A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Seniors on British Rail, really?!

Yes! I'm still in shock about being the bearer of a Senior Rail Card, but John is taking it in his stride! Our adventure began today at Totnes, as we said goodbye to Devon and headed northeast to the Cotswolds.

We agree that travelling by train, relaxing in the quiet carriage, is infinitely better than battling with motorway traffic, or any traffic for that matter!

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While in Devon we had some wonderful hikes in Dartmoor National Park and along the South-West Coast Trail, which practically runs past my mother's front door! Here are some pictures to whet your appetite, in case you ever consider a walking holiday in the south of England.

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This is Start Point on an unusually calm day

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Slapton Sands, no actual sand at all, just shingle!

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Near the entrance to Dartmouth Harbour

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Beautiful Dartmoor is proof that wilderness can be found on this overcrowded island!

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Posted by Twink's blog 17:00 Archived in England Comments (3)

Charmed by the Cotswolds.

Nestled in the middle of England and including parts of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Worcestershire, the Cotswolds, like the South Devon Coast, is a designated "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty". We are not surprised!

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It's not just the lovely rolling English countryside that is so appealing, it's actually the villages, entirely built with honey-golden Cotswold stone, that steal the show. We are staying for three nights in a hostel in Stow-on-the-Wold (even the names are charming!) Here it is, with the green sign, handily located on the market square between two pubs!

AND one of the pubs has a super good deal on beer!

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The bus stops right outside the door, and a five minute ride away is charm-central, aka Bourton-on-the-Water, where I couldn't resist my favourite British ice cream, a 99!

We lost count of the tea rooms and curio shops while heading for our first Cotswold footpath, the Windrush Way, which follows the Windrush River out of town.

Footpaths in England are public rights of way and may be hundreds of years old. They often cut right across farmland..........

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regardless of what the farmer might have in mind!

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They are well signed but some paths have several different names

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and I think we can be excused for being muddled now and then! We met hardly anyone on the path all day.

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There are many stiles,

and kissing gates! Though not many have dedications like this one, to Princess Diana.

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The Windrush is considered a river even though we might think otherwise! I suppose even the Mississippi starts off small! Here's where we enjoyed lunch our first day, among the nettles, thistles and sheep droppings!

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Our second excursion involved the Slaughters..........no, not a heavy-metal band, a pair of tiny villages! Upper Slaughter must take the prize for sleepiest village on earth, there is NOTHING there except a few cottages, a church and a ford, where we ate our picnic! Good thing we hadn't planned on a pub lunch! We like the way the fords have footbridges, it beats removing your shoes and socks, or taking a running jump!

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Lower Slaughter is equally charming, and has more on the go, like a cricket club,

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And Gargoyles!
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We had more company on this walk and spent time with a woman from Melbourne, a couple from Arizona and one from nearby Oxford, and overtook a very slow group of 14 Americans with a guide.

This has been our first experience staying in a British IHA Hostel. Although cheaper than most B&B accommodation, it still cost £50 per night (about $90) for a very cosy room with shared shower and loo one floor down. Here's John in our room, which is supposed to sleep 4! I think if there were ever 4 people and all their stuff in this room they would have to be legless midgets!

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However, the staff were friendly and helpful, there was a spacious TV room, a dining room serving excellent (pricey) meals, and a good communal kitchen, which we used along with supplies from a nearby Tesco.

Finally, if you like the look of the Cotswolds, you'll have to save up a few million for a country house like one of these!

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Next stop the Welsh border - watch this space!

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Posted by Twink's blog 12:57 Archived in England Comments (6)

An Offa Lot of Walking!

We have travelled from the Cotswolds to Knighton, in the county of Powys just on the Welsh side of the border with England.

The town is somewhat run down and and lacking in charm, unless you count take-away joints, BUT it is the home of the Offa's Dyke Centre which makes it an important stop on any hiker's itinerary. Never heard of Offa or his dyke? Read on!

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Offa was king of Mercia, part of post-Roman Britain, from 757 to 796 - in fact, he and Charlemagne were buddies! BUT, he had an ongoing problem with his neighbours to the west, in Wales.

Offa decided to build a large wall of earth. Its purpose was to keep those dastardly Welsh out of England, in the same way that the Romans built Hadrian's Wall seven centuries earlier, and with considerably more skill, to keep the darn Scots in their place! Here's how much the natives of Wales and Mercia loved each other:

“ [I]t was customary for the English to cut off the ears of every Welshman who was found to the east of the border and for the Welsh to hang every Englishman whom they found to the west of it.”
—George Borrow, Wild Wales (from folklore)

Such friendly people!

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So Offa enlisted the help of thousands of peasants to dig a huge ditch and pile the earth up to the east of it. The Dyke was up to 65 feet wide and 8 feet high. It ran the entire length of the border, and archaeologists have been unable to find any evidence of breaks nor clues as to how they dealt with rivers and streams.

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Today the earthwork known as Offa's Dyke is protected as a historic monument. Much of its route is followed by the Offa's Dyke Path; a 283 km National Trail that runs between Prestatyn in the north and Chepstow in the south.

However, as we found out on our walk, much of the remains are quite subtle! I had imagined a great wall of grass-covered earth, when in fact 1300 years of erosion by human and 4-legged traffic, generations of farmers digging thousands of fence post holes, and the odd spot of rain that falls here have taken their toll! Stare really hard at this picture and you might see it!

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Perhaps this is better, showing one brave local just begging to have his ears cut off while his more cautious friends stay on their own side!

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As we left Knighton we crossed the present-day border back into England - thankfully no-one cut off our ears, in fact not a soul witnessed our crossing in the early morning mist!

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There followed a long climb into the Shropshire Hills - yet another "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty".
Here's John taking a break at the top, with Knighton, and Wales, far below.

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We set off in a northerly direction, using our new OS Mapfinder app on my iPad, and frequent markers along the way, and enjoyed stunning views as the morning clouds dissolved into afternoon sun.

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Cheered along by the locals....

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We finally reached the ideal lunch spot about 5km out..

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The view was so stunning, the sun so warm and the next descent and ascent so daunting, we never actually went any further!

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Once we got over our disappointment in the dyke itself, we loved our day in the Shropshire Hills! We learned from others in the George & Dragon (other much more energetic walkers) that the route has great variety, and lovely scenery throughout, definitely worth further exploration.

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Our stay in Knighton has been at a very traditional B&B.

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Some B&Bs here are ridiculously expensive, but this one at £50 a night (the same price as our hostel in the Cotswolds) was a bargain! Our hostess, Penny, told us firmly to make ourselves at home, showed us the fridge, the washer and dryer, the comfy sitting room stuffed with antiques, bookcases everywhere crammed with books "help yourself, come and go as you please". We were encouraged to make use of her kitchen to put together our lunches, and even ate our take-away fish and chips there, with the offer of wine as she joined us with her dinner! Our breakfasts included freshly picked blackberries and pretty well anything we wanted in the way of cooked or other breakfast goodies!

