Friday, October 29, 2010

Surfing a Tuscan Couch

The kindness of complete strangers was demonstrated yet again when Gabriele, a local Tuscan accepted us into him home for four nights through the Couch Surfing Project. His couch in this case, was a queen size bed in his upstairs attic with a private bathroom and overlooking the neighbouring vineyard. It is always a strange feeling venturing into the home of someone you’ve never met before knowing you will be staying for a few days. Amongst couch surfers though, there is a common understanding which facilitates an instant connection. 

With our love for photography growing every day, it wasn’t long until we were completely engrossed in Gabriele’s plans to travel as a Photographic Journalist. He was working for Italy’s top news magazine and in just over a week he was embarking on a 12 month world tour, all expenses paid by the company. The purpose… search out unique couch surfing experiences and to produce a weekly article for the news magazine. He would spend 10 weeks at a time away, to surf other people’s couch, then return home for 2 weeks to host travelers. Inspired and a little bit jealous, we continued to inquire about his profession as he showed us some of his work and published photographic books. Creative portraits are his specialty and we were so impressed by his innovative ability to tell an individual’s story in a single photograph. We were a little taken a back when Gabriele asked our permission to include us in his project and requested that he take some portrait pics of us. What a privilege to be a part of this very exciting venture!

Over a home cooked meal with his adorable girlfriend Elisa, Gabriele continued to share about his photo journalism and his interest to uncover hidden issues through his work. We were struck by two particular stories, one about U.S. army women who during their service, became victims of rape. The other, documented the enormous amount of waste from the technological world that is sent to India where all circuit boards are stripped of their copper using acid. This acid is then dumped into the public waterways, the same ones that supply drinking and washing water to many villages. It was truly inspiring to see how creatively Gabriele is bringing these issues to light. 

We were invited to Gabriele’s farewell party at a restaurant tucked away in the mountains with about thirty of his Tuscan friends. Like old mates, we were immediately welcomed with open arms despite most people’s limited English. Of course we made use of that universal language that can be spoken (or acted out) by all! After a lavish menu and quite a few drinks later, the limited English was mostly used to teach us some ‘inappropriate’ Italian words! The night rolled on with air guitar, makeshift band and dancing to the DJ in the restaurant’s back room. It was such a sweet night and we felt so honoured to be there when we had only just walked into Gabriele’s life a couple of days before.

 The partay!

Who's the best air guitarist?

Those of us left at the end of the night - a very bad self portrait

What makes it even harder to leave a place on the road is when you have a connection with someone and you’ve had an unforgettable time in their company. Gabriele and Elisa had so much going on in their lives, but they chose to open up their home and make us a part of it. It really challenges me to think about that now…..about how willing I have been to open up my life to others in the midst of my busyness. I hope in the future we can be a generous with our time as these guys were with us. 

Us with Gabriele & Elisa

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bella Tuscany

As we drove from Rome into the long awaited region of Tuscany, we had to pick up our jaws from the dash as we looked out into the rolling hills, in awe of the array of colours and textures weaving into each other like a perfectly sewn patchwork quilt. I had a developed a very dreamy cliché image of Tuscany, gained mostly from films, but this view offered so much more than I had imagined. The Chianti vines showcased all shades of green, yellow and red in the mid-afternoon sun and the autumn leaves danced as they blew gently in the breeze. We approached our B and B where we were staying for the next few days and were so happy to find a classic Tuscan farmhouse perched overlooking the vines. Bliss!

We spent a fabulous week in the Tuscan countryside, much of this time spent driving through the hills, taking in our picturesque surroundings, admiring the locals harvesting their olives and of course savouring every mouthful of Tuscan culinary specialties. We stopped to explore several medieval villages perched high on the hilltops where we would often watch the sunset. We visited the wine regions of Chianti, Montapulciano and Montalcino, where we tasted the top varieties like Brunello and Nobile inside rustic little wine bars or cellars and discovered yet again our partiality to Italian wine. The best wine we tried however, was a Pinot Nero (noir) in a gorgeous husband and wife run restaurant in the heart of Montapulciano. The best feature of the service – we got to try about ten of their wines before we chose the one we wanted to drink. We never would have picked a Pinot Nero to be the best otherwise.

