Croatia and Eastern Europe May/June 2019

And here we go again - yet another mother/daughter trip. This time we are traveling with Rose and Steve, Jeannie and a new travel companion, Nikki. In all it will be about 2 ½ weeks and we will be traveling to 7 different countries!

First we travel to Prague with 3 full days to explore the city and then on to a Gate 1 bus tour of Albania, Montenegro, Croatia and Slovenia. To top it off we will stay an extra day in Venice before heading home. We are traveling in the spring “shoulder season” so we should be getting nice weather without the crowds of summer. Here is a map of the route Gate 1 will be taking us, a little blurry but you get the idea:

Flights: Well saver fares in business class were not to be on this trip so we will just have to be in economy. We will make the most of it though - a few drinks along the way and we will be feeling good. It turns out that United allows a stopover within the same region so we decided to take a free stop in Prague, Czech Republic. Our flight from Prague to Tirana, Albania has the most briefest of stops in Vienna (30 minutes!). I called Austrian air and was on a brief hold while they appropriately played the Blue Danube Waltz. I spoke to the nicest lady and explained that I was worried about the short layover, especially as I had my elderly mother in tow (using my mother’s name in vain yet again, she doesn’t mind!). Oh, she said, we guarantee you will make the connection but she did get our seats near the front of the plane to help out with a more rapid exit from the plan. All in all a very nice encounter with the Austrian Air team!

Prague, Czech Republic: Wed 5/22 - Sun 5/26 - “City of a Hundred Spires”

A brief recent history:

The Czech republic was part of Austro-Hungarian empire (Habsburgs) from 1500-1800.

Post WW1 it became Czechoslovakia

During WW2 Nazi occupation occurred.

After WW2 - communism existed as a satellite country of Russia (Warsaw Pact).

In 1989 the Velvet Revolution ended communism and in 1993 there was a split with Slovakia.

Our flight to Newark was delayed so we literally had to sprint to our gate as the departure time was already past. It turns out they were waiting for us and officers of some sort were there to ask about our cash. We actually had to hand it over for them to count and sign papers that we received all of it back. Well I have never had that happen before! The trip over was bumpy at times and one of the ladies behind us was terrified reminding me of how I used to be about flying. When we arrived in Prague our driver was not at the assigned meeting place at Costa Coffee in the airport so Whatsapp came in handy to connect with the company renting the apartment to us. It seems our driver was caught in traffic (yes, Prague is a big city…) and was a bit unclear about our arrival terminal. It was all sorted out and we were delivered to our apartment. Our apartment was perfect for our group of 6 and was within walking distance of most of the major sites of Prague. We were within the circled area:

The apartment:

Here are a few scenes from the inside of the apartment. It was on the 6th floor or so with a very small elevator that only went as high as the 4th floor (typical of many older buildings I am sure). The size of the apartment was perfect with 2 bedrooms down and one up and 2 full bathrooms (albeit one with a tub and showerhead only).

View from one of our living room windows

Laundry time! Our clothes dryer Kitchen, minus a wine opener

Our somewhat messy bedroom And combined bath/shower

And more of the clothes dryer

Prague Walking Tour: Thursday May the 23rd

We hit the ground running for a walking tour of the highlights of Prague. After a bit of difficulty finding our meeting spot (the streets are not layed out in a grid that is for sure), we were off for a 7 mile, 16,000 step tour that kept us constantly on our feet for the first few hours. Here are some of the highlights:

The Charles Bridge

John Lennon wall in Mala Strana Guarding the castle!

Prague Castle

The massive St Vitus cathedral

Just as impressive inside the cathedral!

Scenes from inside the cathedral with beautiful stained glass and murals

Beautiful view of Prague as we walked down from the castle


The opera house

Scenes from the Jewish quarter - synagogues and the cemetary

The Chandelier church

Standing for what seemed like forever to watch the astronomical clock in the town square do its thing on the hour.

Then on to a less than exciting “goulash” for lunch. The pancake things were actually dumplings….. Beer is a standard drink and very good (and cheap) in the Czech republic.

