Thursday, July 19, 2012

Back in the USA

It has been busy the last two weeks for Erin and I as we've returned to Colorado.  We celebrated a subdued 4th of July without fireworks due to the recent fires.  We were able to pull the motorcycle out of storage and take it up to the mountains for a ride and a hike.  We've also enjoyed spending time with friends and family

Most of our time has been spent looking for a new place to live.  It has been difficult as we want something that's centrally located, has a washer and dryer, and allows dogs.  I think we may have finally found something and we've filled out our applications.

I've also been looking for a job.  The scanning, applying, and interviewing is not fun, but I'm optimistic that I'll find something that will be good.  This week Erin is preparing to teach Journalism/Newspaper next year with a week-long class on the subjects up at Fort Collins.

It's nice to be back, but we are experiencing some reverse culture shock.  The food and food options are awesome, but traffic and gridlock are something we're still getting used to.  Things are a lot easier to accomplish as I noticed when I picked up our household goods from a warehouse.  Being able to speak and understand the local language is something we tend to take for granted.

We'll probably struggle as we continue to adapt to life back in the US, but it makes us appreciate the different styles of life that are possible here and around the world.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


The last three days of our trip were a blur as we tried to take in as much of Croatia as we could.  Our night in the castle at Motovun had been nice, but not what I had expected.  From the outside it looked like a typical castle, but the inside looked like a typical motel.  I was expecting stone steps and walls.  Well, at least it was comfortable.

We next drove out to the town of Rovinj on the coast.  It was nice to wander through the tiny pedestrian streets gazing at the different artists shop on our way up to the main church.  Once there we walked up the bell tower on incredibly tiny, potentially dangerous stairs.  The view of the area from the top was worth the climb as the clear blue day showed the calm Adriatic sea and surrounding islands.  Later, as the sun was setting we found a nice seafood place with tables out by the harbor.  The church with lights provided a beautiful backdrop to our meal.

The next day we drove down the coast to Pula, an large city on the tip of the Istrian Peninsula.  It is also the site of one of the best preserved Roman amphitheaters.  After looking around marble columns, stairs, and underground rooms we made our way to the old part of town.  There were plenty of historical sites and local vendors, but it was also getting hot.  We found a cool place to get lunch before heading back to the car and moving on.

We had a long drive ahead of us as we went away from the coast to the Plitvice Lakes.  Our drive was made longer as I blindly followed the GPS leading us through a road that started okay, but narrowed down to a twisty, one lane trail through the woods.  We finally found the guesthouse we were staying at and then took some more time to find one of very few restaurants in the area for dinner.

For our last day in Croatia we got up and joined the crowds of tourists at the lakes.  The geology and nature of the area helps the water form several small, clear lakes.  The area was very beautiful with several paths and wooden walkways.  Unfortunately there were also alot of people.  It was often difficult to get a picture without others in it and walking along the narrow trails was frustrating at times.  By lunch we had seen all we wanted to see and were back on the road driving to Slovenia.

We're glad we saw Croatia, but we wished that we had taken a slower pace.  By the end we were getting tired of traveling and ready to be home.  It didn't help that the following day we had to return the car, get on a train to the border, take a taxi over to Trieste, take another train to Venice, get on our plane to Paris, and finally catch a shuttle late at night for our hotel.  We were rewarded the next day though as we somehow got upgraded to first class on our flights back to Denver on Icelandair.

Altogether it had been a wonderful trip and I'm glad Erin and I could share the excitement and adventure of Europe together.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Julian Alps and the Karst

After spending three great days around Lake Bled, it was time for Erin and I to move on. Taking advice from Rick Steves we got in our rental car and left for a drive through the Julian Alps.  Named after Julius Caesar who founded the region at the base of the mountains they' form beautiful vistas with their limestone peaks.  After driving up twisting switchbacks we stopped at the top of a pass inhabited by sheep. 

We then took many more switchbacks down the other side stopping to view turquoise waters and old suspension bridges.  The end of our drive led us to Hisa Franko in Kobarid where we would have dinner and stay the night.  The fancy meal with vegetables and herbs from their own garden paired deliciously with locally made organic wine.  It was a great place to celebrate our third anniversary.

