Slovenia : Part 2 – Piran

It rained on us during the two hour drive from Lake Bled to our next destination – Piran, Slovenia. The weather was gloomy, but as we neared Piran, the clouds parted, the rain stopped, and the sun shone brightly. Our hearts started racing with excitement and adrenaline – a feeling I always get when arriving at a new place I’ve never seen before. We danced and sang along in the car to the “LaLa Land” movie soundtrack, to a song called, “Another Day of Sun.” Perfectly fitting. Vineyards and olive tree groves dotted the hillsides as we finally reached what would become one of my most favorite places in the world . . . Piran.

 

As we entered into the village of Piran, one could feel that this place was full of charm. Fishing boats swayed back and forth in the small harbor, tempting one to step onto one of the boats and go explore the beauty of the sea.

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We reached our beautiful accommodation, Hotel Piran, that sat perfectly next to the Adriatic Sea. A classy, sophisticated hotel, we were supremely impressed, especially by the warm, friendly faces greeting us at the front desk. Our jaws dropped when we walked into our room and saw the breathtaking view of the blue sea from our private balcony. The sea was surprisingly still as glass, and there were a few people out on kayaks and SUPs, enjoying the calm waters.

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We ate a delicious lunch on the patio of the hotel’s restaurant, soaking up the sun’s rays and being enthralled by the beauty of the sea and of this ancient village.

Piran Pez Trolls

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Then, it was time for exploring. I’m not too fond of group tours, and so, instead, we found our own way discovering Piran. Tartini Square evoked a sense of wonder within me, as I love town squares because you could spend hours just people watching and letting time slow down.

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My favorite part was wandering the streets and deserted alleyways and feeling wonderfully lost. We didn’t know where we were going – no map or compass to guide us, just our feet and hearts telling us where to go.

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We climbed the stairs up to Piran’s old town walls (dating back to the 7th century) and looked in wonder at the red-tile roofs below us. It felt like we were in Croatia and Italy all at the same time. Above us stood the old bell tower, which invited me to climb its stairs. I felt giddy at the prospect of conquering any fears of heights or claustrophobic spaces, and imagined the feeling I would have if I were brave and climbed despite my fears. And so, I did it! Climbing the 147 steps to the top of the Cathedral of St. George’s bell tower was nerve wracking, as the old wooden stairs would creak with each step you took. Adrenaline kept me going and the panoramic view of Piran and of the Adriatic Sea made the daunting climb worth every step.

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Piran - view of city pano from Tower

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I will never forget our time in Piran, a truly off the beaten path place. It stole my heart!

 

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Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.

~Isabelle Eberhardt

Slovenia : Part 1 – Lake Bled

Lake Bled, Slovenia is without a doubt at the top of our ‘to-travel’ destinations! Lake Bled is located in the Julian Alps of the Upper Carniolan region of northwestern Slovenia, where it adjoins the town of Bled.

From the moment we entered Slovenia, we were in awe of the natural beauty as well as the Eastern European vibe – something almost otherworldly about this fantastic county existed – it was wonderful!

We arrived in Slovenia via crossing over the northernmost Italy/Slovenia border, which turned out to be somewhat of an other worldly experience – there were no immigration officials, no cameras for security. . . completely opposite from every other border we’ve traversed, especially in Europe! Nothing was in place to check any travelers from moving from one side to the other. Well, nothing but an abandoned immigration control station which looked as if it hadn’t been occupied since 1970.

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Italia/Slovenian Border Crossing (Vacant Border Station Up Ahead)

MAP - border of Italy and SloveniaThe route from the small town of Tarvisio, Italy to Rateče, Slovenia then to Lake Bled was absolutely stunning – with antiquity surrounding us, through what appeared to be an endless route of vacant properties and villages.

 

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Departing Tarvisio, Italy on the Via Vittorio Veneto Road en route to Rateče, Slovenia

 

Here are a few of our favorite photos from the border crossing and Lake Bled. Enjoy!

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The traditional Pletna boat
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Just a wolf pup – friendly as can be!

