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Trip Report: 2 Low Country Gals "Czeching" out Central Europe...

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Nov 22nd, 2006, 06:26 PM
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Trip Report: 2 Low Country Gals "Czeching" out Central Europe...

OK...here goes...this is my very first trip report. I may not be as terrific a writer as some of the posters on this board, but I figured I would give a shot. And what a way to start....a 4 week trip through Central Europe!

And off we go...
Before I begin sharing my odyssey I must take this opportunity to thank all the generous and helpful Fodorites here for replying to the plethora of postings I made. Without your input, on my sometimes never ending questions, my trip would not have been the amazing and wonderful adventure it was! THANK YOU EVERYONE!

After saying my thanks the first thing I want to do is dive right into my trip report, but in all fairness I feel I need to give a little background information, so here it goes�

Having �lurked� on these message boards for a year or so I know many people here prefer independent travel and I enjoy traveling that way as well. However for this trip I used a combination of a group tour and independent travel. I also know that many posters here have a less than favorable opinion of Rick Steves, but I happen to like his style. I have used his guidebooks and last year took one of his group tours (to Ireland) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. So, when it came to planning this trip I decided to do the Rick Steves� Europe Through the Back Door Eastern Europe (which is technically Central Europe, but they call it Eastern) Tour. This tour started in Prague and ended in Bled and hit Krakow, Budapest, Plitvice national park in Croatia among other spots on the itinerary. After ending in Bled we then made our way to Zagreb, Hvar and ended the independent portion of the trip with 5 days in Dubrovnik.

Some personal background�I am a confessed travel addict. I love it and if I could devote more time to it I would. But in order to travel I need to earn the funds and therefore have to work most of the year. I�ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to start traveling at an early age (international/overseas travel that is!), I was 15 on my first trip to Europe. That trip spawned an amazing appetite to see the world.

Central Europe was a destination I had my eye on for a while, but didn�t necessarily want to do it on my own. Solo travel doesn�t bother me, I�ve done it quite often, but when my friend (CL) indicated she too would like to see Central Europe I jumped at the opportunity.

Now, please understand, I am a �big� planner/organizer, so putting together this trip has been an absolute joy for me. I love doing all the research and anticipating what the locations will be like once I get there. CL, is not so much into the planning process and this actually worked out well for us. I would research, come up with several options, discuss with CL and then we would make a decision, such as with airfare, restaurant choices/recommendations, accommodations, entertainment options, ferry schedules and so on. Good thing she is so laid back and agreeable! We�ve also discussed the need to have our own individual time if we need it, since we have not traveled together before and thankfully we are both on the same wavelength for that.

Day 1, September 2, 2006 � Departure from Savannah, Georgia

The adventure begins with my alarm clock going off at 4am. It was a smooth morning and CL and I were both ready when the airport shuttle arrived at my house. To my astonishment the shuttle arrived to pick us up 15 minutes early! Thank God we are not the dawdling type!

We arrived at the Savannah airport by 6:20am! Our flight didn�t leave until 9am. Yes we could have come later and slept an hour more, but at least we wouldn�t have to sprint through the airport trying to catch a plane! Plus with the recent �beefed up� security I wasn�t sure how thorough the security would be at the airport. OK, so it was the Savannah Airport, and not Atlanta or JFK, but sometimes there are those horror stories.

There was no line at the ticket counter when we checked in and we handed over our suitcases while praying and keeping our fingers crossed they would arrive in Prague with us the next morning.

The flight from Savannah to Atlanta was short (40-ish minutes) and uneventful. So far, so good, we are on time so we stop for an early lunch since we were both hungry. After a wrap sandwich and poking around the Atlanta airport to kill time we head over to the gate for the flight to JFK.

As we sit at the gate waiting for the flight to JFK, everything is looking good and we should be boarding and taking off on time�.or so we thought!

About 20 minutes before the listed boarding time the gate agent announces the flight would be taking off 2 hours late�YIKES! That meant we would be landing at JFK an hour and 45 minutes before our Czech Airlines Flight to Prague is scheduled to leave! Oh and I forgot to mention Tropical Storm Ernesto is barreling up the Eastern Seaboard this day! Now, normally a one hour and 45 minute lay-over isn�t anything to fret over, but with the storm, and having to check our luggage (we originally were going to do carry-on bags only, but with the new carry on restrictions we bit the bullet and checked the bags), and knowing what things can be like at JFK, I was getting a slightly nervous about this delay in Atlanta.

But, the Infant of Prague (patron Saint of Travelers, might I add!) must have been looking after us, because within 20 minutes the gate agent made another announcement saying the flight is back to it�s original departure time�And, it�s a good thing that happened!

Once we arrived at JFK changing from Terminal 3, where we arrived, to Terminal 4 was not difficult once we found the air train�note to JFK officials, the signage at the terminals for the air train really stinks! We putzed around JFK for a little while and then headed for the security check point with the boarding passes that were issued to us in Savannah for the Czech Airlines portion of the ticket.

ERRRRTTTT!!!!! Roadblock�.we began walking through security and were promptly stopped because we didn�t have the right boarding passes! UGGGGHHH�what do you mean???? They told us this morning these were for all the legs of outbound flights. Not so! We had to go up to the check-in ticket desks for Czech Airlines�Thank God there were only 3 people in line ahead of us. We get the Czech Airlines boarding passes and go back to security�no trouble; we pass right through without a hitch.

Of course it was a pain to have to do all that running around at JFK, but in the end, even if the flight from Atlanta would have been delayed we still would have been on time for the Prague Flight, since it took off an hour late. So all is good in the �friendly skies� and we are on our way to Prague�vacation here we come!

As on all our flights (except the very last leg of the return home journey) CL and I sat across the aisle from each other. The seats on this Czech Airlines plane were very narrow and luckily I had a seat mate who didn�t get up once during the entire flight! But poor CL had a Greek woman next to her who did not stop talking and only spoke Greek�it was pretty comical. But the poor woman couldn�t understand any of the announcement (they were made in Czech and English) and during taxi on the runway decided she needed to get up and use the toilet�try explaining the plane is taking off to a woman who has her mind set on using the toilet�it was a comedy of errors!

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Nov 22nd, 2006, 06:34 PM
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Day 2 – September 3, 2006 – Hello Prague!

The flight to Prague arrived on time and we whizzed right through passport control and onto baggage claim…the question burning in both our minds….would our bags be on the conveyor belt? Miracle of Miracles!!!! About 5 minutes of standing at the baggage carousel our bags appeared unscathed. We snatched them up and headed for the exit.

The first order of business after getting our bags was to find and ATM and that was no trouble at all. As soon as we stepped through the doors to the arrivals hall and waded through the throng of people waiting for other passengers, it was like a beacon flashing its light at me, there was an ATM right in front of us. We each took out some cash and then proceed to the CEDAZ shuttle bus.

Now, the man filling up the shuttles pointed us to one van. When I asked how much it would be, he said 400 Crowns, I knew this was not the van we wanted, that was the van going to various hotels and would drop off right at the door. From my research I knew there was a CEDAZ shuttle that was 90 Crowns and dropped off in the center of town, just a couple blocks from our hotel. We were directed to the correct van and headed off, there were only 3 other people in the van with us.

