Saturday, September 10, 2016

Introduction to Newfoundland

The first glimpse of the islands of Newfoundland lives up to all the hype of the most easterly province of Canada. From the air, the mountains and rough, rugged coastline appear hauntingly out of the mist as we start the descent to St. John's. Small towns cluster at the water;s edge and cling to rocky outcrops, lighthouses perch precariously, harbours nestle into protected inlets. 
We have decided it's time to discover a bit more of our own country and the Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism Board does a stellar job of enticing visitors with their colourful ads. I am expecting to see cute kids in rainbow striped socks, skipping along rocky paths, past brightly painted houses. 
Fiercely independent, only reluctantly joining Confederation, Newfoundlanders are renowned for their warmth, good humour, friendliness and resilience. We are eager to discover for ourselves. I am embarrassed to say that before researching for this holiday, I was pretty ignorant about the places to go and things to do in Newfoundland, But after reading the tourism booklet with a map thoughtfully mailed by the tourism department, we have planned a route that will give us a broad over view of the lie of the land and some of its exceptional landscape.
The itinerary is quite ambitions with lots of driving 
but with plenty of time allotted to exploring and hiking.
 Our route will take us from the capital, St John's
through Trinity to the magnificent Skerwink Trail

to Bonavista
 Then by ferry to Fogo Island. 
 A stop in Twillingate
before heading west to Gros Morne National Park
 A night in Grand Falls Windsor to visit the close by town of Botwood 
and our last night in Spanish Bay, 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Full circle - back to Zagreb

It is only an hour from Split to Zagreb by air, but we have chosen the four hour train ride just for something different and to see a bit more of the countryside. It is an easy walk from our accommodation to the station and we are there in good time as there is only one train a day.
It is not very full and we have a large compartment to ourselves. There is no restaurant or bar car on the train but we had anticipated that and we settle in with some beverages and snacks for a leisurely trip.
Along the route we see a very different Croatia than the one where the tourists flock. Here there are visible reminders that not so long ago, there was conflict and war. Buildings and at times it seems entire small villages are left in ruins and with no sign of people.
Our train ride ends two hours earlier than anticipated. Apparently there are repairs being done on the line ahead and we are transferred to a bus, which speeds along and gets us to Zagreb much quicker than anticipated. So lesson learned. Next time we do what the locals do and take the bus.
Too bad we are only here for one night. I like the apartment and the balcony with a view of leafy treetops.
Just time to enjoy the relaxed coffee culture and one more look at the lovely squares of Zagreb.
And so ends another great holiday. We enjoyed the variety of this trip; some urban culture, some history, a good dose of gorgeous scenery, fantastic days at sea, great food and conversation and above all wonderful people, Good bye Croatia - until next time! 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Split: so much to see, so little time

It seems that our group is reluctant to say goodbye so we have arranged to meet in the centre of the old town for lunch. Diane and Ken are staying at the same apartment/hotel as we are on a quiet residential street, easy walking distance of where all the action is. Although we are very early for check in, we get a friendly welcome and our rooms aren't ready, we can leave our luggage. Before we can set off to explore, our hosts insist on treating us to coffee and chocolate cake which is served in the garden. A nice start to our stay at the Villa Vice.
We only have one day here, so we hurry to the Diocletian Palace which is the biggest draw for visitors. The old walls are well hidden behind parking lots and commercial storefronts. but once we find an entrance, we are into a world where old meets new; ruins and restaurants, chic stores and squares; homes and alleys; tourists galore and tacky tourist attractions. But the setting is magic. This is another location for the filming of Game of Thrones. Mysterious caverns and tunnels, crumbling facades, ancient buildings, temples, churches - everything jumbled together and crowded with visitors.

The Diocletian Palace, built in the 4 AD by the Roman Emperor Diocletian as his planned retirement residence, is a vast complex which for a long time has been home to local people. Blended in with the remnants of antiquity are residences, cafes, bars and shops.
When we get to the appointed place, our friends are already waiting, looking relaxed and at home in the main square.
Lunch at a nearby restaurant is as expected, delicious. 

After another round of group hugs, we go our separate ways.

Peter and I head to the cellars. This a vast subterranean area built in Roman times to create a level platform for the palace structure. At times used for storage, residences and waste pits in the Middle Ages, abandoned for centuries, cleaning began in the 19th Century and now the cavernous halls with their sturdy pillars are home to exhibitions, festival and sundry events. Today it is quiet and we are free to wander and absorb the slightly gloomy ambience.

Outside the walls of the Palace there is a lot more to see.

And finally we climb the bell tower of the cathedral and get an awesome panoramic view, over the rooftops to the city and the harbour below.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Land ahoy. Split - our final port.

 We motor towards the City of Split.
The city sprawls along the shoreline and up the hill. The marina is big and densely packed and the dock master is busy directing traffic and finding berths for all the boats arriving for the night. When we dock, our neighbours are at pretty close quarters.
The harbour is bustling with craft of all sizes and out on the bay cruise ships, ferries, sea planes and pleasure boats somehow manage to avoid colliding with one another.

This is our last night together as a group. We stay close to the marina for dinner to enjoy a last evening of camaraderie, good conversation and a shared bottle of wine or two.
Night settles over the bay. Split lights up across the harbour. 
Tomorrow we start another adventure - exploring the town and its magnificent Diocletian Palace.
In the morning we pack up our luggage and try to help Damir as much as possible to clean up. He has no break at all as he is expecting his new group of G-Adventurers in the afternoon and he has a lot of work to do to organize for the group. 
 What a great group to spend eight days with!