Welcome to the world baby Myles

 

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I’m travelling……time travelling, back almost 31 years and 7 months to the day, to holding my son not long after he was born. And now fast forward all those years and I am holding my son’s son, my first grandson. His tiny hand is in my hand and I am speaking softly to him, just as I did to my own son, as he peers back at me through his tiny blue eyes. I first meet him when he is only 6 hours old and it is magical.

We are home for 10 days at the end of July, to touch base with family and friends and catch up on appointments, but most importantly we are here for the arrival of our new grandson. Our flight lands in Glasgow 3 days after his due date, but he’s just too comfortable and there’s no persuading him to arrive any time soon. So, by the following Monday when he’s still not here and his mum is given a date to be induced, I decide that if he’s not arrived by the day before our flight back to Austria, I’m cancelling it. After all I’m here to meet my grandson and I’m not leaving without a cuddle.  We wait and wait and then we wait some more. And then on the morning of Thursday 1st August I get a text from my son…mum is in labour. I spend the morning with my Dad helping him as planned with his weekly shopping routine, anxious to here more news, but not wanting to intrude at such a special time. And then I finally get the call. He’s arrived (at 13.13pm), weighing 8 lb 11oz, baby and mum both good, no name yet.

I’m so relieved all is well and overjoyed for my son who now also has a son, and I’m reminded of the miracle of a new life. When I left on this trip, he wasn’t even a twinkle in his Daddy’s eye and now he’s here. My friends are already calling me Granny Linda, but just like with my step grandchildren Joe and Annie…. I will be Oma and John will be Papa John. It’s the start of a new chapter, a new adventure.

I see him again a few times before we go and have lovely long cuddles. He’s adorable and very handsome (of course). Dark hair, blue eyes and a winning gumsy smile. And just before we leave, he finally has a name…. Myles Kennedy Miller. Welcome to the world little Myles, for you, the fun has just begun, and I wish you all the adventures your heart desires.

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Legends of Lake Bled and Ljubljana

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Bled Island on Lake Bled

We have another 5 days in Slovenia and so we visit its leading Alpine tourist resort, the resort that everyone talks about, the ‘crème de la crème’…. Lake Bled. Bled is special and it’s not just the church topped island where the wishing bell chimes, or the imposing Blejski Grad (Bled Castle) perched atop the towering precipice overlooking the aqua blue lake, it’s the welcome that awaits you. It’s very busy now, peak holiday season, and the campsite is fully booked till the end of August (so glad we booked in advance), nevertheless the staff welcome us with a friendly smile and enthusiastically tell us all that’s on offer in this fantastic resort. As we are staying more than 3 nights, we are presented with our Juliana Alps card (https://www.bohinj.si/en/soft-mobility/julian-alps-card-bohinj/) which  allows you to travel for free using the shuttle bus and to explore the surrounding area with the daily hop on hop off bus tours.  What a great idea to reduce the impact of tourism on the environment and to open up the neighbouring towns and villages to tourists who would otherwise have passed by. Thumbs up for Green Lake Bled.

We walk round the lake and take a Pletna (a wooden flat bottomed) boat to Bled Island.

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Lake Bled on a Thundery afternoon

Legend has it that a temple to the ancient Slavic goddess of Love, Živa used to stand on the location of today’s glorious Gothic church, Church of the Mother of God, built in 1465. The wishing bell, allegedly donated by the Pope, following the death of a local nun, is there for those visiting the church to chime. It is said that anyone who rings the bell three times and believes in God will have their wishes granted.

In World War II, Lake Bled was occupied by the Germans and became an important communication centre for the Nazi’s. There are stories of the Enigma coding machine and large quantities of Nazi gold being disposed of in the lake following the end of the war. Despite many expeditions however, neither treasure have been found, although a gold applique dating back to the bronze age, the oldest gold object in Slovenia, has been excavated, and is now exhibited in the castle’s museum. Whist visiting the area we hear more stories about Hitler’s love for this area, and that he too had plans for bled island… to flatten the church and build a temple to the Third Riche. I have my suspicions’ that this may be more of a local legend and after a quick Google search, I find no evidence. Whatever the rumours I think we can all be thankful that the Church of the Mother of God is still standing today.

We climb to the eyrie where the Castle is perched.

