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It’s a luxury to have a long lead time to plan our summer trip to France, but it also allows for me to get somewhat obsessive. When researching a country, I like to read about the history, read other blogs/travel sites, talk to people who have visited there and, for the first time, I’ve added Periscope to my information search tools. From now until the end of June, I will be a Francophile.

The essentials for my planning purposes are:
1) Map of France ~ I highly recommend getting a map of the location you’ll be visiting and a marker so you can circle all the interesting places you’ll want to see. My map already has my top “must visit” locations circled: Paris, Versailles (I’ve been but my husband and daughter have not), Mormant, Le Mont-St Michel, Rochefort, Les Cabannes and Beaune. I’ve also added Andorra. We’ll be so close when we’re in Les Cabannes, it would be a shame not to explore the sixth smallest country in Europe.

2) Skyscanner for the cheapest airfare
I check Skyscanner first for the lowest priced flights. Their site allows you to look at an entire month for the cheapest day to fly. Once I’ve narrowed it down to which carrier is the best price, I go to the airlines website to check on flight schedules and then book it.

3) Tripadvisor for hotel information
Tripadvisor is my first stop for hotels, Bed & Breakfasts and Vacation Apartments. I appreciate the personal reviews and read them within context. A few years ago, while researching places to stay in Inverness (Scotland), a B&B received a low score but it was due to the establishment not allowing children under age 5 to stay. The person giving the review never stayed there but gave it a “1.” I actually liked the policy since B&Bs are too small/thin walled for younger children. We ended up staying there and really enjoyed ourselves all thanks to a bad review.

4) Lonely Planet:France Guidebook (lots of useful info even if out of date)
We keep all our outdated Lonely Planet books because there is timeless information in them. Lots of background information, the history of the area, and safety tips which are always helpful. Our library carries the most current issues of most travel guidebooks but my old Lonely Planets can be highlighted and scribbled in.

5) Reading blogs is one of my favorite ways to get a locals perspective of a city or town. For France, I’ve been catching up with Les Photos de Suzanne & Pierre  ~ expats who wrote updates while living in Paris for two + years (it’s in French and English). If you have any suggestions on other ones, please let me know.

6) Periscope ~ I find Periscope to be fascinating but scary as well. It has the potential to get sketchy quickly. It’s a live streaming app that allows you to interact with the person scoping. So far, I’m only following a few “travel” periscopers and one friend. For my trip planning, I’ve found an amazing tour guide named Claire who uses Periscope. She’s been a wealth of information and makes me want to stay the whole time in Paris. Click here for more information about Claire and her tours. Once our dates are confirmed, I’m hoping to book an actual live tour with her. She’s lived in Paris for twenty years and speaks French and English fluently. Her love for Paris is very apparent and I really like her positive attitude.

Planning trips are a lot of fun and I’m thankful my fellow travelers (husband and daughter) trust me to make the right decisions for an intriguing adventure. I get very few complaints. Every once in awhile, they’ll go rogue and decide to do something completely and utterly touristy.

Please leave me a comment with any advice you might have for me ~ especially about a town or area we shouldn’t miss while on our explorations of France. We’ll be traveling the northwestern, west and southwest areas of France.

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Flowers and well wishes from around the world at the French Embassy in Washington DC

Flowers and well wishes from around the world at the French Embassy in Washington DC

I’m well aware of the horrific terrorist attacks around the world including Kenya, Nigeria, Beirut, Bangladesh (bloggers being murdered for not being Muslim enough) and many more. If I wrote about every attack around the world, Displaced Beachbums would cease to be about travel. But Paris and all of France has a special place in my heart.

As an American, the French are our oldest ally ~ beginning with Lafayette and the help of the French during our revolution. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit many times and also know someone who lives in central Paris. It’s personal to me. The French inspire me with their love of life, the physical beauty of their country, their history, their delicious wine, desserts and even their “confident” attitude.

My biggest fear is we will let Daesh (and other fanatics) change the way we live. When I say I’m “Praying for Paris”, I’m praying not only for those affected by the recent attack, but for the defeat of the darkness which has been allowed to permeate around the world.

Recently I’ve been attempting to reorganize the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the last ten years. In light of what’s happening in Paris, I made a quick visit to the French Embassy in DC yesterday and then decided I would concentrate on my France photos. Below are a few photos of my visits to Paris:

Looking up to the Eiffel Tower

Looking up to the Eiffel Tower

Obelisk of Luxor, Paris, France

Obelisk of Luxor, Paris, France

Enjoying a smoke break in Paris

Enjoying a smoke break in Paris

Beautiful relief on the Arc de Triomphe, Paris France

Beautiful relief on the Arc de Triomphe, Paris France

Looking out to the Seine from the Eiffel Tower

Looking out to the Seine from the Eiffel Tower

Another view from the Eiffel Tower

Another view from the Eiffel Tower

Paris has so many gorgeous statues ~ an outdoor museum

Paris has so many gorgeous statues ~ an outdoor museum

Music Academy in Paris, France

Music Academy in Paris, France

An Angel overlooking Paris

An Angel overlooking Paris

A favorite pastime in Paris ~ lingering over coffee, tea and pastries at an open air cafe.

A favorite pastime in Paris ~ lingering over coffee, tea and pastries at an open air cafe.

American Soldier Statue in Paris

American Soldier Statue in Paris

Place de la Concorde, Paris, France

Place de la Concorde, Paris, France

and then here’s a real throwback to 2004…

My husband and daughter at the end of the 2004 Paris Marathon

My husband and daughter at the end of the 2004 Paris Marathon

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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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Lake Bled Castle and swans

Bled, situated in the Julian Alps, has beautiful churches, a castle high on a hill, picturesque mountains, hiking, boating, swimming, delicious restaurants, a casino and a whole lot of history. The first mention of Bled was when Henry II (Holy German Emperor) gifted it the Bishop Brixen in 1004. At that time, there was already a Roman tower on the cliff which is still a part of the castle.

Lake Bled Sunset
Looking out to the Castle and sunset

Bled dinner with a view of the castleEnjoying the view while having a delicious dinner Blejska kremna rezina
Blejska Kremna Rezina (Bled Cream Cake). Ištvan Lukačevič, a pastry chef at Hotel Park, invented the delightful cream cake in the 1950s. When you’re in Bled, always leave a little room for this gem of a dessert.

Lake Bled Castle and ChurchBled Castle Lake Bled Running TrailThere’s a running/walking trail around the entire lake, about 6.7 km. Although it should only take about an hour to walk it, I prefer to stop often, enjoying all the lake has to offer: watching the swan family, running to the top of the bleachers at the rowing center and stopping to enjoy the gorgeous views.

Lake Bled serene settingSerenity in Bled Lake Bled Rower statue Rower Statue. Slovenia’s Olympic rowing team practice at Lake Bled. Bled petting the swan Children attempting to pet the swan, who really only wants some food. The ONLY type of food that should be given to the swans are dandelions. Bled Lake Swans and a babyLake Bled Church
The Church of the Assumption of St Mary on the island at Lake Bled. More about the island in my next post.

If you’re visiting Slovenia, you should definitely spend at least one night in Bled, preferably with a view of the lake.

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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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