Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Lake Bled clockwise or counterclockwise?

We returned the rental car to Zagreb and took a train north to Lake Bled. Train travel is SO nice.

We knew it was 2-3 miles from the train station to our apt. in Lake Bled, but it was a beautiful day and we were getting very used to walking. What a view! Luckily there was a bike path almost the whole way, otherwise we would have needed to stick out our thumbs because traffic on the road was a bit much.

Every apartment, hotel, B&B and simple room for rent has been up multiple flights of stairs. We're getting quite a lot of exercise this trip!

After getting settled in, we walked just a couple more blocks to the shore of Lake Bled.

The extra benefit was that our apt had a shared deck. We couldn't quite see the lake from there, but we could see the castle on the rock.

Jim got up early in the morning to get this time lapse of the sunrise hitting the castle.
If you're ever going to Lake Bled, we recommend the place we stayed. It even had really good Wi-Fi
You know why we like vacations? The hardest decision you have to make is "Clockwise? or Counter-Clockwise?" We were only here for one day and we knew we wanted to take the walk all the way around the lake.

We ended up going counter-clockwise just because that's the way our feet took us, no decision made at all. I'm glad we went that way because it meant we did the hike up to the castle early - before it got hot and before we got tired. We easily made it the rest of the way around the 3 miles because it was flat.

There was an artist, Bobbi, set up at this spot on the lake. We bought one of his little paintings of this church, then he painted our caricatures on the back.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Geeks teach anyone, anywhere

Our tag line is "Teaching old dogs new tricks" because we primarily teach older folks about using these newfangled smartphones. The young folks seem to know everything intuitively! So, we find it quite thrilling when we can teach a millennial something!

When we visited Plitvice Lakes there were hundreds of tourists. At one point we had to wait in line to board a boat and the wait was nearly an hour. Luckily there was a young American couple from California right in front of us. We got to talking and eventually it got around talking about using our phones to translate Croatian into English. We told them of a couple instances where we used Google Translate, just by pointing at a sign and it dynamically translated. In a surprised tone of voice they said, "we didn't know you could just point camera at signs, We learned something!

So we gave them a sticker!
Here's your sign:

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Not 1, or 2 but 3 trip-of-a-lifetime experiences in one day

We had heard about Plitvice Lakes National Park from our friends Don and Kim of Harvest Hosts - they actually RV'd thru much of Croatia - as well as many other countries. After hearing about their experiences, we considered renting an RV while we were there, but it would only be for a few days and RV rentals are quite expensive as we found out. (e.g. see SloveniaCamper.com) So, Jim did a bit of studying our options, the calendar, and a map and we decided to rent a car for a few days.

We left Vinkovci and traveled by train back to Zagreb where we rented a car. It was very easy - the rental office was just a block from the train station. They spoke English. We needed to show our passport, Jim's Florida driver's license, and a credit card. They pre-authorized the card for $900 as a damage deposit. When we brought the car back undamaged, that was cancelled and the cost was about $150 for 3 days. We filled the tank once - about $60. After much calculation (litres vs gallons, Kuna vs Dollars) I figure the gas was about $5.20/gallon. One interesting thing the car did to save fuel is to turn off when you're stopped at a light. If the rental place had not told us about this, we would have thought something was really wrong when we stopped at the first light! But, as soon as Jim let up on the brake, the engine came back to life. Actually pretty cool, no idling - just on or off.

The first hour or so was on Croatia's one toll road that is fairly new and it was wonderful. Even after we left the toll road, the conditions were great. First stop would be Plitvice Lakes national park with its scores of waterfalls. But, it was getting late in the day, we would need to stop somewhere for the night and go to the park the next day.

I searched on Google Maps, and then Booking.com while Jim was driving and found a B&B in Grabovac for $39. The hardest part about finding places to stay is the last 100 yards ... actually finding them. Since they aren't large hotels, there are no big signs. And, this one happened to be mislabeled in Google Maps. After driving back and forth a few times and calling the phone number provided, we made it. She asked if we would like some coffee. We said, No - but if you could guide us to where we could get some wine, we'd be very appreciative. She responded, "I think I may have a bottle of local wine here somewhere." Wow - now that's service!

