Updated: May 18
Well, what can one say about 2020? Bloody Covid, that's what! Stopping the world in it's tracks, and tragically for many, permanently. Sooooo, here we are, sitting here on the beautiful Gold Coast of Australia,
counting our blessings,
yet still dreaming of better things and far off places for 2021...(Make that 2022 now!)
I miss travelling, and I miss writing about it, so I thought I'd compile a 'Best of ' blog. Greatest, yummiest, funniest, craziest, most memorable,
even scariest of all our experiences from around the world, and not forgetting my
favourite photo challenge; selfies... with animals! I think this will as fun for me as it will be to you, my readers. I'll try to dig out some unpublished photos, as well as perhaps untold stories.
Let the fun begin!
Hands down -
I'm only sorry it took us so long to get there!!! Trev had visited Milan on business in 2006, but it took us till 2016
before we both holidayed there together.
This was a very poignant time for us. (I haven't done a blog on this trip, yet.)
We had only just discovered Trev had a tumour, and thankfully our surgeon said to us,
only 13 days before our scheduled departure mind you...
"You are going on this trip - you just aren't taking this with you."
Soooo, off we trekked,
(tumour free and waiting to deal with any consequences on our return)...
on a Mediterranean Cruise around Italy, The Greek Islands and Turkey,
followed by another week in Italy that we did on the fly. It was excellento! Italy....omg, so diverse, so historical, and the food - ahhh, bellissimo! We still plan on returning, and pretty much drive/train around the whole country.
It has captured our hearts. The people, the ruins, the architecture, the scenery, the wine, the food,
the rhythm of the language...
It's just pure magic.
Just sitting outside a restaurant, eating a simple yet flavoursome pizza,
with the owner's grandmother topping up your wine glass to the brim
as the piano accordionist serenades you just outside the Trevi Fountain...? Seriously, getting the picture?
IT IS JUST LIKE THAT.
A Roman Holiday.
Yeah, we look just like them! ;)
Rome, London and Paris, in my opinion, are the best cities in the world for jumping on the 'On/Off' double decker tourist bus. So many fabulous locations to stop at.
Yes, it's touristy, but guess what? We're tourists, and these buses do the job, big time!
The Colosseum, Forum, Vatican, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Circus Maximus... The list goes on!
Make sure you allow a good half day for a tour of the
Colosseum with the Roman Forum -
(TIP...take the tour, the things you learn are fabulous. Otherwise for instance, you'll have no idea that the steps in front of you is where Julius Caesar was slain.....)
and The Vatican deserves at least a half day, just to do one section and
don't miss the Sistine Chapel.
Enjoy the culture, the gelato, but maybe not the traffic! I'm skipping a lot, as this is just the highlights.
Learn at least a little of their language.
They'll appreciate your effort, and its fun.
Leaving Rome for the biggies north of this ancient city... Florence - the heart of glorious Tuscany, birthplace of The Renaissance and home of Michelangelo's Statue of David,
The Medici , and Dan Brown fan landmarks!
Stroll the ancient cobblestoned streets of the Old Town, dodge the Vespas, and admire the splendour of the shop windows, that are crammed full of Italian delights. Parma Ham, delicious cannoli, ribbons of fresh pasta, colourful macarons, refreshing gelato, Italian leather, Murano glass....
everything you can imagine, and the quality is sublime.
A must do is to climb to the top of The Duomo. Wow, what an amazing building and still has the largest Cathedral dome in the world. Here is where I realised, a little too late, that I suffered badly from claustrophobia. Being the first one in a group climbing these narrow and steep spiralled stone steps,
with no room to move, pass, or seemingly breathe - I seriously struggled on this, especially feeling the need to set the pace... Note to self - never again! However...there was light at the end of the staircase...and we were rewarded with a magical Tuscan sunset over the terracotta roofline of this most romantic of cities.
Only a couple of hours or so away from Florence, lies the picturesque coastline where you'll find 5 towns, famous for their colourful facades , nestled into terraces of vineyards, overlooking the aqua waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Here lies, Cinque Terra. 'Five town.'
Originally only accessible by rail or boat, nowadays you have to park and walk into the town. Not even residents can drive there.
The walking track connecting all five towns had recently closed when we were there,
due to landslides.
It's a delight to visit, cheap to stay, but be warned, the pickpockets are a dime a dozen, particularly on the train and at the stations.
Keep your back pack on your front.
They are quick, and work in teams, and can look like street urchins,
businessmen or even priests.
That said, its still absolutely worth going!!!
Just be an aware traveller.
