Archive for September, 2011

September 25, 2011

Gallo Nero

by Johnny

Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t find a farm or winery to work at on such short notice. Actually we could, but we weren’t really interested in building compost toilets, breeding Arabian horses or cleaning chickens. Instead, we found our own place to rent in Italy’s Chianti region that gave us a great weekly rate, so we were off to the rolling hills, olive groves and vineyards of Tuscany…not a bad consolation prize.

The owner of our apartment picked us up at the bus station and took us to our place. We couldn’t believe our eyes. The “apartment” was actually a little house, complete with front yard, huge bedroom, separate living room and brand new kitchen. It was most definitely a home away from home for the week.

Our place behind the trees Our patio
Our front yard Our side yard
Inside our pad

We based ourselves in the small town of Greve in Chianti, the unofficial capital of the region about an hour bus ride south of Florence. After walking the entire town in about 30 minutes, Anna and I got a little worried that we might become bored out of our minds staying here a week, but we grew to love Greve more each day. The town’s focal point is the triangular shaped Piazza Matteotti, which is lined with enough enotecas (wine bars), macellerias (butchers) and other specialty food stores to keep you busy for a month. The piazza also hosts a festive Saturday market, where Anna picked up some goodies for the folks back home.

Over the course of the week, we made friends with the owner of a homemade pasta shop where we’d pick up ingredients for dinner, the owner of a made-to-order panini shop where we’d grab lunch, and the waiter of a wine bar (Bottega del Moro) right down the street who would let us use the wi-fi and give us free bruschetta whenever we stopped by.

We also tasted our fair share of the region’s wine at Le Cantine di Greve in Chianti. It’s an underground wine cellar that has hundreds of Italy’s wine available for tasting. You buy a prepaid card, stick it into one of the several taps located throughout the cellar, and out comes your tasting. €10 got us each about eight tastes. It’s a little touristy, but a great way to learn about and try all the different wines from the area.

Piazza Matteotti
Piazza Matteotti during the Saturday market
Market goodies More goodies
Via Roma, Greve’s main street
Picking out sandwich toppings is hard work Success!
Pesto pasta and olive spread compliments of the pasta man
Wine tasting at Le Cantine di Greve in Chianti More wine tasting

After reading a couple guidebooks that were left in our apartment, it was clear that the best way to truly experience Tuscany, and Chianti in particular, is to rent some wheels and explore all the small hill towns on your own. This was great news because it had been a couple weeks since we’d last rented a scooter, and I needed a fix real bad. Luckily, there was a place right in town that offered daily scooter rentals. Much to Anna’s chagrin, however, all the pink Vespas were gone when we got there and we were stuck with your run-of-the-mill grey scooter.

Armed and ready, we headed out for a day of exploring along Le Strade del Gallo Nero (The Road of the Black Cock). Settle down, perverts. Le Strade del Gallo Nero refers to the wine road of Chianti Classico, the region’s most famous red wine whose symbol is a black rooster. We made pit stops in the picturesque Chianti towns of Montefioralle, Panzano, Radda, Castellina and Lamole. Each town offered incredible views of the Tuscan countryside, especially in the afternoon. The way the late day sun would throw shadows on the hills, vineyards and stone farmhouses made us feel like we were living inside a painting.

Vineyards near Lamole
On the road again Mothers lock up your daughters
Balanced our camera on the scooter for a snapshot Stoked!
The grape harvest is just around the corner, so the bunches were huge and plentiful
Montefioralle Montefioralle
Radda Radda
View near Castellina Some pretty sweet pads

And since no blog post would be complete without some serious food pictures, I present to you our lunch at Ristorante la Castellana in the town of Montefioralle…definitely worth the mile-long hike uphill.

How ’bout that view?
Fresh country artichoke Pappardelle with wild boar ragú
Anna’s truffle ravioli made me wish I had a cardiologist on speed-dial

Tomorrow we’re off to Florence, and we’re ecstatic to be meeting up with our friends Marisa and Brian for a few days of museum hopping, gelato eating and, who knows, maybe even some more scooter riding.

September 24, 2011

When In Rome

by Anna

Rome was as magnificent as I remembered.

