to Taranto. Must say that we find this coast much more pleasant than the much-lauded Amalfi coast – maybe because it was far less hectic and easier to travel about. Had a few side trips down to coastal villages looking for lunch – took a few tries before we found somewhere open. First go we ended up at a very exclusive marina resort which was a no-go, but on our second try we found a lovely little restaurant – whitewashed with blue trim and a little blue boat parked outside on the pavement. Nice relaxing meal – very tasty although I am not quite sure I like my pasta as al dente as the Italians cook it. Lunch over it was time to head inland again to get over to the eastern coast just south of Bari to Alberobello.
The countryside was very pretty as we headed away from the coast – mile after mile of dry stone fences surrounding smallish paddocks, olives, fruit trees and hay being cultivated here.
I had read about the place and their interesting houses but did not expect it to be so stunning. The little studio apartment I had booked was just on the edge of the town – in a very narrow street with lovely whitewashed houses.
First stop after settling in was to go up on to the terrace and we were certainly not prepared for the view from up there – surrounded on 3 sides by hundreds of these little trulli houses (not visible as we drove in) with their conical stone roofs – it was just magical. Just a street away from our lodging, the old town began – tiny streets all with perfect whitewashed tiny houses and their funny little cones. It was so pretty and like nothing we have ever encountered before. It was quite a tourist trap with the usual little souvenir shops selling tiny trullis and other artisanal handcrafts but still managed to keep its charm.
A street vendor selling all manner of olives, dried and fresh fruits managed to part us of some cash as we sorted out a sumptuous antipasto dinner for later on – olives, fresh figs and gorgonzola along with french pate purchased early on in our travels.
11 June – Can’t believe how early people have to get started when taking coach tours – I had gone for an early morning (not really early mind – about 8.30am) walk to find some yoghurt for breakfast and the tour groups were already wandering around the little streets. They would have bussed in probably from Bari. I managed to find my yoghurt – a necessity to go with figs that I had stewed the night before.
We had nearly 400km to knock off today so we didn’t hang around too long – back out through the pretty countryside for a while before hitting motorways to knock off some of the distance. Only made one stop – Termoli. Parked in the port area and took the stairs up to the old part of the town to have a little walk around.
Carried on to just north of Pescara to our fairly ordinary hotel for the night.
12 June -More coastal scenery today as we went further up the coast. Stop for the night was Rimini and made a bit of a blue here. I booked what looked like a relatively quiet seaside area, but oh dear it was like Billy Butlins on steroids – mile after mile of built up area – hotels on one side of the street, beach complete with brollies and chairs on the other side as well as little fairground rides interspersed among them. It was awful, quite busy during the day but everyone seemed to come out of the woodwork at night. Not the nicest of hotels either, but it was somewhere to put our heads down.
13 June – Breakfast surpassed itself in expectations so we were well setup for the day ahead. First stop, back towards Rimini and the Nazionale Museo del Motocicilo (how did we manage to pass a whole month and not visit one of these?). Quite a little gem – situated in a little backwater on the side of the airport it housed quite an exceptional collection.
They only had a couple of display buildings but managed to cram in a large number (around 250) of very original machines – not just Italian marques but a few Nortons, Sunbeams etc. About 20 sidecars, quite a few scooters and other bits and bobs. Not very many visitors seem to make it to this museum.
Museum done, it was off to San Marino (a little country enclave just inland from Rimini). The only country in the world with more cars than people. The drive through the countryside was just beautiful as it wound up through the hills – wish I had booked up here instead of down on the coast. Parked our car at Borgo Maggiore at the foot of the aerial tramway and rode the very short steep gondola up to the old town on the top of the peak.
It was quite magical up there, with little fairytale castles, tiny streets and super views. Very high end shopping – tax free perfumes,watches, leather etc. Had a little spot of lunch before heading back down. Had another 3 hour drive to get to Venice, which part way along Monique decided to turn it into a 4 hour drive by taking us off the autostrade and on to the state road (it did look like she had foreseen traffic delays). From there it was a very slow 150km along the coast road with nose to tail traffic in both directions averaging about 70kph at best. Anyway we made it into Venice with no difficulties, staying at Quatro D’Altino on the norther end of the city.
14 June – Venezia beckoned. We caught the train from near our hotel for the 30 minute ride into the central station. Nice little journey, through countryside first and then through residential areas. Busy central station, but easy to find our way around. Caught the vaperetto, which is the waterbus that runs on several routes, but we took it right around the Grand Canal to Piazza San Marco and then set about walking back to the station. Very busy of course around the square, but it was quite easy to get away from the crowds and get to more enjoyable areas.