The buildings are all very colourful - not quite as bright as the enhanced images you see online, actually they could do with a coat of paint - but that all adds to the charm. Jump on a boat (the best way to view the towns by a country mile), or train,
and visit all the towns if you can, or better still, stay for a couple of days,
and immerse yourself in the village life by the seaside.
Back to Florence again for us as this was just a day trip and we had scored an amazing
hotel right at the end of the
Ponte Vecchio; The Pitti Palace.
Really reasonable rates, and they even had a couple of resident cats,
who graced us in our room for a smooch.
The view from the breakfast terrace was first rate. We'd definitely stay there again.
An hour or so away from Florence, is the 'MUST VISIT' town of Pisa.
We of course thought were only going there for the most famous bell tower in the world;
but don't be fooled...there is so much more to this charming, historical town than just that.
Situated along the Arno River, the same picturesque river that flows through Florence,
it offers you a full day of fabulous sightseeing,
with the best photo opportunities for hamming it up. We weren't very creative back then...you should google pics and find some good poses.
My favourite is holding an ice cream cone under the building,
or... as my favourite Italian celebrity chef Gino Da'Campo shows...
a classic pose for you guys!
Get imaginative and have fun, and don't worry about looking silly -
everyone does and you'll get a fun photo.
Aside from the leaning spectacle, the gorgeous church and baptistry that is associated with the tower are still there, in absolute fine form,
and as at 2016, the Tower had been recently cleaned
and was beautiful shiny white marble again. If you're as lucky as we were, you can hear a pastor sing hauntingly in the baptistry, and the dome of the ceiling acts as an amplifier like I've never experienced.
The place was almost vibrating in the sound.
I think he does it on the hour. Sit, be silent, and get lost in the magic of the moment.
The Tower is able to be climbed again, and no claustrophobia for me on this one,
as it's roomy and airy.
Strange walking around the spiral, and seemingly going down as you go up.
Do it, the views are always worth it.
Say you have done it, before they might ban it altogether one day.
Okay, there is so much more to these places, but I'll save it for it's own blog, sometime. Next stop on the trip north is the penultimate water city...Venice.
Stepping out of the rail station and being met by water taxis and gondolas
is nothing short of fabulous!
We found a couple little boutique hotels to stay in on the island.
Nice to move around ?
Ah, no - we were struggling on a weekend
to actually find accomodation at the last minute,
therefore we couldn't get two nights in a row in the same place. So there's a tip...book ahead.
I can't say anything about Venice that hasn't already been said...other than perhaps pick your season to travel there.
Summer may be busy, but winter will be cold, and sometimes underwater...so, if you come from many miles away and it's your dream destination...make sure you give yourself the best chance to enjoy it. (Spring and Autumn anywhere in the world are choice travelling times in my book.)
Once there, revel in it's uniqueness.
Take a timber motor launch over to the island of Murano, to witness the age old craft
of blowing the famous Venetian glass.
Going through the showroom you'll be shown pieces that you could swap your house for...
or do what we did, nick off to the last part of the tour...for the cheapskates,
and pick up some pretty figurines for 40 Euro.
Back on the island, you MUST book a Gondola ride..ok, it may be cliche, but still, it's Venice,
and you should experience it - at least once.
You get to cruise under the famous Bridge of Sighs, then venture in and around the private (or not so private) canals.
Once away from the main canal, it was peaceful, serene, and yes, very romantic.
We absolutely loved it.
2-3 days is enough for a nice taste, and let me tell you, we found the best cannoli in Italy there, as well as the most ornate and quaint hotel room with a view to drink in...
Without going into other places we visited in the south, like Naples, The Amalfi Coast and Pompeii, I'll save that for its own story.
That was just a taste of how much we love Italy.
SOOOO much more to see of it. Soon.
Very soon. We hope...
City of lights. A city of dreams; a living patchwork of 17th century mixed with the now.
It imprinted permanently in our hearts.
And yes, like it's neighbour, Italy, it took FAR too long for us to finally to get there. We spent only 6 days exploring it, first on our own,
then with friends that joined us from the UK. What a hoot we had.
And what a place to have it!!!
Once again, jump on an On/Off bus to take you to all the famous locations you've grown so familiar with, and now you can see, touch and experience them all.
Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, Arc de Triumph, Champ Elysees, Opera House,
and many more.
In 6 days flat out, we still never got out to wonder at the glory of the Palace of Versailles
or the spooky yet intriguing Catacombs.
Bummer. (Next time.)
We did however squeeze in a show at the Moulin Rouge,
went to the top of the Eiffel Tower,
and admired the talented painters at work at the Artist's Square at Montematre
whilst adding a love lock by the Sacre Coeur.
