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With a Croatian Cheesemonger

With a Croatian Cheesemonger

When I travel, I love being able to chat with locals. My favorite Croatian encounter was with a cheesemonger at a rest stop on our drive back to Slovenia. She told us about the beautiful National Parks in the area and about her cheese/honey she was selling. When I asked her if she’d ever been to the states, she replied “No, but I LOVE Miami ~ CSI.”

I’ve been asked for more details about our brief visit to Split:

  • Accommodations: Hotel Slavija  €156.00 per night for a two bedroom, one bath, a balcony and breakfast for three. There’s also a €1.20 per per person per stay charge. We loved the central location of the hotel and the exceptionally friendly and helpful staff.
  • Tour of Diocletian’s Palace (highly recommended)  €20 per person. Our tour was approximately two hours and we were the only ones on the tour. There’s a max of 6 people for any of the tours unless you book as a group. Book in advance through the Hotel Slavija (don’t need to stay there). All guides are licensed and Mirjana was fabulous! To book, email info@hotelslavija.hr
  • The beaches are rocky ~ water shoes are a must. We didn’t have any and ended up walking in with our flip-flops. Comical!
  • We took an afternoon boat trip to Trogir (UNESCO protected) and to Blue Lagoon (a swim/beach area). There are lots of options and also sailboats which would make the trip less bouncy. The tour companies are lined up along the harbor so you can check out which trip will suit you best. The Hotel Slavija staff can also book trips for you.
  • Driving to Split from Slovenia was easy although we did get caught in summer traffic on the way there. And keep your passport handy for the border crossing. Tolls could be paid in euros or kunas. We saw license plates from almost every EU countries and even some Non EU countries. My advice is to travel early in the day. It made a big difference on the way back to Slovenia. Once we got to Split, we parked the car and didn’t use it until we left. The hotel is in a pedestrian only area but they provided detailed instructions on where to unload our bags and then where long-term parking was (we chose the bus terminal parking).
  • Learn a few phrases in Croatian ~ it goes a long way with the locals. My daughter was so impressed that I spoke only in Croatian on the way out of the pay parking area. It was only FOUR words: Dobar Dan (Hello), Koliko? (How much?) Hvala (Thank You) but it was fun to give the language a try, limited as it was. His response to my “how much?” was “deset” which sounded a lot like diez in Spanish so it was a lucky guess when I handed him 10kn. It was fun to give the language a try and we were all smiles as we left the parking lot (the attendant included).
  • Usually, I prefer to recommend rather than warn against but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our dinner at Tavern Favola. Don’t go. It’s tempting because it has a stellar location just outside the palace gates in a lovely courtyard. Unfortunately, the service was awful and the food even worse. With so few opportunities to enjoy the local cuisine, I was kicking myself for not looking up reviews on Tripadvisor or asking the hotel staff for their recommendations. Don’t make our mistake!
  • If you have specific questions not covered in the above, please leave a comment or send me a private message through facebook.
Croatian Flag, Trogir, Croatia

Croatian Flag, Trogir, Croatia

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As we drove into Split, I could immediately see why Emperor Diocletian chose the Illyrian province of Rome for his retirement town when he voluntarily relinquished his reign of the Roman Empire in 305. It’s a beautiful city located on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea.

Split Croatia Hotel Slavija
We stayed at Hotel Slavija which is located within the walls of Diocletian’s Palace. This was the view from our balcony. We loved being centrally located and walking out of our room to wander through all the alleyways.

The UNESCO designated complex is not a museum but full of shops, restaurants, bars, and apartments. There are about 3,000 people living within the palace. We took a tour with Mirijana and wandered through many of the passageways hearing about not only ancient Roman history but an update on current Croatian events, too.  It was obvious our tour guide, Mirijana has a passion for her city and history.

Diocletian Palace Alleyway

Diocletian Palace Alleyway

Jupiter's Temple, Diocletian's Palace

Jupiter’s Temple, Diocletian’s Palace

Diocletian's Palace Wall

Part of the wall in Diocletian’s Palace

Cathedral in the Diocletian's Palace

In the middle ages, the Cathedral was built around Diocletian’s mausoleum which is an interesting twist of fate since he persecuted Christians at an alarming rate.