                     Bled Castle

Don’t underestimate the climb – I recommend the shuttle bus for those with dodgy knees! The view over the lake on this bright sunny day is spectacular. The castle dates back to 1011, but its structure and purpose has evolved over many centuries. Today one can take a glimpse into those early Medieval days, by visiting the printing room, castle wine cellar, iron works and museum’s collection. And don’t forget to order a cool drink and take a moment to savour the finest view of the lake.

20190718_120351 View of the lake from Bled Castle

Lake Bled is a hive of activity and in the few days we are here we get a taste of what’s on offer; the Bled open water swimming event (the next one is in February…I think I’ll definitely give that one a miss), the 24th international children’s music festival, Bled days (a festival which promotes local arts and crafts, and traditional Slovenian Cuisine) and Bled night, where 15,000 candles floating in eggshells (supplied by the local cake shops) light up the lake as the sun goes down.

                      Lake Bled as the sun goes down, Bled Night (with 15,000 floating candles)

We take advantage of one of the hop on hop off tours and visit the nearby town of Tržič, surrounded by hills and mountains. Legend has it that the town was created by a dragon who shattered the rocks of the Kosuta ridge during its rambles across the Karavanks mountain range, driving the mountain people into the valley below. Our first stop is at the Tržič museum (http://www.trziski-muzej.si/?lang=en ) which hosts interactive exhibits about the towns traditional trades, crafts and industries; shoe and sock making, textile dying, tanning (that’s leather, not skin!) and ski making. I can honestly say that this is the best small museum I have ever visited, so if you are in the area, I would recommend a visit. After a lovely walk around the outskirts of the town we found a charming coffee house and polished off a famous ‘Bled cream cake’ before ‘hopping’ back on our bus back to Lake Bled.

On a particularly sweltering day, we do a quick turn up the Straza Bled cable car

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View from Straza Bled cable car

(https://www.straza-bled.si/en/Summer/Introduction/Adventure-park-Bled ) and whizz down the summer toboggan slide ( well I did….we reckon it wasn’t a good idea for John who’s still nursing a broken clavicle!) and then take a local bus to Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana (pronounced lyoo-blyah- nuh). Car traffic is restricted in the city’s historic centre leaving the leafy banks of the Ljubljanica River, free for pedestrians and cyclists to explore. Cafes line the terraces along the riverbanks, and we head for a late lunch, devouring one of the best veggie burgers I have ever eaten (another surprising find in Slovenia, the food is remarkably good), washed down with a local ale.

Thunder is threatening, but not before we manage a whistle stop tour of the old town

                      The old town of Ljubljana

(it’s very compact, photogenic and colourful) and a boat ride along the emerald green waters of the river. There are dragon’s here too, in fact they are the symbol of the city. They are everywhere; on bridges, railings, graffiti and there’s even a dragon shop! Legend has it (here we go again with legends) that the city was founded by Jason of the Argonauts, who stumbled across a dragon on his way home with the golden Fleece in the marshy swamps of which is now Ljubljana. He fought and (of course) killed the dragon, leaving the dragon as the symbol of the city.

Stories and legends, just like our language and landscape help to define our identities as a nation. And now as we leave Slovenia with its caves, castles, lakes and legends and head North into Austria, I can’t help but feel that there is so much more to explore in this small and beautiful country. I will definitely return to Slovenia and next time I will be donning my walking boots and cycle helmet and heading to the hills and forests to discover more of its stories and legends. And who knows as I walk through the forest, amongst the brown bears, wolves and wild boars I might even stumble across a dragon!

20190720_133016  Giant pottery snail, locally crafted

Caves and castles in Slovenia: Postojna, Predjama and Pivka

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If you are travelling through central Europe, don’t pass by Slovenia…. it’s definitely worth a visit. A nation of just over 2 million and with a very small coastline, it’s distinctly Alpine with many woods, forests and meadows. The dominant colour is green, and in the north the magnificent Alpine peaks of the Julian and Kamnik-Savinja Alps open out into wide basins and valleys below. Slovenia has the largest uninhabited forest in Europe, which is home to the European brown bear, wolves, wild boar and lynx. We didn’t see any brown bears (although there were bear trips on offer),

but we did see an extraordinary number and variety of butterflies.

