We arrived in Corfu to a cloudy day with a few flashes of sunshine, but an ever present threat of rain a little later in the day.
The day before we were in Kotor, the port for the small country of Montenegro. It only has 600,000 people in a very mountainous landscape. Kotor is at the end of a flooded old river valley nestled at the bottom of some precipitous mountains and surrounded by an old city wall. The wall is partly in ruin, particularly the sections that run high up along the ridge lines behind the town. There is a steady stream of people walking along the functional sections. We didn’t have the time in port to do the walls here. Instead, we were in a bus going up to the top of the highest peak overlooking the town. An amazing journey up a narrow road with numerous hair pin bends, in many places virtually one way. In one section oncoming cars had to back up so that we could pass. Homealone enjoyed the experience immensely! Great views looking down to the ship below, almost antlike. Near the top we stopped for a mid morning snack. We are beginning to easily pick what these snacks are going to be ….. prosciutto, sheep/goats cheese and bread washed down with local wine. We were not disappointed.
The other highlight here was visiting the royal palace of King Nikola 1. He was Montenegro’s one and only King and lost the crown after WW1, when Montenegro was absorbed into Serbia. He was fairly astute and succeeded in marrying off a number of his 9 or so daughters (he had 3 sons as well) to various sons of European royalty. The most important being the last king of Italy. The rather modest looking palace was full of Nikola memorabilia, family portraits, uniforms, guns and swords. There was a painting of him in almost every room, the guide said this was to indicate who was the boss.
We descended back to Kotor by a different route in time for a short walk around the old town before having to board the Viking Star for the cruise back down the fiord like channel to the open sea and then onwards to Corfu. Corfu is a Greek island lying at the ‘cross roads’ between the Adriatic sea to the north and the Ionian sea to the south. Kotor was our last stop along the Adriatic coastline.
Corfu has a very colourful background and was and still is for that matter a bit of a hot spot for the well to do from Europe. The Romans were here, the Venetians came and went, Ottomans, Napoleon and then the British before the Greeks ‘reclaimed’ the place. Prince Phillip was born here in the 1920s. We had a pleasant wander around the Old Town with a stop off to have tea, coffee and some very moist and nutty baklava at a local café. Corfu though is looking a little tired, lots of ‘tourist’ shops flogging masses of ‘local produce and artifacts’, as well as cafes and fast food windows with arrays of Greek pastries to munch on.
The Greeks call Corfu ‘Kerkyra’. But, it has a very English tradition. It is the only place in Greece were cricket is played. As one of a our fellow travellers said “Ah, that shows they are civilised”! The one and only field lies in the parkland between the Old Town and the waterfront. The pitch is concrete with a rather well worn mat surface. At either end are fearful torn patches on a good length! The outfield needs some serious attention. Nevertheless, an annual tournament takes place, with international players including Australians taking part.
We headed back to the ship for a rather late lunch as some scattered showers hit town. After lunch there was a performance for us by some local Greek folk dancers. They put on a good show, particularly the ‘guitarist’. He really gave the strings a work out. Before dinner there was a ‘chocolate night’. A vast array of nibbles are first put on display and then its open slather, there was a bit of a crush to get at the feast. Yours truly and Homealone just took pictures of our American fellow passengers getting into it!
Next stop is to be Katakolon. There are a lot of stops on this cruise starting with a ‘K’. Katakolon is the gateway to the legendary city of Olympia, the classical birthplace of the Olympic Games.
We arrived in Dubrovnik to much improved weather. We had a basically warm, sunny day here. Very busy, people everywhere. In the midst of summer it gets very hot and the tourists flock here. It has been good to come earlier in the season.
Dubrovnik is a major filming location for the Game of Thrones (GoT) and there is GoT memorobilia at almost every turn. It is the setting for Kings Landing, the capital of the seven kingdoms. Some of the cafes and restaurants have GoT menues to consider. Khaleesi’s delight (capon liver pate caramelized with dragons breath), Ayra’s needle (honeyed chicken with cold potato salad) and Cersei’s salad (gorgonzola, grapes ,greens and pecans). If you are wondering what ‘capon’ is see later in this epistle. The town’s great attraction is its city walls, red topped roofs and narrow alleys. The footpaths are all paved with stone, no dirt or grass anywhere, except in ‘back yards’ of some of the housing. You gaze down into these from the walls.
