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Riding a train through Europe with Eurail is something we always wanted to do. However, as we got older, we thought that Eurail was mostly for backpackers. Many backpackers use the Eurail system because it is so cost effective. After traveling through Europe for 42 days, we are here to say that just about anyone of any age can have a wonderful travel experience with Eurail. We learned so much of the do’s and don’ts of European train travel. Things I wish we knew before we left. We love train travel, and we would do it again, but there are things you need to know to make it easier and less stressful.

Buying the Pass

Let us start by creating a schedule and booking the tickets. You probably heard about the freedom you have with a Eurail ticket. Just show up at the train station and get on the next train going to your destination. Yes, that is possible, but we are planners. Moreover, just showing up in the hope that there is room on the train or that there is even a train going to your destination that day is something we did not want to experience. Our preference was to find the train we were going to take ahead of time, and since we purchased a first-class Eurail pass, we could buy a seat reservation (sometimes mandatory) for a little extra money.

The first thing you need to do is purchase your Eurail pass. The Eurail website has an excellent system that will help you choose the best pass to buy. You enter the number of days traveling and the countries and/or cities you are going to,  and it will suggest the best options. We had the Eurail Global Pass for ten train days over 2-months. That means we could travel on trains ten days over a 2-month period. We went to nine countries,  so this worked out perfect.


Once you receive your Eurail passes in the mail, you can begin any needed reservation requests. The easiest way to see the train schedules and make reservations is through the self-service Eurail reservation system. From this system, you can enter the country and city you want to depart from and arrive at, and you will see the options for that day. It is straightforward. It will show you if you have to change trains or if reservations are mandatory. Once you make all of your selections, you submit it to Eurail for processing. You need to allow time for Eurail. It took almost two weeks to have my choices processed and approved. Once they email you that everything is right, you can go into the system, accept and pay for the reservations.

The tickets are either e-tickets or paper. Of the nine trains we took in Europe, not one was an e-ticket. I found it very strange that they still used paper tickets. We had our reservation tickets sent to the first hotel we stayed at in Europe. They were there when we arrived

First Day on the Train

We flew into Zagreb Croatia. That is where our Europe trip started. Our first trip on the train was to our second destination, Ljubljana Slovenia. We got to the train station about an hour early. However, it turns out; there is really no need to get to any station much earlier than 30 minutes. Because the station does not assign a platform to the train until 30 minutes before arrival. Therefore, you have to stay in the central area looking up at the signage waiting for your train’s platform assignment.

Once our train was assigned, we made our way to the bottom of the platform and came to the stairs. In this station, there was no elevator or escalator. We both had suitcases of about 50 lbs. So we (or should I say “I”) had to carry them up the stairs. It would have been easier if we could have packed lighter but being away for six weeks and toting a bunch of camera gear made that difficult. Once on the platform, we just waited for the train.

Trains Don’t Stay Still for Long

One thing you have to remember is that the trains do not stop at the stations for very long. Maybe three or if you are lucky, ten minutes. Therefore, you have to get on the train quickly. The challenge is finding the car you need to get on. This only applies if you have a reservation with an assigned seat. When the train comes in, you watch for the car with your number on it and then quickly head for it. Once on the train, you need to find a place to stow your luggage.

There is always overhead storage by your seats but not always big enough if you are carrying medium or large suitcases. So we learned that you put your luggage anywhere you can find a place that does not block the aisle. Only on a couple of the trains we took did they have a dedicated luggage area. One time, there was no place but over our heads to put our suitcases. Luckily, I am in decent shape so lifting the 50 lb. suitcase overhead to the storage went without incident.

Lessons from Train Rides through Nine Countries

The first train ride was a little stressful but only because it was unknown. After the first one, we were pros. We continued to learn new lessons on European train travel throughout the nine countries. I decided to summarize what we learned in hopes that it will help you ease the fear of traveling through Europe on Eurail.

First Class or Not? We looked at the seats on every train, and I can tell you that the first class seats really were more spacious and comfortable. Therefore, if you can afford the little extra, I would go for it.

Allow Enough Time. Remember that it took 2 weeks to hear back from Eurail for reservations so make sure you allow enough time including the time needed to mail you any seat reservation tickets.

It’s not an Airport. Don’t bother arriving too early. There’s no need. Since you already have your ticket (Eurail pass) and possibly a reservation, you just go right to the train platform. Most stations don’t assign a platform to the train until 30 minutes before arrival.

