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.

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On Budapest (Hungary)

Click for some background music while you look and read, enjoy Hungarian Dance No. 5 (Johannes Brahms)

 

BUDA-pesht – is how they pronounce it – not BUDA-pest

Budapest – the capital of Hungary with a vibrant population approaching two million. It was also a co-capital of the Austria-Hungary Empire.

Although we hear about the Danube separating Buda and Pest, we forget that Óbuda was the third city joining in the union forming Budapest in 1873.

The Buda side of the river is hilly and Buda Castle (Royal Castle) sits atop a hill along with Matthias Church and Fishermen’s Bastion. These structures and a few statues and monuments amplify the skyline. Buda’s streets are narrow and the buildings echo with history.

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The hills of Buda offers wonder views of the Danube and Pest.

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The Pest side of the river is flat, newer, vibrant, and a grand display of architecture of Art Nouveau, Baroque, Classical, Neo-classical, Romantic, and Renaissance providing a grand visual treat. St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Parliament, Hero’s Square, Liberty Square, National Theater, Great Market Hall, parks, spas, shopping, entertainment, and more. Numerous pedestrian-only streets make Pest very walkable.

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Hero’s Square celebrates 1000 years of conquest by the Magyars. Whereas the other countries on the tour were Slavic, Hungary is not – and it’s language is more similar to Finnish and Estonian instead of being close to any of its neighbors. Before this tour, I had no clue about this. Hero’s Square celebrates the seven Magyar tribes of Central Asia that came to the region. The square includes statues to labor, war, knowledge, and glory along with a few early national heroes.

 

A short walk beyond Hero’s Square, Varosliget (a 302 acre city park) also celebrates the 1896 millennium with galleries, museums, a thermal spa, and more in a beautiful park setting.

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If you visit Budapest, make sure you take a night-time cruise on the Danube River because the city lights provide a great show.

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Of the places we visited on the tour, Budapest was the biggest and the grandest. It’s a vibrant, beautiful city and worth at least at least 3 days – if not more. The excellent 6-minute video below showing Budapest is done by a group of travelling friends. Enjoy

Next Stop: Plitvice National Park (posted)

Next Post: Rovinj

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 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.

 

On Prague (Czech Republic)


Click for background music of a very special song to the Czech people.

 

Prague – Praha to the Czechs

Prague – located on the Vltava River, the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic, the historical capital of Bohemia, and the place known as The City of 100 Spires.

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Prague – with its historic Old Town (UNESCO World Heritage Site) providing much of the city’s charm. Once surrounded by a wall, now only a few towers remain. Old Town Square serving as its center while featuring a statue to Jan Hus – a Czech religious reformer who was 100 years before the Reformation.

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Prague – with the historic Charles Bridge connecting Old Town and the Little Quarter located across the Vltava, just below Prague Castle. The bridge served as part of Coronation Way during the days of the monarchy.

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Prague – the home of Prague Castle with the majestic St. Vitus Cathedral within its walls. At our first dinner, two members of the Prague Castle Orchestra (from the opening video – the flute and accordion players) – privately entertained our group.

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Prague – with New Town flourishing outside Old Town. A magnificent collection of Art Nouveau buildings dominating the eyes – as well as a pair of dancers (Dancing Towers) known as Fred and Ginger.

 

Prague – featuring Wenceslas Square as New Town’s main square – the place where thousands of Czechs gathered for 1989’s Velvet Revolution ending one-party rule (Communists). Yes – the square is named after the Good King (of Christmas carol fame) who is buried at St. Vitus Cathedral.

 

Prague, not only a wonderful place to start our tour, it’s a great city for visitors. If you get a chance, GO! Below is 3-minute video about Prague’s Jewish Quarter (in Old Town). Hope you watch. Have you ever been to Prague?

Next stop: Krakow

On Reviewing a Travel Book

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“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” (Mark Twain, author)

I don’t know about the PBS stations in your area, but ours love Rick Steves shows and specials – especially on weekends and during fundraising campaigns. Sometime in late August I stumbled across one of him giving a lecture. I hadn’t seen it and he immediately grabbed my attention.

He (like me) is a believer that the majority of people in the world are good. Even though his talk did not inspire me to donate to the fundraising effort, I bought the book ahead of my journey to Eastern Europe, then finished it during the trip.