By now it was about 9:30am and we trudged into the hotel lobby. We stayed at the Hotel Central located at Rybná 8, in Prague (www.orfea.cz). I tried with all my hotel chutzpah to get a room and check in early, but it was a no-go. There was a luggage room, so we put our bags in there, pulled some stuff we would need for a few hours out of our carry-ons and sat down in the lobby to re-group for a few minutes with our guidebook to determine where breakfast would be.

As we sat in the lobby with our Rick Steves guide book in hand a couple approached us and asked if we with the RS group tour. We confirmed we were and they were too, Len and Linda a nice couple from Washington State. They headed off and we were right out the door, on our merry way to find the Ebel Coffee House for some caffeine and breakfast…Prague Style!

I had read about the Ebel Coffee House and that it was a local chain with 5 shops around town. As we set out walking down a side street near our hotel towards the Tyn Church I mentioned that we should be passing by the coffee place soon. You can imagine my surprise when I just happened to look down another side street and 3 doors down there was a cute little store front with the Ebel Coffee House sign above the door…Jackpot! I come to find out later that was not the location I was specifically looking for, but actually one I enjoyed more, it was a much smaller shop then the one I has intended to go to, but it had more atmosphere…score 1 for me! We had a really nice cappuccino and some muffins…ahhh…sustenance at last!

After fueling up with caffeine and muffins we walked through the Old Town…amazing architecture! We headed over to the Charles Bridge and braved the throng of tourists to see some nice views of Prague’s Castle Quarter. As we walked over the bridge and headed in the direction of St. Nicholas Church, we were actually looking for the Infant of Prague, but stumbled across St. Nicholas Church first. It was a beautiful church inside.

After walking around St. Nicholas Church I was on a mission to find the Church of Saint Mary the Victorious, where the Infant of Prague resides! We found the church and went inside. It was shortly after noon and as luck would have it they were saying mass in English (Sunday mass at noon is always in English). We stayed until mass was over and took a look at the infant, very impressive, but tiny! Then we wandered over to the little museum where several of the infant’s outfits (he has a different outfit everyday!) are on display. We ventured into the small gift shop, but it was so packed since mass had just ended we quickly turned around and made a bee-line out of there.

Our next activity, to help us stay awake, was to ride the funicular up to the top of Petrín Hill, but it was closed until 4pm, so we decided to head back to the hotel. Of course, we promptly got lost on the way back to the hotel and it took us an hour and a half, but we eventually made it back and checked into our room.

We met the rest of the group at 5pm for drinks in the hotel restaurant/bar area. There was a brief orientation to introduce ourselves and our guides Ben and Etelka. Ben was a riot entering the room for a faux fur “Communist” winter hat and awful fake Russian accent, yes, I know we were in the Czech Republic, but it was funny and a good ice breaker!

Ben, our lead guide is a professor at Seattle University and Etelka, our assistant guide is a teacher in Hungary.

After our brief happy hour and orientation “chat” we went on a short walking tour of Prague. After the tour, we all jumped on the Prague Metro and thanks to Ben’s excellent instructions we all managed to get off at the correct stop, OK, so it was only 2 stops, but we rode the Prague Metro. We made our way to the restaurant we had dinner at, and probably because I was now up for close to 24 hours I can’t even remember the name of the restaurant. But I do remember the food was good, we had pork, duck, dumplings and potatoes, cabbage soup and dessert.

By now the rain had subsided and as a group we meandered through the streets of Prague and over the Charles Bridge…just beautiful at night! We made our way back to hotel and collapsed into bed. A perfect end to a great first day of vacation!

Day 3– September 4, 2006 – Prague…What a beautiful City!

I started the morning early and was out of the hotel by 7am and headed to the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square for some early morning picture taking. And let me tell you it was the absolute perfect time of day and the weather could not have been better!

Very few people out and about and no one in front of the Astronomical Clock and at that time of the morning the sun on the buildings is beautiful. The bridge was practically deserted except for a few others taking photos and some people heading to work, or at least it looked they were heading to work. I was able to take some really great pictures!

I got back to the hotel around 8am for breakfast with CL and Joy & Gordon, another great couple from California on the trip, and our lost tour member Darrell. Darrell missed his connecting flight in NYC and didn’t get in until last night instead of yesterday morning.

The group met outside the hotel at 9am for a 3 hour walking tour of the Old Town. Our local guide, Jana, was very informative and had a pleasant style. The walking tour ended about noon and several of us followed Ben to the Czech train ticket office to buy onward train tickets for after the tour ends. We got our tickets to Zagreb, they cost about $27 each, which is about what I had expected.

After purchasing the tickets CL and I decided to have a main meal in the middle of the day, and by now it was 1:30pm, so we headed over to where the walking tour had ended in the Jewish Ghetto and had lunch at Kolkovna restaurant. Instead of each of us ordering entrees we decided to order one big salad, one appetizer, and one entrée and shared it. There was heaps of food and it worked out really well. We had: Sheep’s cheese salad, Pilsner Goulash, and Pickled Brie. It was all very tasty and satisfying. It was fun to watch the waiters bring out other orders. Lots of roasted pigs knuckle going by and a pile of meat on a skewer that the waiter then lit with fire at the table…Czech Flambé!

After lunch we headed over to purchase tickets to a Black Light Theater performance for this night and then we went to the top of the Town Hall Tower to get a great view of the city. This was the first of many towers I climbed on this trip!

We walked through the Havelská Market but didn’t see anything I wanted to buy. We walked down Wenceslas Square to the Mucha Museum, but it didn’t interest us, so we didn’t go in. After that CL headed to the hotel and I found an internet café to check emails.

The Black Light Theater was an experience that I probably wouldn’t do again. It was interesting but I was still so tired it took all my energy to stay awake in the very dark (black --get it?) theater.

The show we saw was interspersed with the black light dancing and a series of vignettes with no talking, telling a crime/mystery story. The dancing part was when the stage went completely black and the dancers are in black bodysuits with fluorescent colors in lines or swirls all over so all you can see are the fluorescent colors flying around the stage.

We didn’t eat dinner since we had such a big and late lunch. So, right after the show we headed back to the hotel and crashed into bed. Thankfully I had no trouble falling asleep and had a full 7 hours of shut-eye!

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Nov 22nd, 2006, 06:41 PM
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Day 4– September 5, 2006 – Prague…Our Last Day in this Wonderful City!

I was up at 6:30am this morning and CL and I were ready and at breakfast at 7am. The food at breakfast wasn’t too bad, lots of cheese and bread selections and my motto is “I never met a carbohydrate I didn’t like!” It wasn’t the best breakfast I ever had, but it wasn’t the worst either.

We left the hotel at 8:15 am to take public transportation (Metro and Tram) to the Castle area where we met our local guide, Katka.

The castle and St. Vitus Cathedral are beautiful. We toured inside the cathedral and the royal rooms and saw the changing of the guard. When the group walking tour ended at noon I went back to the cathedral to climb to the top of the bell tower. The crowds were massive by this time and there is only one way up and down to the top of the tower and that is via a 200+ stairs that are spiral – good thing I do cardio workouts 6 days a week! The people in front of me on the way up were huffing and puffing!

While I was taking pictures at the top of the tower I ran into Darrell on of our tour-mates. When we got to the bottom I invited him to join me and CL to go and see the Golden Lane. This is part of the Castle complex and the lane has been restored to look like it did centuries ago when the people along the lane were trying to turn lead into gold, hence the name Golden Lane.

