Whenever I think of the Mediterranean, I think of The Lord of the Rings.
Okay, that’s not entirely true. I think of sunny beaches, clear water, rolling pastoral terrain, and amazing food.
I think of history, and culture, and my own heritage as an Italian-American.
I think of the diversity and richness of the region, with so many modern European cultures and the influence of so many ancient ones.
The word “Mediterreanean” comes from the Latin word mediterraneus, the middle of the earth. That’s for good reason. It is the center point of the known world in the time of the early European maps: Europe, Asia and Africa.
Because it was, and is, that cultural nexus of so many worlds, the Mediterranean has always fascinated me. Even the word itself evokes otherworldliness and tradition and the spirit of living life to its fullest.
That’s very Hobbit-like.
We here at Outbound Adventurer are certainly geeky, nerdy, and willing to rant at length about our geeky, nerdy passions. Going from “the middle of the earth” to the “Middle-earth” of The Lord of the Rings is, to my Hobbit-addled brain, a fitting connection.
(Be forewarned that if and when we head to New Zealand, site of The Lord of the Rings films, I may just about lose my mind.)
The Mediterranean is our next stop as Outbound Adventurers, and our first trip with the specific intent to blog about our treks.
We’re starting this week with a basic itinerary of our trip, some sights we’d like to see along the way, and a few pointers we’ve learned in coordinating our travel.
The center of the world?
To me, it comes pretty damn close.
First on our list, the motherland.
Our first stop in the Mediterranean will land our jet lagged butts in the Eternal City.
This will be Jessi’s first time in Rome, and my first time since I threw my chump change into the Trevi Fountain back when I was 16.
For those of you who might not know, the Fontana di Trevi is famous for its ability to attract tourists who want to return to Rome someday. Tossing one coin in the fountain ensures you’ll return, and I’m considering this a collection on my 16-year-old debt.
They say tossing two or three coins helps spark a little Italian romance, if you believe in that kind of thing. I don’t, but I also threw a bobby pin over the grave of Buffalo Bill to help my wedding prospects, so don’t listen to me. Heh, that is a story for another day.
We’ll be staying three nights in Rome, and besides the Trevi we are looking forward to Roman staples like the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and hopefully a creepy catacomb.
I’m so interested in the dark, mysterious side of Rome, and the catacombs are just a small part of that. Jessi was bitten by the catacomb bug in Paris, and I visited the Catacombs of St. Callixtus the First, famous for the tombs of Catholic Popes and martyrs. Not to mention, it’s creepy as all get out.
In the same vein as dead people, we will be taking a Viator tour of Pompeii and traveling up the sleepy monster that is Mount Vesuvius. Again my second visit, Jessi’s first, but to climb that volcano is a first for both of us.
We’ll be staying at Hotel Luciani for our duration in Rome.
Then, we’re off on a trek up north to Venice, from Rome’s Termini Station to Venice’s Santa Lucia. We found a decent fare on Select Italy, an American site that hooks up with Trenitalia for inter-Italy train exchanges. Another option is the Italo line, which departs from Rome’s Tiburtina station to Venice Santa Lucia via high speed rail. How futuristic is that?
Oh Venezia. A beautiful, eerie, sunken city full of canals and prison history and Ducal palaces to boot. The way those clock towers of yours sink and tilt from the weight of time and the liquidity of the sediment underneath makes me think again of Middle-earth. It makes me think of the slanted and scary towers of Mordor. Go figure?
In any case, we’re rolling in to Venice and hoping to spend just the afternoon and evening there. Top of the list for us is Saint Mark’s Basilica in the Piazza San Marco. I have fond memories of my last visit here, when a pigeon kicked me in the head. I thought it was my friend standing next to me, scratching my scalp, before I realized I’d been drop kicked by an avian foe.
Needless to say, we’re going to have to be careful of the rowdy pigeons in Venice.
After Venice we will be leaving the land of my heritage. Okay, Jessi gets honorary heritage, too, by default.
Our overnight plans are a little malleable right now, but we’ll provide updates after we return on the best routes as we travel by bus, train, or however we can manage, across the border from Italy to Slovenia.
Slovenia: Ljubljana and Lake Bled
Go ahead. Say that ten times fast. If you’re good with Slavic languages, it’s a breeze, but I have to admit that the first time I saw this word I did a slow-blink. And hey, Jessi and I like complicated words!
The city of ljubezen (“love” in Slovenian) is pronounced LYOOB-lee-ahn-ah. We’re excited to see sites like the Dragon Bridge and explore the nooks of this international, intellectual city. Ljubljana has one of the oldest philharmonic symphonies in the world, the Academia Philharmonicorum, founded in 1701, and has its roots in the dragon myths of Greece, the stories of St. George in Christianity, and in the Slavic dragon god Veles. Seriously, the legendary dragon from Jason and the Argonauts was supposed to have dwelled in the marshes near Ljubljana. How cool is that?
Out of our two days in Ljubljana, we’re looking forward to spending the second in beautiful Lake Bled, helped in part by our friends at Roundabout Tours. Lake Bled is a gorgeous Julian Alpine scenic area with a historic clifftop castle. We seriously cannot wait.
Our accommodations in Ljubljana will be at the fantastic Celica Art Hostel, which used to be a military prison. Yeah, mom, we’re going to Slovenia to stay in a prison. Totally safe.
Onward via train to another border crossing, into Republika Hrvatska.
Two days in the capital city of Croatia, Zagreb, and we are really hoping to drink it all in. Jessi has been taking Croatian language lessons since March 2014, and we are eager to practice. If you’re interested in learning Croatian, seek out the wonderful Mateja at Cosmis Language and set up your lessons via Skype!
Our plans in Zagreb are also up in the air, but check out this cool steampunk Zagreb tour.
Yeah, we think that might just have to happen.
We also intend to make our way to Plitvice National Park, which is a breathtaking wilderness of waterfalls, greenery, and overall Croatian natural splendor.
Our accommodations in Zagreb will be at The Brit Hostel, in the heart of the city.
Our last stop, after a brief plane hop via Croatia Airlines, will be the sunny Mediterranean city of Dubrovnik, where we will spend the better part of a week living (we hope!) sort of like locals.
Dubrovnik, with its orange roofs and rich artistic history, is a real gem on the southern tip of Croatia. The old walled city is a relic of ancient days when cities still had walls for protection, and it is a popular tourist destination on the Dalmatian Coast.
We’re planning to hop around to various museums and local sites using the Dubrovnik Card, and maybe find our way into neighboring countries since they are so close. On our radar is the island of Korčula, which is the second most populated island on the Adriatic coast, after the northern Croatian island of Krk.
Lapad is a residential suburb, about 3 kilometers from the walled Old Town (Stari Grad) of historic Dubrovnik. We’ll be staying in a private apartment we discovered on TripAdvisor.
After a lengthy rest in Dubrovnik, we’re heading back home to Houston.
Back to reality after a Mediterranean whirlwind tour.
Back from Middle-earth.
But not New Zealand. That’s a tale for another day.
We’ll be posting pictures as we go along, so please keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming posts!
What is the most memorable travel experience you’ve had? Do you associate your travel with other aspects of your life? Any travel tips–lodging, transportation, sights to see? Let us know in the comments below!