Slovenia’s biodiversity, perfect order in apparent disorder, ranks among the highest in Europe. It is home to many endemic, rare and threatened species of flora and fauna, including 180 different species of butterfly, almost 3 times as many as inhabit the whole of the UK.

So, what else is Slovenia famous for……number one on the list must be caves! I’ve visited a few caves in my time, but never have I seen anything quite so amazing as the caves we visited in Slovenia. Slovenia’s karst (limestone) landscape, makes it ideal for cave formation and there are over 13,000 in the country, with new ones being discovered daily. Water drips through the porous limestone rock, dissolving calcium bicarbonate, forming calcite in a tiny hardened ring when the droplet meets air. It’s a slow process.… 100 years to form just 1cm of Stalacite. Stalactites hanging from the cave ceiling and stalagmites rising from the floor eventually meet to form towering columns, some of which have taken hundreds of thousands of years to form.

First, we visit Postojna Cave

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Postojna Cave

(https://www.postojnska-jama.eu), a jaw dropping 24km series of cave caverns, halls and passages (as a visitor you get to visit 5km), which was hollowed out by the Pivka river some 2 million years ago. At the entrance we are loaded onto a cool yellow and red electric cave train, in the dark, which feels a bit like a Disney ride. And then we speed through the first 3km of the cave system, oohing and aahing. The next couple of kilometres are done on foot and I can’t honestly describe how amazing these caves are…hopefully the pictures speak for themselves.

Towards the end of the visit we pass through the Spaghetti Hall,

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The Spaghetti Hall, Postojna Cave

where the stalactites are in their early stages of formation and hang like spaghetti from the cave’s ceiling.

Next we walk through the White Hall, where the white columns of pure calcite and quartz stone sparkle

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The White Hall, looking through to the Red Hall, Postojna Cave 

in the subtle cave lighting and then into the Red Hall, where the limestone here is tinted with iron oxide deposits, ranging from deep orange to rust red. One word……awesome!

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We learn about cave animals, of which Postojna has 416. There are some interesting words from the cave world. Speleology….the study or exploration of caves, Troglobites…..animals that can only survive in the cave environment, Troglophiles…….animals that live most of their life cycle in caves, but can also survive above ground and finally Trogloxenes…….who live at the entrance of caves but forage outside (e.g. bats). There is a Vivarium at Postojna, showcasing the tiny cave invertebrates; beetles, millipedes, and snails who move and grow very slowly and have adapted to life in total darkness by losing functioning eyes and their skin pigment. They often have extraordinary long-life expectancies and the largest of the cave creatures, the Olm, or cave salamander (also known as a Human Fish) regularly lives to be 100 years old and can live for 6 years without eating…. cool or what?

Next I visit Pivka Jama (pronounced Puka) and the Black cave, which are situated under our campsite and are the last two caves along the subterranean river Pivka before it disappears.

The entrance is dramatic, almost vertical, via a collapsed sinkhole.

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The entrance to Pivka Jama

Our guide, Bine leads our group of Slovenian, Danish, Dutch and German (and me) visitors and talks fluently in German, moving to Dutch, and then back to Slovenian. I’m in awe of how gifted people in Croatia and Slovenia have been in their language ability. I feel ashamed that the one language I learned at school, French, is now barely good enough to ask for a coffee and the bill. Luckily the tour is delivered in English! The Pivka cave is not as well-known as Postojna but feels different as

the river still flows through the cave system.

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The Pivka River in Pivka Jama

We walk along a tunnel which was carved out by the Italians 95 years ago in secrecy, in an attempt to spy across the border into what was Austria-Hungary at that time. Later in the 2nd world war, in an occupied Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the caves were also used to store fuel by the Nazi’s. We learn that the cave system is a constant temperature of 10 degrees and with no traces of pollutants, complete darkness (when the lights are turned off) and very little noise, our guide is hopeful that a new therapy…… Speleotherapy, might hold promise for treating a range of conditions, such as Asthma.

During our stay in the Carniola region of Slovenia, we also visit Predjama Castle, the world’s biggest Cave castle. If you are visiting Postojna caves in the Summer, there’s a free shuttle bus and combination ticket that will allow you to visit both.