A lot of interesting little shops, particularly the antique and print shops. Shops selling masks of course abounded as well as the Murano glass. We just had a leisurely walk around with the mandatory coffee, lunch and gelato stops. The canals are super busy with water taxis, buses, gondolas as well as all of the trade boats which have to service everything within the city. How nice to have no vehicles whatsoever and being able to walk with ease. Most of the buildings around the canals have definitely seen better days but would have been grand in their day. Must say that it was nice to be able to walk around with dry feet (when I came here in the lat 70’s I was wading through knee-deep water throughout the streets). The gondoliers look quite cute in their striped shirts and little hats and were doing a reasonable trade despite it not yet being peak season. Well satisfied with our wander around it was time to get back on the train home. The forecast thunderstorm came in just as predicted whilst we were on the train and was in full force when we had to get off. Haven’t experienced such heavy wind and rain for quite a while.
We had to get off the train on to an uncovered platform and the dash to the subway was such fun. We did have parkas but that didn’t a lot of good and we were little drowned rats by the time we got to cover. Sheltering in the subway until the rain eased didn’t last long as the rain swept down into the ramps and made it unpleasant. Another quick dash to our car then a short drive through very flooded streets back to the hotel to work out how to get soaked clothes dry overnight.
15 June – The thunderstorms had well and truly gone, replaced with yet another hot sunny day. With not too far to go, it was at a leisurely pace that we began our day. Trieste – just about an hour’s drive up the coast was our lunchtime stop. What a different city that was – wide open plazas, clean and tidy and relatively calm drivers. Managed to find a park on the waterfront, right in front of the main square with the huge P&O ship the Oriana berthed right alongside. Spent ages in a little book shop trying to find a decent map book of Europe, in the end settled just for an individual Romanian map which should be adequate for our next leg of the journey. Lunched in a nice little Greek café just back from the main touro areas before it was time to retrieve the car and head out of Italy. I didn’t realize that we were quite so close to Slovenia, only 11km up the road and it is like being in another world. We climbed very steeply out of Trieste and on hitting Slovenia the first thing we noticed – spotlessly clean, no rubbish at all on the sides of the road, road verges were mown and there were footpaths that you could actually walk on. I had booked us into a hotel right on the border – didn’t really dawn on me when I had booked it that is was a casino – I guess the name should have given it away – Safir Casino Hotel. Anyway it was much better priced than anything I could find in Trieste, very comfortable with the most luxurious beds and of course the Casino. I was forced to try that out and managed to come out with a huge 10Euro more than I went in with – that’s a first for me for a while. We didn’t need to have an evening meal due to the large and late lunch that was consumed earlier – so we went out for a little stroll instead. We weren’t close to any shops or the like, so it was just a pleasant walk on footpaths that actually let you walk unimpeded. Slovenia is just so different from Italy, how is that two cultures living side by side are so diverse. Driving the short distance we had made it into the country was so much more relaxed – the roads seem to be top class as well, houses neat and tidy (more Austrian in appearance).
16 June – Just a few kms down the road was one of the first stops for the day – the Lipica stud, horse stud of the famous Lippanzer horses – the beautiful white horses which you see in both the Spanish and Austrian riding schools, but which originated from here. Entry fee included a guided tour which we participated in – very informative and a good background to the stud. It started in 1580 and in the 1800’s was part of the Hapsburg’s estate. It covers 350 hectares of beautifully treed pastures, stables, historic area and their riding school.
Hadn’t timed it right for a performance at the school, but managed to have a good walk around, see the beauties up close and just enjoy the area. They had a new batch of foals, just a couple of weeks old which had been let out in the open air for the first time along with their mothers. They are born black and as they age they slowly turn white with the exception of about 1% which remain black or brown. Their bloodline is a mix of Spanish, Italian and Arab. Only stallions are used for the performances – and it takes about 5 years to train them to the “Stage of Excellence” that they must reach. The mares on the other hand are relegated to pulling the carriages. When the foals are born, they stay with their mother for about 7 months and then are split off into their gender groups –the males are sent off to a different farm for about three years and then return to start their training. The mares have foals every 3-4 years, and this year’s brood produced 15 males and 8 females. On the way out of the complex encountered a large group of mares browsing the paddocks.