One of our favourite spots in the area was San Gimignano, a tiny walled village with the most gorgeous rolling cobblestone alleys, piazzas and panoramic vistas. It was here we found the best gelato in the world!! No, it’s not just in my opinion! This place has won many awards with this exact title and we could taste why!! Nothing that we had tried up until this point had come close to what we ate in San Gimignano….in fact, if anyone asks me the places not to miss in Tuscany, I would say this little village as number one, based on its gelati alone!! It could not be possible for any other icecream to taste as creamy and so full of REAL flavour as this did. But it wasn’t just the taste that impressed us….it was the creativity of the flavours too!! We ordered what we thought was raspberry and then learned the raspberry was accompanied by rosemary!! Sounds weird, but the unlikely combination completely blew us away! Soooo good! It was the only gelati shop where we felt no guilt whatsoever in going back for a second pot! The walnut and blue cheese flavour did look extremely tempting, but we decided to save that one for next time.

The weather wasn’t completely kind to us in Tuscany, but even the rain and cold couldn’t keep up away from experiencing as much as we could of this breathtaking region. We had been told by a local that we must try the Panini at an enoteca (wine bar) in Cortona and being the home of ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ (film/book), we were keen. So we rugged up, pulled out our umbrella and braved the cold, but it didn’t take long before we needed to escape it. The amazing Panini was worth the trip on it’s own though – dough so light, fluffy and crispy all at the same time, with prosciutto and cheese, so simple and yet so yummy! I just can’t get over the way Italians can take such few ingredients and make them taste unbelievably good! Yes, I do enjoy getting myself tied up in knots over food!

Our most memorable experience in Tuscany though, surprisingly had nothing to do with food! It was the few days we spent with a local couchsurfer in his home in Castiglion Fiorentina. More about that in the next post.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Enchanting Trastevere

Rome’s oldest preserved district – Trastevere, lured us to return almost every day with its captivating maze of cobblestone streets opening into piazzas and stark pastel colours contrasting the deep blue sky; bulging walls of old buildings, stripped plaster and faded paint work; creeping plants cascading from windows; items of clothing blowing in the breeze as they hung to dry; cars, scooters and pedestrians navigating the tiniest of spaces, dodging each other just before impact and of course did I mention the pistachio gelato!!? Time to take a breath now!

Captivated by the depth of character that oozed from Trastevere, we wandered around for what felt like hours, exploring every nick and cranny. It was obvious that compared to the rest of Rome, very few tourists frequent the area, a bonus for us because it enabled us to see what the locals get up to away from the crowds. One of the many beautiful scenes we witnessed was an older gentleman standing outside his front door, smoking a cigarette and watching the world go by. What was starkly different about this gentleman however, was the biggest, fattest cat that he had draped over his shoulders, snoozing away and perfectly balanced like it was a regularly performed activity (unfortunately didn't capture this on camera). We watched as people walked their dogs, stopping to chat with each other and others on their mobile phones, waving their hands in the air and almost dancing in the street as their conversation turned into a live drama for all to see. More moments when we had to remind ourselves that what was before our eyes was indeed real.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rome: Love at first taste

Although we had eaten some pretty good gelati along the Amalfi coast, we had no idea what we were in for when we tried pistachio gelato in Rome. Avocado green in colour with a texture as smooth as silk, permeated by real pistachios and perfectly balanced with both sweet and nutty flavours…. it was love at first taste! Which pretty much sums up how we feel about beautiful Rome!

Engage in a conversation with anyone about the highlights of their visit to Rome and you will almost definitely hear about the history, museums, ancient ruins and monuments, cathedrals, piazzas, fountains and other impressive architecture. We spent six nights in this incredible city and visited all of the major sights – the Colosseum, the Vatican, Saint Peter’s Cathedral, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. You only have to walk around Rome for a day to be swept away by its incredible preservation of history and intricate detail of its architecture. For us though, it wasn’t the history that completely stole our attention, it was the modern day atmosphere of this ancient city and ultimately the food! (Surprise!)

The Roman Forum

The Colosseum

One of the many beautiful streets of Rome

Rome for us, was the perfect place to just sit and watch the world go by. Unlike Paris, it has affordable coffee, wine and cuisine that rivals every other city in the world and we took full advantage of this. After we’d seen the major sights, we’d find a good cafĂ© or wine bar, sit down with good glass of wine, a plate of antipasto and watch as people went about their day. I can excuse all our eating and drinking by saying that these times were really important because they gave us time to reflect and enjoy the beauty of Roma. Ok, ok, so we did a lot of eating….isn’t that what you do in Italy?? If you’ve had enough about me talking about food, then don’t read any further! ;-) Maybe this whole blog needs to be renamed to ‘A Foodie’s Global Odyssey’!

