Florence

Florence

Off to Florence this morning! After a quick walk to the Spanish Step’s Metro station, we were on our way to Roma Termini to get on the train to Florence. The Metro station was attached to the train station so there were plenty of signs to easily direct us to the train tracks. We bought tickets at one of the self-serve stations and we in quite a hustle to get on the train. Ryan was running ahead of me, weaving in and out of people to a track. I had no idea if it was the right one, especially since the destination portrayed on the screen was not ours. Ryan made his way down the platform and hopped into a train car and I was still confused. We sat in some open seats and I was pretty sure we were on the wrong train, but there was no one in sight to help direct us. The only thing we had going for us was that the train number on the screen was the same as that on our ticket, so I just had to trust Ryan that we were going the right direction. After the water taxi debacle in Hvar though, I was a bit nervous.

The train from Italy to Florence, Italy

It also turned out that we had assigned seating and were in cart 6 instead of 11. We got kicked out of our seats and had to travel the carts to the back of the train. We finally found our seats, and I was a little stressed out, but thankfully, we were able to confirm we were on the right train! Phew!

It only took a little over an hour to get to Florence, and our hotel, C-Hotels Ambasciatori, was right across the street from the platform which made things super easy. Our room was quite large, the bed was soft, and we had pretty nice balcony with a good view.

After a quick refresh, we were off to find lunch. We walked for 20 minutes or so through the alleyways, past the markets, super expensive stores, the Duomo, and down to more reasonable restaurants outside of the tourist section.

We ended up at a hole-in-the-wall place down a random alley and had a delicious pasta meal, however, the bread was terrible. We had to douse it in balsamic to give it any taste. Little did we know that, in Florence, the bread is made without salt. Apparently, years and years ago, the coastal city of Pisa was in charge of the salt trade that fed into Florence. Florence and Pisa went to war, and Pisa refused to sell Florence salt so, Florence stopped putting salt in their bread and, instead, made their olive oil and meats more flavorful and salty to make up for the bread’s flavor deficits. Florentines also typically do not eat the bread until their main course, not with the appetizers or pastas, so we were doing it all wrong!

Truffle ravioli in Florence, Italy

After lunch, we explored a little bit before walking over to the Uffizi to meet up with our tour guide for our Skip the Line Uffizi Gallery Tour. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was officially sick. My nose would not stop running and I was exhausted. I think the wine at lunch also affected Ryan because all he wanted to do was nap – we were a pretty pathetic looking duo at this point. On top of that, we realized that the meeting point for our tour was about 5 blocks away at a square, not at the Gallery as I thought – oops. This was not a “good mood” day unfortunately. We made it to the meeting point and were not the “talkative” couple in the group. We somehow made it to the Uffizi and I had to get about half a roll of toilet paper to use as tissues throughout our tour.

Our guide was super nice and chipper though, and did a great job of perking up our spirits and walking us through the amazing rooms of the gallery. We looked at a lot of Gothic, Medieval, and Renaissance period pieces, learning all about the style of painting during those times and the breakthrough’s of Davinci, Raphael, and Micheal Angelo.

The paintings and sculptures were pretty amazing, especially considering the massive size of them. Even the frames were incredible. We just had some art framed and could only imagine how much the ornate frames here would run.

The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy

We made it through the Uffizi in one piece and followed our guide over the Ponte Vecchio bridge which is filled with jewelry stores. Ryan kept having to pull me past all of the sparkles in the windows. After we got over the river, our tour was over and we were ready to pass out at the hotel. We made a quick stop for a bite to eat in the Piazza della Repubblica. I had some yummy petso raviolis and Ryan had a delicious salmon gnocchi. Apparently the best day to eat gnocchi is on Thursday’s because that is traditionally the day most restaurants make it and, luckily for us, it was Thursday.

During our entire dinner on the patio, we watched the illegal sellers of random junk harassing people in the square. They had selfie sticks, light up balls that they threw high into the sky, roses, and other little things for sale. As soon as you made any sort of eye contact with them, they would run up to you and hustle you to buy whatever it was they were selling. They even came up to the people inside the restaurant multiple times. It was quite annoying and invasive of our space. The entire time we watched, we did not see one person actually buy anything. It was a little sad really.

