"Not all those who wander are lost." -J.R.R. Tolkien

Monday, September 30, 2013

We're the jet set (sorta)

In a wonderful song recorded by John Prine and Iris Dement called 'We're not the Jet Set', they cite Athens, Rome and Paris (Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee). We jokingly said we would be the jet set once we spent time in all these places. So now that we've checked off Paris, we are, in fact, the jet set. Although after looking up 'jet set' on Wikipedia, it seems we'd be mistaken. We might be easier matched to the 'old Chevrolet set' that Prine and Dement refer to. The song is worth a listen: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SsyHo8iUsjE&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DSsyHo8iUsjE

We camped at a campground that was only a 15 minute bus ride into the city center. We had one ace day and one struggle day. On the ace day we were efficient, navigated well and didn't use any public transport once in the city. On the struggle day we entrusted in Lonely Planet too much, looked for things in places they didn't exist, and used a fair amount of public transport. But on our ace day, the first day, we covered an impressive amount of ground so our legs were tired for our second day.

On our first day in Paris we woke up and circled points of interest on the map over coffee. We took the campsite shuttle to Porte Mallot, a bus stop within view of the Arch de Triumph. 

After snapping a few pictures we set out for rue Muffetard, a famous eat street, as it was nearing lunchtime. On our way we stumbled upon the church of Madeline, which was less extravagant than the churches in Italy, but beautiful nonetheless. Then we grabbed 2 tasty paninis on Rue de Muffetard and did some people watching. After lunch we went to Norte Dame to admire the gargolyes from the outside.

 On our way we walked past the modern art museum which looks like an elaborate hamster cage. 

We worked up yet another appetite and went to Berthillon for some famous ice cream. I got coconut and wp got pistachio. His was better, but they were both delicious. 

After ice cream we set out to our only paid entry attractions of the day: Le Conciergge and Ste-Chappel. It was a joint ticket to see the old King's quarters, the prison of the French Revolution, and the beautiful stained glass chapel nearby. In the prison we got to see the cell where Marie Antoinette was encarcerated during the revolution. Just an empty room, but still cool to be in that space. The chapel was our favorite bit. The stained glass was intricate and was in the process of being restored, a 12-year project! 

On our way to the Latin Quarter we stumbled upon the love bridge. People put locks on the bridge and then throw the keys in the Seine to seal the deal. It's quite the spectacle now with hardly any room for additions.

After admiring some locks and snapping a few pictures we decided that our legs were tired and that we needed a beer. We walked to the Latin quarter and found a happy hour with cheap beer and bloody Marys! We found a good spot in the window and did some more people watching. 

We enjoyed the Latin quarter so much that we returned the next day to try out a new bar and some of the crepe stands in the street. 

After the bar we grabbed a picnic at the super market and went to the Eiffel Tower. We admired the lights and light show while devouring some wine, cheese, bread, and salad. It was spectacular to be at the foot of such a huge monument and enjoying such a delicious meal. Here's our dinner view:

After a marathon dash we caught the last bus back to our campsite at midnight and passed out after a long day. The next morning we woke up and it was almost noon...whoops!

We got up, packed up our campsite and headed back into Paris as fast as we could. We decided to try and visit some of Paris' most famous flea markets, which all lie on the periphery of Paris (literally Rue de Peripherie). We took the metro clear across Paris to find out that Lonely Planet had steered us wrong (not for the first time) and that the markets are only open on weekends. Pretty key and relevant information that was missing. So, the day dwindling, we had an espresso and used some wifi to do some searching and salvaging. What we found were a few food markets and Luxembourg Gardens that we never made it to the previous day. The food markets were lackluster, more like eat streets, but still fun to walk through.

At Luxembourg Gardens we only had time for a quick stroll because it was getting later and they close the gate at 7. We were able to walk around the outside and see nooks and crannies and still enjoyed our time there.

We grabbed a couple beers and crepes in the nearby Latin Quarter, which is always abuzz, and headed back towards the campsite. We had originally planned on taking an overnight bus and leaving Paris that night, but Lonely Planet was wrong about the address of a bus ticketing office, so long story short we ended up "stranded" in Paris one more night. Woe was us. We did have to re-setup our campsite though. Such a hardship when you can literally see the Eiffel Tower from your campsite.

The next morning we caught up on charging and journaling over coffee and were able to arrange our bus to Bordeaux. Now, off to the south of France!


Katie and Will

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Urban hiking for Klis (and Khaleesi)

We heard an unconfirmed rumor that the HBO series Game of Thrones was being filmed in the nearby town of Klis. Both somewhat hooked on the series, we decided to hike what we thought would be about 5 kilometers to find out for ourselves. For those of you not familiar with the series, the name dropped in the blogpost title won't make much sense. Khaleesi is a warrior princess who is vying to take control of the seven kingdoms, just like every other major character in the show. Now you're probably more confused and appalled that we have such a vested interest.

