Krakow, Poland

We were not sure what to expect from Krakow before arriving. It wasn’t initially on our travel list but after talking with a sorority sister, she had told me that if time allotted, we needed to add this city to our list. There is something Rich and I stand true to when traveling, if a fellow traveler tells you not to miss something- you make it happen and boy are we happy we did. Krakow is an amazing city.


The train from Budapest took nearly all day, but we enjoyed having some time to put our feet up, read, and relax after all the walking we have been doing for the past three weeks. We arrived to the modern train station/ mall and were happy to find out at the tourists desk that Old Town, where we were staying, was less than a mile away.
Krakow’s old town was one of my favorites ( I know I’ve probably said that about every city now). A beautiful green belt path encompasses the cobble stone streets and large open town square. The center of old town was the largest and most open we had seen so far. There were endless things to look at and amazing people watching. Turns out Krakow is a popular destination for people from the UK- apparently the cheap beer, vodka, and lively nightlife entices them to come for stag parties and whatever else reason they have to drink, soccer seemed to be a big reason that weekend.
Turning in a circle in the square you see the beautiful old buildings, a wonderful church,  the town hall tower, an indoor market hall, statues, outdoor market, and many horse-drawn carriages. Along the circumference of the square are countless restaurants, cafes, and bars; between that and the street entertainment, you can keep busy people watching for hours. Right away we noticed the beauty and charm of this 13th century city. Luckily it suffered little to no damage during WWII, and Poland clearly takes pride in its upkeep; it is so beautiful I told Rich it almost looks fake like it belongs in Disneyland. It’s no wonder Rick Steve’s uses Krakow’s image for the cover of his Eastern European book.

img_3666img_3667img_3663IMG_3664img_3761

We arrived late so the first evening really only allowed us to check into our hotel, wander the town center for a bit, and grab a bite to eat; but the next morning we would take full advantage of our time. We woke up and enjoyed a jog around town on the green belt. We managed to get slightly lost as we approached the castle and the path took us along the river. We were happy though because it was really nice down there and full of locals and school children. Since we built up an appetite we took to the streets to find a local place to get breakfast. We found this awesome place along the river and went in. Turns out it was more of a bar than a restaurant but we couldn’t pass up the ambiance so we decided to stay. The servers didn’t speak English but we managed; I ordered a zapiekanka, which is like the Polish style of a french bread pizza, Rich ordered the sausage. I came up with a saying while at this restaurant, “Eating with the locals is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get…”
Rich came out with a sausage, two pieces of bread, and a few thick slices of cheese. He told me to feel the sausage- it was ice-cold. Turns out he had to cook it himself over the open flame. And I thought it was just a fire pit from the night before… We laughed and had a great time as he cooked his own meal. We next visited the Wawel Castle and enjoyed the magnificent views atop the hill the overlooks the city. We were able to enter the Wawel Cathedral, which we agreed was the most beautiful we had entered thus far on the trip. Almost 1000 years old, this church’s beauty and history stands out from the others. It is the Polish national sanctuary and traditionally has served as coronation site of the Polish royals as well as a resting place for many royal sarcophagi. We went back down the hill towards old town to find the Wodka Cafe. Here Rich was able to taste over 7 delicious different polish vodkas. Since vodka and I are not the best of friends I passed on this opportunity. In the evening we left the old town and walked through the Jewish district just past the green belt. We found an amazing restaurant and had one of the most tasty meals of the trip. Rich had wonderful lamb dish and I had an apricot stuffed pork. Walking back to the hotel, we crossed through plac Nowy and outdoor market, where the former Jewish market once stood. We were surprised to see a line, probably about 40 minutes long, for ice cream. Apparently it was famously good, Rich asked one person if there were diamonds in it which gave everyone a good laugh. We headed home, but admittedly we were curious if it was THAT good- we’d possibly find out tomorrow.

img_0341FullSizeRender (4)
Once again we enjoyed a refreshing morning run before taking to town once again. To fuel ourselves for the day we went to near by Milk Bar. Milk Bars are cafeteria style restaurants that imitate those that were common during the Polish communist times. Here you can get a good heavy traditional Polish meal for dirt cheap. We tried to explore all the little streets in old town before going back out to the Jewish district. This time we went further than just the restaurant from last night and crossed the river. Here was where the Jewish Ghetto was located during World War II. We wandered the area until we reached Schindler’s Factory. Unfortunately tickets were sold out to see the museum inside, but we were happy to have been able to at least see it. On our way back to town we walked through the old Jewish district and found ourselves back at the market. With no line, we decided to give the famous ice cream a shot. Chocolate coconut, yes it was good, famously good? I don’t know…

We had an early night that day to rest for a busy following day.

