Hiking Trip in Slovenia part 2

DAY 3 Zelenci, Podkoren, Rateče

 

Distance: 15km

Ascent: 317m

Descent: 320m

 

We woke up to the sound of rain outside our window so we thought it might be nice to have an easy day to recover and check the emerald green pools in Zelenci. In our book it was included as Walk 1 so it sounded promising. Poles again were left in the hotel room. This time there really was no need for them.

Following our guide we went towards village of Podkoren, crossing lovely flower meadows, passing traditional hayracks and admiring the views. (Bit of historic trivia: Sir Humphrey Davy, the English inventor of miner’s safety lamp, used to live in this little village).

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Path runs through some lovely meadows

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Traditional hayracks

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We discovered some monster slugs living in Slovenia (glad they’re not in my garden!)

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Podkoren

 

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On the bench in the centre of Podkoren

 

From Podkoren the route joins the cycle track, which was built over the old railway line, closed in 1966. The track runs for miles and is well used by cyclists of all ages. There are plenty of benches and an occasional restaurant for those who need a break and some refreshments. I think I must have had a “bench day” and decided I wanted to sit on every single one I saw – more to stop and admire the views rather than because the walk was tiring. We ignored a couple of signs pointing us in the direction of Zelenci and followed the loop route from our book, going to Rateče first. The colourful beehives and a green-eyed fly are pretty much all I remember from passing that little village.

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Another bench, another view

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Tradional painted beehives in Rateče

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Isn’t she lovely

A short walk from Rateče we finally got to Zelenci. Since it’s right next to a road, there were a few more people than we expected or met along the way. It still wasn’t busy by any means and with a little patience we managed to get the place to ourselves, even if it was for a couple of minutes.

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Zelenci

Zelenci are the pools that are the source of Sava river – the longest river in Slovenia, that crosses Croatia and eventually flows into Danube in Serbia. Apparently the pools never freeze and regardless of how cold it gets outside the water temperature stays at constant 5-6 degrees C.

But most of all they have this amazing emerald green colour, turning sky blue in places. And with the backdrop of Ponca and Jalovec they really are beautiful.

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Springs at the bottom of pools form little volcanoes

On a way back we passed a flied with ostriches: half an hour and 100 pictures later we were good to move on and go back to Kranjska Gora.

 

It was a slightly shorter day and we came back around 4. Strangely enough it so happened that each day going forward we were back at the same time – 4pm. And our first port of call was ice cream shop Charlie – highly recommended – big selection of delicious flavours and the scoops are very generous too. Every day after ice cream we went for a swim to the sister hotel of ours – Ramada resort, then shower, dinner and afterwards another sweet treat in slaščičarna Kala. After first visit in that place we knew we’d be back – slices are massive (some cakes were better than others, but that’s understandable – De gustibus non est disputandum), coffee delicious and staff very friendly…

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Our cake selection in slaščičarna Kala

 

DAY 4 Sredni Vrh, Gozd Martuljek, Martuljkov Slap

Distance: 22km

Ascent: 725m

Descent: 861m

So we have this thing that we like seeing stuff that is on covers of our guide books. When we found out that the view on our Slovenian book was taken along the route to Sredni Vrh, which happened to be near Kranjska Gora, we had to include that walk in our plans.

Brief description of the walk promised wonderful views (eg cover photo) so we hoped for good weather and neither disappointed.

As instructed we followed the Route 2, through the forest, past Galerše towards village of Sredni Vrh. The ascent is gentle and the total climb on this section was only about 300m, so quite a nice and easy walk. When we reached the balcony path the promised views opened up: Velika Pišnica valley with magnificent peaks of Vršić, Razor and Prisank in the background.

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View of Kranjska Gora

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On the balcony path

When we finally picked up our dropped jaws and finished taking pictures we continued on. (By the way we didn’t get to take the cover photo – we figured it was taken from a terrace of a nearby house rather than from the path). We saw our route’s marker pointing up but unsure where the up was, we carried on up on the main path. Soon enough we realised (thanks to smartphone’s GPS!) that we weren’t going quite in direction we planned so we turned and back tracked our footsteps to the marker we saw earlier. After squeezing past the cattle gate and scrambling up the little hill we finally found the path we were supposed to be on – the obvious path doesn’t always turn out to be the right one…

Original plan was to get to Sredni Vrh and take route 19 back to Kranjska Gora. But since the day was still young and we were relatively close to Gozd Martuljek, which was a starting point of another walk we wanted to take, we decided to go for it. As there is no marked route to Gozd Martuljek from Sredni Vrh we just followed the road – hairpin after hairpin on tarmac road wasn’t much fun but 40 minutes later we were back on a marked route – this time route 6 towards Martuljkov slaps.

The track runs through a spectacular gorge with steep walls on either side before it starts climbing up towards first of the waterfalls: the Spodnji slap (lower fall). It is a more impressive of the two and runs 29m from the top.

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Lower Martuljkov Slap

From here we marched on to the second slap – the track was more difficult and in places very steep. It was really more about the journey then the destination. The second waterfall drops 130m but in three stages so it doesn’t make the same impression as the lower one. A dangerously looking path takes the brave (or mad) ones further up for a look of the higher stages of the drop. I wasn’t interested, Geoff went bit further up but came back saying that the view wasn’t worth the scramble. Besides we had a long way down back to Kranjska. On a way back we passed the charcoal burning site and shortly after joined the cycle path towards Kranjska – even though it was tarmac, it was a pleasant flat change to all ups and downs of the walk so far. Straight to Charlie for well deserved ice cream!

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Through the enchanting forest to Slap 2

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Upper waterfall

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The view was better than the waterfall

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A cycle path with a view

 

DAY 5 Slemenova špica, Tamar, Planica, Kranjska Gora

 

Distance: 17km

Ascent: 536m

Descent: 908m

 

Very early start today, as we wanted to catch an early bus to Vršič Pass. We went to a bakery for our lunch pastries before having a very quick breakfast at the hotel and then we were off. Except that bus didn’t come and we were rather annoyed, especially as the day before we even bothered to check in Tourist Information if that bus was running, and of course we were told that it was.

An hour later we were finally on the bus heading towards the pass, this time as our starting point rather than the final destination. We got off and immediately took the wrong path, twice (!), before finally finding the same track that brought us to Vršič Pass on our first day.

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Mala Mojstrovka from saddle of Vratca

It was a pleasant steady climb through dwarf pines towards saddle of Vratca, where the path splits and takes you either towards Mala Mojstrovka (a much more challenging walk) or towards Sleme. Following the path to Sleme, we soon turned another corner and a brand new view opened in front of us: Mala Pišnica valley, Ciprnik and Austrian Alps in the distance. And the views kept changing every few steps we took.

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Amazing views with every step

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Austrian Alps in the background

The guidebook warns that Slemenova špica is a very popular peak to climb and that in summer you might end up at the top with half of the Slovenia. And although it was busier than on any other of our routes, it still wasn’t crowded and the high pasture of Sleme certainly offered enough space for everyone. And the panoramic views of Jalovec and Tamar valley below were absolutely breath-taking. But also a bit daunting since we knew we had to descent all that way.

