Tag Archive: Europe


Vicenza!

Vicenza! Look for the close up in the next photo.

Most people skip this beautiful town as they race around to northern Italy’s bigger attractions such as Venice and Verona.  But we were so glad that we didn’t! There were stunning architectural masterpieces scattered throughout the city…as you can see in the photos below.

Amazing detail!

Amazing detail!

The photos above, and the next seven that follow, were taken at Pizza dei Signori, which is the big central square of Vicenza.  It was the center of social and political life since the Roman Era!

Vicenza!

Can you find Nate and me at the base of the monuments? Look for the close ups in the next three photos.

Vicenza was founded by the ancient Venetos, then it passed to the Romans.

Goofing around:)

It was invaded by Barbarians (the real ones, not small children like this one who frequently forget their table manners) in late Roman times!

Posing.

It became a Dukedom under the Lombards, and later a County under the Franks.

Playing steal the hat and run!

Playing steal the hat and run!

It became a Free City-State in the 12th century.

More goofing around...

More goofing around…check out the close up in the next photo.

The tower is 230ft high. The basement was built in the 12th century, whereas the upper part of the tower was added in the 14th century.

Every self respecting European town seems to have a picturesque clock tower....although Prague's is the best of all!

Every self-respecting European town seems to have a picturesque clock tower….although Prague’s clock tower is the best of all!

Vicenza voluntarily came under the dominion of the  Republic of Venice in the early 15th century, and then enjoyed a long period of prosperity.

The architecture around the city was stunning!

The architecture around the city was stunning!

In the 16th century the architect Andrea Palladio turned Vicenza into a treasure of Renaissance architecture. His name is everywhere in the city!

You can see the Venetian influence.

You can see the Venetian influence.

So picturesque!

In the late 18th century Vicenza passed under Napoleanic rule.

This window box made my A list:)

Later, Vicenza passed to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Nikolas delighted this street performer by insisting that we give him a coin!

Nate delighted this street performer by insisting that we give him a coin!

In the 19th century Vicenza joined the Kingdom of Italy.

There were pallazos (palacial mansions belonging to the nobility) scattered throughout the city...this is one of them.

There were pallazos (palacial mansions belonging to the nobility) scattered throughout the city…this is one of them.

I hope this post will inspire anyone traveling in this area to make time to see this beautiful city…I’m glad we did!

The town of Sirmione, Lake Garda.

Scaliger Castle in the town of Sirmione, Lake Garda.

Friends in Prague highly recommended that we visit Lake Garda, and now I know why! It has a very Mediterranean vibe to it, even though it is in northern Italy.

We are very laid back travelers…we like sleeping late, having brunch and pottering around the flat.  We rarely get out before noon; and our host recommended that we get out in the mornings and evenings to avoid the midday heat. So we’ve been setting out mid-afternoon and coming home late…it suits our family of night owls!

First, we stopped for an evening picnic...it was about 5:30pm.

First, we stopped for an evening picnic.

No picnic is complete in Italy without wine! Classy coffee cups:)

No picnic is complete in Italy without wine! Although I doubt Italians would use coffee cups:)

After our picnic we went on to the old city area.

After our picnic we went on to the old city area.

This is what you see as you are walking up to the historic town on a peninsula.

This is what you see as you are walking up to the historic town on the end of the peninsula.

Lake Garda, including what is now Sirmione, was a favourite resort area for rich families from Verona since the 1st century BC! At that time Verona (where we are now staying) was the main Roman city in north-eastern Italy.

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This lovely spot was the scene of several invasions following the fall of the Roman Empire.

Entering the old town.

Entering the old town: Scaliger Castle…built in the 13th century.

The noble family of the Scaliger, also know as Scaligeri, were the rulers of Verona in the 13th and 14th centuries.

You can read about their turbulent family history here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scaliger

Look for the close up in the next photo.

Look for the close up in the next photo.

Everything was so colorful!

