Back in the US

We landed back here on Monday after three totally uneventful flights. Since then we have been unpacking and preparing to repack the coach for departure in October. We have been recovering from jet lag. We have been trying to sort though the far to many pictures both of us have taken. We witnessed Josh, our eldest grandson, get his driver’s license – whatever happened to the rush to DMV  on the birthday and taking the drivers test 30 days later – We were so overjoyed that he can be mobile that I went with him the next day to buy his first car, a 2011 Silver Toyota Corolla. He will pick it up on Monday.

Endless rounds of wonderful entertainment have already begun and seem to be set to continue until we leave for our “other life” as nomads.

Our last day in Ljubljana (type that 3 times fast!) we wandered along the river at 9:30 AM as the art market and antiques market were set up. As we wandered we watched a troop of acrobats set up their mats on the street and start to perform.

Later their place was taken by a typical Slovenian (could be Austrian or. . ) brass band with accordions. Actually by the time they started playing we had rejoined most of our group to ascend to the Ljubljana Castle by funicular and we were able to hear them clearly way up there.

Taken from the Castle Tower

We left the group and toured the Interactive Puppet Museum in the Castle before heading down the steep switchback dirt path back to the river. There we found lunch at Sokol which is featured as a game meat restaurant, but they had nice veggie options and I really enjoyed a venison goulash in a bread bowl. It was nice to find a goulash without pork so I could order it. 

We found, with some help from another couple on our tour, Ann and Jim, a small contemporary art gallery featuring Malevich’s work and other pieces including this:

With just few hours left before the Farewell Gathering and dinner we made our way to the Gallery of Modern Art. There we took a chronological journey through Slovenian 20th Century art and history. It was a very valuable and different way to understand the history of war and stress that has lead to this absolutely delightful city full of people who seem to be striving to make the best of good times in an area that has seen little enough of such times in recent memory.
There is much more in my head and hundreds of pictures to sort through and eventually shape into some sort of a reminder of this trip. 

Decadence, Discovery, Delight

From Zagreb we traveled west to Opatia, a lovely resort town on the Adriatic coast. It has everything you would expect in a luxurious coastal resort most any place in the world.  Luxury shops,  too many restaurants and as many hotels.  We barely got to see the place before we were off to a day of decadence in and around Motovun a hill town that could have been in Tuscany as easly as in Croatia – actually it is a short hop over the Adriatic from Italy.

Our first stop was in a shop that specializes in all things truffle.  There was whole truffle, sliced truffle and minced and creamed truffle not to mention olive oil with truffel. This being Croatia we started our visit with brandy,  honey brandy in this case,  before tasting several varieties of truffle so we could decide what to buy.  Following a tour of the town,  10 minutes to walk the outer wall, we met to have lunch at nearby farm which consisted entirely of locally grown and produced foods including unlimited wine from the farm.

We crawled back onto the bus  needing to doze off,  only to be awakened to attend a brandy tasting.  I failed to mentioned we had been greeted at the farm with two kinds of brandy. We sampled three brandies including apple, herb and a berry (I can’t be more specific,  I didn’t take notes and the day had not ended). We did not buy any,  but certainly enjoyed what we tasted. Resuming our seats on the bus we were warned of a surprise stop. When we pulled up to our hotel, Vlaho told us to take our things and follow him. He lead us into a chocolate museum where, after the mandatory brandy welcome, we stood at a table with cups and spoons on saucers,  all solid chocolate, and a hot chocolate fountain to fill the cups after the presentation. We went way with the remnants of the welcome sign and whatever else we hadn’t consumed in provided paper bags.

Discovery;  we left Opatia with passports in hand to head into Slovenia, a tiny country about which we knew very little.  Our first stop was at Postojna Cave where we had a wonderful surprise along with thousands of others.  This cavern has double track rail system to get back into the good parts.  The total time was 90 minutes.  Carol and I have never seen as beautiful and large a cave.  Kartchner in Arizona is as beautiful and Mammoth may be as large.  None has the rail sytem to handle hundreds at a time.  The largest room  called the Concert Hall has capacity for ten thousand people!

Skipping back a bit, while in Croatia we had a half day in Plitvice Lake National Park. It would be best for you to search for it on the web. It is 16 lakes at all different levels and we walked around three of them. There are endless water falls and sights. It would be worth coming here in a motorhome or to stay in a room to explore for 3 days or more instead of the couple of hours we had.