Anyhow, after about what was probably 20-25 kilometers of urban hiking, the kind on sidewalks and shoulders, we found what we were looking for: the castle that overlooks the quiet town of Klis.

This was victory in itself. The castle, beautiful, and the view, stunning. But, we had to confirm our unconfirmed rumor to complete the expedition. We found the interior of the castle was closed off to the public so our suspicion grew. We asked one of the "workers", who weren't working much at anything, and our rumor was confirmed! The next season of game of Thrones will begin filming there in March. The workers were supposedly building the set...they'd better get a move on! But we can empathize that it would be hard to work too hard given this view:


Will and Katie

Monday, September 23, 2013

Croatian island hopping lickety-Split

Greetings from Split, Croatia, a little slice of paradise. We arrived here Thursday morning after a whirlwind of travel from Italy that included an overnight of trains leading into an overnight ferry. We much preferred the ferry. Even though we only purchased "deck space", meaning we had no seat or bed or place really, we were able to plop down on some comfy benches in one of the lounge areas for a solid night's sleep. Here is a photo montage of our double overnight travel stint:

In Croatia simply opening your eyes is scenic, the dollar is powerful and the people are genuinely friendly. We've been approached several times by locals who genuinely want to welcome us to their country and ask us a bit about ourselves. The locals are proud and love their country.

We've explored the small city of Split thoroughly. Our favorite landmarks are the Green Market and the statue of Gregorios of Nin. The Green Market is by far the most lively market we've come across and it's open every day. There's a surplus of produce, lavender products of all sorts, souvenirs, beautiful jewelry, butchers, cheese shops, restaurants, and a fair amount of junk. It's a fun atmosphere and we've frequented it for groceries, snacks and some souvenirs as well.

The statue of Gregorios of Nin is famous for its (or his) big left toe. It's said that he was a rebel and a hero for fighting to use old Croatian in liturgical services. So, if you rub his left toe, it's supposed to yield good luck. The statue is a bronze color, but the left big toe is golden because of the constant rubbing. We of course indulged. 

On our second day in Croatia we splurged on a day-long island hopping cruise on a speedboat. We started out early from Split and throughout the day went to two famous caves, three beautiful island towns and a famous tiny beach. We traveled over 100 miles by speedboat by the end of the day. It was a fun and bumpy ride in the open sea! (Our boat is the small one below).

Our favorite stops of the day were the Blue Cave and the island town of Hvar. The Blue Cave was a quick but exhilarating stop. We had to transfer from the speedboat to a smaller motorboat to fit in the narrow entryway. The sea was lively and the swells were decent and it made for a dicey entry and exit to the cave. We had to duck!

The Blue Cave is known for being blue. Not a whole lot to it, but a wonder nonetheless. It's a spectacular blue cause by the lighting that creeps under some of the walls of the cave. Pictures don't do it justice.

Hvar is a town famous for its beauty, luxury and parties. Our skipper on the speedboat told us that during the summer rich people from all over the world bring their yachts to Hvar and fight for spots in the small port. Now that it's the off season, people like us can afford to step foot on Hvar and take in some of the ambience. We hiked to the castle on top of the town and found magnificent views of Devil's Islands, which we also got a nice view of from the speedboat.

Today we've enjoyed a rare rest day at our campground in Stobrec, a suburb of Split. We have a beautiful beach of our own and another campground that offers quite the slew of amenities. We think we prefer camping in America for its simplicity, but it's hard to pass up on wifi, beach umbrellas and hot showers (seven minutes a pop) when they're included. We enjoyed a sunset last night from our campsite that created a beautiful red hue on the mountain range opposite of us.

Croatia has certainly not disappointed thus far, and we have a few days yet to explore!


Will and Katie

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Five stars for Cinque Terre

We are absolutely in love with Cinque Terre. Even though tourists probably outnumber locals 10 to 1, it's been our most outdoorsy and pristine stop yet. 

We started off our time in Cinque Terre with a bang! We rode out a pretty electric lightning storm our first night, torrential downpour included. We wound up camping a few towns north of Cinque Terre in Deiva Marina, a small town with a beautiful but rough beach. We loved our campsite for being out of the way, quiet and relatively in the woods.

Cinque Terre, or the five villages, is an 18 kilometer stretch of cliffside, coastal towns. These villages are sandwiched between endless vineyards and farms. With their pastel-esque color schemes, the little villages make for quite the photo-op spectacle. See for yourself.

