Sunday, May 25, 2014

Ljubljana - Brought to you by the letter T

May 1st - May 7th. Traveling from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Ljubljana, Slovenia was a Trek. In fact, we decided that May 1st was brought to us by the Letter T, just like on Sesame Street. After all,  it was a Travel day, and because during our Travels that day, we Took Transportation that included Taxis, Trams, a Take-off and a Train. And it Took all day!

Thankfully, Our delightful host Irena met us weary Nomads at the door of our new home. We arrived on Europe's Labor Day and in Slovenia that extends to a two day event so we were out of luck as far as our usual provisioning was concerned. Knowing that would be the case, Irena stocked the fridge with a few basics (including beer) and we had an interesting collection of snacks leftover from our long travel day. Cookies, cheese and Gummie bears for breakfast? Why not? Now I know why I've carried that powdered tomato soup mix with me all these months - that along with crackers and a can of tuna discovered in the back of Irena's cupboards made for a lovely dinner. And think of the money we saved! The apartment was in a great location and full of books and warm touches.

We took our usual free walking tour the next day and got to know this beautiful city. It is a fairy tale setting. You can easily walk it from end to end, crossing the Danube back and forth as you go. It's like a little Vienna surrounded by medieval walls topped with a wedding cake castle, and for contrast some stark communist overlays.

The entrance to the Parliament building was adorned with scores of nudes representing a good days work by the people

Our tour guide was a college student was enthusiastic about his city and proud of his country. We found that Slovenians in general are very proud of their heritage and their recent independence.Of course they are annoyed by the constant confusion between Slovenia and Slovakia. They even played the wrong national anthem during the Olympics - and you'd think Russia would know the difference!

Ljubljana was a city of contrasts
We heard about a website called from a friend. It's purpose is to connect visitors with locals offering unique experiences outside the typical tourist fare. For example, we found an opportunity to enjoy a traditional Slovenian meal in a private home.

After e-mailing back and forth with our hosts and sharing our story, they invited us to test a Vayable offering they were considering. It was a  trail walk and wine-tasting in the Karst region. No hesitation on our part - other than we didn't know these people and we were committing to at least 3 hours in a car together and a day of hiking to who knows where, and if we didn't like it we couldn't sneak out the back door. But hey, wine and food were involved so we were in!

Our day with Vesna and Robi turned out to be one of the best experiences of our trip. We headed out on a very scenic drive to the Karst region famous for it's Teran wines. We stopped for a stretch in Stanjel a village that seemed to have stopped in time.

Stanjel was a step back in time. This was the main street!

Our hostess, Vesna. She was a full of knowledge about wines, vines and herbs.
Then we were off to Pliskovica. We parked near a popular hostel and picked up a trail map. Then we were off on our 4 mile trek through pastures and vineyards along the Pliskina Pot (Pot translates to trail). It was mostly flat terrain through bucolic fields of wildflowers and crumbling stone walls. Every now and again we found little red circles with a sheep drawing to help us stay the course. Just near the end we stopped for lunch at a gastro farm (Turisticana Kmetija).

On the Pliskina Pot trail. Follow the sheep!
A most memorable feast and a game of dominoes with our new friends.
We were happy to get off our feet in the courtyard around a rustic wooden table shaded by grape vines. There was no menu - you were offered the home-cooked meal of the day. Our repast included a generous pitcher of the farm's own Taran wine, a just picked salad,  seemingly unlimited slabs of crusty bread straight from the hearth,  homemade pickled vegetables, and a huge platter of prosciutto, sausages and salami Next up - Thick cabbage soup studded with potatoes, carrots and fresh herbs! Large dumplings in berry syrup were offered for dessert but sadly, we'd had our fill and had a long drive back on a holiday weekend Sunday. The total for this lovely lunch was $35. for the four of us.

Before we left the village, we stopped at a couple of farmhouses to taste the local Taran. It would appear that just about everyone makes this delicious red wine at home. Just ring the bell and bring your 2 Litre jug and for about $10.00 you have heavenly wine to go. Get thee to Slovenia.