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High pasture at Sleme – plenty of room for half of Slovenia

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Panoramic view from Slemanova špica

We chose the route via Slatnica saddle towards Tamar. At first the path was quite friendly and allowed to admire the closing walls of nearby peaks, but after a while there was more scree and we had to be careful where our feet went. And then we got to Tamar waterfall (Črna Voda) and seeing the path (or rather lack thereof) we were to follow down, I was almost ready to go back where we came from.

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This apparently is not how you tackle fallen trees…

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Down towards Tamar

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This is the path. Really.

But we carried on, managed to get to the bottom and from there (Tamar) it was pretty much a flat (if not short) walk back to Kranjska Gora, with a short break in Planica to check the highest ski jump in the world. We even got to see some jumpers practicing on lower ski jumps – brave people.

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Ski jump in Planica

DAY 6 Planica, Cipernik, Vitranc

 

Distance: 15km

Ascent: 941m

Descent: 782m

 

The last day welcomed us with rain. We had a planned route already and weren’t prepared to change it – it was our last day after all. But since the plan was to come back via Planica, the route we did the previous day and the weather forecast looked more promising for the second part of the day, we decided to do our route in reverse.

After a long breakfast, clad in our raincoats, we set off on our last walk. The light rain lasted maybe 5 minutes and after that it stopped completely. It stayed cloudy but at least we weren’t getting wet.

The walk to Planica was rather uneventful – one of those “need to get there” situations. But from there the steep ascent started pretty much straight away. It was a lovely walk in the woods, bit eerie with the trees in the cloud but we enjoyed it a lot. We checked pretty much every gap offering a viewpoint but all we could see was cloud. So we decided that we were going to enjoy the walk and not hope for any views, even though we were promised some spectacular ones from the top of Ciprnik.

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Ski jumps in Planica

 

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Gloomy mountains in the cloud

 

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Up towards Ciprnik

 

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Don’t forget to look up

 

Up and up we went and in the end, when we got to the fork where Ciprnik was further up one way and Kranjska Gora via Vitranc the other, I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to go up to Ciprnik just to see more clouds. But Geoff managed to convince me and so we turned right.

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Right to Ciprnik or left back home?

 

Half way up we were overtaken by human incarnations of mountain goats, when we got a surprised glimpse of peaks poking through the cloud. By the time we got to the very top it was all cloud again. But then we had a quick drink of water and when we turned around we saw this amazing view, still through the clouds, but if anything that added to the splendour. We were totally awed by the views and since they kept coming and going we lingered at the top for a while.

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First glimps of what’s behind those clouds

 

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View from Ciprnik

 

We had to retrace our steps back to the place where the path split and then we carried on towards Vitranc. Even though it’s a peak, it’s not marked as such, so you may well miss it, but the woodland path between Ciprnik and Vitranc is really pleasant.

Shortly after passing Vitranc we reached the second of the chairlifts that is closed during summer. From there the path down was supposed to run underneath the chairlift, so even though it didn’t quite look like a path we started descending. Luckily Geoff quickly realised our mistake so we scrambled back up and found the right path down. Not that this one was much easier – pretty steep and slippery after earlier rain, it took a lot of our attention and knee power to get back down. We were wishing for some snow and skies to whizz down but instead had to march in the increasingly hot sun. The thought of ice cream kept us going, and as usual, we were sitting down with two big portions at 4 o’clock on the dot.

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This is the wrong way down

 

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Rather bleak part of Vitranc.

 

Perfect end to a perfect trip.

Hiking Trip in Slovenia part 1

A few weeks ago we came back from our first holiday since our honeymoon. I actually found it quite surprising that it has taken us that long, but I guess work and life got in the way.

But at the beginning of July we finally manged to book time off and decided on the destination: Slovenian Alps. I have been to Slovenia before. It really didn’t seem that long ago, but when I checked the date on the pictures (prints with the date written by me on the back of them!) it turned out it was nearly 20 years ago! As a young and fit person back then I conquered the highest peak in Slovenia – Triglav. It was not our goal this time round…

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On top of Triglav, 1997

 

It turned out that it was cheaper to book a package holiday including flights, transfer and half board than to make our own travel and accommodation arrangements. Less hassle for us. We just needed to plan our daily trips. Even that wouldn’t be necessary if we were interested in signing up and coughing up some cash on daily excursions organised by our travel company. But we had our own agenda and it included a lot of hiking.

Our flight was leaving from Gatwick so we needed an early start to make sure no crashes on M4 could prevent us from getting on our plane. Our car safely parked at the airport carpark and we could relax and kill some time before the departure time. Once on a plane we encountered a delay of some sort and spent an hour on the ground before finally allowed to take off. At least we knew that our transfer would be patiently waiting for us in Salzburg. As it turned out we were the ones who needed to wait for a few more people that were landing after us – the joys of having everything organised for you. After another hour or so of waiting we were finally sitting on the bus heading towards Kranjska Gora. By this time it was dark outside and we could admire beautiful lightning striking in the mountains around us, wondering at the same time how much hiking we’ll be able to do in such weather…

As it turned out weather was very kind to us and even though it did rain occasionally, it was mainly at night or in the evening, letting us enjoy the beautiful mountain views in full sun most of the time.

Below is a summary and a few pictures of our daily walks.

 

DAY 1 Vršič Pass

 

Distance: 24km

Ascent: 885m

Descent: 936m

 

Weather forecast was promising, we were full of energy so it was decided that we should tackle the Vršič Pass.

Before we left for Slovenia we bought a very good book on walks in the area (Cicerone: Walking the Julian Alps of Slovenia) and it was our bible for the duration of our stay. Preferring a simple map myself, I am not massively keen on walk descriptions and would probably get lost on a first turn, so it was left to Geoff to navigate us each day and it worked rather quite well. With the small exception of walk duration given for this particular walk…

As with most of or walks we started in Kranjska Gora and followed route 7. First point of interest is the Jezero Jasna with its famous Zlatorog (gold horn ibex) statue. A mere 2 flat km from town and we were already amazed by the view – the green lake against the mountainous backdrop. At that moment we knew we picked the right place and would definitely enjoy our holiday. And it only got better.

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Jezero Jasna with its famous Zlatorog

 

The route goes past the lake and after a while the path ends and we had to walk along the road for a bit until we reached another path to Mihov Dom, that runs pretty flat along the river and offers more stunning views. Our route to Vršič Pass crossed the riverbed and followed across the meadow on the other side, up towards the woods. The views from the meadow coupled with the sound of buzzing insects stopped us in our tracks. The heat was what made us move towards the shady path ahead. From this point onwards it was pretty much a steady climb up to Vršič Pass, with a short break to see a Russian chapel, built by POWs during WW1, many of whom died in an avalanche while working in the area.

