You say Turin, I say Torino

We didn’t know much about Turin, except that our wonderful friends Amanda and Grant would be there to visit a friend in mid-October and we had to be there too, or else. So we made the 500km detour across the top of Italy from Venice to make it in time for their arrival. On the way we did some research. Turin or Torino, as it’s known to the Italians, is the home of Fiat, Nutella, the Juventus football team, the Shroud of Turin and is basically a food mecca. We started to get excited. We arrived in the after-work rush hour into some crazy traffic, and finally managed to park the Bee nearby to Alessandro’s house, our destination.Turino ice creamWe hadn’t met Alessandro before, but he proved himself the most perfectly gracious host. He currently lives in Berlin but owns a small apartment in this, his home town and spends a few months here each year. Life to die for, right? Ale is an old friend of Grant’s from when they lived in London together and we basically just tagged along to everything they did.Enos in TurinoThe first stop on ‘Ale’s Tour of Turin’ was Eno’s. Now, I am going to write a whole post just about the food we ate/loved in Italy so I won’t go into details here, but this place is awesome. The owners are old friends of Ale’s so we were very well looked after, but I imagine this is the norm. I can’t say enough about this bar/cafe/restaurant – great food, awesome cocktails and super friendly service.Salut! After a suitable amount of gin and tonics at Eno’s, we were off to the La Drogheria (the drug store), which is actually a bar/restaurant in the Piazza Vittorio Veneto. Since we are running on Italian time, by the time we arrive here it’s about 3.30am, and it’s closing at 4am so we only fit in one drink before we head home, ready to collapse. And we only finished dinner what feels like an hour ago. Time flies in Torino.The next ‘morning’ after a quick coffee we are off to eat again. This time, pizza and gelato. Again, I’ll try to spare details on the food as it will soon to be on the other post. Needless to say, it’s delicious.We also stroll around an amazing food market and drool over heavenly cheeses and chocolates, but since we just ate it’s a no go zone.Amanda and Grant in TurinoWe wander around the shops for a while and when it starts raining we decide to take refuge at the (semi)-iconic Mole Antonelliana, which houses the Museo Nazionale del Cinema. We haven’t been to a lot of museums but this is a cinema one after all and actually it turns out to be totally awesome.Besides some fun camera obscura style stuff, there’s a huge collection of old film posters (this month’s collection explored the horror genre!) and a super cool lie down cinema area where they play clips of classic films for your viewing and some cases sleeping pleasure.Museo Nazionale del Cinema TurinoAfter a rest at Ale’s place, we’re off to have dinner at Eataly. Eataly is a food lovers’ heaven and a slow food emporium that Amanda had done her research on and wanted to check out.While the majority of the store is an artisan supermarket filled with products local to Italy, each section has also has a mini restaurant in it – one for pizza, one for meats, one for pasta and the list goes on.We arrive a little too late so don’t really have time to shop, just to eat. And eat we do. Since it was so good the night prior, we end the night at Eno’s and La Drogheria and again return home at 4am.Another late rise after another late night and we head back to Eataly to shop. I try to contain myself but still end up with a ton of amazing food and booze for the Bee and also a very good knife that we plan to take home with us. Amanda is even less controlled, filling a large basket and ends up having trouble fitting it all on their carry on luggage – so they pay extra for cabin baggage. It’s worth it. The food at Eataly is all premium quality and difficult to get anywhere else, even within Italy itself. You can also buy empty flagons  to fill from casks of vino to make your own clean-skins. If you are at all interested in eating good food and find yourself in Turin, go here – and bring an extra suitcase.Our next stop is a Juventus football game. I’m not a football fan by any means, but this is a cool experience. We saw a couple of Ajax games while in Amsterdam and they were pretty epic too, but I have to say nothing beats an Italian crowd. Football is as much a religion as Catholicism here and it shows. ‘Juve’ are playing Lecce, a team from the business end of Italy’s boot and unsurprisingly their fan section is near empty.Those that had the balls to attend endure endless insults (Ale provides a running cheer translation into English for us) throughout the first half, but as the second 45 starts they unveil a gem of a trick on the Juve fans. In the seating nearest the Lecce fans, a group of approximately twenty onlookers strip off their Juve two-tones to reveal Lecce kits. They smugly wrap their yellow and red scarves around their necks as the crowd goes apeshit.I’m seriously surprised they didn’t get killed, but they seem to make it through to the final whistle unscathed. Well played, Lecce, but not well enough. Juve win the game and we leave along with the remainder of the victorious crowd, singing Solo uno Capitano (‘there’s only one captain’ honouring Del Piero) to the tune of ‘Guantanamera’.On the way home from the game we pick up some snacks and head back to Ale’s to watch a DVD and chill…which means, we turned on a DVD and all promptly fell asleep.The next day rolled on and it was time for Amanda and Grant to head home, us to start driving further south and Ale to head back to Berlin. We’re pumped for the next leg of the journey but sad to say goodbye to friends, new and old.