FullSizeRender (2)img_0348img_0339img_0343
We had a night train out of Krakow which was nice because it gave us a full day to make a necessary trip. After a lovely breakfast, we boarded a bus and took the 1.5 hour drive to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. Visiting these two concentration and extermination camps was a very somber experience. Walking through the gates that all the prisoners once did gave you a feeling of unease. Visiting the blocks where prisoners were once slept in over-crowded, starving, sick, and infested with lice and varmints conditions made you sick. Staring into the eyes of some of the prisoners’ as you walked past their portraits and saw their camp entry and death dates recorded made your heart heavy. Walking through the basement where Nazi’s tortured and first tested gassing the prisoners with zyklon-b gave you the chills. Witnessing 2 tons of human hair that was shaven from deceased prisoners and used for military fabric made you want to scream. Viewing the stolen luggage, 20 thousand pairs of left behind shoes, pots, pans, and hair brushes made the sheer numbers come to life. In Auschwitz, walking down the stairs into the gas chamber and looking up into the holes where zyklon-b was poured down on the innocent lives then seeing the crematory that was almost assembly line like made you wonder how people could really do this to someone. Walking the rocky dirt path in Birkenau that nearly one million people once did as they stepped off the train and were marched straight to their death in the gas chamber made you cry. Seeing the complexity and the vastness of these two camps, knowing these were just two of many was unimaginable. Sharing this experience with many people, including countless tours of young teenagers gave you hope.

Approximately 1.5 million people were murdered at these two camps, mainly Jews. The trip was not enjoyable, how could it be? But it was meaningful and we are very glad we did it. Throughout the trip we had seen many memorials and sadly enough it was these two camps that many of the people were sent to.

It is so important to make sure these acts are never forgotten and truly, the only light of the day was seeing the number of youth having this experience as well and knowing that this generation of lost souls will not be forgotten and hopefully a horrendous act like this will never be repeated.

*most of Birkenau was destroyed by the Nazis to hide evidence prior to its liberation.

-Lauren

 

The Grand Budapest, Hungary

We had very much been looking forward to Budapest. Having heard nothing but great things about this city, we allotted the most time here compared to the other locations. Coming from the smaller city center of Bratislava, we arrived to Budapest after a short train ride and were greeted by a grand train station.

fullsizeoutput_6fc7.jpeg

We hopped on the Metro, which we purchased a four-day pass, and headed to our apartment. We were shocked when we walked into the apartment on the 5th floor. It had unimaginable views of the Danube river, and sights of Buda (the castle district) snuggled between the Elizabeth Bridge and the Chain Bridge. We ventured to find a place for a quick bite to eat and found a lovely cafe in the Jewish District. After some coffees and traditional Hungarian Goulash Soup we were off to explore. In no time we stumbled onto the Dohany Street Great Synagogue. Here lays not only a beautiful synagogue, but it also houses a jewish museum inside. We were unable to enter due to the hours of operation, but we walked to perimeter of the property and spotted the Tree of Life. This holocaust memorial built as a weeping willow tree has the names inscribed on each of its leaves of Hungarian Jews that were killed during World War II.

IMG_0343

IMG_3302.JPG

We continued to walk around the hip area of town until we reached the New York Cafe. I had seen the cafe spot-lighted on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown and I knew it was a place I had to visit. It was one of the best and largest cafes of the Habsburg Empire time; known for attracting artists and writers and other literary elitists of the time. The ornate rich interior was worth it; the string quartet and pianist was an added bonus.  

img_3325.jpg

fullsizeoutput_6fc4.jpeg

Time flew by in the New York Cafe. We stopped by the market on the way home to grab some things for dinner then rushed back to our apartment to enjoy the views from our balcony. The view was even more stunning in the evening as everything was illuminated in a night show. We also were entertained by the steady stream of river boats working hard to get their clientele the best photo opportunity. There were what looked like a few close calls as they zipped around each other in the heavy currents of the Danube.

IMG_3519

IMG_3523

The next day could be considered, according to Rich, “the best day ever”- really the entire trip has been full of these but day two in Budapest was an adventurous mix of activities. We began our day at the thermal pools of Szechenyi Baths. This amazing facility has over 18 pools and baths both indoor and outdoor full of locals and tourists relaxing in natural mineral baths of various temperatures. We found our favorite outside at 37 degrees celsius. Coming in close second was the whirlpool that was cooler but a ton of fun with random floor jets that surprisingly changed every few minutes and the actual whirlpool that was activated a few times each hour. Rich loved the whirlpool. After hours in the pools, lots of people watching, Rich trying to join the local Hungarians with their chess game, playing some cards, snacking on some schnitzel sandwiches, we decided, but hesitantly so, to move on.


We dedicated the remainder of the day to explore the Buda side of Budapest. We walked to well-known chain bridge, skipped the funicular and choose to walk up to the palace. After walking the cobble streets of the castle district, taking in the gorgeous views of the Pest side, gawking at the beautiful churches and other architecture, we made the big mistake of trying this so-called Chimney cake. We had seen them in the Jewish district the night prior but didn’t try them. The smell today made it beyond possible to pass up. What a mistake… these delicious sweet tubular bread cakes would be my kryptonite for the remainder of the trip… (yes I found them in the rest of the cities we visited). We walked further into Buda to find the Hospital in the Rock and took a wonderful guided tour. This hospital had been built deep into the hills of Buda by connecting the natural caves found in the territory. Its use began just prior to World War II, but obtained its highest capacity during the Siege of Budapest when the Soviets took control. After this, the Soviets convinced everyone it was no longer operational. This now top-secret facility was fortified to act as a nuclear bomb shelter if the Americans were to bomb the area. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that it was decided the facility was not able to protect against the destruction of a modern nuclear bomb that it opened its doors and eventually in 2008 became a museum. We ventured back over to the Jewish District to grab a nice dinner trying Paprika Chicken and other traditional dishes.