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Russian Chapel

 

Russian Road (Ruska Cesta) is quite a popular road among bikers, cyclists and car drivers alike. The number of switchbacks is well known to anyone heading in that direction: 24 coming up from the south side and 26 coming from the other side. The walking route cuts through some of them, so you get a glimpse of struggling cyclists and other vehicles revving past them. You also realise how much further you still need to go.

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One of the switchbacks on a way to Vršič Pass

When we passed turn off to Erjavčeva koča and a sign for switchback number 23 we thought we were nearly there. But then the route takes you still further up, way pass the height of the pass itself to later descent to your actual destination – slightly frustrating when you’re not quite prepared for it and already climbed a few hundred meters up…

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The views were amazing though, even if the pass itself was rather busy…

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At the top road turns into a parking lot

 

After a short break for Burek (a delicious flaky pastry stuffed with meat, cheese or veg) it was time to head back. The route took us past the Tičarjev and Poštarski dom and the famous rock face of Ajdovska Deklica (sad looking pagan girl – you really need to look hard and use some imagination to match the photoshopped pictures to the rock in front of you). The descent was quite pleasant and offered more incredible views of Prisank, Škrlatica and Špik. According to our book we were supposed to reach Erjavčeva koča after about 15 minutes, which turned to be something closer to 45 minutes – ok we were tired by then and might have had a couple of photo stops but 15 minutes didn’t seem a likely time to cover that distance unless you were maybe on a bike…

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Burek time – lunch with a view

 

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Breathtaking views of Prisank, Škrlatica and Špik

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Looking for Ajdovska Deklica’s face

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Found it in the end – adjusted contrast for better visibility

Anyway, we marched on, reached switchback 17 and from there rejoined our previous ascent route back to Kranjska Gora. The mere flat 2km from Jezero Jasna seemed much longer on the way back then they did in the morning. We also decided that maybe next time we should take our hiking poles with us, since we brought them all the way from UK, but left them in a hotel room…

It was quite a long day – we got back around 6 – time for a shower and a well-deserved dinner that was awaiting us in our hotel. Unluckily for Geoff it turned out to be their “regional day” so the dishes were mainly Slovenian and accompanied by a live, accordion music… To sum it up: we didn’t hang around for too long. And at least that experience was out of the way…

 

DAY 2 Bled

 

Distance: 12km

Ascent: 405m

Descent: 285m

 

It was Geoff’s birthday so I decided that it would be nice to go to Bled, have an easier day and enjoy the beauty of that place. Bled was part of one of the excursions organised by our tour operator but since we don’t do bus tours we decided to do it by ourselves.

Bled is located about 40km from Kranjska Gora and is easily reached by local buses. But there’s only a handful of direct buses, so the easiest way is to get one that goes to Ljubljana and change in Lesce. It really is as simple as that: get on one bus, get off in Lesce, cross the road and catch the bus to Bled. Both tickets together were €6 per person.

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Bled

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Bled Castle

 

Bled is one of those picture perfect places – it has it all: a lovely lake with a small island in the middle, surrounded by beautiful Julian Alps. Walk around the lake is a must, although there are some parts that run right next to a busy road, that take away from that otherwise amazing experience. But every step offers different view and it’s hard not to take a picture every time you look around.

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Lake itself is certainly being well utilised: there are gondolas for hire that take tourist to the island or you can rent a boat and row there yourself. There are also numerous beaches dotted around the lake, each full of people catching sun and cooling themselves in the lake.

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Gondolas waiting for customers

We wouldn’t be ourselves if we just walked around the lake. Apparently a day without a few hundred meters ascent is a day lost. So Geoff found us a nice walk to Mala Osojnica that had been described as having the “best lake viewpoint of all”. About half way around the lake there’s a path heading up the forest waymarked Route 6. It was much steeper than I anticipated and what I envisaged to be an easy flat day, quickly turned into a steep, hot (read sweaty) ascent, which made me ever so slightly grumpy… but when we got to the top and the bird’s eye view of the lake and all its surroundings opened up before us, I had to give it to Geoff – it was well worth the climb and my temporarily red face. It really was the best view of them all.

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And that was an easy bit

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Awed by the view

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Blejski Otok – Bled Island

We then walked bit further up to Velika Osojnica with a view I would describe as very average. From there we started coming back down towards the lake. As probably a lot of hikers out there would agree, the climb is really the fun bit, it’s the coming down I usually don’t look forward to. Since our poles were comfortably relaxing back in our room I found myself a stick, as the steep descent quickly started to take toll on my knees. When Geoff suggested another viewpoint on the way (Ojstrica) I just gave him a dirty look and moved on. Again ‘up’ I didn’t mind, but what goes up must come down and I already had enough. I was ready for a dip in the lake. So that’s what we did and oh my, did it feel good.

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Hiking poles were left in a hotel room, again

From here onwards our Bled experience went slightly pear-shaped. For a reason we cannot explain we decided to go past the supermarket next to the beach we were on and on a way back to town look for one of those places advertised to have drinkable water anywhere in Bled. That earlier detour to a viewpoint emptied our water bottles and we were both rather parched. Neither of us suggested going up to the castle, we just wanted something to drink. We didn’t find a single fountain with drinking water, which really upset Geoff as he was pointing at a poster announcing that all water in Bled was drinkable. I suggested that maybe they were referring to tap water in your hotel room but since back in Kranjska Gora we could count at least 3 different water fountains within 5 min walk from our hotel, we couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t have even a single one in Bled. At least we were back in town so the idea of cold beer and a slice of Slovenian speciality – a cream cake was enough for me. Geoff just wanted water but agreed to sit down in a restaurant that advertised itself as being a birth place of said cream cake. Unsurprisingly the place was busy, the glass of water Geoff got was tiny so it was his turn to be grumpy. It really was a shame as the cake was good, we had a table with a view and it was his birthday after all. I shall know for the future – when my husband is thirsty find water first.

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Cream cake in Park Restaurant and Cafe in Bled

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And the view that comes with the cake

At least we were lucky on the way home and managed to get a direct bus to Kranjska, which turned out to be cheaper than our morning fare (€5.20) and much faster as it didn’t stop at most bus stops we did on the way to Bled. And there was no accordion guy in our hotel restaurant during dinner…

 

 

Day trips from Naples – part 2

AMALFI COAST – Positano

 

Amalfi Coast is truly spectacular. If you haven’t been there yet, make sure to include it in your future holiday plans. We only managed to see Positano, apparently the most picturesque of the Amalfi coast towns, but we already know that we’d love to go back one day and see more of this area.

Positano

Positano

Getting from Naples to Positano takes time. I think during summer there might be a direct ferry, but there wasn’t one when we there in May, so we took my favourite Circumvesuviana all the way to Sorrento (€3.6 per person one way). There you have a few options: cheap and cheerful and quite frequent local bus departing from the train station (€1.8 per person one way), the City Sightseeing bus (€10 one way, €16 return) and the not so frequent but more pleasurable and more expensive ferry (€16 single per person).

We opted for the local bus and were the last people to get on the bus that was just about to leave. That meant standing position but at least right next to the driver so not too bad for possible motion sickness.