Everything was so colorful! Notice that the pizzeria is named for the Scaligeri family.

It was fun walking through the streets... mostly all pedestrian area.

It was fun walking through the streets… mostly all pedestrian areas.

The lake is lovely in the evening.

The lake is lovely in the evening.

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Scaliger Castle was part of a defensive network surrounding Verona.

I learned that Sirmione has had a very turbulent history because of its strategic location in northern Italy. The town has witnessed the struggles in the Middle Ages between the Ghibellines (emperor supporters) and Guelphs (Pope supporters). You can learn more about it here:

http://carneycastle.com/Sirmione/index.htm

Ok, I'm exercising extreme self control to limit the number of photos in this post!

This picturesque town has seen some gruesome things take place in its history.

Cathars (considered heretics by the Catholic Church) took refuge here in the mid-1200’s. However, the last 166 Cathars were captured in 1276 and taken to the Arena of Verona and burned at the stake. You can read about their story here:

http://grantouritaly.blogspot.it/2012/09/sirmione-sanctuary-for-heretics.html

Nice place to share a bottle of wine...

Nice place to share a bottle of wine…

I'm displaying my weakness for taking photos of cute balconies:)

I’m displaying my weakness for taking photos of cute balconies:)

Nate hates posing for photos so we bribed him with ice cream!

Nate hates posing for photos so we bribed him with ice cream!

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It’s amazing the smiles that can be obtained with the incentive of ice cream!

Now he was suggesting photo ops...

Now he was suggesting photo ops…

No day is complete without a visit to the gelateria!

No day is complete without a visit to the gelateria!

Enjoying the sunset and the aftermath of a sugar high from the ice cream)

Enjoying the sunset and the aftermath of a sugar high from the ice cream)

The sun sets on a perfect day on Lake Garda!

The sun sets on a perfect day at Lake Garda!

We loved Lake Garda and would love to go back to explore other places around the lake! For anyone who has been there, are there any other locations on Lake Garda that you’d like to recommend?

The Austrian Alps!

The Austrian Alps!

We have often found that the best and most memorable part of a holiday isn’t the places you see, but the people you meet. On Wednesday morning we packed up and said our good-byes to our Airbnb hosts.  It was our first time to use Airbnb, and we had a wonderful experience.  Out of respect for our hosts’ privacy I won’t post photos or use their  names.  However, I want to describe our experience with them, because staying in their home made our time in Bavaria exceptional!

When we arrived Monday evening after getting lost on the Romantic Road, they greeted us like friends.  They have a lovely home in a quiet, picturesque Bavarian village.  We had our own private bedroom and bathroom. Every morning our host provided us with a breakfast feast that would rival anything you’d find in a four star hotel! Our hosts are an expat family living in Bavaria.  They have three boys around Nate’s age.  When we arrived home after our day trip to the Neuschwanstein Castle, Nate ran off with the boys to play in the backyard…on the trampoline and in the woods surrounding the house. We had a great time getting to know this wonderful family, and greatly appreciate their fantastic hospitality!

We left late on Wednesday morning for our next destination….Verona, Italy! We passed through the stunning Austrian Alps.

We stopped here to snap a few quick photos.  Notice the camping photos at the

We stopped here to snap a few quick photos. Notice the camping photos at the bottom of the sign.

I want to camp here!

I want to camp here!

I call dibs on these chairs!

I call dibs on these chairs!

Not a bad way to get a little exercise before returning to the chairs.

Not a bad way to get a little exercise before returning to the chairs.

See what you would miss if you just speed by in your car?

See what you would miss if you just speed by in your car?

You could stop here for a bite to eat...but we didn't.

You could stop here for a bite to eat…but we didn’t.

Photos couldn't capture the beauty of the Alps!

Photos couldn’t capture the beauty of the Alps!