River cruise on the Vltava River looking back towards the Prague castle complex

And a view of the Charles Bridge from the water

May 24th, Friday: A walk around town into areas less visited

Another day of walking - our phones informed us we walked around 6 miles. A map was just essential in this old town with curvy streets and even then it was sometimes a challenge figuring out where we were. Many of the signs were in Czech and difficult to figure out much less pronounce. Steve was our trusty guide and “cat herder” of all of us women. He did an excellent job! This is a typical old european city with old buildings and cobblestone streets. What is newer is the graffiti that seems to be everywhere. There are lots of people everywhere and if anything it was even busier after dark. It was a beautiful day and evening. The many outdoor cafes were quite crowded. Here are a selection of photos from that day.

Eating outdoors at an international food court

Posing in front of a renovated medieval gate to the city

Municipal House right around the corner from us with Smetana Hall for concerts

Beautiful facade

Fun old style cars they use to cart around tourists and locals

Typical street scene

Impromptu concert

Prague at night

Outdoor eating venues everywhere

We walked to a restaurant that turned out to be booked solid - SOBA. No problem, there were plenty of alternatives and we ended up at a pub style restaurant nearby. We entered and were completely ignored by the staff and had to ask someone where to sit. We were also ignored at the end - we stood around waiting to pay our bill. Hmmmm, not so friendly towards Americans or is this standard treatment???

May 25th, Saturday: Day trip to Kutna Hora

Here are a few scenes from the “Bones Church”. The “decorations” inside the church were made from over 3000 human skeletons. The bones were in part from soldiers buried in the area or from those who had died from disease. The bones were treated prior to using with disinfectant and bleach.

Every bone of the human body is in this chandelier

The “Barbara” Church and a fair

Barbara in front of the Barbora Church!!

Barbora Church was beautiful inside as well

A view of Kutna Hora from the church grounds

A fun fair with music and lots of food and alcohol….

We stopped at a place in town and had the most delicious lunch with potato mushroom soup and salad with delicious goat cheese. The best part was a very memorable dessert - absolutely scrumptious apple strudel with light buttery pastry and sour cream and whipped cream frosting. Yum, yum, yum!!

Only in the Czech Republic with plentiful beer that is imbibed at all times including breakfast….

To finish off the day we had delicious garlic bread and wine. The garlic bread was compliments of Nikki!

Sunday May 26th: Commute day to Albania

We said good-bye to Prague today. Our day did not start out so well as our ride to the airport did not show up. However my WIFI allowed use of Whatsapp to contact the company and they sent someone in a very nice large van to pick us up. At the airport Babsie came in handy as she noted that we were waiting to check in at the wrong line. Amazingly there was a long business class line (probably for a different flight), whereas the economy line showed no wait at all. Going through security was amusing as mom had a “fake” belt pattern on her stretch pants. The agents at first were going to wave her back to take it off and then just laughed when they figured out that taking off the “belt” would have meant, well, taking off her pants.

We had a nice breakfast with local beer (Pilsner Urquell) for me. (Beer goes with any meal after all in the Czech republic!). Note - the United Club card did not allow access to a lounge that was included in the list of Star Alliance clubs. Hmmm, I may need to opt for a different credit card for lounge access. Priority pass works well!

Fortunately our flight was on time as we had only a 30 minute connection in Vienna. We were almost the last people on the little transit bus out to the plane but free wine on the next leg of our flight! Our bags did not show up right away - always a nerve wracking experience. Apparently they were packed away in a different area as it was a last minute load before take off. We were in the lost luggage line when the belt started up and voila there were our bags! We met our extremely nice tour guide, Gabriella, outside of the luggage area and she was quite relieved to see us.

Then we were off for our commute to Tirana, the capitol of Albania, with some of our fellow travelers. We had welcome drinks with an orientation followed by a meal. Very good!