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Our room was comfy and there were 2 bathrooms to choose from, one with an enormous bathtub.......aaaaah!

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This B&B gets 100% from us!

Tomorrow we head further into Wales, in fact right across to the west coast, better brush up on our Welsh!

Posted by Twink's blog 13:23 Archived in Wales Comments (5)

Portmeirion takes no Prisoners!

Today's great railway journey took us all the way across Wales from the English border to the west coast on the Cambrian Express! Although express is a bit of a misnomer for a train that took 3 and a half hours to go about 200km!


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But no worries, it was our first experience of Welsh trains and the further west we went the more Welsh we heard and the more strange the place names!

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Add a dose of glorious coastal scenery like this and you have an altogether unforgettable experience!
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Our final destination was Porthmadog - pronounced without the dog........ Port Maddock! Here everyone speaks Welsh and it is a joy to hear! Children learn English as a second language at school.

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We have two reasons to stay at Porthmadog. Firstly its proximity to Portmeirion, and secondly because it is the southern terminus of the Welsh Highland Railway, which will take us to Snowdonia National Park. It's also a very pretty little town on a lovely stretch of coast.

Those of you who think of fine china when I mention Portmeirion can think again, and groan when you hear that we didn't even go into this shop!

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Those of you who remember the '60's TV series The Prisoner however, will cheer when you hear that Portmeirion IS "The Village"!

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John just finished re-watching all 17 episodes before leaving home and was delighted to be wandering the streets where Number 6 tried in vain to uncover the secrets of his captors! Here are some photos to entertain Prisoner fans and hopefully fans of Italian architecture as well!

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I was disappointed that the tide was rising so we couldn't run across the sand pretending to escape!

Portmeirion was conceived by an eccentric architect called Clough Williams-Ellis, who took over 50 years to achieve his dream of an Italian-style resort village in a beautiful remote spot. It now attracts over 225,000 visitors a year! No-one actually lives there, all the buildings are part of the resort and it has been used frequently in movies and TV programs, The Prisoner being the most famous.

We took the Prisoner guided tour along with two British couples who were also fans and we all had a great laugh seeing the real locations of our favourite scenes. However, none of it actually feels very real - the whole resort feels, in fact, like a movie set!

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Other attractions in the vicinity of Porthmadog include the Wales Coast Path, or at least a lovely section of this 870 mile coastal trail. We explored a short distance to the north-west of town before leaving and it definitely begs for a return visit.

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Posted by Twink's blog 14:46 Archived in Wales Comments (5)

Steaming to Snowdonia.

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Never before have I thought of myself as a rabid fan of steam travel..........but I LOVED the hour and a half we spent chuffing up into the mountains aboard one of the steam trains of the Welsh Highland Railway!

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The station at Porthmadog has just re-opened after extensive renovations and they have done a beautiful job on it.

You might notice the sign behind me .......... It crops up all over the place and does not, as I first thought, indicate a special exit for my family members! Allan is the Welsh word for exit!

Once we were under way, I just couldn't get enough of hanging out of the windows and watching the engine puffing away and hearing the clickety-clack of the wheels along the narrow track.

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Never mind that the weather got colder and quite gloomy and the visibility was poor. It was such an adventure!

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The old carriages are immaculately restored, the engine we had was from South Africa, and at the halfway point we met the one coming the other way, and watched while they filled its tank with water ......... and someone brought the drivers their tea! Time stood still and no-one was in a hurry!

We were the only passengers to alight at Snowdon Ranger......... and no, we didn't choose it because it was the one station we could pronounce! We're here because there's a hostel (and no other signs of civilization whatsoever!) where we'll stay for three nights in the hope that one of the days will be a good one for hiking.

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Snowdonia is the biggest National Park in Wales and home to the highest mountain in Wales and England, Mt Snowdon, 1085m 3560ft. The train we took runs from Pothmadog to Caernarfon via Beddgelert.

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The brown triangle on the map is Mt Snowdon, however we couldn't actually see it as we came up in the train. Here's a view of the unpronounceable lake, Llyn Cwellyn, beside which our hostel stands, and where we cooled our heels (literally in my case!) while waiting for the door to open.

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The forecast isn't good for Saturday, so Sunday will most likely be the day for our conquest of Snowdon!

Posted by Twink's blog 02:41 Archived in Wales Comments (5)

Spectacular Snowdon!

It's funny to think about Mt Snowdon being such a popular hiking destination when it isn't even as high as the North Shore mountains! But, as the highest peak in Wales and England combined, it is a goal set by many, far too many, for fund-raising events and bragging rights - a bit like the Grouse Grind! Here's a view of it from Llyn Cwellyn, the lake in front of the hostel.

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Having spent a day and a half here with all the hills and mountains completely hidden in low clouds, imagine our excitement on getting up this morning to find beautiful mountains all around us outlined with blue sky and sunshine! What a bit of luck! We were out on the the trail by crack of 10......... well, we are on holiday after all!

We chose the Snowdon Ranger Path for our ascent, partly because it starts right beside the hostel, but also because it is on the quiet side of the mountain..........though we didn't fully understand the importance of this until we got to the top!

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This graphic map shows the route of the path, with almost 1000m (3100ft) elevation in 6.5km (4 miles) with a steep start, a very steep second half, and a nice (too short!) level section in between.

We were in the full sun right from the start, and with no trees at all for shade it was a very hot climb! After the first 20 minutes we rounded a bluff and could see the entire mountain, and never lost sight of our destination, high above us urging us on!

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We could also see the little trains that chug up and down from the other side all day long, full up with those who are unable to walk, or unwilling to put in the effort!

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The views just got better and better the higher we went!

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And the going got steep and rough - but the peak is still in view!

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After 3 hours we sat down just below the peak to admire the views and eat our lunch. The view was stunning - across the Irish Sea in the distance we could almost imagine the coast of Ireland - apparently it is possible to see it on a very clear day!

Here you can see the more popular routes on the north side, hundreds of hikers were coming up from there.

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The area around the peak was a madhouse with crowds of tourists getting off the train, or dragging themselves the final few feet to the top!

We did wrestle our way to the very top to take this photo, but only spent a minute or two as others were waiting their turn!

We start our descent.... I can hardly wait to get to that lake for a swim!

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On the way down I spotted some local wildlife, and a peaceful view of our favourite railway station with the lake behind.........where I had a wonderful swim to cool me down after the day's exertion!

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Posted by Twink's blog 09:19 Archived in Wales Tagged wales snowdon Comments (6)

A Peak Experience


If you think climbing the highest mountain would be our peak experience in England and Wales, think again! We are now in Peak District National Park! But first we had to say good-bye to Wales and return to England. We did that by travelling on two buses and four trains, all on one day! Traveling by bus and train has been a breeze, so relaxing, and not one delay or missed connection along the way!