Piazza Navona

Campo Di Fiori

Watching the world go by

The tiny streets of Trastevere, one of our favourite spots, were lined with quirky shops, bars, cafes and restaurants, each with their own rustic design and we did our research about the best places to eat in the area. Our most divine experience of food in Trastevere and all of Rome however, was not found from our own research, but was recommended by a local man walking his dog. We stopped to ask him for directions to a particular restaurant and he went on to suggest that we consider Mel Gibson’s favourite place to dine when he is in Rome and also where the locals eat – Taverna Trilussa. It was here that we decided to celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary and what an incredible culinary treat that was!! The entry area and restaurant itself, was graced with an artistic display of gastronomic delights including numerous different meats hanging from high above. I just knew this was going to be good and couldn’t contain my excitement as the waiter showed us to our table. The pasta, served in the pans they were cooked in, could not have tasted any more heavenly and although the following two courses were also amazing, the quantity of food was more than we could handle! Needless to say, we rolled out of there that night completely full to the brim! We walked a mile to the bus which gave us good opportunity to let the food go down and to contemplate just how much we love this country! We were certainly settling into the lifestyle of Italy and our own love for all things culinary meant we were fitting in just nicely.

Taverna Trilussi

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Must Love Dogs

Pompeii (new town) certainly didn’t come close to the beauty of the Amalfi Coast, nor could I possibly suggest that most places would! What we did find, was a place that appeared dirty, with crazy traffic and rubbish lying around in gutters. Most people visit here to see the ruins of Old Pompeii which was a town annihilated by a volcano (Vesuvius) in 79AD. As incredible as these ruins have been described, we just couldn’t get into it! We made a real effort, even purchasing the audio guides so we could learn about the history of this place, but we were left feeling flat and bored. I completely acknowledge that these ruins are indeed fascinating, but for us, we just couldn’t connect with the ancient history here and our fascination faded very quickly. Ok, so I think you get the picture….not one of our highlights.

What did get our attention though, was the several dogs we encountered roaming the ruins and the streets of new town Pompeii. Some were healthy and others had a limp or were looking unwell, but all of them stole our hearts! We discovered that all of them had made Pompeii their home, but none of them had official owners and you could visibly see the sadness in their eyes as they sought the attention of every passer by. One took a real liking to us and followed us for over a kilometer until we had to get into the car and leave it sitting on the kerb. Of course all I wanted to do was take this beautiful creature and give it a home, but the reality of what I was actually able to do left me feeling gutted! It was a reassuring discovery when we learned about Pompeii’s care program which provides food and veterinary care for these dogs who have made the streets of Pompeii their home. As we wandered around the new town, we saw water containers in front of businesses and we realized then, that these dogs were very much valued by the locals here. I still left there however, with the imprint of sad eyes in my head and wondering how much happier these dogs might be if they had a human companion or family to love them.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Can you ever have too much limoncello?

The answer to this question is probably yes, despite the fact that upon my first sip I thought that would never be possible!! Limoncello is a traditional Italian lemon liqueur made using fresh lemon zest, water, sugar and 95% alcohol. The ingredients I’ve listed don’t really make this little gem sound very impressive, but it’s the Amalfi lemons that give it the ‘wow factor’. The lemons here are the yellowest of yellows and the size is more similar to a grapefruit or a melon than any lemon we’ve seen! One day we were served a piece of this lemon with our calamari starter and it was about 10-15cm long! As we squeezed it, not only juice exploded, but pieces of flesh also went flying. Ok, you get the picture of how good these lemons are. So this is why the limoncello was so incredible! I discovered quickly however, that this liqueur should be consumed in moderation because as yummy as it is, it does make you very drunk very quickly and with the amount of sugar it contains, feeling very ill is inevitable indeed! Now I’m back to drinking it in the traditional way… small glass after a meal.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Italian Secret to a Long Life

On the Amalfi Coast, we had the privilege of staying with an Italian family and experience their amazing hospitality and love for life. With three generations living on one property, you could visibly see how important family is in the Italian culture. We were treated to Grandma’s home cooked dinners, including the best gnocchi and tiramisu we’ve tasted. We had a whole lot of fun trying to communicate when the family’s English was limited and so was our Italian. Thankfully, hand gestures are a perfectly acceptable form of communication in Italy and it’s amazing how much can be said if you get really creative!
Grandma's home made gnocchi...mmmm!

