On Venice 2018

 

After our days in Trieste, we took a train to Venice, actually our departing airport. Because we’ve been to this beautiful city before (but I hadn’t posted about it), our one-night stay would be in Mestre – the mainland side of the city. Besides, the airport is on the mainland and Mestre hotels are much cheaper.

As the train was approaching the train station (Venezia Mestre), I noticed our hotel is directly across the street. Then I learn that a train goes to the islands (Venezia Santa Lucia Station) every 10 minutes for 2 euros. Plus, the airport shuttle is a very short walk from our hotel (Best Western Plus Hotel Bologna). Cheaper, close to rail and the airport bus are all good things!

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With the weather being wonderful, we had to go to Venice to just wander. Part of the fun of this glorious setting is trying to get lost – because you can’t! The historical city is wonderful – after all, Venice is Venice.

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Our trip has ended, and what a trip it was. All the stops in the Rick Steves’ Eastern Europe tour were worthwhile and memorable. Then add-on stops to my birthplace and a touch of Venice was like extra ice cream and toppings on an already magnificent sundae.

 

Picking our favorite stop is not an easy task because the locations were so different. The three major cities were different from each other, then toss in the extremes of a natural wonder of a Plitvice (a Croatian National Park) to the horrors of Auschwitz, and a relaxing seaside locate as Rovinj, it was quite the tour.

Three important references for readers.

  1. I will probably do more posts about this trip with some tidbits. Time will tell.
  2. I didn’t realize that I posted very little about our Italy-Croatia cruise of how knows how many years ago. Maybe I’ll go back in time. Thoughts?
  3. Click here for all the posts about this tour.
  4. Although it’s also in the previous collection, click here for my review of Rick Steves’ Europe tours.

To see more of the island wonderland known as Venice, watch the 2+-minute video below. Thanks for coming along for my journey.

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On Lake Bled (Slovenia)

About 34 miles (55 km) northwest of Ljubljana, Lake Bled is a lake at the edge of the Julian Alps. Surrounded by mountains and forests with a medieval castle on a rocky face high above the lake and a small island within the lake, this setting is very picturesque. The large lake, 6,980 feet by 4,530 ft (2,120 m by 1,380 m) is without motor boats.

Water from multiple natural springs feed the lake. The bluish-green water is clear, tranquil, and smooth as glass. Lake Bled is large: 6,980 feet by 4,530 ft (2,120 m by 1,380 m), and without motor boats.

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Our morning ride to Bled Island was on a plenta – a flat-bottomed wooden boat seating 20 passengers propelled and navigated by an oarsman. In 1740, Empress Maria Theresa granted 22 families exclusive rights to transport people to the island, and that tradition remains today.

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Bled Island is small, large enough for a church and several buildings. The church is a popular wedding site and has several traditions. It is good luck for the marriage if the groom carries his bride up the 99 steps before ringing the bell inside the church and making a wish. The wish will come to true if the bell rings three times on one pull of the rope.

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After returning from the island, we walked the 3-mile (5 km) paved path circling the lake. The walk provides beautiful views of the island, the castle, the town, hotels, and relaxing views across the calm water. Along the way we passed the Slovenian Olympic Rowing Training Facility. Lake Bled has hosted the World Rowing Championship 4 times.

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High on a cliff above the lake sits Bled Castle – a medieval castle that protected the people since 1004. Today, the castle houses exhibits, a museum, restaurant, wine cellar, chapel, banquet hall, and a printing shop – but it also provides outstanding views of the lake, the island, the town of Bled, and the surrounding countryside.

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Enjoy this very short video (17 seconds) of Bled Castle at night.

 

We were told that Lake Bled is very busy in the summer months. We were fortunate because our visit was in early October – the crowds were down and the weather was excellent. The boat ride, the walk around the lake, the hike to the castle, lunch at the castle, and a group meal was a delightful way to end our Rick Steves’ Europe tour – but, for us, our vacation was not over! Meanwhile, enjoy the 2-minute video about Lake Bled by Rick Steves.

Next Stop: Trieste

Click here for past posts of this tour.

