Day Twelve. It’s a big pizza pie!

The three of us had our flight to Rome booked for 8:55 am this morning. We got up bright and early, and got ourselves a cab to the bus station, from where we planned to catch a bus to Dubrovnik Airport. The cab driver, however, offered us a fare straight to the airport that was only 2 euros more expensive than the bus tickets to take us the whole distance, and we decided that 2 euros split 3 ways was worth the headache and extra time that the bus would take us. We were at the airport with plenty of time to spare, and had all our things packed up nice and compact yet again for our early flight. The ride to the airport was breathtakingly scenic, as well. We spent our last kuna on a couple bottles of water and some coffee, and then geared up for Rome.

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No sooner were we in the air then it seemed that we were coming back down again, and by 10 am we found ourselves in a whole different country. Buying train tickets took a little while, but we were able to figure out the cheapest passes to get ourselves for the duration of our stay, and then just had to wait a half hour for our train before shuttling off to Rome to find our flat.

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Our apartment this time was a little removed from the centre of Rome, but our host, Daniele, met us right at our metro station and walked us to our flat, where we got to meet his huge, friendly dog and get ourselves acclimated. We found a free walking tour starting right around the Spanish steps for 4:00 pm in the afternoon and by 3:00 pm were back on the metro headed into the heart of the city. Unfortunately for us as tourists, but fortunately for preservation, both the fountain at the bottom of the Spanish steps, as well as the building at the top are currently being renovated. We snagged a couple of pictures and then headed over to the oldest McDonald’s in Europe for a perfectly tactfully unhealthy post-plane and pre-tour snack.

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Free walking tours are really quite hit and miss. The guides work off of tips, and so usually you get someone who is passionate about the material and also has a personality that keeps you intrigued. But every so often someone is lacking the formula that makes them appealing to you. This happened to us this afternoon. We tried to listen to our guide, but she just wasn’t selling the story to us even one bit. After half an hour it was clear to us that none of us were getting anything out of this tour, and we found a convenient spot in a crowd next to a street artist to ditch our group. We bought ourselves a map and walked over from the Colosseum over to the Circo Massimo to do a little of our own sightseeing and to salvage the day. On the way, Deanna and Nastassia decided to try some fresh coconut from a fruit stand, as the cascading water displays looked extremely appetizing on a hot day like today. Both of us happened to come to the consensus that fresh coconut tastes more like nut than we had imagined it would.

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At the Circo Massimo, Nastassia and Jan decided to relive a taste of Roman glory by having their own foot race. Not until we all got back to the flat tonight did we realize that we must have left our map somewhere on the ground near there, because it’s gone strangely missing from every other place we could have possibly left it. But aside from that, the Circo Massimo was a fabulous place to pick up the energy after a boring tour.

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After the foot race we all sat and talked, and tried to plan the activities for the next day or two. While we sat on the hillside and thought over all the history that is contained in every crevice and crack of Rome, we watched a couple have some splendid wedding photos taken of them right across the field from us. As the sun set and the mosquitos came out, we decided this was the perfect moment to call it an early night and to head back to the apartment.

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Although our location in Rome is a little unlucky due to the fact that it is a little outside the centre, we are perfectly content with the fact that there is a grocery store almost directly downstairs. We didn’t feel like cooking, but also didn’t feel like going anywhere, so a lazy meal was in order. We filled up on some breadsticks and cream cheese, and had fruits and cookies for dessert. Sounds quite meager but we were more than content with it. Now we’re going to bed a bit earlier in order to gain strength for the coming days and also to make up for some of the sleep we lost last night.

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Day Ten. Game of Thrones and Time for Tours.

Jan and Nastassia are both fans of the Game of Thrones series, and a few weeks ago Jan found a GoT based tour that goes every day in Dubrovnik, and so the two of them signed up for that. Deanna is not so inclined, and decided to take the day for herself to take a general tour and to catch up a bit on her journal, rather than to take a tour based on a show which she had never seen. So all together we bussed to the city, and there we split up to do our separate tours, setting a meeting point and time for later in the afternoon. Jan and Nastassia’s tour started up on St. Lawrence Fortress, which offers a great view over the old town of Dubrovnik. The fortress features a few spots where Game of Thrones scenes had been shot. Something that we learnt quickly was how sporadic and varied the scenes that had been filmed in Dubrovnik are. Sometimes a huge area is used for nothing more than a clip of a second or two, and a small room is the set for a large event. Meanwhile, Deanna was walking around the town on her general city tour learning about the history of Dubrovnik.

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Both of our tours went over the highlights of the history of this scenic city, and some of the quirks of it. For example, Dubrovnik boasts that it is the only modern city that views it’s pigeons not as a pesky problem but instead feeds them every day in the central market square. 10 minutes to noon you can see all the pigeons flocking to one area and lining up – waiting for their regular feeding. When the church in the square tolls noon, the market keepers toss salad, corn, bread and other foodstuffs to the ground for the pigeons to feed on. An interesting sight, it is quite contrary to what we are used to in modern cities. Another quirk that we as tourists noticed, was the large quantity of cats present around the city. Other useful notes about the city that we learnt – there is a nunnery across the street from a monastery. When they were cleaning the substructure of the city a few years back, they found a tunnel that connects the two – one that is at least a hundred or so years old. Also, at one point the Dubrovnik Naval Fleet rivaled that of Venice in size and formidability. Deanna learnt of an interesting beach in Dubrovnik that we are going to check out tomorrow, too.