Klapa Cambi Singers

Klapa Cambi singers ~ we came across this group of a cappella singers while on our tour. The sound and setting was spectacular!

An Archway in Diocletian's Palace

An Archway in Diocletian’s Palace

Looking out to the Adriatic sea from within the palace.

Looking out to the Adriatic sea and harbor area from the palace.

Along the promenade at sunset ~ located just outside of the Palace walls.

Along the promenade at sunset ~ located just outside of the Palace walls.

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Only an hour and fifteen minute drive from Washington DC, Harpers Ferry National Park is a delightful getaway for the day, an overnighter or perhaps even a weekend. There’s lots to do and something for everyone: hiking, civil war history, river sports, fishing, shopping in the quaint town and much more.

Harpers Ferry Lower Trail We parked at the Visitors Center parking lot because the town has narrow streets and the parking is extremely limited. There’s a shuttle every 15 minutes but we walked 1.7 miles along the Lower Town trail into Harpers Ferry. There’s a sign at the start of the trail designating it as strenuous but it’s moderate to easy. The hardest part are all the steps.

Harpers Ferry Steps along the Lower Town Trail
Steps on the Lower Town Trail

Harpers Ferry Lower Town Trail on the rail
Attempting to make it more strenuous

We got to see beautiful wildlife along the way:

Butterfly at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Butterfly at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Along the Lower Town Trail, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Along the Lower Town Trail, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Harpers Ferry Black Butterfly
B
lack Butterfly

IMG_9606
The Shenandoah River

Harpers Ferry Virginius Island Bent Log
Bent log on Virginius Island

Harpers Ferry Church and bookshop
Bookstore and Church on the hill as you enter Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry Ruins of Pulp factory
Pulp Factory Ruins

The town is named after Robert Harper who operated a ferry across the Potomac River beginning in 1747. By the early 1800s, the river powered the US Armory complex and the various commercial mills including two pulp mills, a flour mill, a saw mill and a cotton mill. There was also the Halls Island Rifle Factory which revolutionized manufacturing rifles by perfecting interchangeable parts.

Harpers Ferry National Park Guide
For a detailed historic talk about the famous John Brown Raid, be sure to go on one of the walking tours with a Park Service Ranger. We thoroughly enjoyed the stories he told us and certainly learned a lot about the history of Harpers Ferry. Although Brown’s raid failed, it became a symbol of Freedom and focused attention on the issue of slavery leading to the Civil War.

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After spending the weekend amongst the elite ultra runners at the Leadville 100 race, and seeing it with my own eyes, I still can’t fathom how they ran 100 miles. Not only 100 miles but a course which starts at a little under two miles high to an elevation of 12,600 feet.

Leadville cabin near twin lakes
A gorgeous Colorado scene

We arrived in Leadville two days prior to the run and the atmosphere was abuzz with the anticipation of the event. It was wonderful to be back in the Rockies ~ wide-open spaces, beautiful mountains, crisp clean air and charming western towns. Aside from an occasional rapid heart rate when going up steep steps, none of us succumbed to altitude sickness.

My involvement with the 100 mile run, along with my daughter, was strictly as a crew member for our New Zealander friend, Jean. I felt as though I was part of the run ~ minus all the bother with the painful, difficult, exhausting running part. My husband had dual responsibilities as a crew member AND a pacer. Thankfully, he’s still talking to me even after I misinformed him that his running would consist of 10 miles. Once we got to Leadville, Jean asked if he could pace her from Outward Bound/Fish Hatchery aid station to the finish. Hmmm…nothing like a surprise marathon (24 miles) at night.

How we ended up in Leadville: We met Jean three years ago in London. When she first told me she was an ultra runner, I distinctly remember thinking “what a nutter” and didn’t think we would spend much time together since, in my mind, ultra runners surely had to be totally obsessed with little time for other activities. Happily, she shattered those myths ~ her life is as balanced as anyone I know. Fast forward to this past January, we found out Jean was coming to the states to run the Leadville 100 in Colorado. I invited myself and family to be her crew. Somewhat presumptuous since I had no clue how to be a support crew but I’m always willing to learn a new skill set and was thrilled to have the chance to help her meet her goals. As we planned what we would do as her “crew”, we talked about split times. She told us to let her know if she was in danger of missing any cutoffs, especially the final 30 hour cut-off. That all changed when we met her at the first aid station ~ she was running fast enough to finish between 22-23 hours. Even after 75 miles, she was projected to finish between 24-25 hours.

