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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Journey to Europe (Italy, France, Croatia & Montenegro) from 4 to 28 June, 2015

First leg of the trip tonight with Qatar Airways from BKK to DOH

1. Living so close to Makkasan, I simply walked to the station to catch the air link to Suvarnabhumi
At airport
2. It is a mere 20mn's ride to reach the airport. Unbeatable and so cheap too (OW:35Baht).
3. Suvarnabhumi was very crowded as usual. When I got to the check-in counter, it was not open yet. But I didn't have to wait long.
4. I was not able to carry my case on board as it was slightly too heavy. But they checked it in all the way to Marseilles and gave me a Priority tag. Hopefully, it will be there when I get to destination and won't get lost in Rome again like last time!
5. QATAR Airways really treat well its Silver members: they gave me a Priority lane for security and immigration, gave me a business lounge invitation and placed me on the first row of the upper deck special cabin as I requested. More room for my legs.
6. Am now relaxing at the Thai Royal Orchid Lounge near the boarding gate. Had a bite, a drink and even a shower to cool off. Am ready to go!
Airport business lounge

QATAR AIRWAYS (QR) FLIGHT BKK (Bangkok) to DOH (Doha): Airbus A380-800, 6h10

QR Silver members have a premium class of their own on the tail section of the upper deck. Side seats are set by twos instead of three. At check-in, they gave me a window front seat, which provides even more space for legs. 
I had a great, smooth flight. The meal came with a choice of 3 different dishes. I chose lamb couscous with red wine.
A380: stairs to upper deck
Upper deck cabin aboard A380
Front row:25K
AL MOURJAN Lounge at Hamad International Airport (Doha)

This is really an amazing business lounge. There is a reflected pool and a huge sitting lounge with a 5-star restaurant and bar upstairs.
Al Mourjan lounge pool
Al Mourjan business restaurant & bar
Lounge sitting area

QATAR AIRWAYS (QR) FLIGHT DOH (Doha) to FCO (Rome Fiumicino) : B787-Dreamliner, 5h10

B787 business class view
QATAR new B787-Dreamliner

Salmon entrée

QATAR Airways is now operating Boeing's Dramliner on the DOH-FCO route.
This aircraft is the first generation of a new composite model. It is lighter, displays many new features and is apparently faster and more efficient. 
The business class is a state-of-the-art model with a touch of QATAR 5-star hallmark.
The quality of the meal and of the wine selection is unbelievable. I built up my own seafood menu conceived by a Japanese chef. I selected a NZ 'Saint Clair', one of the best white wines I know of.
The cabin-attendants were wonderful too.

Business class cabin
Night view of Doha at take-off
View before landing
Main course: curry shrimps

ALITALIA (AZ) flight from FCO (Rome-Fiumicino) to MRS (Marseille-Provence): A320, 50mn.
The flight departure was delayed. Onboard service had nothing to rave about. The train to Arles was also late and the train was smelly and in a poor state. Welcome to Europe!

Arrived this morning on the French Riviera (Côte d'Azur) to visit family and friends. Mougins is a picturesque, medieval village perched on a hill above Cannes. This is where Picasso lived and died at the end of his life.

MOUGINS (07/06/2015)
Back to this charming artist village:
View of the village
'The Thumb' by César

Adding colours to the street
Art gallery entrance
Shop of all hats

EZE-Village (08/06/2015):
This medieval village perched above the Mediterranean between Nice & Monaco is a very picturesque eagle's nest. Nietzsche stayed here and was inspired by the beauty of the place with its outstanding view. Today, there are many art galleries and it has become a much visited site. The exotic garden on top of the hill offers a dramatic view on the surrounding landscape some 450m above the sea level.

View from the exotic garden on Villefranche Bay
Village street
Nooks & cranies
Shop entrance
Another typical street
Art gallery
Statue at the exotic garden
View from the garden
View on the church
Village stairs & arcade
MASSIF DE L'ESTEREL (09/06/2015):
Between Théoule-sur-Mer (Alpes Maritimes) and Saint-Rafaël (Var), the landscape becomes  rugged and dramatic. Known as the Massif de l'Esterel, its red volcanic color is due to porphyry contrasting with the deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea.
Coastline towards Saint-Raphaël
Rocky cove
View towards Cannes

THÉOULE-SUR-MER: Family lunch on the beach at the restaurant Les Frères de la Baie.
View from the beach

Marine colors
IN ARLES, PROVENCE from 10-18 June:
The Big Rhône in Arles at its widest
Books on Van Gogh
Town House
Rue des Porcelets
Café Grenadine

At the VanGogh's Foundation

                               TRIP TO CROATIA, BOSNIA & MONTENEGRO [19-26 June, 2015]

