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Presenting the Coast of Montenegro

We sit and stare at the Adriatic Sea. A few months ago, I had never even heard of the country of Montenegro. Seven countries and five weeks later, we sip beers in the city of Bar, Montenegro, and enjoy a fresh dish of mussels and grilled squid.

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Sipping Niksicko, the local brew, with a friend

This meal gives a delightful palate change from the “meat rules” menus of previous stops. (Delicious meats, by the way)

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Mussels and Squid

A relatively small city (pop 40,000), Bar presents a mellow pace for the travel weary. While we love big cities, with their fabulous architecture, behemoth buildings, countless domes and monuments, this change to a more “laid back” atmosphere, with lighter food and more temperate climate comes at a perfect time. Who would argue with hanging out on the shores of the Adriatic eating fresh seafood?

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Strolling along the pedestrian walkway in Bar

Montenegrins don’t give out random smiles. They greet each other with cheek kisses and pats on the back. Their language sounds like a mix of passionate Italian and indifferent Russian. There’s just enough English for us to get by.

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Views of New Bar from Old Town

We cook breakfast in our twenty-dollar room and finally get to drink morning coffee in our underwear. The bus system here is cheap and easy. For one Euro, we hop a ride to “old town” atop a mountain. Folks still live in some of the surrounding 1000-year-old buildings. I light a candle in St. John Vladimir church.

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Lighting candles…

I may not attend church, but knock on wood and light candles. I have been lighting candles in many, very old churches along the way. Do you realize how many churches we have seen in seven eastern European countries the past five weeks? Odds are favorable that my desires will manifest into reality!

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Sveti Stefan, a walled village between Bar and Kotor. Now a luxury resort

After several days, we head north on a bus twisting around the Adriatic coast to the city of Kotor.

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Wall of Kotor. Can you see the trail to the fortress above?

This place makes both of us feel like royalty. Especially while staying in the “Duchess” room at a 600-year-old guest house located in old town.

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Our 600 year old room in Palazzo Drusko

Full of antiques along with modern comfort, Marilynn is petrified that I shall break something. The “Palazzo Drusko” costs $200USD nightly during the season. Traveling in the off-season pays off again, as the cost drops to $39USD.

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Old Town Kotor in the off-season

“You don’t want to stay in old town during the summer,” Vladimir from the guest house says. “It’s noisy and too crowded to walk. On top of that, we get four cruise ships a day.”

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How many steps?

A heart-pumping set of 1350 steps lead to the top of a fortress above the city. Sweeping views of the bay and towns surround us. On this sunny day, we have the trail, and the view, to ourselves as opposed to “knees and elbows” during the summer season.

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Views from the fortress above Kotor

Mountains resemble the fjords of Haines, Alaska. Some (including guidebooks) mistakenly refer to this as Europe’s most southern fjords, when in fact it is a ria, which is a submerged river valley.

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Perast

Outside the old city walls, we hop a bus to tour some nearby sites. The tiny town of Perast again transports us into a royal fantasy. We sip beer along the shore on its one roadway, before hiring a quick boat to Gospa od Skrpjela, “Our Lady of the Rocks.” Legend says that a rock simulated a figure of the Virgin Mary, so in the 15th century villagers started adding rocks and materials until an island was formed with just enough room to hold a church. Of course, I lit a candle.

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Sveti Dorde and Gospa od Skrpjela

A Benedictine monastery sits on a nearby island, which was built on a natural reef.

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Octopus

Let’s indulge in local, fresh, organic Montenegrin food! At Konoba Akustic restaurant, we start with an order of breaded paprika stuffed with cheese. We’ll follow with some Riblja corva (fish soup), jagnjetina ispod saca (lamb cooked with potatoes under a metal lid covered in hot coals) and octopus. I sip the powerful rakija (domestic plum “brandy”), while the Duchess enjoys krstac (indigenous white wine). One more rakija and I may bum a smoke from the guy at the next table.

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Reflections in the Bay of Kotor

Alas, it’s time for the Royal family to hop a bus and head north. Who knows what fantasyland awaits?      Ron Mitchell

 

 

 

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Stepping into Belgrade, Serbia

One of the joys of writing an independent travel blog includes the freedom to say what you feel, and not be bound by payment for a travel article that “makes people want to go there.”