Johnny and I found a little hole in the wall apartment right by the Trevi Fountain, putting us in a great location to walk everywhere. Over the course of five days we maneuvered our way through throngs of tour groups and hit up many of the main attractions such as Piazza Venezia, the Colosseum, Arco di Constanino, Palatine and Roman Forum; Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps; the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori; Villa Borghese; Vatican City, Piazza San Pietro and St. Peter’s Basilica.

Our apartment was literally a “hole in the wall” The streets of Rome
Piazza Navona
St. Peter’s Basilica
Piazza San Pietro The Swiss Guard
Baldacchino in St. Peter’s
En route to the Colosseum
Ancient Rome The Colosseum
Enjoying the view

Aside from visiting these major sites we had a great time wandering the backstreets around Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori where we could momentarily escape the crowds and just enjoy the lively pulse of the city. We found a great bar called Bar del Fico, which felt like the Lower East Side meets Rome, where we’d check emails, research activities for the next day and eavesdrop on the passionate game of chess that seemed to be permanently ongoing, morning, noon and night, amongst a raucous group of older Italian men. We also had a good time perusing and picking up picnic supplies at the colorful outdoor market at Campo de’Fiori, getting paninis handmade at a nearby butcher shop and strolling through Villa Borghese.  Walking around the quiet yet still lively streets in the Jewish Ghetto and sampling Jewish-style fried artichokes was another welcomed relief after we had battled the crowds around the Coliseum and Roman Forum.  We also taste-tested many different gelato flavors and establishments and declared our favorite to be San Crispino, which was conveniantly situated a couple blocks from our apartment. Any place that won’t serve their gelato in a cone because it detracts from the flavors of the ice cream means serious business!

Campo de’ Fiori Fruit stalls
Paninis to order! Jewish Ghetto

Other highlights for us included our visit to the Museo e Galleria Borghese. The walk through the park to get there was just as nice as the beautiful and immaculate interior which showcased amazing frescoes, sculptures, paintings and furniture; my favorite being Bernini’s Apollo e Dafne. We also loved our visit there, because as we approached the Museum, a nice lady came up to us and asked if we needed tickets (she happened to have two extra). She was like our sight-seeing fairy godmother, and she saved us time and money and renewed our faith that not everyone is out to scam you (having been on guard since our Barcelona subway incident)! The Pantheon also remains at the top of our list for most awe-inspiring site. We made a point to walk past it every night on our way home to see its massive façade lit up and towering over the music-filled piazza.

Pantheon oculus Villa Borghese
Trevi Fountain Not a bad stop on the way back to our apt.

One of our favorite evenings in Rome was our night in Trastevere on the other side of the Tiber river. We wished we had ventured over earlier in our stay because we loved the colorful, narrow streets hung with laundry lines, the bustling cafes and the more “neighborhoody” feel of the area. We also happened to be in Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere at mass, and the site of the beautiful gold interior of the Basilica di Santa Maria glowing with candles and people was magical. We decided to try a restaurant that we read about in Lonely Planet called Da Augusto. It was tucked into a tiny little quiet piazza. We got there before it opened but noticed that people had already started to sit at the few small tables out front. We decided to follow their lead, and it paid off! Within 15 minutes, every table was filled and there was a line at the door. The tiny restaurant finally opened its doors, and we were greeted by friendly servers and a bustling scene around the once quiet piazza. We had a delicious meal of Amatricione and Cacio e Pepe Rigatoni, grilled local veggies, a half liter of tasty house red and a delicious home-made pine nut cake. The entire meal came in under 30 euros, and was one of our favorites in Rome.

Crossing the Ponte Sisto bridge to Trastevere Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere
Spanish Steps

After five days in Rome our feet, feeling similar pains to ones we felt after Paris, were happy to say ‘Ciao Roma,’ and head for the rolling hills of Tuscany!