Delight; Ljubljana Slovenia! This city about the size of Rochester is the capital of Slovenia,  a country of 2 million.  The local joke is that accordion players need a passport so they can extend there arms to full reach. Our hotel is a few steps from the central pedestrian area with shops, restaurants, and entertainment to satisfy almost any desire. Last night we took a 50 minute boat ride on the river then shared an ear of corn grilled on the corner of the triple bridge while listening to local musicians who sounded very klezmer with accordian, of course,  and two clarinets.  Then we wandered off to a highly recommended restaurant to eat more. While there two buskers  entertained on the street. We then went to the biggest square where we are told we would find a local group performing folk music.  Wow! Over 50 musicians, singers and dancers are in the center of a large crowd.  The instruments ranged across the board including 4 accordions, 2 harps,  basses, cellos, violins,  oboe! Trumpet,  harmonium and many more. Many of our group were there and we agreed it was a very energized and exciting concert that ran 10 minutes past its mandatory ending time of 10pm. From there,  as we walked back to the hotel we passed A couple of more groups performing.  Finally we stopped in the square by the Cathedral where two people were playing guitars and singing.  The gelato was too tempting to pass so Carol and I shared a small scoop.

Our last tour as a group was today we went to Lake Bled and toured the castle and the Island. We finally got to see a bride so Carol could add another country to her project.  Her are some photos from these days:


Trufftel Dog and handler

Too Much

Required Cave Picture

Carol with corn
One of many pictures from the concert

Lake Bled

Mushroom soup

I don’t expect I’ll be posting again until we are back in Rochester,  but you never know 🙂


Well we have reached the end of the alphabet but not the trip.  Hmm, will Google let me use “alphabet” now? Not my worry for now.

First a bit about the group.  We are ten women and five men.  There are three couples so there are two unattached men, Jim and Joe,  to simplify matters they are from opposite coasts.  The seven women traveling alone or in pairs are a mix of married traveling alone, widows and divorced.  All in all a fairly normal mix. We are getting along well and get together in free time or not as the spirit moves us.  Carol and I get off on our own from time to time. Today we ran into most of the others in galleries or on the street.

That last tells you that the central tourist area of Zagreb is fairly compressed. We took a group city walking tour this morning through the old city.  Like Budapest,  Zagreb was once two cities divided by a small river.  The river was mostly filled and directed into a culvert so the city today is one.  We visited the upper old city traveling up in a very short funicular to save the steps.  We saw the government buildings and were pointed to several galleries to consider for our free time.  We toured the Cathedral which was rebuilt after an earthquake in the 1800’s and has been under continuous reconstruction ever since since the stone they chose disintegrates rapidly with exposure to air. During free time Carol and I went to two galleries.  The first is the Croation Museum of Naive Art. This small museum has a marvelous collection of naive art,  much of it painted in reverse on glass.  From there we went to the home and studio of Ivan Miestrovic, a famous sculpture who worked in the US and lived and worked most of his life in Zagreb. We picked up lunch on the street and headed back to our hotel to meet Michal who we had hired to provide a guided tour to Jewish Zagreb.

Ordinarily we have a fair understanding of the history of the Jews of most cities we get to. Somehow Zagreb seemed to be a blank spot in our memory.  I wondered if there were any Jews here and what the prewar community might have consisted of.  Michal turns out to be a professor of history in the Department of Judaic Studies, University of Zagreb. Her husband is a tour guide. We made four stops in a brief walking tour.  The synagogue is now a parking lot owned by a Jew, leased to another Jew, keeping the money in the community at least. Rick, the location is superb, a few steps off the main square.  Two other sites were features in the main Park,  the gazebo and a meteorological plinth,  both donated by members of the Jewish community before the war. The final site was a passage through a building that had included the home of one of the leading members of the community.  We sat on a coffee bar and heard the story of the community.  Briefly,  they arrived in this area after running from the Inquisition and making many stops before arriving, that was the Sephardic group.  The Ashkanazi arrived much later in the 1900s when they were driven out of Poland and other eastern European countries. The story of their deportation to Auswitch is like so many others.  Some escaped to Italy and others to Israel. Croatia actually served as a passage for Aliyah Bet so long as no locals were included in the transport. Today fewer than 1,000 Jews remain.  There is no functioning synagogue in Zagreb. They gather in a hotel for the holidays when they can get the time off.

We parted with Michal at the hotel door to get some rest and then go out to dinner at Bistro Fotic not far from the hotel.  We do recommend it should you happen to be in this part of the world.