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Republic Square

Once we step off the train in Belgrade, Marilynn and I and a solo traveler from New Zealand, Mac, try to gain some sense of direction. Either these backpacks are getting heavier, or I’m getting older, because I’m hunched with a great view of the sidewalk.

“Man, there’s garbage all over the place, I say to Marilynn.”

“We just need to focus on finding the hotel.” She and Mac study the map, and learn that we’re staying in the same section of town. I lag and notice many beautiful blonde women, with high cheek bones and long legs. They all have a cigarette dangling from their lips, as they walk past fast.

I feel like we stepped into the 1960’s in the USA, back when folks littered at will, dogs ran loose, and most people smoked cigarettes…everywhere.

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Hotel Moskva

Two miles later, Mac reaches his hostel. We’re almost ashamed to tell him that we will stay at Hotel Moskva, a five-star hotel where notable people like Albert Einstein, Alfred Hitchcock, and Richard Nixon have stayed. It’s time to add some vacation to our travel!

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Old world elegance at Hotel Moskva

“Does this city seem dirty to you?” I ask Mac.

“I love it,” he responds. “It’s a poor country like Bulgaria and very cheap.” He looks at me. “You Americans bombed it before.”

“Perhaps I’ll say I’m from Canada,” I respond jokingly.

“Not a bad idea,” he nods.

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Sveti Sava the world’s biggest Orthodox church

We saw no evidence of bombings here, although it exists in some places.

Hotel Moskva blows us away with luxury and friendliness ($89USD nightly), along with the distinct stench of stale cigarette smoke. We sip beers in the upscale lounge, listening to the piano player. Oh yes, definitely back in the 60’s.

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The piano man at the Hotel Moskva

The morning hotel breakfast (included) fills us with nineteen cups of espresso, and numerous buffets of meats, eggs, cheeses, pastries, pies, etc. The tiny nonsmoking section resembles that imaginary smoking line they used to have inside airplanes. The rest of the cuisine here tastes surprisingly non-distinct.

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The National Assembly

Let’s get out for some fresh air and explore the beauty of Belgrade. The pedestrian city center consists mainly of modern shops squeezing between magnificent, ornate sculpted buildings. It pales in comparison to recent cities visited, but still nice enough. Perhaps we’re simply a bit burnt-out. (See previous recent posts)

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The Pobednik monument in Kalemegdan Citadel

Kalemegdan Citadel served as a strategic military post during WWI. Situated where the Sava River meets the Danube, they have done a tremendous job of restoring the massive complex into a pleasant park.

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Confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers

Our final evening, we take a luxurious massage at our hotel spa. After an hour of aromatic oil being rubbed into my weary skin and muscles, I feel like lighting up a cigarette.

Only three nights in this grand hotel, and we’re back to traveling. Riding a 13-hour train to Bar, Montenegro. Gorgeous countryside, and colorful towns, but again littered with garbage. Smokers indulge inside the train, but we’re getting used to it.

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Colorful towns between Belgrade and Bar

What we cannot get used to is the constantly screaming two-year-old and his mother who repeatedly pinches his ear and smacks his face. Again, back in the 60’s.

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Countryside between Belgrade and Bar

To escape the madness of our compartment I head to the bar car (imagine that), and see my first refugees. An elderly man, and a middle-aged couple sit on the floor between train cars. I step around them. They get up carrying all their belongings in overstuffed bags, pots and pans dangling from the sides. They are directed to three seats in a six seat cabin. Two puddles emanating the smell of piss remain on the floor where they sat. The three other passengers who were sitting in that cabin left, because of the stench I imagine. I’m not cranky anymore. We have no problems. God save these harmless folks who have real problems. They are struggling to live, eat, and stay warm. Our issues pale in comparison. Bring on the screaming two-year-old. In five hours, we’re stepping off onto the beach in Bar, Montenegro!   Ron Mitchell

 

 

Tolerance in Timisoara, Romania

We squeeze into a packed minivan in Brasov for a boring, eight-hour ride to the city of Timisoara. Marilynn and I expect a short stay at that city, which seems a necessary stop to make travel arrangements on the way to Belgrade, Serbia.