We walked through random little alleyways back to the hotel. Along the way, we stumbled across a huge crowd of 50 – 60 people. I thought there must have been a fight or really good street artist or something, but in reality, they were all crowded around the closed doors of a restaurant, Il Latini. The doors opened at 7:30 on the dot and people were basically “Black Friday” rushing to get in. Those with reservations were picked out to enter and everyone else could go in as tables opened up. With such a crowd, the place had to be good, so we called to make a reservation first thing once we got back to the hotel.

 

We were getting ready for bed and I noticed that yet another one of our hotels had a bidet. Since we both had no clue how to use one, I turned to YouTubed to show me the way. Ryan and I laughed our way through the video and then I proceeded to go into the bathroom and turn the thing on out of curiosity. Little did I know, the water spigot was facing upwards and water went everywhere! Not kidding, I flooded the bathroom. I busted out laughing and Ryan kept asking me what happened from outside – my strategy, obviously, was to deny deny deny, but he totally caught me making a total mess of the loo. It was hysterical! Thankfully, we had a bunch of towels to absorb all of the water before hitting the sheets to sleep.

 

Split, Day 2

Split, Day 2

My breakfast this morning consisted of Apple Pie! Apple pie, freshly shaven prosciutto, delicious cheese, fruit filled warm croissants, almost a fried fish, and an assortment of other amazingly scrumptious things. The breakfast at the Coronaro Hotel is probably one of the best I’ve ever had, only rivaling that in the SoSofitel Hotel in Thailand.

IMG_6553

After totally stuffing ourselves, we grabbed our travel bag and met the rental car guy in the lobby to get our car for today’s adventure – Krka Falls. I basically signed my life and life’s savings away for the car and the deposit, so I was pretty terrified to drive it. After successfully navigating outside of the tiny car park at the hotel, we were on the road and my driving confidence slowly came back.

It was about a 50 minute, super scenic drive through the mountains, tunnels, and towns to get to Krka. The little car we had had some trouble getting up to the speed limit of 130 kilometers per hour, so it was pedal-to-the-metal to keep up with the other cars. It was only on the way back that Ryan told me to use cruise control! That made things so much easier!

We pulled up at the parking lot of the Park, bought our tickets, and searched for sun screen. Let me tell you, Ryan and I are convinced that Croatians do not believe in sun screen. I scoured all of the markets / pharmacies in the Split the day before, checked with the hotel, and even went to the shops around the falls, but all of the shop attendants looked at us funny when we asked it they sold sun screen. We brought some with us, but one of our bottles disappeared, so we were totally out of luck! I highly recommend bringing as much as you can from the US if you visit Croatia because its like a treasure hunt for the stuff when you get here. When we did find it, it was around $20 for a 3 oz. bottle!

We opted to walk off our huge breakfast by journeying the 15 minute hike down the gravel path to the falls instead of taking the bus. The walk was beautiful and you could hear the falls as we got closer and closer! They were huge and there were so many! ‘

There is a wooden bridge-way that goes through the forest on-top of the falls / waterways (see map above). You literally walk over all of the streams and can watch fish swim under you and down the falls. I’ve never experienced anything like it. The walk around to falls takes about an hour and is so worth it! There were so many views and it was so relaxing to be out in such a beautiful place.

IMG_6595

We were a little peckish by the time we got to the base of the falls and Ryan couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw a hot dog stand. I swear, the man loves hot dogs more than anything else in this world. His eyes light up like an anime kids eyes do in cartoons when they see candy! While he was enjoying his hot dog, this lady walked up behind him and took a photo. She then offered me money for the photo. It was a very strange encounter but I have to imagine that photo is hanging in a great place of honor in her household now?

IMG_6597

After making Ryan’s dreams come true by buying a hot dog and turning down the cash from the little lady, I got some pistachio gelato and we sat by the falls, people watching and taking it all in.

Unlike the Plitvice Lakes National Park outside of Zagreb, you can swim at the base of one of the waterfalls in Krka. I couldn’t resist sticking my toes in the perfect temperature water.

IMG_6611

After relaxing by the falls for a while, we had to hike back up. We stopped by the 2nd hydroelectric plant ever made in the world which happens to be located at he base of the falls. The first plant was made in Niagara Falls and opened only 2 days before the one at Krka.

Ryan was getting annoyed at me because I stopped at every vista point, but I just love waterfalls apparently!