We drove past Innsbruck, Austria into the Piccole Dolomites…the mountain range located between the provinces of Trentino, Verona and Vicenza, in Northern Italy.  They were beautiful; different from the Austrian Alps because there were many terraced vineyards. We didn’t stop for photos as we were ready to get to Verona.

So, now I’m writing from the roof top terrace of our flat on the outskirts of Verona, complete with a view of the river.  Life is good!

The lovely town of Fussen!

The lovely town of Fussen!

After visiting Neuschwanstein Castle we headed to Fussen, the southern end of the Romantic Road.

Fussen began as a Roman trading fort. Its medieval town center is framed by the majestic Alps, rising above the  the river Lech, and it is surrounded by lakes. It has a late-gothic castle, baroque cathedrals and the oldest preserved fresco in Bavaria.

Watch for the close up in the next photo.

Watch for the close up in the next photo.

Many of the buildings have paintings on them.

Many of the buildings have paintings on them.

Cute cafes were everywhere!

Cute cafes were everywhere!

These wrought iron signs seem to be typical, too.

These wrought iron signs seem to be typical, too.

The town is immaculate!

The town is immaculate!

Unfortunately, we didn't have time to visit the castle.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the castle.

This is another place we'd love to spend more time in.

This is another place we’d love to spend more time in.

Below is St. Mang’s Basilica. It has the oldest fresco in Germany in its crypt, dating back to 980.

The clock tower.
This church was beautiful!

This church was beautiful! Kid in motion…

The organ!

The organ!

We then drove back to the small Bavarian village we were staying in, and went for dinner at a local restaurant recommended by our Airbnb hosts. We tried authentic Bavarian dishes and the local beer. Our waitress was very friendly and we muddled through with our minimal German:)

The food was excellent!

The food was excellent!

The next day (yesterday) we left for Verona, Italy.  We drove though spectacular Alpine scenery…past Innsbruck, Austria…into the Dolomites, and on to Verona.

Today we are doing a day trip to Lake Garda…gotta run!

Neuschwanstein Castle!

Neuschwanstein Castle!

Guidebooks say that this is the world’s most famous castle…the model for Disneyland’s castle.

This was at the beginning of the hike up to the castle.

This was at the beginning of the hike up to the castle.

“Crazy” King Ludwig II is famous for his two fantasy fairy-tale castles: Neuschwanstein Castle and Howenscwangau Castle.

We hiked up a canyon next to a waterfall.

We hiked up a canyon next to a waterfall.

They are Germany’s biggest tourist attractions!

Notice the bridge above Andy. We are about halfway to the bridge at this point.

Notice the bridge above Andy. We are about halfway to the bridge at this point.

The location of the castles is stunning!

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We finally arrived at the top, a 35 minute climb…we worked off our amazing, enormous breakfast provided by our wonderful Airbnb host!

According to Lonely Planet guidebook, King Ludwig planned this castle with the help of a help of a set designer instead of an architect!

There's Andy, waving his arms on the balcony.  There were tons of tourists there!

There’s Andy, waving his arms on the balcony. There were tons of tourists there!

It looks like a medieval castle but was building was begun in 1869, but never finished.

Must have a photo in front of the castle, even with random tourists posing for their own photos:)

Must have a photo in front of the castle, even with random tourists posing for their own photos:) At this point, Nate was ready to go back to our hosts’ home to play.

Apparently, King Ludwig only lived here for less than 180 days.

The castle actually looked very new up close. It had just been restored earlier this year.

The castle actually looked very new up close. It had just been restored earlier this year.

Next, we walked to Marienbrucke Bridge, the bridge I pointed out about Andy a few pictures ago.

Next, we walked to Marienbrucke Bridge, the bridge I pointed out above Andy a few pictures ago.

On the way to the bridge we passed this view of the place where King Ludwig lived as a boy.

Here's Howenschwangau Castle, where crazy King Ludwig lived as a boy.  Not a bad place to grow up!

Howenschwangau Castle… not a bad place to grow up!

Here's the view from the bridge!