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Our first view of Timisoara from Excelsior Hotel 

Our hotel sits out of the way on a dark, dreary, dirty street. Hooded silhouette figures of humans lurk on the sidewalks at night during our walk to find a restaurant. We’re lost. An old man’s elderly dog barely makes it across the cable car tracks before the train misses his ass by six-inches. The man scowls at me?

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Ham hock and sauerkraut

Finally, we find “Casa Bunicii” where I enjoy roasted duck over duck fat marinated cabbage with spätzle. Mare orders porcini mushroom spätzle in a cream sauce seasoned with sage, leeks, and garlic. Delicious! However, a ham hock from city center is more photogenic.

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Metropolitan Cathedral

A short walk in the light of morning reveals a bright, new world of fabulous architecture, parks, gardens, and three public squares.

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Libertatii Square

Timisoara sits at the crossroads of East and West, bordering Hungary, and Serbia. The region’s motto, “Tolerance and Understanding,” excites and refreshes us – a couple of Americans a long way from home, during a tumultuous time.

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The Serbian side of Unirii Square

Renewed energy, along with pedestrian walkways through the city squares, surrounded by diverse architecture, restaurants, bars, and friendly people, convince us to extend our stay.

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The Roman Catholic dome of Uritii Square

This melting pot of different cultural heritages has never experienced an ethnic or religious conflict. It was the first city to revolt free of Communism in 1989, after the fall of the Berlin wall.

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A Painting in a Restaurant…draw your own conclusions

Today, Romanians, Hungarians, Serbians, Bulgarians, Jews, Arabs, Italians and Rromas (Gypsies), live in harmony while practicing active cultural and religious lives.

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The water is hypo-tonic and hypo-thermal (must be good for you)

We sip Timisoarana beer at our favorite watering hole in the Piata Unirii Square, where Roman Catholic and Serbian churches face each other. Tolerance and understanding are inherent here, in the Banat region of Romania.

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The Drunken Rat Pub

Tomorrow, we hop a four-hour train to Belgrade Serbia.  Ron Mitchell

 

Welcome to Transylvania: Stumbling Around Brasov, Romania

Nothing like a great sleep on a 13-hour overnight train, until Hungarian Border Police find a problem with our passport. Someone stamped it incorrectly along the way, but they let us out anyway. We must not resemble refugees. Our only vow today is to not get ripped off by a taxi driver, like back in Budapest! That translates here in Transylvania into lugging heavy backpacks for over two miles traversing snow and ice-covered sidewalks. It’s not about the money, it’s the principle (and a sore back).

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Room with a view and de facto fridge

After another nineteen cups of espresso at a coffee shop where we also get directions, Viola! We splurge on a room with a view (US60) at the “Casa Wagner,” smack in the middle of Piata Sfatului, the old town square.

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Piata Sfatului – The old town square

Off to a pub! It’s almost noon. We get better tourist information at pubs that at info centers. Silviu, the barkeep at the “Old Firm Beer House,” tells us his favorite local restaurants and his impressions of Americans. “When I worked in Constanta on the Black Sea, American soldiers would come to the bar and drink like maniacs,” he says. “They couldn’t pronounce my name, so they called me ‘Dude’ but I didn’t mind.”

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The pedestrian street

We roam around yet another fantasy land of cobbled streets, bohemian cafes, statues, medieval spires, and a Gothic black church, so named due to fire damage.

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Note the “Hollywood style” Brasov sign above

We take the cable car up Mt. Tampa for inspiring views of the city and take note of the Hollywood style sign near the viewing platform. Really liking this place.

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Brasov from the cable car up Mt. Tampa

Off to the first of Silviu’s recommended restaurants, “Gaura Dulce” (sweet hole) which has historical roots as a brothel. Let’s get Romanian, with an order of pork liver, fried brains, bounce enticed beef tongue, and blood sausage. Delicious. We even took leftovers and ate our brains out for breakfast the next morning!

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Liver, brains, and tongue – oh my!

Vasile, from the hotel, agrees to drive us to Bran Castle, often referred to as “Dracula’s Castle,” about 20 miles away. Built around 1380, this spectacular castle imprisoned Vlad the Impaler for about two months.