IMG_3341


Tempted to return to the baths the following day, it took a lot of will power to pass them up. Instead we walked south along the river to the Central Market. Here was a vast hall made of three stories. The ground floor was full of everything you can imagine, produce, meats, cheeses, wines, bakeries, and lots of duck and goose liver. The basement was a fish market and the top floor was a mix of souvenir shops and street food shops.After walking the market for a long time we gained an appetite and headed to the street food area. Okay so we got a little duped and paid a pretty penny, plus some, for street food, but it was a ton of food, and the flavor beat the restaurants; with our lesson learned we’d return the following day. Rich was especially pleased you were able to get Hungarian Brandy with your meal and traditional Hungarian Digestif, Unicum.


With stomachs full and satisfied we walked the beautiful green Liberty Bridge; it is said Emperor Franz Joseph nailed in the final bolt that completed the project. We then hopped on the charming street car and headed north towards Parliament.

IMG_3460

Just outside of the building is another memorial named, Shoes on the Danube. Here rests a long chain of shoes along the riverbank. This was a very touching memorial as this was the location many jews were shot into the river by the Arrow Cross Militia during World War II.

fullsizeoutput_6fc6

We continued our walking self-guided walking tour around the breathtaking building of Parliament and continued to Liberty Square. Along the way we saw many beautiful statues and memorials, including one of good ol’ Ronald Reagan. We had a nice coffee break in Liberty Square then went to find another statue along the river of the famous Hungarian Poet, Attila Jozsef. It had been a long day, we stopped by St. Stephen’s Basilica on the way back to the apartment. This is the largest church in Budapest that houses the hand of St. Stephen- yes, we saw it… or at least the intricate box it lies in. We freshened up then took the metro back to the Jewish District. We found this was the most exciting area in the evening. There was always a lot going on, it had great bars, and restaurants. This district is also well-known for its Ruin Pubs. Here are buildings that had been destroyed during the war and have now turned into trendy bars where young people party late into the night. Filled with interesting people, decorated with intriguing art, and bumping hip euro turns we were tempted to try one; but decided against it. We found a lovely restaurant serving Israeli food named Mazel Tov. Ironically enough, you could consider it a “grown-up” ruin pub as it was a reconstructed building that had been destroyed during the war. We couldn’t pass up a chimney cake on the way home, of course!

IMG_3478

IMG_3479

IMG_3482


IMG_0349

IMG_0350

IMG_3488

IMG_3511

fullsizeoutput_6fc1

With full bellies and well over 20k steps for the day we were quick to sleep after some night photography (and local wine) on the balcony.

fullsizeoutput_6fbb

Our final day in Budapest forced us to try to get everything else off our “must-see” list. First on the list was the Opera House. Built during the Habsburg period, permission and half of its funding was provided by the Emperor under conditions that it would be smaller and less “grand” than that in Vienna. I’ll admit, although beautiful, from the outside it does appear to have followed the request of the Emperor. Upon entering and viewing the elaborate golden and marble details of the interior, the joke almost appears to be on the Emperor as it is exquisite. We purchased Opera tickets for the evening and continued with our list. 


We went to Hero’s Square where the faces of significant historic Hungarians statues are perched for all to see. We walked through the city park, and along the Vajdahuyad Castle grounds. This castle looks old but was only built a little over 100 years ago. A replica of a Transylvanian (which was part of Hungary’s territory prior to WWI) castle was built to showcase the history of the Magyars, but now mainly hosts museums. There was a lovely cafe along the water in the park where we stopped to hydrate up before heading back down towards the river.



We decided to walk instead of take the metro to see more of the city and we somehow found ourselves back at the Central Market for lunch. This time we were able outsmart the salesman only getting exactly what we needed without paying a dime more. Again, the food did not disappoint! After lunch we strolled across Liberty Bridge and trekked up Gellert Hill. There were many statues and memorials along the way and atop the hill- not to mention the views you were rewarded with. Ending our walk back to the apartment we crossed Elizabeth Bridge and took a short nap before going to the Opera.

fullsizeoutput_6fbd


We couldn’t have been happier to end our time in Budapest with the Opera- it was amazing. We saw 2 one-act Operas that evening. Both were traditional Hungarian operas, we were very happy with the second- Bluebeard’s Castle. A beautiful story of a women learning of her newly wed husband’s past, his pain, his loves, his treasures, and secrets as she opened one door of his castle at a time.

Clearly, Rich and I absolutely LOVED Budapest. It surpassed all expectations and we could have easily stayed longer- we will be back! The final morning we woke up early to head to the train station, we had a long day of travel up to Krakow Poland.

Cheers!

-Lauren

**we are back state side- with our packed travel schedule I fell behind on blogging while in the last three cities. Krakow and Prague to follow…

Bratislava, Slovakia 

Contrary to everything we read prior to arriving, we found Bratislava very interesting and charming. Bratislava is the capitol of Slovakia and although it is still evolving and finding its identity, we found the small city a nice change of pace after Vienna.


Our apartment we rented was smack in the center of old town. It was not ready for us when we arrived so we went to a recommended restaurant outside of the touristy old town. We enduldged on the restaurants local brew and the “beer cheese” appetizer. The toast seemed to be soaked in butter prior to being grilled, so dense, yet so guilty and delicious.