1. Plitvice Lakes National Park

The next morning we were up and on our way to Plitvice National Park. It was only a 15 minute drive. It's a very popular place - long lines at the entrance and waiting for the boat that crosses a lake. But it's also quite large and there were plenty of trails where we could walk and be the only ones.

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Beautiful turquoise water everywhere

Chris' creation - an animated gif made from an iPhone Live Photo

Jim's masterpiece, using the "waterfall" setting on his Samsung Camera 2

2. Nikola Tesla's Home and museum

Less than an hour west of Plitvice is where Nikola Tesla was born, Smiljan, Croatia. Nikola Tesla is a Geek's Geek. Arguably the father of modern technology - alternating current electricity, wireless radio,

In case you don't know, Nikola Tesla was a genius in the field of electricity. Some call him the inventor of alternating current. His home and museum were fabulous.
Nikola Tesla birthplace and museum
A beautiful spot in Smiljan, Croatia and a replica of Nikola Tesla's experimental lab from Colorado Springs

We got a live demonstration of this Tesla Coil, where it electrified the air enough that Jim could hold a flourescent tube in his hand and it lit up without being plugged in to anything. 

3. Drive to Croatian coast

After being entertained and fascinated at Tesla's museum, we got back on the road and Jim drove over the coastal range of Croatia. It was rather late in the day which gave us splendid sunset views as we came over the crest. Just gorgeous.

You drive thru a tunnel at the crest of the coastal range. When we emerged on the western side, we gasped at this view!

Coming down the western side of the mountains, we ended up in the town of Karlobag, just in time for sunset.

We struck up conversation with these friendly mountain climbers from Hungary. One of them spoke great english. We took their photo, so they took ours!

It's electric!
We had no place to stay for the night. While we're driving, we figure we can find a B&B or some kind of hotel or room just by stopping and looking around. Jim stayed with the car because the parking lot had a payment meter that only took coins and we didn't have the right coins - what do you do? Anyway, I walked a couple blocks, noticed a sign with the symbol that meant room to rent, and knocked on the door. The woman who answered spoke not one word of English and I spoke not one word of Croatian, but somehow with sign language and money, we were able to make the arrangements. She said we could park inside their gate on the grass - it was tight, but Jim made it. The room was nice, it had a microwave and a hot water maker. We could drink our morning coffee on the lovely terrace in the morning.
When we left, she would't let us go until she had picked some fresh rosemary and lavendar from her yard. So, I call her the Lavendar lady.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Vinkovci, Croatia - Jim's Story

How we organized our month in Europe

When Chris told me we were going to Italy and had a month to spend traveling, my sense of exploration kicked in.

I’ve always wanted to go to Italy. The solution to that was Chris’ Writer’s Retreat in Tuscany. I always wanted to visit the old country of my Grand-Pop Guld.

We decided to have flexibility within structure. We arranged for the flights into Florence May 18 and out of Milan June 20 and a couple of city tourist things on the way in and out of Europe. We got a Eurail Pass for Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia.

  1. May 18, Fly into Florence
  2. May 21-28 Chris' writing workshop in Tuscany
    ?? visit Vinkovci, Croatia
  3. June 18, Fly out of Milan
  4. June 19, one day stopover in Berlin

That was the structure. My task was to maintain connectivity for work.

I figured I could ad-lib the visit to Vinkovci, Croatia by rail between Chris’ workshop in Tuscany and our flight home from Milan. Google Maps is a great way to plan a free-wheeling trip. It’s easy to change a route. It would be nice if it synced with a calendar, though. Eurail has a Rail Planner app for the phone. I searched for a route from Castiglion Fiorentino to Vinkovci. Central Italy to Eastern Croatia. We already visited Florence on the way to Tuscany. Let’s add in Venice and Trieste on the Adriatic and a bus to beautiful Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, because that’s the best way to continue the train rail to Vinkovci.