Once we finished at Golden Lane we headed over to the main castle entrance for some more picture taking and then we found a restaurant for lunch. The place was hidden off the street and up a stairway. The food was OK, but the view of Prague was AMAZING!!!! CL and I did the same thing we did yesterday and ordered an appetizer, salad, and entrée. We had: Fried Camembert, Garden Salad with fried blue cheese, Roast Beef with Plum Sauce, and Mashed Potatoes with Cabbage. The roast beef was good although a little sweet (plums….duh Marcy!). I didn’t particularly care for the mashed potatoes but the salad and cheeses were good. They do like their fried cheese in the Czech Republic! The name of the restaurant is Restaurant Nad Ŭvozem located at Loretánská 15, P1 – Hradèany.

After lunch we headed back down the hill and parted ways with Darrell at the St. Nicholas Church since we had been there on Sunday. CL and I sauntered back over the Charles Bridge and did a little window shopping. I bought a garnet ring since Prague is known for its garnets and it is my birthstone.

We had tickets for a Mozart concert at the Municipal House tonight and it wasn’t too bad. The Smetana Concert Hall was beautiful. The concert was Mozart’s Requiem and it was an orchestra, choir, and 4 soloists.

After the concert it was time for our first gelato of the trip! I had strawberry – Yummo! They didn’t have any chocolate, otherwise that would have been my choice. We were back at the hotel by 10pm and started packing up our stuff for tomorrow’s travel day. We were in bed by 11pm…party animals that we are!

My impression of Prague is that this is a BEAUTIFUL city! The buildings are colorful and the city is just a gem. The only down side is that every other tourist has also found the jewel of a city and they are flocking there in hordes!

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Nov 23rd, 2006, 03:25 AM
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LowCountryIslander, keep your report coming. I love all the detail and have already made a couple of notes for our forthcoming trip to Central Europe next May. We will certainly make the effort to get up early to take photos in the square before everyone else arrives.
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Nov 23rd, 2006, 05:04 AM
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Hi LCI,

Thanks for a very informative and well written report.

Looking forward to more.

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Nov 23rd, 2006, 06:39 AM
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More please.
I'm headed to Prague, Vienna and Budapest in March and looking for all the info I can get!
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Nov 23rd, 2006, 06:51 AM
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Happy Thanksgiving everyone and thanks for the nice comments so far!

Here's another installment before I head for the "food fest" that is Thanksgiving.

Day 5– September 6, 2006 – Good-bye to Prague…Hello Czech Countryside!

Today it was up by 6am, shower and bags all packed and ready to go. Breakfast at 7am. At 8am we left the hotel and traipsed through the city with luggage behind us to meet up with our bus and driver. Due to road work being done on the street our hotel was located on, the bus could not pick us up in front of the hotel.

We were all on time and loaded our luggage and were heading out of Prague by 8:20am. This was our last look at Beautiful Praha!

Now we are on our way to Eastern Czech Republic to an area of the country called Moravia. We will be staying in a small town in the mountains tonight!

This morning started a long bus day, but at noon we stopped in a small town in Moravia called Olomouc for 2 hours. This was for lunch and to have a look around. CL and I had lunch at a little outdoor pizza place right on the main square called Cafe Caesar. We split a large proscuitto pizza and salad. Again, we had a really nice meal in a pretty setting.

Olomouc is a pretty town and not many American tourists stop there. It is a university town and as we were waiting for everyone in our group to gather in the square to leave, 3 American students approached and asked if we were from the U.S. Turns out they've been there a couple weeks and are study abroad students and they were happy to hear Americans speaking English!

After lunch it was back on the bus for our afternoon ride to our Czech countryside hotel. We stayed in a little "blip" of a place called Trojanovice at the Hotel UKociana.

After we arrived at the hotel we walked about 30 minutes to the ski lift and went up the mountain to the restaurant we had dinner at. Before dinner we had about 45 minutes walk/hike a couple trails in the mountains. It was beautiful up there.
Dinner was another major "food fest". We had cabbage soup, spaetzel, goulash, and dumplings, chicken and potatoes, fried cheese (see I told you!).

Stay tuned for Krakow...
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Nov 23rd, 2006, 09:40 AM
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Wonderful and interesting trip report Lowcountry! I love the fact you gave some background about yourself, that always make a report extra interesting. I am looking forward to the next installment.

And a Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones!
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Nov 23rd, 2006, 03:00 PM
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Lowcountry, Olomouc is on my list of potential places for an overnight stop on the way to Krakow. Would you suggest that we spend the night there or was the "little blip of a place" much better? If it is better how far was Trojanovice from Olomouc. We will probably be travelling by car so don't have to worry about public transport to get to little out of the way places.
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Nov 23rd, 2006, 06:36 PM
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Hi Shandy...

I think Olomouc would be a good place for an overnight. Trojanovice (the "blip") really was just the hotel along a small road with the chairlift close by. Definitely nothing to see there.

Trojanovice was about 2.5 hours from Olomouc.
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Nov 23rd, 2006, 06:49 PM
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Day6– September 7, 2006 – Hello Poland…a place not to forget

We left the Czech Republic this morning and headed for the Polish border. We had no trouble at the border crossing and it took about 20 or 30 minutes for the officers to check and stamp our passports and then we were on our way.

We stopped for lunch at a small Polish town called Psczynie and got money at the ATM, took a look at the castle there.

After lunch we were off to Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration camps. The tour there was about 3 hours. We toured both Auschwitz I and Birkenau. It was unbelievable to see how big these camps were. It is a very solemn place.

After Auschwitz we headed to Krakow going through the very pastoral Polish countryside…lots of Babushkas to be seen.

We arrived at our hotel in Krakow and it is beautiful. The Hotel Maltanski (www.donimirski.com) is a great little boutique hotel just off the Planty (the park that surrounds the city) and down the street from Wawel Hill. The hotel has 16 rooms in renovated former royal stables.

We walked through the Old Town Square it is just like being in a story book at dusk…just beautiful! As we were walking Ben was talking about the “vibe and energy” that Krakow emits and the moment I walked into that square it was like an electric jolt to my system. I don’t know if it was because of what Ben was saying or because it was dusk and the setting sun illuminated the buildings or the cafes around the square were starting to buzz with activity, but standing in the middle of the Main Market Square known as Rynek G³ówny was simply magical.

The restaurant we had dinner at tonight was called Restauracja Farina, just 2 blocks off the Square. The atmosphere inside was great and the service was good, and the borscht starter was excellent, but that’s where the accolades stop, the dinner of pork with melted cheese on top and garlic wasn’t the best meal I ever ate, but it wasn’t the worst, it was just average.

We walked back to the hotel soaking in the atmosphere that is Krakow. It was a great ending to a thought-provoking and then magical day!

Day 7– September 8, 2006 – A Rainy Walk through Krakow

We woke up this morning to a grey sky and rain and lots of it. I got up at 6am with the plan to check out the Main Market Square early before it was packed with people and take pictures! But that plan changed fast when I saw how hard it was raining.

CL and I did go down to breakfast at 7am and it was nice spread. No hot items, but the best coffee and cappuccino of the trip so far. We were at breakfast for about an hour and then back to our “posh” room to gather our stuff and meet in the lobby at 9am for our walking tour.

We met our local guide, Marta, at the hotel and with umbrellas and rain coats at the ready; we started the walking tour of Krakow. We first headed to the Dragon Statue. The Dragon is the symbol of Krakow and then we went to the Wawel Castle this is also where the Wawel Cathedral is located. Once we got to the castle grounds and Marta gave her talk about its history we were let loose for about 20 minutes. By this time the rain had stopped although it was still cloudy, so I got to take some good pictures.