We returned to our now ready apartment just as a storm system was moving though. We decided that we needed an afternoon of rest since we have been on the go for well over two weeks. The apartment had a laundry machine which was a major plus, so inbetween reading and lounging we worked on freshening all our clothes. The apartment was newly renovated and extremely comfortable, more than a traveler really needs but it made for a perfect place to finally put our feet up!

The next morning we had a jam packed day, of course starting with a brief morning run to get our bearings of the town.

We walked around old town, which didn’t take long as it is extremely small. There are fun statues around town that are from the 90’s. The working man or the “Peeper” coming out of a man hole. Locals made up a “legend” that if you run his nose you’ll get a new husband, if you run his head you’ll get money.


Outside the French embassy you’ll find a Napoleon solider leaning on a bench with his hat hanging low and his “behind ” towards the building…


We walked into the more modern area of the city looking for a barber shop for Rich to get a haircut. We ending up walking into a local shop- after being asked if we had an appointment then being laughed at because, well… we don’t know- we decided against it. We strolled through town looking at the reminders of the recent communist influence on the city.


Including the bazaar UFO bridge built by the communists in the 60’s.


We took the long way home along the river. We were fascinated as we watched the large river cruise ships navigate the strong currents of the Danube as the docked.


We then found a nice Jewish memorial in the location of where the synagogue once stood prior to WWII. It was sad to learn of all the Jews from Slovakia that were killed during this time.


The memorial led us to the small portion of the fortified wall, the only portion of it still standing today. Interestingly enough most of the city has been destroyed in wars and rebult on multiple occasions, including the castle.


The communist rebuilt the castle more recently. I felt it had more of a Las Vegas Excalibur feel to it, perhaps we were just spoiled coming from Vienna… but it’s been said it looks like an upside down table.

We ended the day getting some traditional Slovakian cuisine, I had goulash and Rich had the potato dumplings in sheep cheese with bacon. Both were delicious!



We really enjoyed our time in Bratislava. There were less crowds and tour groups and the size of the city really allowed for us to totally explore it in one full day. The city has flavor, it feels real. The old town is real- some buildings crumbling, some freshly painted. The owner of our apartment described the troubles locals face with property and real estate ownership. When she purchased the building they were forced to deal with the Roma Gypsies that were residing in it. The city/ country is still searching for its identity and solving its lingering problems as they transition to a more capitalistic system- made clear with a demonstration we ran into on our way home from dinner. Tens of thousands of people were gathered to protest government corruption- with an extremely heavy police presence- we kept our distance and quickly went home…

With everything said- Rick Steves really doesn’t give this city enough credit!

As we walked back to the train station we felt like we really got a good feel for the city, we felt rested, rejuvenated, and with fresh clean clothes we felt like new people!

Budapest is next!

Cheers!

Lauren

Vienna, Austria- the city of music 

Three nights went by in a blink of an eye! This beautiful city is almost overwhelming with its beauty, art, music, coffee houses, pastries, churches, and history- we just scratched the surface during our visit; but what a contrast from the Slovenian Countryside… making it all the more exciting!

Vienna is such an interesting city. The blend between historical and modern architecture adds to its unique beauty. It is known for a number of things: Mozart, its opera house, the Habsburg empire, coffee houses, Sacher tortes, and the Viennese relaxed attitude. We focused on lots good music, some sites, and lots of coffee stops along the way.

We had a great apartment less than a mile from the main city square so soon as we arrived we ran into town. We snapped some quick photos along the way and at St. Charles church. We then stopped at the Opera house and found they had last minute standing tickets for the evening’s show. We bought some tickets and in no time we were taking in the beautiful sights and sounds of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Ballet performed by Vienna’s philharmonic. We could almost see the entire stage from where we stood… but hey we were there! The inside of the Opera House was beyond words!



We walked home at intermission enjoying a street vender bratwurst. We had an early start to our next day as there was so much to see! We headed to the Habsburg Palace where we toured the silver collection, Empress SiSi museum, and the living quarters. I took note for my future silver and China collection while Rich was extremely impressed by SiSi’s workout room- specifically her pull-up bars and rings hanging from the door frame.

Even with her workouts, SiSi was fond of her sweets and pasteries, a lot like I am. When we left the palace we found Demel’s the chocolatier and bakery that provided for the palace’s kitchen. Feeling like I was SiSi, I enjoyed Vienna’s Sacher torte- their famous cake that was recommended by my sister (thanks Jamie!).


We continued our walking tour and visited Mozart’s Viennese apartment, St. Steven’s Church, St. Peter’s Church, enjoyed some time in the rose garden then headed back to the opera house in hopes for more last minute tickets. Unfortunately without proper dress code we couldn’t get tickets so we decided to go a completely different route.



We headed back towards the apartment to the Naschmarkt. It is said this market is where Central Europe meets Eastern Europe- the outdoor market was bursting with sights, sounds, and smells of the Middle East and Eastern Europe. We spent a few hours picking out snacks to bring back to the apartment to enjoy. We also stopped on the way home to pick up a Wiener schnitzel. I didn’t think it would be something I liked, Rich wasn’t too impressed but I surprisingly loved this thin deep fried piece of veal.