We hiked the network of cliffside trails that connect the five towns. Even though the trails were busy, they were beautiful, strenuous and sketchy at times. Made for quite the adventure! We would walk the length of trail between two towns and then devote some time to exploring before moving on to the next. Our favorite of the towns was the southernmost, Riomaggiore. We returned  there yesterday to spend the day. We spent hours watching the waves crash over the rocks in the very mini marina. It was mesmerizing and we couldn't pull away. Due to a stretch of stormy weather, the waves were really churning and sprayed us pretty good a few times!

We stayed put for the afternoon, evening, dinner and the sunset to cap it all off. Dinner was homemade pasta with basic but oh-so-good tomato sauce and a marinara pizza. You better believe we devoured it all while we watched this..


Will and Katie


Firenze, or Florence, was spectacular. Though we only budgeted two nights and one full day, we feel like we really experienced the city and found a place we both want to return to.

Rather than try and pack in the numerous art galleries, churches and sights, we opted to wander and really enjoyed it. We knew we would stumble upon the Duomo; it's a hard place to miss as it's the largest Catholic cathedral in the world. It was stunning. We're noticing that it's hard to describe these massive monuments because we can't get a full view of them standing right next to them in person. Everything is so close and tight-knit that it's hard to take in from one angle. 

There is a portrayal of the last judgement on the ceiling of the big dome. We enjoyed the free view from the ground rather than paying for a lift up, but it was impressive nonetheless. 

Wandering, we found a farmer's market. It was Saturday and definitely something we would have found ourselves doing on a normal Saturday at home. But being in a foreign place where things are just a little (or a lot) different brings new sights, smells and tastes. Our favorite find was the to-die-for prosciutto. 

We were able to camp in Florence at a campground directly above the city. The campground was directly adjacent to a square that boasts the best view of the city.

We made quick work of Florence, but we will be back!


Will and Katie

Sunday, September 15, 2013

When in Rome

When in Rome eat lots of pizza and gelato, be flabbergasted by enormous monuments after turning around tiny street corners, drink juice boxes of wine whenever and wherever you please (straw not included), and try and save some time for relaxing at cafes and popular public hangouts (we didn't do such a good job of this), because that's what the Romans do on a daily basis.

On our first night in Rome we saw the Spanish steps, made a wish at Trevi Fountain, and had the worlds best gelato (we sampled other gelaterias to make sure it wasn't a marketing scam-they weren't lying). We also went to one of the many plazas in Rome that was recommended as a local favorite. We were not that impressed with the plaza, but we found an amazing bakery with pizza, beer, and cookies. In true Roman fashion, we ate dinner around 9pm (because we got lost) and it was well worth the wait.

The next morning we got up early and set out to find some Caravaggio paintings. While neither or us are museum or art gallery enthusiasts, we were blown away by the two paintings we saw in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo. After that we went to see St. Peter's Square and Basilica. Pictures cannot do the beauty of the church justice, but here are a few. 

After that we went to Piazzale Guiseppe Garibaldi for a picnic lunch. After a breather we went to the Pantheon. It is a massive temple turned church with a brick domed roof. Again, pictures, even our attempt at a panorama, can't do this spectacle justice.

That evening we went to the other side of Rome to see the Colosseum and find a famous pizzeria we were gunning for. We made it to the Colosseum a little before sunset, but it was already closed. We took a couple pictures from the outside, capturing the moon and Colosseum in tandem, and then began our search for Pizzeria Remo. It was DELICIOUS. We can't stop talking about how good the pizza was.

This morning we went back to the Colosseum and went inside. It is was massive and brilliant, but rather ugly actually. The interior of the Colosseum didn't age very well. But, to think about how it was built with manpower and pully systems is mind-blowing. It is disgusting to think that going to see gladiators fight is comparable to going to a family movie now days. In some festivals as many as 10,000 gladiators and 10,000 animals would fight. We're not sure of the time frame, but still! It was a huge deal and it was housed in a HUGE arena.

Huck had fun, too. 

Right now we're on a train headed North to Florence. The train was canceled, but then it wasn't, so we're back on track but not quite sure how or why. We both loved Rome with its countless fountains, beautiful churches, and carbohydrates. We will definitely be back some day. For now, we're looking forward to more pizza for dinner. 


Katie and Will

Monday, September 9, 2013

Paradise found

After an "exciting" day of travel involving lots of running and speed walking, we finally found our destination of Olympos Beach Camping. En route we both had our doubts about whether it existed, but it popped up out of nowhere and we were certain we had found paradise.

Olympos Beach Camping offers tent camping, bungalows and villas. It boasts a restaurant, a mini market, multiple bars and a beautiful resort-esque beach where there is wifi and bar service. While we were mere tent campers at the bottom of the food chain, we were just as welcome to the amenities as the villa stayers. The water was clear and refreshing and the views were mesmerizing. 