We walked all through Old Town seeing various points of interest and the Franciscan Church, then parts of the city wall and finally into the Main Market Square and St. Mary’s Church.

We were in the square at noon, just in time to see and hear the bugler in the church tower and then into the church to see the amazing alter there. The whole church is really quite amazing. The interior is just beautiful. And the stained glass windows are spectacular.

The walking tour ended and we all went off on our own. CL and I headed straight for one of the bagel vendors on the square. For 1 Zlotsky (about 33cents) you get a huge ring shaped bagel. We had ones with sesame seeds…they were great!

At about 2pm we decided to stroll around the square and find a place for an early dinner/late lunch. We picked the Restauracja Hawelska right on the square. The meal was delicious, we had: Mushroom soup in a bread bowl, vegetable plate, and meat filled pierogi. It was all good but the mushroom soup was the best. The bread bowl it was served in was tall, almost like it was baked into a flower pot, I called it a bread cupcake!

After our meal we browsed through the Cloth Hall full of souvenirs, but didn’t really find anything we wanted. Then we walked around some more and found a bakery and bought 2 of every little fresh cookie they had…try communicating that to someone we speaks little English! But it was fun. Then we found the Wawel Chocolate Shop and bought a bunch of individually wrapped chocolates…guessing at what each might be.

We continued walking around the square and sat down on a ledge and did a little people watching and cookie eating! Then it was back over to St. Mary’s Church to light a candle and see the altar being closed. After 10 or 15 minutes and no alter closing (we wanted to see the scene on the closed side of the altar) we started to walk back to the hotel. We called it an early night.

However, before shutting our eyes for the night, we did manage to taste test 3 of the chocolates we bought. My favorite is the Tiki Taki. Its chocolate filled with peanut butter and marshmallow…it was really YUMMO!

Day 8– September 9, 2006 – Castle Part 2, Salt Mine Visit and the Best Dessert EVER!

We slept late today…until 7am! And when we woke up the skies were sunny and clear…YIPEE!!!

CL and I had a leisurely breakfast and then left the hotel at about 9:30am to go back to the Wawel Castle grounds and tour the Wawel Cathedral and climb the bell tower…can’t let a good view slip by me! The church was pretty but not the prettiest of the churches we have seen so far. The bell tower was fun and the bell is huge, we got to climb right tot the top and touch the bell. The legend goes, if you touch the bell you will be married within the year….hmmmm…with CL and I both being single maybe one of us will have luck with that!

After taking many pictures we left the castle grounds and decided to walk through the Planty, the beautiful tree-filled park surrounding the city. We did a little window

After walking around in the morning we decided to have a light lunch, yup, another bagel from a street vendor…I LOVED them! Then I was off to the top of the Town Hall Tower for some more great views and pictures…the weather was definitely on our side today!

After enjoying our bagels on a bench in the Main Market Square watching all the people and pigeons, we decide to try and find a place we wanted to go to for dinner.

As we walked around looking for our evening dinner sport we had several options. Ben had recommended the Georgian (not the state of Georgia, but the country) fast food place. We didn’t necessarily want fast food, but Ben said Georgian food is great and this may be the closest we ever get to trying it. We checked out the restaurant, but it didn’t really excite us. Then we looked at a place recommended in our guidebook but that didn’t really electrify us either. So then we went in search of the self-service cafeteria “upscale milk bar” recommended in our guidebook. We walked all up and down the street the listed as being the one this milk bar was on, we kept looking at the street addresses of the other buildings and nothing seemed right and there was no sign saying the name of the place we were looking for. Well, it turned out the place had changed names and we walked by it about half a dozen times! It is called Polskie Smaki Restauracja (www.polksie-smaki.pl) and it is located at ul. Œw. Tomasza 5.

After locating our dinning and dessert options for this evening we went back to the hotel for a little breather and to meet up with the group to go to the Wieliczka Salt Mine (www.kopalnia.pl) Now I have to admit I had some reservations about going here, and Ben told us it was optional, if we didn’t want to go we didn’t have too and a few people opted out and stayed in Krakow. But CL and I thought, since we were here and it was close, why not? So we went.

It was fairly interesting, but a bit long and we went on the “shorter version” of the tour that lasted only about an hour. Before we started the tour I saw a shop selling cooking salt and I wanted to buy some to bring back home as a gift, but I didn’t buy it right then because I didn’t want to cart it around with me during the tour. Unfortunately when I went back after the tour the shop was closed, oh well, no cooking salt… it wasn’t meant to be.

By the time we arrived back at the hotel it was about 6:45, so CL and I headed to dinner at the place we found earlier in the day. The food was pretty good and the whole meal cost 29 Z³ which is less then $10! CL and I shared the following: Zurek (sour Polish soup) this was EXCELLENT and the best choice, Golabki with mushroom sauce; which was very bland, it’s cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and meat and looking back we should have order it with the tomato sauce which probably would have given it a little more spice, and the second best item after the soup was Bigos, it was sausage and cabbage with potatoes and it did have a little spice to it…it was DELISH!

The way this restaurant worked, was that you went up to the cashier to place your order and the food was at the register area behind glass in warming bins. You tell the cashier what you want and they plate up the food and bring it to your table.

After dinner we went back to the Main Market Square to a café I had read about in my research for the trip that was recommended as having great desserts. OK, so we were pretty full from all the food we had at dinner, but I heard rave reviews about the chocolate torte at the Café Slodki Wentzl (at Rynek Glowny 19) that I just could not let my chocolate addiction go unsatisfied in Krakow!

We ordered the chocolate torte and just for good measure and to not negligent an ice cream craving we ordered and ice cream sundae called the spaghetti elf. The chocolate torte won the taste test hands down! It was rich chocolate mouse (but not too “squishy” mouse) on a chocolate bottom crust with checker board cake for the side crust and raspberry sauce on the plate…I wish I had taken a picture..it was so pretty, and tasted even better then it looked. Don’t get me wrong the spaghetti elf was pretty darn good too with all its chocolate ice cream and whipped cream, but the torte was phenomenal! And to wash it all down I had to have a cappuccino too! And yes, it took me awhile to get to sleep!

I really enjoyed just sitting our on the square enjoying our desserts, but we called it an early night and by 8:30pm we were headed back to the hotel. This was ok since we had to be on the bus by 7:30am the next day. It will be long bus day and we will be driving through Slovakia on our way to Eger, Hungary.

My thoughts on Krakow…I really like this city and the vibe around the Main Market Square with all the cafes. Yes, somewhat touristy but also a lot of locals; also clearly a very religious city. It’s hard to say which city I have enjoyed more so far, Prague or Krakow. Prague I liked for how pretty the city is as a whole (minus the hordes of tourist) and Krakow I liked for the beautiful Main Market Square and the cool vibe.

Stay tuned for my drive through Slovakia on the way to Hungary...


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Nov 24th, 2006, 05:21 AM
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Day 9– September 10, 2006 – Hello/Goodbye Slovakia …Let’s Have a Hungarian Feast!

Today was the marathon bus ride through 3 countries (Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary). It wasn’t too bad, but it did feel like we were riding forever.