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Our first stop was Caernarfon, on the coast of Wales not far from Snowdon. Caernarfon's claim to fame is a very famous castle. Yes, there are plenty of Castles in Britain, but this one is special not only because it was built by Edward I in the 13th Century, but also because it's where Prince Charles became the Prince of Wales, as did his great uncle Edward VIII before him. I clearly remember watching the investiture on TV in 1969, it was a BIG deal! And it happened right there on that round thing, but with a LOT more people watching! Oh, and we can now cross Caernarfon Castle off our long list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites to visit!

We were sorry to leave Wales! We really enjoyed our week listening to Welsh being spoken, trying to pronounce the place names, marveling at all the bi-lingual signs - absolutely everything is bilingual! Take a look at this one......

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As you can see, the Welsh have very little regard for the proper positioning of vowels, or even the rule that every word should have one!

Welsh people are extremely friendly and hospitable, even if some of their food is a bit odd....
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Luckily we never had to resort to eating those........ there were plenty of good vegetarian choices everywhere we went, even some quite imaginative creations like the squash lasagne in one pub and a spicy bean burger in another! Oh and of course plenty of leeks, the Welsh National Vegetable......... you have to love a country that has its own national vegetable!

Our next stop was the Peak District. In the centre of England, between Manchester and Sheffield is Britain's first National Park, Peak District National Park. When travelling from west to east as we did, you enter the Vale of Edale through a train tunnel over 2 miles, 3.2km, long and come out into another world! You can well imagine Gandalf striding through these hills and Hobbiton around every corner!

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We were staying in a very large hostel - good thing too, as there were also 96 grade 8 students from Denmark staying there! Thankfully they were thoughtful enough to put us in a separate cottage.....the downside was that it was up 92 steps from the main building! Trivial after Mt Snowdon you might say, but after a long day those steps were killer!

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We only had one day for a hike in the Peak District, so we picked a good one, in fact some English hikers told us it was listed as one of England's best ridge walks! Here it is, Mam Tor to Lose Hill.

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The views were spectacular! And despite the wind and some dark skies it never rained!

We even encountered some hungry locals who were NOT sheep, for a change!

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Looking across from our cottage we could see the entire walk, up to and along that skyline!

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That's what I love best about hiking here - the wide open spaces without trees! John described it like this: in Canada we hike to get to beautiful destinations, sometimes that means spending long hours slogging through forest. Here the entire hike is a beautiful destination!

We have really enjoyed all our British destinations, and feel especially lucky with the perfect weather we've had! We look forward to exploring more another time. But, for now, it's off to the Balkans and Part Deux of our 2014 adventure! Stay tuned!

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Posted by Twink's blog 11:21 Archived in England Comments (3)

Welcome to Croatia!


Do you ever ask yourself exactly what happened to Yugoslavia? It was right there in our school atlas, but is no more. In its place are seven independent nations spanning the Balkan peninsula from Slovenia in the north to Macedonia in the south, with Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo in between. How this happened is far too complicated for me to wrap my head around, and takes up an entire chapter in our Rick Steves guidebook! But we hope to gain a better understanding, or at least an appreciation of their differences, as we visit most of them over the next month.

We are starting in Croatia, and flew here from London, only to find out at the airport that it's actually called............

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try THAT with a mouthful of pastry! Croatia joined the EU last year, but still uses the Kuna for currency.

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We began our adventure in the capital city of Zagreb. Our tiny rented "apartman" is in a shabby old building facing a tiny courtyard off a quiet, but central street. Door number 3 on the right of this picture. So imagine our surprise to find it looking like a page from an Ikea catalogue when we opened the door! Even the cutlery and dishes are from Ikea! It's perfect!

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Exploring the city began with a trip to the market, which filled half of the enormous central square and continued up a side street, filling another large square, plus an indoor fish and meat market! It was overwhelming! We thoroughly enjoyed sampling all kinds of strange foods while we bought supplies, serenaded by a very loud traditional Croatian group singing sappy romantic ballads (we presume!) with great passion!

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Next up was a 55-second ride to the upper town! Zagrebians are proud to have the world's shortest funicular! Another source of pride is their claim to have invented the neck-tie back in the 1600's - tie shops and tie-shaped souvenirs abound!

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However, compared to other European capitals, Zagreb has remained refreshingly un-touristy. We saw very few groups of tourists, the market certainly was crammed with locals, older Croats do not speak English and are quite grumpy and unhelpful - though I noticed that using my one word of Croatian "hvala" - thank-you - elicited the odd smile. Younger people are much more friendly, learn English starting in grade 1, and are happy to practice! There are a lot of young men who look very like Novak Djokovic! OK, I know he's Serbian, but I swear I saw him a dozen times today!

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Croatians are devoutly Catholic, and even during the communist era religion was tolerated, but not encouraged of course. Here's the beautiful cathedral, properly called the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saintly Kings Stephen and Ladislav! Quite a mouthful! Of course, like any European cathedral, parts of it are cloaked in scaffolding - but instead of just cleaning this cathedral, they are actually replacing much of the stone work after years of neglect: the communist government may not have pulled it down, but they did nothing to maintain it. A combination of pollution and cold weather has reduced some of the limestone to rubble as is well illustrated by this display of old and new.

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Here's their discard pile...... and a group of friendly gargoyles waiting to be lifted up to their new homes!
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Here's another outstanding church, St Mark's. No, the roof is not made of Lego! Those coloured tiles from 1880 depict the coat of arms of Croatia on the left and Zagreb on the right.

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Zagreb is chock-full of excellent museums and galleries. We chose two: the first being the unique and world-renowned Museum of Broken Relationships! Opened in 2010 by a couple who had just broken up, this museum collects stories of people from around the world whose relationships foundered, along with an artifact that represents their relationship, or its demise! It now has a touring exhibit that goes around the world and next year will make its first visit to Canada! Some of the stories were long, some short, some heart-breaking, some hilarious! Here's one of the shortest:

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It says "When I moved out, and across the country, I took the toaster. That'll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?"

Speaking of relationships, here's where today's romantics demonstrate their commitment by attaching a padlock to some railings.

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Our other choice was the Croatian Museum of Naive Art. Opened in 1952, this museum displays 80 works of art from the 1930's to the 1980's. These paintings can be described as "peasant art" but are not considered "amateur" but works of art by highly talented artists who were never formally trained. Most are painted on glass, which was cheaper and more readily available than canvas and required less skill. We loved them! Here are a couple of favourites borrowed from Google images.

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Zagreb is definitely worth a visit, and if you ever come here, be very glad Croatia didn't adopt the Glagolitic alphabet, developed here, but never formally adopted! It was later adapted to become the Cyrillic alphabet used in Russia.

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Tomorrow we pick up a rental car and head north into Slovenia for some hiking and exploring before it gets too cold there!

Posted by Twink's blog 12:48 Archived in Croatia Tagged croatia zagreb Comments (0)

Lovely Ljubljana!

Never confuse Slovenia with Slovakia or Slavonia, as long as you want to feel smarter than George Bush...........and who doesn't?!
Slovenia is the northernmost of the former Yugoslavian nations. Despite having Austria as its northern neighbour and Italy taking up most of its coastline it has no identity problems!