After an indulgent beach day, we ventured to the nearby village of Litohoro, about 5 kilometers away. This 5 kilometer stretch is the only thing that stands in between the beach and the base of Mt. Olympos and some of the largest mountains in Greece. Turn one way and you have a beautiful view of the sea, turn the other and the mountains are towering  over you. It's a very unique location.

We hiked through the village of Litohoro, which is so quaint it looks like it's been taken from a story book, and then the base of the mountains. We walked through a canyon that wound through the base of the mountains back to some alleged swimming holes. We did find the swimming holes, but we didn't find our way into the water. It had been fenced off due to low water levels, but where there was lack of swimming there were views to make up for it.

On our hike we also bumped into a trail marathon that finished in the town of Litohoro. As you can imagine we were psyched about that and cheered for runners who ran by! We also had the (unfortunate) opportunity to see helicopters going back and forth between the ocean and the mountains to scoop up water and drop it on a forest fire that was happening midway up the mountain. We got to see this from both the mountains (dropping water) and the beach (scooping water). No sign of helicopters or smoke today so we think they were able to put it out!

We're currently en route to Thessaloniki, a northern city in Greece. Expect more soon!


Will and Katie 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Get them to the Greece

The past two days Katie and I have been busy bees running (at times literally) around Athens, Greece.

Our barebones hostel was fine, but it's the kind of place where you have to request a top sheet, and it will cost you an extra euro. We shared a room with a guy from Poland, a girl from Spain, and a girl from Russia, all very nice and sociable.

We started off our Athens sight-seeing frenzy with a free walking tour that was offered at our hostel and three others daily. It was a group of twenty young adults and our guide, George, was a raspy, weathered, half British, half Greek man who gave a well-informed tour. It lasted about four hours and we packed a lot in. We didn't go into any of the paid sights on the tour, but he gave us a slew of information from the outside looking in and we were able to go back and go into the sights we wanted to see more intimately later on. He took us to the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, Mars Hill, the Panathenaic Stadium, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian's Arch, the Parliament and the Changing of the Guard, the Theatre of Dionysos, the Acropolis and a stroll through the National Gardens. The changing of the guard was quite the spectacle, full of costume and custom. 

After the tour Katie and I tipped George the guide, grabbed a quick lamb gyro, and retraced our footsteps to go into some of the places that sparked our interest. We were able to buy an Acropolis ticket for half price, 6 euro each, by flashing our student IDs. The Acropolis ticket gets you into the majority of the other sites as well.

We started at the Acropolis, translation: high place, where the main attractions are the Parthenon and the Erechtheion. There is a lot of archaeological and preservation work going on unfortunately, so there was a big crane smack in front of the Parthenon. It gave us a greater appreciation for the ruins at Ephesus, which are untouched in comparison. But these giant marble temples were astonishing nonetheless. The Acropolis was built after the victory in the battle of Marathon when Athens defeated the Persians. The Acropolis was built to be ostentatious, a symbol of prowess. Below is the main structure, the Parthenon, which is said to have housed a statue of the patron goddess Athena. If you don't want to go all the way to Greece to see the real deal, there is an actual size replica in Nashville, Tennessee! 

Next is the Erechtheion, which was built as an offering to Athena and Poseiden. Notice the beautifully ornamented pillars, which resemble maidens supporting the structure.

Another of our top finds was the Ancient Agora. This served as a marketplace in early Athens, it was a center point for social life, and now houses many sights worth seeing. The Church of the Holy Apostles, dating to the 11th century, had incredible and intricate paintings.

The Museum of the Athenian Agora is housed in the reconstructed Stoa of Attolas, which would have functioned as a commercial center. There were hundreds of artifacts from pottery, to sculptures, to the lone existing Spartan shield!

On one of our evenings we scrapped together a picnic dinner of bread, cheese, grapes and wine (sold in a plastic bottle, we do not recommend)and trekked across Athens from our hostel to get to Lykavittos Hill, the highest point in Athens, to watch the sunset. While we did (barely) catch the sunset, we had to jog the last bit of our journey to catch the last moments of the fully exposed sun before it fell beyond the horizon. It was still well worth it for those few moments, a tremendous view of Athens. 

We enjoyed joining in the hustle of Athenian life for a couple of days that whizzed by, and now we're headed to do some camping again, but on a beach this time! We are going to be in Litochoro, near the base of Mt. Olympos. The camping looks beautiful and there is hiking, snorkeling, kayaking and sailing galore! We're looking forward to some outdoor expeditions!

Yamas! (Cheers!)

Will and Katie