We left Krakow at 7:30am and headed south through the countryside and to the Slovakian border. It took maybe 20 minutes for the border guards to check our passports and we got 2 stamps, 1 for leaving Poland and 1 for entering Slovakia…I am sure collecting passport stamps on this trip!

We arrived at our lunch stop at about 11:45am. It was the town of Levoce in Slovakia. We walked around a bit and had a group lunch which included turkey, vegetables, cabbage, and French fries followed by a fruit crepe topped with orange sorbet. It was all pretty good.

After lunch we all had a look inside the church with its big altar and then tromped back to the bus at 2:30-ish. We continued the marathon bus ride and the roads were incredibly twisting.

We got to the Slovak-Hungary border around 4:30pm and another passport check took about 20 minutes. 2 more stamps in the passport, 1 for leaving Slovakia, and 1 for entering Hungary. At this rate my passport pages will be full!

After crossing the Hungarian border we made a pit-stop and then headed to our final destination for the night, Eger.

I was never so glad to get off a bus! Plus I wasn’t feeling well from all the twisting roads through the Tantra Mountains. I usually don’t get motion sickness like that but luckily it was just a headache, so I took some Tylenol and was fine.

We got to our hotel in Eger around 6:30pm. It’s definitely not the best, but certainly not the worst place I have ever stayed in (youth hostel days in college!). The location was good, directly across the street from the Town’s Minaret, hence the name Hotel Minaret.

Etelka gave us our orientation walk here in Eger because she went to high school and college here. The sun was setting so we didn’t see a whole lot, but we have a free morning here tomorrow.

For dinner it was a group affair and it truly was a Hungarian Feast! (and for the life of me I can't remember the name of the restaurant!)It seemed like the food never stopped coming! We had goulash soup, and a sampler plate of sausage, pork cutlet, stuffed cabbage, and then another plate of beef with pasta, cottage cheese and sour cream (sounds weird, but tasted magnificent) and then goose liver with mashed potatoes and apples and we washed it all down with Hungarian Bull’s Blood wine and a white winie, of course we had to have both! And last, but certainly not least was the apple strudel and apple pancake covered in chocolate for dessert. It was all deliscious! Then I took a little walk, or should I say I rolled, around town.

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Nov 24th, 2006, 01:39 PM
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Day 10– September 11, 2006 – Eger, Hungary….School visit and Wine Tasting

Today was another day we could sleep in since we had the morning free. We got up around 7am and went to breakfast at about 8am. We had a nice leisurely breakfast and then went off to see the sights of Eger.

Our first stop was the folk art shop we had seen the night before and I found with the help of CL a pretty embroidered peasant blouse. Typically I probably wouldn’t have bought it but it was made in Eger and it’s a clean shirt I can wear at some point on the trip! We hadn’t been to an ATM yet, so we asked the shop lady to hold the blouse and went to the ATM, got some cash, and went back to get the blouse and some post cards.

We then walked through Dobo Square, the main town square and to the castle. We took some fun pictures up around the castle grounds and then went back to town. We walked through the market checking out the flowers and produce and I bought some of the pasta we had the other night with the sour cream and cottage cheese. For a good sized bag it was just about $1.00.

In the afternoon we went to a local village elementary school to meet the students and a teacher who is friends with Etelka, our assistant guide.

We had lunch in the school canteen (aka cafeteria) and it was pretty good. We ate goulash soup, bread, fried pork cutlet, fried chicken stuffed with plums and ham, and rice pudding for dessert. At each place setting there was a postcard written in English by one of the students. They are ages 9-11.

After lunch we went to the language lab classroom and got to meet our student and talk to them a bit. I had a little boy named Csaba who was 11 years old. I brought some postcards from home to give to him so he could see where I lived and that went over really well! He couldn’t speak much English, but he really tried. It was lots of fun to meet the students and I think they enjoyed it as much as we did.

When we were finished at the school we stopped briefly at a Gulag, or work camp, for about 30 minutes. It still amazes me these types of places were in use just 60 years ago.

Then it was onto the wine tasting which was a lot of fun. There were 3 white wines and 3 red wines for us to taste. And it was not the tiny one sip type of wine tasting, the wine was really flowing and the glasses were being filled with healthy doses of wine!

The winery had great views of the Hungarian countryside and we all sat in the glassed in tasting area…a very pleasant atmosphere…especially with the Hungarian fiddle player creating more ambience with music!

Etelka, dressed in traditional Hungarian clothes taught us traditional Hungarian songs and dances and we had a blast!

After we were all pleasantly full of wine, we headed back to the hotel and were “let loose” on the town. After such a big lunch, CL and I decided to set out to find a café on the main pedestrian street for a variety of sweet desserts. We met up with 2 other tour-mates and enjoyed several delicious desserts together. We had 2 different chocolate cakes that are specialties of the town and I had a cappuccino. It was a nice way to end a fun day.

Budapest is coming up next!
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Nov 24th, 2006, 01:49 PM
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Day 11– September 12, 2006 – Budapest, Hungary…Ahhh…the Blue Danube!

Today we left Eger at 8:30am, made one stop and arrived in Budapest at about 11:30am, yes, there was traffic getting into the city. We went directly to the Buda Castle area where we met our local guide, Petar.

We walked around the area, saw the castle grounds, wonderful views of the Danube and Parliament, and Fisherman’s Bastion. Then we had lunch on our own for about an hour and a half.

Instead of going to a restaurant CL and I found our way to a grocery store and picked up some picnic stuff, bread, cheese, fruit, drinks, and chocolate and settled on a bench in the park right across from the grocery store. It was great and I enjoyed negotiating around a Hungarian grocery store. It’s always interesting to see what is on the shelves and the different foods that are popular in other countries.

At about 2:30pm we all met-up at the park to continue the walking tour on the Pest side of the city. We got on the metro, went one stop, which took us under the Danube and came up near the very impressive Parliament building.

We walked through the banking district of Pest and to St. Stephen’s Basilica. The church was beautiful inside. We ended the walking tour at our hotel. The hotel we stayed at was Hotel Erzsebet (www.danubiusgroup.com/erzsebet). It was comfortable, but a pretty non-descript place.

We were on our own for dinner and CL and I went to place I had heard about while doing my research for the trip, and Etelka also recommended it…bonus, 2 thumbs up for this place so we gave it a try. The name of the restaurant is Fatal and it is not far from the hotel, it was located at 67 Vaci Utca. CL and I had the French onion soup, the bowl was big enough for us to share and it was scrumptious! But unlike the onion soup I am used to, this one was creamy….MMMMM! I am pretty sure the soup had both sweet and red onions in it. We also had a huge and I do mean HUGE garden salad, this salad could have easily fed 4 people. We had 2 beers to wash it all down.

We met with the “gang” back at the hotel around 7:30pm to go on the evening Danube boat cruise. Talk about magical, seeing Budapest lit up at night from the river was astonishing. It was such a pleasant evening sitting on the boat sipping champagne cruising down the river…what more could we ask for…it was brilliant!

Believe it or not, we actually skipped dessert tonight! But some of the cafes we passed looked like they had yummy cakes, hopefully tomorrow night we can taste some of them!

This was a great first day in Budapest!

Day 12– September 13, 2006 – Budapest, Hungary…Time to “Take the Waters”!

Today is a laid back day. We had a leisurely breakfast and met our tour-mates in the lobby at 9am for a walking tour. Ben handed out maps and a day ticket for the metro and trams. We left the hotel at about 9:15am and walked through the old part of Pest and then took the metro to Hero’s Square and then through the big city park and to the replica of a Transylvania Castle. We ended the tour at the famous mineral baths.