Robi filling a jug with delicious Teran wine to enjoy with our dinner
The next evening we dined with Vesna and Robi in their home as planned. It was nice to be able to continue our conversations from the day before. They were knowledgeable on so many subjects, and Michael was happily able to indulge his political curiosity. Vesna is an herbalist so the menu was replete with interesting dishes that incorporated wild greens including asparagus just picked along the roadside that morning. Here is her website

Nothing like a selfie! So glad we met this delightful couple.
I have to say both of these experiences, were indeed unique, and you would be hard pressed to find them in any travel guide. We will add Vayable to airbnb for all future travel planning. 

We also took a day trip to Bled, just a short train ride away. It is famous for it's lovely lakeside setting and the chapel on an island, and a decadent dessert called Bled Cake. It was a tranquil day and we savored being out of the city and enjoying our nomadic life.

I love the graffiti on trains and this coach to Bled could be my favorite!

Lake Bled. Our tranquil day trip destination.
Good thing we had a hike around the lake before Bled Cake!
Thanks again for following along. Next up Vienna and then to Paris for the arrival of Baby.

Debbie and Michael
Senior Nomads

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

At Long Last Croatia!

April 17th - April 30th. We said goodbye to Sarajevo and headed to one of the Top Ten Countries on our list - Croatia. Or as it is officially known in Croatian, The Republika Hrvatska. But that doesn't work very well in the travel brochures, now does it? 

This was the first time we've stayed in three cities in three weeks, but we really wanted to see the country so we started at the top in Split, hit the island of Hvar near the middle and ended up at the very bottom in Dubrovnik.

On the bus with the goal clearly marked!
We used a new means of transport this time. The bus! Ours was a fine bus, as buses go - not a luxury model, but not bad either. No WC or WiFi or any amenities, really, but big windows and a jolly driver. We had eight hours ahead of us so it was a good thing that this Assistant Travel Planner packed a full bag of snacks and activities (just like when the kids were little).

Goodbye snowy Sarajevo. Croatian weather was mixed but certainly warmer!
Roasted goat was tempting if you can deal with heads, tails, hoofs and hair!
We made several stops along the way to let folks off and on - and one longer break where you could eat slabs of meat cut from whole goats gently roasting on spits - which I would have done,  except the  hairy unshorn legs and the entire heads were still attached, and I am just not ready for my debut on Bizarre Foods.

The safe harbor in Split
Split was a city filled with ruins and rejuvenation
SPLIT: After a long day of beautiful, winding (as in corkscrew at times) coastal scenery, we arrived.  I had bus legs (sort of like sea legs). Split is a bustling harbor with ships coming and going at the speed of Seattle ferries x 2. It's major attraction is the Diocletian's Palace. The first bricks were laid at the turn of the 4th century. While a large tourist draw, it is still amazing on just an average day in the neighborhood you can quietly sit on a 600 year old bench while sipping a cappuccino. 

Michael enjoying local music in Split
In keeping with this city's cavalier attitude towards ruins - they have their own recycling program. You can stop by the official ruins 'boneyard' and pick up a chunk from ancient column or a lost body part from a statue, or just a few cool 600 year old bricks, and use them as part of your home - either as a coffee table or a door stopper, maybe a pizza oven, or whatever. You just have to agree to use them as found and not smash them into little bits of gravel for your garden courtyard.

The view from our deck
Our lovely airbnb hosts
Our apartment was on the top floor of a stylish 19th century building. I know I am repeating myself, but once again, it was one of the best we've landed.

We enjoyed some great food here - especially at our neighborhood bistro. I had Octopus Goulash twice - because when you can, you should. Especially since this is not something that I'd whip up at home.

Just looking at this photo makes me want to go back!
On our first visit we were treated to live opera sung around the piano. Why? Because the restaurant  owner loved opera and a few of his talented friends were available that night. Unexpected events like this are the key to Nomad Happiness!

Hvar might be one of the finest places on earth
HVAR: (Haaavarrr) Sounds like pirate speak! And this idyllic island is a place where you could easily envision pirates reveling in their booty around every corner. They would have been well mannered of course, and tidy. Because Croatia is a very well-kempt country, and Hvar was a perfect example. The cobblestones were swept, the doors polished, the chairs and umbrellas on the piazzas were in order, the gardens immaculate and the beaches pristine.