 

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Lake Bled and view of Bled Castle

 

 

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Lake Bled and view of Bled Castle
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The primary establishment on the island is none other than the pilgrimage church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary (Cerkev Marijinega vnebovzetja), built in the 17th century
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Assumption of Mary (Cerkev Marijinega vnebovzetja)
Ojstrica hike - Lake Bled photo collage J & L
(Before and after photos of our hike up the Osojnica trail) – it was difficult! Straight up it seemed!

 

After such a grueling hike, a much needed relaxation was in order at the lovely Triglav Hotel.

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Beautiful Hotel Restaurant on Lake Bled
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Beautiful Hotel Restaurant on Lake Bled

The trains move slow in this area of Slovenia, or don’t come at all . . .

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Awaiting the slow-moving train which never came

Must-See’s In Windy Wellington – The ‘Coolest Little Capital in the World!’

Eat at the Beach Babylon Cafe and Feel Like you Are in Coffee Heaven

The beachy, laid-back vibes at this cozy little cafe on Oriental Parade (one of the “hot-spots” of Welly) make you forget time even exists. Coffee . . . espressos, cappuccinos, anything you need to get your caffeine fix lies here at Beach Babylon. Beach Babylon serves a very hearty brunch, as well as lunch, and when dinner time rolls around, there is a noticeable change that takes place. The atmosphere becomes more sophisticated with dim lighting, creating a romantic ambiance. My favorite dish, which I still crave years later after having dined at this gem – a breast of chicken laying in a creamy coconut sauce, accompanied by a bed of rice also infused with the taste of coconut. And the outdoor seating with views of Wellington harbor make this my favorite spot to soak up the sun’s rays, read a good book, and perhaps do a little people watching along the way.

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Image via Beach Babylon

 

Go Off-Roading at Red Rocks

I was a little intimidated by the thought of going off-roading, but it turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of our time of living in New Zealand. It was exhilarating for this girl who had never done this before, and despite my initial hesitations, I found myself having fun and laughing the whole time! We bumped along the rocks, our bodies jerking and swaying up and down and all around. At last, we made it through, very strategically, the Devil’s gate – two towering rocks where one had to drive the vehicle just right, or, who knows what might happen. We got stuck a couple of times, but when we made it to the other side, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Our friend was a professional at “off-roading” in New Zealand! We then stopped to admire the famous red rocks and gazed at the rainbow-colored paua shells. If you are feeling adventurous and appreciate geology and history, then take the time to go off-roading at Red Rocks. And hey, we know a guy!

For more details, click here

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Visit Eastborne – And Eat at a Cafe called “Chocolate Dayz”!

If you haven’t noticed yet, Wellington is THE place for foodies. It is said that Wellington “is crammed with more bars, cafes, and restaurants per capita than New York.” (see article link here). And, I am quite fond of food. Very fond, actually. So when we stumbled upon this beachside cafe in a lesser known suburb of Wellington, we were all for it. I recommend picking a table outside where most of the tables have picture-perfect views of the ocean. This little suburb of Wellington is a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city – if you can ever find you are able to pry yourself away from “the coolest little capital in the world”. The atmosphere here is so peaceful and relaxing, and you sense from everyone around you that they are truly enjoying life – not rushing.  The fish ’n’ chips at Chocolate Dayz are so fresh, lightly battered in panko-type style, making it feel “healthy” despite the fact that it is fish ’n’ chips. They were divine is really all I can say! Come here if you want to just unwind, want to hear the sound of the gulls, and want to smell the salty ocean air while you eat delicious and impressionable food.

