SANTA MARGHERITA & THE CINQUE TERRE

ITALY-CROATIA BLOG 01

Thursday September 7, 2017

Imagine finding yourself in a stunning, atmospheric old town … on a spectacular stretch of the Mediterranean Coast … in a beautiful bay ringed by boutique hotels and stately orange/red/yellow villas and boat-crowded marinas and beaches smothered in wall-to-wall umbrellas. Imagine lying in the sun beside a gorgeous pool after a lazy swim in the tepid water … recalling the yummy lunch you just ate in the shady courtyard of a tiny restaurant along the road … and dreaming of endless gourmet possibilities for dinner tonight. And imagine telling yourself to stop all this nonsense … take your slothful self indoors … and start writing the travel-blog that should’ve been started three days ago.

It takes a very strong man to tear himself away from such idyllic loveliness and, instead, go sit at a desk and type words into a small laptop. And, until half an hour ago, that man was not me. Which is why this blog-entry is so embarrassingly late.

But I am what I am. And it is what it is. And at least, at last, I’m DOING it! So allow me, patient reader, to bring you up to speed …

Our Mad Midlife group left Godzone last Saturday in search of adventure. (Actually, that’s not quite true – some had left days earlier and were already in Europe, waiting for the group to catch up.) We spent Sunday enjoying Singapore, before taking to the air for another 12 hours of long-haul torture. And we finally touched-down in Europe (a little worse-for-wear) on Monday morning.

Milan is Italy’s second biggest city. But, frankly, we didn’t care. With the help of Elisabetta (our delightful Italian guide), we loaded bodies and bags into a coach, and hit the highway for an hour or three, stopping enroute for a stroll around the magical town of Parma (famous for its locally-produced Parmesan cheese, Parma ham & salami, focaccia bread and wine) … followed by a delissimo country-style lunch (of Parmesan cheese, Parma ham & salami, focaccia bread and wine) at a locally-produced country-style farm: namely, La Fattoria del Boschetto.

A further two hours away, on the Mediterranean shore, lay Santa Margherita – a charming, palm-lined harbour town that has long been a fashionable resort for the rich and famous. And, given that all 25 of us are rich and famous, it was inevitable that we should end up here – not just for one night, but for four! And not just in any old b&b, but in one of the region’s most luxurious beachfront establishments: the Grand Hotel Miramare!

You really oughta see it!

The Italian Riviera is one of Italy’s hottest holiday hot-spots – nestled between the Ligurian Sea and the Maritime Alps, and famous for its over-the-top glamour, its natural beauty, its laid-back charm. And, on Tuesday, after a slap-up outdoor breakfast on the hotel terrace, we drove around the coast to another Italian treasure: a World Heritage Site known to the world as the Cinque Terre (literally ‘five lands’).

Strung along 18km of serrated cliffs are five higgledy-piggledy villages – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore – dating from the Middle Ages and set amongst eye-popping seascapes. Cars and motorbikes are banned from these steep, crooked streets – instead, the villages are connected by train, which we rode on Tuesday, speeding through countless tunnels, rumbling past terraced olive-groves and stone-walled vineyards.

All of the towns slope down to sea-level – except for Corniglia, which is perched on teetering cliffs. And they all possess an olde-worlde charm, their narrow lanes lined with multi-hued old houses stacked haphazardly on top of each other.

But wait! There’s more …

Further around another coastal corner in the opposite direction is the picture-perfect town of Portofino … crammed with brightly-coloured houses, cafés, shops, and super-yachts, and nestled snugly in a crescent-shaped bay where the cliffs of the Appenines plunge to the sea.

Despite the rain which threatened yesterday, some eager Kiwis covered the distance by boat, while others walked. And all were very glad they did, because Portofino, no matter how you get there, is a sight-for-sore-eyes!

Look: if you haven’t already done so, you must add the Italian Riviera to your ‘bucket-list’. And, when you finally get here, you must take your time. Listen to the bell-towers chiming … watch the old men with their colourful little fishing boats … check out an ornate cathedral or a ruined castle … join sunbathers on a pebbly beach, or spread your towel on a lumpy bit of rock … choose from the endless array of cafés, bars and restaurants … suck on fresh strawberries and cherries … tempt your tastebuds with cheeses, olives, pizzas and the like … then sit yourself down on an ancient seawall and lick an icy-cool gelato.