Monday May 27th: Tirana City Tour and Kruje tour and dinner

Albania is separate and unique from the former countries that comprised Yugoslavia. As such they have a very unique language, history and culture for which they are very proud. As most countries in Europe they had centuries of Roman rule from around 167 BC onward. In the 1400s they fought off the Turks successfully for many years with the national hero, nobleman and military commander Skanderbeg in charge. Not surprisingly the square in the center of the city is named for him and there is a statue prominently displayed. Because of the Turkish occupation the country is still primarily Islam but tolerant of all religions.

The National History Museum

A closer view of the mosaic above the museum - “The Albanians”

In the afternoon we went on a very worthwhile optional tour to a town in the hills called Kruje. The view was beautiful with the Adriatic just visible in the distance. We started out exploring the remains of the Kruje castle built in the 5th to 6th century or so. It was the headquarters at one point for Skanderbeg and certainly one can see the strategic position of the castle area on the top of a mountain.

Inside the castle grounds was an Albanian man playing music for us

We visited the Ethnographic museum near the castle ruins. This is a well preserved Ottoman home of the Toptani family built around 1764 and displays original artifacts to show how they lived.

The outside of the home They ground their own grain

The men and women had their own areas for socializing (this was the men’s)

There was a bazaar that we walked through and checked out before gathering at the restaurant for a dinner with a spectacular view! It dates back around 400 years ago.

And of course splits in Albania

We had a fabulous dinner with a view to match. We received a glass of wine or beer with the meal and paid for more. Wine was $1.38 and the beer was only 81 cents!! WOW, Albania is pretty fun! We also tried Raki - the liquor that is common in the area and boy is it strong. Finally we went to the bathrooms and found signs that were not helpful without a knowledge of Albanian.

An extra glass of wine - 150 Lek or $1.38!!

It turns out Gra is women and Burra is men. Rose and I had to go in and explore the bathrooms to figure this out.

Tuesday May 28th: Travel to Montenegro

This is our third country on the trip. A couple of brief notes on history:

The ancient Illyrians were followed by Slavic and Turkish rulers.

After WWI - Yugoslavia combined Montenegro with several other current countries (Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia)

After WWII - Yugoslavia became communist under Tito

In the 90s - Yugoslavia fell apart into independent countries

In 2006 Montenegro separated from Serbia

Coffee started us out every morning. Except this morning mom received 2 doses as she didn’t realize I had already put some of the instant coffee in the mug. Oh well, she figured she would be “buzzing” for awhile this morning. As we drove to our first stop in the town of Shkodra we were able to see some of the countryside of Albania. It is mostly rural and agricultural but quite beautiful.

This is a blurry picture of one of the many concrete bunkers that are scattered around Albania. These were built during the communist era and required tremendous effort, supplies and time by the local people. The funny thing was that they were built for protection and then never used. Albania of note did not have any “friends” and was a relatively isolated and poor country as a result.

We passed the Rozafa castle as we approached Shkodra. This has an impressive position overlooking the area and dates back to the early Bronze age.

In Shkodra we did a little shopping and had lunch on our own consisting of soup and baklava (afterall, Greece is not too far away from this country). Then off to the border where passports were collected on both the Albanian and Montenegro sides for inspection. We then drove through a beautiful mountainous area and followed along an emerald colored river part of the way. The color is apparently due to limestone.

The montenegrins are kidded about being lazy - particularly the men. This is why they imported some hard working Chinese to help build a highway.

The project - wow!

The Chinese camp nearby

Then we visited the Moraca Monastery which is the largest medieval Orthodox monument in the country and was built in 1252. This is a beautiful picture of the entryway.

Beautiful grounds

You can barely make out the fresco on the small church

There are several monks who still live on the grounds. You can just see their beehives in the background of the crosses:

Lots of details inside

Beautiful mosaic

And….at the end of the day the local wine (Vranac) greeted us at our hotel in Kolasin

We finished the evening with the unpleasant experience of a severely leaking shower. It just sprayed all over and leaked below leaving our bathroom flooded. The staff kindly came in a mopped it all up for us.