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We drove to Ljubljana from Zagreb in less than two hours, paying a toll in Kunas to leave Croatia, and buying a "vignette" with euros to avoid tolls in Slovenia!

Slovenia joined the EU ten years ago, and adopted the euro in 2007. Slovenes are generally more "western" than other Slavic nationals, and, perhaps owing to their easier transition to independence, seem happier and more relaxed than Croats. Ljubljana, on the Ljubljanica River, is the tiny capital of their small nation and is full of charm and surprises!

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We are staying in a hostel right on the river in the centre of the city, the mustard-coloured building shaded by trees, just steps away from one of its most famous bridges, the Dragon Bridge, which we can see from our bedroom window! We have a bright sunny room with an ensuite and a view in a central location for just 40€ a night - up 3 long flights of stairs, so small it just barely fits the bed - you can't have everything!

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In the hallway downstairs is a poster advertising a "Free" city walking tour with a knowledgeable guide......... Sounds like a good deal? It was! Our guide, a 30 year-old Slovene taking a break from writing his thesis, was old enough to remember the excitement of Independence Day, and some of the pros and cons of life in a communist country, while being young enough to give a fresh perspective on Slovenia's place in Europe today. He talked and walked for two-and-a-half hours and we enjoyed every minute (enough to give a generous tip which is how he earns a living!)

The tour started in Preseren Trg (that's not an abbreviation, Trg is the word for square, Slovene is another language with no respect for vowels!) Preseren is the National Poet of Slovenia and stands proudly with a semi-naked muse on his shoulder! This statue so offended churchgoers when it was erected 100 years ago that the trees were planted to mask her nakedness from those coming out of the pink Franciscan church to the left!

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The next most famous Slovene we learned about is Joze Plecnik, the architect whose influence defines Ljubljana. His creations are liberally sprinkled all over the city and include the famous triple bridge. (I'm borrowing an image from Google as its best seen from above) The middle bridge was the original medieval entrance to the city, but became a traffic nightmare so Plecnik designed Venetian-style side-spans, redundant now the mayor has banned all vehicles except bicycles from the centre of the city, but still a great tourist attraction!

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Plecnik also borrowed from the Greeks, with the market that stretches along the river and holds vendors of everything from souvenirs and clothes, to fish, meat, bread and vegetables. Not much going on here on a Sunday, but a bustling place the rest of the week.

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Our guide also pointed out machines that sell fresh, unpasteurized milk. BYO bottle, or buy one from the machine on the right, then fill it on the left for 1€ a litre! I'm amazed the EU will allow that when they try to control the curve of a cucumber!

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Similarly, check out this Slovene delicacy! Yikes!

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Here's Plecnik's national library, which contains every book written in the Slovene language, that's 2.5 million, more than one for every Slovene, and built, as you might have guessed, during the communist era.

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Plecnik knew what was good for him and here's a great example of his adaptability...... Look for the hammer and star rubbing shoulders with Jesus and Mary!

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Our guide, pictured here showing off the fascinating modern door to the cathedral (spot Pope John Paul at the top, who visited right after independence) talked about how different Yugoslav communism was from the countries behind the Iron Curtain, thanks to Tito's vision and desire not to ally with Russia. Yugoslavs could travel - he remembers trips to Italy to buy jeans, people would buy as many pairs as they could wear one on top of the other, then travel home or better still to Hungary, and sell them at an enormous profit!

In more recent times, Slovenes were the lucky ones in their quest for independence which came with very little bloodshed because 80% of the population was Slovene, unlike the other nations where the ethnic mix caused such appalling violence.

After our walking tour we fortified ourselves with lunch and walked up to the castle. Like Saltzburg, Ljubljana has a massive fortress atop a hill in the middle of the city (think Sound of Music!) you can see it at the end of just about every street.

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We avoided the funicular, since it had no character compared to Zagreb's, and hoofed it up a zillion steps to the top.

The view was worth every drop of sweat! Take a look at the Julian Alps in the distance! We'll be there in a few days!

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We thoroughly enjoyed our day in Ljubljana, which is as packed with tourists as Zagreb is devoid of them - in fact the two cities couldn't be more different, but we loved them both! One very noticeable difference was the lack of graffiti in Zagreb and the disappointing excess here. We wonder if the proximity to Italy has encouraged this trend?

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Certainly Italy has influenced the food, there's a gelato stand on almost every corner here, and pizza is eaten on the go from a custom-made triangular cardboard plate - delicious!

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That's the main administrative building of the university behind me. Ljubljana University has 65,000 students! Higher education is still free, a hang-over from communist days, but our guide thinks it can't last much longer.

Tomorrow we drive up to the Kamnisko-Savinjske mountains, due north of Lujubljana near the Austrian border, but for now I'll leave you with a few more examples of the varied architecture of Slovenia's lovely capital city.

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Posted by Twink's blog 13:28 Archived in Slovenia Comments (5)

Slovenian Alpine Adventures

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Slovenia's mountains are divided into two regions, the Kamnik Alps due north of Ljubljana, and the Julian Alps tucked in the top left-hand corner where Slovenia meets Italy and Austria. Really, there's not much that divides them, and if you stray only a few steps north in either region you'll end up in Austria!

We drove north from Ljubljana to sample the hiking in the Kamnik Alps first, and wished we had left more time to enjoy the stunning scenery and generally laid-back ambiance.

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Just by Googling "hiking in Slovenia" a few months ago I discovered a gem of a place called Velika Planina. Try it, go to Google images, and you won't believe your eyes! It took a bit more digging to discover a route that didn't involve the cable-car, and the result was a hike that will stand out in our memories forever, it was truly amazing! In fact, I think that was the day John decided to restrict me to 27 "amazing"s per day......... I had to resort to "spectacular" and "outstanding"!

Mind you, the drive to get to the trailhead was literally breath-taking! But oh so worthwhile! After 25 mins of gentle uphill hiking through beautiful deciduous woods we suddenly stepped out into the sun and saw THIS..........

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In your head you must add the tinkling of cowbells! Ok, not tinkling, clanging! I don't know how the poor things don't go deaf!

The name Velika Planina literally translated means big pasture, and suits it well!
As we climbed further we came across many scattered communities of huts, each group with its own name.

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The original herdsman's huts have a distinctive design, rather like an alien landing craft, or Darth Vader's helmet, which was intended to shelter livestock under the roof, but outside the one-room dwelling. The herdsmen spend the summer up here living a supposedly traditional lifestyle, but somewhat changed by the cable car bringing tourists!

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This is the only place in Europe where such a large collection of herdsman's huts still exists, but, there's a sad side to this story. The Nazis actually burned them all down, along with the original church, so they have been rebuilt. We imagine they would have been perfect for sheltering partisans, and perhaps the Nazis thought so too. The new huts, as you can see, have mod-cons such as solar panels, but we saw no sign of a supply of electricity and many examples of a communal tap!