COMING UP: Tomorrow morning we’re off to arty-farty Florence, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and other jewels that lie waiting for us “under the Tuscan sun”. So stay tuned …

PEOPLE-NEWS: Our internationally renowned Quacky Yellow Ducks are already finding new homes as people get caught doing silly, embarrassing or hilarious things …

  • STEVE was first up, winning our ‘Medical Emergency’ Award before we’d even left Auckland! Upon arriving at the Airport, poor Steve discovered he’d forgotten his pills – so promptly caught himself a taxi and raced home to get them, rendezvousing back at the Airport in time for a quick coffee before boarding.
  • SUZANNE was next, claiming our ‘Coffee-Grinder’ Award here in Santa Margherita. Our posh hotel rooms all have ensuites, and those ensuites all have bidets. And, in an attempt to try hers out, Suzanne pushed the nearest button – and was rewarded with a noise that sounded for all the world like a coffee-grinder. She was momentarily excited, thinking she could perhaps multi-task here, and enjoy a latte while having a wash. Alas, the button turned out to belong not to a coffee-grinder but to the shutter which adorned the nearby window. A disappointment? Yes, but she’s getting over it.
  • HELEN earned herself the ‘Knickerless’ Award … after doing her laundry the other day. She’d hung her smalls outside on the balcony to dry. But, sometime later, those smalls had mysteriously disappeared. Turns out Helen’s lingerie had taken flight and ended up on the balcony of the camper below … and it took some not-so-small effort on the part of her husband plus a willing maid to retrieve the runaways.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Keep it brief – and be sure to say who it’s for and who it’s from.)

EAT YOUR HEART OUT …

ITALY-CROATIA BLOG 00

Wednesday August 30, 2017

Yeehaa! It’s happening again! In just three short sleeps we’ll be quitting soggy, muddy Godzone and jetting away to warm, sunny Europe for another adventure-of-a-lifetime! There’ll be 25 of us in this Mad Midlife group, and we’re all DOUBLY-EXCITED! Why? Because the itinerary we’ve stitched together is taking us to not just ONE of our favourite places … but TWO!

First, there’s ITALY: Uniquely lovable Italy with its colourful history, its insanely good cuisine, its romantic music, its friendly locals. The name Italy conjures up 2000-year-old ruins … soaring architecture and museums-for-all … open-air cafés and restaurants … olive groves, vineyards and free-flowing wine  … picture-postcard Tuscan villages … gondolas on Venetian canals … and the sweet life, La Dolce Vita!

Second, there’s CROATIA: Its unspoiled shoreline, its paradise islands, its hilltop villages and medieval towns. Countless civilisations have imprinted this ancient corner of Europe, and whispers of the past seem to follow you everywhere you go. Plus there’s an Olde Worlde charm that makes the region irresistible. We’ll soon be soaking it up … aboard the ms Agape Rose, the motor-launch we’ve chartered to showcase the alluring Adriatic.

This combination of discovery-on-shore and luxury-at-sea is gonna be simply fantastic! And we promise to keep you posted with scintillating reports and eye-popping photos.

So don’t go too far away – okay?

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Keep it brief – and be sure to say who it’s for and who it’s from.)

ELEPHANTS & OTHER PARTING SHOTS

SAFARI BLOG 07

Tuesday July 4, 2017

As you’ve probably guessed by now, our wild, magnificent, unforgettable African Safari is all over!

We said a sad “Kwaheri!” (goodbye) to Kenya on Saturday … arrived late that night in glittering Dubai … spent the next day trying hard to stay out of the 47-degree midday sun … rode some desert-dunes in the late afternoon … dined in a Bedouin camp as the sun went down … then grabbed a few all-too-brief hours in bed, before returning to the airport and blasting off for Godzone, on the other side of the world.

There’s so much more I could’ve and should’ve written … so many more pix I might’ve shared. In fact, given half the chance I could still bore you to death several times over. But allow me to record a few elephant memories (these big, intelligent mammals are my African favourites) plus some parting shots from other animals that caught the eye during our final hours out on the game-parks.

As a special treat on our last Nairobi morning we visited an elephant orphanage – home, at the moment, for 26 bumbling, tumbling, cute-as baby elephants from all over Africa. Many of them are orphans, their parents killed by poachers, after their tusks; others were found lost and hungry, separated from their parents by the inevitable man-versus-wildlife clashes that occur; still others were found down waterholes or caught in traps (like the tiny little fellow we saw whose trunk was almost severed by a wire snare).