At Predjama, in the 123-meter cliff, a medieval castle was first built some 800 years ago

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Predjama Castle

and has evolved over the centuries into the enchanted spectacle of today. There is a great free audio guide at the entrance which will take you through the castle’s rooms retelling the stories of its walls. The most famous of legends is that of Erazem Predjamski, a Robin Hood type baron, who laid siege for a year against the imperial army. The castle and the cave system beneath offered protection from his enemies, allowing food to be smuggled in via its secret passages. Unfortunately, it didn’t end well for Erazem after a servant, bribed by the enemy, betrayed his master and lit a candle when Erazem visited the toilet. The toilet was a particularly weak spot on the outside wall which meant that our hero met his maker by canon, whilst visiting the John…… a most unheroic death!

After our visits to these amazing caves and castles I am reminded of the enormity of time and of how long these caves with their stalactites and mites, and the creatures that live there have evolved on our planet. And of how our time on Earth is like a grain of sand, or a drop in the ocean, in comparison.  I wonder what future generations will think when they look back at our time on Earth and how our species will evolve in the millennia to come? But just for today I will continue to –

“Cherish sunsets, wild creatures and wild places…… and have a love affair with the wonder and beauty of the earth.”  Stewart Udall (American Politician, author and Professor of Environmental Humanism).

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Celebrations, healing mud and misadventures on the island of Krk

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The town of Krk

We plan to spend 1 week on the island of Krk, the largest of Croatia’s stunning thousand islands, but end up staying for 2 (more about that later). Krk (pronounced Kirka) isn’t easy to say. 400 years ago, the Turks swept through the area, looting, pillaging, and stealing all the vowels! The lonely vowels that survived this time of alphabetic terror hid in groups of consonants leaving the island of Krk behind. The scenery is sublime. As we cross the 1430 m long arch bridge connecting the island to the mainland, we are treated to sweeping views of the Adriatic before travelling towards its verdant centre. A popular tourist destination, it is also rich in natural and cultural-historical heritage. Our first campsite in the north of the island, is near Osmjali and then we move to a campsite near Krk town.

Our first week is full of blue skies, crystal clear water and it’s hot.

Beaches and towns of the island of Krk

We celebrate the ‘half New Year’ with fireworks,

music and chocolate cake at the campsite. It’s six months since we spent the full New Year at Mandrem, Goa and in another 6 months, we will be celebrating 2020’s New Year with good friends and family on another island, the island of Arran. More celebrations follow and we visit ‘Rab’ intent on having some fun. That’s not big Rab fae Possilpark, wee Jimmy’s best pal……it’s the island of Rab, which sits between the islands of Krk and Pag. We’re on a boat trip and it’s a special day. It’s Johns birthday (we won’t mention an exact figure, but let’s just say he’s now nearer his eighth than seventh decade), and today is also the day I graduate (in absentia) from Glasgow Caledonian University after 10 years of ploughing through a PhD by Publication.

I don’t have my gown, but I do have a hat and I’ve had my photo taken for the occasion, so I’m halfway there.

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We have a lovely day, the only complaint being that it’s white wine for lunch (John much prefers red), but we cope admirably!

We visit the town of Rab,

The town of Rab

which sits on a narrow sliver of land protruding towards the mainland, bounded by ancient city walls and 4 church towers. After a quick tour we have time for some more swimming and snorkelling. We stop off on the island of Pag and I visit the olive groves of Lun, where more than 1,500 wild, old (the oldest being 2,000 year) olive trees grow. The sail back along the southern coastline of krk, past the golden beach, is heavenly. What a lovely day we’ve had…. the only thing missing of course is our family, who aren’t here with us to celebrate. The next day there’s more celebration as my son who has been studying Mental Health Nursing and is nearing the end of his 3-year training, phones to tell us that he is successful in his first interview, a community post, just what he was hoping for. This time John has plenty of cheap red wine in the van to mark the occasion!

Two days later we hire a scooter to explore some of the island’s other towns. First, we visit Baska, at the southern tip. It’s windswept and interesting with stunning views of the islands of Prvic, Goli and Sveti Grgur. Then we head east to visit Vrbnik (not many vowels there either!). Perched on a limestone outcrop, the town is centred round a 13th century church. Our final stop for the day is at the sands of Soline, on the North East coast, which is famed for its healing mud. Mineral laden black mud, good for skin and rheumatic problems, line its shallow waters.