Leadville 100 outbound at the Outward Bound fish hatchery aid station
At the Outward Bound/Fish Hatchery station

John joined her at the 76 mile point (Outward Bound/Fish Hatchery aid station) and this is where it became apparent as to the importance of having a pacer who could help with the timing. We knew she had a good shot of finishing under 25 hours which meant she would get the coveted big belt buckle. We next saw John after he had been running 13.5 miles with her and his only comment to me was “I’m running with a billy-goat!”

Highlights of the Leadville 100:

bazu-6820817
Photo credit: Official Leadville 100 Race Series.
Jean crossing the finish line at 24:57:15 ~ with a smile on her face.  Not going to lie, we were holding our breath wondering if she’d make it under 25 hours.

Leadville rainbowBeautiful rainbow and an inspiring message on the fence.

Leadville 100 Jean at Twin Lakes aid stationJean coming into the Twin Lakes station well under the time we expected her to be there. Leadville 100 at the Fish Hatchery stop #2 chilly and slight drizzle. Loved the camaraderie with the other crews. It was a little chilly and raining but spirits were still high.Leadville Dog
There were so many dogs ~ including this cutie.

Leadville 100 at the start of the run 4am
The 4am start was fun especially the playing of the national item and the shotgun (a real one) start.

Leadville 100 last runner under 30 hours
The “last ass” finisher. He came in right under 30 hours. He’s a cross-country coach and his students walked with him across the finish line. He didn’t topple over at the end ~ he’s kissing the ground. There were lots of cheers and even a couple of tears.

Over 600 runners started the run and 312 finished. It’s a tough run and I was thrilled to be a small part of Leadville 100. I have no ambition to actually run a 100 miles but I would certainly be on a crew again ~ it was a lot of fun planning out what to have at the stops and cheering the runners on. We clapped for everyone who came through the stations.

Next time I’ll actually know what I’m doing!!

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My first visit to Ljubljana was in 2002 and, since then, I’ve recommended the capital city and other places in Slovenia to many of my friends. I’m happy to say everyone who visits has had a fabulous time. It’s the one country I don’t have to caveat with any exceptions ~ there is something for everyone.

On my recent return visit (after a 10 year absence), I was thrilled to find this incredibly charming city as I remembered. There are a few more cafes, bars and activities (paddleboard on the river, Segway tours, etc) but the positive vibe and essence of the city is still fantastic.

Cheeky Bar signVegan RestaurantAn especially nice change for the better are the new vegan restaurants located in the city center. We ate at Ajdovo Zrno for lunch and it was delicious. The restaurant is located at Trubarjeva Cesta 7, Ljubljana.

If you decide to visit, here are my suggestions and recommendations: Spend at least 2-3 days in the capital city of Ljubljana. It’s a great place to base from while exploring the rest of Slovenia. From the city, it’s 40 minutes to Lake Bled, 90 minutes to Piran (on the Adriatic coast) and 38 minutes to Postojna (Castle and Caves).

  • Check out the Visit Ljubljana website. Purchase a city card for 24 hours, 48 hours or 72 hours. It offers admission to over 15 attractions, free travel on city buses, a guided tour of the city, a boat cruise, a free funicular & tourist road train ride to Ljubljana Castle and 24 hour internet access.
  • If the weather is nice, definitely enjoy a stroll along the river and stop off at a cafe along the river and enjoy a coffee, beer or glass of wine. If you’re a foodie or have special dietary needs, check out Ljubljanajam and their food walks.
  • I didn’t get a chance to take one of their walks but it’s at the TOP of my to do list for my next visit.

  • We took the Roman Tour of Emona by Torchlight. It was a very interesting ~ I had no idea about all the roman history of the city. But I admit to refusing to wear the Roman outfit provided by the tour guide. It’s would have been a fashion disaster 😉
  • Slovenia Vignette

    We’ve always driven to Ljubljana and this time was no exception. We flew into Italy and drove to Slovenia the next day. It’s only a two hour drive from Venice to Ljubljana. If you drive, make sure you purchase a Vignette (toll sticker) or else you will be subject to a fine between €300-€800.