 

Bike Ride to Pencarrow Lighthouse

While in Eastbourne, consider taking a scenic bike ride to the breathtakingly beautiful Pencarrow Lighthouse. From Eastbourne, the roundtrip takes approximately 1 1/2 hours by bicycle. The lighthouse stands solitary and greets travelers by the sea as the ships sail into Wellington Harbor. Although not a working lighthouse today, one can imagine what a welcome sight this lighthouse would have been to see when you knew your destination was finally within sight. You can read more about the history here, but one interesting fact from the aforementioned article is that Pencarrow Lighthouse was “the country’s first permanent lighthouse, it was also home to its first and only female lighthouse keeper – Mrs. Mary Jane Bennett.” The bike ride itself is captivating and peaceful and you’ll most likely spot some sheep along the way. The weather in this area is especially unpredictable so be prepared with a rain/wind jacket, and try to go on a day when the wind is calm – at least by Wellington standards!

Useful information – You can rent bikes at the gate in the summer time. [See link here.]

 

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Hike Mount Kaukau

If you love hiking and want to see the city of Wellington spread out like a blanket far below you, then put your boots on and hike up the beautiful Mount Kaukau. Although a little strenuous at times, open fields greet you at the top and you have unrestricted, panoramic views of the city, the vast ocean, views of the Rimutaka Ranges, and, on a clear day, even the South Island! This hike is worth the effort, and you will even get to see the native silver ferns along the way, reminding you that you are indeed in New Zealand, the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Useful information – Map for Mount KauKau map. [See link here.] Map courtesy of Wellington City Council

 

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A Ship Isn’t Meant to Stay Safe in the Harbor – So Go Sailing!

What better way to see Wellington than to see it from the water? Since Wellington is so windy, this makes for an adventurous time out on the water while sailing in the harbor. The wind is used to our advantage as it fills up the sails and sends us on our way. In our personal experience, we went sailing on what happened to be one of the calmest days ever – as in no wind at all – a rarity in this capital city. We were lucky, in my opinion, because of this, though our captain was disappointed for us, as there were several moments where we were at a standstill. The wind eventually did pick up, however, and it was so peaceful feeling the wind on our faces and smoothly journeying across the harbor. We became a part of the crew as the captain had us each take on a role in letting our boat sail from tacking to jiving. The company we used was Wellington Ocean Sports. They were top-notch and took care of us – the captain was witty and filled with the friendly, Kiwi spirit.

Find Wellington Ocean Sports here!

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Go Kayaking in Oriental Bay

If sailing doesn’t meet your fancy, get out on the water again and feel accomplished by paddling yourself in a kayak along the shoreline of the Oriental Parade. Have I mentioned Oriental Parade is the place to be? As you quietly glide across the water (unless it’s really windy and the waves are choppy, then you won’t really be gliding!) take in the sights of the city’s skyline, brave souls jumping off the docks for sport, fisherman fishing and hoping to find their catch of the day, and sailboats gracefully dancing across the waters. If the sun is out and the weather is calm that day, I would recommend kayaking out to the towering water fountain in the bay, going underneath, and getting soaked. I did this and it was quite exhilarating – and cold!

Check out this place to rent your kayaks or SUPs! 

 

First time to ever go kayaking...whoo hoo! In Wellington harbor, to boot! It wasn't too hard until the very end, it was getting windy and impossible to go anywhere, haha, what a workout

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Eat at Maranui Cafe

Located in Lyall Bay is the well-known (to Wellingtonians) Maranui Cafe. Climb up the stairs and be wowed by the colorful, retro decor that is what gives Maranui its character. Be prepared to stand awhile in line, as this place is quite popular, especially on a sunny day. The windows of the cafe give you an outstanding, panoramic view of the ocean and you can watch the planes fly into the airport, ferries arrive from the South Island, and surfers attempting to ride the waves that Lyall Bay is known for. A must eat dish is their “shoestring fries” and signature aioli sauce that accompanies the fries, or “chips”. The hot french fries are thin and crispy, with just the right amount of salt, and, especially when dipped in the aioli, it makes for a delicious appetizer. Sit out on the deck and feel the warm sun on your face as you feel like a local eating at this hot spot!

