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Alaska the last frontier; many people dream of visiting but how many do? I don’t know about you, but visiting Alaska has been on our bucket list forever. We wondered how we should see Alaska? By land or by sea? This year we decided we would visit Alaska. It was important for us to see glaciers up close. So, we decided to take a Holland America Line Alaskan Explorer cruise. Our Alaskan cruise started in Seattle and returned to Seattle. Our itinerary in between included Juneau, Glacier Bay National Park, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria, British Columbia.

Well, I can tell you we made the right decision. We loved our Holland America Line Alaskan Cruise. We sailed on the Eurodam. First off, we spent almost a full day viewing glaciers, so that checked off something from the bucket list.

Much to See of Alaska from the Water

Keith and I do not take a lot of cruises, but sometimes it is the best way to see an area. Similar to visiting the Amazon jungle, there is so much of Alaska to see from the water. We highly recommend a Verandah (balcony) room on the Eurodam since you will have lots of time to enjoy the view from your private balcony.

In addition to a private balcony, our room had a king bed, a couch with a coffee table, and a desk area. The bathroom was much larger than we anticipated. On the coffee table was a fruit basket which our room attendant kept full every day. In the closet, there were two bathrobes.

Our Verandah Room Lots to Do On Board an Alaskan Cruise

We also loved that there were always workshops going on. Since this was an Alaskan cruise, there were lots of classes that taught us about Alaska. In Glacier Bay, we had talks by the Glacier Bay National Park rangers. The Rangers boarded our ship early in the morning and stayed aboard all day teaching and answering questions. There were also great photography classes and wildlife seminars. Since we love photography and always feel we can improve, we loved attending those. Holland America also offers live cooking demonstrations where you learn to prepare easy recipes called America's Test Kitchen. We picked up some great tips and delicious recipes.

America's Test Kitchen Food

Of course, you can’t go on an Alaskan cruise and not talk about food, so much food!  The one thing I do love about cruise ship dining is the chance to share a dining table. We have found it is a great way to meet other travelers.

So the Eurodam has a Main Dining Room, but they also have the buffet style, Lido Market. Unlike other cruises we have been on the Lido staff served you keeping the food area much cleaner for all. Keith and I had coffee and breakfast in the Lido Market every day except one in which we had room service. Room service is free aboard the Eurodam which can be very convenient at times.

Main Dining Room

Likewise, there is a pizza place on the outside pool deck where you can customize a personal pizza. Then there is the Dive Bar, a hamburger and hotdog place, both of which are made to order items. Also, the Lido Market has a great salad station. A person makes your salad in a huge bowl. You pick everything from the type of greens to veggies, nuts, and protein if you wish. I eat a plant-based diet, so I loved the salad bar as did others, and the ingredients were always fresh!

The Ship also has three specialty restaurants that charge an additional fee, and we tried all of them. 

Lobster at the Pinnacle Grill Seafood tower appetizer at the Pinnacle Grill Pinnacle Grill Chicken Parmassian at the Canaletto Restaurant Ethan Stowe Wine Pairing Dinner Eurodam Lounges

The ship has lots of lounges or bars, and almost all of them have windows with great views. Keith and I prefer to have a before dinner glass of wine or drink, so we loved the various options. We really love wine, so we were pleased that the lounges all offered several wines by the glass, but unfortunately the different bars had the same wine list. The Eurodam Wine Bar had a great section of bottled wine. They even had some California heavyweights such as Opus One and Caymus. 

Before we even set sail, Keith and I signed up for a Wines of the World Tasting event. On the day of the event, we tasted five whites and five reds from all different countries. In addition, they had cheese, fruit, guacamole, salsa, and chips to eat along with the tasting. As a wine lover, I felt there should have been a few higher-end wines in the mix. But, the good thing was that the wines we tasted were not any of the wines by the glass offered on the ship at the lounges or bars.

Evening Entertainment

In the evening The Onboard Billboard lounge had two piano players singing hits that everyone knows. When we visited, they were singing songs from the ’70s, and lots of people sang along. The art lounge off of the casino had no windows but was colorful and cozy. Also, Holland America has a BB King's Blues Club. While I enjoyed the piano players the most, Keith’s favorite was the show at BB King’s Blues Club. 

BB King's Blues Club Onboard Billboard Lounge

The Lincoln Center Stage featured classical chamber music. Therefore, at the Lincoln Center Stage, you will enjoy timeless pieces and unfamiliar jewels played by exceptional musicians.

Also, as I mentioned, there is a small casino onboard. The slot machines ate all our money quickly, but I won at the roulette table. Thankfully I do not like to lose money for sport, so I don’t think I will become addicted to roulette. But it was fun to leave the casino ahead.

The Crow's Nest

At the front of the ship, there is a large lounge called the Crow’s Nest. In the Crow’s Nest, they had hundreds of books that you can take on the honor system, plus games and puzzles. In addition, the center has a coffee bar where they sell espressos, lattes, iced coffees and more. The large lounge also doubled as a lecture place for the National Park Ranger talks when we arrived in Glacier Bay National Park. The views from the Crows Nest were spectacular and you could keep up on the ship logistics from the monitors.

Monitors that told the ship direction and speed. They even had a fish detector so you could spot whales under the water.

Life onboard the ship is very important because you spend a lot of time there, but the travel itinerary is important also, especially if this is a once in a lifetime trip like it was for Keith and me.

Holland America Line Cruise to Alaska Eurodam Ship Tour - YouTube
Watch our video tour of the ship and the great time we had onboard Day 1

On our first day, we departed Seattle between four and five pm. So since we would just be at sea, we decided to have dinner at one of the specialty restaurants, the Tamarind. The Pan-Asian Tamarind restaurant served traditional culinary treats of Southeast Asia, China, and Japan. We had our best meal aboard our Alaskan cruise ship at this restaurant. Not only was the food fantastic, but the service was outstanding. Without a doubt, our wait staff, Panatda, and Dayanti made us feel that they were delighted we were there. They were both always smiling. And they took the time to talk to us about their home country of Indonesia.

Sushi chef at the Tamarind

Additionally, we had a great conversation about the foods they missed from home. It was such a pleasure to dine at Tamarind that we truly hope if you take this Alaskan cruise, you will dine there too. In addition to great food and great service, we had great panoramic views because the Tamarind is on the top deck.

Lobster Appetizer Homemade sorbets Day 2

Day 2 was at sea all day. Keith and I relaxed, had coffee, and read before a late breakfast. Keith attended a couple of Alaska classes and some photography classes, and I played bridge. We had been traveling a lot before the Alaskan cruise, so we needed some downtime.

Day 3 Juneau

Day three, we arrived in Juneau, Alaska. We travel 882 miles from Seattle to Juneau. Now that we were in Alaska, Keith and I finally visited all 52 states in the United States, yay!

We had wonderful spring weather as we left the Alaskan cruise ship to explore Juneau. Keith and I decided that we wanted to do a photography whale watching experience. So the experience we chose included a 1.5-mile rainforest walk to view the Mendenhall Glacier. The tour was called Whales and Mendenhall Glacier Photo Safari. We had to take a bus for about 30 minutes to our whale-watching vessel. Along the way, our guide Griffin of Gastineau Guiding talked about the area we transversed and about Juneau. We also saw numerous eagles, just hanging out in the trees. 

As we approached Juneau The History of Juneau

So, did you know that Juneau is only accessible by either plane or boat? The lack of a road system connecting it to the rest of Alaska, Canada, and the US is due to the extremely rugged terrain surrounding the city. Although Native Americans have been in the area of Juneau for a very long time, it was not until the late nineteenth century that prospectors came to the area looking for gold. Juneau was originally called Harrisburg and then Rockwell. And then ultimately the miners voted to call it Juneau after one of the first two prospectors to the land; Joe Juneau, a gold prospector from Quebec. 

One of the many seaplanes in Juneau

Did you also know that Juneau, again a city that is only accessible by ship or by plane, is the capital of Alaska? Even though it’s the capital, the historic center still retains its gold rush architectural heritage not typical of a capital city.

So, ladies If you need some time to shop or just want some alone time, Juneau has inexpensive husband daycare. 

What a deal for daycare Time for Whale Watching

Once at the marina, we boarded our vessel to begin our search of whales. As we sped across the water, we took in the beautiful, unspoiled views of Juneau. Today, we were in luck as we spotted a humpback whale. Moreover, she breached (jumped out of the water).  A few minutes passed with no above water activity.

Tina watching for humpback whales Some chillin seals on the rocks

Meanwhile, we tried to anticipate her next move when all of a sudden, we saw two humps peeking out of the water and moving in different directions. We realized rather quickly that we were watching two whales. So it turns out this was a mother and her half-grown baby. We were very lucky that we were able to see multiple breaches of the whales. Unquestionably it was spectacular to see a school bus-size mammal soaring out of the ocean.

A mother and baby humpback whale Humpback whale breach Another breach

As we swept across the water, we saw more than just whales. At this point, we came alongside a buoy where five seals lay sunny themselves. We also saw numerous eagles.

Seals sunning themselves

Conversely, we admired the beauty of a simple lighthouse with the keeper's house behind. The two white dwellings with red roof sat on green grass with a backdrop of snow-covered mountains behind them.

Lighthouse and keepers house

As we approached the marina on our return, an eagle sat at the top of a tree as if to greet us.

The bald eagle..
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Why are the Czech spas some of the best in the world? The main reason is the healing mineral springs. Spa care in the Czech Republic has a tradition going back hundreds of years. So, the spas of the Czech Republic have earned a reputation as some of the best spas in the world. These three spa towns make up the West Bohemian Spa Triangle. First, there is Karlovy Vary with its beautiful colonnades. Then there is Marianske Lazne with its melodic fountain. Lastly, there is Frantiskovy Lazne with its characteristic neo-Baroque to Art Deco style, near the border with Germany. Take a five-day road trip from Prague with us to see the beauty of the spas and get to know them up close.