September 14, 2011

Dreamy Spoleto

by Anna

We bid farewell to Croatia on Sunday and took a three hour ferry from Vis to Split where we had to take the Blue Line overnight ferry to get back to Italy. Now, I may be a little dramatic in saying that the ferry ride was a total nightmare (Johnny will tell you it wasn’t that bad), but I wasn’t expecting our sleeper cabin to be in the depths of the ship in a metal coffin. Ok, ok, I AM exaggerating, but we were surprised when we discovered that “Deck 2” was actually between the engine and where the cars were kept. There weren’t even windows until you reached “Deck 5.” Apparently they figured it was more important that the “night club” and “casino” have windows. I almost opted to sleep on the open air deck on the 8th level, but after a bottle of wine, some watery spaghetti and playing with Johnny’s hair, I felt better about descending back down to the depths of Deck 2 and slept pretty soundly with the help of an Ambien until our 6am wake-up call. We got to Ancona around 7:30am, ran to the train station which was farther away than we thought, missed our train by 5 minutes and subsequently posted up in the train station for the next few hours. We finally got on a train at 11:30am and after a couple hours had made it to Spoleto!

Boarding the Blue Line
Wine makes everything better Johnny feeling very “Johnny Depp” with his tan & ponytail

Like most terrible travel days the trip paid off. Spoleto is beautiful, and we have been having the best time here! I have to give props to Johnny for randomly picking this town as a stop on our way to Rome. Located on a hilltop in the Umbria region of Italy it is surrounded by rolling hills that seem to be every shade of green and even sometimes blue and purple. The sky at sunset looks more like a painting than real life, the town itself somehow instantly felt “homey” and all the people have been extremely friendly and welcoming. Every steep winding street seems more ancient than the next, there are barely any tourists and every meal has been DELICIOUS. And as an added bonus, we are staying at a charming hotel/B&B. It’s the best of both worlds…our room is cleaned every day, we got shower gel AND slippers, and we are treated to a nice breakfast every morning on a terrace overlooking the hills. We’ve been feeling quite luxurious:)

Spoleto is probably best known for a music/dance/opera/drama festival that began in 1958 and is held here every summer in June/July. The performances take place around the town in amazing settings like an ancient Roman Theatre and on the Piazza del Duomo in front of the town’s cathedral. Since we just missed this festival, we wandered around and enjoyed the ancient ruins and pretty scenery. This included a visit past the hilltop fortress to a bridge built on a Roman aqueduct called the Ponte delle Torri and a short hike from there to the 13th century Chiesa di San Pietro. We made the most of the terrace at our hotel as well, reading and lounging in the afternoon. I even busted out my sketchbook finally…it is hard to not be inspired by such a beautiful landscape.

Piazza del Duomo
Fresco in the cathedral
Teatro Romano
Ponte delle Torri
Crossing the Ponte delle Torri View from the Ponte delle Torri
Lounging on the hotel’s terrace Sketching the view from the terrace

I think the highlight of our stay here though has been the food! The area is well-known for truffles, and there are all sorts of varieties of truffle dishes on every menu. Each restaurant has served food that tastes like a wonderful home-cooked meal. Today was undoubtedly the best experience of local food, as we decided to try out a wine bar called Osteria del Matto that we had passed several times over the past few days. We read on a food blog that the place is run by Filippo and his “Mama,” and that the food is bought fresh each morning and the menu decided on the spot by “Mama.” We settled in on a bench outside, and the courses of food started to arrive….lentils, toasted bread with olive oil and garlic, pancetta bruschetta, chicken in mustard sauce with grilled radicchio, home-made pasta with chili, garlic and olive oil, etc. It sounds like a ridiculous amount of food, but everything was in small-sized portions and came out slowly so that you had time to savor each bite and then digest before the next dish. Before we knew it, we had struck up a conversation with the man at the next table, Dennis. He was from Dublin, and he and his wife owned a vacation home in Umbria about an hour away. He had been coming to this place for years, and said it was the best (we had to agree!). Soon, Filippo came out to say hi to Dennis and bring him some home-made beer, followed by “Mama” asking us if we wanted more food. Next thing I knew, I was sitting alone at the tables as Filippo had taken Johnny and Dennis off to see where he was home-brewing his beer and the beginnings of a new beer bar that he plans to open in a couple years. Before the end of the meal we also ended up meeting a group of Australians from Melbourne and a group of Americans from Kansas City. It was an international affair at Osteria del Matto, and we left with full stomachs and some original artwork by Filippo.