The Viking Star berthed at the newish port terminal and we then boarded a small local vessel to cruise around the walls of the city and enter the old port, surrounded by walls and a small flotilla of boats. Just the way to do it. Reminded me a bit of the Battle of Blackwater in a scene from GoT.
Following the boat trip we were off on the now usual town tour with the local guide. There are the old churches and architectural oddities from history. A few locals wander around in traditional dress. There is little talk though about Croatia’s independence war in the early 1990s. Dubrovnik was heavily shelled by Serbian forces and many properties were damaged, particularly the roofing. This is why Dubrovnik’s roofscape has so many red roofs. They are the new ones rebuilt after the war, the older roofs are that grey and greeny brown colour.
One of the things that Allthego had checked out prior to the tour was the location of another one of the restaurants mentioned in Rick Stein’s cook book. Kopun specialises in traditional Croatian food and is in an out of the way location up some steps in a little square away from the main drag of cafes and bars. In particular they cook a capon dish. Now capon is castrated rooster that is especially bred for its meat. It is very traditional and the Kopun promotes its dish as being based on a 16 th century recipe. Allthego and Homealone couldn’t resist trying it, there were two variations. Homealone settled for the ‘Dubrovnik Capon’ which consisted of stewed meat, with figs, peaches, raisins, sour orange marmalade, honey, white wine, vegetables and barley. Allthego took on the ‘Capon in porcini mushroom sauce’, stewed meat with dried plums, forrest berries, mushrooms, red wine, vegetables and barley. Hmmmmm it was pretty good. Allthego is tempted to try it on some unsuspecting guests back in Brisbane. Got to track down some castrated roosters first. Maybe a bush turkey would substitute?
After lunch we strolled off to do the ‘walls’. Doing the walls is 200 Kuna each. The Croats use Kuna not Euros, it is about $A40 each to wander around the city walls. It is not a short walk. Allthego thought the top of the walls had quite wide walk ways, after all the base of the walls were metres thick. But this is not the case, the walls do get quite narrow and the rails are not always as high as one might appreciate. Great views though out over the town, harbour and the people labouring up and down the steps to get around. Homealone got a bit edgy up here and didn’t really appreciate the ambience of the situation. She graciously allowed Allthego to continue the stroll after about half way and she descended back down to ground level. All up it took about 2 hours to get around the circuit. Great experience.
Although the ship didn’t leave Dubrovnik till 11.30 pm we headed back around 5 o’clock to recuperate and ready ourselves for the next day in Kotor, Montenegro.
No this isn’t the name of one of the Dothraki in the Game of Thrones, but the major port of Croatia. We arrived here overnight from Koper. It is was not the greatest of days weather wise. Overcast, windy and cold. We headed off on a drive down the coast to the Vrana Lake Nature Park. This is the largest lake in Croatia and home to many bird species, we hoped to see some. The lake is unusual in that it is not very deep (about 4 metres), the top of the water is above sea level and the bottom is below sea level. There is a small man made channel between the sea and the lake, built in the late 1800s (?) to drain the wet lands behind the lake for agriculture, wouldn’t be done today. When the water level in the lake drops sea water enters through the channel, the environment is continually subject to the ebbs and flows of sea water. It was spitting rain when we were at the lake to see the birds. The birds also recognised it was spitting rain and very windy so they went into hiding and we didn’t see many birds. Just a couple of hardy soles hiding in the reeds. A little disappointing but still an interesting spot to visit.