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Venice in two days

As I had been to Venice before, I wasn’t too sure whether we should visit it on this trip. Notoriously expensive, touristy and pedestrian-only to top it off, it’s not the ideal place to take a van. However, it was on the way, and Colin was interested in comparing canal cities after living in Amsterdam for two years. Plus, maybe it would show it’s romantic colours when travelling there as a couple, rather than just with a friend (sorry Anna).Decision made, we found a campsite situated next to a ferry stop so we could easily whip across the water to the city proper for the next couple of days. Arriving in the afternoon, we decided to pop over for the evening to check it out. As we alighted the ferry we came upon a rather non-Venetian scene, the shooting of a Bollywood movie. Well, when I say they were shooting, they were actually having a break, but there was a Bollywood beauty wrapped in a blanket and a camera and loads of Indian dudes in puffer jackets, so close enough right?

Our only mission for the evening was to start getting acquainted with one of the cornerstones of Italian culture – food. First stop, hole in the wall pizzeria for a giant slice. Then wander round some tiny streets. Second stop for a Spritz, a mixed drink of Aperol, soda water and prosecco, topped off with a fat juicy green olive. Then wander some more tiny streets.Next up, two big scoops of gelato. Wander some more, then it’s back on the last ferry and home to bed.The next day we woke to bright blue skies and were more than happy to spend some sunshiny hours getting lost in Venice’s maze of pedestrian lanes and alleyways. We also found a cool small gallery near the packed Peggy Guggenheim House running a Kitsch Biennale – a style of modern art that doesn’t have much to do with the word as we know it, but definitely earned itself two fans that day. Kitsch draws (ahem) on two of my favourite, if somewhat old-fashioned, styles of art – realist portraiture and still life, and due to this somewhat stuffy style, was named “kitsch”, though the result couldn’t be further from still. Unsettling and often violent, the paintings by the main artist, Odd Nerdrum (above), were incredible and we found ourselves marvelling over them for the rest of the day.We also checked out a Stanley Kubrick photography exhibition at the Venetian Institute of Letters, Science and Art, which stands imposingly over the Grand Canal that cuts through the city. Turns out old Stan was quite a well-respected photographer before he discovered the medium of film, and he has some great series of shots that showed a flair for story-telling. Overall however, it didn’t match up to those beautiful, haunting paintings from earlier in the day.After all this culture we decided we needed to rest and refuel, so we hit up a great little restaurant that was full of Italians and downed a delicious quattro formaggio gnocchi for me and a spaghetti marinara for Colin. While still very much in the centre of things, the meal was inexpensive and tasty, so we were pretty happy for that find. It can be so easy to end up in a crappy restaurant and pay through the roof, so we were glad not to have gotten jipped.We decided to finish off the day with a few drinks in the last of the sunlight and so we found a prosecco bar on a great big open courtyard at the more suburban side of town to wind down in. I enjoyed a rose prosecco and Colin his first Manabrea, an Italian artisan beer that served him well throughout Italy. As the sun set, the courtyard soon filled with school children, who finish school at 6pm in these parts of the world due to siesta time and long lunches at home in the middle of the day.We realised we were drinking in what was essentially their backyard, due to the small apartment living that residents of Venice have to put up with. Apart from the exhibitions the city at first felt it had it’s old soul sucked from it and filled with tourists, photo opportunities and Venetian mask shops, but straying further afield it comes to life, very much like it’s canal city cousin, Amsterdam, where locals tend to live their lives on the street to avoid spending all their time in a 50square metre apartment.Venice really only needs a few days and we were ready to move on the next day, and excited to meet up with Grant and Amanda in Turin as soon as possible. A long drive ahead of us the next day, we called it an early night at chugged back across the water and waved goodbye to fair Venice.

