Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tuesday, May 23rd, Kobarid, Slovenia


Forty-five million years ago, the African plate collided with the European plate, and sent Italy pushing seabeds up into the sky just south of Lichtenstein, Switzerland, and Austria.  Seven hundred fifty miles long and one hundred twenty-five miles wide, the Alps are a serious obstacle to travel.  The eastern end of it forms a border between Italy and Slovenia, and that's where we drove through today.

We visited the tallest sky jump in the world, and watched someone try one of the smaller jumps. We drove through a mountain pass, and inspected an important WWI battle site which gave a twenty-five year old commander named Rommel his first major victory.

We saw some of the most beautiful craggy peaks which didn't photograph very well through the windows of our bus as it wound its way up and down narrow winding roads.  We followed thin sky blue rivers as they made they way down from 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday, May 22nd, Bled, Slovenia


An old castle above the lake, another in the lake, and up in the mountains - a funicular ride to a modern day hangout.  This morning, we tested out our legs on two sets of castle steps.  And we're all growing more appreciative of those with railings.  We learned about Gutenberg and his press, and met a young iron shop worker with an Irish accent.  We visited a Castle Beehive shop, and were reminded of the innovations and importance of Slovenian beekkeeping.

Walking back down the steps, we drove over to a dock and boarded a small Slovenian boat (Pletna) to travel to Bled Island.  On the way, we raced two women on paddleboards (they won), and learned the Pletna business is one of the most profitable if you can obtain boats that don't sink.

Climbing even more steps, we entered a 16th century Baroque church, standing on the remains of earlier structures, built by pagans, slavs, and Christians, dating back to the 11th century BC.  

Archaeologists have discovered the foundations of a chapel from 1142 AD, the only example of a cult building from those times on Slovenian territory,

A tale is told that a young widow (Poliksena) who once lived in the castle had a bell casted for the chapel on the island in memory of her husband.  During the transport of the bell, a terrible storm hit the lake and the boat sank, together with the crew.

After the widow died, the Pope consecrated a new bell, and had it installed.  It is said that whomever rings the bell and gives honour to the Virgin Mary will have whatever wishes they make come true.

To top it off (literally), we took our bus to the end of the valley to take a funicular to the top of Mt Vogel (2200 meters) for a spectacular view of southern side of the Julian Alps.  A ski resort in winter, it also serves as a dramatic para-gliding takeoff point, and allows a full panorama of area around Lake Bohinj and Triglavski National Forest.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Monday, May 22nd, Bled, Slovenia.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday, May 21st, Bled, Slovenia


The sun came out today, and we even saw it on the ceiling of a church in the town of Skofja Loka.  We have a full 50-passenger bus for the twelve of us, and a talented driver (Vito) who can negotiate these mountainous roads better than anyone.
Through three hours of driving, with four stops, we visited a castle first begun in 973 AD (and the town below it),  a museum of arts and crafts, and an open air exhibit with a re-located 16th century house.  The inside of the house was too dark for photos, but we experienced what it was for a family of 12-14 to live in a two-room structure (kitchen and all-purpose room), with storage above.  Talk about using every square foot, and piece of furniture in multiple ways.

The highlight of our day was probably our visit to Kropa, and the lecture by the staff of the town museum.  I can't remember a more engaging presentation, where a resident delivered a more riveting story and expected our complete attention.  An iron ore and charcoal-rich area, with plenty of wind and water to supply natural power, the town has supplied iron products for generations of oppressors without much improvement in the quality of life for its residents.  If ever there was a town which gave far more than they received, it's Kropa.

Nails for European and the Middle Eastern shoes, and spikes for railroads over the same area, owe much to the families whose labor and health were stretched to the limits.

More recently, they have tried to engage their talents and machinery to supply high quality iron objects (candlesticks, sculptures, and customized window and door hinges).  But it's clear that their future employment picture hangs on how the world views the value of quality handmade iron products.

We ended our day at Bled, a lakeview resort town at which we'll spend the next two days.  Another castle on a hill town, with a gorgeous lake with an island in the middle, we had lunch and took a walk around part of the lake.  We got to watch an unique ceremony in which a couple danced on a barge near the shore, while their 40-year old wedding gesture of sinking a couple of cases of wine was re-raised to the delight of hundreds of watchers on the shore.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Sunday, May 21st, Bled, Slovenia.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Saturday, May 20th, Ljubljana, Slovenia


My knowledge of Slovenia has been sort of like a grey cloud, not much detail and a hint of bad news.  So it wasn't a big surprise when the first full day here started out with lots of clouds and is ending with heavy rain.  Everywhere from Amsterdam to Athens is getting soaked, and the Monsoons are hitting Bangaladesh.