Just a few family members

We spent a significant amount of time with the Grandfather of the family – Luigi who seemed to take a liking to us. We were greeted by him in the morning and as a result, didn’t leave the house until after 11am each day. We returned in the evenings to find that he was almost looking for us. It was such a joy to be in his company and even though his English wasn’t brilliant, he gave it a good go and he had such a zest for life that drew us to spend time with him for hours. We were so impressed by the fact that he was trying really hard to learn English using his two phrasebooks and genuinely desired to communicate with us. With the help of Google translator, we managed several conversations and laughed until we cried. We even met some of Luigi’s extended family and discovered that Italian men are obviously very proud of their big round belly because they like to point it out to you, with a pat, a rub and a big cheesy grin! We managed to decipher that they wanted us to stay longer and if we did, they could help Tim out with growing his belly!

One discussion we had with Luigi really stuck with us – firstly, he told us he was 80 years old and we were so shocked he obviously thought we didn’t believe him because he pulled out his pensioners I.D card with his date of birth. Honestly, this guy looked barely older than 60 and it made us instantly curious about what has kept him young. He went on to explain that the secret to a long life involves 3 things…..number one – eat fresh organic produce with no artificial preservatives/pesticides, number two – allow 2-3 hours to sit and have your meals and number three – consume a small amount of red wine each day. Luigi took us to his ‘workshop’, otherwise known as the kitchen out the back and there we saw plump red tomatoes and curing prosciutto hanging from the ceiling. In one corner was his limoncello in the making – lemon peel soaking in large tubs of 95% alcohol. As we sampled Luigi’s home grown produce, we were inspired by the passion that so obviously went into the creation of delicious culinary delicacies.


One of the things we love about the Italian culture is how much each meal is central to the day and these times are never rushed. Eating is such a relaxing and enjoyable task here and our digestion really thanked us for it. For someone who usually has gut problems, mine were almost non-existent during our time here, despite eating pasta almost every day. Interesting! Ok, so allowing 2-3 hours for meals might seem a bit unrealistic in our own culture, especially with scheduled working hours, but we can definitely learn from the Italians and maybe slow down a bit more. We might just add a few years to our lives.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dance like no one's watching

A lot of us have been conditioned from a very young age to be cautious, to be concerned about the opinions of others, to hide a large (or small) part of ourselves from the world in order to remain ‘safe’, to hold back and hold onto fear…..fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of getting hurt, fear of something going wrong, fear of what other people might think. The trouble is, all of these fears are based on past experience or on worry of the future. All we really have is this moment, right now to choose how we want to live. I’m not saying that our choices now don’t affect the future, I’m talking about how much we hold back or refuse to let go and how many ‘moments’ we might miss along the way.

I started thinking a bit deeper about the issue of holding back the night Tim and I were walking along a dimly lit cobblestone alleyway in the gorgeous Italian sloping village of Ravello. We could hear music in the distance and as we drew closer, we realized it was Frank Sinatra. The scene could not have been more perfectly set for an old school film and I was swept into another world, with an instant urge to dance. I grabbed hold of Tim and we danced in the alleyway like we were Fred & Ginger…..mmm, maybe not.... at least it felt that way. We were living the moment, until a couple started walking toward us and Tim decided it was time to stop, even though there was plenty of room to walk around us. I tried to convince him to keep the moment going, but to no avail. I think I was just excited because I hadn’t felt so intensely free and uninhibited in quite a long time and I didn’t want to let go of that moment. All I wanted to do was keep dancing as if no one was watching.