Karlovy Vary Karlovy Vary

Since most people come to the Czech Republic to visit Prague, we started our road trip from there. It is less than two hours by car from Prague to our first stop of the West Bohemian Spa Triangle, Karlovy Vary. Karlovy Vary is Carlsbad in English. Have you ever heard of Carlsbad, California? The town is the namesake of Karlovy Vary. In 1886 the mineral water was tested. The findings showed the water to have the same mineral content as a famous spa in Karlsbad, Bohemia. So, four men joined together to form the Carlsbad Land and Water Company. Karlsbad, Bohemia is today Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. 

Karlovy Vary Looking down on Karlovy Vary

The spas of Karlovy Vary will pamper you in world-class elegance. Most of Karlovy Vary’s architecture dates from the Renaissance to 1930 although its inception was in 1370 as part of the Roman Empire.

Vridlo Hot Spring

While in Karlovy Vary, you must visit the pavilion of the Vridlo hot spring. The Vridlo hot spring is the symbol of this world-famous spa city. Vridlo is the only source of thermal water used for the local spa baths. The mineral water is 162 degrees Fahrenheit and flows at a rate of 528 gallons per minute. The stunning buildings and all of its fountains, look as though they stepped out of a fairy tale.

Vridlo Hot Spring The Elegant Colonnades of Karlovy Vary

All things considered, a visit to Karlovy Vary must include visiting the colonnades. This is because Karlovy Vary prides itself in its wonderful colonnades. Built in the 19th and early 20th century all the colonnades provide mineral hot spring water. There are five colonnades in total. If possible, see them all but don’t miss these three. 

The richly decorated Sadova Kolonada, Park Colonnade, made of cast-iron is Viennese in design. In like fashion, at this colonnade, you can enjoy the waters of the Park Spring and the Snake Spring.

Sadova Kolonada

The second colonnade you must see is the carved wooden Trzni Kolonada, Market Colonnade, built in Swiss style by a Viennese architect. At this colonnade, you will find the Charles IV Spring, Lower Castle Spring, and of course the Market Spring.

Trzni Kolonada

Another not to miss colonnade is the lovely stone Mlynska Kolonada or Mill Colonnade, built in Neo-Renaissance style by a Czech architect. Consequently, the colonnade attic gable adorned with twelve sandstone symbolic statues representing the months of the year is the largest colonnade in the city. Inside the colonnade, you will find five mineral springs: the Mill Spring, the Rusalka Spring, the Prince Wenceslas Spring, the Libuse Spring, and the Rock Spring.

Mlynska Kolonada The Drinking Cure

Karlovy Vary is a beautiful city, but the main draw to the city is the hot mineral water. People come from everywhere to drink this water. The water can be quite hot, so they made a special cup to drink it without burning your mouth. You fill the cup with water from a spring and drink from the spout. Thus, this method cools the water and allows you to sip the water safely.

People getting water to drink from the spring The traditional cup for drinking the hot spring water Tina drinking slowly as the water is hot Traditional Spa Wafers

While in Karlovy Vary, you must try their spa wafers. The Karlovy Vary spa wafers are a traditional and very common snack in the town. These wafers date back before the 1800s. Cooks would make the wafers, sprinkle with sugar and serve to the spa guests. Undoubtedly, it is the Karlovy Vary spring water and salt, that give the wafers a unique flavor.

A traditional wafer Tina enjoying her first bite Becherovka Restaurant

Located in a former 170-year-old distillery that produced the famed Becherovka liquor is an amazing restaurant. Becherovka liqueur is an herbal liquor. We tasted it once, and there is at least some anise and cinnamon in the mix.

Inside the Becherovka restaurant

Hence, the Becherovka Restaurant located in Becherplatz allows you to experience the heyday times of this spa city. Becherplatz is a place to relive the golden age of Karlovy Vary, the turn of the 19th and 20th century.

Beef sirloin with three different bread dumplings Hotel Imperial

We recommend staying at the neo-classical Hotel Imperial. The Hotel Imperial dominates Karlovy Vary. Built in the year 1913 to attract a wealthy clientele, the hotel guarantees its guests perfection in every detail. Guests come for medicinal spa treatments as well as relaxation treatments. Thus, the focus of Karlovy Vary spa treatments is again the mineral water.

The Hotel Imperial Beautiful entrance to the Hotel Hotel terrace View from the top of the hotel

The top reason to stay at Hotel Imperial is its spa facilities. Several floors make up the spa treatment rooms. Directly pumped into the hotel, are 12 springs from the area. Also, as an added benefit, there is a pool and whirlpool too.

The many treatment rooms

There is also a funicular that will take you down to the city center. A funicular is a cable car rail system for steep incline slopes. Overall, the system employs a pair of passenger vehicles that are pulled on a slope by the same cable that loops over a pulley wheel at the upper end of a track.

The tram to the town below Jachymov Were You Can Soak in Radioactive Water

Midday on day two, take a short drive and travel to the mining city of Jachymov to visit the Svornost mine. Jachymov is a small city of Bohemia close to the Czech border with Germany. The mine is only available for tours by advanced request.

Keith & Tina suited up for the mine tour

At the end of the 19th century, Marie Curie discovered the element radium for which she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Significantly, the radium came from the mineral pitchblende in the Svornst mine.

The elevator used to take you down to the mine

There are seventeen metal-bearing ores, silver, uranium, tin, lead, cobalt, platinum, tungsten and more than four hundred different minerals in the Jachymov area. Subsequently, the Svornost mine provides the thirteen thousand years old radioactive healing water for the Jachymov spas. 

Deep inside the mine

In this area, we recommend staying at the Hotel Radium Palace. While staying at the Palace enjoy their unique radon water treatment. Undeniably, not many of your friends will be able to say that they had a therapeutic radon water bath. 

Radium Palace Outdoor patio
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Ever since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Czech Republic has evolved into one of Europe’s most popular travel destinations. To this end, the Czech Republic has fairy tale esque qualities. Castles, chateaus and fortresses seem to be everywhere you look.

Everyone who visits the Czech Republic starts with Prague. Prague is the cultural center of the country and one of Europe’s most fascinating cities. Prague offers a wonderful medieval core of Gothic architecture, but it's crowded with almost 8 million people visiting there each year. There is so much more to see in the Czech Republic than just Prague.

The Czech Republic is a country of contrasts. Chocked full of history yet the Czech Republic of today is also a forward-thinking nation. To get a more authentic view of the Czech Republic, we recommend visiting the exciting cities of Ostrava and the lovely Opava.

Enjoying some wine al fresco style Ostrava, the Capital of Monrovia

Ostrava, located in the Moravian region of the Czech Republic is the country’s third largest city. Ostrava has a long history, but in the last century, Ostrava became a city no one wanted to visit. Known for its heavy industry focusing on coal mining and iron production, Ostrava was considered a dirty city. So much so, it was nicknamed the “black” city by locals because just walking around you would have black soot on your skin and clothes.

Ostrava today

Thus, In 1994, five years after the fall of Communism, mining stopped in Ostrava. So, the city quickly set about to clean up its look and its reputation. The people of Ostrava took something old and made it new. Today Ostrava is attractive and vibrant. Even though the city has changed its vibe, it has not forgotten its coal mining past.

Streets of Ostrava Lower Vítkovice area

The Lower Vítkovice area is a revitalized former steelworks and coal mining industrial complex in the heart of Ostrava city center. Given that, Ostrava converted this industrial complex into a multifunctional cultural auditorium complex known as the Gong Center. The auditorium was formerly a gas tank. The rusted blast furnaces and twisted metal factory is still part of the terrain.

Keith and I attended a Travel Bloggers conference at the Gong Center while we were traveling in the Czech Republic. As we stood inside the Gong Center, we could not imagine that we were inside a massive gas reservoir tank. At the same time, nothing about the external looks suggests that this industrial structure concealed a modern convention hall or exhibition space.

The Gong Center is where our conference took place Bolt Tower

The most famous icon of Vitkovice is the Bolt Tower. Bolt Tower is an observation tower, but you can also take a guided tour of the blast furnace. So, on the tour, you will learn about the history of Vítkovice and the production of pig iron. Reservations are required so check the Bolt Tower site for directions.

A tour up the blast furnace not only offers an interesting insight into how an iron factory works but also impressive views of the entire complex.

View from atop of the tower Getting  Around Ostrava

We arrived in Ostrava via train from Poland. From there we took a taxi to our hotel, the Mercure. We chose the Mercure because it is less than ten minutes from the central train station and within walking distance of the cultural districts. For the next week that we were in Ostrava, we either walked or took the train system. Despite its size, Ostrava is a very easy place to get around. In addition, public transport is excellent, and it is well-connected to the rest of the Czech Republic or Europe via the train station.

Ostrava architecture Street Art

In Ostrava is where you will find the largest street art piece in all of the Czech Republic. It is called the Madonna Ostravica. When you are in front of this piece of art, you will wonder what she is thinking about. Most important, the Madonna Ostravica was created by the famous American street artist Nils Westergard in 2016. He painted her during a weekend, on the façade of a crumbling building which used to be a shopping center.

Street art on the side of the building More interesting street art The Lively Masaryk Square or City Center

Ostrava is the third largest city in the Czech Republic and is close to the border of Slovakia and Poland. Also, in the Middle Ages, Masaryk Square, Ostrava's center, was home to a marketplace. Equally Important, the oldest preserved building in the square is Stara Radnice or the Old Town Hall built in the sixteenth century. Presently, the Old Town Hall houses the Museum of Ostrava. The market square has a lively fountain in front of centuries-old Baroque buildings. Accordingly, the atmosphere is gorgeous, and a must-do activity in Ostrava.