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Here's the chapel of Marija Snezna, Our Lady of the Snows, rebuilt in 1988. I think snezna, meaning snow, is my favourite word in Slovene! Or maybe slap, which means waterfall!

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We hiked up from the valley to the east, on the west side is a cable-car, along with several short ski lifts and a large collection of what we presume to be ski huts, rather than herders' dwellings, in a variety of styles. To the north is a view to knock your socks off! Here's why we lingered so long over our lunch!

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The highest peak is Ostrica at 2350m or 7709ft. And, by the way, there is no snow, or snezna, on these mountains yet, that is the colour of the rock! It is dolomite limestone.

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The signs were plentiful but very confusing because the name of a place you are going to changes once you get there! But once we had grasped that it became easier! There was no map anywhere to help us, but luckily we eventually found our way back to the top of the same trail we had taken on the way up!

Four hours after leaving it we arrived back at our car totally wowed by our day's hiking at Velika Planina.

Heading further north, on ever more twisty roads, we eventually reached our destination for the night, Logarska Dolina. This stunning alpine valley at around 2500ft is so picturesque there is even a little toll booth where they collect 7€ per car - unless you arrive after the toll collector has gone home, as we did! The view as we turned the corner into the valley was spectacular in the setting sun.

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There are several farms and guest houses, and we had booked for one night at Ostrica Guest House, home of the Plesnik family. We were met with a warm welcome, including a glass of firey blueberry liqueur, and one of delicious home-made elderflower drink!

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Two other branches of the Plesnik family are just across the road in Hotel Plesnik and Plesnik Tourist Farm. They originally built the first hotel in 1933. And here's the family in 1952 when Tito came to visit!

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Amazingly, the mountain we could see from our bedroom window was Ostrica - the other side of which we had been gazing at from Velika Planina earlier! And that's still not snow, just limestone!

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When we arrived Barbara Plesznik and her mother had just returned from picking mushrooms in the forest, here they are preparing them for our supper of delicious mushroom soup, followed by the tastiest fried trout ever, and rounded off with Nutella crepes!

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We went to bed stuffed with delicious home-cooked food. The teenage daughter served us while her father cooked, Barbara was busy welcoming guests, grandma was installed at the bar, behind which the neighbour's 12 year old was serving drinks to the locals! Before going to bed I stepped outside to look at a sky simply bursting with stars! The night was as quiet as you'll find at any guest house in Europe!

BUT........The next morning we were woken by gunfire as the visiting Russians tried out their rifles before setting off for a day of hunting! Not to worry, a sumptuous breakfast was waiting! After which we borrowed bikes and set off on a killer 5km ride, uphill all the way, followed by a 20 min hike steeply up to the head of the valley to see Slap Rinka - yes, that's a slap all right!

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Our visit to Logarska Dolina was complete once we had seen it from another 1500ft up.........by driving the hair-raising "panoramic road" to the north, just a stone's throw from the Austrian border and only one car wide! Here's the evidence, the same white rock is used for the unpaved roads as you can see here.....

We saw many jewel-like alpine farms up there, along with stunning views down into Logarska Dolina.

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Here's a map showing Mt Ostrica in the centre, Velika Planina behind it, the valley of Logarska Dolina below and to the right, and the Panoramic Road along the bottom. This is looking south, from the Austrian border. This area definitely should be on your itinerary if you come to Slovenia, don't miss it!

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Stay tuned for the Julian alps next!

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Posted by Twink's blog 09:02 Archived in Slovenia Comments (7)

More Slovenian Alpine Adventures!

Slovenia's Julian Alps fill the north-west corner of the country with craggy limestone peaks worthy of their namesake, Julius Caesar! Two towns compete for the tourist trade and they are both winners: Kranjska Gora takes the winter tourists and is the only genuine ski resort in the Balkan region, and Bled not only takes the prize for being the easiest place to pronounce, but reigns supreme as Slovenia's summer destination!

We stayed 3 nights in Bled, in a crumbling old villa held together, literally, with wire and string! We had an enormous high-ceilinged room with a balcony you could hold a party on, the best shower we've had yet, albeit shared, along with the loo, with 4 other (empty!) rooms, and towels and sheets that must have belonged to great grandma around the turn of the century, that's the 20th century of course, if not the 19th! Our host maintains that Rick Steves stayed in this room, twice! All this for just 50€ a night! Check out this view which includes Slovenia's highest mountain in the distance, Mt Triglav!

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Lake Bled is the training area for Slovenia's Olympic rowers. Actually it wasn't quite long enough so they took a bite out of the land at the west end and made it longer! There is a state-of-the-art rowing centre proudly showing off its progeny, and after work hours we could sit on our balcony and watch the stars of the future going through their paces!

Bled town is a mixture of grand old villas from an age when the very rich came here for their holidays, a very pretty church, and ugly communist era blocks, plus the obligatory hockey arena. Not really an attractive town at any time, and definitely looking worn out at this time of year. That matters not a bit when everyone's attention is drawn to the massive castle that towers above the town on a rocky crag that's floodlit at night, and the fairy-tale island with a quaint church where every Slovene wants to be married!

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Legend says that to be a "real Slovene man" you must carry your bride up those 99 steps!

No motorized boats are allowed on the lake, giving rise to a traditional form of transport and important local symbol, the pletna, seen here with the oarsman standing in the stern, facing forwards, putting himself through complicated maneuvers to keep this shallow-keel vessel pointing towards his destination!

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Our first day at Bled was also our first day with no sun, and a short shower! We walked around the lake, so 3.5 miles, 5.6km, was our hike that day, along with the two very long flights of stairs to our balcony! We did visit Hotel Vila Bled, a grand mansion formerly the summer residence of the Yugoslav Royals, and later Tito's humble getaway! World leaders from Indira Gandhi to Raul Castro have stayed here, and its park-like grounds are filled with exotic trees brought by guests from around the world. They let us in to see the ballroom where Tito had his idealistic image of communist Yugoslavia painted as a giant mural - stirring stuff!

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Just up the road near Kranjska Gora is another, entirely different, local curiosity.............the world's biggest ski jump! We went to have a look and were thrilled to find a practice session going on right in front of us! It was mesmerizing! Slovenes are generally keen athletes, and these ski jumpers must be incredibly fit and strong - just look at the size of those skis! Look closely and you'll see someone in mid air on the second biggest jump! We could hardly tear ourselves away!

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Our hike in the Julian Alps was one that is rated as the classic Slovenian hike, with views that grace every calendar and chocolate box, Slemenova Spica. Getting to the trailhead involved driving into Triglav National Park and up to the top of Vrsic Pass, aka Ruska Cesca, the Russian road, because it was built during WWI by Russian prisoners of war. This exciting drive has 50 hairpin bends, each one labelled with its number and metres above sea level. Despite the fact that the bends are cobbled for traction, we were very glad the rental cars here are standard shift!