We took a quick hike to the boat area that takes motors to a few other waterfalls, an island, and some caves. The boat ride was 4 hours long and we needed to get back to Split to drop the car off, so we passed on the excursion. After that, it was back to the car. We had to walk back up the massive hill that we easily hiked down. It was so steep and we couldn’t stop walking for fear that we couldn’t start back up again!

Huffing and puffing, we got back to our car and it was on the road again back to Split. We had to get some gas to fill up the rental before heading to the hotel and was shocked that the cost to half-way fill-up our little rental car was the same cost as a full tank for my Toyota Yaris! So crazy!

We got back to the hotel in Split, showered off, and decided to walk the town. It was only 4 PM but, with such a light lunch, we decided to grab an early dinner. All I really wanted was a good charcuterie board and we heard that Bokeria was the place to go for such fare. A waiter came and gave us menus but never came back to our table. Even though the restaurant was not busy, we sat for a good 25 minutes with no attention or waters, so we decided to leave. With such rave reviews, I was OK with waiting a little longer, but Ryan’s hanger wouldn’t stand for it!

We walked through a few squares before coming across another place that had a big picture of a charcuterie board in front of it and decent prices, so we grabbed a table. We ordered the meat and cheese board and a pizza for us to share and, even though we said we weren’t going to drink, the $3 house wine ended up on our table.

The meat and cheese board arrived but it only had cheese and bread on it. I alerted the waiter, who replied “Nema problema!”, and came out with a huge second board of delicious prosciutto. We definitely did not need that much but it was so yummy. Another round of heavily poured wine later, our pizza came out and it was cheese overload, but that is never a bad thing. I swear I am going to gain 20 pounds on this trip…

After dinner, we gallivanted through the streets and “accidentally” bought some more gelato. We wondered back to the hotel and grabbed one of the bottles of wine we bought in Hvar. The plan was to drink it on the rooftop patio / bar at the hotel, but one of the bartenders in the elevator up to the top informed us we could not bring it upstairs. At this point, we were quite tipsy, and we decided to be rebels and finish ½ our wine in the lobby of the hotel and then sneak the rest up to the top patio. The sunset view of the port from the roof of the hotel was amazing and we decided to top off the night with a glass of desert wine.

IMG_6636

The bartender didn’t have any port upstairs but he ran down to grab some from the restaurant for us. That should have been my first indication that it was going to be a pricy glass of wine, however, it was delicious and the rooftop was so romantic I didn’t care to ask and we eventually just bought the bottle….

All of a sudden, a Rat Pack song came on and Ryan and I danced. He spun me a few times and, when we finished, a group at the end of the patio gave us a round of applause. They eventually came up to us to chat and we realized that one couple’s kids live up the street from us! Small world, huh?

Once we were done with our wine, our elevator friend / waiter told us that we could use one of the rooftop hot tubs for free. The hotel opened their spa 3 weeks before our stay at and installed 3 private hot tubs on the rooftop that overlooked the palace and the harbor. Typically, you have to reserve and pay to use the hot tubs, but I guess our waiter decided to give us a treat!  We ran to our room to change and the spa was the perfect temperature by the time we got back. Talk about a romantic night! We enjoyed every second and I honestly didn’t want the night to end.

Hvar, Day 2

Hvar, Day 2

Today was a relaxing day. After 10.5 hours of sleep and a 9 AM wake up, we got some croissants (my favorite pastries in the world) and breakfast with a view at the hotel. Who cared about some of the missing amenities at the Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort when you have a pool like the below, including a water slide!

Our view at the Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort in Croatia

 

After breakfast, we grabbed some sun chairs by the pool. The pool had an endless edge which made our view amazing. At one point, they even turned on the water slide which I couldn’t resist! It took us a few attempts to get the slide technique down right for max speed. The pool was absolutely freezing as well but there were some other people enjoying it so, if they could do it, we could suck it up too!

Ryan got quite a few glasses of wine and read while I looked at Instagram memes and tried to relax. Around 1, we decided to get lunch. Ryan ordered pizza and focaccia and I changed mind mind at the last second from a smoothie to homemade spaghetti carbonara – we were not expecting the massive food portions (made to feed a village!) or we would have shared.

My massive lunch of carbonara at the Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort in Croatia

After lunch, we soaked up the sun for another hour before getting ready for our wine tour.