On Ljubljana (Slovenia)

Ljubljana – pronounced lube-lyee-AH-nah

Ljubljana (population 2880,000) is the capital, cultural, educational, economic, political, and administrative center of independent Slovenia (since 1991).

Ljubljana – Like much of the region, under Habsburg rule for 500 years until the end of WW1. Following WW2, Ljubljana became the capital of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia, which was part of Yugoslavia.

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Ljubljana – the city center built around Ljubljana Castle, a medieval castle sitting atop Castle Hill. Due to time constraints, we didn’t visit the castle, but the top of the Ljubljana Skyscraper’s 13th floor is a great place for a wonderful view and a drink.

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Ljubljana – whose city symbol is the Ljubljana Dragon symbolizes power, courage, and greatness. The dragon is found on the Ljubljana Castle’s tower, the city’s coat of arms, and at the Dragon Bridge.

 

Ljubljana – with Prešeren Square serving as the city’s main square and a popular meeting spot. Look at the beauty around the square.

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Ljubljana – bisected by the Ljubljanica River with numerous bridges, including the famous Triple Bridge (not pictured).

 

Ljubljana – with many pedestrian streets (some cobblestone) flanked with shops, restaurants, and cafes. Toss in Riverside Market, Old Town comfort is at hand. Even saw my first outdoor vending machine selling fresh milk. While strolling, stop by the cathedral (Church of St. Nicholas) whose doors tell a story about Slovenes. Recognize anyone on the door?

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Ljubljana is not big enough to feel overwhelmed, but it’s large enough to be cosmopolitan. Besides, I love Old World ambiance. To me, urban relaxation is a fitting description. To learn more about this hidden gem, below is almost-6-minute video from Rick Steves.

Next Stop: Lake Bled

Click here for past posts of this tour.

On Rovinj (Croatia)

Rovinj – (pronounced RO-veen) – or Rovigno in Italian – a Croatian city of about 14,000 located on the northern Adriatic coast.

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Off Rovinj’s coast is a 19-island archipelago. Actually, our hotel was on one the islands – well, the hotel is the only thing on the island – but we had access to a ferry trip to/from the mainland. Directly behind the hotel was a smaller island for sunning and walking. A walkway connected the two. Yes, a difficult place to stay.

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The Venetians settle Rovinj, which remained part of the Venetian Republic for 500 years. Although in Croatia, walking the town has a strong feel of being in Italy – that is given the narrow, winding pedestrian streets, hidden courtyards, and comfortable feel. Most of the streets lead to/from the church at the top. Some of the homes along the water define waterfront property.

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With a seaside setting and with culinary Italian roots, how is this setting for lunch? Yes, I had pasta.

 

Both evenings here, Rovinj treated us to super-outstanding sunsets.

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Our time in Rovinj was our vacation from vacation. Rovinj offers a beautiful setting and a chance to sit back and relax. To close this post about this seaside resort, here’s a 3-minute video from Rick Steves.

Next Stop: Ljubljana

Click here for past posts of this tour.

On Eger (Hungary)

After our morning at Auschwitz, it was a long ride to Eger (EH-gher) – a city of about 53,000 in northern Hungary. The next day we had the morning to discover Eger on our own before two scheduled activities.

Nestled in the hills of the Bukk Mountains, humans have lived here since the Stone Age.

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Eger Castle sits above the town center – and this place is close to the Hungarians heart because here, the Hungarians defended the castle from the invading Ottomans in 1552. Istvan Dobo is a legendary hero for his leadership.

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During the 1600s, the Ottomans built a minaret in Eger, which is one of three minarets remaining in Hungary.

 

Eger has a variety of grand buildings, but the pedestrian street with Baroque architecture is a pleasant stroll and a good place to eat or enjoy a beverage.

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After our independent time, the group gathered together for an activity – attending a junior high school where we met with a teacher and her students in their English class – and then had lunch in the school cafeteria. (We were pleasantly surprised.)