Ryanair B737-800 covers the flight in 1h20

DAY 1ZADAR: This is a lovely ancient town nestling in a bay among long islands stretching in the Adriatic. I stayed at a great place on the northern shore called Hotel Mediteran.
The islands off the coast
Church tower at the Roman Forum

Street procession

Croatian costume
Seaside promenade
Small harbor
A lovely street
Shop entrance
Café Tramonto: Alfred Hitchcock's favorite terrace
DAY 2 [20/06/2015] - NIN: This is a village on an island of its own at about 15km north of Zadar. It is surrounded by salt lakes and as the community is enclosed in a wall, I couldn't help thinking of Aigues-Mortes in southern France! Like Zadar, the village keeps many remains from the Roman times. I also visited the salt factory just outside Nin.
Map of Nin on its island
Waterside walk
Holy Cross Church
Salt lakes
St.Nicolas Church (12th century)

About the sights in Nin

ZADAR: I dove back to Zadar after visiting Nin in order to see an area of the old town I had not seen yesterday. This was really worth it.

At Petra Zoranica Square
Old tower on the square
In an old street corner
City gate & walls
Coastal road to Split: The road that meanders around the Adriatic is gorgeous. There are so many offshore islands along the coast that it looks like a huge channel. The road becomes more scenic and dramatic on the way south. A few bridges cross some of the fjord-like bays, which go deep inland.
Coastal road from Zadar to Split via Sibenik & Trogir
View of the coast between Sibenik & Trogir
SIBENIK: About half way between Zadar & Split, I stopped for a while at the stunning medieval city of Sibenik, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
At Sibenik harbor and seaside promenade

TROGIR: Today's stop was at Hotel Rotondo just before the island-city of Trogir, another UNESCO World Heritage. This is quite a touristic place and it has been beautifully kept & restored.
Bay panorama from Trogir south end

Harbor café
Old town window
Old town mansion

St.Lawrence Cathedral
Grand Cipiko Palace
Cathedral gate
View on St.John II Square

Hill view from tower

10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Trogir
Evening panorama from Hotel Rotondo room
Today's distance: 166km

DAY 3 [21/06/2015]: Trogir to Podstrana via Split.

SPLIT - It is only 23km away from Trogir. The historic center is also classified by UNESCO. The  Palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian is overlooking the harbor set in a bay protected by some offshore islands. The landscape, with its backdrop of mountains & hill, is truly awesome.
Panorama of Split bay
Harbor seafront
In the old city
Seafront walk
At Diocletian's palace
Old town street
A Venetian square
Harbor view
Hill view of the city

Diocletian Palace

PODSTRANA - This little seaside resort is just on the southern side of Split. Staying at another nice resort called Pension Amigos.
View from room balcony
At the beach
Sunset lights on the Adriatic
Sunset on the longest day of the year
Today's distance: 36km.
Distance since Zadar: 204km

DAY 4 [22/06/2015]: Podstrana to Makarska.

OMIS: A small town and port nestling in a fjord-like bay with towering mountains all around. The main street is planted with plane-trees providing shade like in the French countryside.
Omis bay & harbor
Coastal road on the MAKARSKA RIVIERA: A truly magnificent drive along the Adriatic with a dramatic mountain range and a deep blue sea with a long stretch of islands.
Viewpoint panorama on the 'Makarska Riviera'

MAKARSKA: I left Podstrana at 10:00AM and arrived here at 12:00 noon. The hotel, Pension Moca, is above the town on the main road from Split to Dubrovnik. Magnificent view from my room balcony.
View from the balcony of my room at Pension Moca.

Ancient boat at the harbor

Harbor front: house-row

Mountain above Makarska
Public beach

Sunset at the beach

Today's distance from Podstrana: 50km
Distance since Zadar: 254km

DAY 5 [23/06/2015] - MAKARSKA to SLANO via the BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA enclave of NEUM.
Today was one of the longest distance made on this trip. I left Makarska around 8.00AM, right after breakfast and arrived in Slano just before 2.00PM. I made many stops to enjoy the view and a dramatic landscape. 
The MAKARSKA RIVIERA actually ends in GRADAC. I enjoyed particularly making a brief photo stop in the little resort of DRVENIK. But the whole drive along the coast is extremely scenic.
PLOCE is a picturesque harbor in a plain on the estuary of a river, where they grow many fruits and vegetables. From then on, the landscape changes but remains awesome. After the plain, the coastal road goes up the mountain again until it reaches the enclave of Neum

BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA has become the 2nd new country visited in 2015. NEUM is the only access they have to the seaside. It is a modern and rather dramatic resort and port standing on a rock above a fjord-like arm of the Adriatic barred by more offshore islands, which are very close to the coast.