Travel As a Political Act (3rd edition, 2018) is not only an antidote of his travels, it focuses on the ability of travel to bridge cultures. After all, many people have fears based on exaggerations, myths, and a lack of knowledge.

Eight of the 10 chapters center on specific regions/issues as Yugoslavia, El Salvador, Denmark, Turkey & Morocco, Israel/Palestine, Europe & drugs, and similarities & difference between Europe & America. The other two chapters are about the importance of travel and retrospective thoughts when returning home.

Simply put, each of us have a worldview that is shaped by friends, family, media, perceptions, education, and personal experiences. Rick Steves want travelers to

  • Get the most out of travel by keeping an open mind and getting outside our comfort zone
  • Think beyond the logistics “hows” as flights, hotels, transportation, sights, and travel tips. The “whys” of travel allows travelers to be enlightened, learn, and grow.
  • Understand that bridging differences begins with understanding differences
  • Travel with the purpose of learning, not just seeing because everything has a history.
  • Know that sights are important because of what went on there and why it is important to the people today.
  • Learn why people are proud and why they hurt because all people have dreams, national heroes, traditions, values, and stories.

Yes – these points are easy to say, but very hard for many to do.

Travel As A Political Act is a good read. There is no question in my mind that Rick Steves is promoting his worldwide view. Just like his television shows, he is optimistic, affable, humorous, and even at times cheezy – all with the goal of how travel can change a personal perspective if the person embraces travel with an open mind.

Although some may say the author is promoting a political view. I disagree because he is using his personal view through experience to help travelers get the most out of travel. However, I understand how a reader can construe one personal view in the same light as a political view. Because of that, I hesitate to endorse this book for uber conservatives. On the other hand, they may be ones who could benefit from the challenge if they approached it with an open mind.

“While seeing travel as a political act enables us to challenge our society to do better, it also shows us how much we have to be grateful for, to take responsibility for, and to protect.” (Rick Steves, traveler & tour agency owner)

On the Northern Loop

The trip northward from Denver to western South Dakota is through the grassy plains of Colorado and eastern Wyoming. Easy riding while looking at the open terrain that is easy to spot various wildlife.

Located within the beautiful Black Hills, we stayed (2 nights) in this wonderful lodge at Custer State Park (outside Custer, SD). President Calvin Coolidge used this location as the “Summer White House” in 1927.

 

Custer State Park is home to many animals. During scene drives, we observed elk, mule deer, white tailed deer, prairie dogs, pronghorn, and many buffalo.

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Two outstanding landmarks are located near Custer: Mt. Rushmore is a national treasure. It’s actually a National Memorial that is operated by the National Parks Service.

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Located 16 miles (26 km) away is a treasure that greatly impacted me. On our entire trip, our guide talked much about Native Americans. The Crazy Horse Memorial – the world’s largest mountain sculpture – stands as a tribute to all North American Indians.

Started in 1948, it still has a long way to go to completion. I know I won’t see it in my lifetime. Maybe our new great-niece (born this past July) will see it. Then again, maybe her kids.

The Crazy Horse Memorial is so big, Mt. Rushmore would fit in the head area behind the face (in the hair). The picture below shows a model of the final product with the mountain sculpture in the background.

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After leaving Custer, we travelled 2-days westward toward Yellowstone National Park – with stops along the way.

Deadwood, South Dakota – a town established as a result of the Black Hills Gold Rush of 1874. It’s also linked to western legends as Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok. Some readers may remember this past post about my link to Deadwood – a headstone near my home marking the grave of Charlie Rich – the one who dealt the infamous Dead Man’s Hand of aces and eights.

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Devil’s Tower National Monument – declared as the US’s first National Monument in 1906 – is a butte of igneous rock located in northeastern Wyoming. We took a 45-minute walk around the base, and observed climbers!

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After a night in Sheridan, Wyoming, the trip through the Bighorn Mountains was a pleasant surprise – especially because I’d never heard of them.

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Cody, Wyoming, located near Yellowstone’s east entrance, is home to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. This stop was an unexpected surprise as it is 5 museums within one: Buffalo Bill Museum, Plains Indians Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum, Draper Natural History Museum, and Cody Firearms Museum – as well as a research library.

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Next Post: Yellowstone

For more posts about this trip, click here.