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Slovenia

By Lonely Planet’s standards Slovenia is in Eastern Europe but geographically it’s centred in the middle of the continent and it’s a far cry from Moldova socio-economically. Nestled above Italy and Croatia, beside Austria and Hungary, Slovenia is a fairytale land of mountains and lakes, small enough to be skipped but rewarding those who stop in.

In hindsight we should have given more time to the country but with a deadline looming to meet Amanda and Grant in Turin we stopped only in Slovenia’s most known natural attraction, Lake Bled, which was quiet of tourists all the same.The lake with its recognisable church at one end came to my attention when my brother visited and showed me pictures. Mountains rise all around the 5km circumference lake, with the town at one end, a castle high on the cliff faces to the northern side and the island which holds the church as the centre piece.

We arrived in early October and the leaves were well and truly turned orange, red and browns. With the scoop from Aidan of Sweetbix who’s trip was far more adventurous than ours, we headed for the opposite end of the lake to the town where a very swanky campsite offered some of the best facilities we’ve had, wedged into a corner of a valley that rose quickly from steep cliffs, there should have been wolves howling. Close enough was a rambunctious husky pup nipping at the heels of another wolf-like dog, black as night.The air was as clear and crisp as a whip’s crack but the afternoon was getting on so we wasted no time in having an afternoon walk around the lake. With us on the path were fellow walkers, runners and cyclists getting their afternoon exercise under falling red leaves. We first passed the rowing club as rowers methodically practiced their strokes on the still water of the lake. It was all very Oxbridge – I felt like Alex P Keaton in the movie length version of Family Ties.Past the rowing club came the large lakeside mansions, a couple Victorian, others more modern. We passed under the huge cliff with the castle aloft and just over a grassy knoll lay the old town, these days just housing. Further round is a sweet park where swans hustled us for the back of open fire roasted chestnuts we bought. Then came the rest of town, more mansions now B&Bs and back around to the campsite.  The sun set and we crawled back into the van and under the doona because it was damn cold out.

The next morning Liz fried up some eggs, feta and mint and had a slow breakfast in the pleasant autumn sun. Our espresso machine was making some nasty-ass coffee (the rubber ring deteriorated) so we hopped on our bikes and cycled back around the lake to town the long way (past the rowing club and gargling swans and under the castle) to a grand café looking over the lake where a vanilla slice is Bled’s famous dish.It’s basically the only thing consumed at the café, trolleys upon trolleys are wheeled out and the Japanese tourists were snapping them up by the box full. We shared our slice and got our caffeine fix.We rode back to the campsite to pick up the necessary items for a picnic (not too dissimilar to this), smokey Croatian cheese, olives, crackers, fig jam and a bottle of wine before strolling down to the waterside.We weren’t going to have a picnic by the water, but on the water. We rented a row boat shaped like a giant swan and, as nimble as we could be, pushed off from the shore, me in the male role, trying my best to move and not tip over.It was pretty tricky rowing a giant swan but I got into a rhythm – not a solid, consistent rhythm that Ringo Starr or Lars Urlich could appreciate, something more free jazz, or spastic. Somewhere between the shore and the small island with the church on it we stopped, cracked open the crackers and the wine and lazed out. The lake was very still and the sun was out. The trees up the hillside were all shades of autumn.We sipped and ate and shared smiles back and forth about how ridiculous this was and lucky we were. It was pretty romantic. Liz suggested it was a pretty good place to propose to someone. I agreed. Then she proposed to me… that we row over to the island and check it out so we rowed the swan over to the island and moored it.

Occasionally the bell tower of the church would ring out over the lake, you can throw in a donation, ring the bell and make a wish. We were more excited taking stupid photos of ourselves on the steps.The church is actually cooler to look at from the water than up close but it’s still worth a five minute stroll around.