Luggage. Keep in mind that you might have to carry your luggage up the stairs or put it overhead. Therefore, if you have any disability or are not that strong, you might have a problem. Some stations had elevators and some had luggage assist conveyors along the stairs. Moreover, nowhere in any of the countries we were in did we see porters at the train station to help you with luggage.

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Throughout the year, we discover many new travel items. Some things are great and some not so great. We personally used all of these and thought we would bring to you the ones that were fabulous. Many are not the typical travel items you read about so much. These are a little more unusual and probably things you didn’t know existed. Here are our top seven travel items of 2018.

ORGO Travel Organizer

The folks at ORGO are committed to finding smart solutions for small spaces. They came up with the ORGO organizer. It’s great for travel. Whether you’re on a plane, RV, cruise ship or hotel room, this organizer is perfect for a women’s cosmetics. Its innovative design is perfect for small bathrooms with limited counter space.

If you travel outside of the US, you will most likely be faced with a hotel bathroom with just a pedestal sink. That’s where the ORGO excels. You can pack all of your makeup neatly in the different compartments (2 with zippers). Then it expands from 15 inches to 36 inches to create your own tabletop over a sink. The ORGO is lightweight, durable and they make it to fit into a carry-on.  Here is a picture of us using it in a Slovakia hotel.


Our emphasis and test were for travel items but this can also be used for everyday use and even to store craft supplies. It comes in a bunch of different colors.


Check out the ORGO organizer here:

Website: https://everythingorgo.com/
Where to buy: https://amzn.to/2pBdZiT


EcoRaider Mosquito and Bed Bug Spray

I know bed bugs are something most people don’t want to talk about but they are a reality. It’s surprising the number of travelers we meet that have been bitten by bed bugs. With this travel size 2-ounce bottle, you can be sure that bed bugs won’t bother you. Simply spray the hotel bed and sleep sound. I know that all this talk about bed bugs is making you squirm but I have to tell you that the spray also works great on bed bug eggs. And to ensure you don’t bring any of those nasty critters home, spray it on the outside of your luggage.

EcoRaider is the only natural product that kills bed bugs with 100% efficacy, according to Entomological Society of America journal publication.

Mosquitos can be such a pain. We used the EcoRaider Mosquito repellent while we were in India for 17 days. In a country where you have to worry about Malaria, wearing a good mosquito repellent is necessary. We all know that DEET is an effective repellent but at what cost? I never liked that chemical on my skin. EcoRaider makes an effective repellent that is safe for not only you but also the environment. While in India, we never had a single mosquito problem.

Family Visit in Florida

On the way back, we stopped in Florida to see family. If you think mosquitos are bad in India, you need to be by the beach and intercostal of Florida. Our friends were being bitten like crazy whenever they had to take their dog outside. Basically, they wore long pants and a long sleeve shirt when walking the dog. They tried our EcoRaider repellent and were amazed at how well it worked. From bites to no bites. In addition, they love that it is safe for their dog.

EcoRaider Natural & Non-Toxic Mosquito & Flying Insect Killer is all you need to protect your family during the mosquito season. It has not only effectively repels, but also kills 100% adult mosquitoes instantly by contact. When applied in stagnant water, it kills 100% of existing larvae effectively but also keeps two weeks residual efficacy killing new larvae.


All of the EcoRaider products make great travel items and are eco-friendly and non-toxic but lethal to targeted insect and pests. It does not affect humans, animals, birds, and fish. It delivers outstanding performance while being non-toxic and safety, proving that green can work effectively.

Check out what EcoRaider has to offer here:

Website: https://ecoraiderusa.com/
Where to buy: https://amzn.to/2IEgNED


Eustachi (Plugged Ears)

If you fly on planes, then I’m sure you’ve had plugged ears. For some people, this can be very painful and they can’t always unplug them the conventional way. Eustachi works with your body to clear your ears anytime, anywhere using just a little air. It’s all natural, safe and completely drug-free. Great for cold and allergies, flying, swimming, and diving.

Plugged ears are no fun. Especially when flying. Tina sometimes has real problems with getting her ears to unplug. We heard about this small electronic device that supposedly works miracles. The Eustachi works by helping exercise your Eustachian tubes using a little bit of air. The air is delivered into your nostril where it can reach the Eustachian tube openings. Combine that with a timely swallow and the pressure behind the ears is equalized. For some people, this could be a lifesaver for comfort.