We got back on the bus fairly quickly and travelled to Kamenjak, on a ridge line over looking the lake, for a snack of traditional Croatian fare. Now after our visit to the market at the Koper stop in Slovakia, we thought this was going to be different. And it was. A plate of prosciutto, fresh semi hard cheese (probably goat or sheep) and some bread. It was quite tasty. We do like prosciutto…
Kamenjak sits on top of a karst limestone landscape; underground drainage lines, sink holes and caves abound. It is quite rocky and rugged. There is a little chapel up here and inside it is a roped off area protecting one from falling down a slot in the ground surface, it drops down a long way. Bones have been found in the bottom of the hole, in past times of unrest bodies had been thrown down the hole. The chapel was built over them to honour the lives lost. It was a sobering experience looking down the hole.
Later we made our way back to Zada for a wander in the old town, more cobbled streets and old churches, before departing for Dubrovnik. Near where our ship was tied up there is a large circular solar panel array depicting the sun and the planets stretching away in scale along the waterfront. At night it throws light along the shore line and is apparently quite spectacular to see. Also here there are acoustic tubes embedded under the large marble steps that ‘sing’ with the lashing waves and wind bursts along the waterfront.
As we head off the sun and blue sky appear and we are told it will be a fine sunny day in Kings Landing, I mean Dubrovnik!
But it is pronounced the same……………..
We moved on down the coastline to Koper in Slovenia. Slovenia has a very short coastline of about 27 miles wedged between Italy and Croatia to the south. It is our first stop on the way south along the coastline of the former Yugoslavia, broken up in the 1990s into various small countries based on their ethnic backgrounds. We went off on a bus trip down the length of Slovenia’s coastline and when reaching the Croatian border headed inland to a small village on a high ridge line looking out over the green valleys.
Unfortunately, the weather going down the coast was not great. It was very overcast with the seascape coated in a light mist. In bright sunny weather the views out over the islands would have been spectacular. We stopped in at the seaside village of Piran for a walk around the Venetian inspired streets and waterfront. This is a tourist hideout in the summer. The town is slowly depopulating and being let out to tourists for the season, which runs from mid April through to mid October. Real estate has gone through the roof. Tourism is the country’s biggest industry. The weather improved a bit while we were here with some blue sky and sun.
Up at the village of Padna we were welcomed by a solo musician playing some traditional instruments. He had a big grin and was looking for tips, just like a busker on the streets of Brisbane or Sydney, or even Queanbeyan for that matter.
The main game in the village was to taste some local foods and wine. It was a small place and 3 centres of tastings had been arranged in various parts of the town. There were also some local handicrafts and produce for sale. It was a hive of activity and the townsfolk had obviously done this before a few times. Ah, those tourists, they are good for a Euro or two! Part of our deal was that we were each ‘given’ 5 tasting vouchers. As it turned out these were worth 5 Euros. Not a bad deal for what was available at the stalls. We had some pieces of asparagus lasagne, a secret family recipe, along with some rather nice truffle pasta. Some apple struddles (? don’t have the dictionary with me), baked sweetened pastry pieces and strawberry tarts followed. All washed down with some rather very local red and white wines. You could go back for the food but the wines were not to our overall liking, not being picky of course.
After our eating and drinking it was back to the bus and Koper for a short wander around the old town and the waterfront. Tito Square, named after the friendly old communist dictator, is the main square in the town. A Venetian palace along with the Cathedral dominates the square.
Back at the waterfront we strolled the somewhat deserted beach. The beaches seem to all have a sand less shoreline, mostly pebbles and there always seems to be a pier of sorts that allows people to wander out to deeper water for a plunge. Watched over by lifeguards of course!
Back on board the Viking Star we set off for Croatia.
Well here we are in Venice.
Allthego and Homealone are off on a ‘grand tour’. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the British went off on ‘grand tours’, as did those Europeans on the other side of the Channel. In the harsh European winters the British and others went off to the Mediteranian, or to the East; perhaps Singapore or Hong Kong. Some even went to New York! It was the thing to do. You went off to have new experiences in far away places. However, some of the young ladies were sent off to have the fruits of their experiences delivered in parts far away! So we are off to the other side of the world for 11 weeks to have new experiences too!
Venice is our first stop after leaving Brisbane. Took 23 hours all up, via Singapore and Frankfurt. Flights were without dramas, fellow passengers were civil. The food on the Singapore Airlines flight was ok, but the Lufthansa legs were lets say…average. Movies were good.
