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:

Tuesday, June 06, 2017


It's really not that hard to pronounce ... The j is used like a y. So it sounds like lee-oob-lee-ah-na. The accent is at the ah.  We saw one road sign that simplified the spelling to Lubiana :-)
When we planned this trip, all we knew was that we wanted to spend a couple weeks in Italy, then travel west to Vinkovci, Croatia, where Jim's grandfather was born. We didn't even realize that there's this whole other country, Slovenia, in between the two. 

We had knowledgeable help with our basic plans from our travel agent, Liz, of Dolphin Travel in Fort Lauderdale. I've known Liz many years thru membership in Women's Executive Club. She arranged for our Eurail pass and she recommended the 2 country, 10 travel days, pass. But, uh-oh, we're actually traveling thru 3 countries. That's ok, she said because Slovenia/Croatia count as one! And, she said, I think you should stop in Ljubljana, it's the Capitol of Slovenia and there's lots to see. 

Thank you Liz! You were so right. 

Although Liz made all our basic arrangements, flights, rail pass, and hotels upon arrival and departure, we left all the details in between wide open. Jim mostly used trip advisor and to find places to stay. In Ljubljana, he found our first "apartment." How great! It had a bed, couch, desk, bathroom/shower, a kitchenette, and even a washing machine so we could do our laundry. All this for 40 euros-about $50/night. And it was 1/2 block from the river and the old town, less than a mile from the bus/train station. It wasn't pretty or charming and it didn't have a view, but it was clean and functional. And it had free Wi-Fi that was pretty good - 2Mbps down, 1 up. Jim originally booked two nights, but we added a third when we found we enjoyed Ljubljana so much. 

Our apartment is n the gray building just ahead of Jim

We traveled to Ljubljana by bus from Trieste. Using google maps to guide us, it was a beautiful walk from the bus station, along the river, to our apartment. We arrived about 5pm and immediately made arrangements to take the river cruise.

One of the sights that were pointed out to us were the glasses encased woken boxes that sprouted in several places on the grassy slopes of the riverbank. These boxes hold books. It's a lending library on the honor system. Take one, leave one. Read lots. Ljubljana is a UNESCO City of Literature. How cool is that. 

We also saw these lending libraries during our walk thru the beautiful Tivoli park. I'd love to come back sometime, just hang out, and read books!

Slovenia is a Slavic country. The language sounds so very different from Italian - so close in geography. I could imaging being able to learn Italian, given enough time. Slovenian - no way. The only word I learned was Thank You = Hvala and it is pronounced more like kevala. Luckily most people we met spoke some English. Not much though, and there were many - even in the restaurants - who spoke no English. This is well off the American tourist path. We used our Google translate app a lot. We even downloaded the Slovenian language so we could use it offline.
See our newsletter article

Monday, June 05, 2017

Now THAT'S a Castle

Look up from anywhere in Ljubljana and you'll see the castle watching over you. From the moment we walked into town, we knew that one of the things we had to do is walk up that hill to see the Ljubljana castle, and the view of town from the castle.

it was a pretty steep trail, but it was paved and had a handrail most of the way, so it was no problem. We had gorgeous weather and beautiful views. We usually are content to just walk around castles like this - the main point is the view. For this one we decided to pay the entrance fee and go inside. I'm SO glad we did. They've obviously spent a lot of resources restoring this site.

Would you believe there was a puppet museum inside? Me neither. But there was. Apparently, puppetry was part of castle life and entertainment here in Ljubljana. It was a fun museum, with hands-on exhibits. Jim got into it.

We walked thru room after room after room, a chapel, the prison, the well with a secret escape route. The prison was diabolical - just a deep pit. Prisoners were lowered into this pit with rock walls at least 30 feet high. There was no way out, and no roof - they were at the mercy of the weather. and no toilet, just 12X12 of dirt with 30 foot high walls. I wonder how many survived.

We thought this was going to be a 1-2 hour walk, we ended up taking most of the day. Luckily there were not one, but two, restaurants in the courtyard this castle! We had worked up a mighty thirst.

The highlight was walking up to the top of the tower to get the 360 degree view of the city. It was a very sturdy, circular staircase that takes you to the top. And - back down. There was a separate spiral staircase that was for going down. This was very handy because it was quite a popular destination. I think a tourbus of Japanese people were just ahead of us!

The two staircases made for a fascinating double-helix arrangement.

There were several stops to take in the views along the way.

Then you got to the top

Rather than walk back down, we took the Furnicular

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Sunday, June 04, 2017

European Lifestyle

If I were ever to get interested in "birding" it would not be for the sightings, but for the singing. Every morning since we've been in Europe, we've awakened to a delightful sound of birdsongs. I don't think it's because there are more birds here or that they sing prettier, it's because they don't have airconditioning. Or at least the places where we've stayed have not been airconditioned. So we sleep with the windows open and are able to hear their beautiful melodies.

Years ago, I went on a trip with Mom to the Amazon. We went with a  guide thru the jungle for the specific purpose of learning about the exotic birds. We didn't see a one, but the guide kept cocking his head and saying, "Listen, that's a _______" He knew all the birds by their sound.