Their website offers lots of information on the Eustachian tubes including how to videos and Eustachian tube exercises. They also have a 100% money back guarantee. So if it doesn’t work for you, no loss.

This battery operated device is small and can easily be carried in your carry on or purse which makes it an ideal pick for my travel items list.

Check out the Eustachi here:

Website: https://www.eustachiunclogsears.com/
Where to buy: https://amzn.to/2RrkotL


Travelan (Digestive Tract Protection)

The most common illness that travelers face is traveler’s diarrhea. Not something fun to talk about but when you visit other countries that may not have the same purification processes that your body is used to, diarrhea can happen. E. coli can ruin any one’s holiday. Now there’s an answer to preventing this from affecting you.
Travelan is a natural dietary supplement specifically designed to reduce the risk of infection by E.coli (ETEC) as well as Shigella, Salmonella and other bacteria that cause Travelers’ diarrhea around the globe.

Travelers diarrhea is caused by the consumption of food or water infected with bacteria, these bacteria attack the intestines releasing diarrhea-causing toxins into the bloodstream. Travelan binds to E.coli in the gastrointestinal track preventing them from attaching to the intestinal wall and thereby neutralizing their ability to cause diarrhea and its associated symptoms.

Our Trip to India

We traveled to India for 17 days. Throughout this time I took Travelan as instructed. One tablet just before each meal. I did drink bottled water throughout the trip (a least that is what I was told I was drinking). And we didn’t think twice about anything we were eating. We ate in all levels of restaurants including street food. I’m happy to say that for the entire trip, I had no stomach problems. I can’t say with 100% certainty it was due to Travelan but I have friends who visit India frequently and tell me every time they visit they get diarrhea. So my faith is pretty high that Travelan works.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials show Travelan confers protection of up to 90% against infection with the major strain of E.coli that causes travelers’ diarrhea. In addition, these trials showed a significant reduction in abdominal cramps and stomach pain compared to those who did not receive Travelan. There were no reported treatment-related side effects.

Why take a chance? Here’s where you can buy Travelan for yourself to make sure it’s one of those travel items you always have with you:

Website: https://www.travelanusa.com/
Where to buy: https://amzn.to/2OamVL4


Nixplay WiFi Photo Frame

If you travel, then I’m sure you take a bunch of digital photos. Even if you just use your phone, you end up with some great shots that I’m sure you’d love to display. Enter the Nixplay Seed 10.1 inch Widescreen WIFI photo frame. We have this frame on our desk and love it. This is nothing like the digital photo frames of the past. This has a 1280 x 800 high definition screen. It has a motion sensor on the front that will turn the frame off when no one is in the room. You load photos via WIFI from your computer or mobile device. It so simple to use. 

Originally, we were going to give this frame as a gift to my mother who lives far from us and then remotely loads photos of our trips so she could enjoy them. But, once I played with this frame for a bit, we ended up keeping it for ourselves.

Your photos are uploaded to the cloud and then the device downloads them automatically. You can create playlists and show only the playlists you want. Maybe have a playlist of your kid’s birthday parties, another for a vacation you went on.

Using the Nixplay Web app, you manage all your photos from one account. Upload photos from your social media platform, mobile device or computer and assign them to your Nixplay frame with drag and drop simplicity. It’s even Amazon Alexa compatible. So you can just tell Alexa what playlist to display.

The Nixplay comes in a few different models. I picked the narrow bezel frame and widescreen format since I shoot all my pictures in a 16:9 aspect ratio. Even though I don’t travel with it, it made my travel items list because it’s a great way to keep the last trip fresh in your mind.

Check out Nixplay here:

Website: https://www.nixplay.com/
Where to buy: https://amzn.to/2Oz9x2v


Receptra Naturals CBD Oils

You’ve probably heard lately all the hype over CBD oil. There’s a reason it’s in the news, and that’s because it’s a powerful health supplement to help you achieve optimal physical and mental performance.

CBD is the abbreviation for the word “cannabidiol” and it is one of over 100 cannabinoids you find in the hemp plant. CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid known for its positive effects on both the body and mind.