We plaster ourselves, letting the black mud dry in the sun before washing off in the warm sea.

Baska, the streets of  Vrbnik and the healing mud of Soline

We hop on the scooter again and head home but as we travel uphill out of the bay, on a hair pin bend, we skid on some gravel and in an instant everything changes……. adventure becomes misadventure! John lands heavily on his shoulder and we both have cuts and bruises a plenty. We know we’ve been lucky and before the adrenalin stops flowing, we get back on the bike and make our way slowly back to the campsite, about 10 miles away. At the campsite we apply some frozen veg to our wounds and rest for a bit. It’s only later when I help John to get his t shirt, that I notice a big bump on his clavicle. “It’s clicking when I move it” he says and then I feel dreadful. I think he may have fractured his clavicle! A trip to the A &E department confirms the fracture and by the time we get back to our van its past 1am. So much for the healing mud…. I guess its healing powers don’t stretch to prevention!

When mishaps happen, there are many ways for our thinking to go. One is to say ‘if only’…. ‘If only’ we hadn’t hired the scooter…. ‘if only’ we hadn’t stopped at Soline….’if only’ we hadn’t decided to drive across Europe in a van. But if only isn’t very helpful. Far more helpful is to ask ourselves what the lessons learned are and what positives can be taken forward. John had been thinking of buying a scooter on our return to Scotland, but perhaps this has been a warning. Its only now that stories of his many accidents when he had a scooter in his teens/early twenties emerge, one of which was taking his bike test. So maybe this accident has saved his life and it has certainly saved him a lot of money.

John’s to have another x-ray in 7 days, so we decide to stay on an extra week at the campsite in Krk. The next 7 days pass in some degree of discomfort and frustration. There’s no swimming, no cycling, and no scooters, but we’re healing. After the hospital visit, I pack up (John’s on strict princess duties) and I now must take over doing all the driving of this giant motor-home for the next few weeks at least. It’s not the driving so much as the manoeuvring into tight pitch spaces that are challenging. John suggests its empowering, another positive to emerge from our situation, but I’m thinking that it’s terrifying! It’s time to leave and it’s raining. Just as I’m trying to figure out the logistics of my 10 point turn out of the pitch, our lovely Belgium neighbour, who just happens to be a lorry driver, offers to reverse it all the way up to the main campsite road. A big sigh of relief from me. The first part of the journey has gone well. This is definite case for a celebration……get the kettle on!

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Croatia’s stunning national parks; Krka, Kornati and Plitvice Lakes

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I’m a country girl at heart and although we have visited many stunning towns and cities in Croatia, I will remember the country in blues and greens… for its coastline and its national parks. With such a long stretch of coast, which is dappled with more than a thousand Islands, the warm aqua Adriatic Sea has never been far away.

The visibility is amazing in these crystal-clear waters,

so snorkelling has been a dream. I even plucked up the courage to go diving again after 5 years. With the sunlight penetrating the surface, it was an underwater delight to find schools of Anchovy’s, strange looking cuttlefish swimming through the sea grass and large crabs scuttling across the sea bottom. But Croatia has much more to offer than its coastline and a visit to one of Croatia’s 8 national parks takes you into another world, a green world which is also full of water. You will be in awe, there is no question about it. We visited 3 national parks whilst we were here and I would recommend you add them to your bucket list now, if you haven’t done so already!

The oldest national park in Croatia, Plitvice Lakes National park

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is a UNESCO world heritage site, and a magnificent gift from nature, unlike anything I have ever seen before. Situated between the mountains of Mala Kapela and Ljesevica it attracts more than 1 million visitors a year, so, it’s very busy. There are 16 turquoise coloured lakes interconnected by waterfalls ranging from 25 to 78 meters tall. The water in Plitvice has eroded rocks over the millennia, and the dissolved calcium carbonate has sedimented to create a porous stone, or ‘travertine’ forming barriers (falls and cascades) between the lakes.