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Bran Castle

It became associated with Dracula because of appearance rather than Vlad’s brief stay. Mainly furnished and lived in by Queen Marie around the 1920’s, the antiques and secret passages add to the Dracula mystique. A deep shaft leads to a stream on the village level for sneaky ins and outs.

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Welcome to Bran Castle

Some locals believe in “Strigoi,” whose souls leave their body at night and torment people. They hunt prey until daylight when they lose their power. Dracula derives from these myths.

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The King’s bed inside Bran Castle

Roaming around the hilltop ruins of Rasnov Fortress, a short driving distance away, you could almost see fur donning peasants walking around. Stone vaults held food and supplies for villagers to survive in the event of an invasion by nomadic tribes and armies.

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Rasnov Fortress

Back at our haven, we waste no time trying another of Silviu’s restaurant recommendations, “Sergiana,” for some more Romanian fare. Subterranean tables greet you with breaded, fried chunks of pork belly. I order the Sarmale (cabbage rolls that originated in Romania) accompanied by pork chop sized hunks of bacon, and Marilynn orders the Ciorba (Transylvanian sour soup with smoked gammon, tarragon, sour cream, and lemon juice or vinegar). This is perhaps one of our best meals ever.

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Sergiana, our favorite restaurant in Brasov

Struggling to make forward plans forces us to extend our stay in this lovely city. I guess we’ll need to visit Sergiana one more time before lugging those backpacks again.

Ron Mitchell

The Two Sides of Budapest, Hungary

Budapest does not “grab” us at first. The taxi driver did. It’s a common scam. Unregulated taxis rip off foreign visitors. We should have known better, but we’re travel weary from a train ride, lugging heavy backpacks, it’s nighttime, fourteen degrees Fahrenheit, and all we have is an address full of numbers and consonants for a small apartment we rented somewhere in this huge city. At least the taxi driver brings us to our complex. (quadruple the normal price we later learn)

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Our apartment in Budapest – better than it looks

He stops and points to what we think is a suggestion for a good hole-in-the-wall restaurant, until he drops our bags on the sidewalk. After a ring of keys opens six locks and three doors, we relax in a spacious clean studio apartment. Albeit, a depressing view. We walk to the grocery store and purchase chicken, cabbage, onion, garlic, yellow peppers, and potatoes to cook in a pot. After a couple of weeks on the road, a home cooked meal sounds good. Time to bed down here on the Buda side of Pest, serenaded by sirens, commuter trains, and church bells.

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A room with a view

What a difference daylight makes! After nineteen cups of espresso with some chicken/cabbage leftovers for breakfast, a short walk around the corner not only grabs us, but pulls us into a medieval fantasy land.

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Parliament and the icy Danube River

Walk along the Danube, where sheets of flowing ice ricochet from pylons of magnificent bridges that connect Buda to Pest, making one Budapest.

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The Chain Bridge

Cobblestone roadways and carved stone stairs lead the way up Castle Hill to the Royal Palace. Ornate sculptures cling to fortresses and buildings. Stone and bronze lions and hunters show stories of those who once lived or served here.

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Statues surround the Royal Palace

From Fisherman’s Bastion, sweeping views of Pest grab our gaze, and remind us of something we have never known.

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Views of Pest from Fishermen’s Bastion

We walk across the Chain Bridge. A prince had this bridge built after he tried to walk across the frozen Danube to attend his father’s funeral. The ice melted, he grew furious because he couldn’t walk, and commissioned a British engineer to build Budapest’s first bridge.

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Walking up Castle Hill

Here it comes. Another scam? Some guy wants to sell us Big Bus (hop on/off) tickets. He understands that we’re skeptical after the taxi rip-off. “That happens to many tourists,” he explains. “Walk with me to the office. I’ll show you.” We purchase tickets that are valid for three days. They not only include a tour of the city, but give us a ride to and from the train station, and exclusive entry into several thermal bath houses. Budapest is full of thermal baths. Who knew?