Back in the swan Liz had a crack at rowing while trying to keep out of the pros lane, we finished the wine and got back on to dry land.

We finished up the day in the van with some good food and some Mad Men episodes. It was a lovely day and I wish we had spent more time in Slovenia and will definitely go back… maybe in winter.

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Look…over here.

In case you’re interested, we’re also posting about food here and what we’re watching, listening to and reading here.  Make sure to use the drop down menu, because we’re Luddites and can’t figure out how to make it work properly.

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Happy Birthday Colin!

While Colin showers at our campsite (well deserved as we’ve been free camping the last 5 days), I am blowing up balloons and getting the coffee ready. It’s been a ridiculously awesome 3 months on the road so far and today we meet up with Paul & Lou who are also in a VW camper, in Huelva. Then the long road north. I realise this post is out of whack with the timing of the others (as we are actually already in south of Spain), but just wanted to show some love.

32 years young Delaney.

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Croatia

Having been to Dubrovnik before in 2008 and been dreaming of it ever since, we crossed the Croatian border with giddy anticipation. After Bumblebee was cavity-searched by the stern Croatian customs police, we zoomed along the curving coastline, overlooking the sparkling blue Adriatic ocean atop steep craggy cliffs. Waiting for us in Dubrovnik were Matt and Jenny, our friends who had already been on the road by bicycle for the last 6 months. Though we were amazingly not yet sick of each other, we were pretty excited to meet up with some actual friends and our messages back and forth with Matt and Jenny suggested they felt the same.We arrived in Dubrovnik around midday and after meeting up, having a tasty lunch in the old town and some quick interwebs research, we had found an apartment in which to stay for the next few nights. Irena, our lovely host, met us at the apartment and a paper/scissors/rock game ensued as soon as she closed the door for who would be first to shower and use the washing machine. Girls won on the shower front and cyclists on the washing machine. Just happy to be IN A HOUSE, we stayed in that night, draining the Bumblebee’s bar on gin and tonics and Cuba Libres.

Although we arrived in the sunshine, for the next day and a half Dubrovnik was plagued by a drizzly grey cloud cover that saw us spending a decent amount of time in the apartment, playing around on the internet and reading on the couch, which is actually a bit of a treat when you’re often stuck outdoors, as you can be on road trips, be they by bicycle or by van.But just as we were getting stir crazy, the sun showed its face and we quickly got outdoors and down to the nearby swimming spot we had spied on our wanderings the day before. Though the water wasn’t bath-like as it was when we were here in mid-August, it was still crystal clear and warm enough to wallow in, even in mid-October. Relaxing and reading on the rocks, this was the Croatia we had reminisced about during cold winter nights in Amsterdam.Matt struck up a friendship with the group of the budgie-smuggler wearing local men that congregated daily down at the rocks and enthusiastically joined their game of mini-football. The fun didn’t last too long however, as the sun had now been beating down on the concrete ‘pitch’ for some time, and Matt returned to us with his tail between his legs, and his bare feet blistered from the hot hard ground.

We walked and Matt limped back to the apartment for some quality free internetting time. We looked away in disgrace as Jenny live-blogged on location for Cycle Scribbles while we worked slowly on ours, trying desperately to remember details from the month before.  Distracted as usual, we skyped Colin’s parents and got some hot tips on Northern Croatia from Robin, having travelled the area in late 1960’s.

