Sunday, October 19, 2014

Adriatic Tour–Ljubljana, Slovenia

Slovenia is a small country (just over 2 million) south of Austria, Italy to the west, and Hungary to the east.  Unknown to most; in fact, when I called the credit card company to let them know I would be traveling to France, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Netherlands, they asked “Is Slovenia a city?”  No.  It is not. 

IMG_0195IMG_0162Our first stop on the trip was the lovely city of Ljubljana in Slovenia.  I am not a fan of cities, but this is one I would gladly return to.  Around 200,000 population, the place feels like a small and quaint village.  The inner city has blocks and blocks closed permanently to cars.  Only allowing pedestrians and bicycles.  The streets are all cobblestone.   A 2,000 year-old (restored beautifully) castle complete with prison/dungeon up on the hill looking out over the city.  The old medieval village surrounds the base of the castle hill, and across the river (multiple pedestrian bridges get you across) the “new” old town has Austrian-style homes built in the 1800’s.  The homes have since been turned into businesses or part of the university.  The alleys are clean and usually lined with potted plants!  Picture on the right is actually the alley behind our small hotel (there are many, many more just like it).

IMG_0160IMG_0140The city is absolutely spotless.  Shopkeepers sweep and scrub in front of their business every morning, locals walking about will pick up any trash they see and toss in the containers, and cheery laundry is hung out to dry.  We are told none of the Slovenes owns a dryer—preferring to save the indoor space, cost and liking the smell of fresh outdoors.   Colorful flowers in window boxes are everywhere.

No where have we encountered a city this crime-free.  Never heard a siren.  The biggest crime is a bicycle theft now and then.  Maybe a pickpocket (we never had a problem).  How relaxing it was to stroll about without fear and simply enjoy the ambiance of an old European town.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Adriatic Tour–Is it Safe?

adr14Before I begin describing my recent trip, maybe I should address the “elephant in the room” or the question everyone seems to ask about this part of Eastern Europe, “Are you sure it is safe to travel there?”  Almost immediately after I announced I would be traveling on the Rick Steve’s Adriatic Tour of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, I received a lot of messages concerned about the safety of the area.  Although the war occurring after the breakup of Yugoslavia was over 20 years ago, everyone still hears about the atrocities. 

I can tell you that the journey was safe.  In fact, the cities and surrounding areas of Slovenia and Croatia are now safer than most of the United States.   A few pickpockets may appear now and then (we did not encounter any) and fans of the local soccer team may get a little out of hand in Split, but there was/is no violent crime.  You can walk about at 3 a.m. in Ljubljana (city of approximately 200,000) without any fear.  Certainly cannot claim that about Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle—any time of day.

Although we were not in any danger, the tension of the previous war still exists in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  To say the country is struggling politically is a huge understatement.  The schools are segregated between ethnic groups (how can the people get past this if the kids are taught to hate).  Slovenia and Croatia are fairly homogeneous (majority of  Slovenes in Slovenia and Croats in Croatia), but Bosnia and Herzegovina (one country—two names) are divided between Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks. 

I am obviously not a historian or an expert on the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina—all I can go on are the stories told by local people.  And they often brought me to tears.  One young man who had to bury his father on a hillside at night to avoid snipers.  A woman slightly younger than me who had to survive hunger and avoid the bombing in Mostar that went on for years.  It is safe for tourists to visit the ancient city of Mostar and most of this country, but it is a sad place.  The tour only included one night in Bosnia and Herzegovina which emotionally was enough.

Overall, I say you must visit.  It is safe.  It will not stay untarnished long.  The locations are like going back in time.  Looking forward to describing each place and our experiences.  And I believe the elephant is now officially out of room.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Adriatic Tour

My friend, Wanda, and I are back from our three-week Adriatic Tour with Rick Steves Travel (headquartered in Edmonds, Washington, about 40 miles from home).  (Technically, the tour was 14 days, but we added several days before and after.)  This was my first European trip and it did not disappoint.  On the last night of our Rick Steves group gathering, we were asked to share our favorite ‘wow’ moment of the trip.  I have always dreamed of sitting in the quintessential European outdoor cafĂ© with a glass of wine surrounded by stone buildings built hundreds, if not thousands of years ago.  It happened.  The little cafes exist everywhere and the oldest of the old buildings are everywhere.  It was overwhelming and I sat in awe of the sights every day.

Adriatic_Tour_GroupWe had an energetic, fun group of 28 on the tour.  And our tour guide, Tina, was better than the best.  Several on the tour have been on over a dozen Rick Steves tours and they stated Tina was their best guide ever.  (Picture of our group on the left—Tina is the redhead in the middle.)  Tina asked why I chose this part of Europe for my first experience.  We heard over and over that this part of the world was relatively untouched by visitors, but with all the positives of Europe.  It was exactly as described.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will post experiences we had in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Tina shared with us that visitors around the world have different objectives when traveling, but she said Americans, for the most part, set out to learn and absorb knowledge.  That is exactly what I had in mind for this journey and my understanding of the Balkan Peninsula has broadened significantly.  In fact, in hindsight,  I really knew nothing at all.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Still Painting––Colors of Utah

IMG_0124Still painting with both watercolor and pastels.  Latest watercolor painting should strike a chord with people familiar with trails.  Hikers, you should recognize the painting subject….