The road along Amalfi coast really is quite winding and in many places you’re staring right at a massive drop to the ocean. The bus driver was unfrazzled and confident so our journey to Positano wasn’t as bad as we expected. Especially that the views were amazing.

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As soon as people got off the bus, everyone started to battle for the best place to take the picture – the selfie sticks were out! But of course it wasn’t the last picture taking spot, so we just passed the queue and moved on to see what Positano had to offer. The first thing (apart from the views) we both noticed were the beautiful, colourful ceramic table tops in the restaurants we were passing by. And then we discovered shop after shop full of ceramic handicraft, where we spent quite some time marvelling on all those cute items and deciding what we’d bring home with us.

Lovely ceramic table top

Lovely ceramic table top

 

Ceramic items are everywhere you look

Ceramic items are everywhere you look…

 

...even signs are ceramic!

…even signs are ceramic!

The whole town is just totally picturesque – at every corner there’s something to make you smile or go ‘wow’. Everything is neat, tidy and very colourful. The hotels scream expensive luxury – white gloved chauffeurs seem to be the norm. But I’m sure there’s affordable accommodation somewhere out there, or so I hope because I would love to stay somewhere in this region next time we come to visit.

Colourful houses of Positano

Colourful houses of Positano

All the Mediterranean charm is here – narrow lanes, steep staircases, little shops, lovely scented climbers covering the walls and the relaxed atmosphere. As usual we did what we do best – we walked aimlessly around the place. The seafront looked very pleasant and inviting but since we weren’t yet hungry or going to sit on the beach, we walked back up to get a better view from the top. To cool down a bit we stopped for the trademark drink of the region: a refreshing ‘lemon slushie’ – simple yet delicious and a must.

'Shopping mall'

‘Shopping mall’

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More huge lemons

More huge lemons

 

Very inviting indeed

Very inviting indeed

 

Positano from the top

Positano from the top

 

Wonder where this road might take us...

Wonder where this road might take us…

After some more walking we decided it was time to sit down for some lunch. As you can imagine there are plenty of restaurant to choose from, but we had our eye on a particular spot with a terrace overlooking the sea. A couple of cold beers, seafood risotto and a pizza and we were in heaven.

I want to have lunch over there!

I want to have lunch over there!

 

Table with a view

Table with a view

And there was one more surprise to top it all up – a little box with a pretty, shiny engagement ring! We actually got engaged while travelling in Australia three years ago (mentioned here) and at the time I got a shark tooth necklace instead of a more traditional ring. So since I wasn’t expecting it, it was a lovely surprise.

Surprise!

Surprise!

After such a lovely day, even the return trip to Naples couldn’t spoil our mood. So first there was a delayed bus to Sorrento. I think most people at the bus stop (many would be a good estimate) expected it to come from Sorrento, turn around, take us on and leave. Instead it came from somewhere along Amalfi coast and was mainly full. Luckily we managed to get onboard – as last people, again. Most of our fellow queuers were left behind… The bus driver this time was definitely Italian – angry, impatient and swearing, making us fear for our lives most of the trip. He also overheated the engine, so we had to stop in the middle of that narrow road and wait until the engine cooled down sufficiently so we could carry on. There were also two crashes that created a massive traffic, so instead of 20 minutes, the route from Positano to Sorrento took more than an hour.

 

The train journey to Naples would have been uneventful, but at some stage a woman sitting opposite us spotted something, closed the windows and announced that it was ‘for safety’. She then told me to put away my camera and warned us to be very careful and watch for pickpockets.

 

Yes it was a lovely day but we were glad to be back in our hotel after all.

 

CAPRI

 

Capri is a yet another beautiful island, very popular with tourists. And it shows – multiple ferry departures, throngs of tourists, tidy streets and ridiculous prices. But it’s well worth the visit and as it was in our case, a great culmination to our Italian adventure.

Welcome to Capri

Welcome to Capri

We took a morning ferry from Naples (€20 each one way), which was, unsurprisingly full. If it is a day trip and you have an idea at what time you might want to get back, buy your return ticket to avoid queuing again as soon as you get to Capri or missing out on a ferry you planned to take, simply because it might be sold out if you leave ticket purchase shortly before the departure. We didn’t do that and when we wanted to buy a ticket to get back to Naples our preferred ferry was sold out and we had to wait for the later one. Lesson learnt.

 

It takes less than an hour to get to Capri, unless you take a slow ferry, in which case you may double that time. Upon arrival be prepared to fight your way through the crowds to get a ticket for Funicular (€1.80 one way) and then stand in a long queue to get inside. The ride itself doesn’t take that long, but the town itself it quite high up, so it does save a rather steep walk to the main Piazza Umberto, where pretty much everyone starts their Capri experience (although getting there certainly qualifies as an experience already).

Queue to Funicular

Queue to Funicular

Capri town is absolutely charming so having an aimless wonder along those very narrow and very steep streets is a pleasure itself, especially that you won’t come across any mad mopeds. There is no motorised traffic allowed, except for a few local service cars, which don’t come around too often. Fabulous. Then there’s of course Grotta Azurra, Anacapri, Monte Solaro and many other things to see and do, but a day trip may not be enough to experience it all. At least not if you don’t want to rush from one point to the other like a headless chicken.

Narrow lanes in Capri town...

Narrow lanes in Capri town…

 

The only traffic you're likely to come across in Capri Town

…and the only traffic you’re likely to come across

From the very crowded and very small Piazza Umberto (it’s called Piazzetta for that very reason) we walked to Giardini di Augusto. The gardens aren’t very big but are lovely and have the most amazing views of Faraglioni and Via Krupp. Most people carrying selfie sticks, come, snap and go, while others can’t get enough of the magnificent views (note: we don’t have a selfie stick).

Crowded Piazzetta

Crowded Piazzetta

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View from Giardini Augusto

View on Faraglioni from Giardini Augusto

 

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Via Krupp looked very inviting from up above but it turned out it was closed due to the danger of falling rocks. Typical.

Breathtaking views

Breathtaking views

 

Via Krupp

Via Krupp…

 

...all the way to Marina Piccola. Closed.

…all the way to Marina Piccola. Closed.

So instead we went to see Arco Naturale.

And instead of something like this:

Arco Naturale

Arco Naturale

We saw this (due to work to reinforce the rocks forming the arch):

Scaffolding.

Scaffolding.

 

...but at least the views on the way were good.

…but at least the views on the way were good.

Oh well…

It was beach time. Marina Piccola, on the south side of the island was our destination. And it didn’t disappoint – yes it was crowded and there were pebbles not sand, but the colour of the water and the scenery was breathtaking. We even went for a refreshing swim.

A few seconds when no one was in shot

A few seconds when no one was in shot

 

Sheltered by the cliffs - Marina Piccola

Sheltered by the cliffs – Marina Piccola

After some relaxing time it was time to head back to town and to the port. So it was another ‘up and down’ walk – first steeply up back to Piazzetta and then instead of catching Funicular we walked steeply down back to the ferry terminal. Well worth the sore knees in the end.