Here’s the view from the bridge!

Then we walked down the hill to Hohenschwangau, the touristy town at the bottom of the hill.

Then we walked down the hill to Hohenschwangau, the touristy town at the bottom of the hill.

The picture above shows how far up we climbed to get to the castle!

The view of the castle from the town.  It shows how far we climbed to get to it!

The view of the castle from the town.

Again, this is a must-see if you are ever in this area!  Our day wasn’t even finished at this point.  We left here to go to Fussen: the final, southern-most town on the Romantic Road.  Pictures coming on the next post.

Gotta run, we are off to Italy now!

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Dinklesbuhl, Germany

The best adventures sometimes happen when things don’t go according to plan!  Here’s a photo of us waiting in Prague Airport for our flight to Cologne.

This is ALL we travel with...no checked bags!

This is ALL we travel with…no checked bags!

The original plan was to arrive in Cologne at 10 am, pick up our rental car, and drive to Bavaria, a five hour or so drive to our first night’s accommodation. We wanted to stop for lunch in a town somewhere on Germany’s Romantic Road.

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The whole town was full of these lovely medieval buildings.

Well, we had a fiasco with our rental car (more about that later) and we didn’t get out of the airport until noon.  We put in Dinklesbuhl in the car navigation system, but then decided to scratch the plan since we got such a late start, and go straight to our accommodations in Bavaria. So we reset the destination, and had an arrival time of 6pm.

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This was just one roof top!

At about 5:50pm, we discovered we were no where near where we thought we were in Bavaria.  Somehow Dinklesbuhl must have stayed on as a via point!

Look for the close up in the next photo.

Look for the close up in the next photo.

So, we were lost!  We didn’t have a map, so we couldn’t see the big picture of where we were in Germany, compared to where we wanted to go.

We were sad we only had a short time to spend here.

We were sad we only had a short time to spend here.

But since we were just a few kilometers away from Dinklesbuhl, we decided to stop and see it.

Notice the tower in the background.

Notice the tower in the background.

It was an excellent decision!

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We definitely want to come back here!

So I jumped out of the car and took some hurried photos.

Look for the close up in the next photo.

Look for the close up in the next photo.

It was definitely too short a time for this lovely place!

There were several buildings with paintings on them

There were several buildings with paintings on them

Be sure to visit this lovely town!

Be sure to visit this lovely town!

So then we found a gas station and purchased a map, and proceeded to our destination; another two hours through the beautiful German countryside.

Andy said it was the best driving day of his LIFE!!  There was a sticker on our rental car that said it had been tested for 210 kilometers an hour…we were driving at 100mph and getting passed by VWs racing by.  Andy said he pushed it to 200 kilometers per hour (120 mph) at one point:)  There’s no speed limit on the autobahn, so it was legal!

We arrived at our destination at 8:40pm, much later than expected, but it was a lovely misadventure.  We are staying in a lovely little village in a beautiful home we found through Airbnb.  Life is good!

I’ll try to do a post every day or every other day, so sign up for updates if you’d like to follow our adventures!

Hi, I’m Nate.  This is the end of my second year of living in Prague.  It’s been another very fun year of adventures!

In September I celebrated my birthday with my friends from school.

Cake, friends, presents...what can be better?

Cake, friends, presents…what can be better?

In October we went for a week to Slovenia.  That’s part of the old Yugoslavia. It’s next to Austria, Hungary, Croatia, and Italy.

This is the view from the castle on the cliffs above Lake Bled.

This is the view from the castle on the cliffs above Lake Bled.

See the little island near the end of the lake with the church spire?

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Dad rowed us to the island.

We rang the church bell!

We rang the church bell!

Another day Dad drove us through the Julian Alps.

Look at THAT!  Pretty cool place for a picnic!

Look at THAT! Pretty cool place for a picnic!