The next few days were happily more of the same, wandering, swimming, drinking gin and tucking in to cheap-as-chips seafood platters.We sadly parted ways with Matt and Jenny after five lovely days as they jumped a ferry to Bari, Italy and we took up their suggestion to visit the Peljesac Peninsula. What we thought was going to be a quick drive ended up fairly long, but through beautiful terrain, passing golden grapevines being harvested for their wine, glistening mussel and oyster plots and leafy olive groves. Reaching the peak of the steep winding roads we were treated with views of the brightest blue waters dotted with tiny green islands.We tried but failed to find a spot to free camp and ended up at a B&B/hotel/campsite instead, with the most ridiculously luxurious private beach below it. We took full advantage of it for the last few hours of sunlight, as did the owner’s friendly dalmatian (in DALMATIA!), Rocky.The next day, after picking up some fresh mussels and homemade fig jam from Mali Ston, we started driving towards Plitvice National Park, as recommended by Robin. Somewhat underestimating the length of the drive north, we ended up in Skradin, a bustling port with a well-preserved and pretty old town behind it. There was a decent-sized wedding happening in town and we were afforded some good cover in a public car park filled with guests cars all endowed, as per Croatian tradition, with car corsages and ribbons.Waking in the morning, we were the last car left and quickly moved on to avoid being stopped by the local police for auto-loitering. We hit up the port’s café with seadogs drinking at 8am after a brisk morning walk then got back on the road again for our final Croatian destination.We’d already felt the temperature drop from ‘t-shirt’ to ‘cardigan’ the day before, and coats had to be fished out of the back of the Bumblebee’s storage area that morning for extra cover. But we weren’t expecting to enter a 5km long mountain tunnel at 15 degrees in late summer and exit at 3 degrees in full-blown autumn. Colin was having an LSD-flashback moment until he took off his (literally) rose-tinted sunglasses, but the effect was still pretty spectacular. Bee’s dubious heating got switched on and we watched in awe as we passed through the startling reds and oranges of the mountain range.We arrived at Plitvice at around 2pm and were told we were just in time to start and finish the 5km hike before the sun went down, which was approximated to take about 4 hours. We assumed that time frame was designed for the elderly and decrepit, but once we entered the park proper, we understood why it would take so long. Around every corner was another photo opportunity, a huge waterfall, a flame-red forest, a transparent lake. We agreed with a fellow Antipodean traveller that we had ‘snagged’ it, feeling we’d made it here at the most photogenic time.After hours of snapping away, we arrived at the park’s largest and most spectacular waterfall to find our camera battery dead. Admitting defeat, we hotfooted it to the Plitvice mini-bus then to a nearby campsite to snuggle in for a chilly night, our last in Croatia.

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Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, oh my!

Because Bumblebee is not actually a yacht (regardless of how much I wave around the pirate flag) we decided not to descend into the thickens of Greece. The myriad of islands could only be seen from shore or with a very expensive ferry ride. It’s been around for centuries, and we thought the Acropolis could wait another few years for a trip on an actual boat.

Instead we opted for driving headlong to Croatia with a few stops in between, and arriving in four days in Dubrovnik to meet up with friends Matt and Jenny.

Our drive basically took us from Gallipoli, Turkey, across northern Greece, spending our first night of the long drive on a beautiful and quiet beach (see previous video). In the morning we forged on, turning right to drive north through Greece’s northern hills, barren and wild, just some rocky outcrops and small scrub spotting the ridge line.By afternoon we had crossed into Macedonia, another country we knew very little about and that our 2005 Eastern European Lonely Planet guide would no doubt be outdated for, as things have been moving forward pretty swiftly in these parts of late.

Macedonia was quick to recover from Yugoslavia’s break up and while the currency conversion is befuddling, the rest was very pleasant. Our route took us through the bottom western corner of the country and towards Lake Ohrid by the Albanian border of which we’d cross the next day. The LP did promise us a stunning lake, but catching it on sunset, it was remarkably striking. Due to the lake’s extreme depth and its surrounding mountains, it can create a micro-climate that whips up the lake like a small sea.However on our time there we struck calm. A stroll around the lake front, with a boardwalk below the cliffs and over the water, took us beyond the new town and towards an old church high on the hill. On our way we were able to, by throwing a coin into the lake side, make a wish upon our star ‘sing’.After strolling around the small but dignified stone church and snapping obligatory sunset shots we began our walk back down the hill when a fine old sea (or lake) dog in a captain’s hat and aged but manicured beard asked if we’d like a boat ride back to town.

He (who’s name escapes me, but could have been Ernesto) shuttled us back at a low bubble so as not to break the serenity and described points of interest on the town’s hillside as we rode towards shore. I was probably too busy taking photos and video to appreciate the romance of it all, even if Ernesto reminded us. He pointed out museums and chapels and music halls before settling in to shore between some slow moving local swans.