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This ‘travertine’ or ‘tufa’ also coats and petrifies trees which have fallen into the lakes. So, as you walk on the boardwalk trails which wind across the lakes, cascades and waterfalls and peer into the clear turquoise water there is another world beneath…one where petrified trees and leaves form an underwater forest. Brown trout gather to face the current, bright blue butterflies and dragonflies’ dart across the surface and birdsong echoes in the forest. Around every bend is another beautiful view and despite the throngs of tourists, if you can stop for a moment and take in the view, listen to the water and to the forest, here is a place that you can be at one with nature.

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In Plitvice mother nature blew me away and reminded me just what a wonderful world, we live in…. this park is a definite 10.

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We bought a 2-day ticket and spent our time wandering around the marked-out walking trails……but come early, by midday busloads of tourists had arrived, stopping at every conceivable spot for selfies!

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I visit Krka National park as a day trip from Trogir.

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The park is focused around the Krka river and has 7 impressive waterfalls. It’s like Plitvice in that there are outlaid promenade board walks and paths, but here you can also take a dip in the lake’s cool clear waters at the base of the striking Skradinski Buk waterfall.

I’m picked up from our campsite early and delighted to be greeted by 4 ladies from Paisley in the minibus. It’s been a while since I’ve heard Scottish voices (apart from John’s obviously) and even longer since I’ve had female company. So, we have a good natter on the bus, and enjoy some girlie banter!

After boarding the boat at Skradin we glide across one of KrKa’s emerald green lakes

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and arrive at the Skradinski Buk trail. As a day trip my time here is limited and there is so much more to see in the park; 47km of walking and 470km of biking trails, 6 more waterfalls, 2 traditional watermills, 5 medieval fortresses, a roman military fort, 2 monastery’s and an island in the middle of one of the lakes! So, next time I will have to come for longer!

The final park we visit is Kornati National park,

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which is a spectacular archipelago of 109 mostly uninhabited islands, islets, reefs and craggy rocks scattered like jewels over an area of 320 square kilometres. So, we need to do visit by boat from Zaton.

As we glide along the water the early morning sun dances across the surface of the ocean like a symphony of sparkles.

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In contrast the island terrain, karst-limestone is dry and dust yellow and there is little vegetation to be seen. These islands arose from sediment from the sea many millennia ago, forming stark, almost lunar like bizarre shapes, unexplored caves, areas of flat rock and towering cliffs. It’s a sailor’s paradise.

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Below the surface there is a seascape of caves, tunnels and walls that host an incredible variety of marine life, an underwater diver’s paradise too. We stop at the south-eastern end of Dugi Otok, in the Telascica Nature Park near Mir Lake. This Salt Lake is fed by the sea which seeps in through underground cracks. We swim in the water, which is always at least 6 degrees warmer than the sea and walk to the cliffs reaching height of 166 meters on the other side of the island.

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After a late lunch onboard, we slowly head back criss-crossing through the islands, the wind in our hair.

I sit here writing this blog as the sun sets and watch a luminous green Italian wall lizard as it scuttles across our path and a blackbird couple, who frequently join us for the evening, dart in and out of the bushes with their necks stretched forward, collecting grubs and extra nesting material for their family. And I reflect on what a truly wonderful world it is that we live in. I believe that we are the custodians of this planet, and as such have a responsibility to protect Earth and to limit the damage, we as humans are inflicting on it. There are changes we can all make individually, but we need to work together at a global level and start taking our responsibilities more seriously. Spending time in these national parks has underlined how amazing our planet is and has given me some hope for its future. We can protect our natural habitats and wildlife in the parks, so with a big effort surely we can start making a difference on a larger scale…….maybe I’m just a dreamer, and sometimes dreams come true.

Gargano: a piece of paradise on the spur of the Italian boot

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The beach on Baia e Cala Campi, Gargano

We arrive safely in the port of Salerno and had planned to stop at a campsite near Pompeii to visit Herculaneum and Vesuvius, but a tip from a friend who had recently visited and was disappointed, made us rethink. So, we are off on an adventure again – definition; an exciting experience that is typically a bold (sometimes risky) undertaking – with only half a plan. We need to head to the east coast to catch a ferry to Croatia in 4 days, so following a recommendation from someone we met at a campsite and a quick review of our Italian guidebook, we decide to drive to the Gargano coastline in Puglia, with no particular expectations. The Gargano Peninsula juts out into the Adriatic Sea and is the spur in the heel of Italy’s boot. For the last 20 miles of our journey we snake along its coastline, where rocky limestone cliffs rise above the crystal-clear aqua sea. We arrive at our campsite and I can feel a smile rising.…we’ve come up trumps with this one. Situated in an Aleppo pine wood, where the only sounds are the forest birds chirruping and the waves swishing on the pebble beach, I am in heaven. There is also a fantastic restaurant overlooking the cove, a well-stocked shop, a small fruit and vegetable stall and free (all the showers in Sicily were token-ed and timed), hot, roomy showers. What more could a girl ask for…this is one of the campsites I will remember.