At turn number 8 is a pull-off and steps up to the Russian church. Over 10,000 Russian soldiers laboured in dreadful conditions to build this road, and the tiny Russian Orthodox church stands where an avalanche added 300 to the death toll.

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After 24 hairpins, and many spectacular views, we started our hike at 5285 feet, 1611m, the summit of Vrsic Pass. The first 20 mins was very steep and we very soon stopped to peel off a few layers!

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Thank heavens this trail had much better signs than the ones at Velika Planina, as we didn't meet a soul for the first 45 minutes.

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After cresting a very blustery pass we descended into an area of larch trees and magnificent views towards Italy and Austria.

It was completely silent there, no birdsong, no babbling brooks or waterfalls, no cowbells, absolute silence...... until we met a large group of Irish hikers, with a Slovene guide! Were we ever surprised! They were all about our age and had hiked up from the ski jumps, which you can see far below in the valley! We were impressed, especially when they told us they had already been to our destination - that peak on the left!

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Climbing again we passed through a tiny gem of a meadow surrounded by massive rock faces, and on to the summit - WOW, what breathtaking views! We were astonished to find sheep droppings all over this peak! Getting your flock up here for the summer, and retrieving them, must be quite a task!

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Although the weather wasn't perfectly sunny and cloudless, we had a wonderful day, very reminiscent of our hiking holiday in the Italian Dolomites in 2010 - of course these are the same mountains, just further east!

Too bad we didn't have another day as there are many World War I museums and sights in the nearby Soca Valley, which is where Hemingway served in the Red Cross Ambulance Corps, and used as the setting for A Farewell to Arms.

There is much more to explore in the Julian Alps, with many more hikes around Lake Bled area and beyond. We should have allowed at least a week here!

On our way south to return to Croatia we stopped to see Predjama Castle, built in a cave in the side of a cliff, impressive!

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We ate our lunch in the car, which included one last treat from Bled.......apparently Slovenes travel from all over the country for this one, it's called kremsnita!

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Posted by Twink's blog 09:39 Archived in Slovenia Comments (3)

Bonus post: Slovenian Culture 101

Or perhaps this is just trivia, take it or leave it!

Back in communist times Coca-Cola was not available in Yugoslavia, so of course that made people really really want it! Then Cockta was manufactured as a sort of compensation!

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Well, it doesn't taste one bit like Coke, take it from me! Once Coca-Cola was back in the shops no-one wanted Cockta, and who can blame them? Sales plummeted, what to do? Some bright spark came up with a great marketing idea, and now you see billboards and posters in bus shelters enticing you to "recapture the taste of your youth!" It's working, people are buying Cockta for nostalgic reasons!

They even try to entice English speakers! I'm not convinced people are actually drinking it, it tastes wretched! I've had this bottle since Tuesday and I'm still working on it!

Next up, have you ever wondered about those Lipizzaner stallions? You know, the ones that prance around on their hind legs and dance?

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Why do tourists flock to AUSTRIA to see them in Vienna, when they are apparently from the SPANISH riding school? And what's this got to do with Slovenia? Well, guess what........... those horses come from Lipica (LEE-peet-suh) and that's in Slovenia!! They were first bred here in 1580, and continue to be, at the Lipica stud farm! Ahhhh, now it all makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

Ok, now for honey! I'll bet you didn't know that Slovenian bees make the best honey in the world! How do they do this? Well, it's all about the beehives! Slovenia has lots of them, apparently the most beehives per capita in Europe. This must be because they stack them up in special apiaries you see all over the countryside, like this.....

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Notice the bright colours? This is to help the bees find their way home, Slovenes are experts at bee psychology! In the old days each hive had its own intricately painted front panel, replicas of these these are popular at souvenir shops!

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What else do you find in abundance in Slovenia? Tractors! Yes, Slovenes love their tractors; in rural areas there's one in practically every carport! They proudly attest to having a higher percentage of tractor owners than any other nation - who knew?!

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Slovenia has an excellent road system. And it's so small you can drive from one side of the country to the other in a couple of hours at 130kmh! We notice that many Slovenes aspire to be grand prix drivers! They used to have highway tolls but found it too cumbersome. Now they have vinjeta which you buy for a period of time (ours was 15€ for a week) and place in a special clip on the inside of the windshield. Every time you enter or leave a major highway you pass through a former tollbooth at 40kmh and they take your picture.

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Presumably the registered owner of the car would receive a fine if the vinjeta was seen to be out of date. In case you manage to avoid a regular highway entry point (just say you parachute in or something) there are also checkpoints along the way, just to trick you!

And finally, the mighty hayrack! What's not to love about a country where the hayrack is a symbol of national heritage?!

Here are some examples: the basic duplex, triplex or multiplex hayracks;

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But wait, there's more!

Hayrack with lean-to

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Hayrack with in-law suite

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Multi-use hayrack

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Communist hayrack with utilitarian cement posts

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Fixer-upper hayrack

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Old-fashioned hayrack.............with hay!

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And finally, the ultimate all-purpose super-deluxe hayrack conversion!

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You think that's a little over the top? Well how about highway barriers and billboards styled after hayracks?! A little obsessive I'd say!

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We love Slovenia for all its quirkiness! Slovenes are warm, friendly and gregarious - they crack a joke and then laugh at it almost every time they engage you in conversation! With only 2 million people speaking their language they have become excellent linguists so communication is never a problem. I doubt you'll ever find someone who says they spent too much time visiting Slovenia! We'll be back!

Posted by Twink's blog 10:09 Archived in Slovenia Comments (0)

Istria: is it Italy, Austria, or Croatia?

Well, that's contentious, but first of all, where is it? Here's the map.

We travelled right across Slovenia in less than 3 hours, from Bled in the northwest, down to the border, crossing into Croatia near the Adriatic Sea. On the way we came very close to Trieste, which is in Italy, skimmed right by Slovenia's tiny 29-mile coast, and bang, we were in Istria! It's that wedge-shaped peninsula dangling off the north-western corner of Croatia.

Istria is to Croatia what Tuscany is to Italy! Colourful coastal towns, rocky interior sporting fortified hill towns surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, and forests where trained dogs sniff out truffles for local markets!

And what was that about Italy and Austria? Well, it's entirely possible that in Istria you might meet someone whose ancestors lived in Venice, whose great-grandfather lived in Austria, whose grandfather lived in Italy and whose father lived in Yugoslavia, and they all lived in the same town! Istria has changed hands so many times it makes your head ache just trying to grasp the history!

In a nutshell, in medieval times it was part of Venice. Before WWI it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After WWI, while the rest of Croatia became part of Yugoslavia, little Istria was claimed by Italy. Italian language and culture took over so that when it became part of Yugoslavia after WWII its population underwent a bit of an identity crisis, with many Italians relocating to Italy. Today all signs and place names are bilingual, as are the people. Both languages are taught in school, Italian is an official language along with Croatian, and not too long ago Italy's then prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, declared that he wanted Istria back! Too late, he's no longer in office!