Been to Venice before, about ten years ago. Not much seems to have changed, might have sunk a little we are told. We are staying the night at the Santa Chiara Hotel beside the Grand Canal, not far from the cruise ship terminal. We get to our hotel around 11 am and have the late morning and afternoon to check out a bucket list visit to the fish markets near the Rialto bridge. This is about 4 stops down the canal from the hotel and they close around 1pm. Problem is it is Monday and they don’t operate on Monday, so we do a thorough examination of the fruit and vegetable markets before heading back to the hotel on the ferry.
After finalising check in and occupying the room we have a break for a while. The desire for sleep is strong but Allthego has booked a table for 7.30 pm at what is referred to in a Rick Stein cooking book as an authentic Venetian eating establishment, Antiche Carampane. So it is back onto the ferry and down the Grand Canal to the Rialto bridge were we get off. We have allowed just on an hour to find this place in the back street alleys of Venice as the sun is slowly setting. Homealone has deduced the route on our Venice alley map. So away we go, up an alley, down an alley, over a canal bridge around a couple of corners, back over what seemed like the same canal bridge. Had to ask a local were it was, she kindly showed us the way…….it was just around a corner. Walked in the door just on 7.30pm. Timing is everything!
Very small dining room, but very local people despite the table of noisy South Australians sitting behind us and a couple of Bostonians next to us who had also read about the place. The others seemed to be locals. Probably no more than about 30 or so all up. It is known for it’s seafood. Proudly says: “No Pizza, No Lasagna and No Touristico Menues!” After a plate of Mediteranean bits and pieces to share, Homealone had a crab pasta dish and Allthego a piece of Sea Bass. All very tasty. It was then back to the Canal through the darkened alleys to catch the ferry. Easy!
The next day we were due to book onto our cruise ship. But we still had some time on our ferry tickets, they expired at 11am. So, as it was now Tuesday off we went to see those fish markets near the Rialto bridge. What a sight! Some of the stall holders here have held their spots through several generations of fish mongers. Fish from all over the Mediteranean, North Atlantic and prawns from Argentina. A few eels and octopus etc as well.
Next stop was to be an unusual book shop, seemingly to Allthego not far from the fish markets, across the other side of the Grand Canal and down a few back alleys. Well off we went, too and fro. The map doesn’t seem to match the alley ways. But we made it. Thousands of books, postcards, photos, maps etc and other stuff, including a staircase made of them. All crammed into a little shop front and side rooms. A stocktake would be a nightmare…….….
So it was back to the ferry, Homealone had determined the route. We made it just before the 11 am ticket expiry, Saved 15 Euros!
Back at the hotel we picked up our luggage and checked in at the cruise terminal, boarded the Viking Star, had lunch, put our feet up. Later in the evening after dinner, we stood on deck as we cruised down the Venetian Lagoon out into the Adriatic. Headed for Koper in Slovenia.
We are home in Brisbane. Homealone can now do all the washing.
The last stretch of the Newell Hwy has taken us up through Dubbo and Moree to Goondiwindi. From there it was along the Cunningham Hwy through Warwick to Brisbane. After leaving Hay and the Silo Art Trail we ran into another painted Silo at a small town called Weethalle. The last train came through Weethalle in 1999. There is not a lot at Weethalle. We had a chat with a lady in the craft shop in the old railway station next to the Silo. Her family are barley farmers, not too impressed with the drought. Crop was only 1000 tonnes this year, 10% of what a ‘good’ year was. A slight saviour was the price they got, about 3-4 times a ‘good’ year’s price, because of the short supply. Very chatty about life in Weethalle, where she had lived most of her life.
Moving along we stopped for the night beside a small river at Terramungamine Reserve a free camp about 10 km outside of Dubbo, down a side road on the north side of the city. Excellent spot here. Some of the company though was a little marginal, not offensive in a violent way. Quite friendly really, just a little light on vocabulary. Particularly adjectives. Not loud, just persistent. The dad’s shorts seem to have lost their waist band elastic. Homealone wasn’t keen on a picture for the blog. Family of 6 fitting the bill for the ‘ugly Australian’ award. The other attraction here were the prolific grinding marks in rocks above the river bank made by aboriginal people. No one is certain of their age, could be about 5000 years old and maybe be up to 25,000.