The next day was our caves and castles day.  We started by driving down to the Postojna Cave.  While the area was very touristy it was hard to get over how cool it was to ride a train through the cave.  It was like a ride at Disneyland but longer and without the ups and downs.  Then, after riding the train there was still so much cave to walk and explore.  After walking through the cave and learning about it.for about an hour we got back on the train and went back to the surface.  See video from the train ride here and imagine 15-20 minutes of this.

After the cave we took a short drive up the rode to Predjama Castle.  Built into the face of a cliff it is an impressive structure.  We did not go inside though as we had more to see.  After an hour drive South we came to another cave system.  The Skocjan Caves are less touristy then our previous caves, but also incredibly impressive.  While there was no train, there was an underground river and a much more comprehensive guide.  With a slew of bats and other creatures we were not allowed to take photos.  After a long hike we came to the end of the cave and were soon back on the road.

After a brief stop for immigration we drove down in to Croatia and our final castle for the day.  Perched high on a hill was the castle and town of Motovun, Croatia.  We had made arrangements to spend the night in the castle...we just had to get up there.  After a long day of driving and cave walking the steep drive up the narrow cobblestone lane was a final test.  With pedestrians and cars coming down the ancient lane we successfully made it up without hitting anything.  It had been an exciting and very tiring day.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Lake Bled

It's hard to exaggerate the beauty of Lake Bled in Slovenia.  Nestled at the base of the Julian Alps it was a wonderful place to stay for three days.  We had made reservations at a popular penzione and soon found the reason for the popularity.  After our bus ride from Ljubljana and a short walk the proprietor greeted us with cookies and a clean room.  Since it was just minutes from the lake we had a chance to look around a little before coming back for dinner at the attached restaurant.  As we enjoyed the delicious food and drinks we saw the waiter greet regulars who obviously returned here regularly.

After breakfast the next day we started off on a walk around the lake.  We soon found a traditional row boat (no gas motors are allowed on the lake) to take us out to a church on an island in the middle of the lake.  The ride gave great views of the castle overlooking the lake.  After our ride we continued to make our way on foot around the lake to a place along the shore for lunch.  It was fun watching the people walk by and trying to determine if they were tourists or locals.

We next made the steep climb up to Castle Bled.  Perched on rocky ledges it seemed to be very well defended and was very well preserved.  The castle included a traditional printing press, a traditional wine bottling room, iron works, and local tour guides in costume to help explain them.  The most fun was when a "monk" walked us through the bottling of our own wine.

On our next day we rented a car and took it out to see some of the local features.  This started with the Vintgar Gorge a short drive from the lake.  There, a wooden path clung to the edge of a serpentine gorge feet from the beautiful turquoise-green waters.  The path was longer than we expected leading to beautiful views around every turn.  As the amount of people on the trail grew though we decided to take the long way back around to where we were parked.

After lunch back in town we drove out to another, larger lake not to far away.  We got wonderful views of this lake as we took a cable car up steep cliffs to a ski area overlooking the valley.  Some more hiking around the area gave us plenty of exercise and we were ready to call it a day as we headed back to our room.

The next day we packed up the car and headed out.  It was a little sad to go, but I can definitely see us coming back to this area in the future.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Our first stop in Slovenia was the capital, Ljubljana (pronounced: lyoo-BLYAH-nah).  Unfortunately, trains were not running between Italy and Slovenia so we had to get a taxi to take us over the border to a train station in the city of Sezana, Slovenia.  From there we took a pair of trains to the capital and found our hotel.
Ljubljana is a beautiful city and we were surprised at the lack of people out on the Saturday night we arrived.  We took a walk around the old town before finding a nice place to eat with tables out on one of the old streets. 

The next day we went back to the old town for a tour around.  A knowledgeable and nice art history professor walked our group around explaining the various architecture and sights.  Slovenia has an interesting history at the crossroads of Western and Eastern Europe.  We saw evidence of it's different memberships including the Roman empire, the Hapsburgs Monarchy, and Yugoslavia.

After the tour we walked up to the city's castle overlooking the city.  There was a place to get lunch there after which we strolled around the ramparts.

It was very nice to see Ljubljana.  It seemed like a clean city with friendly people.  It didn't seem to have much life to it though.  Maybe because we were wandering around on a Sunday we didn't see as many people, or maybe we've gotten used to the density of people in Asian cities.  In any case, after 24 hours we were ready to move on to our next place: Lake Bled.