 

John doing some yoga, the campsite beach

Gargano is a popular beach destination for vacationing Italians but seems relatively unknown to other Europeans, except the Germans who seem to have travelled everywhere. The area has small resorts with lovely beaches, hilltop towns and seaside villages. Here, you will also find the UNESCO site Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo, the Umbra forest known for its ancient oak trees (500 years old) and an unspoilt national park. Over the next 3 days we cycle along the coastline into the nearby town of Vieste (no mean feat as the road rises above the cliffs), kayak around the little islands from our drop-dead gorgeous beach and generally unwind from the assault to the senses which was Sicily. The scenic small town Vieste sits on a white cliffed peninsula jutting into the sea. The old town is an atmospheric maze of steep staircases with washing dangling from the simple white houses and there are restaurants and small shops along every alleyway – just perfect for wandering.

 

The Gargano coastline, the town of Viesta, lunch with a view 

We slowly cycle around the edge of the town where there are stunning sea views and stop at a lovely little restaurant for lunch with a gorgeous view. John was also on a mission……to find a barber. It had been 10 weeks since his last haircut and he was beginning to look like a 1970s hippy. The barber spoke no English, but with a few gestures going on between them, John managed to come out looking a whole lot better than when he went in!

With so much still to see in this area we would have loved to stay for much longer, but with a ferry to catch, we must leave. The spur of the boot has left a lasting impression, a little piece of paradise, that sometime in the future I hope to return to. But for now, we are leaving Italy and make our way to catch the ferry in Ancona. There’s no stopping off to visit coastal towns and the journey goes smoothly, no hitches, no stress and before we know it, we are on our way to Croatia.

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Evening ferry from Ancona to Split

 

 

A holiday from ‘the holiday’ in the land of a thousand islands: Croatia

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“Is that another glass of wine?” I say to John as he pours his third red. 

“Well, we’re on holiday” he replies, as he’s stated repeatedly since we set off on this road trip. I usually reply by reminding him that we are not on holiday, but on our senior’s gap year and that if he treats this like a yearlong holiday then his liver is not going to hold out! But, here in Croatia, for the first time since we left our base campsite in Spain, I feel that we really are on holiday. Perhaps it’s the non-stop sunshine, the heat (by Thursday it rises to 35 degrees), the endless miles of coastline and aqua blue sea? Sorry guys, I know it’s not been a good Summer in Scotland so far, so I really should stop there! But I have to say that so far Croatia has been amazing. Our first stop is the Island of Čiovo, next to the medieval town of Trogir and not far Split. There is so much to do, and the campsite has its own beach, so we decide to stay for a week. It’s the longest that we’ve been in one place since mid-April and it’s nice to take a step back from all the travel planning and unwind.

The town of Trogir, is squeezed within its ancient walls and is like a mini Dubrovnik.

It lies on a small island connected to the mainland and the island of Čiovo by bridges. We take a water taxi from our campsite and as we arrive at Trogir’s seaside promenade lined with bars, cafes and yachts you can’t help but be impressed.  The 13th-century Cathedral of St. Lawrence houses the Renaissance Chapel of St. John and I climb the bell tower which offers sweeping views from the top. The maze-like marble streets glint in the sunshine, but just around the corner a cool courtyard restaurant is waiting to offer a refreshing beer, and a dalmatian or mixed sea food platter for two!

We visit Split on one of the hottest days so far.

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Split’s impressive promenade

I download a free walking tour of the old city (www.split-walking-tour.net), but not before we head to the nearest shopping mall. I’m on a mission…. for hair products! Being a frizzy haired girl, I use a certain brand and I’ve just about run out. I’ve not seen this particular brand so far on our travels and disaster is about to strike any day now. But as we enter the cool air-conditioned mall, I see it, a kind of Croatian Boots, and yes, they have it. I am soooo excited…. this has made my day! John has brought the rucksack and we load up.