You don't know when the fountains will appear Ostrava City Hall

The Viewing Tower of the Ostrava City Hall is one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. Without a doubt, you can see all of Ostrava, the nearby mountains, and even some of neighboring Poland. You can’t miss the viewing tower when looking at the Ostrava skyline. The tower is equipped with an illuminated clock, an elevator, and a lookout deck. Also, the Ostrava City Information Center, located directly beneath the tower, provides information about the city, in many languages. The tower is open every day, but I suggest you check Ostrava’s website for hours.

Ostrava new City Hall Ostrava Cathedral

The Cathedral of the Divine Saviour is a three-nave Neo-Renaissance basilica with a semi-circular apse and two towers. A point often overlooked, is the fact that the cathedral seats 4000 people and dates back to 1896. Important to realize, there are two organs in the cathedral and relics of Saint Hedwig of Silesia that lie at the altar. The cathedral is one of the many places in the historical city center worth a visit.

Outside of the Cathedral of the Divine Saviour

One interesting thing that this cathedral has is a changing stained glass window. It's a digital window but when it's not moving, you would never know it wasn't real.

The digital stained glass window Opava

Take a full day to see Opava. Evidently, Opava is commonly called the White Pearl of Silesia. Given that, Opava endowed with a mixture of Gothic, Neo-Renaissance and modern architecture style is lovely. Opava is a small city of approximately 58,000 in the Czech Republic. Even so, it was the formal capital of Czech Silesia. Opava is a North Eastern town tucked away near the Polish border. Opava boasts some stunning old town European architecture but also has a lovely lake and charming eateries.

Opava’s Lower and Upper Squares

Today Opava has two main squares; the Upper (Horni) and Lower (Dolni) Squares. Thus, the main feature of the Lower Square is the baroque St. Vojtech’s Church. St. Vojtech’s Church built in the 17th century is the pearl of the city. Also in the Lower square, you will see lovely new buildings mixed with extremely well preserved old buildings.

Modern architecture mixed with old

St. Vojtech’s  Church serves as an important pilgrimage site where 4,000 masses are said each year. Just outside the church, you can admire the Baroque Marian Column which also dates back to the late 1600s.

St. Vojtech Church

The main feature of the Upper Square is the town hall with its watchtower. You can climb the watchtower called Hlaska and see the lovely views of the city and its surroundings.

Opava Town Hall with its watchtower

From the top of this watchtower, men would keep watch for invaders. Initially constructed between 1614 and 1618 the Renaissance tower sat on top of an older wooden tower. In the early 1900s, Art-Nouveau elements added to the tower completed its look. Visitors may go up to the watchtower at various times throughout the year. Also Inside the tower are permanent exhibitions of the history of the tower.

View from the watchtower View from the tower of the Opava Opera House Cathedrals

Also important to Opava is the Our Lady of the Assumption Co-Cathedral built at the end of the 13th century by knights. The church is an example of North German Gothic brickwork. The interior of Our Lady was renovated in Baroque style after a fire in the late 1600s. Presently, the church is a national monument.

The Our Lady of the Assumption Co-Cathedral

The lovely Masarykova Street contains the palaces of noblemen. The Silesian Theatre is another important landmark building for the town.

Silver Lake Area

Consequently, after touring the historical center of Opava, we suggest heading towards the Stribrne Jezero known as Silver Lake. At the lake, you can swim, have drinks or dine on snack food. In fact, the beer at this park is cheaper than the bottled water.

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Krakow harmoniously blends past and present and thus should be an essential part of any visit to Poland. So, if you are traveling through or around Poland, you need to add Krakow to your must-see list.  Krakow has a large market square, many historical sites and an abundance of great restaurants. Hence Krakow is full of history as it was the former capital and dates back to the seventh century. We feel it is one of Europe's most beautiful cities. Not surprisingly, Krakow has always been an important educational and cultural center. So it is no surprise that the Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Busy street in Krakow A Brief History of Krakow

Krakow is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Consequently, Krakow began as a stone-age settlement and grew into an important European city.

One of the many churches

Another key point is that Krakow was invaded by the Nazis at the start of WWII. At this point, the Germans occupied Poland. Thus, they forced the Jewish population of Krakow into an overcrowded walled zone known as the Krakow Ghetto. All the while, Krakow became the most important administrative city of the Third Reich. Dreadfully, the Jewish people were ultimately sent to German concentration camps such as the nearby Auschwitz.

Outdoor eating in one of the squares

Krakow was liberated from the Germans by the Soviets in 1945. Poland was under Soviet rule until 1989. UNESCO designated all of Krakow a World Heritage Site in 1978. Fortunately, Krakow was one of the few Eastern European cities that avoided bombing during WWII. So, much of the architecture you will see and many of the streets of Krakow are pre-WWII.

48 Hours in Krakow

We are always keeping an eye out for exciting travel destinations. At last, this summer we had the opportunity to visit Krakow, Poland. Krakow, a city brimming with history, that exceeded our expectations!  We created this excellent guide to help you make the best of 48 hours in Krakow, so here it goes.

Streets of Krakow

But before I jump into the Itinerary, I have to say that if you are a foodie, Krakow will be your heaven on earth. There are 25 Michelin guide book restaurants, and too many to count other great restaurants, in Krakow. Keith and I love to visit the number one trip advisor restaurant in a city as well as Michelin guide book restaurants. Almost all of the guide book restaurants are usually less pricey than the Michelin starred restaurants and easier for travelers to get a reservation. If you’re not familiar with Michelin, for more than a century, the French tire company Michelin has published a series of guide books. Most notably is the annually published Michelin Red Guide, which is the oldest European hotel and restaurant reference guide in the world. 

The Contemporary Golden Tulip Krakow Kazimierz

Our First stop in Krakow was to check into the Golden Tulip Hotel in the Kazimierz district. The Golden Tulip Krakow Kazimierz is in the heart of Krakow, just 15 minutes from the main market square. Even more, the hotel housed in a sleek modern building is only a couple of years old. We found this contemporary hotel comfortable and the staff friendly. And, they have an amazing breakfast spread sure to please travelers from around the world. The hotel also has a bar which we look for in choosing a hotel because it gives us an alternative, cozy place to hang out should we have some free time before ending our day. 

The entrance along with outdoor seating Spacious room Breakfast buffet Our First Dinner in Krakow

After freshening up, Keith and I set out to walk to dinner. We wanted to savor the sights and smells of the evening streets. Consequently, as we walked the streets, we took in the lovely architecture of the three-story buildings with their glowing amber windows. 

Short walk to our restaurant

The first night in Krakow we ate at the Miodova Restaurant. It is a Michelin Red Guide Book restaurant. Miodova blends tradition and modern in the center of the Kazimierz district. The inspiration for Miodova came from a cookbook written in 1897. So, they offer classic Polish dishes turned into works of art. They blend influences from Jewish, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Balkan to provide the home-cooked flavors and turn every meal into an extraordinary culinary adventure. Most importantly, all of their dishes use locally sourced foods.

The front of the Miodova restaurant Open kitchen design

After we selected wine and as Keith and I looked over the menu, our server Mateusz, brought us bread and three different oils to try. The oils were rape seed, milk thistle, and white flax. All three were delicious. Even though Miodova is a Michelin Guide Book restaurant, it is not pretentious. The tables set with a candle and delicate flowers made the setting comfortable and laid back. Thus, we chose to eat in the dining room, but they also offer outside seating.

The special oils Israeli wine selection

The wine we decided to try was an Israeli wine by Golden Heights Winery; a Mount Hermon Red. It was wonderful. For our meal, we started with a typical Polish potato pancake. For the main course, pan-fried Halibut and pear salad. The food and service were outstanding. Above all, we were not disappointed in our first meal in Krakow. 

Enjoying our wine and meal Tour Kazimierz and Wawel Castle

On your first full day, we recommend doing a private guided tour of Krakow. Krakow is so full of history and, a guide will make that history come to life for you. We recommend visiting the Kazimierz area and Wawel Castle to start.

Wawel Castle

Kazimierz is the traditional Jewish Quarter of Krakow. Up until the early 19th century, Kazimierz was an independent, royal city of the Polish Kingdom. For centuries this was the place of Jewish and Polish coexistence. So, there are Christian churches, like the Skałka built in the 14th century, in the Polish part of Kazimierz, and several synagogues outside of the Jewish part. 

Wawel Castle built in the 1300s consists of several buildings situated around an Italian-styled main courtyard. Wawel is one of the largest castles in Poland and represents nearly all European architectural styles including medieval, renaissance and baroque. Not surprising, Wawel Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today the castle is a principal art museum but, for centuries it was the home to the kings of Poland. 

Another side of the Wawel Castle

The mishmash of buildings makes Wawel Castle the perfect place for an architecture buff, but if you are a museum lover, this is your spot too. Wawel Castle hosts a museum with a great selection of Italian Renaissance paintings, tapestry, armor. Also, the castle has the biggest collection of Ottoman tents in Europe.

Wawel Cathedral

Another main attraction of Wawel Castle is Wawel Cathedral. Most notably, Wawel Cathedral was the coronation site of Polish Monarchs. Wawel is a gothic cathedral. But the gothic style is the third edifice on this site. The first was built and destroyed in the 11th century; the second one, constructed in the 12th century, was destroyed by a fire in 1305. The construction of the current cathedral began in the 14th century. Wawel is considered the most important collection of buildings in Poland.

Wawel Cathedral Inside the Wawel Cathedral Rynel Glowny or the Main Market Square

The Main Market Square is the world's largest medieval market square. Thus, it’s a must-see area of any trip to Kraków. Located in the center of the Old Town, the Main Market Square is alive and bustling with people shopping, dining or simply passing through to someplace else.