We had done a lot the day before so for our last full day we decided to explore the city, but not overdue it. We spent the morning into early afternoon finding photo opportunities around town. We relaxed in two different parks and spent a fair share of time on the beautiful gardens. We walked to the city hall, more churches, and then rented bikes. We whizzed around old town and without meaning to, got a little lost.


We found ourselves by the river where there were more exciting things like party boats, riverside outdoor movies, and some trendy eateries. We actually found, on accident of course, the city was even more interesting the further away from old town you got. An afternoon thunderstorm rolled in and we found refuge in a hip little pub. Our server was so sweet and a Czech native so she offered some tips on where to eat when we eventually get to Prague.

The storm passed and we headed back to St. Charles Chruch. We had tickets for Mozart’s Requiem. We read St Charles church was the venue it was originally performed at after Mozart’s death and the performance was put on by a phenomenal local orchestra. The show did not disappoint- absolutely amazing and the perfect cap on our Vienna adventure.


We took one last stroll back to our apartment. In the morning we’d be heading to Bratislava- the capitol of Slovakia.

Cheers!

Lauren

Lake Bled, Slovenia 

We were sad to leave the enchanted city of Dubrovnik but excited to escape to Slovenia’s countryside as a change of pace. First up a ferry from Dubrovnik to Split. As the sun set, and our ferry arrived at Split, we walked down the dock, across the street and hopped on our night train to get some rest.


It wasn’t the fanciest sleeping compartment but it’ll do, it was clean and had only two beds so we were not stuck with strangers. Richard quickly claimed the top bunk which caused me some anxiety throughout the night as I heard noises that sounded as if it was going to come crashing down on me! This was no Vietnamese night train- I was not scared of derailment or being kicked off by armed government officials before our final destination… but we did come screaming down some mountain tracks throughout the night that made me nervous a few times. Overall it was a fun train ride and we were able to catch a few hours of sleep.

We awoke in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital and before switching trains took a quick sneak peak of the city as we grabbed some coffee and pasteries for the next leg.


Then we were off! We crossed into Slovenia in about 20 minutes, had our passports checked, then were treated to the beautiful Slovenian countryside. It is so lush, green, and charming. It has an alpine feel to it too. All the farms have these wooden sideless sheds where they store the hay to dry- apparently Slovenians are very proud of these structures… you’ll even find some benches constructed in similar fashion.


We got off the train and although the taxi seemed tempting we decided on the buss for 1.30 euro. The first buss shrugged and said he wasn’t going to Bled area, the second buss said he wasn’t stopping at Mlina (where our room was) only the town center- he said to wait for the next one, ” be here in five minutes” he told us. Twenty minutes later the bus came, as I paid I asked for Mlina. He said no, only Bled town center then made us also pay for our  bags… so trying to avoid walking, we waited for an hour and still ended up having to walk over a mile with our packs to the “hotel”. It’s part of the adventure, be we decided at that point we would take a taxi to the train station when we left!


The walk was beautiful as it took us along the lake and up into residential areas. The hotel was a charming home with a barn that has been converted into rooms for tourists. It’s nice to know your money is going to the locals. There was a “sweet” smell of farm animals and we’d later find out there was a  cow(s) in the barn about 20 feet from our balcony as it started to moo later that evening. The place was perfect though, away from the touristy town center, quiet, we enjoyed our little balcony, and it had a very fun alpine look to it.

We walked down to the lake, only 500 meters away and strolled around it. This place is magical, just absolutely stunning.


The emerald waters protected a small island with a church. Atop a cliff lie the town castle looking down on the lake and the Julian Apls surround us off in the distance.

The walk around the lake shouldn’t take too long; it is just under 4 miles around. It took us all afternoon however as we stopped every minute to soak up the views, take pictures, look at the hundreds of fish in the clear water, the beautiful wooden row boats, and of course stop for coffee and treats! Bled is famous for its Bled cake- something I took a particular liking to. A thin layer of puff pastery was topped with a vanilla custard or pudding, then topped with a layer of whipped cream, one more puff pastery on top, the finished off with a generous sprinkle of powdered sugar. Yummy! It was perfectly sweet, not too rich, and the cool cake was almost refreshing. I’ll likely make it at home!

Nearly around the lake, Rich stopped to take some more photos when I heard something in the leaves, I looked down and to my surprise about 10 inches from our toes was a 3.5 foot snake! I jumped back but took a photo from some distance for proof.


Rich assured me it was nothing but a harmless garden snake but I quickly took to the web to search dangers in Slovenia. Snakes was number two, second to ticks- but I don’t think it was viper so maybe he was right and it was a garden snake after all… We would be sure to use plenty of deet for the rest of the adventure to keep the ticks away! We picnicked for dinner along the lake taking in the fresh air and peaceful environment we were in.

The next day we woke up and took a run around the Bled- it was beautiful… as expected!


There are only so many trips around the lake you can take so we decided to get a little out of town for the day. About 4km away there was Vintgar Gorge a beautiful river that runs through Slovenia’s national parks. Against everyone’s advice we walked there. We liked walking through the neighboring small towns, however we did get slightly lost which added a mile or two to our trek.


When we got there we were pretty thirsty so we sat at a lovely restaurant to get a snack and water. Rich ordered the smoked trout, fresh from the river. Expecting a small portion of lox-like fish we were both a little surprised when a whole fish came out. It wasn’t what we expected but wow it was delicious!