The bath complex is huge and thank God we had Etelka there to help us with purchasing the tickets and getting a changing cabin and towels (which seemed more like bed sheets then bath towels!). It would have been difficult to navigate through all that on our own. We soaked in a couple different indoor baths and I kept telling CL I knew there had to be some outdoor pools, since I had seen pictures of them! Etelka came to the rescue! She showed us to the outside pools.

It was beautiful and crowded! They don’t allow pictures to be taken, so my description will just have to do. Outside the 2 pools are really big, one is half circle shaped with a fountain spraying water and it is heated. The second outside pool is a very large rectangle that is not heated and used for lap swimming. The surrounding buildings are painted white & yellow with columns and arches and lots of hanging potted flowers.

CL and I spent about half an hour in the large outdoor heated pool and it felt great. It was wonderful to relax and float around in the water, and my muscles felt invigorated afterward! It was heaven! We were probably in the baths (indoor and outdoor) for a total of about 45 minutes/1 hour. Once we felt significantly “soggy” we climbed out of the pool and went back to the changing cabin to dry off and change back into our street clothes.

When we were finished at the baths we and another tour-mate tried to find the metro stop near the baths, but we walked right by it (it was in the park and we were walking along the street), and ended up walking back to the metro at Hero’s Square, it wasn’t very far. From there CL and I took the metro (we even managed a train transfer!) to Ráday Utca, which is a street lined with lots of outdoor cafes. Our tour-mate left us to go in another direction and CL and I walked down the street checking out various menus. We found a nice café called Trattoria étterem located at Ráday utca 16.

We decided on an Italian place because we were both in the mood for pasta. For lunch we had: cold peach soup (I know, weird for an appetizer, but Ben said if we saw any cold fruit soup on the menu in Budapest to order it…and we did!), the Bangkok Hilton salad (which we order because the ingredients sounded interesting, but the name of it sounded more interesting!) it was a bit too spicy for me, but CL liked it and last, but certainly not least we had rigatoni with chicken and zucchini in a cream sauce, which was very good. As we had been doing we shared all 3 items and with 2 bottles of water the bill came to just under $20.

After our meal in such a pleasant setting we walked over to the Great Market. I was really looking forward to seeing this place and it was interesting, but the upper level is crammed with tourist souvenirs and elbow to elbow tourists. I got some paprika and 2 other small gifts, but there was nothing really great there. Except…the bakery on the ground floor that we found. Clearly it was a place that served more locals then tourists and the baked goods were wonderful, well, at least the cookies we bought there were wonderful! We got 6 small cookies for less then a dollar and they hit the stop after our lunch!

The plan for the rest of the day was to just do a little more window shopping and find a nice place for dessert tonight…who cares about dinner! We wandered around the main “tourist” pedestrian street and found a pretty outdoor café to sit at and have our evening dessert and use up our last Hungarian Forint (since the next day it’s onto Croatia!). We had it calculated right down to the very last penny, ooops, I mean Forint. But we had just enough to pay for our 2 desserts and 2 waters.

After enjoying our sweets and doing some people watching (there seemed to be lots of Americans at this particular caf&eacute, we went over and walked along the Danube at dusk. We found the Shoes along the Danube not far from the Parliament building. It’s was between the Chain Bridge and Parliament and there is no sign indicating what this memorial is. So, you have to know what to look for. It’s a small stretch right along the grassy path along the river. The shoes are bronzed and it is the site where (I believe) Nazis shot Jews and let them fall into the Danube. Such a sad story.

After taking some pictures, we turned around and started walking back along the river and the lights on the Chain Bridge and the castle came on. It was truly a magical moment.

Some thoughts on the trip so far…In Prague Ben’s advice was to “Get Lost” and we happily obliged; in Krakow Ben’s advice was to “Just Be” and we did; in Budapest Ben’s advice was to “soak in the energy” and soak we did do! As Ben said Budapest is a very cosmopolitan city and I definitely have the big city vibe here, much the same as NYC. There is no “town square” per say like in Prague and Krakow, but there seems to be some pretty cool areas, the street we had lunch on being one of them.
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Nov 24th, 2006, 01:51 PM
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Day 13– September 14, 2006 – The bus ride to a natural wonder!

We left Budapest promptly at 8am. As days on the tour go, this one was uneventful. We were on the road for about 8 hours. But it did take us an hour to cross the border from Hungary into Croatia. Not from us, but we were behind a tour bus from Serbia and sometimes the Croats will give the Serbs a hard time at the border crossings.

Once we crossed the border, literally 3 minutes down the road was our lunch stop at cute little restaurant in a picturesque setting. The lunch was “picnic style” cold cuts for sandwiches and such. It was all pretty tasty!

After lunch it was back on the bus for about 3 and a half hours and we made it to Plitvice National Park by around 5:30pm. We stayed at the Hotel Plitvice, located right inside the park (www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr). By the time we checked in and got to our room it was 6pm-ish.

CL and I took a little walk around the lake and came back to the room to hang out. We met the group in the lobby at 7:30pm for dinner in the dinning room at the hotel. Dinner was pretty good since my expectations were pretty low to begin with. We had a non-descript brothy noodle soup, salad, and grilled seafood kebobs (which were really yummy), with spinach and potatoes and some kind of wedding cake looking dessert…hey, it was sweet, and I wasn’t going to complain about it!

The hotel was clean and it was nice and quiet, which doesn’t sound important, but for the last several nights we had been in the center of Budapest with all its “city noises”. So I slept like a baby in Plitvice! And since the hotel is located right in the park it’s very convenient for our walk through the park that will be tomorrow.

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Nov 24th, 2006, 07:00 PM
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Day 14– September 15, 2006 – Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

We woke to cloudy grey skies and drizzling rain. Not the best conditions for a hike through a national park!

CL and I got up and were ready for breakfast a little after 7am. As with last night’s dinner, my expectations for breakfast were surpassed. There was quite a nice variety.

Since I knew we’d be hiking for a bout 3 hours I had a fairly substantial breakfast. I had eggs, coffee, grapefruit juice (pink), ham, cheese, bread, and a pear. It was all very good.

After breakfast we loaded our bags onto the bus and met in the lobby at 8:45am. We left the hotel and went to the shuttle bus stop to take the shuttle to the top of the lakes.

We walked the upper section of the park and met Etelka’s group at the boat dock for the boat ride across the lake that connects the upper lakes with the lower lakes. The water was such a pretty blue color. We finished walking through the lower lakes and clearly that area was where the majority of the tourist were. Many people just take the shuttle to the middle point of the lakes and only walk the lower part. But I think if we were going to be there we should walk the whole place and I’m glad I did.

The lakes, waterfalls and just the natural beauty of Plitvice Lakes National Park was great to experience. Their website is http://www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr/default.aspx?lan=en

While we were waiting for everyone to finish their walks and we were sitting at the entrance I bought 2 massive pieces of strudel. One was peach and cheese and the other was apple. CL and I tried the peach and cheese first and it was pretty good, not sweet at all. We saved the apple for later, but I never tried it, too many other tasty treats to try!

After leaving the park we stopped for lunch about 30 minutes away. It wasn’t anything too fancy. CL and I split tomato soup, salad and grilled lamb, it was all good.