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Gellert Baths – Kind of like taking a bath in a cathedral

The big bus ticket is a good move. We hop on, and then off at the train station to purchase overnight (13-hour) sleeper cab passes to our next stop in Brasov, Romania. Hop back on and find a restaurant for some long, overdue chow. Marilynn orders Halafzle, a freshwater poached fish in soup with tomato, pepper and paprika. I order Gulyas (goulash) in traditional soup/stew with beef, tomato, onion and paprika. Devour this delight with huge hunks of white bread!

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Looking across to Buda

We take big bus to the Buda side, bring pizza home to our cozy apartment, and stay up all night long watching NFL playoffs broadcast in the German language. Two hours of sleep later, what better time to take a thermal bath with a massage? After a brisk walk to the Gellert bath house, we change into bathing suits and lounge in several of eight thermal pools, ranging in different levels of heat.

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Making friends in the baths

A few hot soaks later, we take a steam and then jump into an ice-cold dip. It’s time for a long overdue, healing oil massage that not only eases physical pain, but the psychological pain of the no contest Steelers loss.

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Parliament at night

We barely make the walk home. Too gassed to go out for dinner, we finish our leftover chicken/cabbage concoction. The next day we must leave, but the overnight train doesn’t depart until seven o’clock in the evening. So, we ride big bus around for several hours, before a final delectable meal of beef stew with galuska (small gnocchi-like dumplings).

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Some of the tastiest meals are not necessarily photogenic

We could enjoy a longer stay in Budapest, but it’s time to let go and grab the overnight train to the Transylvanian region of Romania. Stay tuned!   Ron Mitchell

 

 

 

Three Classy Nights in Vienna, Austria

Come to Vienna with us...

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Checking out Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic

We hop a two-hour shuttle from Prague that drives through snow-covered rolling hills and farmland. The small city of Cesky Krumlov sits in the south Bohemian region of Czech Republic and surrounds a castle.

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Cesky Krumlov State Castle and Tower

Staying in hostels for about $20 nightly can make traveling cheaper than living at home. “Welcome to Krumlov House,” Cal, the proprietor says. His wife Carolyn helps us with future travel arrangements to Vienna.

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Krumlov House, our humble abode

“You have to try the fried homemade local cheese and Eggenberg brew at Na Louzi,” Cal says. “It’s my favorite restaurant.”

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Niva – lightly breaded and fried Roquefort cheese

Off we go. Soon, Marilynn and I sip a mixed light/dark Eggenberg, and munch on mild Roquefort cheese wedges lightly breaded and fried. We love how food is truly one of the best ways to internalize a culture, anywhere in the world.

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Town Square

Small towns that surround castles make me feel medieval…, until I realize that instead of donning furs, Marilynn and I dress in REI down jackets and high tech hats. So much for medieval! However, Bram Stoker conducted much of his research here in Cesky Krumlov. Per the locals, this town is the true birth of vampire.

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Wandering the cobblestone streets

Getting lost on narrow, cobblestone streets that angle and twist through history adds to the delight of our adventures.

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Tower walls

We climb up the spiral stairs to the top of the Castle’s tower for some panoramic views of this stunning city.

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View from the tower

It’s time for dinner. Again, on Cal’s advice, we devour a “Bohemian Feast” at Dwau Maryi, loaded with pheasant, rabbit, chicken, pork, dumplings, potato cakes, and a measly salad in the middle – probably a recent addition. The leftovers were wonderful for breakfast.

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Bohemian Feast

Strangely enough, food servers in this small town carry a gruff attitude. We would expect the opposite. Perhaps they are tired of tourists. I wonder how they must feel in the Summer season when the place is crawling with tourists? I would not want their job.

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Which way do we go?

The following morning, we finally have time to write our first post on this adventure about Prague, Czech Republic . Afterwards, we hike up a snow-covered hill to “Our Lady Dolorous and the Holy Cross” chapel, built in 1710.

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Chapel on the Mountain of the Cross

Although closed every day of the year but one, we enjoy the energy and catch views of the city from different angles.

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City views from the mountain

Stay tuned, we be on our way to Vienna, Austria, for a short stop in Western Europe!   Ron Mitchell

 

 

CZECH REPUBLIC: Check It Out

The longer that Marilynn and I stay at home, the harder it is to leave. Once we leave, it’s easy to stay away. Finally, we hit the road again, all geared-up for two months of winter travel around Eastern Europe with no set itinerary.