Here, in this sanctuary, they are fed and cared for, allowed to play roly-poly with their friends in the red dust and mud-holes, then returned to the bush at the age of three and adopted into suitable wild herds.

Hard to think of a nicer, more lingering memory to take with us …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. Would you like to join us on our NEXT AFRICAN SAFARI? We’ll most likely go again in 2020 (three years from now). Get in early, so you don’t miss out! Register your interest now by calling Dianne on 0508 323 333 or emailing midlifemadness@travelmanagers.co.nz.

P.P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Keep it brief – and be sure to say who it’s for and who it’s from.)

BIRDS OF A FEATHER

SAFARI BLOG 06

Friday June 30, 2017

There are lots of things about this African Safari that I find hard to describe … lots of things that even photos can’t convey … lots of things you can only appreciate by BEING HERE.

Take landscapes, for example. We’ve lost count of the different landscapes we’ve traversed here in East Africa. From gently rolling plains smothered in acacia trees, to golden-grass savannas stretching to the horizon … from parched, sun-baked dust-pans, to lush-green swampy wetlands. A few days ago, for example, we found ourselves in a place that can only be described as remarkable …

06-01 Ngorongoro Crater - not our photo (1024x453)

Sunday: NGORONGORO CRATER

This World Heritage Site has been called the Eighth Wonder of the Natural World – the biggest intact volcanic caldera on the planet and the largest ‘zoo’ on earth. We slept two nights high up on the rim, driving in the misty early-morning down 600 metres onto the crater floor … one of the most picturesque settings we’d seen on our safari, and an animal population so used to humans that you can almost “reach out and touch”.

06-02 Lake Manyara Serena Lodge (1024x639)

Tuesday: LAKE MANYARA

This scenic gem, extolled by Ernest Hemingway as “the loveliest I had ever seen in Africa”, kept our cameras busy. Baboon troops lounging along the roadside, blue monkeys (you oughta see their privates!) scampering between the ancient mahogany trees, oversized hornbills honking loudly in the high canopy, and truly extraordinary birdlife. 400 different species have been spotted here, and while we didn’t spot anything like 400, we did our level best.

Below are more of the weird and wonderful birds that we’ve seen over the past two weeks – a feast-for-sore-eyes, I’m sure you’ll agree. We saw LOTS MORE than these (some of our group have been ticking them off in a book about ‘Birds of East Africa’ – and they spotted the 100th yesterday). But these are a few that we managed to catch on camera … some of them huge and hard to miss (like the fish eagles, the vultures and the secretary birds) … others small and quick to take flight (like the scarlet-chested sunbird) … some so well-camouflaged they were nearly impossible to see (like the strangely-named water thick-knee) … others so beautifully coloured they took our breath away (like the tiny malachite kingfishers; the first photo shows the pygmy variety, barely 10cm long; the second, a standard malachite, a little bigger, with the fish in its mouth).

Most of these birds, of course, were high in trees or much further away that our photos suggest (thank God for zoom-lenses) … but each of them more fascinating than I can say.

Highlight of the day at Lake Manyara were the zillions of pelicans and yellow-billed storks that were feeding, bathing, squawking and flapping about in the shallow, alkaline waters! A most amazing sight!

06-37 yellow-billed storks & pelicans (1024x768)06-38 great white pelicans (1024x768)

Wednesday: AMBOSELI

Framed against the glorious backdrop of Africa’s highest peak, the magnificent pink-tinged snow-capped Mt Kilimanjaro, Amboseli National Park provides the classic movie image of an African safari park. The mountain remained hidden behind cloud most of yesterday, but it cleared yesterday afternoon. And, speaking of movies, we saw one last night, about this park’s most famous four-legged mother: Echo, the elephant.

06-03 Amboseli Serena Lodge (1024x637)

Amboseli is home to one of the few large elephant populations in all of Africa that hasn’t been ravaged by poachers – and we enjoyed the spectacle of jumbo-sized families on the move: big mommas, their playful youngsters, and the occasional oversized bull – plodding patiently across the dusty plains, and feasting greedily on tasty salads while standing up to their haunches in muddy swamps.

Anyway, enough for now about elephants. I’ll tell you more next time I write …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. Would you like to join us on our NEXT AFRICAN SAFARI? We’ll most likely go again in 2020 (three years from now). Get in early, so you don’t miss out! Register your interest now by calling Dianne on 0508 323 333 or emailing midlifemadness@travelmanagers.co.nz.

P.P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Keep it brief – and be sure to say who it’s for and who it’s from.)