The OSKORUSNO PENINSULA is another amazing sight of this area. I made two stops. First, at MALI STON, a little fishing harbor known here for its oysters and mussels. I had made plan to be there for lunch. So, I found a nice restaurant called Bota-Sare. I lunched with raw oysters with lemon, a dish of cooked fresh mussels in a Dalmatian sauce with a glass of local white wine. Had pana cotta for dessert.

The village is very small but quite picturesque. The main attraction is what is known to be 'the Croatian Great Wall of China'. Absolutely fascinating and yes, very similar to The Great Wall of China. By the way, this is the largest fortified wall in Europe. It goes up a stiff mountain all the way across the peninsula to the main town of STON. It was built by the Serenissima to be protected from the invasions, mostly from the Ottomans. 
Could this be an idea inspired by Marco Polo? And here is a story worth remembering.
The island of Korcula, birthplace of Marco Polo?

I have often learnt to distance myself from official History. Here are two examples both set at the times of the Great Discoveries.
We learnt that Christopher Columbus, a converted Jew, was Genoese. Sometimes, you read, Italian. But at the time Italy did not exist as such. There were two dominant republics : Genoa and Venice. Well, Christopher Columbus is often presented as a Genoese. He sure is, except that if you go to Calvi, Corsica, they will tell you he was born there and even point to his birthplace in town. Fair enough, Corsica was under Genoese control at this time.
And now what about Marco Polo ? Lately there have been much controversy on this other famous explorer. I always thought he was Venetian ! But then reading about Croatian history, I found out that he was actually born in the island of Korcula. When you know that the Serenissima had many colonies along the Adriatic, this is not entirely surprising. Korcula, Ston and Mali Ston were all Venetian settlements bearing the seal of Venice in their architecture up till now. Many local families in Korcula still have the name of Polo. Does History sometimes twist reality ?
This is what Wikipedia says about Marco Polo: "Some minor sources state that Polo was born in the Venetian island of Curzola (present day Korčula – Croatia). The claim is also supported by the Croatian National Tourist Board, which advertises the country as "Croatia, Homeland of Marco Polo", however the lack of evidence makes this theory strongly disputed and some scholars consider it even invented."
Anyway, it seems that Marco Polo was not really taken seriously in Venice. He was only respected because he had become a rich merchant. As he sponsored a naval battle against the Genoese in the Dalmatian islands, he was captured and put to jail, where apparently he dictated his memories to his fellow companion of misfortune. The book published in French 'Le Livre des Merveilles' became a best-seller.
It is interesting to learn that Christopher Columbus was inspired by Marco Polo's voyages. And also that contrary to the general belief that the Earth was a flat disk, scientists and seamen had always thought that the Earth had been a globe since the Antiquity.
Whatsoever, it is not the first time that a famous individual has not recognised by his fellow countrymen. The same thing happened to Van Gogh, who only sold one painting in his lifetime ! In Arles, people thought he was just a derelict ! 

STON, on the other side of the peninsula, is the main town, known for its salt lakes - the first ever in Europe. This was a major source of income for the Venetians.

SLANO is only a few kilometres away. A bit like Makarska, it is located in a narrow bay with a mountain backdrop. The resort I stayed is called Hotel Osmine.
The bay of Slano, north of Dubrovnik
Today's distance: 133km
Distance since Zadar:387km

DAY 6 [24/06/2015] - Slano to Dubrovnik.
Slano Bay seen from Osmine hotel waterside
I spent the whole morning at the hotel as it was very windy with an overcast sky. Left right after lunch along the Dubrovnik Riviera.
Hotel Adria is a splendid building offering an outstanding view on the harbor side, the bay and the mountainous coastline.
Hotel Adria: room view
DUBROVNIK is the 4th UNESCO World Heritage site of this trip. I spent part of the afternoon walking through the streets of the old city on a first self-exploration tour.
Panorama of Dubrovnik old harbour
Sunset from the hotel terrace
Today's distance: 33km
Distance since Zadar: 420km