To queue or to walk?

To queue or to walk?

 

...walk of course.

…walk of course.

 

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At this point we got our ticket (available not preferred as mentioned above) and set down for some very expensive aperitivo, while waiting for a ferry to take us back to Naples.

 

Even though we both found Capri very touristy and rather pricey, we enjoyed our day there very much and would certainly want to come back to see all the things we didn’t get to and hopefully walk the Via Krupp…

 

 

Day trips from Naples – part 1

When you travel to a distant and exotic place you might experience what is called a cultural shock – the senses overload and general unfamiliarity creating confusion and disorientation. I might not be the most seasoned traveller but I have been to a few places and apart from my first visit to US, many years ago, when I stepped out of JFK terminal and was faced with all those big trucks, yellow cabs I recognized from the Hollywood movies and later on with loudness and massiveness of Manhattan, I never really struggled with absorbing ‘the new’.

But Naples surprised me. I didn’t know how to cross the street without being run over by a car or a moped! The city was messy and disorganised – I think it just wasn’t what I expected and what I’m used to back home. So it didn’t take much convincing to get away from this madness and go on a trip to a nearby island of Procida the very next day after our arrival to Naples.

Smaller and faster of the ferries between Naples and the islands

Smaller and faster of the ferries between Naples and the islands

Evening beforehand we went to a ferry terminal to check the departure times. There are three ferry terminals in Naples and a few operators that sail from different terminals. The schedule doesn’t specify where the boat departs from. There must be some sort of logic to it since loads of people use them every day and somehow manage to get to their destinations, but I wouldn’t be brave enough to share publicly what that logic might be. In any case the following morning we ended up at the wrong terminal and had to walk back 2km in the direction where we just came from. Good job we’re organised people and allowed enough time for all those shenanigans.

Ferry tickets aren’t particularly cheap. Depending on the distance and speed of the boat you’re looking at about €10-€20 one way per person. But at least they are reliable and depart on time – at least from our experience. If you’re going to a very popular destination like Capri, make sure to book your tickets in advance – the ferries are big and carry lots of people but such is the demand that you might find that all the tickets for your chosen route are already sold out.

PROCIDA

Procida isn’t one of those ‘must see’ places and that’s exactly why we decided to go. It’s a tiny (4 km²) but very picturesque island south of Naples, relatively undisturbed by tourists. It has been used as a set for quite a few movies, most well know of which would be Talented Mr Ripley. The colourful houses of Marina Coricella are the first buildings on the approach to the island and make for a great first impression.

Colourful building in Procida

Colourful building in Procida

We had no plan and no map for the visit. So we just went for a stroll: more narrow lanes, lovely Mediterranean houses – some run down and sun beaten, some well-manicured overlooking the bay of Naples, lots of massive lemons, smell of jasmine and of course a few mad scooters.

The rustic look

The rustic look

and the more 'looked after' look

and the more ‘looked after’ look

Wouldn't fancy driving there

Wouldn’t fancy driving there

or here for that matter...

or here for that matter…

Massive lemons from rich volcanic soil

Massive lemons from rich volcanic soil

Those scooters look so picturesque

Those scooters look so picturesque

Procida being an island has of course a few beaches, although they wouldn’t be considered the best. So it wasn’t a big shame that when we finally reached some of them, the sun decided to hide behind the clouds. Instead we walked back to Coricella and enjoyed our coffees and pastries in one of the cafes overlooking the marina, before we caught a ferry back to Naples.

On the beach

On the beach

 

VESUVIUS AND HERCULANEUM

One of the things we wanted to see when in Naples was Vesuvius – the infamous volcano that in AD79 destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

So we’ve done our research on how to get there, checked the train timetable and set off to the Porta Nolana train station. Porta Nolana is the first/last stop on a few routes in Naples and only about 10 minute walk from the main station on Piazza Garibaldi. It so happened that it was closer from where we stayed, but it’s worth starting your train trip from here if possible, as the train gets full before it leaves this station.

Using the trains was one of the things I did not enjoy in Naples. Yes, they are cheap but the few times we used them they were never on time (and I’m not talking about a few minute delay; more like one train went missing sort of delay), they were rather rough looking, people were smoking on the station, platforms and once even on the train (though there were ‘No Smoking’ signs everywhere) and it was a haven for pickpockets (we saw a tourist who got off and realised that his wallet was stolen on the train). So beware and be prepared and you’ll be fine.

For Vesuvius it’s best to get off in Ercolano Scavi and catch one of the Vesuvio express buses (€10 return per person plus another €10 entry fee to the park). Once the bus actually arrives it’s about half an hour to the entrance to the park. There you’re told you have 90 minutes to get back to the bus. Otherwise your ticket is invalid. It’s probably a good estimate but I can imagine if you’re slower of it’s particularly busy on a path you might be rushing to make it on time.

But before you go anywhere look up and check the sky! If there’s a big cloud over the mountain you won’t see anything. Simple, yet we were among those, who didn’t look and as a result didn’t see a thing up on Vesuvius.

Our memories of Vesuvius

Our memories of Vesuvius

From the entry there’s still about 900m walk uphill to the crater. Whether it’s a challenging climb or not is a matter of physical ability and opinion. If you’re used to walking you’ll be perfectly fine. But the path might get congested as all those busloads of people need to get up as well. And I can only imagine that on a nice sunny day, the views must be spectacular, so that would probably slow anyone down even further.

A brief glimpse of what the views could have been like

A brief glimpse of what the views could have been like

But for us it was a very brisk walk up and down in a dense cloud. It was cold and although we wore warmer clothes than were required in Naples, up on the mountain it was a complete different climate zone and we were freezing, hence the near-run up the hill.  We looked, we blew at the cloud and we hoped it would go away, but it didn’t. So we didn’t see anything and we were just glad to get back down to Ercolano where it was significantly warmer and surprisingly cloudless…although Vesuvius remained in the cloud for the next couple of days, so we were somewhat mollified that it wasn’t just one 90 minute window of unfortunate weather.

Once back in Ercolano we decided that we needed a lunch of sorts and stopped at a random tratorria on the main road to Herculaneum. We ordered the usual pizza and beer and were amazed how delicious the pizza in this random place was! That just proves the point that you can’t go wrong with pizza in this region!

Happily filled we headed to the archaeological site of Herculaneum – the lesser known and more recently excavated Roman town destroyed by Vesuvius eruption in 79. The question which one to see: Herculaneum or Pompeii is a very popular one and you’ll find many opinions if you check the net. Since we only went to one, I don’t feel I’m in a position to give any advice. I can only say why we decided on Herculaneum: we were already there and it was meant to be more compact yet still contain more original structures and relics (those of Pompeii were moved to the Archaeological Museum in Naples). And since the site was covered by meters of hot volcanic material, it was well sealed and even things like wooden elements are still preserved for us to see.

Herculaneum

Herculaneum

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The original mosaic

The original mosaic

and frescoes...

and frescoes…

...and even wooden door!

…and even wooden door!