Large open square

The Main Market Square surrounded by stunning pastel yellow, and peach buildings, including the 13th-century Gothic Town Hall Tower, is magnificent. On one side of the square, are the unsymmetrical towers of St. Mary's Basilica. If shopping is your thing, then check for souvenirs while perusing the stalls at Cloth Hall. The Main Market square has lovely restaurants and coffee bars with many having outside dining areas. So, you may want to grab a drink, and simply people watch.

Created as the center of Krakow’s commerce, the Main Square is so much more today. There are lots of great restaurants, pubs, and shops in addition to historic places. Ultimately, the Main Market Square and its surrounding areas are a great place to walk. But, If you want to extend the ambiance of Krakow, you can also take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.

Horse drawn carriage Town Hall Tower

The Town Hall Tower is a gorgeously designed architectural structure and is the only remaining part of the city’s original Town Hall. The tower is known for its slight lean, and you can walk through the inside.   Once in the Town Hall, you will find a museum that displays traditional Polish clothing and exhibits that explain the..

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Karolyi Chateau gives travelers a chance to experience living in a bygone era in Hungary. The Karolyi Chateau located in the village of Fehérvárcsurgó, in the west of Hungary, is about 80 kilometers from Budapest. Staying at Karolyi Chateau, you will experience the Hungarian countryside living before WWII. The Karolyi family owned this magnificent stately home from 1853 until the end of WWII. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the house was renovated giving it the central court look it has today, with its semi-circular façade. Modern day comforts such as electricity, central heating, and telephones became part of the home. Sadly after the second world war, the chateau and the surrounding estate was nationalized by the newly installed Hungarian government without compensation.

The Karolyi Chateau Nationalization in Hungary

This true-life story fascinated Keith and I. Now I am sure we learned about some of the things that happened in Eastern Europe after WWII, but that was back in high school. Neither of us remembers learning about nationalization. If you are unaware of this concept, here it is in a nutshell: Shortly after the transfer of power in Hungary to the Soviet-style socialist regime, private property and land became the property of state without compensation. So, the Karolyi family had no more than a few days to pack some bags and flee the country before the government came for their property. The family could stay in Hungary but without a private home or means of income. If they waited, they might not have the ability to exit the country. 

Wenckheim room

The government confiscated big estates and distributed the land among the landless. Sort of a modern day Robin Hood deed to steal from the rich and give to the poor. Consequently, big estates of over 470 hectares went first. But eventually, this land nationalization reached the small family holdings of  94 hectares or more too.

The Karolyi Family Flees

The Karolyi family fleeing Hungary was a young family, the mom, dad, and a six-month-old baby. Subsequently, they fled to Paris. The family left the country in three waves because it was not easy to exit Hungary as a family at this time. Being that, the mom and dad left first under the guise of a tennis competition. Shortly after that, the family nurse traveled to Paris with the six-month baby boy. Then the grandmother followed, thinking she could travel back after a few months visit. But that turned out to be impossible. 

Some of the many antique paintings in the chateau

The Karolyi family’s escape was possible because of the father’s uncle. What's more, the uncle was the first president of the Hungarian Republic in 1920. At the time of the escape, in 1946, he was the Hungarian Ambassador to Paris. He helped the family obtain a visa for France. The idea at the time was that the family would leave Paris for Argentina, but that never happened. The family was able to take three trucks filled with clothes and household goods to start their new life.

A New Life in Paris or Africa?

While living in Hungary, the family made their living from lumber. Seeing that they now live in Paris and own nothing, the family needed to work. The mom was a strikingly beautiful and intelligent woman and not afraid to work to provide for her family. She married into nobility but was not a Nobel herself, so maybe she found working easier than her husband. Her husband did not find work that suited him, a Nobel, so he moved to North Africa to look for something better there. He wanted his family to join him, but the mom had found perfect work for herself in the fashion world of Paris.

Festetics room

First, she worked as a mannequin and as a skirt designer. She created a small “Maison de couture,” later she became responsible for the “prêt-à- porter” at Hermès where she worked for 20 years. Most notably, she was the designer who created the  H logo for Hermès.

By this time the marriage was suffering. In time the parents divorced. 

Change is Hard, but the Strong Survive

Once the father was in North Africa, it did not take long for him to realize he would not be a Nobel in Africa either. Ultimately, he took a job as a night watchman. Then he took a job in a chicken factory. Finally, he joined a company that managed the ship traffic in various harbors. The father worked in Marocco, Mauritania, and Congo returning each year to Paris for a month’s holiday.

The rooms are set up with pictures of the past on other era specific items

After working in Africa for 25 years, he came back and settled in Paris flipping apartments before flipping became a thing. He found love and married again. When retirement rolled around, he had enough money to travel around the world! He began his third life, eventually going seven times to India, traveling to Latin America and Asia. Alas, he had little desire for Hungary. He did travel twice to Budapest after 1989 for opera performances. He had a great appreciation for music, especially opera. Ultimately the soviets era ended, and Hungary became a democracy. But, after living abroad from 1946 to the 1990s, he had no desire to restore his stately home in the Hungarian countryside. 

Georges Karolyi Undertakes a Dream

Now fast forward to 1997, that six-month-old baby, Georges Karolyi, is now a grown man. Even though he left Hungary as an infant, he wants to see Hungary restored to the place it once was. So, he took the lead in the re-birth of the chateau and signed a 99-year lease with the Hungarian government to rent the estate. Therefore, the Hungarian government is the landlord of the property. With his own financial resources and the help of the Hungarian government and the European Union, restoration of the Chateau began. The work lasted for fifteen years but was finally complete in 2011. The decorating of the chateau began in 2013 and was complete in 2018. There are other buildings on the property that need restoration, so this is still a work in progress.

History in pictures The Napoleon Room The Chateau Today

Today the Chateau has twenty bedrooms, several libraries richly stocked with books on the social sciences, eight meeting & conference rooms, a 500 square meter baroque cellar, and a restaurant seating eighty people. I would recommend this chateau as your destination. So spend a few days here and unwind. The grounds are great for walking and are simply lovely. There is a back terrace offering a panoramic view of the valley extending behind the chateau. Without reservation making this a perfect spot for reading or just reflecting. 

Two story library Cellar at the Karolyi Backyard terrace

Keith and I stayed in the lovely Daisy suite. All of the rooms are named; either after the members of the Karolyi family who occupied them or after features of the local landscape. “Daisy” bears the name of the present tenant’s grandmother.

Entering our double-doored room Huge room and lovely bed Sitting area in the room Large bathroom

Dining at the chateau is a treat with its Hungarian and French specialties. Each dish is carefully prepared using only fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Spring though fall you will have the choice of dining inside or on their sheltered terrace beneath the colonnades. The al fresco area offers an outstanding view of the central court with its fountain. We enjoyed having a late afternoon glass of wine on the terrace while we did some writing all while soaking in some of the rays of the sun. The back terrace offers a panoramic view over the valley extending behind the chateau.

Enjoying a glass of wine on the terrace while writing The dining room Outdoor dining terrace Black lentils and zucchini Pork tenderloin A tasty pork belly dish

The Chateau park consists of 50 hectares created at the end of the 19th century by landscape designer János Hain, a prize winner at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1884. The park itself is a historical monument and includes a large number of rare species of trees such as Greek white fir, wild chestnut, black pine, red beech, yew, Turkish hazel, weeping willow and more. Also, there is a  lake, promenades, and bridges.

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Hungary is a beautiful country and Budapest is a must see city if visiting. Budapest, once the cities of Buda and Pest, is a cosmopolitan European capital city. This capital has something for everyone, from intense history and showy architecture to healing thermal waters and a great food scene. Not to mention Budapest is an old city rich in history with a youthful atmosphere. The hotel we chose was a beautiful manor house out in the country, so we decided to rent a car to go into Budapest and make a little road trip through the countryside. Auto Europe is a great rental company when traveling abroad. Most important, they have an easy to use website and search multiple car rental companies for the best deals.

Our AutoEurope rental car St. Stephens Basilica – Largest church in Budapest

On our first full day in Hungary, we decided to take a day tour of Budapest. As you know, we are big fans of private tours, so we hired Ágota Bencze as our tour guide. She is an English-speaking tour guide, full of passion and knowledgeable about Budapest today as well as its history. We spent a full day touring all of Budapest with her, and we learned and saw so much.

One of the many awesome displays of architecture Private Tour of Budapest

We drove into Budapest and met Ágota at the Hotel Gellért. She picked this place because there was free parking nearby along the river. Getting a chance to see this hotel was a bonus. The Art Nouveau style Hotel Gellért first opened its doors in 1918 and has long been an iconic Budapest landmark even featured in Hollywood films. This large stately building also houses the world-famous Gellért Baths, which include an outdoor pool with an original wave-generating device installed in 1927. What's more, many famous people have stayed at the Gellért including American presidents and European royalty. The hotel has an elegant atmosphere of a bygone era.

Gellert Hotel Stain glass inside the Gellert hotel

We met up with Ágota and started our walking tour of the city. We had set aside only one day for Budapest, so we asked Ágota to pack in a lot for the day. The nice thing about a private tour is you can customize it how you want and Ágota graciously accommodated. To demonstrate, we even made adjustments to the plans midday. 

In Budapest, there are eight things that we feel are musts to see and do. They are:

Buda Castle

Our first stop on our tour of Budapest was the Buda Castle. This historic castle and palace complex was home to Hungarian Kings of Budapest. They constructed the castle in 1265, but it underwent many renovations mostly between 1749 and 1769. Historically, they referred to the Buda Castle as either the Royal Palace or Royal Castle. Presently, the castle is home to the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum.