The sky now a purpling black meant we should grab some dinner, so Liz got some money out but it seems in Macedonia they do things backwards, giving her the money and letting her walk away to leave the card. By the time we realised the error the card was long gone. I’ve been bank rolling the trip ever since, getting Dutch bank authorities to send us a new card turned out to be impossible. It would be okay, the money was secure, but just not accessible until we arrived back in Amsterdam.The next morning we drive towards a high mountain ridge pass that marked the border between Macedonia and Albania but before we do, we drive through Macedonia’s cash crop. We’re in apple country. Trees abound with so much bountiful red fruit that there’s hardly room for the leaves. We’re constantly slowed by tractors carrying large loads of appley goodness. We crossed over to Albania and immediately noticed the difference. Once paranoid bomb shelters dot the rocky outcrop of this post-communist country now feeling foolish, but have been adopted into family residences as house-extensions. Winds and bends turn the road in knots as we drop in altitude. Down the hill a bit further and it seems one good idea took the town by storm as dozens of car wash operators have tapped into a local stream and advertise their set up as the best, with the highest jet stream. However a wash would compromise Bumblebee’s technical security system of being as filthy as possible to ensure burglars there is nothing of worth inside (a system put to the test later in Nice).We had feared driving in Albania, not for banditos or draconian cops but for the potholes and careless drivers. Still very much a horse and cart country, Albania is still in its first generation of drivers… and roads. Our plan is to drive straight up the country in one day (it’s only small, we do it in three hours) and continue to Montenegro.

It was Saturday and the eager drivers are in numerous cavalcades as weddings are celebrated. We pass many convoys of reckless groomsmen hanging from windows. We give a congratulatory toot as we pass each party.Down from the windy hills we hit a fantastic stretch of road so fresh you can almost smell the tarmac – still no lanes are marked but we’re driving two abreast. With arid, dusty flat around the fresh road and small stalls of peasants on the edges it felt like we were driving into Baghdad or Felugia.We stopped into a beach town but it didn’t seem like much so we pushed on and it was about there that our trip came to a near-halt. The wide smooth highway, some of the smoothest we’ve had throughout Europe turned to loose rocky rubble with potholes that could sink a semi-trailer. And yet still the ruthless Albanians drove on. The country’s elite (those who could afford cars) seemed to stumble upon a glut of 80s Mercedes somewhere since the East German wall came down with a few dodgy agreements made. As we bumbled over the rough gravel the boxy old land yachts charge past us, like a scene from Three Kings, and now we’re really in Iraq minus the soldiers. Finally, after an hour and a half of driving a paltry 30kms, we reach the border and cross into Montenegro. The wide flat road gives way to thin winding roads as we rise towards the sun, beaming right into my vision. It’s just as sketchy but we’re soon onto a more open highway for smoother sailing. That night, book ended by nicer beach resorts we find a large vacant lot with just a few beach bars and touristy shops who seem to not mind if we park up for the night. A stroll along the boulevard marks the relaxing end of a long day driving.

The morning begins encouragingly with clear skies and air warm enough for a swim but an investigation of the beach shows a bizarre high-tide line of cigarette butts well above the normal high tide line. Beer cans and other litter scar the sandy beach. These are such lovely coastlines and clear water here it’s a shame to have to wade through such filth to enjoy them. In the end we jump in the van unbathed of shower or swim for a second day in a row. As we drive towards the Croatian border we cut through high mountains in tunnels and with a wrong turn, where we should have hopped on a small car ferry we instead stumble upon a huge fjord. From high barren hills, the Kotor Fjord plunges into deep blue waters. The steep hills only allow small villages to be two or three streets deep, spreading them thin along the lakeside.A narrow road follows around the meandering fjord making for a pleasant drive and what could be a great bicycle ride, stopping at the small villages for tea and scones, or a beer. Kotor is the main town at the end of the fjord with old ruins and a castle running up the hillside. It was quite busy the day we arrived – cruise ships and large yachts were moored. Two small islands adorn the first bay, one still has some rocky outcrops on it while the other one looks to have been completely flattened. We stopped for a morning coffee at a café right on the water a bit further around and watched a small punt boatsman push himself across the glassy calm waters.

The coffee was just the stimulant we needed to push on the couple of hours to Dubrovnik, with the promise of friends, accommodation, and the chance to sort out our showerless bodies.

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