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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Planes, trains, ferries, more trains, another ferry and some rental cars.

Traveling through sixteen countries over six months has meant using several different modes of travel.  Airplanes got us from the US to Fiji and then New Zealand.  From the North Island of New Zealand we took a ferry to get to the South Island as we drove almost every one of our 27 days there.  We flew from New Zealand to Australia and rented a car for our 35 days there.  We flew from Australia to Singapore and then to Vietnam.  Trains got us from Hanoi to the village of Sapa and back, and then to the city of Hue in central Vietnam.  We flew again from Hoi An to Saigon, then took a bus to Phnom Penh.  We got around there by tuk-tuk, which we also used frequently in Siem Reap in Northern Cambodia which we got to by way of bus.  A bus/van combo got us to Bangkok, and then we took a long train ride to Krabi, Thailand.  Another long travel day in a van got us to Penang in Malaysia.  We spent the next few weeks getting to and around China by plane, which was also how we got to India. 

In India, we had a driver with a van for our week there.  Then Etihad Airlines got us from Delhi to Abu Dhabi to Istanbul.  A ferry took us from Istanbul to Bandirma where we caught a bus to Ayvalik.  We took another ferry from the town of Dikili, not far from Ayvalik, to the Greek island of Lesvos.  We flew from there through Athens to Istanbul.  From Istanbul, we took a train to Zagreb where we got on an overnight train to Split.  We left Croatia on an overnight ferry to Ancona Italy, and we’ve been taking trains around Italy, which have been efficient and affordable.  We got from Ancona to Tortoreto to Rome for less than 100 Euros for all four of us. 

The overnight trips have been mostly enjoyable, we’ve had about four by train and one by ferry along with an overnight plane ride from Delhi to Abu Dhabi.  The overnight train from Zagreb to Istanbul was a bit different because we had two separate two-person bunks.  The girls slept in one while Ben and I were next door.   

We all got a pretty good nights sleep, although I was having trouble keeping the thoughts in my head to a dull roar as the train headed south toward Split.  Shortly before we got on the train in Zagreb I got an email letting me know that I would be filling in for Paul Daugherty on the Cincinnati Enquirer website for one of his daily columns coming up in a little less than two weeks.  While the train chugged along, column ideas somersaults in my head.  Still, it was a great way to travel, and unlike a couple of overnight trains that we took in Vietnam that arrived at their destination at five or six in the morning, this one arrived in Split at eight am.

Split was an important domino in our plans to get to Italy.  Flying into and out of Croatia is for some reason very expensive.  But the ferry could get us from Split to Ancona Italy for less than 300 euro for all four of us, while flying was going to cost about five times that.  

Split sounded a bit busy for our tastes after spending a lot of time in Budapest seeing as much as we could in our four days there.  We wanted to adjust our pace some, so we decided to head for Trogir, which is about 25 kilometers up the coast from Split.  Interestingly, the oldest part of the city is on an island between the mainland and a larger island of Ciovo.

The apartment we booked was on Ciovo, just across the bridge from the old city and gave us a great view of the marina.  

We got into a routine in our week in Trogir of checking out the activity in the marina each morning.  It's always fun to get a peek of a lifestyle you know you'll never be able to afford.

Inside the old walled city narrow cobblestone streets wind their way past shops and restaurants, giving it a very unique European flair.  The remains of an old castle dominate the far end of the waterfront and a fairly easy climb provides a great view of the city.

Trogir attracts a fair amount of tourists and many restaurants, especially the ones on the waterfront cater to those.  We did what we could to find ones that weren't targeting tourists as much and had some pretty good meals.  The basic dish was a grilled fish that was very tasty, especially served up at a restaurant near our apartment down an alley away from the waterfront. 

We made friends with a waiter who spoke pretty good English, and ate there twice, including on the opening night of action in the UEFA Euro 2012 championship.  Teams from 16 countries across Europe qualified for the tournament, and were divided into groups of four.  Two games would be played each night for the first few nights, and every evening every restaurant in Trogir that had a TV had the game on.  We also saw TVs being purchased and carried to restaurants to satisfy customers appetites for food and football.  
The intensity of the football frenzy in Trogir was heightened by the fact that Croatia was one of the 16 teams that qualified.  Their Purina-esque color scheme was on display at many stores and markets.
I like the looks of a lot of European football jerseys, and own more than a couple, but I resisted the temptation to buy a Croatia jersey.   I didn't want to be wearing it at the Madeira Kroger and have people asking me what aisle the Dog Chow was in.

As we are finding more and more during our travels, meeting people and making friends is the most enjoyable aspect of the trip.  Our apartment in Trogir was located above a couple of cafes and about halfway through our stay we had made friends with a woman named Vinka who frequented one of those establishments.  We got to know her pretty well, enough so that she invited us to her house on the night of my birthday for a home-cooked meal, and of course, some football.  

Vinka and her mom lived close to our apartment, and their house had a terrace with a great view of Trogir.  What was even better than the view was the food and friendship.  Sylvana served up some home made pasta with home grown vegetables that were delicious.  It was one of the best birthday meals I ever had.
We also made friends with Boscho, a man who drove a van for a living and who offered to take us on the half-hour drive to Split on the day of our departure by way of ferry.  He's the one on the left in the picture above.  Our cab ride from Split to Trogir cost about 60 Euros and we offered to pay Boscho 50 Euros, but he refused saying it was his favor to his American family.  

Coming into Split by way of the highway provides a very unattractive view of seemingly endless condos and office buildings, kind of like the skyline of Deerfield Beach Florida.  But once you get down to the harbor and head into the old town of Split, you can't help but be smitten by the charm of the centuries-old city. 
Our ferry didn't leave until 8:30 at night, and we got to Split around 11:00am, so we had all afternoon to explore.  It's a great city to wander around, which we did until around 3 or so, just in time to see the start of the French Open men's finals between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in Paris as we grabbed a bite to eat.  Cafes had TVs set up outside to show the football later that night between Croatia and Ireland. 

Croatia jerseys of every variety were being worn and put on display in shop windows.  You could feel the excitement building as game time approached.  Croatia/Ireland was the late game and we had to get on the ferry in the midst of the Italy/Spain game.  The ferry was populated by it's fair share of Italians as Italy was the destination the following morning and the TVs on the restaurant deck showed the battle with the Spaniards which would end in a 1-1 tie.

Marley didn't have much if any interest in the football, so she hung out in our cabin while Annie, Ben and I sat amongst some enthusiastic Croatians to watch them take on Ireland.  Annie's got some Irish on her side of the family, but the excitement of the Croatians had us happy to seem them pull out a fairly easy 3-1 win over the Irish. 

Our quarters on the ferry were cozy, but it was fun to get settled in as a family on another overnight journey.

One aspect of traveling by ferry compared to trying to sleep overnight on a train is that there are no stops for the ferry to make crossing the Adriatic. That allows for a better chance of uninterrupted sleep plus there is not the sensation of the train hurtling along with the wheels on one side barely touching the rails as it rounds a bend.  Plus we knew when we woke up, we would be at one of the destinations we were looking forward to as much as, if not more than any other:  Italy!

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