Receptra makes its full spectrum CBD oil from organic hemp grown in Colorado. Marijuana plants also produce CBD oil, but these products often have different cannabinoid profiles and are likely illegal as they regularly contain more than the legal amount of 0.3% THC. Also, don’t confuse CBD hemp oil with hemp seed oil. Hemp seed oil is a product they use in food and beauty items similar to how you would use olive oil or walnut oil.

You Won’t Get High

CBD will not get you high. Receptra’s makes their CBD oil from organically farmed hemp, not from marijuana. The cannabinoid responsible for generating notable psychoactive effects is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Hemp and marijuana are both considered cannabis. Aside from their method of growth, the big difference is that to be considered hemp, the plant must contain no more than 0.3% THC. In Colorado, where Receptra’s organic hemp is grown, the Department of Agriculture does not allow hemp with more than that percentage to be used for the creation of CBD products. In fact, they destroy any crop that tests higher than 0.3% THC.


Full-Spectrum CBD and the Entourage Effect

Some people work best alone and others prefer to be a part of a team. CBD is a team player. Receptra full-spectrum CBD oil includes all of the cannabinoids in the hemp plant and hundreds of additional plant compounds such as vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, flavonoids, and terpenes. This creates a synergy between cannabinoids, providing the ideal environment for CBD to interact with your body’s natural receptors. This concept is called the “entourage effect.”

Pure full-spectrum CBD oil gives the body what it needs when it needs it with more effectiveness than if the CBD molecule was separated out (isolated) from all of the other cannabinoids and compounds.

How does this relate to travel? Well if you travel then you know it can be taxing on you both physically and mentally. From the long plane rides to time zone changes, all are taxing on the body. My son and I take the CBD Elite and the Plus.

It’s not always that obvious whether you see or feel an improvement. Especially when you are generally a healthy person. My son takes the CBD Elite and after about a week was noticing that he was sleeping better. Overall, we both felt more energetic and alert. I also think it helped with jet lag recovery after a long flight.

They also make one for your pets. We give our two dogs Max and Molly the Receptra Pet that has been specially formulated for your pet.

Receptra makes some other great products that help with your aches and pains and soothing your skin.

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Staying at the Hotel Bristol is part of an amazing vacation in Vienna Austria. If you are like us, hotels are not simply a place to sleep and shower; they are a big part of our travel experience. We like feeling special and comfortable when staying at a hotel. We like to immerse ourselves in the destination’s culture, and history and the Bristol played a role in Vienna’s past. Located at one of Vienna’s prime addresses since 1892 the Hotel Bristol is a living example of Viennese charm. Moreover, staying at the Hotel Bristol, you will feel as though you just stepped back in time to the early 20th-century.

Location, Location, Location

When traveling, location can mean everything. The Hotel Bristol Vienna, a Luxury Collection Hotel, is located in the heart of the city across the street from the Vienna State Opera. If you love to shop, the hotel resides on a major shopping avenue.  It is also centrally located to all of Vienna’s major sights. The hotel is a 20-minute drive from the Vienna International airport and very close to the train station.

Rich History

The deciding factor for us when we were making the decision to stay at the Bristol was the history. First of all, the hotel is almost 130 years old. The Bristol has lived through a lot and if only those walls could talk!  The Hotel Bristol weathered the war, the Occupation, the Cold War, and the fall of the Soviet empire. During the Occupation, the Bristol was headquarters for the American occupying forces. On a tour of the hotel by Alexandra, we discovered that the staircase railing had many dings in it. According to her, this was because the soldiers would hit the butt of their rifles on the railing as they descended the staircase.  When it came time to renovate, the lovely railings with their rich history were kept intact.

Also located in the Hotel Bristol was the American Embassy from 1951 to 1955. So according to the US government, an embassy itself belongs to the country it represents; this means the Bristol was American for four years.

Royal History and Gossip

If you are a fan of the British royals and their history, the Hotel Bristol has a connection there too. The Prince of Wales suite named after Prince Edward VIII (1894-1972), who resided in this suite several times with his one and only love, Wallis Simpson is exquisite. Legend has it that Edward VIII made his decision to abdicate as king and marry Wallis during one of his stays at the Hotel Bristol. If you visit Vienna and are a guest at the Hotel Bristol, ask for a tour of the Prince of Wales suite. It is one of the largest luxury suites in Vienna.  And today, two separate entrances transform the amazing Prince of Wales suite into what feels like a comfortable city apartment.