After dissecting the issue with Tim, we both agree that we desire to live our lives like that… be spontaneous, to leap forward in the moment and not be held back by our inhibitions, to let them go and dance as if no one is watching. In the example I’ve just given, Tim was the one holding back, but I can tell you that it has very often been the other way around. It's time for a change.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Intoxicated by the Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast is made up of a number of utterly enchanting, almost fairytale villages that are set into the rugged coastline of Italy’s south-east. Although it was mid Autumn, we soaked in the suns rays as we meandered around the idyllic hillside villages and even when the rain came down, we surprisingly dealt with it better than usual! Even in the rain we were captivated and couldn’t get enough. The sights, sounds, tastes and scents of this dramatic coast are something to behold!

We spent most of our time exploring the coast in our car, stopping along the way, mostly for amazing photo opportunities. There were a lot of photos we didn’t take, simply because we were often on a hairpin bend and parking anywhere on the narrow coast road is next to impossible…those are the images locked in our memory. We were particularly mesmerized by the very famous small village of Positano with it’s pastel and white houses precariously nestled into the cliffside leading down to a picturesque cove of pebble beach. These photos will do more justice to a description than I ever could……

Beautiful Positano, by day and at sunset

Ravello was the second place that caught our attention and was more of a surprise because we had never heard of it before. It’s set back from the coast, but sits on probably one of the highest peaks in the whole area and allows for spectacular panoramic views. We spent more than a whole day discovering the nicks and crannies of this quaint village, which we were obviously fixated with and it provided amazing material for good photography. Ravello was our base for 4 nights, where we stayed with the most hospitable Italian family who made us feel like one of them. I can only do that experience justice in a whole separate post (see ‘The Italian Secret to a Long Life….stay tuned)
Pics of Ravello

We were excited to be back amongst a culture that values cuisine like no other! Although we devoured really good Italian dishes in a few places, we quickly developed a favourite (Villa Amore Albergo Ristorante), which we returned to several times. Hidden away in a cobblestone alley in Ravello, we were served by older Italian gentlemen wearing vests and bow ties. The menu was extremely good value with our delicious bottle of wine costing only 7 Euro. We felt so at home and ridiculously blessed as our waiter dished our meal from the pan right at our table, even completely deboning my fish so perfectly as I watched. Sitting on the terrace of this restaurant treated us to the best view we’ve ever had whilst eating. We stopped to think, that this experience was probably as authentic as it got. Ok, so I’ve become a bit fixated on eating again, but I guess you better get used to it, this is Italy after all!
The view from the Ristorante

Chicken Cacciatora....look how red those tomatoes are!!

The Amalfi Coast was one place I had completely built up in my mind and I think I even dreamed about being here a few times. I can honestly say this place definitely exceeded all of our expectations and must be experienced to be truly imagined! It is a storybook brought to life!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Nearly shit my pants!

We arrived on the Amalfi Coast in the middle of a major thunderstorm, with the rain pelting our windscreen so hard we couldn’t see a thing, wipers were useless and eventually we were forced to pull over, or crash. The extremely narrow roads, the sheer cliff drop off on one side and sharing the road space with full size tourist coaches was not particularly helpful either! On an obviously fragile and dangerous route, we couldn’t believe the size of the vehicles that were allowed to drive on this road. As a passenger sitting in the middle of road in our right-hand drive car, it was not much fun to have oncoming cars, buses and trucks, taking up the whole road swerving to pass at the last minute like a game of chicken. Italian drivers lived up to their reputation and demonstrated no fear, only simple insanity. I do not have enough fingers on both hands to count how many times my heart was in my mouth. Thankfully, I escaped shitting my pants. A driving experience not for the faint hearted.
Not the best pic, but you get the idea

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A makeshift bed

Sad to leave the beauty of Croatia and it’s sunshine, but awaiting our return to Italy, we boarded the overnight ferry, preparing in our minds to set up our bed on a long bench seat in the bar. Our ideas of sprawling out and getting comfortable were very quickly crushed when we saw that the once bench seats had been divided into single seats using immovable boards. DOH!! It was pretty obvious that ‘Jarolijna Ferries’ was trying really hard to make sleeping in the bar area so difficult, so people would pay double the price for a dog box cabin. Of course we didn’t succumb to that…..instead, we created a makeshift sleeping quarters in a corner on the floor with our sleeping bags and pillows. In full view of bar staff and customers, laying on a carpeted concrete surface and using our eye masks to block the glaring light, it seemed like a perfectly acceptable place to sleep under the circumstances. We definitely drew some attention and we could tell as people passing said goodnight to us that they wish they’d done the same thing and saved the money. A win for us!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Unattached and Free to Dream