We climbed around a five hundred year old castle built into a cliff. Read about the robber baron who got shot by a cannonball while sitting on the toilet:

https://globalnomadfamily.com/2013/06/08/slovenia-one-of-our-all-time-favorite-european-countries/

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Doesn’t it look like a place from Lord of the Rings?

In December we celebrated Christmas TWICE!! Once in California and once in Milwaukee!

At my Auntie Robin's house on Christmas morning!

At my Auntie Robin’s house on a sunny California Christmas morning!

In Milwaukee I got to see my sister, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. I got to meet my new twin cousins!

I got to hang out with my big sister, Sam.

I got to hang out with my big sister, Sam.

In February we visited our Turkish friends.  We had a blast!  We ate tons of great home cooked food. We went to a cafe on the Bosphorus.

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See the cat behind us?

We went on a cruise on the Bosphorus with friends from Prague.  It was a VERY rainy day!

Hanging out with the Myers.

Later that day we tried dessert with chicken in it!!

The red one is the Turkish flag.

The red one is the Turkish flag.

After Istanbul we went to visit our other Turkish friends in Ankara.  It was so fun!

Istanbul is amazing!

Istanbul is cool!

In April we went to Seville, Spain for our Easter Break.  Our friend Ana Maria and her family showed us the Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions.

Mom says this tradition is hundreds of years old!

Mom says this tradition is hundreds of years old!

You can read about our adventures in Seville here:

https://globalnomadfamily.com/2013/04/07/celebrating-semana-santa-in-seville/

This is the procession in front of the float,

This is the procession in front of the float.

Next, we went to Granada at the end of March into the first week of April.

The Alhambra!

The Alhambra!

Mom and Dad slept late every day.  They let me watch lots of Spanish cartoons on TV. I love Cosmic Cat! You can see more photos of Granada here:

https://globalnomadfamily.com/2013/05/11/the-alhambra-a-photo-essay/

It was fun exploring the Alhambra, but we got drenched at the end!

It was fun exploring the Alhambra, but we got drenched at the end!

One day we went for a day trip to Cordoba to see the Mezquita.

It was a mosque built in the 900's.

It is a mosque built in the 900’s on the ruins of a Visigothic church from the 600’s.

See, it looks like a mosque, right?

See, it looks like a mosque, right?

But there's a big cathedral that pops out of the middle of the mosque!

But there’s a big cathedral that pops out of the middle of the mosque!

The cathedral was built in the 1200’s after the Spanish kicked out the Moors.

You can read about more Spain adventures here:

https://globalnomadfamily.com/2013/05/19/renting-a-car-in-europe-six-lessons-learned/

In May we went to Herrnhut, Germany for a weekend retreat with our friends from church.

The view from the prayer tower.

The view from the prayer tower.

Just being silly!

Just being silly!

June was a CRAZY month! Prague got flooded and my school was shut down.  I went to school in a hotel for a week! Then we had visitors from India.  Next, Sydney and her family come to stay with us and we took them to the Summer Fayre.  It was a blast!

i got launched in the air!

I got launched in the air!

Walking home with Sydney after Summer Fayre.

Walking home with Sydney after Summer Fayre.

Sydney and her family are traveling around the world for two years!  You can read about their adventures here:

http://travel-junkies.com/

It’s been a really fun school year.  I’m excited for summer vacation.  On Monday we leave on a road trip to Germany, Italy and France. Then we’ll come home for five days, and after that we’ll go to Israel.  It’s going to be fun!

What? Bones in a church??

What? Bones in a church??

Last September we visited the “Bone Church” in Kutna Hora with my friend, Elsa.  It was such a strange, creepy place!

Ahhh, another quaint European church...not!!

Ahhh, another quaint European church…not!!

Looks can be deceiving. It looks picturesque and peaceful from the outside.  But on the inside it is no ordinary church.

The graveyard on the church grounds.

The graveyard on the church grounds.

It looks as if the Adams Family decorated the church! All of the decorations inside the church are made from human bones. Seriously??  Seriously!!