After lunch it was back on the bus for the ride over the mountains to the Island of Rab on the Adriatic, this would be our first look at this incredible coastline! The ride took about 3 hours and the views along the coast road were fantastic even with the cloudy sky.

We arrived at the car ferry port and maneuvered the bus onto the ferry.
The ferry ride to Rab was not very long, maybe 15 minutes. Before I knew it we were at the dock in Rab and ready to disembark and it was a short drive to Rab town and our hotel.

The hotel in Rab is one of my favorites. It is very well located right on the harbor with stunning views. This is considered our vacation from our vacation while on the tour. So we have no planned activities expect for a group dinner tonight and happy hour tomorrow night. The name of the hotel is Hotel Ros Maris at Obala P. Kresimir IV and their website is www.rosmaris.com .

Tonight we all had dinner together and it was a seafood extravaganza! We had salad, wine, tuna, calamari, and a lemon tart for dessert, another good meal.

One of the nicest things about being in Rab was the really pleasant breeze off the water and the fact that there is very little humidity. Well, at least for me, a girl living in the SC lowcountry the coast of Croatia felt as if there was no humidity at all!

Day 15– September 16, 2006 – Rab Island, Croatia

On the other Rick Steves’ tour I have been on, they incorporated what they call a “vacation from your vacation” stop. It’s usually a 2 night stop in a place that’s laid back and relaxing. This tour was no different and Rab Island was our “vacation from our vacation” destination on this trip.

CL and I “slept in” and didn’t get up until 7am, I know, that’s early for some, but it worked for us because we could have an unhurried breakfast and set out for adventure when we wanted. Around 9:30am we stopped at the ATM to load up on Croatian money since we would be coming back into Croatia for the second portion of the trip. Then we walked along the harbor and up into one of the several bell towers that are in Rab Town and traipsing through the old winding streets. Since it was still fairly early there were very few people out and about.

Later in the morning we walked along the main shopping street, which were mostly lots of little touristy shops. We bought some postcards and of course we had to have some gelato…the chocolate was delicious. We also walked through the park that runs along the water and have several pathways within the park. During our walk we found a cute little art gallery and although I was not looking to purchase anything in particular, I found a small oil painting of a pretty scene of Rab. What I liked about this painting, aside from thinking it was very pretty, was that it was done by a local artist and his wife ran the gallery. How could I pass that up!

Early in the afternoon CL and I went to the grocery store to get some provisions for the Happy Hour we were having tonight. That was a comical event. We had purchased some cookies at a bakery that we intended to bring since we had the reputation on the tour for sniffing out the best local bakeries. So we wanted to bring a sweet dessert wine to go with the cookies. Well, neither of can read or speak Croatian so we stood in front of the shelves lined with wine bottles trying to figure out which one to buy…what a dilemma! We didn’t want to get the wrong kind of wine! Looking back now, there probably is never the wrong kind of wine to buy, someone in the group would have drunk it! But instead we purchased a huge bottle of pivo (beer) and even though beer does not go with cookies either, somewhere along the line the bottle got emptied!

After the grocery store, wine shopping, pivo buying excursion, we went back to the hotel. I just wanted to chill out and sit by the pool and read my book. Of course the minute we sat down in the deck chairs it started to rain. We trekked back to the hotel room to lay on the bed and read and promptly fell asleep!

We woke up about 4:30pm, just in time to freshen up and head downstairs to happy hour. Since it was still raining our outdoor happy hour got moved inside, but that didn’t stop us from having a good time.

We had fun eating and drinking in a laid back setting.

At about 8pm we had dinner at a local place, which I didn’t catch the name of but I had the most delicious grilled sea bass. The restaurant was filled with locals and because while we were having dinner it started to rain, actually it started coming down in buckets; we stuck around, had another liter of wine and waited out the rain. It was almost 12:30am by the time we got back, but one of the best meals I have had! It was a perfect way to end a great stay in Rab.

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Nov 24th, 2006, 07:11 PM
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Day 16– September 17, 2006 – Slovenia…an undiscovered gem of a country!

The rain persisted for most of the day today. In a way I’m glad we were on the bus for a good part of the day.

After getting off the ferry we headed north on the coastal road. There was beautiful scenery even in the rain, but lots of twists and turns. We got to the Slovenian border at around noon and crossed in record time. I think this was the fastest border crossing we had so far. We continued on for about 45 minutes to get to our lunch spot. We had a picnic lunch provided by Ben and Etelka in a covered area at the Škocjan Caves in the Karst region of Slovenia. We did not go into the caves but did take a little walk around and the area is truly spectacular. Luckily for us, the rain had stopped just in time for our picnic.

Ben and Etelka did a great job with the picnic lunch. There was lots of cheese, proscuitto, and delicious bread, tomatoes, and spinach and cheese burek. Speaking of burek, CL and I had this tasty treat for lunch yesterday. It is a big Croatian dish. It’s lots of greasy phyllo dough layered with cheese, and spinach (or it can also have meat), it’s kind of like a pie and they cut off wedges of it. We found it in a bakery (of course we were in a bakery…what bakery didn’t we go into?). It makes a great lunch.

After all the picnic bits and pieces were packed up and securely stored back in the bus we were off to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. But as we drove on the rain was coming down in buckets!

On the way to Ljubljana we stopped at the Lipica Stud Farm (www.lipica.org), this is the training farm for the famous Lipizzaner stallions. There are performances throughout the day and what better way to spend a couple hours then watching these beautiful horses. Now for most people this is a big treat and I also enjoy watching the horses perform, I’ve even seen them when I was in Vienna many years ago. However, I am very allergic to horses (or pretty much anything to do with them…hay, stable, horse hair…you get the picture). But I thought since the performance was only 40 minutes I could “man up” and tough it out. I should have remember my experience in Vienna watching these horses when I had to get up and leave half way through the performance, but I was being obstinate. I did make it through this performance with only one sneeze, however on the walk from the show ring back to the bus; CL could tell my breathing wasn’t normal. It was just some coughing and weezing and I was ok after about half an hour, but I should have learned my lesson, stay far away from horses, or bring some kind of allergy medicine!

We left the farm at about 4pm and were on the road towards the Julian Alps and you guessed it, more rain and it was another torrential downpour the whole way to Ljubljana.

When we arrived in Ljubljana, since it was Sunday most all of the shops were closed. Usually we would have spent 4 hours exploring the city and having dinner. But the majority of us, including me, just wanted a quick driving tour around the city and then head for Bled, our final stop and we could have dinner there, and this is what we did. Ljubljana looked like a pretty little city, from the windows of the bus, but because of the rain I just wasn’t up for walking around getting all soggy.

We arrived in Bled at about 6pm and checked into the hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Lovec at Ljubljanska Cesta 6 (www.lovechotel.com). The hotel is part of the Best Western chain and although that may be a turn off to some people, it was nice hotel in a good central location.

We got situated in our room and then ventured out to find any ATM. With money in hand we braved the rain to find a restaurant for dinner. We were trying to find a place that was highly recommended in our guide book, but quickly gave that up because the rain was pouring down and it was very dark and I forgot to bring a map, so we ended up going to the first place that looked good to us.

And that place was packed with locals, which I love because that tells me a place is usually good if it’s crammed with locals. There were no tables available inside and the owner said we could wait and we said ok. Then we noticed a couple people sitting at the outside tables that were on a covered patio/porch area. Even though it was a little chilly we decided to sit outside and it wasn’t too bad once we started eating!