DAY 7 [25/06/2015] - Full day excursion to MONTENEGRO.
I left this morning at 8.00AM and was back at the hotel at 8.00PM. It was a long, full day but a brilliant visit to one of Europe's most beautiful site, protected by UNESCO. This was my 5th UNESCO site on this trip and the 3rd new country of the year after CROATIA & BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA.
The DUBROVNIK RIVIERA- It all started with another wonderful coastal drive along the Adriatic as far as the airport, about 20km south of Dubrovnik. I already made a few stops at viewpoints on the way.
View to Dubrovnik
Bay of Kotor
The CROATIA-MONTENEGRO border is about 45km south of Dubrovnik (half way to Kotor). Passing the Croatian border is quick on both sides. It takes longer to go through the Montenegro formalities, where they do stamp your passport. This area is covered with slender Florentine cypresses.
The BAY of KOTOR- This is truly a highlight. The scenery and the colors are spectacular. This bay reminded me of the Norwegian fjords: by boat, the distance from the Adriatic to the city of Kotor is 28km.
Panorama of the bay of Motor
Perast Museum
PERAST- This is a lovely little village by the water's side a few kilometres before getting to Kotor and the deep end of the bay. As it was around 11.00AM, I chose to sit for lunch at a restaurant set by the water. It was a delightful moment.
                                             Bujovic palace, Perast
KOTOR- This is another dramatic site. The medieval city is at the far end of the bay below a ring of
Relief of the bay of Kotor
high mountains. This is a small walled city with a towering fort above. The wall runs up the mountain like at STON and is another reminder of the Great Wall of China.
LEPETANE ferry- On the way back, I chose to take the car-ferry from LEPETANE to the other side. This is a very narrow strait. But the road from Kotor is very narrow as it winds along the coast almost at the same level as the water.
Cavtat seafront
CAVTAT- Back to Croatia, I stopped at the delightful sea-resort of Cavtat. It was first a Greek settlement, then a Roman. Due to the attacks by the Ottomans, its inhabitants later moved to found the city of Dubrovnik. I stopped there for a while enjoying the view, the sea, the breeze and the charming atmosphere of the place. I sat down at a café to enjoy having a hot cappuccino.
Bay of Cavtat
The Port of DUBROVNIK- Back to town, before going back to
At the harbor
the hotel, I decided to drive down to the city port. I enjoyed walking there in the evening sunlight, chose a little café-restaurant to have a seafood dinner.
Dubrovnik Harbor

Night view
Today's distance: 175km [It is 90km from Dubrovnik to Kotor, but less on return because of the ferry]
Distance since Zadar: 595km

DAY 8 [26/06/2015) - DUBROVNIK & nearby area.
For my last day in Croatia, I just stayed here in Dubrovnik to visit more places and trying to relax before a long trip back to Thailand.
Panorama of the Old City of Dubrovnik.
The City Walls - As they open by 8.00AM, I was there by 8.30AM. First, it is not so hot in the
On the City Walls
morning and this is the right time before all the groups invade the city! It takes about 1h30 for the entire walk and I thought it was really worth doing it as you get a different perspective of the old town.
                                          Walls of Dubrovnik
                                             Minceta Tower
At about 10.00AM, I went back to the old city and tried to see places I had not visited yet. By 11.00AM, it was time to go as herds of tourists were swarming into the city. I decided to drive back to the Dubrovnik Riviera in order to go and see two seaside resorts I had missed.
The Old City

SREBRENO is a small seaside resort a few kilometres south of Dubrovnik. Finding a place to was was hard. I walked along the seafront. The scenery is nice, the sea has amazing colors and the village is rather picturesque. I sat at a café facing the sea for a while to enjoy the view and a little bit of shade with a cool sea-breeze.
Srebreno bay

MLINI is next and you can actually walk there crossing a beautiful park full of pine-trees and bougainvillea. Mlini is even more picturesque than Srebreno. One beach has a little bit of sand, a rarity in Croatia.
In the shade of pine-trees
View of Mlini

Then I went back to the hotel to rest for a while and start packing for tomorrow's early departure. At about 4.00PM, I left again to drive and explore the Lapped peninsula. I ended up finding a parking at Gruz, Dubrovnik new port. I took a walk on the southern part of the bay and found a café to sit, enjoy the view with a glass of strong Croatian red wine.
Dubrovnik harbor
A Gruz mansion
I had an early dinner at the same restaurant as yesterday on the other side of the bay.
Tonight, the sunset was particularly beautiful. Hotel Adria is the perfect place to watch these sunsets.
Last sunset in Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik seen from the air aboard the flight to Rome

~ End of the trip in Croatia ~

This is now a tribute to the car I drove for a full week: a Skoda, very smooth driving and equipped with the latest technology. It was a real pleasure to have this white, little car.
At Dubrovnik Airport

DAY 9 [27/06/2015]- Return flight to BANGKOK.
Early departure from Dubrovnik Airport.

1st flight: DVB (Dubrovnik) --> FCO (Rome-Fiumicino), A320 / 55mn.
Now, waiting for the next flight to Doha. At Fiumicino Airport for a few hours.

2nd flight: FCO (Rome-Fiumicino) --> DOH (Doha), B787-8 'Dreamliner' / 4h55
QR B787-8 at Rome

3rd flight: DOH (Doha) --> BKK (Bangkok), A380-800 / 6h10

Dreamliner economy cabin

Flight FCO-DOH

Flight DOH-BKK

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