The next logical question is: Where did the bones come from?

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The chandelier contains every bone in the human body!

The bones come from the victims of plague in the 14th century, and from victims of the Hussite wars in the 15th century. Thousands were killed in these events; apparently they were buried in mass graves on the church property.

This is the coat of arms of the Swarzenburger family.

This is the coat of arms of the Schwarzenburg family, who used to own the church.

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Close up of the coat of arms above: worthy of Pirates of the Caribbean!

Why so many bones in one place, you ask??

The legend goes that the abbot of Sedlec monastery, known as Jindrich, brought back a handful of soil from his travels to Palestine, and sprinkled it on the cemetery. This made it a popular burial site for the nobility of Central Europe.

Creepy!

Creepy!

The number of burials outgrew the available space during the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century. So they began to dig up the older remains and stored the bones in the chapel.

The decorations came from the bones of 40,000 people.

It is estimated that the chapel contains the bones of 40,000 people!

There’s an urban legend  that a monk went crazy and made things from the bones. Another legend is that the bones were first piled in geometric shapes by partially blind monks who were taking care of the chapel. Sounds like an answer my nephew Aaron would make up while playing the game Balderdash (a game where you make up crazy answers to questions and try to get the other players to believe you)!!

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The Schwarzenberg family bought the monastery in 1870, and they commissioned a local carver, František Rint,  to  get creative with the bones…as “a reminder of the importance of human life and inescapable death.”

Am I really posing next to a chandelier of human bones? Odd!!

Smile for the camera while we pose next to a chalice made of bones surrounded by skulls: STRANGE!!

You can find out how to get to Kutna Hora from Prague here:

http://www.frommers.com/destinations/prague/0063020751.html

A big thank you to my friend Elsa, for these photos. My camera battery had died on the way.

After you leave the church, shake off the creepy feeling, and walk on to the picturesque town of Kutna Hora, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I’ll write another post to show the “lovely side” of Kutna Hora!

While doing research for this post, I found this awesome quote by Greg, writer of  Outside Prague, a great website about the lesser known towns and cities of the Czech Republic.

http://www.outsideprague.com/kutna_hora/kutna_hora_daytrip.html

Greg writes:

“Visitors to the bone church often describe it as macabre, eerie or creepy and I once asked the lady at the desk if she ever felt bothered to be working there. She flipped her hand in a dismissive way and said “Pfft! They’re only bones, they won’t hurt you; it’s the living who scare me”.

Good point.”

The most spectacular country you have never heard of!

The most spectacular country you have never heard of!

My friend Heidi told me that Lake Bled, Slovenia was one of her favorite places in Europe. Slovenia is the northern tip of the old Yugoslavia, and borders Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia. See the map here:

http://search.yahoo.com/search?ei=utf-8&fr=aaplw&p=slovenia+map+images

So we decided to go there last October, during our one week midterm break.  It is now one of my top three favorite countries in Europe!  It is a hidden gem. We rented a car and drove there from Prague, through the Austrian Alps during the peak fall season–wow!!

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It was an eight hour drive through gorgeous landscapes!

Ljubljana

We stayed a week in Ljubljana, the capital. Ljubljana is so picturesque!

The view from the castle!

The view from the castle!

In the Old Town area.

In the Old Town area.

Check out the blue October sky!

Check out the blue October sky!

It was heavenly to enjoy a meal at an outdoor cafe along the river in the third week of October!

It was heavenly to enjoy a meal at an outdoor cafe along the river in the third week of October!

Food is always better when eaten outside!

Food is always better when eaten outside!

Each day we did a day trip to the following places: Piran, Lake Bled, the Julian Alps, the Postojna Cave, and Predjama Castle.  Each day our mouths dropped at the incredible beauty of this tiny country, slightly smaller than New Jersey.  Let the photos speak for themselves!