We walked though Vintgar and we’re blown away by the crystal clear emerald and blue waters. The deep inviting pools followed by exciting rapids and waterfalls. It was so worth going to!


At one point I lost Rich in the rock garden as he captured some great shots.


We headed back to town on a trail that took us through a beautiful wooded forest when we heard “cockoo” in the distance from some cockoo birds! We made it back to town and with over 30,000 steps for the day, I considered that I had earned another Bled cake!


We then had one last checklist item, the row boat. We hopped aboard and Rich started to row. I had a little mermaid moment as Ariel was rowed around by Prince Erik. Shortly after we got out towards the church, there was some lightening and thunder not too far so we rowed back in. It started to rain just as we docked- perfect timing.


We walked back to our hotel stopping to say goodbye to our newly made friend Garfield, who lived down the street from us and loved some ear scratches. Rich really loved him- he might officially be a cat man.


We were put to sleep by the moos of of cow neighbor and woke up the next morning to pack up and head to Vienna!

We were very impressed with Slovenia and all it’s beautiful and adventurous outdoor activities; we will likely be back one day!


Cheers!

Lauren

Mediterranean Mooring in Croatia

Sailing in Croatia does present a few obstacles not faced when chartering in the British Virgin Islands.  

To sail without a hired captain (to bareboat) you do need a formal captains license. The base in Agana requires it and the local coast guard inspects vessels regularly. This includes privately owned vessels. I was able to convert my license from the American Sailing Association to an International equivalent prior to our departure. As this was our first charter in the area and as the base required a formal sailing endorsement, I was expecting channel 16 (emergency channel that a mariner is required to monitor at all times underway) to be quite professional as part of the required license is a VHF radio endorsement, however, our briefing captain let us know quickly that radio was full chatter from Italians crossing the Adriatic channel discussing wine, pasta, women…….anything but sailing emergencies. Lauren and I loved it, I just wish I could understand the Italian banter! Our briefing captain may have exacerbated a bit all in good fun.

In Croatia, getting into a marina requires to back your boat into the marina with the stern transom lying parallel to the dock. Below is our system for Mediterranean Mooring . For you expert sailors out there, take this with a grain of salt, but it worked well for us and I found this topic on the minds of most first time charters captains we encountered. I’m sure we will change things up next time, especially with a larger crew so join us and help out! One nice point to make is rather than anchoring offshore or tied to a mooring ball, stern to mooring puts your “apartment” right in center of the old city squares, just accross from coffee shops, restaurants, and makes for easy day excursions to explor the country.


1. Outside the marina, drop all sails in while in open water, get the boat ship shape. Tie off 3 fenders on each side of the boat, aft of the mast, I tie them off on the lifeline so crew can easily side the fenders for and aft to protect any contact point. I use a clew hitch so the fenders can be easily be undone and adjusted. When secure, I add a half hitch to the knot.

2. We then slow the boat down and retie our dingy from the stern cleat to the bow pulpit. I try to avoid using the bow cleat for the painter. (Dingy line) This leaves room on the cleat to tie off the sometimes very think mooring line. One line we had was so thick we had trouble tying it around the cleat. It’s never quite clear which side I will tie off the mooring line, but I try to keep the windward cleat free. I let out the painter line a few extra feet off the bow so it the dingy will float freely around other mooring lines extending off other boats. This way the dingy drags away and in front of the boat as you back in to your berth. 

3. Tie long stern lines to our starboard and port cleats. I tie a large bowline and secure the eye around each cleat, lead the bitter end outside of the stern via a chock, then back into the cockpit directly astern. Coil both lines on the lazerett so we can easily throw the lines to a marina agent. (Make sure the lines run outside of the pulpit so they can be tightened without obstruction). I take down the stern lifelines by unclipping the pelican clips to make it a bit easier to cast the lines off to the dock to the marina agent.


4. Take a quick visual inspection, checking the wind, current, make sure no loose lines are dragging in the water which can foil the propeller. Make sure no obstructions or lines obstruct the deck so you can move freely when tying down lines, avoiding trips etc. Get your boat hook ready. Look out for other boats leaving or entering the marina.

5, Determine wind direction. This is one of the most important steps. If across our starboard side when astern, we throw off the starboard stern line first, remember when the windward stern line is secure, you can use it as a spring line to keep control of you boat when attached while using forward propulsion. We did see few boats get pinned on the dock in high winds. It’s actually easier to enter a tight position as boats on either side will keep you in line.  (Remember you fenders in step one!)

6. Determine boat speed. It’s more difficult to control your boat while running astern. Slow is gold when docking, but as winds pick up, speed astern helps keep your steerage against the wind. Monohulls tend to pivot just aft of the mast, to counteract the crosswinds, use some speed with short burst of reverse propulsion to maintain control. 

7. Well outside your chosen spot, make you turn and start your approach stern to. I try to get as much room as possible so I can counteract prop walk which may require turning the helm full to starboard. The Marina agents will usually point to where they want you to dock. Giving yourself room so you can point yourself strait on, adjusting for current and wind with plenty of room, remember, the mooring lines extend forward of adjacent boats, so when entering make sure you avoid getting you keel under other boats lines. 