Buda Castle

We walked the grounds as Ágota filled us in on the history. The castle sits on the southern tip of Castle Hill. Comparatively, just to the north is the Castle District, which is famous for it's medieval, Baroque and Neoclassical houses, churches and building. In fact, in 1987, they declared this castle area of Budapest a World Heritage site.

Guards at the palace Fisherman’s Bastion

They built the Fisherman’s Bastion in 1902. It was part of the development to celebrate the 1000th birthday of the Hungarian state. When constructed, it was intended to be a viewing station. Since they no longer used the castle for military purposes, they did not build the Bastion with thick walls like those intended to withstand war times. During World War 2, the Bastion suffered damage from the Germans but was rebuilt and renovated.

The square at the Fisherman's Bastion

The ornate design of the Fisherman’s Bastion makes it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. The design is open, with wide arches for better viewing and wide steps for ease of movement of the many visitors who come here daily. The Fisherman’s Bastion has seven spired towers. Correspondingly they represent the seven founding Hungarian chieftains that controlled this part of Europe that would go on to become Hungary. The Bastion overlooks a small part of the city called Watertown.  Watertown, as it is called today, is where the fishermen of the city lived and worked, so hence the name — Fisherman’s Bastion. From this area today, you can enjoy the panoramic views of Budapest and the river Danube.

Matthias Church

Also located on Buda Hill is the Roman Catholic Matthias Church. This Romanesque style church in dates back to 1015. After much destruction and seizes over the centuries, the rebuilds took on a more Gothic style architecture. They held the last two coronations of Hungarian Kings here. The interior of the church is breathtaking with frescos from floor to ceiling. Together with the pews are hundreds of years old, and you will find medieval remnants throughout.

Matthias Church City Park

A few blocks away is the Budapest City Park. There is a lot more than just a park in this area. It starts with one of the major squares in Budapest, Heroes Square. Firstly, Heroes’ Square is the biggest square in Budapest. Firstly, it is dominated by the Millenary Monument, a 108-foot tall pillar topped by the golden Archangel Gabriel, holding the Hungarian crown and a cross, the square is intended to be symbolic. Hero’s Square is also a World Heritage Site. It’s most noted for its famous statues of the seven chieftains of the Magyars and other Hungarian leaders. Created in the late 1800s, both Heroes' Square and the adjoining city park, commemorate the thousandth anniversary of the Magyar conquest of Hungary in 895.

Heros square The Millennial Exhibition Including Vajdahunyad Castle

Probably one of the loveliest places in Budapest is the Vajdahunyad Castle. Vajdahunyad Castle is part of the Millennial Exhibition of 1896. The castle was designed to feature copies of several landmark buildings from different parts of the Kingdom of Hungary. Hence the buildings are from various periods. As a result, you will find Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture styles. You’ll even find a statue of the famous Hungarian born actor Bela Lugosi who played the original Dracula. In truth, the Vajdahunyad Castle is a great place to walk around, grab a bite to eat and enjoy the entire goings on in the square.

Entrance to the Vajdahunyad Castle

Vajdahunyad Castle is part of the City Park near the boating lake and skating rink. Located on a manmade island in the heart of Budapest very close to Hungary’s national monument, Vajdahunyad Castle offers an unusual contrast to its stately surroundings. 

On our visit, we came across this man playing the violin. Surprisingly, what was unusual was that the violin was just a block of wood and the noise was coming from a whistle type thing hidden inside his mouth. It was very humorous especially when the wind would blow over his music stand.

Wooden block Violinist Szechenyi Thermal Bath

Budapest has the highest number of thermal springs in the world. What's more, seventy million liters of thermal water rise to the earth’s surface daily. Just across the way from Vajdahunyad Castle is the famous Szechenyi Bathhouse. It is the largest medicinal bath in all of Europe. To that end, it has 21 pools. The water supply is from two thermal springs with temperatures of 165 F and 171 F respectively. We didn’t go into the baths but did go in the building. We walked around to see the facilities and they are grand. The outdoor pool was like an oasis in the middle of the city. The water in the thermal pools is high in minerals such as calcium, magnesium and hydrogen carbonate. All thought to be good for pain in the joints, arthritis, and circulation. Besides the pools, they offer other therapeutic services like massages.  

Outdoor thermal pools Hungarian Parliament Building

Budapest has an excellent public transport system. Our guide Ágota bought us transportation day passes, so we hopped on the subway to go across town to visit the Hungarian Parliament building. The Parliament Building is the largest building in Hungary and the tallest in Budapest. This beautiful building is on the banks of the Danube and houses the National Assembly of Hungary. They finished construction of the building in 1904. In fact, the plans for this building came from an 1885 international competition among architects to come up with the best design. Sadly, the winning architect went blind before the completion of the building.

Budapest subway system

They built the Parliament Building in the Gothic Revival style. When you enter the building, you walk up an immense ornamental staircase. What we found most interesting is the building’s symmetry. There are two identical halls on the left and right. Hence they use one for politics and the other for guided tours.

Parliament building

Because of the detail of this building, its size, and the fact that modern air pollution constantly attacks the porous limestone walls it is usually under constant renovation.

Andrassy Gyula statue in Parliament square

Later they built the second and third place architectural contest entries across the way facing the Parliament building. At this time they house the Ethnographic Museum and the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture.

Danube River Cruise

The day was ending, and the sun was setting, but we managed to fit in a Danube river cruise. I think if you are visiting Budapest this is a must!  On the docks are many boats that offer river cruises. Since it was getting late, Ágota (our guide) had to find one that was still running, and after a quick dash down the docks, we found one.

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From the small but lively city of Coca Ecuador, we board a longboat canoe that will take us to our awaiting ship for the Amazon river cruise. The cruise ship can only come so far up the river before the waters are not navigable.

The part of the Amazon we are traveling to has no roads, so travel must be by boat. After the last person boards, we push away from shore. Soon the longboat canoe is gliding along the Napo River (an Amazon tributary) at almost 40 miles per hour zigzagging left and right to avoid sandbars as the jungle view passed by us.

After one and a half hours, the canoe begins to slow, and we see the three-story river cruise ship that will become our home for the next seven nights.

It is late afternoon, and although there are no creatures in sight, we hear the loud hiss of insects.

Exploring the Amazon on an Amazon River Cruise

What were the adventurous passengers and ourselves looking forward to on our Amazon River Cruise? Going deep into the jungle to explore and discover the wonders of the Amazon. To be fascinated by the diversity of wildlife in its entire splendor. Of course, we had friends and family that warned us to be careful of the monstrous insects, flesh-eating piranha, snakes large enough to eat a man and barbaric tribes ready to spear intruders. We saw piranha, a 22-foot snake and indigenous that still used spears, however, it was only the mosquitos that ever worried us.

The Most Ferocious Predator of the Amazon

Speaking of mosquitos, our first defense against these bugs was to try to wear long pants and long sleeves. Most commercial insect repellants contain DEET. DEET is not environmentally friendly. It can be toxic to birds, fish, and aquatic invertebrates especially in the pristine jungle of the Amazon. Our guides actually asked us never to spay even the natural insect repellant while we were in the jungle. So before we would head into the jungle, we would all cover our exposed skin with a plant-based insect repellent. We like EcoRaider Mosquito Repellent. Some people think you need a product containing DEET to keep away the bugs, but EcoRaider worked very well. No bites the entire trip.

Luxury in One of the Most Remote Places on Earth

The Anakonda Amazon River Cruise visits remote areas of the jungle that few have had the opportunity to experience while enjoying the comforts, and services of a boutique hotel. Each day the ship issued an itinerary including the first night.

The Creatures of the Night

After a scrumptious dinner, we boarded one of the motorized canoes and were off into the dark of night. We made our way to land for a nighttime forest walk to observe the forest’s nocturnal activity and experience the thrill of the vivid noises and aromas that only exist after dark. We all donned headlamps, and soon our eyes adjust to the dim light A new world opens up to us. At this time many animals were asleep, but others emerge, making the Amazon their own. Most of the creatures of the night we saw were giant insects and frogs.

Our jungle night walk gave us a chance to see the nocturnal beings of the Amazon Rainforest. In deep darkness, surrounded by loud jungle sounds and with the help of powerful headlamps, we entered a world populated by the unique, diverse and shy creatures of the night.

Up Close with Flesh Eating Fish and Adorable Pink Dolphins

On another day we visited blackwater areas filled with piranha. We saw cute pink dolphins playfully come out of the water. Pink dolphins are toothed, freshwater dolphins that feed on catfish, tetras, and piranhas. The dolphin can be grey, pinkish grey or pink. But when the dolphins get excited, they can flush bright pink, similar to humans blushing. Despite living in small groups, they are curious and outgoing animals, and often interact with humans. The same waters we found the dolphins in is filled with Piranhas. We didn’t know this until we put our underwater camera in to try and capture the dolphin moment. When we previewed the footage of our underwater camera, we were shocked to see hundreds of piranha in the frame.

The locals used to heavily hunt the pink dolphins until they realized they might cause the dolphins extinction. Amazonian people understand the importance of biodiversity. Now instead of eating the dolphins the local tribe of the area provides dolphin education. We even visited an area where we could feed the pink dolphins. The locals have trained the dolphins to come for food when they hear this tapping sound on a pipe submerged in the water.

The chief of the local people enjoyed talking to our group. He and his people love the Amazon. They are the people who used to hunt the dolphins. Now they educate people who travel through this part of the Ecuadorian Amazon. He told us his people treasure the close family relationships they have. 

Animals in the Wild

What is unique about this Amazon river cruise is that you witness the wildlife in their natural surroundings, not a sanctuary or zoo. Sometimes that meant we waited. Our guides, all of who are Amazonian and grew up in this area of the Amazon could spot the wildlife with ease. We visited an area to see pigmy monkeys, it took a little time, but eventually, we were all in awe of these tiny monkeys, on average 5 inches tall, using their insect-like claws to make their way from tree to tree. Pigmy monkeys do not have opposable thumbs. Pigmy monkeys are the smallest monkey and one of the smallest primates in the world. They favor the river-edge forests of the Amazon. These energetic monkeys move behind tree trunks and branches, freezing then fleeing, much like squirrels. It also has brown fur and a long tail similar to a squirrel.

