Italy & Croatia

The opportunity came up to travel to Europe. We decided on Croatia and Italy, and over the course of two weeks crammed in as much as we could. Just us, our carry-on bags, and a rental car.

Warning: this is a very long post. Just a heads up. Full of pretty things though.

Zagreb, Croatia

We arrived in Zagreb, and got to exploring the city.

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Ban Josip Jelačić in the central square, which also bears his name.

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The botanical gardens.

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Observe the owls holding up a globe! Symbols of the pursuit of knowledge.

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Give it up for Tesla.

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Also, check out the pedestrian-only streets, large amount of cyclists, and awesome bar patios smack dab in the middle of it all.

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Some of the most impressive permanent polychrome I have ever set eyes upon.


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This was just some random alley, with stunning sculptural casts leaning up against the wall.

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The Old Town Gate.

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We were in permanent awe of the patios in Zagreb, and tried to work out why they were so much better than ours back home. I think one thing is the lack of fences/gates, that seem to close ours in so much, and another is the ample shade. There’s a sense I get in Toronto that if you’re on a patio, you want to burn to a crisp. This is not the case. We watched the crowds here for a while and were also at a loss as to how everyone here – locals and tourists – could be so good-looking. Must be something in the water.

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Candles in Mirogoj Cemetery.

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I really enjoyed the monuments.

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Checking the trusty travel guide.

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Oh look! I found a gothic revival church.

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Glorious bike infrastructure!IMG_8030 IMG_8029
A Dalmation restaurant, and our first official introduction to the region’s cuisine. After a hefty meal of salads, sides, meats, and drinks, we were knocked back by the figure on our bill – albeit in kuna. Once back at the hotel we converted the currency to find our feast had cost us a whopping… $35.

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Some sort of fried dough with fresh homemade cheese.

Plitvice Lakes

These images need no description. Enjoy!

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Venice, Italy

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Getting to Venice from Zagreb included a stopover in Villach, Austria, from 1:00am to to 4:00am.

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X marks the spot

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The Arsenale

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The view from our hotel.

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The Ghetto.

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An establishment that sold wine by the litre. In whatever vessel you brought them. No container? No problem. They had a selection of empty pop and water bottles in various sizes for you to pick from.

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Last morning and we went to see the sun rise.

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Verona, Italy

We picked up a car in Venice and drove to Verona. This was my first introduction to driving in Italy in a car (being in the back of a coach bus on school trips in high school somehow dulled the terror of the highways). I spent most of the 3-hour drive gripping my seatbelt in terror and shouting at the GPS. After looping through the city waiting for the GPS to reroute us around construction, we arrived at our hotel.

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The view from our hotel balcony – that is the arena on the left.

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The arena! 

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Unlike the Colosseum in Rome, which we were not planning to visit, the Verona arena was dead quiet.

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The inside hallways of the arena.

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Cue Hans Zimmer.

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The arena is used for open-air operas. These massive set pieces were being stored in the street.

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This restaurant came highly recommended. With an outdoor patio a stone’s throw from the arena, how could we pass up? Beef cheeks and sage butter tortelloni (not tortellini, which I learned are different things), accompanied amazing wine and glasses (which you could buy, at 25 euro a piece), pictured below.

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We visited a lot of churches. A lot. Sant’Anastasia, below, had me absolutely enraptured.  IMG_1672

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The graffiti outside “Juliet’s balcony.” Since Romeo and Juliet are fictional characters, and their “everlasting love” was actually a three-day-fling between two teenagers that caused the death of six people… I wasn’t desperate to get to the balcony through the crowd. 

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Stelvio, Italy

Alright, alright. The Stelvio Pass was closed for construction/weather, so we didn’t get to tackle the road itself, getting up there was a lovely (and twisty) drive.IMG_8301

IMG_1653 IMG_1655On the way up I was wondering if we had accidentally crossed a border – the radio stations, city signs, and restaurants were all German! Nope. We were still it Italy, this region had just retained its German flavour.

Bologna, Italy

We left Verona on the way to Tenuta di Sticciano, stopping by Bologna for lunch.

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Tenuta di Sticciano, Italy

We spent a week at a farm in Tuscany. It was as romantic as it sounds. If you are looking for an incredibly relaxing, beautiful, and refreshing place to spend some time in Italy, I strongly recommend Tenuta di Sticciano. From there we were able to go out for day trips in the area. As driving in Italy was wreaking havoc on my nerves, it was a relief to be able to park at the train station in nearby Certaldo for trips to destinations like Siena and Florence.

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The road to the farm. Cue the Gladiator soundtrack.

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Our outdoors eating area – you can see our barbecue and our car!

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The view from our porch – that is San Gimignano in the distance, which we visited later.

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There were loads of hiking trails around the farm.  

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One of them even led to a treehouse in among the vines.

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We came across this abandoned house. It’s remote, it’s raining, it’s getting dark… So of course we went in!

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We did not stay long.

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We sampled the local goods.

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Our apartment was incredibly charming.

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A nearby town we visited for lunch.

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The farm also gave us plenty of down time in the evening, meaning we could read and I could get to sketching.

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Siena, Italy

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There is a long and steep climb from the train station to the old city gates. SPQR is a pretty famous initialism (see acronym vs initialism) but SPQS (Senātus Populusque Sienus) was new to me, and I took much joy in it.