Dinner at La Torretta Another great meal at La Lanterna
Osteria del Matto Secret recipe chicken at Osteria del Matto
A close-up of Filippo’s work

We couldn’t have enjoyed our time here more, and we are ready to take on Rome tomorrow!

September 14, 2011

Island Time; Vis

by Johnny

Once we got ourselves all sorted out with our travel plans back to Italy, we spent our final few days in Croatia enjoying all that the small island of Vis had to offer. Vis is Croatia’s most isolated island, located deep in the Adriatic further from the mainland than any other.  It’s also Croatia’s most unspoiled island, as it was previously a military base due to it’s strategic location and just recently opened its doors to tourism in 1989.  These facts are evident when you’re walking around town.  There’s a little less English spoken, it’s a little grittier, you may turn the corner and run into a goat, and the fishermen are a little saltier.

We based ourselves in the small fishing village of Komiza, located on the far west side of the island in the shadows of Mt. Hum.  The setting was truly stunning.  Komiza is said to be the place where fishing on the eastern side of the Adriatic was born, and it still remains a fishing village to its core.  Oddly enough, many fishermen from Komiza migrated to San Pedro, CA in the 1920s.  While there are only about 500 permanent residents of Komiza, over 5,000 San Pedro residents can trace their roots back to Komiza.  I even met an old salty fisherman whose brother lives in San Pedro.  Again, what a small world.

Komiza’s harbor
Fisherman talking about the day’s catch Komiza’s main square
Green shutters everywhere in Croatia
Beach in Komiza
Church in Komiza Hey there, goat

I am 100% addicted to scooters.  When my 2002 Ford Explorer Sport goes out of style (errr, explodes the first time I try and start it), I am getting a scooter of some sort.  It must run in the family…my Uncle Lenny is currently riding his Vespa from San Diego to Canada.  Awesome!  Anyways, on one of our days in Vis we rented a scooter (duh!) to explore the island.  From hidden coves to inland vineyards to the top of Mt. Hum, we got to see how beautiful the island truly is.  One highlight was our stop at Milna beach for lunch.  The restaurant on the beach looked like it had been deserted for over a decade, but out popped a friendly waiter to give us the menu…followed by him pointing out the two or three items from the menu they could actually make that day.  Anna’s cuttlefish black risotto was her favorite in Croatia, and I loved my cevapcici.  I don’t know what it’s made of, but I do know it’s delicious.  Side note: Apologies to France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, but we think Croatia has the best olive oil in the world. Hands down. It’s so thick and it actually tastes like olives.  We discussed this fact with our waiter, and I swear he started weeping a little when talking about his family’s homemade olive oil. I recommend you get your hands on some ASAP. Milna also had the first real sandy beach we saw in all of Croatia.  Bonus!

Born to be wild
Cuttlefish risotto in Milna Cevapcici…as fun to say as it is to eat
Cove of Stoncica…I spy a donkey
Nude beach logo could use some work
Milna beach Milna beach

From Milna we headed inland through the island’s vineyards and up to the top of Mt. Hum.  We weren’t sure if our scooter was going to make it, and Anna and I both started chanting, “I think I can!  I think I can!” but we finally got to the top.  From here we had incredible views of the town of Komiza on one side and other Croatian islands on the other.  We also hiked up to Tito’s cave.  Tito was Yugoslavia’s most infamous president, and during the war he would have secret meetings at this hidden cave.  It’s super creepy…like meeting a mob boss in the middle of the Vegas desert or something.  I’d be all like, “Uh, Tito…this is a little weird.  Maybe we can meet at Starbucks.”

View of Komiza from Mt. Hum
Anna contemplating the meaning of life
You’re my boy, Blue!
Tito’s cave built into Mt. Hum

Thanks for everything, Croatia! You’ll be missed, but we know we’ll see you again one day!