A quite morning coffee in the Piazza all to myself
Once we reached the top of the fort there were no more stairs left in Hvar!
The old town was filled winding alleys, hidden shops and stair-studded paths to explore. One of which lead to a castle at the top of a lookout that was well worth the hike. Early May was a quiet time to be here, not much going on so the locals were relaxed and helpful. It was easy to imagine how enjoyable it would be to spend summer days here. The many large cacti gave us a clue that it could be hot, but access to the sparkling sea was easy from just about anywhere. If I said our apartment in Split was great. Well, it just gets better. We hope to come here again - and our hosts were wonderful.

The view from the deck of our apartment
Who wouldn't walk 20 minutes to town with this scenery?
Hiking downhill? We did consider it for a minute.
Dubrovnik really is this beautiful
DUBROVNIK: Visiting this city has been on my list ever since I saw it on the Today Show a few years ago during a segment of "Where in the World is Matt Lauer". Now I couldn't care less where he is, and I hope his arrogant self will be fired... but that's another story.

The lovely narrow streets inside the walled city.
A TV channel was focused on the main street of the city 24/7
 Mr. Campbell and I reached this red roof topped haven by bus, but this time we were there in just under 4 hours - and we were not disappointed by this walled city by the sea.

Dubrovnik goes above and beyond the Croatian clean and tidy standards. It's almost like entering Disneyland just as the gates open. And it did feel like we were in a Fairytale at times. Most of the town is contained within the ancient city walls. They are so well preserved along with the buildings inside that you can't help imaging what it was like living here 800 years ago. Guess that's why Games of Thrones is filmed here.

Everywhere you looked you were in a Fairy Tale!
Again, I am glad we came in May so we could enjoy Dubrovnik without battling thousands of high-season tourists. After seeing the damage in Sarajevo it was hard to believe that this immaculate city also suffered damage and casualties in the 90's during the Bosnian war - but we saw the evidence in the memorial museum. We enjoyed a lovely concert one evening and continued to eat well. My good friend Ben Vogt passed along some  great restaurant tips since he and his husband Jeff come to Croatia every year. It's always so nice to have personal recommendations. Here's the link to our flat in Dubrovnik /1065106

Michael braving the ancient stairs
At least benches had been invented to go along with all those stairs
It was lovely but there were 444 stairs downhill from our door to the city center. And that meant 444 stairs back. Just going to the grocery store took up 234 of them!

Next up Ljubljana in Slovenia. That would be Loo-Bee-Yawn-Ah. See you there!

Thanks for following along!

Debbie and Michael Campbell
Senior Nomads

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Salute to Sarajevo

April 12th - April 17th.  Rome to Istanbul was a nice transition from life in the heart of urban Italy to the beating heart of Turkey. The crossover in culture from Roman to Ottoman rule and beyond was interesting to see. Sarajevo, in Bosnia-Herzegovina was a perfect next step in exploring Roman, Muslim and European influences on a city's culture and architecture.

We arrived in Sarajevo on Pegasus airlines from Istanbul and took a taxi into town. We were expecting to see dilapidated, bombed out buildings and desolate areas along the route (the areas surrounding the airport were hit very hard during the 1992-1995 conflict). And we did, but we also saw gleaming new buildings and slow progress towards rebuilding a new, vibrant city. Both Michael and I read The Cellist of Sarajevo ahead of our visit. It is a good read in it's own right, but an especially good primer about life in this city during the war.

Bomb Damage in the center of the city still waiting for repair
One of many cemeteries filled with fallen victims. This one is in town.
We pulled in front of our new home and were met by our host Emir. He had been really helpful in gathering information for us and helping Michael organize a chance to see a local football match. Emir loves his city - and that is one of the best parts of being an airbnb traveler, meeting your host and getting great insight and tips from a local.
We found the neighborhood store so we stocked up on basics and then headed out. The apartment location was great, of course hills and stairs to get to the city center were involved - but we have come to appreciate and expect that now. Got our phone SIM cards installed so we could use maps, text and make limited phone calls. We had a free walking tour booked for Monday morning so we wandered through town without an agenda. The highlight was an great lunch in old town and then watching two dozen men centered around a chess match underway in the town square. This takes place all day, everyday - and it's serious. I loved the giant plastic pieces that had been battered and duct taped together many times.

And when we didn't have stairs, there were free exercise machines in the parks
The chess games played here are serious business.
We attended Palm Sunday mass at the Catholic cathedral. It was interesting ... lots of waving of palm fronds, incense and somber music. Early in the service the entire congregation (well those under 75, and those that could walk - so really about half) followed the Bishop and other important men in hats along with the clergy outside for a precession around the church to symbolize Christ's entry into Jerusalem. Two hours later we proceeded - or perhaps sprinted to the nearest doner stand and devoured lunch. We found a free guitar concert to attend later in the evening.