Wednesday May 29th: Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

Well the day didn’t start out too well. There was no coffee making ability in the room and none available in the hotel lobby. No coffee until the breakfast started at 7 am - oh dear! Mom and I were both a bit grumpy about that. But the breakfast was a buffet that was delicious - especially the round little donut like pastry with sugar coating the outside. What’s not to like about that!

Today we went through Durmitor National Park and it was just so beautiful. The weather was a mix with some clouds and occasional showers at times but it cooperated for us and let us when we needed to be outside. This area was formed by glaciers and not surprisingly a deep gorge and river called the Tara River canyon was a prominent feature. Beautiful lakes dot the region. The first one we visited was called Biogradsko.

In the fall this must be amazing as there were significant numbers of deciduous trees.

Great picture by mom - a side path near the lake

We had to stop as this goat herder went by with his herd.

During the summer they move their sheep for grazing areas higher in the hills. We saw some of their summer huts dotting the sides of some of these areas.

Beautiful view of the hills and Tara river area of Durmitor

There are lots of activities around the area including hiking and rafting the Tara River. We stopped on one side of the Djurdjevica Tara Arc bridge built from 1937-40. It is 564 feet above the river and provides an ideal location for ziplining across the canyon. It would also be ideal for bungy jumping but apparently this hasn’t caught on here yet. Half of our group (Rose, Nikki and Jeannie) bravely went across on the zipline and had a great time

Djurdjevica Tara Arc Bridge

We stopped for lunch and it was just scrumptious. We had beef souvlaka, grilled vegies and pastry plus honey for dessert. After lunch we stopped at beautiful Black lake with Medjed mountain as a backdrop.

Boardwalk near the lake

Then back to the hotel for dinner and also splits in Montenegro!

May 30th, Thursday: Travel to Dubrovnik, Croatia

We hit the road this morning and headed to the old royal capital of Cetinje, Montenegro, founded in 1482. We visited King Nikola’s royal palace unfortunately around the same time that the president of Slovenia was expected to arrive so we had an abbreviated tour. Nevertheless it gave us a good idea of the rather gaudy living areas of the royal family. He ruled from 1860 to 1910 in Montenegro. Of course there was plenty of scenic areas in the countryside before arriving in Cetinje:

Love the cloud formations, red roofs and greenery!

Hills in the midst of clouds

Diplomatic audience room inside the royal palace

Bedroom (obviously) of one of the princesses

Now there is an interesting rug!

Doing paperwork the old fashioned way

Queen’s reception room

Vlaska Church in Cetinje (Serbian Orthodox, 1450)

Vlaska Church interior

Traveling down the road to the beautiful Adriatic!

Absolutely gorgeous!

We spent some time wandering around the town of Kotor, Montenegro. We had a delicious lunch at the Astoria with fresh mussels (oh so good) and shrimp and eggplant parmesan. The town has an extensive fortification system with stone walls and ramparts extending up from the town into the hills.

Old fortification system extending up the hill and protecting the medieval city of Kotor

Here are some pictures of the town itself:

Beautiful water Bay of Kotor

Driving from Kotor

Border crossing to Croatia!

And beautiful Dubrovnik from above (the “Pearl of the Adriatic”)

We checked into our hotel room and opted for a relaxing evening. Our room had a view of the Adriatic but it was really spectacular when looking out from the outdoor restaurant and bar area. The area was busy as there was some sort of conference going on. Our order was forgotten so they comped us for our meals and drinks and offered us another drink each on the house. Meanwhile the rest of the group went on a hike down the hill for dinner and got lost on the way back. Poor Steve accidentally stepped in a ditch and got his shoes wet. These are the things that make for interesting stories.

View from our room

Nice sunset

Passing cruise ship

May 31st, Friday: Dubrovnik - a very well preserved medieval city

A beautiful sunny day! We headed to town for a tour of the Old Town. It was quite crowded and busy but we were told that sometimes it is nearly impossible when many cruise ships are in town. We first walked across the bridge to Old Town:

Pile Gate Information:

At the entrance gate to the Old Town from the west there is a stone bridge within two Gothic arches, designed by Paskoje Miličević (1471). That bridge ends at another bridge, wooden drawbridge which used to be pulled up every evening. Above the bridges, over the arch, the statue of city patron St. Blaise (Sv. Vlaho) is set.