Our friend, Marie York happened to be in Venice while we were in Tuscany. We stay in touch with her on Facebook. We asked for a recommendation for lodging in Venice. She suggested the place she stayed. I found the location on Google Maps. Getting more information right in the app, I made the reservations for a couple of nights and we extended one extra night after we got there.

Trieste is a busy city on the Northern Adriatic coast with lots of history under several governments. We learned that most of the countries we visited were younger than our own USA. We had a beautiful room with good WiFi in a B&B. Porporella.

We began to learn how to navigate the complexities of the transportation system, sometimes more successfully than others. A bus was required to get from Trieste to Ljubljana.

Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia. It is absolutely stunning. We got an apartment with good WiFi and a clothes washer. Buying detergent was an adventure. It’s these experiences that make for a memorable trip.

We decided to go directly from Ljubljana to Vinkovci. Train travel is wonderful in Europe. This old town is a lot different from the earlier stops. There were fewer people who spoke English. It was funny, the information on the apartment I booked said, “We speak your language.” That was great as long as your language was Croatian!

We struggled through it with the indispensable help of the Google Translate app. I downloaded several languages for offline access.

The WiFi was fantastic in our Vinkovci apartment. Good enough for a Facebook Live event. Connectivity was barely usable to pretty good for most of our trip. My Project Fi Pixel phone had the best data at $10/GB. Chris used her iPhone 7 on T-Mobile with free 2G data. We purchased a SIM card for our time in Italy and used it for 3G data. WiFi was generally best in the apartments we stayed in, a little less in the B&Bs and least in hotel stays.

Grand-Pop Guld was from Vinkovci, Croatia

Grand-Pop Guld in Vinkovci circa 1910

Family histories and documents agree that my father’s father, Johann Jacob Guld (1881-1963), emigrated from what was then part of Austria-Hungary in 1912. He returned to Vinkovci to serve in the military and re-emigrated to the USA, became a naturalized citizen and raised a large family in New Jersey. My dad was the 4th of 8 siblings.
Pop Guld's journey in about 1914. The furthest right marker is Vinkovci

I didn’t expect to find any living relatives there. I wasn’t even sure how to start looking for family information. Our room was directly across the street from the city hall. We inquired there first. One of the gentlemen there was very knowledgeable about the history of the area. He said records were a mess as the city had been through four different governments and several wars since Pop Guld lived and left there. They did recommend the Vinkovci Museum. That was fantastic. Don't you think these hats on exhibit look like the hat on Grand-Pop Guld?

We met Danijel Petković, the director of the museum.

He offered to check into the Guld name in his records. Here is what he sent:


There are definitely family references in there.

The experience was profound for me. I’m starting to understand the fascination of genealogy. Not enough to be serious about it, though.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

East to Vinkovci

Be sure to see our Photo Album - days 19-21 for lots more pictures from Vinkovci.
Also stay tuned for a post by Jim talking more about our experiences where his grandfather lived.

We had originally planned to stay a couple days in Zagreb, the Capitol of Croatia, before traveling on to Vinkovci. But we got anxious to visit this town that Jim knew of because of his grandfather. So we took our longest train ride so far, about 6 hours, from Ljubljana past Zagreb and all the way to the eastern edge of Croatia - almost to Serbia.

I had downloaded all of Rick Steve's audio segments on anything to do with eastern Europe so Jim and I could listen to them on the train with no internet required. We learned a lot.

Jim had booked us another apartment here and it was great. All white, sparkling clean, fully equipped kitchen, bathroom with washer, bedroom and walk in closet! And ... the Wi-Fi was really good: 4Mbps down, 2 up.

We were here for 3 nights, so we decided to take advantage of the kitchen for some of our meals. Google Maps told us there was a grocery store about 1/2 mile away. Sure enough!

Now the hard part is understanding what things are. Google Translate helped a lot here. Just open the app, tap the camera icon and focus on whatever you want to translate - you can read the translation right on the screen!
What a treat to have a home cooked meal when you're so far from home!

We also put the internet connection to good use! We got our June newsletter out, published an encore episode of What Does This Button Do, and even did a Facebook live session.

Facebook Live session from Vinkovci

For some unknown reason the live broadcast ended at just a few minutes. So, we started another one: