Med to the Balkans research trip – week 2 Back to News List

We kicked off week two leaving our 5-star hotel at Livorno with a drive down through the stunning region of Tuscany, a superb landscape of centuries old wineries and cypress lined driveways at the end of which lay grandiose villas, the scene was magnificent and followed the path of the ancient Romans known as the Via Cassia. Having lunch at the wonderful mountainside village on Montalcino, famous for its Brunello reds, and wandering its ancient laneways was one of the many highlights of Tuscany.

We reached Rome and I was stunned to see how the legendary chaotic traffic of Rome was now calm and orderly, words I would not have chosen to describe Rome decades earlier while I drove buses around Europe, the drive into the hotel was easy and we were soon enjoying the delights of the Savoy Hotel, a mere 10 minutes’ walk from the legendary Trevi Fountain.

Rome is an overload of world renown antiquities and the only way to truly get a feel of its history and meaning is with a city guide, not one that charges around in 3 hours expecting you to follow a flag but one with a real passion for his / her city and we certainly got that with Luigi. We enjoyed a day with Luigi, a 70-year-old who has been guiding for over 3 decades and is still as excited about what he is showing us as he was all those decades ago. We had a great day visiting the Colosseum, Vatican City, Roman Forum and the lesser-known sites such as the Jewish Quarter and Michelangelo Square, he prided himself in showing another side other than the glitz and glamour. Having a lunch of pork and cheese pasta washed down with a spritz in a sidewalk café as Vespas whizzed by was the quintessential Italian experience.

Back on the road it was a quick trip down to Pompei where we spent an amazing 1 ½ hours with our guide Vicenzo who bought the complex alive, who would have known that the good citizens of Pompei washed their clothes & teeth in urine, in fact so popular was urine the Romans put a tax on it, or a penis carved in the road 2000 years ago, and still clearly visible, led the way to the local brothel! Pompei was an amazing city of 16,000 inhabitants that was wiped out in 3 minutes due to a rare pyroclastic eruption, the lava from Mt Vesuvius never actually reached Pompei. 

Onto the Amalfi Coast we spent a day out on the Isle of Capri before enjoying what surely must be one of the greatest’s coastal rides on earth, the Amalfi Coast. Grand villas stood atop towering cliffs that descended vertically into the Tyrrhenian Sea far below, coffee shops and orange juice stalls jostled for position at every lookout as the incredible road wound and snaked its way along this remarkable coastline, its truly was breathtaking.

We turned east across Italy via the awe-inspiring mountain top village of Castelmezzano on our way to the port city of Bari where we boarded our overnight ferry to the walled city of Dubrovnik. Yes, we have been riding epic landscapes all week and yes, the Amalfi Coast is beyond apt description, but it was Bruce Springsteen belting out “Born to Run” the moment we entered the bar on the Croation ferry that probably bought the biggest smile to my face, just one of those quirky travel moments, I guess. Next stop, the Balkans.

Have you heard of the 20 billion US$ “hotel” in Bosnia that no one has ever spent a night in it? Read on to find out about this wild curiosity in the final part of our research trip.

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