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And we both thought we made the right call and after visiting the site we didn’t feel the need to go and see more of the same (I’m quoting a person we met in Ercolano, who saw both sites) in Pompeii. But visiting at least one of them should be on everyone’s agenda.

Naples – pizza, gelato, pastries and mad mopeds

I did not fall in love with Naples. It was the scooter madness, the omnipresent cigarette smoke, the unreliable public transport and the general roughness and loudness of it. This is not to say that I would discourage anyone from vising and experiencing it for themselves. After all we all have different tastes. And judging by the amount of tourists and positive feedback you can find on internet, I just might be in the minority.

Fountain of Giant

Fountain of Giant

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Piazza del Gesù Nuovo

Piazza del Gesù Nuovo

The uglier side of Naples

The uglier side of Naples

and what seems to be a normal driving practise

and what seems to be a normal driving practice

We went to Italy at the end of May for a long overdue holiday break. Since our ‘Big Trip’ we haven’t really gone anywhere – we were too busy relocating, finding jobs and buying our first house. It was time to go somewhere, to see something, to be a tourist.

Being a tourist in Italy

Being a tourist in Italy

Naples looked like a good spot – big enough city with plenty of options for if the weather wasn’t great and also a good base for day trips to the surrounding attractions.

The hotel we stayed in was a quirky little thing – one of those places that just isn’t great, yet you can’t complain about too many things, unless you’re really picky of course. We ended up with a bathroom that was disabled friendly, but in the process not very comfortable for others. But since it was clean I decided to overlook the other aspect. Besides we got our breakfast delivered to our room daily – always the same (sweet pastry, very strong coffee, hot chocolate, juice and a basket of little rusks with jams and butter) and always 10 minutes before the specified time. There was free wifi, but the signal didn’t penetrate the walls and could only be used in the common area or on the staircase. We switched on the tv only twice – on the first day to find out there was nothing to watch and on the day of the UEFA Champions League final. Good detox from media.

And it was only a short walk from the Centro Istorico and the main train/bus station, yet in a quiet enough alley off the busier streets, plus, plus and plus.

Centro Istorico at night

Centro Istorico at night

We did a good bit of walking, as we always do when faced with a new city. But is there a better way of discovering what the place is all about, then to go for a walk, with your map in a pocket (alternatively, for the younger or more technically advanced crowed, with a GPS in your phone), just in case you get totally lost and need to actually find your way back to the hotel? Because getting lost is very much recommended – taking a random turn into a random street to pass a woman hanging her washing or a man sitting by his window, with a cat on his lap, watching the world go by?

Lost in the maze of narrow streets

Lost in the maze of narrow streets

We didn’t visit any museums, catacombs, churches or galleries. We’ve researched ‘Things to do in Naples’ and a good few people recommended visiting some of them but what we tend to do is to read the reviews and then not do what most people say.

What we enjoyed the most was the walk along the waterfront, where the joggers and walkers don’t need to fear for their lives as moped traffic is not allowed. With magnificent Vesuvius on the horizon, noble tall buildings in the Santa Lucia district, charming Castle dell’Ovo and multitude of bars and restaurants tempting with cold Prosecco it really is a pleasant, relaxing stroll.

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Ovo Castle

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Santa Lucia with Vesuvius in the background

Aria to the sun

Aria to the sun

If you fancy bit of a climb up to the Castle Sant Elmo, you’d be rewarded with amazing views of the city and the bay. What’s more – you’d be able to soak it all in, in peace and quiet as this location doesn’t seem to be on most tourists’ agenda.

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View from the Vomero

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We also visited the Botanical Garden, which although quite far off the beaten track, was really quite nice – the cacti collection was truly amazing. And if that isn’t a quiet enough space for you (school trips do happen), then head for the Museo di Capodimonte – the surrounding gardens are perfectly manicured and very pleasantly quiet. The museum itself has quite a collection of artwork – including Caravaggio, Titian, Raphael and Botticelli to name just a few. And surprisingly no crowds.

Impressive cacti collection in Botanical Gardens

Impressive cacti collection in Botanical Gardens

Suicidal snail?

Suicidal snail?

Museo di Capodimonte

Museo di Capodimonte

Not that we strayed away from the famous Centro Istorico – in fact we went there every single day. Getting lost in those little alleys overhung with still dripping laundry is a must, just to emerge back on the busy Via Tribunali or San Biagio dei Librai where again you need to watch for those mad moped drivers! Another little alleyway you cannot possibly miss is Via Gregorio Armeno – it’s basically one ‘so – called’ souvenir shop after another, but good luck finding something you would like to bring home with you. It’s famous for its nativity scenes but you’ll find all sorts of rural life scenes of very tacky quality. Fascinating! The place is full of old buildings and many beautiful churches and you can’t walk a few paces without passing a little café, cosy trattoria or pizzeria or a gelato stand.

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How many Italians does it take to fix one scooter?

How many Italians does it take to fix one scooter?

The delights of Via Gregorio Armeno

The delights of Via Gregorio Armeno

Pulcinella - symbol of Naples

Pulcinella – symbol of Naples

Just another church in Naples

Just another church in Naples

You have to eat pizza while in Naples – this is a law. Never in my life have I ordered a simple margherita before. But I did here and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact you can’t go wrong with any pizza in any place, although we have tried the fried calzone (from Di Mateo as recommended) and we were not impressed. But any other pizza and occasional pasta we had were simply amazing. For dessert or as a cool down snack we had the delicious Gelato and the prised selection in Gay Odin did not fail to excite our taste buds. I am not a chocolate flavour fan but I tried a few of their concoctions (chocolate with cinnamon and sacher torte) and got converted. So I would urge anyone to give them a go; but don’t neglect other flavours either – the pineapple sorbet was pretty spectacular too!  And last but not least – the pastries! Pasticcerias are dotted all over the narrow streets with selection of all sorts of tempting sweets. The ones that you must try are Baba (it’s a spongy thing soaked in rum flavoured syrup – I found it ok, Geoff was done after one bite), Sfogliatelle (my favourite – crispy flaky pastry filled with sweet ricotta with a hint of apple and cinnamon – yum!) and Cannoli (it’s not typically Neapolitan sweet but Geoff’s favourite so I had to mention it too).

Lunch madness @ 'Di Mateo'

Lunch madness @ ‘Di Mateo’

Don't miss Gay Odin for a scoop (or two) of amazing gelato

Don’t miss Gay Odin for a scoop (or two) of amazing gelato

As I mentioned earlier Naples for us was a city break/base for other day trips. It has plenty of bus, train and ferry connections to many interesting and beautiful places around. Next post will be about where we went and what we saw (or not as the case might be)…

Coca – Cola, CNN, Panda and our way back to Orlando

We had to visit Atlanta. For quite a while Geoff had this idea in his head, that he’d love to see one of the biggest and most famous aquariums in the world – the one in Atlanta. So we planned to stay for a few days and see what else was worth a visit. As it turned out  – quite a lot. Getting a City Pass was the cheapest option and allowed us a choice of a few, different attractions around the city. We chose to explore the inside of CNN’s global headquarter, see the vault holding the most desired recipe for a drink at World of Coca-Cola and made friends with a panda in the city zoo. How exciting!