We met Mario, our tour driver, in the lobby around 3. He was a boisterous Croatian with a family history on the island of Hvar dating back over 600 years! Mario was our guide to two wineries around the island and then to a scenic dinner in an abandoned village. All along the drive, he told us fun facts, let us enjoy the look-out points, and showed us how to rub the natively grown rosemary in our hands for an amazing smell.

We arrived in Jesla, a little down on the other side of the island that was home to both of the wineries we were visiting. We walked quite a ways through the town to the little converted garage that served as the wine tasting room for Teo Huljic’s wine. Teo makes about 6-7,00 bottles of Hvar grown wine per year for the local people and restaurants. He also owns one of the best eateries in down called Konoba Huljic. Our wine guide was very knowledgeable about the grapes grown on Hvar, spoke over 5 languages, and provided some delicious olive tapenade, breads, and spreads to go with the wines.

All of our glasses were solid 5 oz pour, making for an excellent tasting! The owner, Teo, even joined us towards the end and showed me how to cork the bottles we bought.

We eventually walked back through the town to our next winery, Dubokovic. Since it was the end of tourist season, the town was totally empty, making it very romantic.

 

We finally arrived at our second winery and were led down to the basement barrel room. Again, talk about romantic! Our table was among the barrels of wine and it had red candles, wine, cheese, and an assortment of olive oil all made in Hvar for us to taste.

We were in for yet another treat when the winery owner himself lead our tasting, walking us through the various grapes and their personalities over the years. He even went above and beyond and let us try 9 different wines! All of them were very tasty, though Ryan and I had very different opinions on our favorite wine and olive oil – so we had to buy a bunch of them different ones to take home.

Eventually, we smelled, swirled, and sipped through all of our wines and were on toward our final stop, Stori Komin in Malo Grablje. To pass the time, our guide Mario challenged me to a singing competition. Little did we know, Mario was the Croatian equivalent to Josh Groban and sang in an acapella group. He sang traditional Croatia songs to us for about twenty minutes until we pulled up to the ruins of Malo Grablje!

Malo Grablje was abandoned many years ago and only one family remains. That family has a small, 8 table restaurant, Stori Komin, that looks over the valley. If you go to Hvar, you HAVE to visit Stori Komin. We walked through the abandoned homes on a dusk hike up to the restaurant, and Mario pointed out his great, great grandfather’s house among the dilapidated buildings.

Again, we had yet another stunning view from our table at the restaurant. We could also see our food cooking on the fire pit – talk about rustic!

We sat down at one of the tables and quickly started chatting with the only other couple at the restaurant, some very nice South Africans. We ended up talking to them our entire dinner, only pausing to thank our waitress for each dish she brought out. We started with some scrumptious anchovies in olive oil with capers from the area, fresh cheese, tomatoes, and prosciutto.

I ordered one glass of wine and they brought out a large pitcher instead! About halfway through, a bug flew into my pitcher and they brought out another brand new and full one! Talk about A) good service and B) a very lively wine induced dinner! Our main course was this insanely good lamb chop bake with potatoes and carrots. The smell of the lamb cooking on the stove throughout our dinner was so good and the finished product did not disappoint! All of that food was followed with desert of candied almonds, dried dates, and a yummy desert wine. We were stuffed!

The restaurant also had a dog named Cesar running around. He was so cute and reminded us of our puppy back home. Apparently, the family found him almost starved to death, stuck in a ditch in a grave yard, and they brought him back, fed him some food, and he never left. He was so cute and really enjoyed some of our left overs!

After about two hours of delicious food, wine, and great conversation, it was time to hop back in the car with Mario and drive to the hotel. On route, Mario stopped under the castle at the top of the mountain overlooking the harbor and told us how it used to be a disco. Him and his friends would climb into the tower window of the castle (below) to enter the night club and that was how he met his second wife. Mario was full of personality and some great stories!

We got back to our hotel around 10 PM and I fell into bed. We had an early morning for our boat ride to Split and Ryan told me I needed to pack before bed. I responded, with full conviction, that I was already packed and that I was going to sleep in as late as possible. Of course, in the morning, I awoke to the real situation – a suitcase that look like it exploded in the middle of the night with clothes strewn everywhere.. Note to self, wine-brain lies to you about your packing status!

Continue on our journey through Croatia…