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Prague

During winter “off- season,” most tourists are gone, and everything from hotel rooms to food is half-price. So, let’s bundle up and start checking out magnificence in the city of Prague.

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Prague Old Town Square

After a sleepless overnight flight, we roam the cobblestone streets and sidewalks of Prague in a trance of awe and wonder. The art begins on the cubic ground level.

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Even the sidewalks, streets, and sewer covers are beautiful

Snowflakes fly with the wind around stone sculpted saints, angels, warriors, gargoyles, and yet to be identified creatures clinging to Gothic buildings, spires, bridges, domes, and even the astronomical clock. Yes, overwhelming.

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The Astronomical Clock

Prague, my friends, is an amazing walking city. Plan to get lost in the angled alleyways where the streets make no sense, especially while a plethora of art grabs your gaze.

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Typical street in Prague

Like the hidden passageways of a Moroccan Kasbah, front doors of countless cafes, restaurants, and hotels mean nothing until you step through the portal and discover a different world.

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Pork Knee or Knuckle

It’s time for some stick-to-your-ribs food, like roasted pig knee (call it knuckle if you prefer) with sauerkraut and horseradish, a Czech favorite.

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Ron crossing the Charles Bridge

Let’s walk across the Charles Bridge to visit the John Lennon Wall, followed by a cold one at the John Lennon Pub. All we need is love.

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The Lennon Wall

A one-hour train ride to the town of Kutna Hora presents a unique day trip to the Cemetery of All Saints with the Ossuary.

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Sedlec Ossuary, better known as “The Bone Church”

It’s a church decorated with the bones of about 40,000 buried bodies who died mostly from epidemic around the 14th Century. Legend has it that a half-blind monk decoratively arranged the bones and skulls around the 16th Century. The monk regained his eyesight after his honorable labor.

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The bones of 40,000 people

The Roman Catholic Church administrates this UNESCO World Heritage site.  “Remember the Death” symbolizes hope of resurrection. Not a celebration of death, but symbolic of the equality of all people in front of the throne of God.

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No words…

I digress here to explain that we are American football fans. We stayed awake two nights in a row, all night, to watch the NFL playoff games in the comfort of our room at the “Elite Hotel.” (Quite unique hearing broadcasters speak German) I was too gassed that morning to walk to Prague’s most popular attraction, the Prague Castle.

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Prague Castle, up close and personal

While I was content to view the site from a distance, the amazing Marilynn trekked up to the castle.

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Views from the Castle

She had the place almost to herself. From Gothic to Renaissance to nouveau and cubist, the art and architectural presentation transcends words.

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Prague by night

So, I’ll end this post in a trance of awe and wonder, and leave with you Marilynn’s inspirational photos of Prague.   Ron Mitchell

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As beautiful at night….

 

 

The Polar Bears of Churchill, Manitoba

The terrain changes from farmland to tundra during our two-night train ride from Winnipeg to Churchill. This small town on the Hudson Bay greets us with 30 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. “Welcome to balmy Churchill,” says Shannon, executive director of the Great Bear Foundation. “I’m so glad that you guys decided to take our Polar Bear Ecology Field Course!”

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Good Morning Churchill!

About ten of us pile into a yellow school bus. Rows of small bench seats bring back distant memories of school days. Off to our first polar bear class at the Churchill Northern Studies Center, whose mission is “to understand and sustain the north.”

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Hey there big fella

Let’s head out into the field, tundra that is, and bounce along snowy, ice-covered roads to pursue our mission, which is simply to see polar bears.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Sleepy bear spotted in a snow storm

Ever try to spot a polar bear in a snowstorm on a vast, unforgiving tundra? Well, it’s not as hard as you might think. At least not in this part of the world. Approximately 1,000 polar bears gather here each year and wait for the shores of the Hudson Bay to freeze. They need ice in order to hunt for ringed seals. Eating seals is crucial to their survival.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Typical Churchill scene

These magnificent creatures descended from Grizzly bears around 250,000 years ago. This time of year, their metabolism duplicates that of a hibernating bear, but they don’t sleep like one. They saunter around until the ice comes. That’s when polar bears come to life, as well as lose tolerance for such close presence of other bears.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Don’t eat the yellow snow!

