The best and worse of our trip to England, Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Greece
London was a great city for sightseeing, but too expensive for an extended stay. What we did in our half day: took bus to Victoria Station. Did a walking tour of the south bank along the River Thames...Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and House of Parliament, London Eye, Trafalgar Square, Globe Theatre. Lunch at The Table, 83 Southwark Street (less than .5 mile from Globe Theatre).
Left London at night for Zurich. Stayed 2 days/2 nights at a B&B called Zimmer. Our friend lives there so she was our tour guide. Some of the activities she planned that I recommend are the trolley tour, a tour of the Munster Church (great views of the city) and day trip to Lucerne to see the castles, I recommend Chateau Gutsch. You must eat some of their chocolate (especially the Luxemburgerli). Also try the national Swiss dish Bircher Muesli.
Advance purchased EuRail passes and took first train ride to Rome. Stayed for 3 days/2 nights at Vale & Vale B&B, which is located in an apartment building and 10 minute walk from Vatican. Our first day in Rome was a Sunday, which meant the Vatican Museums were free admission. We went for it despite warnings of huge crowds and long lines. Well, it took about 30 minutes to get in the front door, probably because we went around lunch time (Tip Alert!). This is a must do, just to see the Sistine Chapel at the end of the tour was worth it. Rome wasn't built in a day, but you can walk most of it in that time. We got a map and began walking to the rest of the sites...St. Peter's Square, St. Angelo Castle, then across the river to Piazza Navona where we had lunch at Navona Notte (not impressed), I have my first gelato for dessert and a dangerous addiction begins!, onward to Pantheon, Piazza Montecitorio, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Medici Villa (located in a nice park), and Piazza del Populo. On the way back to the B&B, we discover a pastry shop Dolce Maniera, address: via Barletta 27, and bought some delectable treats. For dinner to go with dessert, we bought some wine, bread and cheese and sat on our balcony to enjoy the sunset.
Day 2: We took the train (Tip Alert! Rome has an excellent transportation system, so buy the 24-hour ticket if you plan to use local bus/train) back to the Termini and walked to Saint Maria Maggiore Church, Basilica of St. Peter in Chains but could not go in because shorts were not allowed (Tip Alert!), Colesseum, Constantine Arc, Forum, skipped Circus Maximus to go to the Bocca de la Verita instead, and crossed the river to Trastevere. Later that night we took the bus back to Trastevere for lasagna dinner at Osteria Trilussa.
Second lovely train trip took us to Florence under the Tuscan Sun. Again, we stay for 2 days/2 nights, this time in an apartment with a kitchen that we found on VacationRentalsByOwner. It was located close to the station and overlooked the central market. We go to the famer's market first and buy ingredients for dinner and breakfast. After dropping these off, we explore the outdoor market and shops.
Day 2: I grab a tour guide book and copy all of the destinations outlined for our own walking tour (Tip Alert!)...we go to the Medicean Chapels, Bascilia of Saint Lorenzo, the Duomo, the Paradise Door at the Baptistry, the Piazza della Signoria for its vast open-air sculpture museum with a replica of The David, cross the Ponte Vecchio Bridge to Pitti Palace (I was underwhelmed). We had a 1:30 reservation at the Accademia Gallery (we only had money for one gallery, so I picked The David over The Venus) so we went straight there after grabbing some pizza and gelato.
We return to our apartment to rest up for dinner. We have an inexpensive and tasty meal at il Santo Bevitore on the other side of the bridge, address: via di S. Spirito 64/66 r
Another nice train ride to Venice. We did not stay overnight for budget reasons, which turned out to be one of many reasons not to spend too much time in Venice. Venice is a gorgeous old city, but highly commercial with its upscale shops. Not much to offer a budget tourist. We spent 8 hours just walking the maze of bridges over the canals. You really can't get lost because they have lots of signs pointing to main tourist attractions like the Rialto Bridge and Market, Saint Marks Square and the Accademia. We find a chocolate shop near the Toma vaporetta ferry stop called VizioVirtu and it was heaven on the tongue. After enjoying our chocolate, we headed back to the station, grabbed some calzones found a spot under the bridge by the water, and watched the gondolas go by before boarding our train.
The overnight train was stuffy. It took us to the Croatian capital Zagreb. We had a 2-hour layover, so we walked around for a bit then caught another train to Split. The train ride affords views of the lush Croatian countryside and mountain range and before you know it there is the coastal waters. We stayed 1.5 days/1 night in an apartment behind the Silver Gate inside the Diocletian Palace. After settling in, we walk around the palace interior and the old city. Then we walk up a road called Senjska that took us to the top of a cliff with a great lookout point. We came down for lunch at Konoba Marjan, which is on Senjska. To walk it off, we went to Marjan Park.
Day 2: Was a half day, so we explored the Fruit Square and more the Palace by visiting the Cathedral (worth the 2 kunas).
Dubrovnik is a 4-hour bus ride from Split. It is a beautiful journey bookended by wild-flower coated mountains on the left and the crystalline waters on the right. We stay 2.5 days/2 nights at S&L Guesthouse. It is owned by a lovely man named Ante who speaks very good English and takes thorough care of his guests. After settling in, we walk to the Old Town to see the Pile Gate and walk the Placa thoroughfare. We eat an early dinner at the Taj Mahal (the bureks, baked meat/potato rolls were tasty). We also go to the War Photo Limited Museum for a visual documentary of the Yugoslav Wars.