Aside from all that, the best thing you can do is walk...and walk...and walk.
Get lost along the cobblestoned streets. Get lost amongst the Masters in The Louvre.
Have a coffee, absorb the flavours of the place.
Get down to the St Germaine sector for true al fresco dining,
devour a filled baguette along the Seine,
stroll through the majestic Jardin Du Luxembourg Gardens,
sample some escargot, browse the historic second hand book carts,
marvel at the Mona Lisa, drink champagne and fall in love all over again.
It's what you do. It's Paris.
We WILL return.
Most amazing experiences...
Okay, for me, it's something that doesn't happen very often, and blows you away.
I think the following stories might just fall into that category.
It's no coincidence to me, the the majority of my 'wow' moments, have happened in Africa. All very unique in their own ways.
Okay, in no particular order...
Serengeti Meteor Shower.
Seriously, if you have to be ANYwhere in the world, with a forecasted meteor shower -
hows about being on one of the flattest, scarcest places on Earth,
with no moonlight to spoil the show... Yup, we got lucky on this, I tell ya.
Just prior to our Kilimanjaro climb in 2007, myself and two other friends, were enjoying a 5 day camping safari in Tanzania, when one of the girls mentioned that the following morning, there was supposed to be a meteor shower, between 3-5am, 'somewhere' in the world.
Okaaaaay, so here we were, on the Serengeti, with zero light pollution, 180 deg horizon to horizon visibility and it was the dry season, ...yup - this could be good we thought. :)
Come 4am, it was time to peek out of our tiny tent, to see if there was any
It was so cold, just crawling out of my snug sleeping bag was such a huge effort,
I said to Sharon (my tent buddy),
"I'll look, and if don't see anything, I'm going back to sleep." Well - the moment I looked out, I saw a shooting star. Ok, maybe that was a coincidence I thought, until I saw another one moments later. "Ok Sharon, up you get, let's check this out."
Zip, zip, and we were standing in the pitch black, next to our mate Narelle, who had already been up for a while, enjoying the most astonishing feast of shooting stars
you could ever imagine, all the while we were also listening to
lions and hyenas in the not so distant grassland.
Could we have been in a more perfect place to witness such a sight? I think not.
With our heads spinning in each direction, all we kept saying was
"Ooh, there's one! There's another! OMG, that one is huge!" I thought afterwards, that if anyone was lying in their tents listening to us gasp in awe,
they probably would be too chicken to poke their heads out,
maybe thinking we were talking about predators instead!
Apparently hyenas trashed our garbage bins overnight anyway.
We must have seen a hundred shooting stars
striping across the sky in all different directions, for over an hour.
It was a true life highlight,
and an experience without a single photograph. One for the heart and memory bank.
Summitting Mount Kilimanjaro
By far, the HARDEST and most gruelling, yet overwhelmingly satisfying
experience of my entire life. Childbirth was so much easier. ;)
In 2007 I travelled to Africa to climb this Bad Boy, or in a mountain's case, 'Bad Girl',
as she surely lived up to her reputation. 5 people tragically died on the mountain the week before us,
and one of our team very nearly did as well. She's not to be underestimated!
That said, if you want to see 'The snows of Kilimanjaro' whilst they're still there, and you have an adventurous spirit, give it a bash. It was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Go to my 'Kili' Blog for the whole story, the summit night section holds nothing back...
Machu Picchu at dawn.
This had always been on my top 5 Bucket List adventures.
Only second behind climbing Mount Kilimanjaro,
which I had done 10 years earlier for my 40th birthday.
Now I was turning 50, I thought it was the perfect destination to celebrate such a milestone.
We joined our first ever tour group, with 'G Adventures', for a two week tour from Lima to Cusco, out to the Amazonian rainforest, up to Machu Picchu and then cruising on the high altitude lake of Titicaca, where I celebrated my big day.
Half our group were hiking the Inca Trail, and the other half, including us,
took the gentler route along the river, hugging the Andes, on the very scenic train.
The Inca civilisation is truly something to marvel at, yet still they have left many questions unanswered as to where they went.
We met up with our hikers at dawn, in front of that picture postcard site of Machu Picchu,
just as the early dawn clouds parted like sheer curtains, and even Trev said it was one of the most incredible, memorable and magical moments in his life.
It was something to behold, and an utter privilege to be there.
The Great Migration river crossing.
Back to talk about Africa again, this time it's a 3 day safari at the fabulous 'fly in - fly out' Governor's Camp on the Masai Mara, Kenya, during August,
to witness a wonder of the natural world...
The Great Migration of the wildebeest,