This is a good view of the portion of the wall surrounding the old city of Dubrovnik.

The City Walls are among the finest and most complete in Europe. They protected the freedom of Dubrovnik Republic for centuries. They surround the entire Old City with their 1940 meters of length and up to 25 meters of height. The whole City Wall complex was built from the 8th until the 16th century. Impressive!!

Big Onofrio's Fountain: This is a 16-sided drinking fountain built by Onofrio de la Cava (1438. - 1444.). The Fountain is part of the town's water supply system which Onofrio managed to create by bringing the water from the well in Rijeka Dubrovačka. The well is located 20 km from Big Onofrio's Fountain and this construction was a masterpiece of that time. of the Holy Savior: The Church of the Holy Savior is the first church at the main street Stradun. The Andrijići brothers, domestic master builders from Korcula, build the church between 1520. and 1528. by the Dubrovnik Senat's gratitude. The church has typically Dalmatian Renaissance wheel-window front and Gothic interiors.

The Church Of St. Blaise is a well-loved religious building, with St. Blaise being the patron saint of Dubrovnik. Designed in the Baroque style by Venetian architect Marino Gropelli in 1715, it stands on the foundations of a Romanesque medieval church that was destroyed following a terrible fire. Gropelli also carved a statue of the eponymous saint, who safeguards the church entrance while holding a miniature of the city in his palm.

The Franciscan Monastery Complex, situated to the left of the Pile Gate, contains a monastery, a church, a library and a pharmacy.

Its pharmacy has had open doors since the 1300s. One could spend several days in Dubrovnik for sure exploring some of these sites in more detail.

Statue of the famous Dubrovnik playwright (Marin Drzic) Note the “shiny” nose - rubbed over and over again for good luck and a sign you will come back to Dubrovnik.

Cats rule!!

Typical narrow cobblestone streets of an old European city

Looking out to the Adriatic from Dubrovnik

Nice wall!

Beautiful sunset our last evening in Dubrovnik

June 1st, Saturday: Split

Today we traveled to the town of Split on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. En route, more beautiful scenery. We had a rest stop in Bosnia Herzegovina - enough to say I have indeed touched ground in this country. There is a very slender piece of land that allows access to the Adriatic for Bosnia Herzegovina.

It was a rainy day so it was a good thing that most of today’s activities were inside touring Diocletian’s Palace. The Roman influence shows itself yet again as it has all over Europe! Diocletian was a Roman emperor who had this built as his retirement villa and military fortress in the early 4th century. He spared no expense importing marble from Italy and even sphinxes from Egypt. It is massive with over 200 buildings and to this day people live and have businesses within its walls. The main part of the interior tour is in the well preserved cellars which apparently reflect the original layout of the upper floor where he actually lived. Below is a bust of Diocletian: of what it must have looked like in the day…. Note that flooding in the lower levels was an issue at times. Views inside the cellars. Note the impressive ceilings and arch. They showed us an area with old “poop” and other waste dumped from old buildings above - yuck!

Offsetting the stones help prevent earthquake damage

A portion of the palace complex walls as we moved outside the main palace cellar area

Looking upward out of the vestibule which was used as the entry to the residential part of the palace

We were treated to a wonderful acapella by these 4 gentlemen

The Bell tower built within the grounds 13-16th century

More buildings within the grounds of the palace. The Peristile was the inner courtyard area of the palace and this is one of the buildings lining the area.

Note the black sphinx guarding the cathedral. It is one of the best preserved sphinxes as when Christianity arrived most were defaced as pagans.