Adorable Friends

Speaking of monkeys, I made a monkey friend on one of our day trips to the jungle. There was this male monkey who many of us were photographing when it was time to start a hike in search of unusual Amazonian plants. I liked the monkey, and I wanted to stay and talk to him. As I talked to the monkey, I edged closer and closer to him. As time went on, he was just as curious of me as I was of him. Similar to approaching an unknown dog I let him smell my hand. In time I was giving him hand massages and back scratches.

By Day Some Creatures Sleep

One morning we set out in the longboat to investigate some tributaries of the Napo River. As we quietly glided along the water, we saw a down tree crossing part of the river. As we approached the tree, we saw that the fallen tree contained tiny sleeping bats. There are numerous species of bats in the Amazon jungle. Of course, at night you can see them fly all over the sky. But in the daytime, some species sleep hanging from low branches or in our case a down tree trunk above the river water. They blended in with the bark of the tree. If our guides didn’t point them out, I’m sure we would have missed seeing them entirely. We did not disturb these resting creatures.

Visit the Parrot Clay Licks

On another day we ventured out before dawn. We set out again in the longboats to observe one of the most incredible sights in Amazon – the Parrot Clay Licks. Parrots, parakeets, and macaws visit the clay licks at dawn and stay about an hour, so it is necessary to get to the area early. Located in the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador, on the Napo River, is one of the biggest parrot clay licks. It’s a natural formation caused by erosion where parrots, parakeets, and even macaws come to daily. This unique place is rich in minerals. Parrots eat a variety of toxic berries and fruits and the minerals the clay contains counteracts the toxicity. The day we visited we saw five different parrot species.

A View Above of the Amazon Canopy

We also visited multiple Amazon communities where we learned about their ancestral culture, traditions, and cuisine. At one such place, we visited a canopy tower, built against a giant Kapok tree. This canopy tower is in the Napo Wildlife Center which is one of the greatest ecolodges of Ecuador’s Amazon Rainforest — carefully designed by the local community, the Kichwa, to provide visitors with great style and comfort.

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Even though Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, it has a small town feel. In the city, you will find winding cobblestone streets and medieval architecture. There is also a fairytale-like castle sitting on a hill overlooking the city. Bratislava is charming and historic so visiting this city is a must while traveling Eastern Europe. 

Bratislava Old Town

We recommend staying in the historic center of town. Even though a stay in the city center does mean that you will have to pull your suitcase along cobblestones since the historic center is pedestrian only. Our cab driver got us as close as possible, but we did need to walk a few city blocks to our hotel. Therefore, if you are in Bratislava for a short trip, a stay in the city center is the only way to get a good feel of the town. 

Bratislava Old Town is quaint, fascinating, and walkable. Most certainly, you can expect it to be bustling in the summer. We were there in August, and so were many other people. The walk areas in parts of Bratislava are narrow. Nevertheless, Bratislava has classic European architecture, numerous stores and lots of restaurants and bars. There are nine things I recommend you see and do in Bratislava, especially if you are a wine lover. 

BratislavaMan Tours

The first thing you need to do is get out and see this small capital city. We love to tour European cities, and we love wine, so we took a Wineries and Old Town Tour with BratislavaMan Tours. Bratislava is the place in Europe for stag parties. Since we are way past those party years, we were concerned that Bratislava was going to be too boisterous. However, we were pleasantly surprised. We saw a few groups that were bachelor parties. The tell-tale sign was that one guy who was walking around town with his friends wearing a pink tutu. BratislavaMan does provide stag parties, but they also do tours for people interested in investigating this capital city.

Our tour was private, just Keith and me. Our guide, Dominika, met us at our hotel, and we were off for the day. We like the flexibility of changing things up if we want too. For example, Keith and I don’t always eat lunch when we are traveling, so it is nice to have the option of eating lunch or not. Just one of the advantages of private versus group tours.

Visit Michael’s Gate

First on the list of things to see in Bratislava is Michaels Gate. Built in the 1300’s Michael’s Gate was the centerpiece of a larger fortification system. Sadly, the gate and two small sections of wall are all that remain of Bratislava’s medieval fortification. It is one of the main entrances to the city’s old town, so you will surely pass under it. Today you will find great shopping and restaurants under Michel’s Gate.

When you approach the Gate heading into old town, you will cross over a pedestrian bridge built in the 17th century. Be sure to look to the left of the bridge, where you will see a small green park surrounded by old buildings. This park is now a quaint summer reading garden. 

Visit Cumil and Have Your Picture Taken with Him

Next, visit Cumil “The Watcher” or the Man at Work Sculpture. It is a bronze sculpture of a man coming out of a manhole. He has been a part of Bratislava since 1997 and is the most photographed statue in Bratislava. Ask anyone where the man at work sculpture is, and they will point you in the correct direction.

Since Cumil is leaning out over a curb, and cars drive on the street where he resides, it comes as no surprise that his head has broken off more than once by careless motorists. In addition, our BratislavaMan tour guide told us that pedestrians who are not watching where they are walking have tripped over him too. 

Visit Wine Not!

By now, you will be ready for a wine tasting. Our tour guide Dominika had a bunch of wine tastings lined up for us. She started us at Wine Not! It was a great place with both indoor and outdoor seating. In addition, they have a huge selection of local artisan wines. In fact, they have the largest selection of Slovak wines in Bratislava. Wine Not also carries a variety of international wines. The owner and the staff are very friendly. 

Wine Not located in the heart of old town Bratislava takes center stage on the main square. We loved sitting on their al fresco terrace drinking a cold Riesling while we people watched and enjoyed some finger foods. The atmosphere is relaxing. Wine Not is a wine shop that also does wine tastings and wine by the glass or bottle. The inside is charming and cozy with enough different wines to keep you busy deciding for hours. 

Visit the Oldest Shop

Also in the old town and worth a few minutes visit is the Oldest Shop in Bratislava. It is a combination gift shop and museum. The oldest shop has the feel of a general store or pharmacy from the turn of the last century. The store has period furniture, signs and even period music playing in the background. In the back of the shop is a small museum with an old cash register.

Visit Trunk Wine Gallery

Our guide took us to the outside edge of the old town to visit another great wine tasting venue, Trunk Wine Gallery. Trunk Wine Gallery is a vinotheque. In Slovak that means wine shop or wine cabinet. The style at Wine Trunk Gallery is ultramodern. Here you taste wine by the glass or by the bottle from around the world. 

Located in a reconstruction era building adds to the modernism of Trunk Wine Gallery. They used the building to set the tone for their style. Trunk is also an art gallery with colorful and black & white modern constructivism paintings on the walls. They have two floors available for cozy wine tasting inside and during the summer they have a couple of patio tables outside as well. We were there on a lovely summer day, so again we chose to sit outside where we would people watch and chat with the passersby.  

The owner of Trunk Wine Gallery is very knowledgeable about wine. We told him the qualities of wines we like, and he came up with wines we had never tried before, and we loved. They also served a great cheese plate with a  whole-grain bread basket.

Visit and Take Pictures of the UFO Bridge

The UFO bridge crosses the Danube River from old town into another borough of Bratislava. The reason for the name UFO Bridge is because the top part of the bridge’s tower is in shaped like a space ship. The space ship tower is actually an observatory deck and a restaurant. The observation deck offers a panoramic view of Bratislava, but unfortunately, we did not have time to go up there.

A Visit to the Castle on the Hill is a Must

Missing Bratislava Castle on your visit is impossible. It is visible from so many places in the city. Take a walk up to the castle. Once there, you’ll have panoramic views of the city, the Danube, and the area surrounding Bratislava. The castle sits on a hill and dominates the city of Bratislava. The castle is old. The first known inhabitants of the castle were the Celts. The castle played a role in a battle between Bavarians and Hungarians. At one point in time, the castle was even part of the Roman Empire.

In the 10th century, Bratislava became an essential part of the growing Hungarian state. Then by the 11th century, there was a stone palace and the Holy Saviour Church. Renovations occurred in the 16th century to reflect the Renaissance style and the 17th century the baroque style.

Since Slovakia gained its independence, the castle is a site for the Slovak Parliament and houses collections of the Slovak National Museum. Furthermore, the museum works cover the development of society in Slovakia from the Middle Ages up to today.

The castle and museum are open for touring, and there is a fee. Finally, check the castle's website for hours as they change throughout the year. 

Just Walk the Streets of Bratislava

If you don’t visit any of the other places, I then recommend to merely walk the streets, take photos, eat some good food, and enjoy a glass of wine. It’s especially great to visit in the warmer months because you can dine and drink outdoors. While walking the streets, you will enjoy the charming Eastern European vibe that the bistros, bars, and restaurants exude.

We’re lucky we had a knowledgable tour guide. As a result, our strolling through the city came with some knowledge of the buildings and other tidbits of information. Bratislava is rich with cultural activities and museums. It was not on our itinerary, but we visited the modern art museum in the old town. Once again a perk of private tours like the one from BratislavaMan Tours.

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The people of Karst Slovenia have been making wines for centuries. The Karst wine region located in the southwestern part of Slovenia is lovely. Affectionately called Kras by locals, northwestern Italy shares the Karst wine region with Slovenia. Karst is one of the few wine regions to share countries. Karst is actually a topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. The Karst region in Slovenia is known for its underground drainage systems, sinkholes, and caves. Karst Slovenia has beautiful limestone cliffs, which are not far from the Mediterranean Sea. If you truly love wine, you must take a tour of the Karst Slovenia wine region.

