Archive for category Europe 2010

Verona, Italy

What does Shakespeare and Da’ Vinci have in common?

Verona, the setting for Romeo and Juliet.

Verona is a small northern Italian city between Venice and Milan that we wanted to visit. We had so much fun exploring that I didn’t keep any notes…..so you only get pictures.

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Venice, Italy

Venice!

There are so many overly hyped locations in the world. An example for me is Big Ben or most Caribbean islands. Venice is not one of them. Everything you heard about Venice is true and depending on when you go you can only experience the good stuff.

Our train left Slovenia at 2AM. The cold morning air kept us awake as we walked from our Hostel toward the train station. The roads were so quite and the sidewalk so deserted that at times we walked in the street to avoid any shadows and alleyways.

The Venice express, originally starting in Budapest was on it’s last leg. The green glow of the lights illuminated a few tourists sprawled out across their luggage. A few unshaven Eastern European men in thin leather jackets seemingly feed on cigarettes and leer at anything resembling a Female of the species.

Flash forward 6 hours and we arrived at the central train station of Venice, just as the sun was rising. It was such an amazing place that I stopped taking notes and so only have photos to show.

Sorry…but you’ll understand once you get there.

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Slovenia (part 2)

I am not sure why we always rush from one place to the other on our travels. After just a day or two of resting up from our travels, we both are itching to explore and see new things! Taking a road that wandered higher into the mountains, we found another beautiful lake  that had steep mountains on either side. The trees were just changing colors and had it not been for the sun, it would have been too cold to explore

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During the winter this is a popular place for skiing. Fortunate, some of the ski lifts were still running and one lift still took us up to a large remote lodge, overlooking the green valley below.

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From there, we headed off up the mountain on a hiking trail to see what was up at the top of the mountain. Winter is still a few months off and the sun was just enough to keep us warm against the high chilling air. We walked/stumbled over the stone path that looked like white marble and the few trees around were short scrubby pines that looked very old. Many trails (or goat paths not sure) led off in many directions but we were able to stay on course because of the trail markings, small red and white circles painted on the rocks.

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The views pulled us higher and higher until we reached what felt like the top of the world. All around us was distant Alp mountains and the clear air made the distant sleepy farming villages look like miniature models.

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Just as we were feeling “hardcore” for a self guided hike into the mountains, along came two backpackers with large packs. They looked so silly with their giant packs and we wondered just how much stuff did they need to bring with them.

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They dropped their packs at a scenic spot and started o pull out some really long sleeping bags. “How strange.”, we thought as we started to take pictures of them. Then they started to put on helmets and we knew we had misjudged them as backpackers.

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With just a quick look around and a sharp jerk, their fabric wing inflated and they briskly walked off the cliff into the sky. Instead of dropping, the air currents lifted held them aloft and they almost surfed invisible air waves.

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They were still sailing the thermals like eagles when we made it back to our car and drove away into the Autumn colored valley below.

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After three days in the same place, our itchy feet told us it was time to head to the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana. Since there is a original language in Slovenia, there is also a Bethel Translation center. We didn’t get to tour the facility but we did take some quick pictures.

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Entering into the sleepy capital of Ljubljana we turned in our rental car, found a hostel and explored the city a bit by local bus and foot. Our hostel was very unique as it was originally a prison. Our room came complete with two foot thick concrete walls, bars on our door and window and overly short bunks. At least the pizza was cheap and we could charge our IPods.

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In the morning we head off via train to Italy. This is the final leg of our trip and we feel about ready to be home.

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Slovenia (part 1)

Slovenia is a young small country with its own language (usually how countries are formed, sorry Belgium) and around 2 million people. Its location, at a nexus point between three language groups, means that everyone knows many languages including English. (Germanic languages to the north, Slavic languages to the southeast and Romantic languages to the southwest.)

Geographically, the country is located near and in the Alps. The smooth modern roads and the massive mountain ranges made our drive into Slovenia a joy. Large Alpine looking homes pushed so far on to the roadway that it caused a strange slalom course whenever we passed through a village.

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Our first stop was the extensive cave system of Postojna. (more photos here) Tucked at the foothills of the Alps, this natural wonder stretched miles into the hills and mountains. One of the largest caves has an old train, two people wide, that takes you many kilometers into the mountain, past hundreds of thousand year old stalagmites and semi-transparent limestone “curtains” that we could not believed existed. These delicate and sometimes massive structures are grown from slow deposits of minerals.