Piran is a beatiful town on the coast of the northern Adriatic which has been compared to the famous southern  Adriatic jewel Dubrovnik.

Breathtaking!

Breathtaking!

Ok, maybe not warm enough for swimming:)

Ok, maybe not warm enough for swimming:)

We stumbled upon this little church.

We stumbled upon this little church.

We wandered through the winding streets.

We wandered through the winding streets.

The architecture is similar to what you find in Venice.

The architecture is similar to what you find in Venice.

Boats everywhere!

Boats everywhere!

Lake Bled’s stunning landscape in the Julian Alps is breath-taking. A translucent lake,  a wooded island with a baroque church at the top; a cliff-top castle overlooking the lake, all with the dramatic Julian Alps as a backdrop.

View from the castle walls.

View from the castle walls.

We splurged and had lunch here...can you blame us??!!

We splurged and had lunch here…can you blame us??!!

The island in the lake with a baroque church.

The island in the lake with a baroque church.

So hard to choose just five photos of this place!

So hard to choose just five photos of this place!

The views were epic!

The views were epic!

The Julian Alps are tucked between Italy and Austria. We drove through the stunning mountain scenery at the peak of the fall colors. We stopped at a deserted, pristine Alpine lake.

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We even had it to ourselves!

There were 48 hair pin turns to go through the Vrsic Pass.  Scary, but the scenery was amazing!

It was a glorious day!

It was a glorious day!

Perfect picnic spot, all to ourselves...ok, it was in October:)

Perfect picnic spot, all to ourselves…ok, it was in October:)

After you reach the summit of Vrsic Pass, you descend into the Soca Valley. The Soca River is a beautiful turquoise blue. I was surprised to learn that this area was the location of brutal fighting between the Austrians and Italians during World War  I.  Besides loss of life in battle, at least 60,000 soldiers died in avalanches.

I was so glad Andy did the driving!

I was so glad Andy did the driving!

Did you know that Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms begins in the Alps around the frontier between Italy and present-day Slovenia? At that time Italy was allied with Britain, France and Russia against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire. The novel’s main character is Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American who volunteered for the Italian army because the United States hadn’t yet entered the war.

The Battle of Caporetto  took place from late October to mid November of 1917, near the town of  Kobarid.  The battle was named after the Italian name of the town of Kobarid.

The town of Kobarid, the setting for Hemingway's Farewell to Arms.

The town of Kobarid, the setting for Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms.

The Postojna Cave system is the longest cave system in Slovenia (network of 20 kilometers).  Postojna Cave is the longest publicly-accessible depth of any cave system in the world. Its Grand Hall often serves as a concert venue for up to 10,000 people! The caverns and stalactite formations were astounding!

The entrance to the cave.

The entrance to the cave.

We took a little mining train deep into the cave,  and then hiked through the 5 kilometer-long trail.

Nate's favorite part of the day:)

Nate’s favorite part of the day:)

It is about 12 miles long!

It is about 12 miles long!

It was first discovered in the 17th century, and became a tourist attraction in 1819.

It was first discovered in the 17th century, and became a tourist attraction in 1819.

Predjama Castle was built in the middle of a vertical 123-metre high cliff  more than 700 years ago.

It's a very "Lord of the Rings-ish" sort of place!

It’s a very “Lord of the Rings-ish” sort of place!

The  most famous of all of the castle inhabitants was the knight Erazem of Predjama, who rebelled against the Holy Roman Emperor in the 15th century. He retreated to Predjama Castle, which was besieged by the emperor.

We were the last visitors of the day.

We were the last visitors of the day.

The legend says that Erazem was able to withstand the siege because he had access to the outside world through underground caves beneath the castle.  However, he met a sad fate:  he was betrayed by a servant and was unceremoniously killed by a cannonball while sitting on the toilet!

Not far from the famed toilet with a view!

Not far from the famed toilet with a view!

The boys went exploring!

The boys went exploring!

The view to the village.

The view to the village.