We've also gotten up close and personal with birds here at our dinner table! We love the sidewalk cafes, but the outdoor dining brings unwelcome guests!

Speaking of sidewalk cafes ... the best were in Venice. Any tiny little kitchen could simply stick a couple of tables outside and voila! they have a cafe. This is because there weren't any cars! None, nada, zilch, nessun. On the island of Venice (yes, I guess everyone but me knew it was an island) there are no cars allowed, no motorbikes, no scooters, not even any bicycles. We did see a couple of kids on skateboards, but I'll bet they were just scofflaws.

We are now in Ljubljana, Slovenia. There are plenty of cars, motorbikes, and bicycles here, but there are still large swaths of city blocked off for pedestrians only. The historic area, the tourist area, the area all around the river. It's beautiful. It makes eating such a pleasure. It helps that we've had perfect weather. I don't know what they do about their restaurants when it rains.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

I do not speak Italian - Miramare

Google translate is very helpful. We're trying to learn, but most everywhere we go there is someone who speaks English.
At one restaurant, we ordered the Zuppa di Mare (fish soup / seafood stew.) When it arrived, I said,"I know what this is - Cioppino!
We've had great Cioppino in Oregon at Moe's. It looked an awful lot like this dish here in Trieste, Italy. we loved the Cioppino at Mo's Chowder and we loved the Zuppa di Pesce here in Italy. I decided to ask our server what was the difference. I expected that it had something to do with tomato base vs butter and wine.

Our server had no idea what we were talking about, so he went and found another server who spoke more English. She also was befuddled but was willing to hang in there long enough to understand what we were asking.
The problem is they never heard of a dish called Cioppino. In the states we are definitely led to believe that  Cioppino is an Italian dish, but our server said that cioppino means a hair clip!

In any case it was delicious. And the mussels are grown right there. From our vantage point at the restaurant, we could look out on the Adriatic sea and see the rows of floats marking where the screens are where the mussels are farmed.

Here's where we were, just north of Trieste. We're still in Italy here, but just barely. The marker is at the restaurant pictured above.

We were here to see the Castle Miramare. It was a crowded bus ride from our B&B in Trieste.

But it was Oh-So-Worth-It

Friday, June 02, 2017


Most of our readers have probably been to Venice and know more about it than we do. All I can say is that we loved it every bit as much as anyone we've talked to. We stayed in a great place right in the middle of everything. 10 minutes from St. Mark's square, 10 minute walk from the Rialto bridge, and just 2 minute walk to where the water bus #2 picks you up and takes you along the Grand Canal to the train station.
How did we find this place? Because of Facebook. Our friend, Marie, was visiting Venice just the week before - that would have been so great if we could have met up, but such was not the case. We did contact her though and asked where she was staying and if she recommended it. Yes, and Yes!
A hotel named San Samuele. What a find! Thanks Marie.

The rest of the story is told in pictures.

You get off the train, walk thru the station and see the Grand Canal - the main thoroughfare of the city. This iconic sight brought tears to my eyes. It is a fairy tale. And we are here.

One day's walk as recorded by Google Maps. 

Yep! We went kayaking! See

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Sunday, May 28, 2017 Writing Retreat in Tuscany

I knew I would love it, and I did.
9 days of writing to prompts by Cary guided by the Pat Schneider book: Writing alone and with others

8 people sitting around a circle, writing, then reading, then reacting. I feel so enriched after this experience. If living means receiving sustenance and getting exercise, my mind has been fully alive this week. It is rare, if ever, in our day to day lives that we get to receive such insights into the inner thoughts, feelings, and experiences of a diverse group of people. I heard those thoughts, feelings, and experiences through well-crafted written pieces. We even discussed submitting our pieces for Cary to put into a book. One of my pieces is published in this blog post: What you would see if you were here.

The purpose of the workshop is for writers to "find their voice." Each writer necessarily gets to be part of the process of the others finding theirs. I just can't conceive of anything more enriching than that: finding my voice and helping others find theirs. 
Here is a sampling of the prompts that would get us started writing:
  • The truth is ...
  • Why reading?
  • Is this the right room?
  • Write a love letter, letter of complaint, or letter of resignation using only one syllable words
  • Looking thru the keyhole ...
  • Describe a time you escaped ...
  • What do I want?
We wrote for 15 to 20 minutes on each prompt, then whoever wanted to read aloud did so and we would all discuss their piece. Usually everyone read, but you were free to "pass" and we all took advantage of that at least once.

Residence Le Santucce, in Castiglion Fiorentino, Tuscany, Italy

Reflection of the view from our workshop space

Our workshop space
The setting was like in a dream world. Outdoors overlooking a view of Tuscany. The weather was perfect. Cool enough for a sweater much of the time, afternoon sun making you shed that sweater. We had morning sessions from 9:30 to 12:30, then free time until 4, when we met again for 2 hours. During our free time we usually got together at a local restaurant for a meal. One day we all piled in a van, driven by Alfeo, the owner of the Residence Le Santucce where we all were staying and where the retreat is held. Alfeo joyfully shows us around. This is his neighborhood. His family has been living here for so many generations that he can't count them - he just says "forever." 