Returning to church after the Palm Sunday procession
Food shopping here is not the best. I did find a fresh market that I could visit on Monday - but meanwhile the offerings in the grocery stores in our neighborhood were meager. I was ready to roast my traditional first day chicken and I started to prepare it and the chicken was, lets just say, funky. As in spoiled. Yuk. Pizza anyone?
Just a peek at the potatoes in our local store. No thanks.
While I was dealing with that, Michael attended a football match, and as always made a new friend and learned the secret to cracking pumpkin seeds - the official snack of Bosnian football along with Capri Sun. No beer and peanuts for these fans.

Michael and his new friend Paul at the Olimpico Sarajevo v Zeljeznicar match
Monday we met our walking tour guide Neno. He was young, enthusiastic and full of knowledge.
We were joined by a dozen others and headed out under sunny skies. Neno was a young, 7 year old boy when the war began - but he had strong memories of being frightened and then becoming used to the constant shelling and gun fire. He also remembers always being hungry. And of his mother doing whatever she could to bring food home along with occasional packets of sugar that he would make last for days.

The shell craters in the city where civilians died are filled with red cement and called Sarajevo Roses. And once you started looking for bullet holes in buildings they were everywhere. The whole experience gave us chills.

Our free walking tour guide Neno. He really made the city come alive.
A Sarajevo Rose mark a spot where citizens died in the shelling
Bullet holes could be seen everywhere - they seemed so random.

More evidence - just around the corner from our apartment
There is ancient history to be found here that pre-dates the conflicts of the 90's. Roman ruins, rule under the Ottoman Empire and the extensive Muslim influence that came with that, several sighting of the Virgin Mary in the hillsides, The Austro-Hungarian occupation, the First World War (the fuse was lit here), and then the Nazi invasion during World War II. This city can't catch a break!

In happier times, Sarajevo hosted a successful Winter Olymoics
I'd had my fill of sad stories so Michael went to the Srebrenica Memorial Museum on his own. He was given a nice personalized tour from a young women who appreciated his interest and gave him great insight into the past and the current political situation here.

Here are Michael's thoughts on Sarajevo:

It is hard to know where to start with the story of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its capital Sarajevo. As a student of European History and a follower of current events and politics I looked forward to seeing Sarajevo in person. for me, it turned out to be the most educating, fascinating and eye-opening stops we've had since leaving home last July.

The country really is called Bosnia and Herzegovina but  is often shortened to Bosnia. Sarajevo is the capital. The population is around 4 million people which is the same as Oregon. Bosnia was part of the Yugoslavian Federation from 1945 - 1992. You may remember that Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics.

After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and while the Soviet Union was falling apart, the various countries of the Federation sought their own independence which, before long, resulted in a full-scale civil war. Bosnia suffered the most during the war which ran from 1992 - 1995 because its population was pretty evenly divided between three factions: the Croatians (Roman Catholic) Serbians (Orthodox Christian) and Bosniaks (Muslims). It was during this time that Sarajevo was under siege from the Serbs for almost three years. In the last decade three key Serb leaders have been tried in the Hague at the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and genocide.

One other piece of history, it was in Sarajevo where Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand  was assassinated in 1914 next to the Latin Bridge that proved to be the start of WW I. Today, the country is one of the poorest in Europe with 44% unemployment, the highest in Europe.

All in all, this is a fascinating city that I encourage you to visit.

A surprise Spring snow shower from our window.
The next day we woke up, stretched, yawned looked out the window and gaped at a sky filled with snowflakes the size of goose feathers! It had been sunny and 68 degrees the day before! It snowed most of the day. As you can see from the photo our nieghborhood wasn't picturesque - and even snow, which has a way of making everything look pretty didn't have much to work with. But it was fun - and made for a nice walk.

Tomorrow we are off for almost three weeks in Croatia. A country that has been on our must visit list for some time. We are traveling 8 hours by bus from Sarajevo.  First stop Split, then Hvar and finally Dubrovnik. Sun please.

Thanks again for following along!

Debbie and Michael
Senior Nomads