We decided to kick off with the zoo, but apparently it was too cold for the primates and we were advised to come back another day. So instead we went to Fernbank Natural History Museum, which quite frankly, compared with the one in London, which I love, and the rest of attractions in Atlanta, wasn’t all that good. We watched a show in their IMAX (neither of us remembers what it was, although we both remember that we didn’t watch the butterfly movie!), had some fun creating massive bubbles and concluded the visit with me becoming a weather lady for the news at Fernbank.

Look I’m a Weather Girl

In the evening we went to our couchsurfing home. Our hosts – Adam and Kacy were out, but gave us instructions how to find their house and how to get in, in their absence. They turned out to be amazing hosts and we had really great fun with them. They introduced us to ‘smores’ (short for some more for those who didn’t know) – Americans’ camping favourite: roasted marshmallow sandwiched between two crackers with a piece of melting chocolate added to the mix. Yum. Our ‘camp’ was happening in front of the TV, and our marshmallows were roasted over fireplace. On the last morning, Adam has prepared for us a typical Southern breakfast: sausage gravy and biscuits. Now the biscuit isn’t a cookie as English speaking people (as opposed to American speaking) might think, while making horrified faces. In fact it’s a savoury leavened bread resembling English scone, so it went really well with this thick sausage sauce (that took well over an hour to cook!). It was delicious despite what it might sound like, but we definitely wouldn’t have it everyday –it was very filling and high in calories, not to mention cholesterol.

Second morning in Atlanta welcomed us with some miserable drizzle. So instead of heading straight for the panda meeting we went to CNN instead. The guided tour through corridors of global headquarters of this leading news station was a really interesting experience. You start in the lobby from where the longest free-standing escalator in the world takes you up where CNN offices are. You get to see the control room full of monitors showing what’s currently on and what will be on in a few minutes. Then passing over the newsroom (huge open plan office where all the news are being researched) you get to appreciate just how many people it takes to deliver all those breaking news straight to your telly. In a smaller recording studio 7E a volunteer from the group can try their luck at reading the news from the teleprompter before you finally get to see the real action – CNN live from Studio 7 (while we were there Christine Romans was hosting Your Money program). It really was great fun, even for those who aren’t news junkies.

In front of CNN building

Inside the lobby; longest free standing escalator to the right

Control Room

CNN Newsroom – not that busy on a Saturday morning

After our CNN tour we headed to the zoo. The sun didn’t come out but the drizzle eased up a bit so it wasn’t too bad, yet still kept the crowds away. It wasn’t the greatest zoo, but it was pretty good and it had pandas – which not that many zoos can be proud of. Apparently in the summer, to see those cute bears, you have to queue in line for over two hours! And we had two pandas almost exclusively for ourselves – another plus of travelling off-season. We were also quite lucky to see and hear active lions: they roared, chased each other around their enclosure and in the end posed for the pictures. I must admit that lion’s roar really sent a shiver up my spine, especially as I didn’t find the fences to be high enough…

All this eating made me tired

Do you want to be my lunch?

While a Ground Hornbill wanted to share his lunch with us

Georgia Aquarium was truly amazing: there was the underwater corridor, so you could ‘dry dive’ and watch the Gentle Giants up close; there were dancing dolphins and in interactive pools you could touch stingrays, starfish and even small sharks! It really is a huge aquarium – covering over 51,000 square metres and holding 30,000 m3 of water in its tanks it still is one of the largest in the world (the land had been donated by Coca – Cola). And it is home to massive whale sharks and beluga whales. Astonishing!

Whale Shark swimming by – mesmerizing

Beluga Whale – he’s smiling isn’t he?

Jellyfish – always so pretty

Last but definitely not least, we went to the World of Coca -Cola. We may not be Coke addicts – occasionally we’d have the zero option (although I’m more of a Pepsi MAX person myself), but we loved this place. It’s quite amazing to witness how much influence this company and its logo has. Naturally it is very red all around and the place is full of collectibles (we especially liked the pants covered in Coca – Cola logo) and artwork (3 original pieces by Norman Rockwell as well as some by Andy Warhol).

Surprisingly Red in World of Coca Cola

I’d love to see somebody wearing those!

There is also a 4D cinema (nothing exciting), a Perfect Pauses Theatre that plays the best of Coca-Cola TV ads over the years and across the globe and of course the massive vault, in which you can first learn about the history of the product and the various conspiracy theories related to it, before you get to the real vault, guarding one of the most wanted secret formula in the world. At the end the long-awaited moment: tasting of over 100 different Coca-Cola beverages from around the planet. One massive hall holds several drink fountains – separate for each continent, with a choice of unique flavours from different places: very sweet flavours of Fanta from Africa, well known to us crazy yellow Inca Cola from Peru, my personal favourite – sour green apples Fanta from Asia, the infamous Beverly from Italy (it tasted like tonic, so I’m guessing its disrepute must result from insufficient amounts of sugar), and many others that we no longer remember. And this still wasn’t it – after all that you’re faced with Coca – Cola Freestyle fountain – with more than 120 flavours (Coke Zero alone has 8! For the curious ones, you can find the full list here). Such fountains are located in almost every Burger King and when we first saw it we had to pick up our jaws up off the floor. At the very end you get a bottle of Coke straight of the bottling line whizzing over visitors heads. Of course all this is one massive product advert, but certainly one that gives a lot of fun , and if you manage to sample all drink flavours (and it really is quite a challenge), you’ll be leaving not only satisfied but also rather bloated 😉 .

The Vault guarding Secret Formula

Do you have what it takes to sample all the flavours?

Our time in the south eastern states was slowly coming to an end, so we had to start heading back to Orlando. We set our return rout through Charleston in South Carolina, Savannah in Georgia, and Jacksonville back in Florida.

Both Charleston, and Savannah are very old (by American standards anyway) and charming cities. It’s really worthwhile to stop in them even if just for a short bit to experience a slightly different America – much slower and more relaxed. Take a walk through the old streets and admire the beautiful architecture and gorgeous Spanish Moss hanging off the ancient trees. Make sure to sample some delicacies too; there are some tempting options with pretty much every step you take: nuts of all kinds in amazing array of flavours (free tasting too!), chocolates and fudge, frozen yogurt (you can chose and serve your own toppings from big dispensers, and pay for the total weight – great idea) and another speciality – taffy candy (chewy sweets which we didn’t find that great). In Charleston there’s also an old market, founded in 1807 full of original souvenirs and famous, Gullah sweetgrass baskets, hand – woven on site. Not very far from the city grows an Angel Oak – 20m tall but with the branch span of nearly triple that (almost 56m) it produces shade that covers 1,600 m2. Quite a tree.