 

Stay at the QT Museum Wellington Hotel

We stayed at this hotel while living in Wellington, and it is by far one of my favorite places I’ve ever stayed. When you walk in, you feel like you have stepped into an impressive art gallery. The furnishings are elegant and exquisite. The service was outstanding and the location on the harbor make it so that you cannot go wrong. Their website says it all: “Fall down the rabbit hole into an explosion of colour and texture at Wellington’s new design-driven Hotel, QT Museum Wellington. Our own walls host a curated collection of high and low-brow art sitting in a stunning harbourside location and engulfed by vines of vivid ivy.”

For link to hotel website, click here. Be sure to check out the Hippopotamus Restaurant while staying there!

 

 

Walk Along Oriental Parade and “People Watch”

If you want to really feel like you are a part of Wellington, to feel connected to the heart of this city, then take your time and slowly stroll along Oriental Parade. Watch the fisherman casting their lines out into the bay. Watch the city, its people, come alive as they soak up not only the sun’s rays, but life – for life does seem to slow down in this Capital city! People walk their dogs, admire the sailboats bobbing on the water, and laugh as they visit with an old friend on one of the park benches. They enjoy sipping their espressos and eating the delicious gelato you can find here. When you walk along Oriental Parade, there is something magical about it. Even if you are simply visiting Wellington, you will feel like you are a local – truly connected, as you are all enjoying one of life’s most precious gifts – Time.

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England in Black & White

While exploring the ancient cities of Bath, Oxford, and the quintessential villages within the Cotswolds, I was completely taken aback by the beauty of these timeless locations – even without color, one can witness the elements which entice one to explore these amazing places! These are a few of my favorite images in black & white.

Above : bicycles near Oxford University

Above : Stonehenge

Above : view of Oxford from the University Tower

Above : Castlecombe, Cotswolds

Ramsau – Quintessential Village in the Bavarian Alps

We found it. An off the beaten path destination that stole our hearts. That made time feel as if it stood still. Tucked away in the Bavarian Alps lies the quiet, little, quintessential, dream-like village of Ramsau.  Our timing of arriving in this village could not have been more perfect. We got to feel like locals as we were there when the annual Maibaumfest was taking place. There were no swarms of tourists, making one feel as though you were a part of the town. We stood among the villagers as we watched the local men use wooden stilts to lift up the towering may pole. This daunting task took close to an hour. We watched in wonder as our hearts danced to the sound of the German music playing all around us. The accordion, French horn and, euphonium played loudly, and I felt happiness fill my soul with each note that played. Everyone, from young to old, was dressed in their lederhosen and dirndls.

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One of my favorite moments of that day was sneaking off away from the festivities to explore the village. We had it to ourselves, as everyone was at the Maibaumfest, and it felt like we were in a ghost town. Just us. No greater feeling than to have a place all to yourselves to explore! After walking through the small town and peeking in to the old church, we made our way across the bridge that took us to the other side of the gently-streaming river. I will never forget sitting on the wooden bench and staring at the iconic view of the river and bridge in the foreground and the beautiful, white church in the background, and the Bavarian Alps, covered in snow, completing the picturesque scene. It was then that I felt very present, and I wanted that moment to last forever. How I long for the day when we return to this place where time stood still!

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“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” ~Pascal Mercier

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Camel Trekking (and other wanderings) in the Sultanate of Oman

What does it mean for one to “travel with no compass”? I suppose this quote could take on a myriad of meanings depending on the individual contemplating it. I suppose this quote could be answered in a literal manner, however I choose to answer it this way: to travel “with no compass” means to uproot from the certainty of the present and move forward beyond what is known – beyond what is comfortable and to be outside of one’s element, with no route mapped — to be off the beaten path.

 

Throughout all my travels, there is but one place I can state I’ve traveled to “with no compass” – only one place I can claim to have wandered far from the pavement [this] one place being the Bidiyah Desert in the Sultanate of Oman.

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Oman is an Arab country situated on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula holding land borders with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Oman, while surrounded by nations currently at odds with one another, remains a peaceful nation, void of the violence and political upheavals we read about so often in the Middle East. This is one of the reasons which drew me to explore this stunningly beautiful, Middle Eastern nation.