Our last meal in Croatia at Konoba Jastozera
September 11, 2011

Back To The Boot

by Johnny

A couple weeks ago our second workstay host emailed us to say that she had gotten sick and would no longer be able to have us as helpers.  We were a little bummed because this workstay was on an operating winery outside of Rome, and we were really looking forward to learning about the winemaking process as well as attending the weekly sustainable agriculture dinners the winery hosts.  But we figured, “Hey, nothing an extra couple weeks bouncing around the Croatian islands and a detour down to Montenegro can’t fix.”  And as you can see by our recent posts we’ve been having the time of our lives.  But once we got to the island of Vis, even though it’s just as beautiful and even more remote than the others, something just wasn’t feeling right.  It’s hard to explain, but both Anna and I were feeling a little…well…bored and worthless.

I think I just heard a collective “PUHH-LEEAAASSSSE!” from all the employed folk back home, but it’s true.  We weren’t really meeting any locals…we weren’t really learning anything new…we were just lazing around waiting for something to happen.  And while I am thoroughly enjoying being the tannest I’ve been since Junior Lifeguards, we didn’t save for years, quit our jobs and take this once-in-a-lifetime trip just so we could sit on the beach for weeks at a time (although we are definitely looking forward to posting up on the beaches in Thailand and Indonesia).  OK, now I’m really pissing off my working friends.  Anyways, we quickly booked an overnight ferry back to Italy and emailed every farm and winery we could find in hopes that they could take us for a week or so before our friends Brian and Marisa meet us in Florence on September 26th.  Fingers crossed!

September 10, 2011

Island Time; Hvar

by Anna

Marija (our B&B owner): Would you like to try some of our homemade wine?
Johnny & Anna: Yes, we’d  love to! You make your own wine? That is so cool.
Marija: Of course! Who doesn’t?!

For this and many other reasons, we loved Hvar.
Feeling a little sad to leave Korcula, and having heard the words “ritzy” and “party island” thrown out about Hvar, we weren’t totally sure what to expect. But we soon found that Hvar, although a little more pristine with its Venetian influenced architecture, sparkling main square and small lineup of yachts and sailboats in its harbor, had the exact same laid-back, easy-going and fun-loving attitude as Korcula with all the beauty and insanely friendly people to match! It also lived up to its reputation as the “sunniest and greenest” island. We were thrilled that we had a whole eight days to spend there!

Hvar’s main square
Hvar’s busy harbor

When Marija picked us up from the 6am ferry boat on Monday morning, she told us that Prince Harry was in town living it up at the local nighttime hot-spots. She also told us that she had family in Laguna Beach…what a small world!…but wait, it got smaller…we figured out a few days later over some homemade wine that her cousins are our friends Nick and Hillary Brakovich! Just when the world seems infinitely vast, it always seems to contract again and you find friends in the craziest places.

It may look like apple juice, but it was actually homemade wine!

We had been dying to rent a boat, so on our first full day we found a friendly guy in the harbor named Igor and rented a little canopied boat from him. The slower the boat, the lower the price, so needless to say we putted across the Adriatic while other speedboats flew past leaving us bobbing in their wake. But we loved our little boat, and it was the perfect way to explore the Pakleni islands that form an archipelago just off the coast of Hvar. We found a nice secluded cove and anchored for the day, taking dips, using our new snorkel mask (yes, just the mask, we were too cheap for the snorkel) and snacking on chips and salsa. The Croatian islands are all known for having nude beaches, and the Pakleni islands had no shortage of nudists…on the rocks, on boats, etc. Johnny and I had to laugh as we passed by a small fishing boat filled with about six old, stocky naked men. They looked like professionals, because they showed no signs of tan lines! I read before getting to Croatia to “not get too excited over the nude beaches, because most of the nudists you’d rather see with their clothes on.” I can attest that this is indeed a fact:)

Heading out to sea with Captain Johnny!
Enjoying our boat “Snorkeling”
Coming back into the harbor