The Bristol Bar

The Bristol Bar is the first American Bar in Vienna. What is an American Bar you may ask? Well, it’s a bar that makes their cocktails in front of their guests. Before the Bristol Bar was open, the drinks were made in a kitchen, and a server would come from behind a door to bring you your drink. Today the Bristol Bar’s décor consists of rich hues and has an exclusive ambiance in which to enjoy a drink or socialize.

The Rising Room

The Hotel Bristol was one of first the hotels in Vienna with an elevator. To make the elevator comfortable for hotel guests they built two seats in it – the seats are still there and of course still available for use.

A Picture of Nightly Social Gatherings

The lovely painting below painted by Austrian artist Hans Stalzer, a good friend of the Bristol’s original owner, Arthur Wolf provides a look at aristocrat life in the early twentieth century. Inspired by all of the famous personalities who stayed at the Hotel Bristol like Theodore Roosevelt, Baroness Thyssen Bornemisza, Adolf Loos, and Archduke Franz Salvator, to name just a few. Like no other painting of its time, Stalzer’s work provides insight into the nightly society gatherings at The Bristol in the early twentieth century.  It also details the fashions of the time. The maître d’ and his waiters are among the thirty-six people included in the painting which was unusual. Having the staff painted in the picture reflects the atmosphere of the Hotel Bristol and Mr. Wolf’s appreciation of his team from the beginning.

The Bristol’s atmosphere is the same today: high quality, discreet service; personal attention; and welcoming Austrian hospitality. To achieve this type of service, a hotel’s staff must know they are valued.

Our Room, an Opera Suite

We stayed in the third floor Opera Suite that reflects the elegance of its namesake: the Viennese Opera. As we opened the door to our suite, we saw a long hallway with a distinctive living room at the end.  Blue patterned silk walls wrapped around the living room and wide classic ceiling moldings sealed the view. The windows framed in ornate, richly hued floral patterned drapes provided a great view of the opera house and the Ringstrasse. There was a plush velveteen couch where we could sit and take in the authentic antiques, original works of art, fresh flowers, and beautiful crystal chandeliers. And not one but two carefully disguised minibars and a Nesspero coffee station in the room. There was also a period desk equipped with modern high-speed Internet Access.

Located in the middle of the room, in front of huge windows, was a four-person dining table offering the possibility of a private meal or a great workspace. Keith and I used this table with its great views to work during our stay.

A Suite that Feels like a City Apartment

Off the main hallway from the front door was a full guest bathroom complete with heated floors and across from that a walk-in coat closet. Having both of these areas makes entertaining guests easy and kept them out of our bedroom and bathroom.

From the front door, a second hallway to the left made its way to our bedroom. The room was huge with a king bed, a two-person sitting area, and another ornate chandelier. Also, there was a second writing desk in this room and a large round table. There was another entrance leading to the living room. Best of all there was tons of closet space!

Awaiting us in the huge, black and cream marbled bathroom was plush bathrobes and slippers. There were double sinks, a soaking tub, and a huge shower.

Keith and I enjoyed our stay in our opera room suite at the Hotel Bristol.  We felt that we experienced high-society life from the turn of the last century with all of the creature comforts of today.

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For a beautiful day trip from Zagreb, take a drive northwards about an hour to the Zagorje region of Croatia. The area is full of rolling hills and vineyards, small quaint homes, medieval burgs, and castles. The best sights to see in this area are the city of Varaždin and Trakošćan castle. As you probably know when traveling, Keith and I often like to take private tours. Taking a private tour allows us a chance to get to know a local, the guide. We also like having enough time to ask all our questions, and we like having the option to stay longer or less at a particular place.

Zico Tours, Varaždin + Trakošćan Castle

The private tour we took to the Zagorje region, Varaždin and the Trakošćan Castle, provided by Zico Tours was fantastic. Our private guide, Dijana, met us at our hotel. She had an SUV and driver waiting. While our driver concentrated on the road our guide, Dijana, began informing us about the area we were going to visit.

Trakošćan, a True Fairy Tale Castle

First up on our agenda, Zico Tours took us to the 13-century Trakošćan castle. Trakošćan castle perched on a hill overlooking a park and forest is a fine example of a fairy tale like fortification. In the eighteen hundreds, the owners and residents renovated the castle developing the romantic park setting around the perimeter. In 1944 the owners were forced to emigrate to Austria. Soon after that, the castle became nationalized and is still owned by the Croatian government today. Today it is a museum available to tour with a knights room, hunting room, music room and more. All of the weapons housed in the museum were those used by the residents of the castle or their help. The piano from the first half of the 19th century located in the music room is extremely valuable.