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At the end of the train ride, we walked another mile into the lighted cave system. The European legends of Dragons came from this cave because during massive floods, large (12-16 inch) blind and albino salamanders would be flushed out of the cave system. This led many medieval adventurers into the darkness looking for the adult versions of these dragon looking animals.

Our little car pulled us into the mountains and deposited us at the lake called Bled, overseen by a gorgeous fortification on top of a large natural stone tower. We wanted to spend a number of days here and so found a bed and breakfast that also provided free use of their bicycles. It turned out to be a wonderful place to rest up and hike around.

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One morning we climbed up the winding path to the top of the fortification. The old structure, complete with a small drawbridge, looked over the valley and the lake from where it received its name, “Castle Bled”. In the middle of the lake was a small church that draws many locals as the most romantic place to get married.

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On a large hill behind the city of Bled we discovered a “summer toboggan”. It must have been almost a mile long and very steep with sharp drops and hairpin turns. They would strap you into a small plastic seat with expensive looking wheel system on the bottom and push you down the metal rail.

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Our 10EU bought us two rides each on it and on the last ride Tamara, always the daredevil, asked the man strapping her in, if she could ignore the brake and go full speed. He said something that seemed like “sure” and she was off like a rabbit. The high pitched squealing of the stainless steel wheels were muted by Tamara’s continuous screams of joy, as she pegged the throttle forward, with her hair tracing her path like a smoke trail. As she got to a steep drop off, I was sure that she would let off the throttle but she just tucked her arms in tighter and flew over the edge like a lemming….all the while screaming.

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In case you are wondering…I tried to copy her but the toboggan was so fast that I had to use the brakes for fear of achieving a low earth orbit.

One thing I have to share is a local creation called “cream cake”.  We took the recommendation of a local and it turned out to be our favorite dessert ever! I can’t even attempt to explain it with words but will leave you with a photo!

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Croatia (part 2)

The Bethel in Croatia is in the capital city of Zagreb, a sleepy capital with worn concrete buildings and angry drivers.

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Instead of continuing on our journey, we jumped at the invitation to spend a night and tour the translation center, or Bethel as we call it.

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50 full time volunteers work here to translate literature for the Croatia people and provide support for disaster relief and hospital stays for the Brothers and Sisters. Jehovah Witnesses were legalized in the country in 1953 but communism limited their growth. Then came the breakup of the Soviet Union that led to ethnic and religious killings. I remember the wars in the 90’s and how little I paid attention. Of course the Brothers (like everywhere in the world) would not join a side or support any faction. This lead to some being killed but many times their reputation of neutrality helped save the lives of many JWs. You can read more about their trials during this genocidal war, in one of the recent Yearbooks.

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One last thing on the Bethel, they had a display setup that showed the time-line of the Bible in Croatian. In 1665, some guy translated the Bible from Latin to Croatian but Pope after Pope would not let the Bible be released to the populous until 1831. Jehovah’s name was used in this Bible over 6000 times. The Witnesses used this (difficult to understand because of the old translation) Bible but noticed that every time it was republished (by a for profit publisher), that a few instances of Jehovah’s name was removed and replaced with “God” or “Lord” even though this was inaccurate. Eventually, the translation was deemed not good enough for use and after 10 years of work, the New World Translation was released in Croatian in 2006. The 60 congregations in Croatia now have a easily understood Bible that they can study.

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The southernmost city of Dubrovnik has what has to be one of the best ancient walled cities in the world….it was just unfortunate that we have become tired of old cities, ancient walls and medieval fortifications. Tamara and I faked it, trying to enjoy exploring the city. While we were disappointed with the level of commercialism in the city, the incredibly old buildings were impressive.

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Then we discovered that the fortified walls were open to being explored. They have maintained the wall enough that you can walk around the entire city, pretending the city is under siege by some foreign force! The funny thing is that during the ethnic war of the 1990s, the city of Dubrovnik was besieged by a modern military. They with-stood the siege but the city was heavily damaged by rockets and artillery. Most of all the damage has been repaired.

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Eventually, my “itchy feet” got the better of us and we were off driving around the countryside. We visited a few towns in Bosnia and Montenegro bringing our visited countries to 43. In case you are wondering, they are similar to Croatia just not as nice and more farm equipment on the road.

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Soon we turned our car north and headed to Slovenia, one of the least known countries in Europe. Hope to share more soon!

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