Savannah, GA

Lovely Spanish Moss

Charleston Market

Charleston

Angel Oak

In Savannah we met another strange personality of the CouchSurfing community. He seemed to lack any social skills, and to pass the time we had to watch some very bloody scenes from the anime, preceded by more than an hour long lecture from YouTube on the 5th Amendment rights and why you should never talk to the police officer (I don’t think same laws apply to other countries, and I can’t imagine the situation where I’d just ignore policemen questions with total silence…). Well, the exception does prove the rule, because our next hosts in Jacksonville yet again were super nice and very friendly.

Jacksonville is the largest city in the United States. Really – in terms of area it beats even the mighty Los Angeles! But not a whole lot is happening over there, so after a nice, short walk along the river and seeing yet another big tree – Favourite Oak this time, our tour of the city was completed. All that was left was to get back to Orlando (quite a stressful drive since we took an option to return our rental car with an empty tank and Geoff was making sure we didn’t leave any fuel in!), drop the car off at the rental parking and spend the rest of the night at the airport, awaiting our morning flight to Los Angeles. And thus our adventure in the eastern states ends, and a new stage begins, on the west coast.

Jacksonville, FL – peaceful

Al Capone, Elvis and a bottle of Jacks

Texas was as far west as we were going to go on this leg of our American adventure. The time was ticking and since there was still a lot to see before returning to Florida we decided to start making our way back. The return route to Orlando led through Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina. We only stayed one night in Arkansas, in the spa town of Hot Springs. Not that there’s nothing to see in Arkansas. It may not be the most visited state, but nature lovers would find a lot of interesting places. The state tourist brochure looked promising anyway. But mid March wasn’t quite the time for the outdoors.

Scott, our couchsurfing host, despite having some nasty cold, turned out to be a great companion. His young neighbour Kyle, who came over to do some washing, joined us as well and the four of us, plus a cat on my lap, spent the evening chatting and making fun observations on various differences between living in the United States and Europe, with a focus on American love of HUGE things.

In the morning we went to see what Hot Springs was all about. It turned out to be a pretty interesting place. Apart from the hot springs themselves, for which it’s known as a spa resort, it owes its fame to the fact that here, president Bill Clinton, spent his childhood years. Undeniably the golden period of Hot Springs falls at the beginning of the twentieth century, when many baseball teams chose Hot Springs as their training ground, while Hotel Arlington used to be a favourite spot of gangster Al Capone. Not bad for such a small town.

Hot Springs in Arkansas

As I already mentioned, from Arkansas we drove to Tennessee. Certainly, one of the smaller states (36th by total area to be precise), but still full of American icons. Our first stop in Tennessee was a place well known around the world – Memphis, the city where Elvis Presley, BB King and Johnny Cash recorded their first hits. Aretha Franklin was born here, and Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. It’s also a city in which John Grisham places the action of many of his great crime novels. Simply put, there’s a lot going on in Memphis.

Memphis, where Rock and Roll was born

We started as usual – in tourist information centre (there’s a huge statute of Elvis and BB King right in the middle of it!) where we picked up a pile of maps and leaflets. From there we took a walk along the Mississippi river, admiring the Hernando de Soto bridge and the new-ish Memphis landmark – the Pyramid. Next we visited the famous Beale Street – a place full of quaint cafes and blues clubs. And once we walked the street up and down and took in all the atmosphere of the place, it was time to head to our next couchsurfing hosts. We were their first travelling guests ever and despite that they trusted us enough, to leave us alone in their house in the morning when they left for work. They really were an awesome couple and we had a great time together. When it came out in the conversation that Geoff was a big NASCAR fan, Philly, the hostess, rushed to search for a souvenir Matchbox set from a race sponsored by FedEx, for which she worked as a marketing manager. FedEx has its global super hub at Memphis Airport, making it the second busiest (right after Hong Kong) cargo airport in the world. Apparently they take up most of the air slots in the area, making commercial flights more expensive than from any other airport in USA. Jason on the other hand gave us some discount coupons for Memphis attractions, so adding to The NASCAR souvenir, the delicious coffee we were served, pizza for dinner and a very comfortable bed for the night, we really were rather spoiled with this hospitality.

Out of so many places worth seeing, we decided to visit Graceland – home of Elvis. But because we only like him and are not quite mad about him, we chose not to take a tour of the house. The whole place is so steeped in all things ‘king of rock n’roll’, that for us, having a quick peek at his planes, browsing through shops with Elvis memorabilia and signing the wall outside his house was more than enough.

Graceland and Elvis mania

After a morning visit to Graceland we drove to National Museum of Civil Rights – highly recommended by Jason. It is situated right outside Motel Lorraine – place of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Apparently it is really interesting and quite emotional, but we did not get to check it for ourselves because we were trying to visit it on the only day of the week (Tuesday!), when it was closed…

Motel Lorraine in Memphis

As a consolation we went to Sun Studio – a recording studio, where Sam Phillips discovered the great Elvis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. Every nook and cranny of this small and run-down building was full of equipment and memorabilia of the great stars of rock and roll from the fifties: a microphone quite probably used by Elvis (someone has already licked it so be aware), a guitar, on which Johnny Cash played his magic sounds and all the equipment used to record hit tracks we’re still listening to today. And even Bono and U2 came to this studio over twenty years ago to record some of their own hits.

Sun Studio

Love me tender...

Apart from Memphis, in Tennessee there’s one more place where music plays an important role – Nashville. For Americans, Nashville is probably even more important than Memphis, for a simple reason – it is a place where country music, not all that popular outside of US, reigns. And because the big names of country music meant little to us, we weren’t too keen on Nashville tourist attractions, such as Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum or Grand Ole Opry House. We will remember the city for its full size replica of the Greek Parthenon (in our opinion, even without the scaffolding it doesn’t come even close to the original) and our host Martin, who is an absolute enthusiast of old vinyl records – he has over 7,500 titles in his collection and it’s constantly growing!

No scaffolding to be found on this Parthenon, in Nashville

Our Host in Nashville Really Enjoyed Old Records

While in Tennessee you cannot miss a visit to the famous Jack Daniels distillery. Although Lynchburg is not on any main road, it is well worth to add on a few miles to see where every single bottle of Jack, in the world originates. There are two tour options: one completely free, the other, for a small fee ($10 per head) with tasting. For me, Jack is all about a well designed bottle, I am not a huge fan of the gold liquor, nor is Geoff, so quite happily we joined the non-drinking group. And the tour really exceeded our expectations – it was really interesting and fun!

It is a Great Bottle Design

Did you know that Moore county, where Lynchburg is situated, is a dry county, which means that sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited and that the distillery only recently received permission to offer whiskey tasting? And that every drop of Jack comes from a spring flowing right through distillery’s grounds? That Jack himself was a short man and died because one morning he could not remember the combination to open his safe? Frustrated he kicked it and broke his toe. Eventually gangrene set in and killed him. Apparently the famous black label was introduced in honour of his passing. So even though now you know it all, we still highly recommend visiting this place, if you ever are in the area.

Where Every Drop of Jack Comes From

The Safe That Killed Mr Daniels

Next time we will be in CNN and Coca Cola HQs!