(From a reference photograph I took while in Arches National Park.)

Two more days until I leave for my Adriatic Tour of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina (one night in the small ancient town of Mostar).  Will be away from the husband and little dog for three weeks.  Will miss them terribly, but excited to be on a new adventure.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Magic Moment #20–Old Fashioned Entertainment

In our community of retirees and the semi-retired, we engage in some old fashioned fun.  We invite others over for a meal (nothing exotic, just comfort food) and a game of cards.  We laugh.  Exchange stories.  Enjoy each others company. 

cocktailpartyA throwback to the way my parents entertained in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.  My parents’ favorite card game was Bridge with several couples playing at two card tables.  What made an impression on me was they “dressed up” for the occasion in the 1950’s and served cocktails.  Not a beer in a bottle, but a fancy glass with an olive.  That whole mid-century, kinda’ swinging Sinatra-style.  I loved, loved, the dresses the women wore with the full skirt, pinched waist, and usual fitted sleeveless upper.  Heels with a pointed toe and real silk nylons. 

With the 1960’s the look changed to a more casual style.  With the late sixties, it was the adult version of the mini skirt.  But, never sloppy.  The invitees usually included my dad’s co-workers—other teachers and their spouses.  Adults I would see at school, but now here they were at “my house” behaving in a completely different manner (some nights they went home a little tipsy). 

So nice this type of entertainment is making a comeback.  Just sit back and enjoy an inexpensive meal, a couple of drinks and a little competition.  Simple magic in its own right.  Nothing wrong with that.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Magic Moment #19 - A Full Life

I was about to write and apologize for not posting on my blog recently—overcome by current events and a busy schedule.  When I remembered a conversation I had with my mom and sisters a month ago.  One of my sisters remarked that I really did not know what busy was.  At first I was offended, but I realized she was defining busy as a long day filled with “requirements”.   But, oh yes, I was that kind of busy for many years of my life.   After receiving my college degree (which in itself required my time 24/7), I set off to have an ambitious career.  Working long hours, volunteering for special projects and accepting additional assignments.  I was promoted and my salary rose with the increasing responsibilities and eventual advancement into management.  There was very little time at home/leisure and my life was way out of balance. 

This went on for 20+ years until 18 years ago, after a particularly grueling stint of months and months without a single day off from work and 12 to 14-hour days, I looked in the mirror and realized this was not the life I wanted.  I did not have to be “busy”.  My hair was literally falling out from stress.  I developed a irregular heartbeat and I took medication to prevent the pounding from keeping me up at night.  Although others noticed and remarked on my declining health, it wasn’t until someone loaned me the book in 1995, Your Money or Your Life, published in 1992 by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin that the proverbial light went on. 

A few years later I was able to transfer to an individual contributor/staff position.  One that required very little overtime.  Yes, I took a slight cut in pay; but overall the hourly wage was actually higher (my corporation’s management positions did not pay for additional hours worked—most companies do not).  My husband and I downsized to a smaller home and yard (no yard actually, we purchased a townhome), got rid of toys (camper, boat, etc.) that were used very little or no longer used, downsized my wardrobe (no more dry cleaning, no more heels!) and generally downsized everything that needed care and took up space.  I devoted my new found time planning for a retirement—a future when I could do activities that pleased me everyday, all day.  Best of all,  I no longer needed the heart medication.  The retirement planning paid off and we retired at the young age of 55.  I feel better than ever (out of the office/cubicle and in the outdoors again).

I could go on in more detail how I made my life “requirements” much simpler and replaced them with meaningful “to-dos”, but I will leave you with this for now.  You have choices.  Yes, you really do.  My life is no longer “busy”.  My days are very, very full of happy and rewarding activities spent with my husband and friends and just myself.  So, forgive me as I skip a few blog posts--I am enjoying myself with days bursting at the seams with things worth doing.  In the future, I will no longer describe my day as busy, I will say with a smile, my day was full.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Coles–Final Installment

Of course, the Cole family lives on; it is not really “The End”.  My grandfather, Joseph Franklin Cole, was the grandson of Elizabeth Buckingham Cole; and she has been the subject of my series of family history.  My father was Joseph Franklin Cole II.  My brother, Joseph Franklin Cole III.  And finally my nephew, Joseph Franklin Cole IV.  And brother Neil and his two boys, Casey and Mason.

teacupElizabeth Buckingham Cole passed away May 1899.  “Left for the other world,” as my elderly aunt once said.  The strong thread that held the family together for so many years was gone.  She never gave up her aristocratic habits through all the years.  Tea at 4 pm.  Wool clothing for day, silk for Sunday and a fur cape for special occasions.  Never cotton—much too common.  Always full of love and kindness for her husband, children and family back in England.  Missing her home in England, but never allowed to return.

Elizabeth would have most likely led a comfortable life in England if she had forsaken the “Irish Gardener” and the twinkle in his blue-gray eyes.  She went with her heart and experienced the most exciting life. 

And although I no longer have the Cole surname, I have something very special--I inherited my great-great-great grandfather’s blue-gray eyes.  {Smile}

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