Our base in Istria was the coastal town of Rovinj (Ro-veen) or Rovigno if you're speaking Italian! And a great choice that proved to be! What a gem...... just look at how massive the church is, sitting on top of the hill like a hen on a nest!

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Since the peninsula of the medieval town centre is traffic free, we stayed in a guest house on the "mainland", 10 mins walk from the nearest beach and 15 from the old harbour - it was ideal!

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It felt like we had stumbled into a completely different land! Which we had! Our early mornings and evenings in Bled definitely had a autumnal nip about them, but on the Adriatic coast it was balmy. There were palm trees, grape vines, fig and cypress trees in our neighbourhood, bougainvillea and exotic looking flowering shrubs everywhere. The first thing I did was dash down to the nearest beach for a swim .....aaaah! The water was so warm it didn't even make me gasp! There were sun-worshippers all over the place!

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Here's The harbour in the evening light.

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Exploring Rovinj the next morning we were pleased that the local band was there to welcome us, along with the high-school majorettes! Senior and junior...... the seniors are the ones with hats and lipstick!

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The town band is for all ages! Behind them you can see an ad for boat trips to Venice, it's that close! Oh, and here's the youngest member strutting his stuff!

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We watched for about 20 minutes, sitting on the edge of this fountain, which commemorates the arrival of running water in the old town in 1959! Notice the winged lion of Venice on the pink building behind, we saw it on many official buildings from medieval times.

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Rovinj's harbour is crammed with fishing boats.

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Visiting yachts are confined to a marina further south, near where I had my swim.........apart from this monster from the Bahamas which had its own spot just north of town!

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Next stop, the market, which seemed to specialize in peppers and truffles at this time of year!

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Nearby is the only modern structure anywhere near the old town. Celebrating the victory of Tito's partisans over the Nazis, this typical Yugoslav structure might look impressive in a modern city centre, but is a little out of place against the backdrop of a perfectly preserved medieval town!

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Heading into the maze of narrow streets leading up to the massive Baroque church, we passed through the square where everyone came for water before 1959!

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Wandering up this tight little "main street" was full of interesting sights and smells.

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Yes, there were touristy shops selling no end of artsy bits and pieces, but real life actually happens here too, check out the laundry!

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In medieval towns it's always worth poking your head under archways to find tiny courtyards, or glancing down alleys - in Rovinj most of them end up in the sea!

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Although Rovinj is touristy, it also feels remarkably like a real town where real people go about their daily life oblivious of tourism.

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At the top of the hill sits the basilica, watched over by its belltower, a replica of the one in Venice. We tackled the 192 ancient wooden steps to gaze at the view from the top, not quite clear enough to see Venice today, but WOW, what a view!!

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On top of the belltower stands St Euphemia who has special powers! No need to consult the weather channel here! When St Euphemia looks out to sea the weather will be fair, when she looks inland......watch out! See? It works! She's looking out to sea, and we had a perfect day!

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The story of how this church became the resting place of St Euphemia's remains is curious. Here's the painting from inside the church telling the story.

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See that huge stone sarcophagus? Well, it floated from its resting place in Constantinople and came ashore at Rovinj! Amazing! But it gets better..... the local fishermen couldn't shift it from the beach, but a young boy and his bullocks succeeded in taking it up the hill to where it rests today!

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Every September 16th it is opened to reveal the small withered remains of Rovinj's favourite saint.

Trudging down the neatly-paved streets, we found ourselves back at the harbour.

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Our afternoon was spent just down the path from our guest house where we had this little cove all to ourselves!

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Rovinj is the ideal Istrian destination. We had an excellent dinner down by the harbour, with delicious pizza, serenaded by a sax player who played non-stop and was really good! The perfect end to a perfect day!

Next stop, inland to Croatia's first national park. Stay tuned!

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Posted by Twink's blog 14:13 Archived in Croatia Comments (1)

The watery wonderland of Plitvice.

Croatia is not just a coastline! But that's what most Europeans think! They flock to the islands and coastal towns, and who can blame them? But nestled deep in the Croatian countryside, near the Bosnian border, is Croatia's first national park, and one of Europe's greatest natural wonders!

Plitvice National Park (pleet-veet-say) was created in 1949 to protect an area of outstanding natural beauty, which, much later, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What is it that makes Plitvice so outstanding! In a word............waterfalls, lots of them! Here's one, just to get you started!

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Although we went inland specifically to see the waterfalls, we actually found ourselves faced with two very different experiences. Plitvice sits smack in the middle of the poorest part of Croatia and provides jobs and opportunities in an area where the only other economic activity seems to be selling cheese at roadside stands. It's also an area that saw heavy fighting during what is called "the homeland war". In fact the first shot was fired there, on Easter Sunday 1991, the first casualty being a park policeman. Croats are Catholic, while Serbs are Orthodox, and as we drove through pitifully poor villages it was shocking to see the bombed out churches and derelict houses that used to belong to Serbs.

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In 20 years of peace the Croats' Serb neighbours have not returned, which is hardly surprising. Their homes stand empty, alongside the repaired and lived-in, as a sickening reminder of the violence that took place here.

Meanwhile, for 5 years while the Serbs held the Plitvice area, the popular tourist trap was allowed to grow wild. Croats fled to the coast as refugees and there certainly weren't any foreign tourists clamoring to come to Croatia at the time. Now the park and its residents are enjoying renewed prosperity, almost every house in the surrounding area has a "rooms for rent" sign, and a million tourists a year come to marvel at the 16 variously coloured lakes with countless cascades roaring between them. Most seem to come in tour groups, on huge buses; the traffic mayhem when we got there at 4pm on Sunday almost persuaded us to drive on by! Here's our guest house, where we had a tiny but comfortable, warm, apartment for 2 nights. That's our car, a Skoda from the Czech Republic.

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At Plitvice our weather luck ran out! We had no blue sky, (until the morning we were driving away!) no sun, but thankfully no rain either! Here's what we saw as we spent over six hours walking around, beside, over and even through the stunning waterfalls and lakes of Plitvice.

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The lakes are, apparently, many different shades of blue and green, but you'll have to check google images for that experience! Without the sun you don't get the colours. However, the water is astonishingly clear and we could see fallen trees, fish and so on. There is no mud in these lakes and streams, just rock. There is running water literally everywhere!

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The area is much larger than we expected, and it took us all day to explore. The astonishing landscape is constantly changing, and is made up of calcium carbonate (the same mineral that's in hard water) from the limestone rock, released by fast moving and falling water and building up, as travertine, into dams that create pools and lakes.

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Seeing it all was hard work! Of course some refreshment was required! Like apple strudel! AND the most welcome and frothy cup of hot chocolate ever!

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Unfortunately, while we were basking in the sun in Istria, inland Croatia was having heavy rain that flooded whole villages and washed houses away! Plitvice was not immune to this and some areas were blocked off, while others were just a bit more watery than usual!