Touring the castle is interesting and not to be missed, but the real jewel is seeing the castle from across the lake. Originally the castle had, Romanesque features but in the mid-19th century, restoration of the castle took place in the neo-Gothic style. The beauty of the castle today took shape in the 1800’s. Keith and I have traveled a lot and have seen our fair share of castles. The view of Trakošćan castle sitting up on the hill, across the small lake, surrounded by stately green trees is a real treat. This part of the Zagorje area makes you feel as though you are in fairy tale land. The setting is so romantic, idyllic and picturesque you will want to take photos there for hours. In fact, we have this picture below made into a piece of art for our living room.

830+ Year Old City of Varaždin in Zagorje

Next up we visited the very old yet very beautiful city of Varaždin. Because Varaždin is so charming and filled with Baroque architecture, it is often called little Vienna. This city dating back to the 12th century was home to some of Croatia’s wealthiest and also many artists. In the late 1700’s it was even the capital of Croatia.

Our first stop was in the old town where there is a real castle, complete with a drawbridge that leads directly into the main square. Varaždin is also a college town. Many people visit this lively destination for art exhibits, music, and flowers. Walking around the town, you truly feel like you are reliving a by-gone era. The architecture is stunning, the streets and walkways are artfully laid out with a sense of purpose as well as beauty. Everywhere you look, there is something picturesque to enjoy.

Guilds from Many Years Ago Exist Today

Varaždin is like an outdoor museum, for instance, between buildings we saw small niches with beautifully carved figures. Many shops had old signboards like a mermaid, which our guide told us represented exotic imports back in time, spread over a Chocolate shop. On the side of a building, we saw an iron man which Dijana said meant it was a blacksmith’s shop and today is a hardware store. We also saw this cute turtle hanging outside a shop, and that Dijana said stood for a grocery store.

In Varaždin there are all these little surprises. While walking along some of the side streets, we came across what we think is a sundial painted on the outside of a wall. Varaždin is not just a tourist city; it is very much a lived in a city with a vibe that only college towns have.  Varaždin is such an amazing city that the New York Times voted it one of 52 Places to visit in its 2014 list.

Where the Angels Sleep

When people think of Croatia, they think of Dubrovnik and Split. But the inland city, in the Zagorje region, of Varaždin is one of the most well preserved and picturesque cities in the country. It is also the city where the angels sleep. Over thirty years ago a local artist, Željko Prstec began painting motifs of Baroque angels under the banner of “Varaždin: the City where Angels Sleep.” Since this time others have joined in to make Varaždin the city of angels. If you have a keen eye as you walk the streets and visit restaurants and shops, you will see that these fairy tale like angels are everywhere.

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Croatian Ancestry

Tina and I like genealogy, and we have created a lengthy family tree for both our families. My roots on my mother’s side indicate that my great-grandparents were born in Croatia. Specifically, Delnice Croatia (pronounced Dél-Neet-Sa) located in the mountain region of Western Croatia. Since we were visiting Croatia, we decided to visit Delnice and do some research on my family. The day before, we did a Zagreb city tour with Tour Croatia and told the owner about the desire to visit Delnice. We told her we wanted to see if we could find any family graves. Since her company does custom tours, she offered to take us to Delnice.

My Ancestral Hometown of Delnice, Croatia

Delnice is about an hour and a half drive from where we were staying in Zagreb. Delnice was a lumber town back in the day. We learned that much of the wood used to build the island of Venice, Italy came from Delnice. Our guide picked us up at our hotel in the morning. It turns out; she called the small tourism board in Delnice the evening before to find out where the graveyard was. She also told them my four surnames that we were looking for information on and the story I told her about my grandmother’s nut roll.

Povitica (Nut Roll)

The story I told her was from one of my fondest memories of my childhood. It was of my grandmother making a desert we called nut roll. Of course, nut roll was the English name of what my grandmother always called povitica. While in Zagreb, we would see povitica in the bakeries but soon found out that they didn’t call it povitica. They called it Orechovnik. Our guide explained that there are different words for some things depending on the region of Croatia. She being Croatian had never heard of povitica. Nevertheless, when she called the tourism board of Delnice, they said: “sure we know povitica.” She confirmed that in the region of Delnice, they call nut roll, povitica.