With the whole group together we toured Sarajevo and the surrounding area. It became very clear that our tour would be largely about the siege of 1250 days, 1991 to 1994. As we drove in to the city on the main road the damage to many buildings was still apparent. Indeed several buildings appear to have been totally bombed out and no restoration had begun 20 years later.  Another theme was Sarajevo Film Festival which was to start on our last night in town. Yet another theme that Carol and I had was the Jewish Community of Sarajevo, before WWII and since the siege.

Taking the last first, Vlaho, our tour leader arranged a special tour for the two of us of the local Jewish sites. The community which was over 14,000 before the war is now les than 1,000. Of the 9 synagogues four remain and only one is an active synagogue.  It is the Ashkanazi Synagogue and the community that prays there is Sephardi. Parse that for yourself.  The old synagogue is now a Jewish museum and the “new synagogue” next door is an abandoned building. We got into another synagogue on the main street,  it is now the ministry of culture building and the communists gutted it and removed all the decorations.  We bought film festival T shirts there.  Our guide was Jewish by birth having a Jewish mother and a Moslem father.  We learned that this is quite ordinary.  The mixing within Sarajevo belies the partisanship that almost destroyed the city.

It is hard to understand how Bosnia-Herzegovina will ever become a functional country.  Their Constitution was imposed by the Dayton Accords and remains so all these years later.  The leadership changes every year rotating among the Serbs, the Bosnian, and the Moslems. They are less able to agree on anything then our own Congress.  In the midst the Srbska Republic (that is NOT a typo) is calling for a referendum to form their own country.  All of this in a country with a total population of 4 million.  It seems the people get along just fine, but their leadership are all hungry for individual power.  In the midst of this unemployment was reported to be as high as 45%.

The film festival resulted in a sleepless night as one of the party venues was in the courtyard beneath our windows. The fireworks assured that anyone who had fallen asleep through the music would be awake again.  The bus ride in the morning toward a farm stay back in Croatia was very quiet. The regional map would show why we went through Bosnia-Herzegovina to get from Croatia to Croatia.  Croatia is like a quarter moon surrounding BiH for more than 180 degrees.

On our way out of Sarajevo we stopped by the Olympic Stadium and actually walked out on to the field.

One of our stops was at a stable that has been breeding and training Lippizaner horses since the 1800s.

Our last stop for the day was at a small farming village, Karanac, where we stayed at the farm of Sklepic family.  The farm is two acres and is maybe 100 feet wide and very deep like all his neighbors. The rooms were rustic and without  air conditioning which ordinarily would not be an issue,  but by bed time the temperature was in the low 80s and some had a hard time sleeping.  Wake up was early because the immediate neighbor had geese and chickens and naturally roosters. 
I have skipped lots of detail and many stops. I also need to provide a sketch of our group,  that will follow. 

Dubrovnik to Sarajevo with hiccups

We had a wonderful walking tour of Dubrovnik in 90 degree heat.  Fortunately we started early before the sun made the wall almost intolerable. Hiccup one occurred when Kit had her cash and some credit cards lifted in a coffee shop. She had more cash and other cards so it was only an inconvenience.  Our tour included a walk on the walls and a city tour.  After a stop for lunch we continued to wander the old town until  heat and exhaustion mandated a return to the hotel. Once there I decided to take advantage of the swimming pool.  Again the heat and sun limited the time I could spend outdoors. That evening we rode the cable car to the top of the mountain for the view and sunset before having dinner with the group.
In the mean time Donna was waiting for her husband to catch up with us.  He had arrived at the airport in San Francisco with an out dated passport and had to wait for his current one to be fedexed from TN. Hitch number 2.
The next day Tuesday, I believe, we got in a bus for a visit to Kotor at the head of Kotor Bay in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They can’t agree on a flag,  a national anthem, or even a name.  We took a boat ride to a man made Island in the Bay that sits on the spot where an icon was found washed up on a reef 100s of years ago.  Then on up the Bay to the old walled city of Kotor. After a walking tour we split up and had lunch while some prepared to walk up to the chapel, half way up to the fortress at the top of the wall. A couple of people misunderstood the instructions and continued to the top delaying us almost an hour. In the mean time Donna,  who was waiting for her husband to catch up with us, had her passport, credit cards and cash stolen.  This became a major hitch as we could not get her  back into Croatia with us.  After a wait of an hour at the border,  we left her and Vlaho at the border and proceeded back to the hotel.  On arrival Carol and I had to explain to a bewildered, jet lagged Bob why his wife was not with the group.  To close that loop,  we have word that Donna got a new passport issued at the Embassy in the Montenegran Capitol and they will be traveling with the next OAT group to join us here in Sarajevo tomorrow.