Further along we spent the night in the Showground camping spot in Narrabri. Another good stopover point, plenty of room. These free camp places make for a quick getaway in the mornings as you can stay hitched up, really just got to lock the door of the van and jump in the truck. We spent our last night on the road at Inglewood about 240 k west of Brisbane. This was where the trip all began just on 6 weeks ago. The only thing different was the grass had been cut and storm clouds were gathering as the sun went down.
The van has been parked, unpacked and it is now tempting to get the maps out and do a little forward planning…………..
Leaving the Victorian coast we are heading home to Brisbane through the Wimmera Mallee district of western Victoria. Our trail takes us from Nelson north-east to Horsham and then to the small town of Rupanyup. Rupanyup is the starting point of the Silo Art Trail, which heads basically north for 200 km to Patchewollock. Along the way we passed through a number of small towns in the grain belt of Victoria. The fields of wheat and barley just stretch as far as the eye can see. The radio told us that it is not a great season for the farmers, greatly diminished crop sizes.
Back in the 1930s and 1940s these towns were thriving centres of agriculture and each town had its own silo storage facilities linked by railway lines to the coast for export and domestic processing. A number of these facilities in recent years have been decommissioned and lie idle. So an enterprising group set about having artists paint them, as well as some operating silos, with images representative of the districts. In the main these works are of people who have lived and worked in the areas over many years. They are really good! The stories behind the works are very interesting and can be found at http://www.siloarttrail.com on the internet. This painting of silos is a bit of a trend as there are a good number of others scattered around the country where the same thing has been done.
I am just putting the photos in the blog! The names below each are the small towns where they can be found.
We have now reached Hay and are in a free camp at Sandy Point beside the Murrumbidgee River just on the outskirts of town for the night, it is good spot to stay.
We will continue the journey home in the morning.
Nelson is our last stop in our journey across the Victorian southern coastline. We are only a few kilometres from the SA border set up in a van park, overlooking the estuary of the Glenelg River. Very small camp ground, only about 20 sites but they are well positioned to catch the westerly winds whipping along the coast! Nelson is only a small town with a petrol station, kiosk, boat shed, information centre and of course the old hotel from the 1800s.
We suspect the population of a few hundred is mixed up in the timber industry or is retired. Not much else to do here, except go fishing. Which Allthego did, not even a little bite in the promising river. Wildflowers were much easier to catch but hard to identify without the necessary book to guide one.
The main attraction here is the Glenelg River and the National Park that lines either side of its banks. The river cuts through a limestone watercourse, with dramatic cliffs lining its banks. Also along the banks are numerous shacks with their associated boat house, generally underneath the shack. These appear to be weekend retreats for those who like to hang out by the river. Fairly basic and subject to inundation during flood times but probably great fun. We hired a small boat and went for a cruise up the river for several kilometres, an hour and half up and the same back. It was mostly cloudy but we did get some sun to illuminate the limestone walls of the river banks. Homealone took the wheel for a while to allow Allthego to take the odd photo or two of the passing scenery.
Also visited the Princess Margaret Rose Cave in the Park. This is a limestone cave discovered in the 1930s but only named after Princess Margaret in the 1960s, she never came here. The cave is a little unusual in that it is actually an eroded fault in the limestone host rock, quite narrow but is home to numerous cave features of stalagmites, stalactites and pillars etc. Quite impressive, as were the 68 steps we had to descend to enter the cave and later ascend to return to the surface. It seems that we were about 25-30 metres below the surface. Tree roots had also penetrated down into the cave. The roots of one tree have been traced to the actual tree above ground by inserting dye into the root and then testing trees above ground for the dye. It has a ribbon tied around it and is well visited.
After our 3 nights here in Nelson we are now turning for home and will work our way up through western Victoria and into central NSW.