Once we spot a bear, Frank, our trusty driver/guide/photographer/instructor, turns off the engine. Classmates jockey for position by the windows. “Hush!”

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Sharpening claws? Probably foraging for food

We try to be quiet, but have difficulty containing the oohs and aahs during our first sighting. However, we become pros during future sightings, where the only sound comes from clicking cameras.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Otherworldly terrain

Watching these bears, just being bears in their natural environment, puts tears in Mare’s eyes, while I’m paralyzed in awe.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Gotcha!!

Red foxes pounce on unsuspecting rodents under the snow, while constantly on the lookout for bears as well!

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Check out that tail!

Polar bears that misbehave get sentenced to Polar bear jail. No kidding. A specially converted holding facility provides an alternative to killing a bear, who might happen to get too close to humans in the quest for food.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Actually this is bad human behavior NOT bad bear behavior

Bears who don’t respond to being “hazed away” are tranquilized with a dart, and then transported to a bear cell. They are held there without food, to avoid habituating them to humans. Nobody wants bears to associate humans with food.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Bear Jail

Eventually, each bear is placed in a huge net and transported via helicopter many miles away to a place where ice has formed. Yes, they do have about a sixty percent recidivism rate – repeat offenders! Still, this is an excellent alternative to euthanizing bears whose only crime is to seek out and eat food in order to survive.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

A “bad” bear headed to bear jail

Let’s break things up with a dogsled ride. Dave Daley is the “big dog” at Wapusk Adventures. He loves each one of his dogs, and gets to know their strengths, psyche, and motivations. If a dog misbehaves, he bites it on the nose. Then he gives it positive reinforcement within a minute. Dave sleds us around the “Ididamile” track. What a thriller, as well as fun exercise for the run-loving dogs!

Photo by Marilynn Windust

“Hike!”

Once back onto the bus, a mother with two cubs shows herself in temperatures of 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Ahhhhhh…

It’s starting to get more like polar bear weather around here. Hopefully, the ice will not take too long to form, as it seems to take longer each year.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Just can’t capture the grandeur of the Northern Lights!

As if seeing polar bears and foxes cavorting in the snow isn’t enough, how about finishing the evening with a grand showing of the Aurora Borealis?  We live in a wonderful world. Thank you, Abundant Universe!

Ron Mitchell

 

Oh, Alaska!

Eagles mate for life. But even the most romantic lovers need a little space once in a while.

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Sometimes you need a little space

One of them decides to go fishing. A bald eagle can dive at speeds of up to 200 mph.

fishing

Gone fishing

A juvenile bald eagle does not go bald (head and tail turn white) for about five years. They pay attention and learn how to fish.

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Juvenile eagle learning the ropes

An eagle’s scream means “Stay away from my kill!” The eagle will emphatically rip into the catch, its body language telling others to stay away or fight. Eventually though, they get full and give way.

Talking

Hungry and willing to fight

Ah, bald eagles are pirates known for stealing booty. They can spot that kill from two miles away. The kill attracts lots of attention.

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Fighting and feasting

After a while, a few juveniles hang around for scraps of spoils.

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Juveniles waiting for the leftovers

Meanwhile, something attracts the attention of a black bear.

bear back

I think I heard something!

Hopefully, it’s not this spike bull moose, whose antler configuration makes him legal for hunting season. (Not that that matters to any bear)

Male moose

A male moose hoping not to be dinner

Everybody gives way to the grizzly bear. This guy strolls through the horsetail grass in the wetlands of our backyard. He eats anything he wants along the way. Coastal brown bears grow larger than their grizzly cousins in the interior, due to plenty of seafood proteins.

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A big brown bear looking for dinner

Perhaps this young cow moose swam across the river because of the bear’s scent.

Moose 2

A young female moose hoping not to be dinner either

The romantic lovers meet again. Nothing can harm the top of the food chain, except for humans.

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“So happy together…”

Oh, Alaska. You’re almost as beautiful as my romantic wife. Happy 22nd anniversary, Babe!

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Happy Anniversary!

Ron Mitchell