    Where to Stay:

    Castle View Union HotelGrand Union Hotel located directly behind the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation (the pink church)

  • In the past, we’ve stayed at the Grand Hotel Union during the off season when room rates were lower. It’s a beautiful, historic hotel which dates back 110 years. It’s located a block from Prešeren Square and the triple bridge. Fantastic location and superb service. This time, we opted to stay at Central Hotel which is operated by the same hotel group as the Grand Union. Go to Union Hotels for more information. We booked a family room with 2 bedrooms, one bath with a hearty breakfast included. Best part: it was only 2 blocks away from the Grand Union hotel and the river.
  • I haven’t stayed at either of these hostels but they looked like nice places for those backpacking through the area. Hostel Tresor was a former bank and has rooms in the vault. Hostel Celica is in a former prison. Not sure I’d be brave enough to stay there but it looked nice from the outside.
  • Dotto Trains
    Tourist Train in Ljubljana. Didn’t ride the train. We took the funicular:
    Funicular LjubljanaLjubljana Slovenia street leading to Castle Trail
    Street leading to the castle (it’s a tough climb if the temperatures are high)

    Outdoor cafe with cooling mistersOn a hot summer day, look for one of the cafes with the cooling misters. We had a lovely dinner right by the river ~ all the while staying cool with the water mist Sausage and Beer
    Beer and Sausage ~ my husband was in food heaven

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    Standing on a hill overlooking Ljubljana is a beautiful castle, Ljubljanski Grad. The views from the top are fabulous especially from the top of the tower. On previous visits, we hiked to the castle from the Old Square in Ljubljana but it was over 36°C so we rode the funicular.

    Ljubljana Church
    View from the top of the Tower of Ljubljanski Grad

    Ljubljana Slovenia penitentary at the castle
    One of the cells in the penitentary

    Looking in the jail cell at the castle Ljubljana Slovenia Looking out to Ljubljana Slovenia Puppet and Logan at the Castle Ljubljana Slovenia Castle stairs Ljubljana Slovenia
    Stairs leading to Castle Tower

    Castle in Ljubljana
    Castle high on the hill

    For more information about visiting the castle, click here.

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    The dragon on the City of Ljubljana’s coat of arms symbolises strength and courage. The dragon is located on the top of the castle.

    Ljubljana coat of arms

    There are four gorgeous dragons on the Dragon bridge:

    Dragon on Dragon Bridge

    Dragon Ljubljana Slovenia complete statue

    Ljubljana Slovenia Dragon
    Dragon Bridge ~ side view

    Dragon backside Ljubljana Slovenia

    There are several versions of the story of the Ljubljana Dragon:

    The Ljubljana dragon is thought to come from the legend of Greek hero Jason and the Argonauts. Jason and his Argonaut comrades stole a golden fleece, which was the coat of a golden ram, from the King of Colchis who lived on the Black Sea. They fled their pursuers but found themselves at the mouth of the Danube River rather than at the Aegean Sea and their Greek homeland. There was no way for them to go back so they continued up the Danube and eventually made it to the River Ljubljanica.

    After wintering at the mouth of the Ljubljanica, they took their ship, the Argo, apart and carried it on their shoulders to the Adriatic sea, then they put their boat back together again and sailed on ending in Ljubljana. The Argonauts stumbled onto a large lake with a marsh which is where a terrible dragon lived. Jason killed the dragon after a heroic battle. The dragon became known as the Ljubljana dragon. It is said that Jason was the first true citizen of Ljubljana.

    The other version of the Dragon story is taken from St George who is the the patron saint of the Castle Chapel. St. George is often depicted as slaying a dragon. In ancient times, Castle Hill was a sacred place then in the Middle Ages, when the foundation of the castle was laid, the builders dedicated the Castle Chapel to St George. And the dragon comes with St. George.

    The dragon is a part of the coat of arms on numerous buildings owned by the city. After WWII, the dragon has been used by various companies such as the name of a torch company, on cigarette packages, as a fashion award and on beer bottle labels like the Union Beer can:

    Union beer dragon

    Who doesn’t love a dragon…

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