Portland claims it’s place as the birth place of Victoria with some pride. There are signs everywhere about it. The town was founded by whalers a year or so before Melbourne. The whalers had been coming across from the now Tasmania hunting seals and later whales. Today the town scape is dominated by its working harbour. The Portland Aluminium Smelter requires imports of its raw materials into the manufacturing complex and then exports the completed Aluminium ingots. It is a big operation, as is the pine log and wood chip export terminal. Allthego has never seen so many pine logs lined up for loading into ships and wood chips being stored beside the wharf. The big trucks bring these to the port. The trucks are then raised on ramps to almost 60 dg and the chips slide out the back onto the stockpile. This goes on all day, there seem to be 3 ramps operating at once. One wonders where all the timber comes from and when it will run out. The answer to that question came to us a few days later when we saw the vast pine plantations on the way further west to Nelson. There is plenty of wood out there! Added to this activity is the recent development of the town as a cruise port terminal. The town has about 12,000 residents and when a boat comes in with its 2,000 or so tourists a fair bit of activity is generated.
The town’s touristy highlight is the Portland Tram which rumbles along the waterfront 5 times a day, operating like a ‘hop on hop off’ bus. We enjoyed our ride around the town seeing the highlights. The Botanical Gardens were a particularly impressive stop with the rose displays and old restored gardener’s cottage.
One of the area’s Lighthouses is on ‘Whaler’s Bluff’ directly behind us in the caravan park, the other is at Cape Nelson ,a few kilometres away. Both still operate.
We were lucky to be able to go out to the Gannet colony, on a point near the Aluminium smelter complex, and get inside the protective fence with our guide. This is the only mainland colony of these birds in Australia, the guide estimated there would be about a thousand birds here. There is an island out from this point that is swarming with the birds. They are so overcrowded there that a number ‘migrated’ to the mainland to start the new colony. They are quite big birds and have a wing span of about 175 cm. Amazing sight.
Still further out of town is Cape Bridgewater, claimed to have one of the best beaches in Australia. The arc of white sand stretches for miles and is in fact the rim of an ancient volcano’s caldera. We had lunch here overlooking the bay. Dominating the farm land along the coastline is a large wind farm. These wind turbines certainly look big out in the paddocks, but when you see the individual blades close up their size is appreciated. At 82 m long and weighing 40 tonnes they make an impressive sight on the back of the truck coming towards you.
We have had a few days here in Portland and it is now time to move on to Nelson, 70 km west and almost in South Australia.
We have now moved a little further west from Warrnambool to Port Fairy. Our travel plans had not involved stopping here but such was the exhausting 30 km drive down from Warrnambool that we felt we had to stop under the gigantic Norfolk Pines beside the Moyne River for a couple of nights. Port Fairy is a very pleasant town, retaining a village atmosphere and streetscapes from the 1800s. The fishing boat port is picturesque with the buildings along it residential rather than representative of an 1800s commercial port. It’s also very chilly here and the weather has turned a bit on us. Rain at night and cloudy, windy mornings. Generally though the sun has come out as the afternoon progresses.
Griffiths Island masks the entrance to the Moyne River and is a haven for the Mutton Bird, the island is covered by nesting Mutton Birds, Shearwaters to the purist. It is a real maze of places where one can not walk because of these birds and their nesting habits in burrows beneath the vegetation! A walking track does go around the island and reveals some beautiful coastal scenery. The Port Fairy Lighthouse is a highlight of a visit to this town, standing near the entrance to the river.
Numerous 1800s buildings remain. Unlike Warrnambool, the whole town has that ‘sea change’ appearance. The new seeming to seep into the old rather than having to overcome the resistance of the past. A recent tele movie “The Broken Shore ‘ was made around Port Fairy and it is described as a ‘atmospheric, character driven piece, quite dark and mysterious’. A crime plot but mixed with near town rivalries and ‘fractured lives coming together’. The house that features in the movie is on the outskirts of the town, near the links style golf course. It is like one of those manors on the Scottish coast cloaked in the weather of the moment and would add an eerie atmosphere to the movie. Must track down a dvd of this movie!
We next head further west to Portland, the founding town of Victoria. The weather appears to be on the improve, with the savage westerly abating!