It seemed that Nishta restaurant in Dubrovnik was the place to meet interesting fellow Aussies….we instantly connected with Wiam and Anthony from Sydney, who shared about the businesses they had bought and sold, all on a whim and without taking any decision too seriously. They had decided only 3 weeks before leaving Australia, to sell their business and go. Listening to the language they used, we initially thought they were being excessively flippant, but after talking to them for a while we discovered a much deeper attitude that reminded us to hold everything in our lives lightly. They spoke of being attached to nothing and making firm decisions based on calculated risk, going with your first instinct rather than agonizing over those decisions. We were inspired by their willingness to give anything a go and not be threatened at all by the possibility of failure….after all, if something doesn’t work out, it’s an opportunity to create change. We could see that their unattachment to ideas, to things, to a career, to anything, was what allowed them to be completely confident and free in their decisions. After all, if we are unattached to everything, how much are we really risking? The question is, how do we remain unattached in a consumer society that bombards us with wrong messages about what we need to be successful or to be worthy as a person… ‘we must own a house to have real security’, ‘we need a career to be successful’ or ‘we can’t possibly live without x’, just to scratch the surface. Maybe if we can be more aware of these messages, decide on an alternative and develop a new definition for success, we can be free to dream and live beyond the norm. Maybe I’ve oversimplified things and life is a little more complicated, but it’s something to think about. Would love to have your thoughts.

A Love for Photography

It was at Nishta that we met Dan, from Perth, who ended up joining us for drinks at a very funky outdoor bar right on the edge of the cliff face on the outside of the city walls. We sat, overlooking the adriatic waters as the sun began to set and one of the many things we talked about was our common interest in photography. Of course it’s not difficult to find a traveler who is passionate about photography simply because it’s impossible not to be when your surroundings are screaming to be photographed. We hung out with Dan again the following morning when we visited ‘War Photo Limited’, a gallery showcasing images from modern wars around the world including Iraq, Yugoslavia & Africa. Here we not only saw the work of incredibly talented photographers, but the images themselves were deeply moving, shocking and confronting. One in particular, a soldier was diving for cover, dodging a bullet that the photographer managed to capture in mid flight and another of a man leaping for his life as he escaped a bomb blast. We couldn’t believe the intensely dangerous circumstances these photographers were willing to place themselves in to take such incredible pictures. It spoke to us of extreme dedication and selflessness to tell the real story of war.
The cliffside cafe


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mad About Figs

We pretty much discovered figs the day after we entered Croatia and continued to eat them fresh throughout our time there. But, it was in Dubrovnik that we first tried them in the most delectable dessert! Figs soaked in Croatian sweet wine topped with cinnamon marscapone cream!! Mmmmm! The vegetarian restaurant where we ate this little gem became our saving grace for food in Croatia! The place was given the name ‘Nishta’, meaning ‘nothing’ because before opening, local Croats were struck with confusion and asked the question “If they are not going to serve meat, what will they serve, nothing?” Lets just say that vegetarian restaurants are pretty much unheard of in this country.

The food at Nishta was incredible and it rescued us from the indentical menus of southern Croatia and from overdosing on shrimp risotto. We ate at Nishta four times in the four days we were in Dubrovnik, sampling most items on the menu and savoured every last delicious mouthful of food originating from India, Morocco, Turkey, Mexico and Thailand.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Life is Full of Possibilities

tWhen you travel, you discover a different realm of possibility….you see how other people live, what they value and the differences between another culture and your own. You are surrounded by sights, smells and tastes that not only are a feast for your senses, but they send your imagination running wild, far beyond what can be experienced when living in complete familiarity. Every day you experience something new, meet fascinating characters, engage in very interesting people-watching and try foods with colours, textures and flavours that blow your mind. Conversations with locals and travelers alike tend to be less about mundane topics and more about cultural differences, language, creativity, dreams and potential. Your mind is expanded, leaving you feeling extremely inspired and believing that much more is possible than what you had imagined before leaving your home soil. You realise there are so many more alternative ways to live your life and your options are limitless!