To be continued

Albania; what century am I in?

It is one thing to go to Greece and see antiquities and still know that for the most part we were in the 21st century.  Albania seems in many respects to be still trying to get into the late 20th century.  The buildings that are later than the 1930s are from the 60s. The roads are clearly no later than the 1950s, with some few exceptions. Many are no better than paved cart tracks. The standard of living is so low it is scary.  We went to dinner several times on our own and spent $10 to $20 for the two of us with wine and high priced items.  A high end marketing person for the hotel makes the equivalent of $400 a month.  Those dinners are far beyond their means.  The average pay is about $250 a month.

Internet is readily available almost every place!  Open wifi seems standard. Security not so much.  Cellular service is also everywhere and everyone is using mobile phones.  The hotel can’t seem to make up is mind on how to dial room to room.  The instructions vary depending on the floor and don’t work anyhow because they are wrong.  All the people we have met have been very friendly and accommodating.  They are happy to practice their English on us.

As I write the muezzin from the mosque on the main square is calling the faithful to prayer for the last prayers of the day, 9:37 pm, we will hear it next at 4:30 am of we are awake.

On the main boulevard is a pyramid.  It was built to be a tomb for Enver Hochsha (sp) but he was never buried there.  There have been several plans to use the building. Since the Democratic Party lost to the Socialists all plans have been scheduled and the building has been left to degrade and suffer graffiti and broken windows.  We have watched locals scaling the ramps to the top every time we have gone by. It is a huge eyesore on the boulevard not to far from the Grand Hotel which served the area during the communist period. It To had been abandoned to the elements.

I could go on with contrasts,  but one more.  As we drove by a major cement factory with heavy equipment,  we saw a local riding standing up on the cart behind his donkey,  this was not tourist item, we were not within miles of anything touristic. Which century were we in?

Santorini to Tirana Albania

I don’t need to tell you Santorini is in the Greek islands, I may have needed to tell some readers that Tirana is the capital of Albania.  As I wrote the title of this post I thought I could call it from the sublime to the ridiculous or even heaven to hades:) We arrived in Santorini only 2 hours late,  courtesy of SeaJet Challenger. As we have learned this is more the norm than the extraordinary.

Our room at Tzekos Villas was  delightful one we got to it.  When booking I had noted that it was inside the caldera requiring steps up to the entrance and then down to reception and finally the room. The van could not get anywhere near the entrance and the hotel sent a porter to carry the luggage,  no cart, must his strong and and legs.  Following him up to the entrance was exhausting, down to our room, an upgrade to include more space and private jacuzzi left us wondering how we would leave and return for meals and excursions. We did find the strength for several round trips.  It would seem that most of caldera view hotels have similar situations.  We saw a lot of porters and 2 wheeled hand carts moving luggage. I should note that the very lovely room lacked some essentials.  There were no reasonably placed outlets not any usable tables or other flat surfaces.  The jacuzzi was contaminated with oils and lotions from prior thoughtless guests and need to be dumped, cleaned and refilled. Breakfast was barely adequate.

After our late arrival and first trip on the stairs, we found our way to a place that was said to specialize in fava bean spread.  They were out, but we stayed and had a nice lunch at Theona’s Kitchen anyhow. We spent the rest of the day walking through the shopping area of Fira stopping to admire the caldera views.  We returned to our room to rest  and enjoy the jacuzzi on our deck with a great view of the caldera and total privacy. We had dinner on a deck with a view of the sunset over the volcano in the middle of the caldera.

For our second day in Santorini we took the local bus to Oia on the northern end of the Island.  Again the entertainment was walking through the shops and eventually eating at Strogili. Always adventurous with food choices I ordered stuffed squid. I had a bit of a surprise when this was delivered

We are used to seeing this cut into circles and fired.  At first this was a bit off putting to say the least.  It was delicious and I didn’t leave anything behind. 
We returned to Fira by bus and sat in a sidewalk cafe to pass the time until our pick up to go to the port for the 7:20 ferry.  A beer and an iced coffe paid for a table with good people watching potential for the hour we needed to wait.  I called the hotel to have the porter bring the luggage to the meeting place saving us the climb up/down and repeat. At the ferry port we waited for the ferry for an hour past scheduled departure.  We landed in Pireus 2 hours late, 1 AM! We spent an hour in the cab getting the rest of our luggage from Herodian and then on to Sofitel at the airport.  By 2:30 we were in bed with a 5:45 wake up to catch our flight to Tirana.
Sent from Tirana after a day of walking with Linda the first member of our OAT we have met. More soon.