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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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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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    Observing people in a city is fascinating to me but I don’t want to be too obtrusive when taking photos. I appreciate those who don’t mind. I once had a woman ask me if I wanted her to walk by again so I could get a better shot (and no, it wasn’t in a sarcastic tone).

    People Woman and bikesBikes are very popular in Ljubljana People watching atPreseren Statue in Ljubljana Slovenia II
    Resting at the Preseren Statue near the Triple Bridge

    People two women and vespaI always say “if you work hard for a rockin body, then by all means show it off” People Smoking
    So pretty but wish she’d lose the cigarettes. Smoking is prevalent at the outdoor bars/cafes

    People Hare KrishnaHare Krishna group chanting along the river People First date
    I’m thinking first date ~

    People alone at the cafeAlone at an outdoor cafe People 4 walking
    Too much concentration going on

    People Music drum and hornsWe came across Brass Against The Machine while walking around Ljubljana. Very entertaining. If you ever get a chance to see them play, go! People Music Festival II
    Brass Against the Machine entertaining the crowd. High energy!

    Only thing better than people watching is: DOG WATCHING. Ljubljana is very dog friendly.

    Dog saying hi to hot dog in bike basket Ljubljana SloveniaDog in Bike Basket Ljubljana Slovenia
    “Hot” dog in a bike basket

    People two men and a dogTwo men and their well-coiffed pup People Ice cream eating dog
    Ice cream eating dog

    People Dog waiting for owner
    Waiting on pizza

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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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    We decided to take a very last minute, unplanned trip to Slovenia and Croatia. It has been a whirlwind but lots of fun. Slovenia is one of our favorite countries in Europe. The capital, Ljubljana is safe, beautiful and very friendly. When we lived in Germany, we visited Slovenia four times but our last visit was 10 years ago. There have been a few changes but the essence of the country is still the same. Thankfully, the city seems even better than we remembered.

    Boat under bridge in Ljubljana Slovenia
    The beautiful Ljubljanica River which flows through the center of the city

    Boat under Bridge Ljubljana Slovenia II
    The Ljubljanica was a major supply and trade route from Roman times until the advent of the railways. You’ll find a lot of social activity along the river with many outdoor cafes, tourist boats and entertainers.

    Dragon Ljubljana Slovenia complete statue
    The Dragon Bridge. The Dragon is the symbol of Ljubljana and you will see the fierce-looking dragons all over the city.

    Dragon backside Ljubljana Slovenia
    Back side of the Dragon Bridge

    Locks on the bridge Ljubljana Slovenia
    The Butcher’s Bridge, built in 2010, has become a popular spot for the lover’s locks. Keys are thrown into the river. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the locks (or the litter going in the river). Call me unromantic but I think lovers should have to use combination locks so if they break-up, one of them can come back and remove the lock.

    One of the three bridges in Ljubljana Slovenia
    Walking across “Triple bridge” off the main square in the city center. It was originally built in 1842 and is a good starting point when touring the city, especially for first timer.

    Two boats under bridge in Ljubljana Slovenia III
    The first thing we did when we arrived is head down to the river, have a glass of wine and RELAX!

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