I mentioned in my introduction that Kate and I spent five weeks in Europe in June and July. Here are a few reflections which I hope you will enjoy.
We’d not been to Poland before and had not really heard a lot about it. Poland doesn’t get much exposure in the Australian media. We flew into Warsaw the capital, stayed three nights then caught the train to Krakow. We do a lot of visits to European and other cities and find in most cases three nights is about right for us to be able to explore them. We often just spend our time walking the streets, soaking up the sights and general vibe of the place. We call this walk and gawk!
Poland has had a tough time on many fronts but perhaps none more so that World War II when they lost the highest proportion of its citizens of any country involved in the war. A very large proportion of these were Jews and it took the nation a very long time to recover. It now has a population of close to 40 million and is seen as a strong democratic nation with a dynamic economy and high standard of living.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in both Warsaw and Krakow and would happily recommend them as a worthwhile destination, particularly if you have an interest in WWII events.
Italy – the Amalfi Coast
We flew from Krakow to Naples to meet up with friends to spend some time on the Amalfi Coast and on the small island of Procida. We stayed in a Lemon Grove in the town of Amalfi from which the coast takes its name. Like much of Italy it is simultaneously crazy and beautiful. The Italians have an energetic, passionate approach to life which is contagious. And the coastline, water and hills around this area are just fantastic. The island of Procida is not well known but well worth a visit for a couple of nights.
How fantastic it was to be in Croatia and watch them win their World Cup soccer quarter final against Denmark! We spent three nights in Dubrovnik, three nights in Split (both on the coast) and three nights in the inland capital Zagreb. The old town of Dubrovnik is truly astonishing and I would recommend it to everyone. Just try to avoid peak season or days when a cruise ship is in the nearby modern port. Split too is worth a visit and the islands scattered along the coast offer some hidden gems. The capital Zagreb offers a huge array of events in the evening during the summer. One night we went from a hip hop DJ to outdoor ballet to laid back jazz – all in the space of three hours!!
Again, a country we don’t hear much about in Australia although the fact that the first lady of the USA was born there has raised its profile a bit. We travelled through some beautiful farming countryside from Zagreb in Croatia to get to the Slovenian capital Ljubljana. It is an interesting location in the sense that is a 30 minute drive to some snow skiing fields and about 45 minutes from the Mediterranean Sea. Again, well worth a visit. There is a old castle overlooking the city and lots of history to soak up – just as there is everywhere in Europe.
We stayed three nights in Marseille, the second largest city in France. It is a stunning old port city on the Mediterranean which has embraced the 21st century and cleverly added modern buildings which enhance the city. Along the coast nearby are many little beaches and villages in some case only accessible by water and all picture post card perfect.
What I hadn’t really grasped is that the population of France really is spread across the country and not just in a small number of cities like Australia. If you have ever watched any to the SBS coverage of the Tour de France you will also know just how beautiful much of the country is. And like the Italians they have a real passion for living well. I can see why our friends like to live there in the European summer. So much to see and do and the food and wine is fantastic.
Some of you may be aware that Barcelona is the capital of the Catalan region of Spain and that many people living in the region want to separate from Spain. The separatist movement gained a renewed voice not long after we booked to be there and we really weren’t sure what country Barcelona would be in by the time we got there! Looking down on a large square from our hotel at the main railway station we saw thousands of people attending a separatist rally and there were slogans and posters all around the city. I’m not sure how this will all end but I think we will hear more about it. The city itself is fascinating and I think would be a fine place to live for a while.
We had never gone beyond the airport here but found ourselves with a 9 hour stop so decided we should have a quick look. We took a hotel room in the city and visited the tallest building in the world to get a bird’s eye view. It’s an odd place and not one that Kate and I feel a need to return to. A big city has been created out of nothing in the middle of desert and construction on a grand scale seems to be a constant. It is a staggering achievement but really doesn’t grab me.
Kate and I feel blessed that we were able to experience all of this and returned to Australia feeling wiser and refreshed. Travel really does broaden the mind and if you have not spent much time away from Australia I highly recommend you book a trip to Europe and pick a few places that look of interest to you.