Keith with his Grandma years ago

Our Arrival

We arrived in Delnice to a woman standing outside the tourism board office waving. She was excited about our arrival and wanted to be sure we found the office easily. We were surprised to find out that the Delnice tourism office arranged to have a local historian, Dusanka, meet us and show us around Delnice. She took us to the office to meet the tourism person, Vedrana. The tourism person spoke English, so she explained some of the things about Delnice. Then came another surprise, they not only had a bag of brochures about the city, but they also made me a big povitica that was still warm as a gift. I couldn’t believe it. I insisted on getting a picture of both of them along with my freshly baked povitica. It was such a welcoming gesture. Tina and I enjoyed eating it for days after while touring Croatia!

Where Delnice Began

After a few more thank you’s and hugs, we started our tour. The historian took us to the area that was the first settlement of Delnice. Of course, it was a place that had a mountain stream water source. There’s a spring-fed fountain with water you can drink that was from the first settlement. There aren’t a lot of places in the world where you can safely drink spring water, but the water in Delnice was great. Delnice is a pristine nature area of Croatia. Because of the mountains, it’s especially enjoyed in the winter by Croatians.

Next stop was the town’s ski lift. Delnice has an old and new ski lift. Having gone skiing on both coasts of the US, I can tell you that this was a small single run slope, but it was cozy and quaint. The lift remains on the same old slope from decades ago. And this old lift wasn’t a chair like we are used to today but rather a t-bar surface lift that you sit on as it pulls you up the mountain along the ground.

The Unopened Museum

The city has a museum they are working on but isn’t open to the public yet. It consists of a restored house from 1752, completely furnished with period furniture and items, so it’s just like life was in the 18th century. Even though they weren’t officially open, they took us through the house. It was lovely. I was happy to see it as it gave me an idea of how my distant Great Grandparents lived in Delnice over 200 years ago.

The Search for my Ancestors

Our last stop was to the only remaining graveyard in Delnice to see if we could find any of my relatives that I had on my family tree from Croatia. It wasn’t a large graveyard, but it did have at least a few hundred or more gave markers. The four of us, Tina, Doliborka our guide, Dusanka our local historian and I separated to look for the names. While we found many graves of my family’s four surnames, they were all descendants, not the actual people on my tree. It seems there were no graves that remained that went back before the late 1800’s.

I learned that most of those markers, made of wood, deteriorated through the years of harsh winters. But no matter, I have many pictures of distant cousins that I will be able to use to fill in more of my family tree. It was touching to see the length the small community of Delnice went to help me in my quest.

The Tourism Office

On our way back, we stopped back at the tourism office where we met the Director of Delnice tourism, Peter. Once again, we were surprised. They presented us with a fabulous book on the history of Delnice and the surrounding area and a hand embroidered cloth wall hanging of 17th century Croatians with a slogan about “always talk with good neighbors,” it was hard to translate into English, but I can get the gist. I think they were saying talk to the people who have something good to say and avoid those who don’t. Great advice especially today!

Restaurant Serving Local Food

Our tour guide Daliborka of Croatia Travel put together a wonderful day. We ended it with a nice early dinner at Restaurant Eva where they make everything from locally sourced food. We started with a wild mushroom soup that they make from mushrooms in the nearby forests. Doliborka and I shared a plate; this plate meant for two, could have fed four or five people. Doliborka said this is what all of the meals around here look like, lots of food. It is not a good gathering if there is not more than enough food. Now I know why my Grandmother was always insistent that there be more than enough food at family gatherings. I think it is in her DNA.

We finished with a tasty crepe dessert. Crepes are another memory I have of my grandma. We all share delicious crepes made from three local berries to end our perfect meal.

After the early dinner, we went for a short walk down by a beautiful lake that the restaurant overlooked.

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This post is written in collaboration with Expedia.ca

Zagreb Croatia, an Amazing Timeless City that Cruises Miss

Many people dream of visiting Croatia. When people tell us the cities they visited, Zagreb typically isn’t one of them. Most of the time, people visit Croatia from a cruise ship which means they only see the popular coastal cities and their crystal blue waters like Dubrovnik or Split. While these cities may be beautiful, they are crowded with tourists. Because of the constant supply of tourists from cruise ships, restaurants and shop owners prices are higher than the typical inland Croatian city.

