My father and I had been in Italy together for two days so far. It was my fourth trip to Italy, but only his first since my family left Calabria for a better life in Canada 58 years earlier, in 1958. Although I was born in Canada, I always felt a special connection and pull to the land of my ancestors, and pleadingly tried to get my dad to go back to the Old Country with me. He had been adamant about being happy to stay in Canada, seeing no need to visit the country he hadn’t seen in so long, until one day, he changed his mind. Our trip began in the toe of Italy, in the region of Calabria. A dusty and hot land with villages perched atop hills for the people who lived there to better see and attempt to defend themselves from the waves of invaders who came century after century. I was finally showing my dad the places I already loved so much; the place where he came from.
To read the first posts in this series, click here! This trip took place in August and September 2016.
A sweet day awaited us on our third day in Calabria. It was time for a road trip! After having a small breakfast at B&B Paparelle, we strolled over to a fruit stand outside of Cattedrale di S. Maria Assunta, the main cathedral of the city. There we loaded up on freshly picked peaches, plums and pears for the day ahead. I wanted to revisit Paola, a seaside town that I had visited briefly on my first trip to Italy in 2008. My sepia-toned memories recalled the pebbly beach and crystal clear water, and it always stood out in my mind as an idyllic spot. My memories were not wrong and reality was even better.
We woke up early to get to the bus station to catch a bus to Kotor, set in the stunning Bay of Kotor in Europe’s youngest nation, Montenegro. The Stradun, the main pedestrian road through old town Dubrovnik, was still very quiet at 7 am. It gave us a chance to appreciate the beauty of the town in relative peace. We were almost at the main gate when a huge group of people in medieval costumes paraded by us in the other direction. I might not have found this very odd, but the quality of the outfits, along with the hair and makeup of the women especially, and how good looking every single one them was made me take a little extra notice. It wasn’t until I was lying in bed in Kotor 16 hours later that I realized it was the cast of Game of Thrones. I kept hearing people in Dubrovnik talk about how they were filming there, but I don’t watch the show so I didn’t recognize any of the actors.
We got to the bus station fairly early to buy our tickets, then sat around for an hour and a half soaking up the cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes. The bus ride was fairly normal until we got to the border crossing. Our bus driver sort of looked like Balki from Perfect Strangers except surly and always smoking. We parked at the Croatian border and every passenger got out one by one to go up to the border control desk. Needless to say this was not a speedy process. After we got our stamps, the driver made us stand 30 yards up the road and wait. We got back on the bus, drove for two minutes and stopped again at the Montenegro border. A guard came on and collected all of the passports again, which was a lot more efficient. There was an older gentleman in his 80s sitting near us. He was chatting with everyone around him and was very friendly and charming. He was given the stack of passports and was going up and down the aisle, calling out names and giving passports back. He was so cheerful and it made everybody on board smile.
As we wound our way around the Bay of Kotor, the scenery outside was breathtaking. The day was sunny and people were relaxing all along the water. After a while it got a little torturous and we were relieved to step off the bus.
Kotor’s old town is absolutely tiny. You can meander and wander and feel like you’re getting lost, but you’ll end up back where you started without even trying. It is really beautiful and, more importantly, quiet! As much as I adore Europe, beautiful towns are a dime a dozen, and getting an experience that feels more exclusive is a little more rare. Maybe this is what the elusive up-and-coming, before-it-has-been-discovered destination is like. We spent much of our two days in Kotor leisurely wandering the narrow streets, or sitting on a bench by the water looking out at the bay and the impressive yachts from around the world, talking and enjoying each other’s company. Continue reading Making my way through Montenegro→
This is the second post in a two part series on Bosnia. Click here to read part one.
Without hesitation, we hopped in our beat up VW and headed down the only highway to Sarajevo. The landscape was sublime – arid mountains rising up on either side of us, sparkling rivers running beside us, the sun shining in the bright blue sky, and hardly any other traffic to speak of. I spent half the time admiring it, and the other half reading the Sarajevo section of my guidebook, figuring out what we should see in such a short period of time.
As we entered Sarajevo from the west, we drove down the infamous Sniper Alley. Along either side are buildings that were heavily damaged during the war, and, due to the struggles of the government and economy in Bosnia, have not been repaired at all. A dilapidated retirement home with the front torn off covered in graffiti and bullet holes, grey communist-era apartment blocks completely covered in bullet holes, the Holiday Inn which housed foreign journalists. I could rattle off a list of the sights we saw, but I feel empty doing that. As I wrote in my journal the next day from Dubrovnik, I said to myself that I didn’t think my words could do it any justice. So much has happened in Sarajevo. I had never been to a place thus far in my travel career that was still so covered in war wounds, still trying to recover almost 20 years after the end of the war, and still with such a long road ahead. The city was such an unexpected surprise. Such a beautiful place, bustling with life, still shining even though parts of it are very run down. The culture is so fascinating; I wish we had given ourselves more time there and I can’t wait to go back someday. I want to see the museums and the memorials and the monuments. I want to eat delicious burek and admire the minarets piercing the sky next to Orthodox and Catholic churches. Continue reading Sarajevo: A city of conflicting emotions→
The next stop on our Europe trip was Croatia, and the best way for us to get to our destination, Split, was to take an overnight ferry from Ancona, on the Adriatic coast of Italy. We had an easy drive, followed by a mildly irritating time returning the rental car and figuring out how to get to the ferry terminal.
As soon as we got off the elevator into the ship’s reception area, everything felt surreal. Even before that. It was surreal as soon as the Russian elevator attendant crammed the two of us plus bags, plus another young couple and their bags, plus another random bag onto the elevator. We were packed so tight. It was so hot. We were only going two floors, so it wasn’t even a time saver at all!
There was music playing on an intercom system all throughout the ship, but not what you would expect. What made the whole place really the pinnacle of bizarre was the 70s rock music playing over the intercom in every part of the ship, including a little speaker in the wall of our room. Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix… “Everybody Must Get Stoned” was playing as soon as we got to the reception area and a middle aged British man behind me was singing along to it. Continue reading Sailing across the Adriatic to my 20th country→
After two uneventful, yet sleepless, flights, Dave and I touched down in Roma. Although the trip from our door to the airport in Rome was 17.5 hours, we decided to rent a car and hit the road right away to get to San Marino, where we were spending two nights. Continue reading My visit to the world’s oldest republic→