We took a private tour with Mojca, owner of Amber Tours. She is well connected in wine tourism and can design any Slovenian wine tour you desire. Mojca picked us up in Ljubljana in the morning.  An hour or so later and we were in the picturesque wine region of Karst. During the drive, we learned about the region, its history, culture, and of course, its wines. We told Mojca we were looking for a premium wine tasting tour because we are true wine enthusiasts. We wanted to learn about Slovenian wine, and she suggested we add orange wine to our tasting also. Keith and I looked at each other and said orange wines?  More on that to come.

Wine Tasting Culture

For our first stop of the day, Mojca took us to the boutique Rencel Winery in the city of Dutovlje located in the Karst wine region. We discovered that Josko Rencel, the winemaker and owner is internationally praised for the high-quality wine he produces. It did not take long before we found out why.

Let me back up and paint a picture for you. For Keith and I, our love affair with wine really took hold when we lived in California. We fell in love with visiting beautiful wineries and tasting wine. We’ve tasted from southern California in Temecula to as far north as Napa and everything in between. Besides the great wines we’ve tasted, we love the people we meet. We feel wine tasting is a culture all in its own and that’s why we love it.

The Boutique Rencel Winery

Fast forward to Rencel Winery. We pull up into the driveway of a house. We walk through the gate and into the back yard. The yard had some grass but mostly weeds. A slightly ruffled gentleman who to us, looks more Italian than Slovenian, comes out of the house, greats us in Slovenian and Mojca translates. He is wearing a maroon polo shirt and slacks, and it is obvious by the condition of his clothing that he has been hard at work for hours and it's only 10 a.m.

We take a seat at a picnic table. Keith and I are looking at each other quizzically and thinking what is this? Our host went inside and reappeared with a plate of cheese, a plate of sliced baguettes and a plate of prosciutto that is from a special part of the pig that is mostly fat and a little lean meat. He takes a seat, and his son appears with wine. The tasting and the Karst Slovenia wine region lesson began. What followed is what Keith and I call our “Anthony Bourdain experience.”

Limestone, Iron and the Mediterranean Make for Great Wine

Our wine tasting began with a non-macerated (without skins) Pinot Noir or a white Pinot. As we drank our wine, we learn that the picturesque Karst area of both Slovenia and Italy is mainly farmland with iron-rich soil. We learned that most of the farmers are winemakers. The wines produced in this area are unique since the soil contains a lot of limestone and iron and because of the regional proximity to the Mediterranean. It’s famously known as “terra rossa.” The notable wine of the Karst region of Slovenia is the Teran, a full-bodied red (almost black in color) made from Refosco grapes.

Also grown here are Vitovska Grganja grapes which are an old local grape variety that produces a dry white wine. It is popular in this area because it produces a large cluster of grapes, a substantial crop, and grows well in Karst. And then there is Malvasia which is a Mediterranean grape that grows well in Karst and produces a moderately dry white wine. Also produced in Karst are a few sparkling wines.

After chatting, eating some cheese and prosciutto, and tasting six beautiful wines, a friend of the winemaker pulls his car into the back yard. A tall Serbian man in a crisp white shirt and black pants walks over to the table. He hugs our winemaker, and they talk for a minute. The man introduced to us as Pope takes a seat. Pope’s introduction is the moment the “Anthony Bourdain experience” begins. He is apparently a very good friend of our winemaker. Pope stopped by because he has a new sausage he has discovered and wanted to share with our winemaker and us. More wine flows and stories commence.

Orange Wine

Our guide Mojca and Pope translate whenever Josko speaks. We learn that Pope has a second home not far from Rencel and owns a popular restaurant in Ljubljana called As. Pope also makes wine but on a smaller scale. At about this time we are tasting orange/natural wines. Orange wine was a first for us; we had never seen or tasted orange wine. Orange wines are not wines with scents or hints of orange, but rather they get their name from the orange hue of wine.

Furthermore, as Pope and Josko explain, orange wine is made from white grapes, mashed up and put in large ceramic vessels. The grapes are left anywhere from several days up to a year. They put the whole grape in these ceramic vessels with skins and seeds too. Pope is a huge fan of orange wine. Orange winemaking is a very natural process that uses little to no additives, sometimes not even yeast. Because of all this, they can taste very different from regular white wines.

Keith and I favor reds, but we love all wines. Moreover, after tasting these orange wines, we can continue to say we love them all. So basically, they make orange wines with white grapes but with the skins on similar to red wines. Leaving the skins on gives orange wine a structure similar to reds from the tannins.

Orange Wines May be Trendy, but They are Not New

So how do orange wines taste? They are not as bold as cabernets, however, for white wine; one would say they are somewhat bold. Some of the orange wines we tasted were fruity like apricots, peaches or nectarines. Others had a rich honey flavor, but they were not sweet. All the orange wines we tasted had a velvety mouth-feel, which I love. When I ask a sommelier in a nice restaurant to recommend a wine, I am usually asking for a red, and I ask for one that has a smooth, velvety mouthfeel. Unlike a true white wine, you can drink orange wines cold or at room temperature. However, the suggested best temperature is 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Keith and I thought this was a new wine discovery, but as Pope explained, orange wine appeared over 6,000 to 8,000 years ago, not too far from Slovenia, probably in Georgia. Josko explains winemakers, like himself, are bringing this ancient wine technique of orange wine into the modern age.

Pope explains that people who favor natural wine have embraced these wines. But they are controversial and not for everyone because they can be, well, really odd to our modern palates. So people either love them or hate them. For Keith and I, orange wines are not quite reds and not quite white wine but structured like red wine, and fresh, and we say they are worth investigating. I think most American wine lovers are looking for something new and even though they are not new, orange wines are the new kid on the block in the US. If you find an orange wine in the US especially from the Balkans or the Caucasus regions, try it!

Making New Friends

As our wine tasting progressed, we tasted 16 wines and a port. Josko invited his neighbor over to meet us. His neighbor used to live in California, and so did we. His neighbor came on a vacation to Slovenia over ten years ago and fell in love with the country and has never returned home. Oh, and this guy, ran for governor of Califonia in 1978. Unfortunately, he lost.

So this wine tasting that Keith and thought was a bit sketchy at first turned out to be the best wine tasting ever. We drank great wine, we had a great, lively conversation and we made new friends.

Speaking of new friends, our new friend Pope invited us over to his house to show us his wine cellar. His family was one of the winemakers on the Titanic. He still makes the same wine. We got into Mojca’s car and followed Pope to his home. The house sits amongst his vineyard. The first place we visited was his wine cellar. Like I said he comes from a long line of winemakers. Pope makes much of his wine in clay amphoras. The amphoras buried in the ground in his cellar looked foreign to us. We tasted the wine they served on the Titanic. The batch we tasted was 40 years old. It was actually quite good. Pope makes much of the wine he serves at his restaurant in Ljubljana, and most of that is orange wine.

After touring Pope’s house and cellar, we said our goodbyes and Pope invited us to have dinner with him that evening in Ljubljana at his restaurant As Restaurant. Of course, we said yes! Incidentally, “As” means ace in Slovenian.

Slovenian Lunch

After the first wine tasting, we needed lunch even though by now, it was way past lunchtime. We had lunch at our next stop at a restaurant called the Grad Stanjel. It was a small place not far from the city center of the medieval village of Stanjel. Our lunch made with local ingredients was fabulous. Grad Stanjel uses homemade, genuine and region-specific components, creating dishes you would think their Slovenian grandmas prepared.

A Visit to the Medieval Village, Stanjel

After lunch, we visited the medieval village of Stanjel, one of the oldest settlements in the Karst region. We had a private tour with Tom who is in charge of Stanjel tourism. He informed us that the village has 50 people living there today. This picturesque village on a hill is charming with its quaint and beautiful village center, rows of stone houses and it's Ferrari Garden. The Ferrari Garden is a major landmark in the settlement, declared by Slovenia as a natural park and a national monument.

Once an ancient Roman fort, the village of Stanjel stands proudly atop a hill; its location made it an important settlement in this area since the iron age. Walls built around Stanjel in the 15th century were fortified during the 17th century to defend against Turkish raids. Stanjel served as a base for occupying German troops during the second world war and was heavily damaged by Allied bombing at the end of the war. Since the war, the village has slowly rebuilt.

One of the two big landmarks in the village is the castle of Stanjel. The castle built in the Middle Ages needed reconstruction at the end of the 17th century. The castle remains untouched since that time.  The second major landmark is the Ferrari Garden. The garden, built in the 1920s is located below the village, next to a villa, and houses a small pool with an island connected by a bridge to the shore. The gardens offer great views of the Karst countryside below.

Guerila, Biological Dynamic Wine

After our visit to the historic town of Stanjel, we made our way to another wine tasting at a premium organic Slovenian winery, called Guerila. Organic biological dynamic winemaking is a family tradition at Guerila. Care for the vineyard, and the environment is part of a love story according to the owner.

Guerila is a boutique cellar in the Vipava Valley wine-growing region. Tasting wine in the newly built tasting room with the winery owner, Zmago Petric, was a great experience. It was evident he loves being in the company of passionate individuals and even more so if they are wine lovers. He shared his experiences with us, as we tried homemade cold cuts and, of course, enjoyed great wines.

At Guerila the land is considered family. Because the land is Slovenian, they mainly grow indigenous varietals: Zelen, Pinela, and Rebula. They are also growing some international varietals like Zinfandel. By keeping crops small, Guerila ensures the best expression of the varietals and the land.

The winery with its tasting room and barrel room rivaled any of the beautiful tasting rooms in the U.S.   The owner built Guerila into a hill, to take advantage of the cool natural temperatures inside the earth.  They made a tunnel through the hill to cool the barrel room through a means of automated ventilated doors.