For places to stay in Croatia, check out Expedia.ca

The inland and capital city of Zagreb is the new hot place to go. Zagreb is a timeless city that blends history, café culture and captivating architecture with friendliness, graciousness and the unexpected. Zagreb has a big city small town charm. It has a large old hilltop district of cobblestone streets and squares lit to this day by gas lamps that add to the charm. Take the time to stray from the large crowds and visit Zagreb while in Croatia. Here are our recommendations of what to see and do while there.

Our Recommendations for Zagreb
  Hop On Hop Off Tour
 Private City Tour
  Visit Dolac Market
  Shop for Licitars
 Eat Some Local Food
  Visit Braco
Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour

The first thing that we recommend when beginning your adventure in Zagreb is to get an overview of the city or a “lay of the land” so to speak. The best way to do this is with the Zagreb City Tour Hop On Hop Off panoramic bus tour. This comprehensive tour of the city with audio-guide is available in 10 languages. The nice thing about the recorded audio versus a live person is that you can clearly hear and understand the speaker. We’ve been on some tours where the guides can’t be heard easily or understood. This tour will take you to the top sights, monuments, and landmarks in an open top bus.

You can customize your tour, by hopping on or off at any stop to explore Zagreb at your leisure. This tour will show you what’s available to discover in Croatia's historic capital. And to best fit your schedule, the tour runs seven days a week from 10 am till 5 pm.

There is Nothing Better Than a Private Tour

Once you have a feel for the city of Zagreb, we recommend a private tour with Tour Croatia. We took a tour with the director and a resident of Zagreb, Daliborka Ulemek. Daliborka loves Zagreb and is knowledgeable about everything in the city. If there are particular things that you want to see or do on your tour, she will make sure you see or experience them the best way possible. What we love about private tours is the ability to customize them however you want. Since the guide is just for you, feel free to stay longer at a particular site, take a longer or shorter lunch, and most importantly, ask as many questions as you want. We find that the in-depth and personal knowledge you get about a country from a private tour is so much more rewarding than the typical group tour.

Our tour began as we left our hotel located in a leafy green area of Zagreb’s Viennese influenced Lower Town. At our request, we explored the historic center of Zagreb on foot with Daliborka. Whenever possible, we like to explore a new city this way so we can really see everything and get a feel for the vibe of the city. It was great to just look at all of the beautiful architecture. As we walked the city, we discovered that Zagreb has an unhurried pace. We saw locals enjoying coffee or drinks al fresco all day long. As we walked, we passed a quaint art gallery with this colorfully painted egg outside. It had the famous Zagreb heart on the bottom that I will talk more about later.

Art Pavilion

Our first stop was the Art Pavilion in Zagreb. This art pavilion was built 1896 for the Millennium Exhibition held in Budapest, celebrating the 1,000 years of Hungarian statehood. It held the art of the Croatian/Slovenian kingdom. After the Millennium celebration, the skeleton of the building moved to Zagreb. What we see of the building decorated today with sculptures took two years to complete. This beautiful mustard yellow building is now a hallmark symbol of Zagreb.

The Center of Zagreb

Some more walking brought us to the center of the Zagreb’s downtown pedestrian zone. Ban Jelačić Square is the heart of Zagreb. The square has existed since the 17th century. A large statue of  Josip Jelačić (former governor) on a horse erected in 1866 stands in the center of the square. Josip Jelačić, an army general, is remembered for his military campaigns during the Revolutions of 1848 and his abolition of serfdom in Croatia. This grand square features buildings with antique facades of different architectural styles ranging from classicism, secession, and modernism. It was a weekday morning, and things were bustling already at 10:30 am. The locals tell us that when they meet friends in the square, they meet “under the tail” of the monument.

Upper Town

Next, we visited Zagreb’s upper town. Here we found narrow cobblestone streets and charming historical buildings which today are home to shops and restaurants. The upper town gets it name because you are walking literally uphill. It’s a web of little streets that stretch between two hills. St. Mark Square is symbolic of the upper town and the city of Zagreb. In the center of the square is St. Mark church, famous for its colorful roof representing the arms of the Tripartite Kingdom. The kingdoms of the Tripartite being Croatia, Dalmatia, and Slavonia. The multi-colored tile roof is from 1880 while the rest of the church is from the 13th century. This lovely square is also home to Croatia’s parliament and the presidential place.

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