Back to the old city. Most of the main attractions sit within the walls of the Diocletian’s Palace, the residence of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, built in 305 A.D. The old city now contains a unique mixture of Gothic and Renaissance palaces and squares built over time within the city’s original defensive walls.  Our walking tour starts at the Golden Gate (Zlatna vrata), the Northern entrance to the Palace.

Nearby stands the impressive statue of Grgur Ninski,

Statue  of Grgur Ninski and the Golden Gate

a Croatian bishop famed for his promotion of Christianity and the Croatian language. He has a shiny left big toe and legend has it that luck and a return to the city will befall those who touch It. I have touched his toe before, almost a year to the day…. spooky….and here I am returning. Perhaps this means that this is not the last time I will be visiting this city.

The main square of Split, The Peristyle is surrounded by Roman columns, arcs and temples, the Cathedral of St Dominus and Gothic palaces.

The Peristyle, The Vestible and the ‘Let me pass’ street 

Not far from the square in The Vestibule, the entrance to the Emperors apartments, a Capella male choir sing under its circular dome……lovely. After passing through the Pazar (the Green Market), the biggest open-air fruit and veg market in Croatia, we arrive at the Bronze Gate (Broncana Vrata) and walk through the Diocletian’s cellars, the substructure halls of the palace. Today local crafts and souvenirs are sold and In a deeper part of the cellars there is a treat for Game of Thrones fans – their lies the dungeons where Daernerys Targaryen’s kept her dragons. We visit the Temple of Jupiter and slip through the ‘Let me pass’ street (the narrowest street in the world??) into the charming Fruit square. We have only got to #16 on our walking tour and it’s time to walk back along the city’s palm fringed promenade to catch the ferry back to Trogir. A whistle stop tour, but I hope this has given you just a flavour of what this fabulous city has to offer.

The following week, we visit the small town of Nin,

The town of Nin, ancient Roman ruins and the Church of the Holy Cross

and lo and behold there is another shiny toed statue of Grgur Ninski. I later learn that this small town, built on an islet (500m in diameter) was Grgur’s birthplace. Nin is a very old town (> 3,000 years), was a sea and trade centre of the Romans and the first Croatian capital in the 10th Century.

We visit on the Summer Solstice, and watch the sun disappear on the floor of the Church of the Holy Cross,

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The arrival of midsummer at the Church of the Holy Cross

signifying the exact arrival of midsummer. I feel privileged to be here in this ancient town on this very special day.

We visit more islands on a boat trip.

The crystal clear waters of Croatia, and Solta

First, we stop at The Blue Lagoon, famed for its shallow crystal-clear waters and the islands of Solta and Drevnik Veli. We swim and snorkel in the intoxicating blue Adriatic Sea. It’s warm (about 21 degrees), and the combination of the blue skies, sunshine and the white shingled shores mean that these waters are just too tempting not to dive in.

The rest of the week we spend time cycling, exploring the Island and its stunning coastline, swimming and soaking up the sunshine. “Is this time well spent?”, I ask myself, “should I be spending my time more productively?” In this modern world all of us lead such busy lives. Some squeeze everything into their waking hours, some take more of a ‘maṅana, maṅana’ approach. Being more of the former type allowing myself the time to truly relax, is difficult and feels alien. I have a theory about time that the first day of any holiday is the longest, and then as the week goes on the days are over much faster. So, by moving on every 3-4 days, I have been trying to slow down time. But I begin to realise that none of us can slow down time, and that quality is more important than quantity. Here in Croatia, on this holiday from the holiday, I am reminded that time is one of life’s most important commodities and that our time on this planet is limited. A good friend once said “Life is like a toilet roll. You keep checking and there always seems to be plenty of paper left, but before you know it, just at a crucial moment, you’re at the end of the roll and it’s all gone! So, I try to savour and enjoy every square of my toilet paper, not looking too far ahead or worrying about when my last square might be. And, what better place to contemplate life’s toilet roll than in the land of a thousand islands, crystal-clear aqua sea and with a glass of red in my hand. Cheers!

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