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The Siena Cathedral (above) and its library (below)

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San Galgano, Italy

We drove to San Galgano, a ruined abbey, complete with a nearby chapel supposedly shaped to reflect the Holy Grail, overtop a sword in the stone, plunged there in the 12th century. Don’t tell Dan Brown.

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San Gimignano, Italy

A beautiful city known for its many towers, which we could see from our apartment, has lovely shops and is known for its woven table napkins and cloths. We found a quiet spot along the defensive walls to get this picture of the Tuscan countryside.

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Florence, Italy

We got the first train from Certaldo to Florence to be at the Duomo in time for it to open at 8am, only to discover it doesn’t open to the public until 10am (you can climb the dome or the tower, for a price, before this time). We felt foolish but were not the only visitors at the doors looking disappointed. As we had a cooking class at 11:30, we didn’t want to get caught in the inevitable line, so we waited until it opened and were the first ones in. By the time it did open at 10am, the line extended across the piazza.

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All of the things from my art history textbooks.

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We visited an apartment in Florence to learn how to make some Tuscan dishes. I have unfortunately forgotten the name of the meal below, but it involved rolling up carpaccio, mortadella, blanched asparagus, and sliced cheese, and cooking them in some olive oil. The cheese melts out in to the oil to create a creamy sauce.

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We also made risotto, bruschetta, and tiramisu.

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Rome, Italy

After the most stressful Italian drive of the entire trip, we were finally free of the car and ready to see the city. And oh, we did.

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2013 has been declared the Year of Faith and it seemed like the number of nuns, priests, and monks was way up.

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Close to our hotel was San Pietro in Vincoli, which houses Michelangelo’s famous Moses statue. No admission, no lines. 

We got on the Rome Metro (which is outstanding, by the way) and crossed town to get to St. Peter’s as soon as it opened to avoid the lines. A brilliant ploy, as by the time we had finished and left, we could not even see the end of the queue as it wound down the road.

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And of course we opted to climb the dome.

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The inside of the dome – the Statue of Liberty could fit under here!

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The walls here are covered in mosaics.

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The exterior of the dome.

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The camera isn’t tilted – the walls follow the curve of St. Peter’s dome. It gets a little anxiety-inducing as you keep climbing!

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But we made it, safe and sound, to the top of St. Peter’s.

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I officially became an espresso drinker.

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Picked up this lovely jacket along the Via del Plebiscito 

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There she is! The Colosseum.

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There’s the other side, and you can see how absolutely packed it was. So glad we visited the Verona arena instead! It was a tip, by the way, from this charming book. If you like travelling but don’t like crowds and are alright with missing out on the “Top 10” of any given destination, the book has recommendations in a “See this, Avoid this” kind of way.  

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A shadow cast by a conservator.

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Trevi Fountain, where we of course threw some coins.

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The church at the top of the Spanish steps.

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It’s Saint Valentine!

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This style of flooring was extremely common in a lot of the churches we saw.

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A funny thing happened… (the Roman forum, above).
Another Rome travel trip, gleaned from my high school classical history teacher: You don’t need to pay to visit the Forum to enjoy the Forum. Visit the Capitoline Museum instead, which is for some reason not as busy as some other Roman museums, and as you go under the tunnel between the two buildings there is a ramp up to a balcony overlooking the Forum. That’s where we took this picture. If the Capitoline Museum isn’t your thing, just walk up the ramp off of Via Monte Tarpeo and get a view of the Forum for free. I just discovered you can Google Street View the Capitoline Museum. Oh wow.

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Sometimes you travel 1000 miles to finally set eyes on sculptures you’ve always wanted to see and when you finally get there they’re wrapped up in cling film. 

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At least this finger wasn’t wrapped up.

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Marcus Aurelius! You know. The guy from Gladiator who also played Dumbledore. 

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The Dying Gaul! Also the inspiration for my final year of painting…

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The Baths of Caracalla.

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The ceiling of Santa Maria Maggiore. It is gilt with gold gifted to the Pope by Queen Isabella of Spain, as compensation for the Vatican’s financial support of Columbus’ expeditions to the new world. History!

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It also has some magnificently decorated chapels.

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And this Early Christian apsidal mosaic.

On Saturday we wanted to avoid the crowds (a recurring theme, you might have noticed…) so we hopped on the metro, then to a regional train (all on the same ticket!) and visited Ostia Antica, Rome’s ancient port city. It’s an outstanding ruined city, and completely overwhelmed us. Hardly anything is roped off, and there are still well-defined rooms, mosaics, baths, streets, not to mention an entire area. If ancient cities and avoiding crowds are your kind of thing, I highly recommend!

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Also please enjoy this public washroom. No longer in use, fortunately.

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We returned to Rome and wandered some more, and reached the Campo Verano Cemetery, which has some absolutely amazing monuments.IMG_8886

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This was such an interesting juxtaposition: Zagreb’s Mirogoj Cemetery on the left and Rome’s Campo Verano Cemetery on the right.

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I’ll sign off with this slightly grainy shot of the pilgrimage church of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura. For one reason or another this space absolutely floored me.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this extraordinarily long post about our travels through Italy and Croatia!

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