Gregory of Nin - a Croatian hero who fought against the 926 abolishment of Slavic language in the churches (allowing only Latin which few of the commoners knew)

The 4th season of the Game of Thrones was filmed in Split

Later this evening we traveled to Stobrec, just outside of Split, for a marvelous 3 course meal and fantastic music. The music started out with typical Dalmatian music (with the ever present accordion) and then broke out into some familiar tunes that we all loved. One of the men stood up and joined in singing with the group and of course mom had to get up and dance. Both did a great job!! This was an extremely entertaining meal as the singing group made their way all around the tables. One of the groups was Australian so a rendition of Waltzing Matilda was included. All in all one of the funnest evenings of the trip!

June 2nd, Sunday: Trogir and the beautiful Plitvice Lakes

We first stopped at a small island town of Trogir along the central Adriatic coast of Croatia. This was inhabited by the Greeks in 400 BC with the next big influence by the Venetians in the 13th century. It is very close to the mainland and the larger island of Ciovo and is connected by bridges.

Nice view of the island from above

St Lawrence cathedral 1250

Statue of St Lawrence outside of the church with town clock tower behind

On side of Radovan’s portal entry to St Lawrence church with Adam on this side (and Eve on the other).

Kamerlengo Fortress built in the 1400s after the Venetian conquest

Some miscellaneous scenes from around Trogir

Along the waterfront of Trogir

The spectacular Plitvice Lakes National Park

This was one of the highlights of the trip as far as beauty. Plitvice Lakes is a chain of 16 lakes connected by waterfalls everywhere. We walked around the lower part of the lakes, sometimes on wooden boardwalks over the water. I almost experienced the water first hand as someone backed up to take a picture without noticing that I was coming from behind. Fortunately my superior reflexes saved me from an embarrassing dunk in what would likely be freezing water. Once again the weather cooperated for us with completely dry and mostly sunny. Our poor guide was constantly apologizing and warning us about wet weather the entire trip but in fact the weather cleared up for us each time we had an important outdoor event.

Plitvice park map. Note the falls to the right are the highest and come from a river rather than one of the lakes. It is called Velike Slap waterfalls which I believe in Croatian means grand or great waterfall?

This is the view that opens up as you enter the park. You know you are in for something special at this point!

Many of the lakes have a turquoise color. Apparently this is due to prior glacier action grinding against the rocks and creating a silt that causes this color. Beautiful! Note all the people lined up across the lake to climb up to the waterfall.

At one point the path takes you directly on top of one of the waterfalls and you can just feel the power of the waterfall. Again, the weather cooperated so that a rainbow was available in this picture.

Beautiful clear water

June 3rd, Monday: Opatija, Slovenia entry and Postojna Caves

A few words about Croatia before we leave…. As with other countries in the region - there was a period of Roman rule in the early AD centuries and a period of rule before WWI of the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburgs. There was some conflict earlier between the Ottomon Empire with the Austro-Hungarian winning out.

Post WWI Yugoslavia formed with a lot of conflict.

Post WWII - Communism under Tito

Early 90s - a horrible war as Croatia declared independence especially between the Serbs and Croats. Our tour guide was from Croatia and still carries resentment towards the Serbians. She remembers her grandfather being taken away and beaten. Apparently some youngsters he knew were ordered to do this.

After a busy, crowded breakfast we loaded up and headed out the door to travel north. First we had a rest stop at Senj where you could see the Nehaj fortress built in 1558 to protect the residents from the Turks and Venetians.

Nice views of the Adriatic coast below as we motored along:

Then we stopped in the town of Opatija. It would have been fun to have a couple of days in this lovely place! We all were treated to delicious gelato ice cream cones before walking around.

We did see people swimming in the water (our guide pointed out that this was despite the cooler water temperatures in this area). The sculpture below is the Maiden with the Seagull (1956) who stands and safeguards the shores of Opatija.

Tesla, one of Chet’s favorites, born and raised in present day Croatia.

Now for a few words about Slovenia. The eastern part of the Alps run through Slovenia and create a wonderful backdrop for photos. The language is derived from Serbia/Croatian but our guide tells us that it is difficult for her to understand. The overall economy and standard of living is good with preserved industrial companies. History is similar to other countries in the region as there was a period of Roman rule, then the Habsburgs and a communist period under Tito. Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia until independence in 1992. It is largely Catholic but quite liberal as abortion is legal and it is just fine to cohabitate before marriage.