Day 2. Ante gives us a guided tour to the top of the mountain where a cable car used to run and he gives us a personal account of the war. The view from the top is amazing. The hills are so green and the rooftops are all bright orange and new. It is hard to imagine that this place was ravaged by war a little more than 10 years ago. We also drive along the coast to the cable-stay bridge. Ante drops us off at the beach. The water is very cold and the beach and ocean floor are covered in rocks. The rocks are smooth, but slippery. Some of the pebbles are very pretty, so we collected some. We found one with a piece of turquoise in it and one with marble
Day 3: a half day that we spend sunning (wearing sunblock) on the terrace
We take a dodgy-looking bus to Kotor, only a 2-hour ride thank goodness. The driver hugged the lane of the cliff-side road too close for comfort and passed other vehicles at dangerous speeds, but we arrive in Kotor safely. We did not have reservations for accommodations, which is not unusual in these parts. At the bus station there are people with Sobe/Room signs. The trick is to find a decent place from an honest person. We are first approached by a shady, unshaven man who smelled of alcohol and cigarettes. He won't leave us alone until we finally tell him that we're not interested. Luckily a girl from Canada tips us off to a nice couple with rooms near the Old City Gate. We pay 15 euros each for one night. The sobe is nice with views of the harbor and the Old Town. We drop off our things and go into the Old Town. We go inside Saint Triphon's Cathedral and follow a map to other historic sites and public institutions and the market. I am a bit underwhelmed. We eat an early dinner at Regina del Gusto.
Day 2: is a half day. We get up early and climb the mountain to the fortress, which takes 1.5 hours and is the best part of Kotor. There are fortifications and a church along the way. After, we go to the Kotor bazaar or Montenegrian market, which turns out to be another disappointment. It is filled with cheap clothing and bric a brac. Skip it. We hang out in Old Town for the remaining hours and try the sweet pancakes at a place called As. They are like crepes drenched in syrup, jam, and whip cream...tooth-numbingly sweet. The serving is big enough for 2 or more people to share.
This is a recap of the next two cities we travel through because we don't see much of them expect for stations/airports. From Kotor, we have to go to Bar because it is the only way to get over to Greece without back-tracking. Our train to Belgrade, Serbia did not leave until 10 pm so we planned to spend the 8 or so hours exploring Bar. Not! The place is desolate and depressing. It is not a tourist-friendly city. For the first time during this trip, we did not feel safe. So, we spent the entire time in the train station. It was hellish. We boarded a crappy train late that night. We had a sleeper coach cabin to ourselves, but that is little consolation for what happened next. An 8-hour train ride turned into 14 because of problems on the main track. Instead of going direct to Belgrade, the train had to take an alternate route through the countryside. We had no food and no more water. It sucked! Instead of arrived at 6:30 am, we pull into Belgrade station at 12:30 pm. We missed our connecting train to Thessoloniki and the next one did not leave until after 10 pm. Neither one of was is up for another marathon wait in a train station, so we hopped a bus to the airport and bought two tickets to Athens. Lesson: Train schedules in eastern Europe are limited and subject to long delays. Budget time for mishaps.
We arrived in Athens late at night and a day earlier than we were expected at the Athens City Hotel. When we finally checked-in we just collapsed into bed. We slept late the next day for good reason and felt refreshed after a long, hot soak in the jacuzzi tub in our bathroom! We take the bus to Syntgama to pick up our ferry tickets for the next morning. Then we walk to Monastiraki Square. Hated it! It is loud, unfriendly, and full of junk items for sale. We beat a hasty retreat and head toward the archaelogical sites. Our luck is about to take a turn for the better as it is a holiday and all of the sites are free entry. We see the Temple of Hephaestus, the Parthenon, Karyatides, and Dionysus Theatre, Erechtheum (Porch of Maidens-Karyatides). Afterward, we go to Ancient Agora and the Temple of Zeus then stop for lunch in Plaka at a family restaurant called Sholarhio, address: Tripodon 14 str. We ate a bunch of different dishes served on little plates (like tapas). After that big lunch, we walked around Plaka some more and did some souvenir shopping. It is a lovely old neighborhood. The next morning, we catch an early ferry.
The high-speed ferries were all booked when we were making reservations (Tip Alert!). Still, our slow ferry ride (7 hours) was not so bad. We had seats on the cabin level, so I took a nap.We went on deck every time the ferry docked at a port. We arrived in Oia in the early afternoon. (Tip Alert! Take the local bus for 1.4 euros, it's just as fast and cheaper than taxis or private shuttles) We stayed 5 days/4 nights at Lena's House, a gorgeous villa with a terrace overlooking the breathtaking caldera. This last leg of our trip was a blur of fun. Instead of giving a daily account, I'll just list our favorite activities:
*Walking through Oia is an experience in sensory overload. The sight of the colorful mosaic of buildings carved into the cliffs, the touch of sea breeze on your skin, the sound of the waves crashing against the din of people chatting, the smell of fresh air, and the taste of some of the best cooking in the world
*We walked the path to the Capitol Fira
*Hopped on a boat tour that took us the volcano, the hot springs at Palea Kameni, and Thirassia
*Visited some of the 350 or so chuches on the island
*Watched the cruise ships and yacths come into port from our balcony
*Ate good lunches at Estia in Imerovigli (twice)
*Had a nice sunset dinner at Finikia's Place, about 1 mile outside of Oia. The food was great and affordable.
*Bought yummy peach cobbler from APTOTTOIEIO Bakery like every day
*Enjoyed the local wine
*Shopped til we dropped!