One day we skipped the afternoon session and took a road trip to Assisi, immersing ourselves in beauty. That trip needed a separate blog post: More beauty per minute than is safe ... Assisi

The next day it was back to writing. It felt really good. I wrote a lot. It almost tired me out. At the end of each day, Jim was waiting ...
Jim and I would share some wine on our private terrace at the end of the day.

Then we would join the group for wonderful meals at local restaurants.
While I wrote, I didn't worry about Jim. He enjoyed just being in this delightful place. I think he appreciated having me out of the way so much of the time so he could just relax and do whatever he wanted, including making plans for the rest of our trip. We planned a month here in Italy and Croatia. The writing retreat is just the first week. And, of course, we were together for meals. 
Louisella and Jim at breakfast. Louisella is the daughter in the family that owns Le Santucce. 
The rest of the breakfast room. Louisella always brewed American coffee, but she would also make you a capuccino or expresso. She laid out a full table of goodies every morning: pastries, fruit, yogurt, meats and cheeses. 

I rarely refer to myself as a writer, so why did I come to a writer's retreat? Because I can. Because I like to write. Because I know Cary Tennis (we graduated in the same class at Nova High School in Fort Lauderdale), Because it's in Tuscany! Because I respect and admire Cary's writing so much. Because I had been to a short workshop with Cary in Florida and knew how non-threatening the process is. Because maybe, just maybe, I am a writer.

Friday, May 26, 2017

More beauty per minute than is safe ... Assisi

Do you want to take an afternoon off and go on a road trip to Assisi? Alfeo will drive.
Alfeo is the owner of the Residence Le Santucce. He is an engineer by trade and he is responsible for restoring this beautiful old monastery to its current condition. Thank you Alfeo!
Norma is Cary's wife. They run these workshops as a team. Cary is the workshop leader, the writer, Norma does everything else. We count on her to translate our desires into reality, and our English into Italian. Here are Alfeo and Norma collaborating:

After our writing session in the morning we all pile in his van and take a day trip to Assisi. I am still in disbelief about the ancient wonder that is our "home" medieval town of Castiglion Fiorentino. I am about to learn that there are many such towns in Tuscany.
I'm shaking my head as I think about how to describe this ... it's just so unbelievable. We left after our morning session of writing, and before we returned to the residence at near midnight, we had:
  • Seen a beautiful lake - Tasimeno - with a boat taking tourists to islands in the middle of the lake and restaurants, playgrounds, and shops along the shore
  • Visited the church of Santa Maria Degli Angeli This is a large church housing a small church. The small church is where St. Francis di Assisi lived and died
  • Visited Assisi - the ancient, holy, town on a hill where St. Francis is from
  • Went inside the Basilica di St. Francis in Assisi where he is entombed and where there are medieval painted frescoes by Giotto depicting the life of Christ and St. Francis
  • Visited Cortona - the town on a hill made famous by the novel Under the Tuscan Sun
  • Visited a Monastery called Le Cella built into the side of a hill, surrounded by gardens and pine forests
  • Visited the Church of Santa Margarita
  • Had dinner Italian family style, at Restaurant Nessun Dormo in Cortona

Lake Trasimeno
Cary Tennis watching a trail of thoughts scurry by on the shores of Lake Trasimeno

Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli PG. In the valley below Assisi. This is where St. Francis died. Inside the Basilica is the tiny church of St. Francis. The one he restored, over extreme objection from his wealthy father, after a mystic vision where he saw Jesus telling him to "restore his home." You are not allowed to take photos inside, but you can see a picture and read more here. This is the most sacred place of the Franciscan Orders. I loved the tiny church.

Then came Assisi

There's a lot of sights crammed into this tiny town, and every one of them could be a framed work of art.

Every which way you looked you were served up an exquisite, frameable, work of art. And that doesn't even count the "real" art. The world renowned frescos by Giotto. We saw them but could not take photos. See the website Basilica Papale di San Francesco d'Assisi for more.

Entrance to Basilica di San Francesco d'Assisi
Before we leave Assisi, I want to show you a picture from the parking lot because it was remarkable how many RVs we saw.
We did see RVs quite a lot. The closest one is a Hymer - just now coming to the US

But wait! There's more ...

After Assisi, we piled back in the van and Alfeo drove us to Cortona, the town made famous by Frances May in Under the Tuscan Sun.
First stop in Cortona, Basilica Santa Margarita at the top of the hill. Lucky I caught a photo of Margaret in her namesake!
Next mind-blowing sight: Le Celle monastery, just outside of Cortona.
Our group L-R: Norma, Cary, Kelly, Jessica, Joanie, Alfeo, Margaret, John, Chris, Jim

By the time we got to the town of Cortona, I really thought my mind would would explode with all the beauty that had been crammed into it that day. And, Cortona is a jewel. 
Here is the view to the north from where we parked the van in Cortona 
And, here is the view to the south

Also to the south ... Lake Trasimeno?
A side street in Cortona
We ended the day with another delicious Italian meal at the Cortona restaurant Nessun Dorma. All I am capable of saying is "Wow."

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