We crossed into Slovenia and toured the Postojna caves which is the largest show cave in Europe. We started out on a little train through the cave and then went for a while on a walkway. It had special treatment to prevent the wet cement from being at all slippery. One young man did the whole thing on crutches! We were reminded that the mineral deposit structures hanging from the ceilings were stalactites (note the “c” in the word) whereas stalagmites are arising from the floor. We also experienced a scary moment when they turned out all the lights and we were in total and complete darkness. There were some beautiful formations in the caves.

We headed to the town of Bled set among the Julian Alps and checked into our rooms. Unfortunately we had a room at the end of the building so the ceiling sloped down on one side. We kept bonking our heads but by the end of the stay we were learning to duck. They had unique pillows made of buckwheat. It was kind of like having a pillow full of tiny soft pellets. For dinner we headed to the small medieval town of Radovljica for a short tour and dinner. It is a town of “sweet adventure” with a tradition of beekeeping (apiculture) and honey. We had a fun dinner with wine tasting followed by dinner and music. They involved the audience in dancing and the “hat swapping” game and wore their traditional costumes.

For some reason the town was nearly deserted.

View from the town

Oh yes….wine tasting

Our dancing hosts

June 4th Tuesday: The beautiful Lake Bled and Bohinj

Our first stop was the gorgeous Lake Bled. We rode in boats known as “pletnas” over to a small island with a 17th century church (Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary).

Looking back towards the town and Bled Castle up above

The 11th century Bled Castle, the oldest in Slovenia. What a prime spot for a well protected castle!

The island with the church and the pletnas transporting visitors to and fro

The Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary on the small island in Lake Bled

If you ring the bell in the church you will have good luck. Hope it works!

Church with a view

We headed next to the Alpine lake resort of Bohinj. On the way there was beautiful rural scenery. Note the wooden structure in this picture. This is a drying structure for hay that is no longer used but considered a protected part of their history.

The Church of St John the Baptist sits near the edge of the lake and is over 700 years old. Below are pictures across the lake with nice reflections.

Lake Bohinj

We stopped along a river nearby with clear emerald water.

We had a wonderful evening and farewell reception up at the Bled Castle.

A view of the island with the church from the Bled Castle

Splits at the Bled castle, Slovenia

And our wonderful, wonderful tour guide Gabriella

June 4-7: Venice

We had a beautiful drive to Italy - the Alps were quite scenic. As we drove through the northeastern part of Italy we spotted many vineyards, often just in small yards of homes. They must really like their wine!

The Alps as a scenic backdrop through our drive to Italy

We arrived at the Venice airport and got on the bus that Rose had previously arranged for us. In downtown Venice we had to figure out the water taxi system and just where we would get off. We loaded on with our suitcases and all and then had the challenge of finding our apartment. With some help from the locals we succeeded! There is no ordinary, logical grid so it certainly was easy to get lost in Venice. Nevertheless we had fun wandering around and eating Italian food. Note - the US does way better with pizza. Here are a few scenes from around town.

Church of San Simeone Piccolo

The “streets” of Venice

St Mark’s Basilica with one of the many gulls flying above

St Mark’s Campanile

“Taxi line”

Nice waterfront view from Venice

Summary: This trip was just full of surprises. The beauty of this area of Europe was amazing. Just as we thought we had seen the best, more came along. Between the Adriatic and the mountains and lakes, the scenery was constantly changing and beautiful. Our guide, Gabriella, was a perfect mix of knowledge, kindness and concern for all of our group. The travelers in this group were all respectful, fun and physically able to handle the trip well. Our travel companions, Rose, Steve, Jeannie and Nikki, were absolutely wonderful and rolled with whatever punches were thrown our way. A special thanks to Jason for his wonderful pictures and Rose for organizing some of our lodging and sightseeing.

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