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My visits to the Big Island follows a familiar pattern: land in Kona, rent a vehicle and head to the Volcano Nationals Park for a couple of nights. Many of my mother’s family live on the Hilo-side of the island and it’s always great to see them and catch up with all the happenings.

We landed later than usual (after 8pm), and since the drive to Volcano National Park is about 95 miles from the airport, we decided to stay the night in Kailua-Kona. Kona is probably the most “touristy” spots on the island ~ reminds me of Lahaina on Maui. Lots of shops, restaurants and activities. And traffic.

Kona Parks and Recreation

The Parks & Rec building in Kona


Kona waters and seawall

Early Morning in Kailua-Kona

Kamehameha the Great, the first king to rule all the Hawaiian Islands, chose Kailua-Kona as his home. It’s not hard to imagine why ~ the waters are bountiful with fish, the area is beautiful and, if you can picture it without throngs of tourists, it would be an ideal place to call home.

Here are a few highlights of the town:

The historic sites include Hulihe’e Palace, built in 1838 by Governor Kuakini, is now a museum run by the Daughters of Hawaii. Directly across the street from the palace is the Mokuaikaua Church, built 1820. It’s the first Christian church built in the Hawaiian islands.

Kailua-Kona is the start of the swim and the finish of the world-famous Ironman Triathlon. Below is the swim start:

Kona start of the Ironman swim and end of the run

Every October, about 2,000 athletes compete in the Ironman by swimming 2.4 miles in the rough ocean waters, 112-mile bike ride and to finish it off, there’s a 26.2 run which must be completely within 17 hour deadline. It’s a brutal event and, many years ago, I was thrilled when I had a chance to cheer some of the participants during the running event.

Kailua-Kona is a great stop for a day or two but don’t let it be your only experience on the Big Island ~ there’s so much more to do and see elsewhere on the island.

Kona sailboat on the waters

Sailboat in Kailua Bay

 

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…Aloha Hawaii. It’s rare for my family to veto me when it comes to travel locations but half way into my Tour of France planning, I got the word that neither my husband nor my daughter wanted to spend their vacation on an extended road trip. They both preferred two weeks on a beach in Hawaii. It’s been six years since I’ve seen my Big Island family and friends so I immediately changed my focus to Hawaii.

I’ve booked my first AirBnB! I was very apprehensive due to several horror stories I’ve read but, even though it’s called the “Big” Island of Hawaii, it’s really a close-knit community. Once I found the “perfect” place to rent, I contacted a friend who lives in the same town & wasn’t surprised that he knows the owner. I feel much better about prepaying the entire stay when it’s the friend of a friend.

A few photos from our previous visit to Hawaii to get us into the Aloha-Spirit…

 

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The drive from Washington DC to Philadelphia is under three hours which makes it perfect for a weekend or even a quick overnight getaway.

What I like best about Philadelphia is all the history you’ll find around every corner. It reminds me of Boston but with a little more grit.  Visiting with Ben Franklin at UPenn


A whole lot of LOVE on the Penn campus  I especially like the way the cobblestone was preserved – still there but not cumbersome.  


There are historic information signs everywhere explaining the importance of a building or area. A nice refresher of my Revolutionary knowledge.   Betsy Ross House

 Ben Franklin’s gravesite – I thought the pennies were a nice touch.  Didn’t see any $100 bills…

  A building reflected within a building.
 Christmas tree at City Hall.

 XOXO photo opportunity.


There’s a lot about Ben Franklin in Philadelphia and I was happy to finally see George Washington as well.

Since I have more time than money these days, I scowered the Internet (specifically Tripadvisor) for hotel deals in central Philly. The best deal was a Sunday night stay at the Hotel Monaco (Kimpton).

For a history buff, it’s perfectly located next to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The hotel is trendy without trying too hard and I appreciated the cheery welcome upon arrival. We walked to most historic sites, restaurants and shops but did catch a cab when we came back from the Theater. We weren’t planning to see “The Book of Mormon” but discounted tickets were available and the seventh row seats were hard to pass up.

After reading the reviews, I splurged and paid a little extra for a room with a view. It was definitely worth it:  

  Looking out to Independence Hall A very comfortable room with fun amenities like a kite – a nod to Ben Franklin!

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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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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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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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