Posts Tagged 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 1)

The train from Budapest to Croatia snaked along the shallow valleys and rich countryside. At some point the train stopped and a group of uniforms entered checking everyone’s papers. Four sets of differing uniforms looked at, stamped and examined our passports before the train continued on into Croatia.

I know next to nothing about Croatia or any of the Balkans. When I was in school, most of these places were part of a artificial state called Yugoslavia with a guy named Tito as the celebrity of state.

We found the Croatian people to be emotionally controlled people, maybe a bit stern and when dealing with them they didn’t seem to respond when I smiled. (Americans are have wide reputation of being overly smiley and friendly) Eventually, I found that if I winked or made a silly face, their shells would crack and they would be much more friendly and even helpful.

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We picked up our rental car and it turned out to be a Fiat 500. It had enough room for our bags, both of us and a bottle of water. The 6 gears helped me control the massive 72 horsepower! The road signs were unreadable but the overly aggressive drivers gave us little time to ponder what they said. With the GPS we brought, it was quite easy to get around.

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Croatia is a small country but 10% of it is national parks. One such park is Plitsvice and we have looked forward to visiting it for quite a while. The park is centered around a valley filled with waterfalls and pools flowing over white marble limestone. It has to be one of the prettiest places on earth.

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We must have hiked for hours and hours along a wonderful trail that at times lead along the edges of waterfalls. If something like this was in the USA, it would be a major tourist attraction to rival Yosemite of Yellowstone. We really enjoyed our time hiking and exploring the park.

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Zadar, Croatia was our first stop along the coast. Pushed right up on the Mediterranean, the road followed the shoreline until an ancient church or fort blocked the way. We saw many signs of the war that they had in the 1990’s, including homes damaged by machine gun fire, burned out or shot-up with mortars. More than once, in-between the road signs for cows, deer or wild boar, we saw bright red warning signs that told you (in 4 languages) not to leave the roadway because of the danger of land mines.

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Being on the sea, the culture here has grown up on sea food and with so much to offer, we found a few dishes that left us wishing for Mexican food!

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The city of Spilt was our next port of call and like most of towns in this area, has an old Roman ruin at its core. The difference with Split is that many of the towns inhabitants still live and work inside the ruins! In fact, one of the Pharmacies here has been in operation since 1320, one of the oldest in the world.

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Usually, we try to self-cater (buy our own food from markets and stores) but this trip we tried to eat out a bit more and explore the culinary offerings. Below is a funny photo of me learning that olives in the Mediterranean…. come with pits!

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Tamara enjoyed the truffle pasta dishes but mostly the gelato!

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