8. With just Lauren and I on the boat, I am on the helm, facing aft, controlling the boat under power while Lauren handles the lines. When in close Lauren will cast off the windward stern line to the marina agent. 

9. Using the boat hook, Lauren will then pick up the mooring line from the port or starboard side which is attached to the dock. Lauren will then pass the line hand over hand forward to secure the line on the bow cleat. (Use gloves! It’s also called a slime line)


10. Next the Marina agent will toss the windward stern line back to me, keeping a safe distance from the marina dock as Lauren is securing the mooring line, I will tie off and tighten the windward stern line.

11. Using gentle forward propulsion against the windward stern line, I try to keep the boat strait as Lauren secures the mooring line.

12. Next cast off and secure the leeward stern line, tighten all lines and your done! Make sure to keep an eye on the lines during the procedure, all of which are in close proximity to the propeller.

13. Enjoy the views!


Fair Winds!

Rich

Trogir, Agana, and Dubrovnik 

It was a slow sail from Brac to Trogir, the winds were variable but we eventually made it into the lively harbor and were greeted by the fortress guarding the small town. Trogir is an UNSECO world heritage site. This small island off of mainland Croatia is connected by two walking bridges and one bridge for cars, it only has approximately 1 mile circumference. We docked across from the fortress which provided for beautiful evening views. 
Right away we headed to town and got lost in its small cobblestone streets. I of course enjoyed a delicious ice cream! As we were headed back to the boat we ran into Michael and Claire who were on their way to dinner, so we decided to turn around and join them. We found a lovely restaurant with amazing food! Rich enjoyed the sea bass, while I had a fresh home made pasta with truffle and prosciutto, Claire was sweet enough to let me taste her ocotopus. We all walked back to the harbor and got one more ice cream on the way. Michael and Claire had just purchased their own boat and were sailing that on for the conference; they would not be returning to Agana the next day so we said our goodbyes. We hope to run into them again soon!



In the morning we enjoyed a nice run through the town before the tour busses arrived and Rich headed to his final meeting. Packed up the boat and started cleaning a bit so we would have less to do when we got back to the base.


The light winds of yesterday had disappeared and the winds were quite strong as we prepared to leave Trogir. We had some time so with hopes the winds would either shift to the west or die down we went to get one last cup of coffee. 


When we returned to our boat, to our disapointment the winds had not died down. Actually, they picked up to gusts of 40 knots. To add to the challenge, two boats docked providing us with only about 16 feet to get out; all while worrying about the lines and avoiding being blown into the bows of the docked boats by the crosswinds (with that wind speed would cause a lot of damage)! We got some help off the dock and we’re safely on our way to the home base. 


In no time we moored Nina one last time stern too and she was checked in. We ran to the market one last time to get some cheese and I made our finally boat spread using any provisions we had left. 


I dropped off our laundry and we had time to relax one final night aboard Nina. We met this lovely couple next to us in the 80s from the U.K. They own a boat and keep it in France, every summer they fly down and cruise the Mediterranean, now with their grown children and grandchildren. Then Karen and Doug came to visit. They are super fun and interesting and ironically enough eloped in January on a boat as well! Doug is a US Fighter Pilot and kept us engaged with his heroic stories. Unfortunately we had such a great time with them we had lost track of the hour and I forgot to pick up our laundry… our taxi was scheduled for 6am so it would be left behind. I was determined to figure something out in order to get it back, which of course we did.

We stepped off Nina the next morning and headed via taxi to Split to catch the ferry to Dubrovnik. Our journey on land officially began. 


Since we had stayed up late finishing or packing we slept most of the ferry ride to Dubrovnik. Well rested when we arrived we were eager to conquer the town. The walk to old town was only 1.5 miles away so we decided to walk; little did we know it was 1.2 miles uphill then .3 miles downhill, with our packs in the heat it wasn’t the best idea but we made it. 


We checked into the apartment and walked for hours exploring this amazingly beautiful fortified city. We found a lovely restaurant and sat to soak in all the views; three hours later we decided to give up our table which was prime real estate, people wait for hours for a table at Lady PiPi! For good reason too, the terrace provided panoramic views of the entire town.



The next morning we woke up early enough to explore the city walls. The walk around the city on its fortified walls took nearly three hours with all our photo stops, we probably could’ve taken longer it was a highlight. Especially since we were early enough to beat the crowds! 


We picked up some goodies for a picnic and walked to the nearest beach which was stunning! Rich took a dip then a snooze to dry off. My swimsuit was back in Split with all the laundry to I relaxed and read my book.  


In time we visited the hotel to freshen up before checking out the fort on the other side of the cove just outside the city. After climbing nearly 12 stories worth of stairs we made it to the top and as expected we’re rewarded. 


With already 20,000 steps for the day, (probably 10,000 of those being stairs!) we entered old town and went to Buza a cliff side bar built clinging to the outside of the walls. Buza in Dubrovnik means hole, which is exactly what we had to walk through to find it, amazing!