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Island hopping, Croatian style

A two hour ferry ride to the island of Vis felt a whole lot shorter after meeting an English couple (Andy & Catherine) who were on their honeymoon. Thankfully, they didn’t seem to be the reserved type and we instantly hit it off, leaving us feeling like old friends by the time we arrived on the island. We invited them to join us the following night for a meal at a local restaurant called ‘Roki’s’, which had been recommended to us. We ate ‘Peka’, a traditional Croatian dish made with meat, vegetables, herbs and slow cooked in a cast iron pot over hot coals. The food couldn’t have been more perfectly cooked, with the meat melting in our mouths like butter and the whole dish so full of flavour. The restaurant also makes and sells their own wine, using grapes grown only on the island of Vis. We drank their white Bugava and their red Plavac, both of wish were uniquely delicious and different to any other wine we have tasted. Our conversation with Andy & Catherine went beyond the superficial and we laughed until we cried. At the end of the night, we exchanged details and were immediately convinced we had made another two life-long friends.

Enjoying 'peka' with our new friends

Vis is an incredibly beautiful island, with a lack of ‘touristy’ developments, which is exactly what we loved about it. We were instantly captivated by the small fishing village of Komiza, at the east end of the island, with its pebble beaches, lined with 17th and 18th century homes and it’s crystal emerald green waters. We were astounded when we managed to discover a small apartment right on the foreshore, with the water almost lapping at our front door, all for about AU$40 a night! Travelling outside of peak season definitely increases your bargaining power! Tony and Senka, our warm and generous hosts, were the best we could have asked for. Despite the considerable language barrier, we made use of all communication tools, including hand gestures and the usual charades. Tony kindly offered us some of his ‘catch of the day’ for lunch, which we watched him prepare and cook the traditional way – whole fish over hot coals with garlic, olive oil and rosemary. We sat at the water’s edge, in front of our apartment savouring every mouthful and counting our blessings as we reflected on the generosity of this beautiful couple.

Our apartment is the one on the far right :-)

Komiza beach

Tony cooking us up the fish on the coals

Perfect lunch with the perfect view

The landscape and atmosphere of Vis created the perfect setting for ultimate relaxation. In 4 days, a basic routine was quickly developed….nothing more than rising without any alarm to wake us, meandering over to the local bar about 200 metres away, drinking coffee while gazing out to the Adriatic for at least an hour, going for a leisurely drive around the island, eating and drinking some more….I’m sure you get the picture. To mix things up a bit, we hiked down to a secluded and extremely picturesque cove called 'Stiniva', where the points of two cliff faces curve in toward each other, allowing water to flow through the canal in the centre. I was ever so slightly ecstatic because I had been dying to swim in the clear, aqua waters but up until this point, it was a bit too chilly to take the plunge. This day however seemed just right, but the moment I removed my shoes and begun walking toward the water, I quickly discovered how much I despise pebble beaches!! Sure, they look incredible and they allow for the clear water, but they are bloody painful!! A vigorous foot massage gone horribly wrong is an appropriate way to describe it! In the end, I did venture into the water….but with shoes on….which was just plain wrong!


Amazing sunset at Komiza, Vis

We left Vis extremely reluctantly, especially with hosts who almost begged us to stay, but there were other islands we really wanted to visit and it wouldn’t be long until the weather would be getting much cooler. We visited the islands of Korcula and Mlijet, spending 3 nights on each, with not much more to report other than a whole lot more relaxation. Torrential storms on Korcula gave us both the opportunity to finish some really good books (Sal – ‘One Day, by David Nicholls’ and Tim – ‘The Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life') and we enjoyed the down time as well as watching the lightning over the ocean from our front window. We discovered fig brandy, home made by our hosts, which was a little too delicious and it is probably just as well that we only bought one small bottle to take away. We also visited a local winery, where we tasted and bought two bottles of exceptional Croatian wine – grown, produced and sold only on the island. It was a pity we didn’t get to see Korcula under the sunshine because seeing and appreciating the beauty of a place is much harder through the rain.

By the time we arrived at the very untouched island of Mljet, we had no books to read and although the National Park was beautiful, we began feeling like we had done enough relaxation and boredom crept in. We amused ourselves with dodging big black beetles on the road, commentating (Tim) the activity of ants who were carrying away the various body parts of dead flies and hanging out with giant purple jelly fish and a beer drinking praying mantis. Yes….the product of having way too much time on your hands! Time for some more advanced brain stimulation!

One of the views of the Mljet coast

The beer drinking praying mantis....sweet!