Speaking of nudists, the guy who we rented a scooter from another day told me that the first time he rode a scooter when he was a teenager, he was riding down the coast and saw a naked lady on the beach. He was looking at her and not at the road and went right over the edge and broke both his arms! Well, luckily, that did not happen to Johnny and me. Johnny picked up maneuvering the scooter like a pro, and we set off down the coast. The island is known for its amazing farming climate, and we rode through olive and fruit orchards, vineyards and fields of rosemary and lavender, while also stopping to hike down to some beautiful beaches and coves. Another amazing sight on our way to Stari Grad, a town on the north side of the island and also one of Europe’s oldest towns, dating back to its settlement by the Greeks in 384 BC, was the Stari Grad Plain. This UNESCO protected area represents “one of the best preserved examples of ancient Greek agriculture throughout the Mediterranean.” It has remained in tact for 24 centuries and is still in use today. The land is divided geometrically by ancient stone walls and shelters that were put in place by the ancient Greeks. The walls blend so well with the natural landscape that it takes a minute to realize that as far as the eye can see, the land is blocked into small squares.

Scooter time!
Looking out at the Pakleni Islands A view from the road
Hiking down to Dubovica  The church and “restaurant” in Dubovica
Part of the Stari Grad Plain

The town of Stari Grad was also an amazing place that we reached after about a 45 minute ride down a winding, steep road above the sea. I think we reached it right around siesta time, because we wandered the narrow winding streets feeling like we had the whole place to ourselves. We settled down at a café on the bay and after some scampi risotto and grilled squid, we were ready for the journey back to Hvar Town. Once back in town, and relieved that we hadn’t run out of gas (!), we settled in on some rocks by the water and read our books and took dips till the sun set. We rode back through the warm pink dusk and reluctantly returned our scooter.

A local working on fishing nets in Stari Grad
Pit stop in Stari Grad Stari Grad
Reading time Not a bad spot for a good book
Urchins on the rocks Almost sunset
The photographer
An amazing sunset

Another day we sought out a beach where we heard there was a good lunch spot called “The Mustache.” We figured any place called The Mustache had to be pretty bombtastic, so we loaded up our backpacks and found the cove with Il Mustaco after about a 40 minute walk down the coast. We rented beach chairs for the day, had an amazing pizza, finished our books and floated on my newly purchased raft (best purchase ever!).

Il Mustaco

On another day we caught a boat taxi to the Pakleni islands again, specifically to Palmizana where we heard you could hike to an unforgettable restaurant called Dionus. It truly was an unforgettable experience, and therefore deserved its own blog post (click here to read about it!).

On our last night we tried a tapas place called Luviji on one of the narrow back streets in the old town. We had met a chef from Finland who was also staying at Marija’s place, and he recommended it, so we thought we’d try it out. We had such a great time, chatting with our server who was from Ljubljana but who fell in love with Hvar and had moved there. She told us that everything they served was homemade, including the wine (of course!), which she said she had gone to collect grapes for at 5am that morning at the restaurant’s vineyard on the Pakleni islands.  We had some delicious homemade red wine and Prosek, vegetable spreads, “meat rolls,” octopus salad, grilled fish and bread made from the seeds of the Cannibus flower (head-y).

Rooftops in the old town
Mmm…tapas Enjoying our last night in Hvar

It’s probably pretty obvious by this post that we had an awesome time on Hvar. I hope to be back many times!!

September 3, 2011

A Day In The Life

by Johnny

Lately I’ve been getting a ton of emails asking, “Johnny, what are the five best days of your life?”  No, not really.  But I’m going to tell you anyways.  Here they are, in chronological order.

July 11, 1989 – Anaheim, CA:  1989 MLB All-Star game at Angel Stadium with my dad, Grandpa Joe and Papa; Bo Jackson crushes lead-off homer to center field.

July 20, 1998 – Ventura, CA:  My first Phish concert at Ventura County Fairgrounds; monster 21-minute, funked out “Bathtub Gin” opener had me hook, line and sinker (pun intended).

August 14, 2004 – San Francisco, CA:  I move to San Francisco and start work; feel truly independent for the first time and lucky to live in my favorite city on the planet.

August 15, 2009 – Santa Ynez, CA:  My wedding day; best party of my life.

September 3, 2011 – Hvar, Croatia:  See below.