So, do not delay…plan your trip to Slovenia. Experience it for yourself first hand!  We are looking forward to going back next year. Any recommendations for other places to see from those who have been there?

Plaza de Espana, Seville

Plaza de Espana, Seville

We had a wonderful eleven-day vacation in Spain last month.  We visited Seville, Cordoba and Granada.  Usually we use public transport when traveling, but discovered going by train within Spain is very expensive.  We stayed with friends in Seville and Granada, but the location in Granada was outside the city, so we needed to rent a car.

Since I am the family travel agent, I went online to research car costs, and was delighted to find a compact car that cost about $34 a day with insurance included.

The Alcazar gardens in Seville.

The Alcazar gardens in Seville.

When it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t good or true!  Here are our lessons learned:

Tip #1: Go with a well-known, proven agency and read the fine print in the offer.

I didn’t.  I LOATHE reading fine print! We booked with Marbesol. Marbesol?? When we arrived to pick up our car, we discovered that we had a “meet and greet: pick up with a full tank and bring it back empty”.  Sounded good to me when I booked, but I didn’t read that “the company may charge you for gas”.  We were told that we would have to pay 108 Euros for the privilege of bringing the car back empty (no refund for a partially full tank) AND we’d have to pay an 800 Euro deposit because the insurance didn’t cover everything. The car was tiny, and we knew a tank of gas would be much less than 108 Euros. Our other choice was to pay 129 Euros, which included full coverage, but we had to bring the car back with a full tank.  So, we chose the second plan. Our good deal was now a not-so-good deal.

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The Albayzin in Granada

Tip #2: Read the contract carefully before you purchase.

Full coverage may not be full coverage!  When we returned our car, the couple ahead of us had the misfortune to have a fender bender.  Nothing serious, but they were relieved that they had purchased full insurance. The agent congratulated them on having full coverage and said they only had to pay 245 Euros for the time the car would be out of commission for repair work.  They argued that they had full coverage; but the agent said it didn’t cover the days the car would be out of commission.  ARRRGGHHH!

The Albayzin; the Moorish quarter of Granada.  Notice the Alhambra in the background!

The Albayzin; the Moorish quarter of Granada. Notice the Alhambra in the background!

Tip 3: Don’t pay for insurance with a third party company when you book the car online.

The few times that we have done this, the “independent party insurance” never covers enough, so you end up purchasing additional insurance from the car rental company.

We got to see an authentic flamenco concert. We were the only tourists there!

We got to see an authentic flamenco concert. We were the only tourists there!

Tip #4: If you are going to a major European city, don’t rent a car!!

Even if you park it and use public transport, parking fees are 15+ Euros a day. Public transport is usually much more efficient and cost effective.

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The amazing Mezquita Mosque-Church in Cordoba.

Tip #5: If you do rent a car, rent the smallest possible car that will fit you and your baggage.

Our car was tiny, but driving in Granada was very stressful because there were dozens of tiny one-way streets that would be more aptly called alleys.  They had treacherous two foot metal posts about six inches on either side of the car that lined the alleys (to prevent parking).  The street/alleys were so narrow that Andy sometimes had to do a three or four point turn just to make a right or left turn!

Parking garages often have insanely small parking spaces, with only about eight-foot aisle between the front of your car and the car opposite.  We spent almost thirty minutes trying to get our tiny car into a tiny parking space!

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That’s how close another car parked to ours!

Tip #6:Update your GPS!

Our Garmin is two years old, and as we were driving to the airport there was a split in the road in real life, but only one road on our Garmin.  Then our Garmin told us we were driving on unpaved roads and wanted us to turn around, when in reality we were on a newly built highway.  Fortunately we eventually found our way to the rental agency, but there were a few stressful moments!

We will do another car rental for a Germany-Italy-France trip in the summer, and we will hopefully learn from our own mistakes.  We hope you can learn from our mistakes as well!  Do you have any tips for us?