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Prior to arriving in Oman, I knew only one thing would remain a certainty throughout my time, that is, I would be without my travel companion, my wife. My wife has been by my side during every adventure since marrying in 2011. In Oman, this would be different. I knew my travels in Oman would be without the comfort of family or friend, while unsettling to some degree, this fact was also exciting.

 

My adventure began the moment I stepped off the plane and on to the hot tarmac at the small airport in Muscat (the capital of Oman). As I gazed out towards the distant mountains which surround the capital city, I could feel the difference in the air -a difference which I was hoping to find – a difference which equated to a true adventure. I had wanted to experience something as opposite from anything or anywhere I had known. Oman was just the place to discover what it’s like to travel outside of my comfort zone — the food, culture, religion, smells. . . everything about this place was unfamiliar, which was exactly how I hoped it would be.

 

As I attempted to speak to the country officials regarding my visa and confirm my visa status and advise that “yes, the photo of the blond haired, green-eyed man on the passport is me!”.

 

After obtaining my visa and making my way through immigration control, I rushed through the crowds of men, all dressed in their finest white dishdashas, and hailed the first cab I saw. My cab driver, who didn’t speak a word of English, finally understood my request “…take me to my hotel…the Grand Saif…I need sleep…”. Sleep – ah yes, something which seemed as foreign to me as the land I was in, as it had been roughly 30 hours since my one-minute shut-eye.

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Without the wonderful company of my wife as my travel partner, I did manage to employ a local Omani guide, Ahmed, who proved to be not only an expert on all things ‘Middle Eastern’, but also a self-proclaimed sand dune off-road driver, conversationalist, haggler, and a heck of a great friend.

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The morning following my arrival, Ahmed met me bright and early at my hotel for our pre-departure breakfast, which consisted of Arabic dates and hot lemon tea, both of which were amazing. Ahmed shared with me a few tips about the desert adventure we were soon to embark on and what activities lay ahead of us, including “dune bashing”, camel riding, and what amenities existed (or rather did not exist) in the villages near the Bidiyah Desert. Learning about the conditions of the desert, and more particularly the camp site, made me happy my wife did not join me on this adventure. This was going to bring the term ‘roughing it’ to an entirely new level.

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Ahmed gladly loaded up my gear in his 4×4 Nissan SUV and we hit the road to our remote camp-site tucked away in the desert. The drive from Muscat to the Bidiyah Desert is approximately 3 hours. The tall minarets which filled the Muscat sky faded quickly as we reached the outskirts of the city and were replaced by rocky, dry mountains, dotted with wild sheep and goats…and the occasional camel.

 

After driving the curvy roads through the craggy mountains, we soon reached the fringe of the Bidiyah Desert. The fringes are ‘no man’s land’, quite literally. The only form of life I saw for miles prior to reaching our desert camp site was a few random skinny camels munching on dry weeds which had sprouted from the dry earth. We took a hard right from the highway and were en route via the one and only desert road which would take us to our camp site tucked away in the golden sand dunes ahead of us.

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Before reaching the camp site, Ahmed thought it wise to go ahead and show this Westerner what “dune bashing” was all about. Dune bashing, which consists of driving a 4×4 at high speeds up through the desert is an experience I will never forget – it was both exciting and quite terrifying! I was sure we were soon to meet our death, but obviously I was wrong.

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Next on the agenda was to meet the local Bedouins who had established the camp site where I would call home. The tents were as one would expect, canvas, upheld by palm tree trunks, and open-aired. Everything about this experience was traditional and again, shocking, but absolutely amazing! Throughout my time in the Desert, I witnessed the sun setting behind the seemingly endless sea of dunes. I rode camel-back during the early morning hours and heard not a sound other than the camel hooves slapping the sand as we ventured deep in to the dunes. I slept under the Arabian sky in my Bedouin tent and watched the stars shine like I have never seen before.

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Everything I experienced while in the Bidiyah Desert will remain in my memory for all time and will keep me interested in returning to Oman again and again.

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