We woke to take one final Croatian run, I was destructed by cats the entire time as they lay there looking for pets every few hundred yards! We freshens up and checked out of the hotel. In true European fashion we found a restaurant and managed to sip on a single cup of coffee undisturbed for two hours while we read and blogged. Likely we will order some of our favorite local dishes, like octopus salad, before heading to the port to catch the ferry. Then we catch the night train to Lake Bled, Slovenia. We are very excited to see what is in store for us there! 
…that was supposed to be the ending of this story until suddenly my entire blog got deleted and I felt totally defeated. I gave up and decided to order some food. I would write this on the ferry which I am doing… I ordered salad and gazpacho knowing we’re venturing to the land of heavy meats, gravy, and potatoes. Rich ordered the ocotopis salad but was sad to find out they were out of ocotopus. They suggested the Adriatic tuna plate and he went ahead with it. He offered me some but for some reason it just didn’t seem appetizing so I passed. We finished paid and headed to the ferry when Rich turned red as a tomato, got itchy, a horrible headache and stomachache. Turns out the tuna was bad and had he not just learned these symptoms at the marine medicine conference we’d be more worried! A couple of Benedryl and hes feeling human again. We’ll be on the train in three hours! After we find Ante the 40ish year old bald taxi driver that is delivering our laundry to the station… 
Cheers!
Lauren 

Vis, Hvar, and Brac

If we didn’t know better, we would’ve thought we were sailing to Catalina island- but instead we were headed to Vis. Twenty nautical miles from Solta, the sail to Vis seemed very familiar. It was a warm sunny day with Consistant 20 knot winds, we made great time. Entering the harbor brought about some anxiety as the crosswinds were blowing strongly and it would make Mediterranean mooring a bit more difficult, but Rich had no problems sliding Nina right into place- beautifully done (important due to all the spectators on shore)! 

Vis was beautiful, the island is so preserved and has so much history- churches, castles, forts, and even ancient roman theaters all left for you to explore. We hopped on a motor bike and zipped over to the west side of the island to the town of Komiza. This too was stunning as the whole town center was built into the fortress walls. Racing at speeds of 14km in a 60km zone, we successfully made it back up the hill and over to Vis Town where our boat was. We explored the town steeets some more and found a charming hidden restaurant. We weren’t sure if we were walking into someone’s backyard or not but were quickly welcomed and shown to some seats. The owner’s family was so sweet and friendly, we promised we’d one day soon return!

The next morning we woke up for an early morning run. I ran out to the point of the harbor and along the way saw many fishermen starting their day, including a one-armed man bringing his speared octopus aboard then jamming a knife in its head- good morning, fresh octopus salad anyone? 

Rich went the opposite direction into town and of course had nothing but amazing things to say about his route. While Rich was off at the conference I walked the streets some more, then stoped by the market to get some fresh produce and the bakery for the day’s fresh bread; I got the boat ready and we were off to Hvar by midday.

After a delightful lunch anchor, we docked at a nearby smaller island that is a natural botanical garden, absolutely stunning and full of beautiful plants and birds- including multiple peacocks. Our boat somehow got placed inbetween a German regatta. They rolled up with music, empty bottles of whiskey and shot glasses in the cockpick, and tried to use the dinghy oar to pick up the mooring line… It was quite a show. We were pretty tired so we called it a early night. 

Waking up early for our run I opened up our hatches and was greeted with snores from all directions. All the men had gone out late partying and quite a few only made it to the boat deck before falling asleep. They woke up shortly after and in no time our boat was engulfed by a cloud of cigarette smoke.

The conference was in Hvar town so we headed over on a short boat taxi. Hvar is a very cool island. A bit more upbeat and touristy than Solta and Vis but absolutely beautiful! I joined some of the other wives as the men went to their meeting. It was early in the day so we enjoyed some coffee in the town square before our adventures. We got lost along the streets and eventually we hiked to the fort atop the hill overlooking Hvar Town. By the time we got back to town, the men were done with their meeting so Rich and I had some time to explore together. We walked the coast for some amazing photo opportunities then headed into the nooks of the town. It was getting close to time to leave but we stopped by the market to get our days bread, some cheese, and the freshest  prosciutto I’ve ever had! The sales man was a character,  full of stories and clearly loved his cheese and meat. As he measured out our portion it was one for us and of course, two for him…

We departed Hvar and it wasn’t long before we spotted questionable weather in the exact location we were headed. As we lost visual of our destination the the sky began to light up with lightening, we geared up for rain and put on our life jackets. The storm was nothing like the squalls we’ve been in in the BVI but it was pretty cold! The winds got near 30 knots but there wasn’t a swell, so once the lightening passed we were fine- a little rain and wind never killed us. We approached the harbor of Milna on Brac island and the weather system seemed to pass, the rain subsided and winds had died off, perfect timing yet once again. 

I whipped up a fruit plate, veggie plate, and our meats and cheese for dinner and Rich pour some drinks and put on some music. It seemed to send out signals to our friends at the harbor as we were soon joined by Michael, Claire, Ana, and Rob. After a few drinks and lots of laughs our friends headed out for their dinner reservation and Rich and I took a walk into town. 

Milna, Brac is a quiet town some ocean-front buildings still untouched and crumbling from who knows what conflict. It was charming, however with more rain in the forecast we headed back to the warmth and security of our boat and called it a night.

We’re entering the final leg of our sail trip today, off to Trogir in a few hours then back to Agana to turn in the boat after that. We’d probably be more upset if we didn’t still have three weeks of adventure on land to look forward to!

Still having problems uploading pictures but they will come! 

Cheers!

Lauren