With that done, it was on to the next visit – the Military museum. What a pretty drive through the wooded hills, quite narrow roads but hardly any traffic and through a couple of small villages to the site of the museum, lovely vistas from its sit atop the hills – unfortunately too much heat haze for any photos. Outside temp was up to 38C. Indulged in a spot of lunch (we ordered hamburgers expecting a small meal – they were huge – the patties alone the size of bread and butter plate with about 5 slices of bacon, lettuce peppers and onion as well as the bun part) which will also pass for dinner. Left Bob to his own devices to look around whilst I had time to catch up on blog and reading. Continued on to Ptuj our stop for the night. We opted for the motorway to get us around Ljubljana and it took us an hour to go 30km – so painfully slow and masses of trucks. Getting out the other side we then branched off onto another motorway which was traffic free and we were then able to zoom along again hassle free. Our accommodation for the night – Panorama Rooms – was a family run B&B in a large house overlooking the town. Set in lovely gardens and a very friendly hostess. Our room was quite small but it did have a “Kitchen” – clean and basic.
Had a little wander down the hill which was the site of an old roman town although nothing to see now. Very patchy wifi, so fortunately no Americas Cup coverage needed.
17 June – Wholesome breakfast complete with eggs cooked to your choice. Rosemarie gave us a recommended route to get to Hungary and so began a very long drive. We left soon after 10am and didn’t arrive in Baja until 5.00pm but the drive was interesting. Through the balance of Slovenia we wound through their wine growing area, very picturesque, clean and green. Houses and gardens are all very tidy, nicely painted and colourful. Mainly two storied houses on quite large properties.
Crossed over into Hungary and immediately a noticeable difference. Within less than 1km from Slovenia the difference began. Houses very poorly maintained, mainly single storied with no garaging on the property. Houses built right up to the road. No more nicely trimmed road verges but still reasonably clean. Our journey then took us through a series of minor roads which were well maintained in the most, but the main problem was that nearly every 2km was a town which required slowing down to 50km so it was a quite a slow drive. We had received a call from our accommodation asking if they could transfer us from an apartment to their VIP room with breakfast for the same costs – no problem for us so happily agreed. What a room – the bathroom was bigger than many of the places we have stayed in recently complete with a spa bath, nice shower and very spacious. Beautifully appointed room, with top class furnishings and great wifi. We dined in their very nice restaurant with Bob sampling for the first time goose liver which was cooked to tender perfection.
18 June – On the road again and off to Romania. Only 200km and all of that was through flat, flat, agricultural land. Hay, maize, sunflowers and wheat were the main crops – good roads but boring. Stopped off in Szeged for lunch and a little look around before crossing over the border 50km later. We had to actually have our passports stamped and car papers checked before being let in. Purchased the obligatory road tax necessary to travel on any of their roads and just another 30km to get to Arad.
Romania is a further step down the chain from Hungary, buildings very run down but the motorway system is brand new. Found our stay for the night relatively easily – it was a bit hectic getting though the centre of town as there was a big street food festival happening. We were just outside of the centre and our ‘’apartment’’ is in an old building – it did have a kitchen and although everything was a bit second-rate still clean enough and suitable wifi to listen to the next installment of Team NZ. The centre of Arad would have been impressive in its day – a wide boulevard stretches for a couple of Kms, tram line through the centre, wide pavements both sides and two lanes of traffic in either direction. The buildings were very grand but extremely run down – the streets quite unkempt compared to both Hungary and Slovenia.
19 June – Another hot day. Had a little walk back into town to get some cash (they don’t use Euro here so needed some local lei) and see what the tourist info office could advise. Turns out – not that much. We had seen all the notable buildings. Headed off on the road down to Timişoara – a nice quick ride on the motorway (these motorways are so new that they haven’t got their service areas organized yet) but they have managed to put toilets in them but no gas stations. With no real expectations of Timisoara it was a pleasant surprise. We were able to drive right into the city centre and find a parking spot. Only problem was we couldn’t work out how to pay. In the end I collared a young woman who had just parked her fancy Jag and asked if she spoke English – her answer was yes and then she proceeded to take me through the payment process. The sign had a number where you texted your car rego to and for each text you would be charged for one hour of parking. Duly sent two texts and we then hit the centre.
A large area of the historic centre is made over to pedestrian only making it such a pleasant way to explore the area. The main square was surrounded by impressive buildings lined with cafes and restaurants with interesting streets leading off in all directions to various other smaller squares. Had a nice lunch and another little walk before heading back to our car. It seems that the text must have worked as many cars parked around us had been ticketed. Off out of the city and on to our final destination for the day – a small town called Lugoj. A little better standard of accommodation but right on a busy intersection so might be noisy overnight.
Drove back into town to see what it had which was not a lot but there were nice views from the river front. Home for dinner – chicken schnitzel with nice boiled potatoes and a tomato/cucumber salad.