I’m just kidding.  I couldn’t possibly rank the best days of my life, but today was definitely up there…one of the more memorable ones of this trip for sure.  Now, if you only check in on this blog once in a while, you may have the impression that our trip is full of lavish meals and endless wine drinking.  That’s far from the truth.  It’s actually full of cheap meals and endless wine drinking.  Just kidding again…Johnny’s on fire!  Actually, most days we make a tea and have some granola in our room for breakfast, wander around town, have a baguette and some fruit for lunch, wander some more, make some pasta or find a relatively cheap restaurant for dinner, wander again, go to bed and then have leftover pasta for three meals the following day.  Well, after a few days of this routine here in Hvar, Croatia, we decided to treat ourselves to something special.

Our day started like most do with some granola for breakfast on our deck, and since awesome decks are commonplace here in Croatia we were spoiled with a fantastic view.  We ran out of our usual green tea, so we decided to get some kava (coffee) in the old town (what a treat!) and found a tiny, authentic coffee shop.  The shop has been in the same family for generations, and the woman who runs the place still uses her grandma’s original recipes.  We enjoyed our coffee sitting on some cushions on old stone steps.

Coffee break

When Anna and I talk about “treating ourselves,” it basically means we search out some unknown restaurant with incredible food and stuff our faces.  Today was no different.  We had read on some foodie blog about a restaurant called Dionis located somewhere in Pakleni group of islands right off of Hvar.  We called ahead because it’s encouraged to make reservations…not because it’s overly popular but because they need to know how much food they are going to make that day.  We jotted down some confusing directions from the blog and grabbed a 30 minute taxi boat over to the cove of Palmizana on the island of St. Clement.  While this may seem like a lot of effort just for a bite to eat, this was only the beginning of our journey.  Our directions basically said “find the red sign to the village of Vlaka and follow the blue markers all the way to Dionis” and, well, that was exactly right.  Little did we know, however, that these blue markers took us on an hour long hike through the center of the island on an incredibly overgrown hiking trail.  Even though we’re sitting here with scratches all over our arms and legs, the beautiful views and best meal of our trip (no joke!) were well worth it.

Red sign to Vlaka…so far so good Follow the blue marks…piece of cake
Is that a blue mark?  I think we’re lost. Blue mark on a tree?  Now I’ve seen everything.
Yep…definitely on the right track now
With views like these, who cares if you get lost?

After navigating the rocky, narrow path for about an hour we cut inland for a little bit and finally laid our eyes upon Dionis.  With its setting in the middle of vineyards and olive trees and with views of a bay in the distance, they could’ve served chicken nuggets and I would have been happy.  The setting only got better when we got inside.  There were about six big, wooden tables under a thatched roof with an open wall towards the vineyards…a perfect, rustic setting.  We were definitely the only English speaking people in the place, but another group loved us and would cheers us every time they took a drink of wine (which was often).  It was great.

We made it!
Getting closer Inside of Dionis
We’re hungry!
View from our table
Our new buddies

I don’t pretend to be a food critic, and I’d run out of adjectives talking about how delicious the food was, so I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.  Everything was super fresh and simply prepared with olive oil, garlic, lemon, rosemary, chives and parsley.  And the coolest part is that everything we ate came from within an eye-shot of those pictures you see above you.  Warning:  Looking at the following pictures will make you hungry and jealous.

Bread, olive oil and white wine…all homemade
Eggplant isn’t our favorite, but we loved this aubergine pie Dalmatian cheese and olives
Anna asked the waiter about the fish, so he showed us the morning’s catch
Grilling up our grub More grilling
Anna’s Scorpaena fish and grilled veggies
Johnny’s grilled squid and veggies

After a couple hours we finally and reluctantly peeled ourselves away from the table.  We were so full that we contemplated just sleeping somewhere in the vineyards so we wouldn’t have to make the hike back, but we pressed on slowly but surely, stopping at a couple of the coves we saw one the way in for some dips (some of the skinny varietal).

Nice little spot for a dip
I ate so much my boardshorts literally exploded off my body…good thing I had some nudist friends across the bay
Some cool flora on the hike back Beautiful

We made it back in time to catch our boat back to Hvar, and Anna made a new buddy during the ride.  Too stuffed to eat anything for dinner, we wrapped up our amazing day with some red wine on our deck, and I couldn’t help but smile knowing that we have many more of these types of days ahead.

Anna and her new friend Coffee
Dusk from our deck