Returning to Ljubljana

With our bellies full of the delicious flavors of Karst Slovenia wine region we returned to Ljubljana. We have dinner plans at Pope’s As Restaurant and our guide Mojka was invited to come with us. On the way back to Ljubljana, Mojka explains that As Restaurant is a Ljubljana institution, having been part of Ljubljana for over 30 years, and she feels Pope is a local Slovenian celebrity.

Dining at As

When we arrive at the restaurant, the staff is waiting for us. We are ushered through the restaurant and upstairs to a lovely huge outdoor dining area where diners are drinking wine, chatting, eating and hoping that Pope will stop for a chat at their table. The three of us take a seat with Pope and shortly after that a waitstaff member appears with a bottle of Pope’s orange wine from his vineyard that we visited earlier in Karst. Pope orders dinner for the table.

A large tree takes center stage in the al fresco dining area where we are seated. Pope explains that the tree has been there forever and that when they built the outdoor dining area, they decided to keep the beautiful old tree. He says the tree symbolizes evolution, tradition, assimilation, and family. The tree has become the main symbol of the As Restaurant. The area is comfortable with a homey feel.

Amazing Food

We started our dinner with a couple of cold starters. First was a perfectly spiced tuna tartare. After the starters,  came three fresh seafood appetizers. Next was a shrimp soup. For the pasta course, we had a lovely four seafood dish with lobster, crab, caviar and bottarga (roe that has been salted, pressed and air dried). Then we moved to some already split Adriatic scampi. For the main course, we had an oven baked Adriatic wild fish. All of the food was fantastic. Needless to say, we did not leave hungry. Our dinner paired with an orange wine was the perfect way to end a perfect day.

At the restaurant, Pope serves simple dishes made with high-quality ingredients. He always uses fresh Adriatic fish and first class aged charcuterie. When I said his dishes are simple they are, for seasoning his dishes; he uses olive oil and sea salt and occasionally some fresh herbs.

Karst Slovenia

Karst Slovenia is a lovely area.  Nestled in the northwest corner of Slovenia with its rolling hills, limestone, and proximity to the Mediterranean Sea makes Karst a prime wine region. If you are a wine enthusiast, you must take a tour of the Karst Slovenia wine region. And we highly recommend Amber Tours with their vast experience of the region and knowledgable guides. And best of all, you don’t have to worry about driving. Instead, you can simply enjoy the wines.

Be sure to read Unique and Exciting Thing to See and Do in Slovenia

Check out this video highlight of the trip

Enjoy Amazing Wines in the Beautiful Karst Slovenia Region - YouTube

The post Enjoy Amazing Wines in the Beautiful Karst Slovenia Region appeared first on Retire Early and Travel.

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Slovenia is an amazing country, and if it’s not part of your future travel plans, it should be. It is probably no coincidence that Slovenia has the word love in it. This small boutique country, in the heart of Europe, no pun intended exudes love in so many ways. To begin with, Slovenia is the first country in the world to be declared a green destination based on the Green Destinations Criteria. Caring for the environment is a priority of every Slovenian. In fact, one in every two hundred people, and growing, in Slovenia is involved in beekeeping. What a great way to help the planet!

We decided to visit the east side of Slovenia. Given Slovenia’s small size, it is easy to drive to most places for a visit in a day. In Slovenia, there are many diverse things to see and do. There’s something for everyone’s taste.

We have a recommendation for a complete, full day of amazing touring in Slovenia. We suggest visiting Postojna Cave, Predjama Castle, climb Gonjace Lookout Tower and finish the day with a wine tasting at Edi Simcic Winery. Because getting to all of three places can be difficult, we recommend a private tour with Ride Around Tours. They customized this tour just for us when we were in Slovenia. We had the full attention of our guide, and we could decide on how much time we spent at each place. In addition, while our guide drove, she would discuss the wonders of Slovenia. One of our favorite things to do when we travel is to talk to a local so when we drove, there was never silence. The advantages of a local guide. Here is some insight into our recommendations:

Postojna Cave

We visited the Postojna Cave, otherwise known as the “Queen of the Underground World.” Let me tell you this 2 million-year-old cave system is jaw-dropping. Postojna is the largest cave we have ever toured. When you enter, they give you the opportunity to rent a coat. They warn you just how cold it is in the cave. The temperature is a constant 50 degrees F with a humidity of 95%. We had our own warm coats, so we were prepared.

The huge caverns are some distance from the entrance, but they have a small electric train system that transports you back to the walking area. We traveled on the train for about 15 minutes before entering the huge open cavern. We disembarked the train and joined the group for the tour.

Tiny droplets of heavy mineral water shaped the fascinating subterranean paradise that is now Postojna Cave for over a million years. There are many cave formations and diverse fauna. Postojna Cave boasts towering mountains, murmuring rivers and vast subterranean halls. The cave is home to the famous magnificent five-meter-tall bright-white stalagmite called Brilliant.

The cave first opened as a tourist destination in 1819. In 1884, they added electric lights. The rails came in 1872. At first, the guides pushed the cars along the rails. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that they introduced a gas locomotive to take tourist back into the caverns. Then in 1945, the locomotive became electric.

Used in World War 2

During World War 2, German-occupied forces used the cave to store aircraft fuel. At one point, the Slovenian resistors destroyed the depot resulting in a fire that burned for seven days. Another interesting fact is that the world’s first “cave” post office resides in Postojna Cave.

There are 15 miles of underground passages, galleries, and halls in this relatively young discovery of only 200 years ago. The cave is open 365 days a year but their hours vary by month so check there site before making your plans to visit. One cavern is large enough to hold a concert, which they have throughout the year. There is a fee for this 1.5 hours guided tour.

Baby Dragons

In the Postojna Cave lives, a very unusual animal called an Olm. Olms are unusual even in their appearance: they have long snake-like bodies, with a length of 10-12 inches. Their length makes them one of the largest cave predators. Their skin is pale and pink in color and looks almost translucent. They have small short legs with three digits on their forelimbs and two on their hind feet. The Olms move around the water by snake-like twisting of their bodies, assisted by the legs. They breathe with external gills and rudimentary lungs. They have no eyes, but they can “see” with the help of skin receptors. These creatures are very good at sensing their prey and their skin very sensitive to light. They can go without food for up to twelve years and have a lifespan of up to 100 years.

The cave has some of these beautiful creatures in an aquarium type enclosure allowing you to see them easily. For the olm’s comfort and safety, they do not allow flash photography.

Predjama Castle

A few miles from Postojna Cave is the Predjama Castle. This dramatic castle is an impregnable medieval marvel perched in the middle of a 5000-foot high cliff for more than 800 years. Behind the largest cave castle in the world, there is a network of secret tunnels, from where the knight Erasmus of Predjama would set out on his plundering expeditions. The tunnels included a vertical shaft that leads to the outside of the castle, which they built to supply food to the castle during times of enemy siege.

The castle is an amazing piece of gothic architecture that they built specifically to make access difficult. They featured the castle in a Jackie Chan movie and a Ghost Hunters International episode because of its paranormal activity.

The Legend of Erasmus

Erasmus was a 15th-century robber-baron who, like Robin Hood, stole from the rich to give to the poor.   The cave below the castle is part of the 14km Predjama cave system. Erasmus carried out his plundering with the help of a secret passage that led out from behind the rock wall. During the wars between the Hungarians and the Austrians, Erasmus supported the Hungarians. The Austrians did not forget this. The Austrians killed Erasmus after a very long siege. According to legend, one of his men betrayed him. They got word to the enemy when he would use the bathroom. The bathroom located in the small-detached building to the left of the castle is where the enemy decided they would get Erasmus. The bathroom was a very vulnerable location. While Erasmus was using the toilet, the enemy shot a canon at the latrine, and that was the demise of Erasmus.

The world’s largest cave castle, listed as one of the Guinness World Records, tells a picturesque story about the times when comfort had to give way to safety. It is so special and unique; it ranks among the ten most fascinating castles in the world, and so romantic that many couples choose it for their wedding vows. When in Slovenia, If nothing else visit Predjama Castle for the great pictures. There is a fee to tour the castle.

Italy is so Close

It is strange to us how countries in the Schengen Area don’t have protected borders. Our guide pointed this out to us that while I was standing in Slovenia and Tina was standing in Italy. If you looked carefully, you would see a plaque on the ground that shows the border. If you look closely, you will see some of the old border walls that once stood and separated the two countries. The only way you would know what these were are from the plaques that describe what they used to be.

We were in the town of Nova Gorica. Originally, they split a single town Gorizia/Gorica between Italy and what was then Yugoslavia following World War II. The barrier, which divided relatives and friends for decades made people anxious. The people of each town began to fear the other. The fear was due to the tense atmosphere between the East and West in the 1950s.

Back in 2004, they removed the fence, which was one of Europe’s last symbols of the Cold War-era division. It took more than a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall for this barrier that separated families to come down. Since 1947, this barrier separated the Italian town of Gorizia from its Slovenian sister Nova Gorica. Slovenia’s decision to join the EU was the factor that made all of this possible.

Today freewill determines whether Slovenian’s or Italian’s cross the countries border. Many Italians and Slovenians in the towns of Gorizia/Gorica are friends and family.  However, I am sure there are still those who are fearful of the open border.

Gonjace Lookout Tower

 Gonjace Tower located in the stunning region of Brda Slovenia is a great place to visit for 360-degree views of rural Slovenia. Brda with its rolling hills, vineyards, charming old villages will remind you of Tuscany. The lookout tower Built-in 1961 is 75 feet tall. There are 144 steps to get to the top. The tower located on the hill Mejnik above the village of Gonjace provides amazing views. They dedicated the tower to the 315 victims of World War II who lived in the area.

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