But before it started coming down hard, we got a morning's walk through the city with our tour guide, Branko Campos.  An extremely knowledgeable local, he wove humor and social commentary into history, culture, mythology, and religion.  

Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia, is an 11th century castle across a river from a central city area.  With two million people in the country, there are only 280,000 in the urban area.  Flying in yesterday afternoon, we saw lots of villages on small mountain roads where the rest of the residents live.

We're resting and drying out in the hotel room before dinner, but our impressions are that the city is safe and smart and uncomplicated.  Long ago, the city banned cars in the city center, and there are strict physical barriers and stiff fines for violations.  Bicycles are made available and are almost free.

Every day, the markets are filled with fresh food, and there is plenty of drinkable water, beer, and wine.  Our taxi driver, Alex, moaned about the same things we all do; high living costs, inept government, and young people who take everything for granted.  But he wouldn't leave for any amount of money because he loves the quality of life here.

We're doing the laundry, and tomorrow, we leave for five days in the mountains. These two-day stops in one place are very helpful, especially at the start of a new adventure.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Saturday, May 20th, Ljubljana, Slovenia.        

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thursday, May 18th, Athens


I've not always liked food.  When very young, it was just something that happened, and nothing very complex.  Since no one in my household had either any skills at it, or any ethnicity that cared about it, I remained unconvinced of its importance.

Mobility of it mattered.  If I could put it in a paper sack, and not get it messy, great.  It was headed to the beach mostly, and would end up under a towel in the cool sand a few handfuls down from the surface.  Or on a tray in bowls in front of the television.  As an only child with no one insisting you eat anything, food became a narrowing experience.

That all changed when I joined the military.  A little more variety, and lots more insistence that I eat it.  And it really changed when I fell in love with an Italian girl.

But though I love olive oil, I've held out eating a whole olive until today.  With nothing scheduled on our last full day in Greece, we joined a walking food tour, led by Artemis Olympidou.  At one of the first stops, she held out a bowl of olives from the island of Crete, and invited me to taste one.  Remarking that I was just like her husband when I still didn't like it, she forgave me.  Like Pat, I suspect she doesn't mind eating my share.  

Since my pallate has grown considerably since meeting Pat forty-two years ago, we did enjoy the tour.  Artemis straightened us out on the origins of many Greek delights, and then guided us to her favorite places to sample lots of local products.  Our traveling friends who recommended it were absolutely right.  Don't eat breakfast first, and be prepared to be full at the end.

Tomorrow, we fly to Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia.  We begin twenty-eight days on another Adventures Abroad tour of the countries between there and Greece.

No photos today, and probably very few tomorrow.  Because of the transportation strike, we'll leave early, and spend most of the day at the airport or traveling.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wednesday, May 17th, Athens, Greece


We said goodbye last night to all of our remaining travelers, and they left this morning early before the general strike crippled the transportation system in the country.

The Metro resumed after the morning commute, and we took it to the area of Hadrian's Library, Arch, and the Temple of Zeus.

We walked back around and through the Acropolis neighborhood (Plaka) to our hotel, and later took a three-hour guided bus tour to Cape Sounion at the tip of the mainland peninsula to see the Temple of Poseidon.

Getting back, we had dinner at the El Greco, near our hotel.  The lesson we're learning about eating in Greece is that servings tend to be larger than we're used to.  Sometimes, an appetizer, salad, and beer is enough.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Wednesday, May 17th, Athens, Greece.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tuesday, May 16th, Athens, Greece


The strike is growing, and tomorrow the demonstrations in Constitutional Square begin. Meanwhile, we are the hapless victims. Inconvenienced tourists who must find other means of transportation are using taxis and private tour company busses and boats.  The locals just drive their cars and motorcycles, and the streets are chaotic.  To make matters worse, Parliament is meeting, the President's in town, and lots of street are blocked off.

We spent the day walking, taking a taxi to the base of a strategic hill (and a funicular up to the top of it) overlooking the City, and a taxi to the National Archeology Museum.

Along the way, we watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (see guardsmen above), and checked out the lobby and bathrooms of the Grand Hotel Bretagne.

I know some of you think we spend too much time in museums.  Greece, like many other countries, tells its visitors a very narrow story about its history.  Most know black vases with golden images of naked athletes, fifty-six tall columns in a rectangle atop a central plateau, and a guy running twenty-six miles to let the City know it had won a battle.   All three had important moments in 480 BC.  But Greece has had a civilization for seven thousand years, and that story is told in the artifacts displayed in its museums.

So if you want to see what can be done with clay and bronze and marble and gold and silver if you have that long to practice, and you haven't lost too much of it, come to the museums of Greece.  
It will put our current world into perspective, help you evaluate how advanced you think we are, and broaden your appreciation of artisans and architects of the past.

It may even improve your optimism about the future.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Tuesday, May 16th, Athens, Greece.