 

Eger is the center of one of Hungary’s productive wine regions. One of the popular wines is known as Bull’s Blood – a dark red wine blend of three grapes. The legend is that the wine was dark because it was mixed with bull’s blood, which gave Dobo’s men strength. So after the school, it was a short trip to a winery where the wine flowed, the music played, learned a Hungarian dance, and who knows how many times we toasted in Hungarian – Egészségedre!

 

Eger is a charming small city. For us, it was a good stopover between the gut-wrenching in Auschwitz and the grandness of Budapest to come. Time at the school and the winery helped make the day wonderful. Below is a 4-minute video (set to appropriate music) showing many of the sites we saw in Eger. Enjoy.

 

Next Stop” Budapest

Click here for past posts of this tour.

 

On Krakow (Poland)

Krakow – Poland second largest city (pop. 750,000); Poland’s economic, education, arts, and culture center, Poland’s capital until 1596

Krakow – It’s Old Town contained within walls (some still exist) and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The large Main Market Square is a vibrant place!

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Krakow – Home to Krakow Castle found on Wawel Hill above the Vistula River across from Old Town. To me, not only was Wawel Cathedral the most magnificent church I saw on the trip – it was one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen.

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Krakow – A place where revered Karol Wojtyla spent much time before becoming Pope John Paul II.

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Krakow – Not bombed in WW2, but is home to Oskar Schindler’s factory and the Jewish Ghetto (in Kazimierz neighborhood). The factory is now a museum about the war in Poland while the Ghetto is in a rejuvenation period. Looking up the long stairway reminded me of the scene when a lady came to the factory for an interview, and Mr. Schindler was standing at the top of the stairs.

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Poland has a rich history, and compared to many other European countries, it was large. I didn’t know that during part of the 18th Century, Poland didn’t exist because the land was divided among Prussia, Austria, and Russia. As for Krakow, the visit here was the most surprising of the trip. To learn more about Krakow, I encourage you to watch the 3-minute video because from Rick Steves.

Next stop: Auschwitz

Click here for past posts of this tour.

 

On Rick Steves’ Europe Tours

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My wife and I enjoy travel – especially in Europe. Through the years we’ve watched many episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe on PBS – plus we found his tour books to be the best – but, we’ve never taken any of his company’s tours.

However, we know at least five couples who have taken his tours – some multiple times – and everyone endorsed them! So, this past late September-early October, we ventured on our first Rick Steves’ Europe tour to a land we didn’t know – Eastern Europe. (After Bled, we continued on our own.)

 

Several broad points about Rick Steves’ Europe tours – especially two very important limitations:

  • Group size in the mid-to-upper 20s (so there is plenty of room on the full-sized bus)
  • One carry-on luggage and one backpack per passenger – after all, travelers are responsible for carrying their own to/from the hotel

For the tour,

  • A tour guide was with us the entire time (we had a wonderful Czech named Jana)
  • When in a new location, local guides shared their expertise
  • Most hotels are for multiple nights (which allows ample opportunities to do some laundry)

As a philosophy, Rick Steves’ tours want travellers to get the most of their experience by emphasizing history, culture, and interacting with the people because he wants travellers to understand the people, their place, and what is important to them. Besides the local guides, our activities included

  • tasting wine at a winery
  • visiting a school and meeting with an English teacher and her students
  • tasting honey at a local producer
  • eating local cuisines
  • being entertained by traditional music.
  • having two transit day-passes in Budapest good for buses, trams, and subways
  • after leaving each country), Jana led us in a toast to that country with a local liquor and toasting in the native language

The hotels exceeded our expectations. All were clean, spacious, conveniently located, and with a hearty breakfast to start our day.

Rick Steves’ Europe offers tours throughout Europe – and a surprising number of offerings, plus each frequently offered. I invite anyone interested to visit ricksteves.com. Regarding this tour, the previous post featured Prague, and my plan is to post at least one stop a week.

Bus touring isn’t easy and isn’t for everyone. However, I can honestly say that we would not hesitate to take another Rick Steves’ Europe tour. Actually, we even have our eye on another Rick Steves’ Europe tour in the future.