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It's astonishing the length to which they have gone to make the waterfalls and lakes accessible by boardwalk. As you can see from the photos, some of the paths go very close to waterfalls, even over the top of them or climbing right up them! There were seldom any handrails, and the boards were uneven, with frequent shallow steps that were hard to make out, but they were, surprisingly, not slippery for the most part. It took some concentration to walk on them and by the end of the day we we felt like we never wanted to see another boardwalk!

The whole place could use some upgrading! The signs were falling apart or partially obscured by moss, they didn't all match what was on the map, which was post-card sized on the back of the ticket ........unless you were prepared to pay extra for a large map, which was different again, adding to the confusion! We got quite lost at the end of the day, joining a group from Taiwan which was equally lost!

However, it was a remarkable experience, well worth the drive into the hinterland, waterfalls will never be the same to anyone who's ever been to Plitvice!

Posted by Twink's blog 23:06 Archived in Croatia Comments (4)

UNESCO x 4

Yes, FOUR UNESCO World Heritage sites in one day - we are becoming quite the culture vultures! First a natural wonder, Plitvice, which we left behind, reluctantly, as we headed back to the coast! Then two historical sites on the coast en route to our destination, Split, which is yet another historical site recognized as of outstanding importance by UNESCO. Here they are on the map.

Our drive back to the Adriatic was exciting as the Dinaric mountain range runs down the coast, which we had to get through.........and I do mean through! We drove through a 5 km tunnel, downhill all the way! The outside temperature was 15C when we went in, and when we emerged it was 21C and we were in a different world - the Dalmation Coast, with the Adriatic Sea and countless islands spread out below us!

First we headed to Sibenik, home of the Cathedral of St James, which was built between 1431 and 1536 entirely of stone, including the roof and dome which have unique construction methods. The dome has been reconstructed as it took a direct hit during the homeland war. It is quite a sight, and has a very ancient feel to it.

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The baptistery is a short flight of stairs beneath the southern apse and take a look at this intricate stone work!

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We were very glad of our UNESCO app which led us to this historic spot!

Driving south along the coast road, looking left at the mountains and right at the gorgeous colour of the Adriatic, we made our way to Trogir. Inscribed by UNESCO as "a remarkable example of urban continuity" this tiny island, wedged between the mainland and another island, has its original street layout from the time of Ancient Greece. Here's an aerial view from google images to give you an idea.

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We battled the crowds hunting down parking spots on the mainland, walked with the throngs across the bridge and enjoyed poking around the twisty little streets and strolling the avenue along the waterfront.

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My favourite sight in Trogir was a faded Juliet waiting for her oblivious downstairs Romeo to notice her!

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Trogir also provided my most colourful laundry photo yet, I think I can retire from clothesline photography after this one!

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Here's John buying walnuts in the market - nuts are plentiful in the markets here, as is olive oil!

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Our next job was to say farewell to our rental car at Split airport and take the shuttle - thinking that it would be easier than driving into the city. Well, perhaps so, but it certainly was a hassle to navigate that airport! However, by late afternoon we were immersed in our final UNESCO site of the day, the historic city of Split and Emperor Diocletian's Palace! Yes, I really do mean immersed, our digs were INSIDE a Roman palace! Here's the Roman wall taken from our kitchen window!

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And here's the view from the corner where our street emerged onto the central square!

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The old town core of Split was originally built in the 4th century AD as a retirement pad for Diocletian in his native Dalmatia. Being a 'very important man' he had big ideas and spared no expense on this mammoth project. After all, he was the living embodiment of Jupiter himself!

Eventually the palace was abandoned and in Medieval times the locals moved in, made themselves at home, and a medieval town developed inside the ruins of the palace! These days over 2000 people live or work within the original walls! The result is a hodge-podge of architectural styles jammed up against each other and bits and pieces of original Roman palace around every corner and below ground, even in the supermarket!

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Many of the streets are so narrow you can touch both sides without even stretching! Here's the view from our bedroom window.

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And the street where we had dinner the first night. Don't look too hard at what's on my plate! I decided it was time to try traditional cevapcici (skinless sausages) not realizing how many I'd be expected to eat! I gave up after three..... or four!

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But I was able to work off the effects by climbing 183 steps up this beautiful bell tower! Buiding it took 300 years to complete, resulting in the variety of styles as you look upwards. We were rewarded with this stunning view.

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We also paid a small fee to go into the Temple of Jupiter, which was transformed into a baptistery in medieval times. The half-barrel vaulted ceiling is considered the best-preserved anywhere in the Roman world. The sculpture of St John the Baptist was done by Yuglslavia's most famous artist, Ivan Mestrovich - you'll hear more about him later! It's ironic that Diocletian, whose greatest claim to fame was exterminating Christians, should have had his temple turned into a baptistery and his mausoleum turned into a cathedral!

The main square was the original "peristyle" of the palace and is now the hub of activities, including bored-looking centurions waiting for tips from tourists wanting to pose with them, imagine doing a job like that all summer...... The sphinx is one of Diocletian's souvenirs from the time he spent in Egypt.

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Then there were the Klapa singers - a Croatian version of a barbershop quartet, but singing rather more serious music very beautifully. I wish I could upload videos so you could hear them, but it just doesn't seem to work.

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Along the waterfront outside the palace is the Riva. This is where Croats go to see and be seen! I even know someone who named her daughter Riva after this beautiful place! Here's a bride and groom loving all the attention!

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And a nun......... apparently texting is the new way to get in touch with the Almighty!

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The market is another great spot for people watching - we noticed that many elderly Croatian women wear black. Markets here take place every day - such a lot of work to set up and take down!

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We walked a couple of kilometres away from all this, past the fishing-boat harbour, along a lovely coastal path.......

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to find the mansion of Croatia's favourite son, and Yugoslavia's most celebrated artist, Ivan Mestrovic.

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A contemporary and friend of Rodin, his work includes sculpture in bronze, marble, wood and plaster, paintings, drawings and architecture - he designed this lovely little home! He was a devout Catholic and after WWII fled Yugoslavia for the US, where he died in 1962. His trademark sculptures are of curvaceous women and muscular men with extremely long fingers and toes (as seen on John the Baptist in the ancient temple) We really enjoyed taking in the works on display at the mansion and nearby chapel.

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One last sculpture definitely NOT done by Mestrovic, this one of Franjo Tudjman, independent Croatia's first president. We noticed this statue on Independence Day, with very few flowers and no fanfare or holiday. This man would have stood trial at The Hague alongside Milosevic had he not died of cancer in 1999. It seems most Croats prefer not to celebrate their independence which came along with such a terrible cost.

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We had a wonderful two days in Split, and there's plenty to come back and see another time. But for now we are heading for the little island of Korcula for a well-deserved rest, a 4-day vacation from our rather hectic vacation! However, we still have Dubrovnik, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Athens in our sights, so stay tuned and don't give up on us yet!

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Posted by Twink's blog 10:46 Archived in Croatia Comments (1)

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