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While Nastassia and Jan trooped on with their super long tour, Deanna’s finished and she went for a bite to eat in the city center. Looking up while she ate some risotto, she saw some familiar faces in the crowd. Who else to bump into than our Aussie train buddies, Steph and Patrick. They caught up for a little while and swapped stories about what had happened since we had all separated in Split.

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Meanwhile, Nastassia and Jan kept a wary eye on the weather, as their tour led them up on Dubrovnik’s city wall. The forecast had been changing all day, and it looked like the evening thunderstorms were coming a little sooner than expected. Towards the end of the tour, the rain started sprinkling a bit, and some light thunder was even heard around us.

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The tour ended at a point on Minčeta Tower, where the most identical Game of Thrones reference was also made. From the season two finale, the only changes the HBO producers made was to remove a metal gate from the background, and to add some trees visible behind the surrounding wall to give the area the appearance of being on ground level.

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With the tour over, and the rain not falling too quick, Nastassia and Jan made the decision to complete their circle of the city walls. Around the same time, Deanna was finishing up a nice coffee after her lunch and some journalling. To Jan and Nastassia, the rain had quickly turned from a slight nuisance to a real problem, and soaked both of them quite thoroughly. About another 5 minutes later, both Nastassia and Jan gave up on finishing their walk of the city wall when some lightning flashed no more than 50 meters from them into the sea, giving both of them a complete shock. While the two of them scrambled down from the wall and tried to find a place to hide from the rain – which had turned into a torrential downpour – Deanna was calmly visiting the Rector’s palace museum, which was the house of the leader of Dubrovnik for a number of years, and as you can imagine, quite lavish.

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As swiftly as it started, the rain and thunder stopped, and before meeting back up again, Jan and Nastassia ran back to our apartment to grab some dry clothes, while Deanna visited Dubrovnik’s central market and picked up some traditional Croatian candy. Meeting back up, we decided that after our turbulent day, we could use a meal out, and went for some Mexican food.

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After some supper we took some time to show each other highlights from our tours that day, and walked around the city all together with a new perspective. We were able to catch more subtleties in the beautiful city of Dubrovnik before heading home to catch some sleep before tomorrow.

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Back at our apartment, Jan, who had been complaining of a blister all day, took off his shoe to find nothing other than a bunch of black splinters in his foot. Coming to the conclusion that he had probably made friends with a sea porcupine yesterday somewhere around the sea park, we then tried our best to get all the quills out. If that isn’t a good note to end on, then we don’t know what is.

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Vidimo se sutra!

Day Two. Don’t touch little girl’s knees

Waking up in Budapest bright and early for a full day of wandering around and exploring the city. A fairly light and easy morning, aside from Nastassia doing an interesting taste test after adding 3 spoons of salt to her coffee, we got ourselves ready and out the door by 10 am.

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We began with a free guided walking tour that leads through the high points of both Buda and Pest. After a quick Hungarian pronunciation lesson, BudaPESHT, we also were made to rub a little princess’ knees for luck. Crossing the Chain Bridge over to the Buda side, we passed into an area contributing an entirely different feel to the city.

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The day was a scorcher, but our lovely tour guide assured us that the tap water was extremely clean and fully drinkable, so we were saved from thirst or overpriced bottles of water by the convenient water fountains located all throughout the city. Climbing up to castle hill, which our guide mentioned wasn’t really a hill and also contains no castles, all three of us were charmed by the custom made Hungarian roofing tiles found atop the Matthias Church. Apparently fire resistant, self-cleaning, acid resistant, and water resistant as well, they are a Hungarian invention, proudly kept secret from all other manufacturers. If you want them for your home, you’re going to have to order directly from the Hungarian artisans.

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Done with the tour and not with the rubbing, we all looped back the way we came from to get a second look at some highlights. This pot-bellied police officer is here only to help you find a good meal, in exchange for rubbing his belly and mustache.

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St. Stephens basilica is just down the road from this officer, and is the largest church to be found in Budapest. Formerly containing the whole right arm of St. Stephen, it now contains only the fist…or most of it, after some good old Christian relic-sharing. It also contains the burial places of several kings and queens, and a particular football star from the mid-1900s who helped break a 90 year British winning streak. Hungary is apparently no longer such a forerunner for football, and this is now an even touchier subject than their political history. As well, a curious note – this was formerly St. Stephen‘s church, but when the pope rolled on by, he made a side comment of what a lovely basilica Budapest had. No one argues with the pope, and so the church is now renamed.

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Stopping at a smaller vendor for a quick bite, some goulash soup and an enormous slice of pizza sets you back 950 HUF, or 4-5 CAD. Not too shabby! Escaping the heat by dipping our feet in a refreshing public pool – under which a club dubbed ‘Aquarium‘ is located (which we may be returning to later…) – we wrapped up our touristy part of the afternoon.

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Handling the more serious, we stopped one of the train stations to book our tickets on our overnight train to our next location. This was supposed to be a quick jaunt, but turned into an hour long endeavor where our tickets for the international train in the capital of Hungary in a big major train station were hand-written by the woman at the cash. Warding off a few questions about whether we were having issues, we finally got the tickets and went merrily on our way to enjoy the rest of our day in Budapest.

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Going for a lovely night walk, we found langos, a traditional Hungarian dish, and then washed it down with a few drinks found at their outdoor vendors. Tequila sunrises and Mojito‘s before bedtime? Can‘t say no to that!

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