Maybe it was because I was hungry, or because the waiter was so darn nice (and cute!) but I really liked the food at this restaurant. The name of the restaurant is Oštarija Peglez’n at Cesta svobode 19a in Bled. We started with the cauliflower soup, which wasn’t too great, but it was hot and warmed us up. Then we split a steak with fries and the most delectable mushrooms(of course soaked in garlic and butter…how can that be bad!) and a tagliatele seafood pasta, it was all great! The waiter suggested a dessert sample plate with chocolate mousse (was the best!), tiramisu, and charlotte cake with fruit…how could we pass all that up! This was one of the best meals on the trip so far. The bill for all this food and great service was $40 total…not too bad!

A great meal for the end or a rainy, long bus day in a gem of a country!

Day 17– September 18, 2006 – Lake Bled…A Boat Ride ,Walk In The Rain and Bidding Adieu To New Friends!

Today started out cloudy, grey and drizzling, and it never really got much better, but there were a few short bouts of sunshine here and there.

The group met in the lobby at 8:45am to walk to the lake for a Pletna boat ride to The Island (Otok). This is the little island in the middle of Lake Bled where the Church of the Assumption is located. The Pletna boat ride was fun even in the less than perfect weather. The boats are manually rowed by one oarsman and for a special treat we had our very own accordion player. He was a young boy about 14 years old and he was a terrific musician.

When we arrived on the little island we got off the boats and there were 98 steps in front of us to get to the church. Of course there is a story behind the steps and it goes something like this…tradition says the groom must carry his bride up these steps, if they are successful; they are then fit for marriage.

The church was not ornate inside, but there is a bell and there is a notion that says if you ring the bell, your dreams will come true. When you hear the bell ringing you know the tourists have started arriving on the island!

After spending a little time in the church and around the island we got back in the boats and headed back to shore. The rest of the day was ours to do as we pleased. CL and I found the Brown Bear Bakery and got a couple cookies, and water and then took off for a walk around the lake. The walk around the lake is about 3.5 miles and we were walking at a relaxed pace and it took us about an hour and a half to walk completely around the lake.

Since the weather really wasn’t cooperating we decided a hike up to the castle wasn’t something we wanted to do. Yes, it probably would have been a nice walk, but it was so cloudy the views would have been obscured. So we stopped and got some postcards and snacks for the next days “marathon journey” to Hvar. Then we just chilled out in the room reading and relaxing.

At 6:30pm we all met in the lobby to go to our farewell dinner. Luckily for us the restaurant we went to was literally right next to the hotel. The restaurant was Okarina Etno located at Ljubljanska cesta 8. The food again was excellent and there were copious amounts of it. We started with wine and little hors’ devours on a little outside patio. Len did a funny toast and we took a group photo with all our glasses raised.

Then we moved into a private room for dinner. On the tables were an appetizer tray of fresh vegetables, ham, salami, and bread. Then there was a buffet for dinner with 2 soups, tomato or barley and a capresse salad. Several entrée dishes were offered and they were, turkey steak with mushrooms, pasta with vegetables, a fish dish that I can’t remember the name of but it was very tasty and potatoes and spinach. And I can’t forget to mention the apple strudel for dessert and that was great too! It was all accompanied by lots of wine. Both red and white were flowing freely. The waiters kept them full and the glasses were enormous. Honestly, I have no idea how much I drank, probably about 2 big glasses all tolled. The waiter was funny about keeping the glasses full…good thing we only had to walk next door to get back to the hotel!

Once dessert was over Etelka passed out little bags of paprika with the recipe for goulash soup…she is such a great lady!

The culmination of the trip began when Ben asked Linda, a retired music teacher, to “do her thing”. Linda had put together little songs about each place we went to using the tunes of familiar songs, that was great fun!

After Linda did her “thing” Ben asked each of us to mention something on the tour that was memorable for us. As I listened to my tour-mates tell their favorite tour moment I was thinking about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to leave my own “imprint” on the group. My memorable moment was walking into the Main Market Square in Krakow at dusk with the buildings lit up and the sidewalk cafes bustling.

As we were all saying our good-byes and hugging each other I realized what a great group of travelers we had in this group. As Ben said, “There are tour groups, and then there are you guys”. I really feel that’s true; there weren’t any grumps on this trip.

By now it was 10:30pm and although not too late by typical standards since we had to get up at 4am the next morning it was time to call it a night. We went back to our room, packed up our bags and tried to get some sleep before the alarm went off indicating the start of part 2 of our Central Europe Adventure!

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Nov 24th, 2006, 07:26 PM
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Day 18– September 19, 2006 – Back to Croatia…Travel Day from Hell!

The plan for today was to catch the 5:21am train from the Lesce, Bled train station that goes directly to Zagreb, rent a car and drive to Split where we would catch the 5pm fast catamaran to Hvar. It seemed like a good idea in the planning stages… “on the ground”…maybe not so good after all.

We got to the train station by 5am…quite a challenge getting up at 4am! While waiting on the platform since the station was locked up tighter than a drum, there was an announcement. Thank God a young girl (we think she was a student) who was also waiting for a train (although not the one we needed) was kind enough to translate for us and told us the train we were waiting for would be 2 hours late…oh joy!

Another woman who was also waiting suggested we take the next train (a local commuter train) to Ljubljana and catch a train to Zagreb there. She seemed to think there might be a train leaving for Zagreb earlier then our late train and it would be better at the larger train station in Ljubljana…ok, it made sense to us.

We hop on the next train that stopped at the station and yes it was definitely a local commuter train. Having spent several years as a commuter taking trains in and out of NYC, there was no doubt it was packed with people on their way to work and school. And yes, it made every stop between Lesce and Ljubljana…it took us about one hour. But these trains were kept impeccably clean and it was interesting to be sitting there with our suitcases above our heads people watching all the Slovenes going to work.

Once we got to the Ljubljana train station and disembarked the train we made our way to the information desk and arrivals/departures monitor. We asked 2 different attendants when the next train to Zagreb would be arriving and got 2 different answers, at least the answers were only 30 minutes apart(8:30am and 9am). So, it turned out the next train to Zagreb was the train we were supposed to have caught in Lesce! On the bright side, we were now at least in a bigger train station where we could get a cappuccino! And we were really lucky, because the night before we were very diligent in using up all our Slovenian Tolars so and we couldn’t have planned this better if we had tried…we had the exact amount of Tolars for 2 cappuccinos! Let me tell you, that cappuccino was the best I had tasted, well, at that moment! So, we settled into the chairs at the train station café and drank our coffees and waited and waited and waited.

When we thought the train would be arriving soon, we walked over to the platform and waited some more. And here is the funny part, as we were standing there waiting; up the stairs comes 4 figures that look very familiar! It was 4 of our tour-mates who were also headed to Zagreb, but were going to take the later 7:25am train from Lesce which was also late! We all had a good laugh and a little while later the train arrived and we all jumped on. We had no trouble finding a compartment and settled in for our 2 and a half hour ride to Zagreb.

The train arrived in Zagreb shortly after noon, only 3 hours and 45 minutes after it was supposed to arrive in Zagreb, but better late then never! We said another round of good-byes to your tour-mates and were off the train and out of the station by 12:15pm. Now this is where some of my pre-trip planning starts to pay off. I had reserved a rental car with Avis from their location at the Sheraton Zagreb. I had cracker-jack directions on how to walk from the train station to the Sheraton and we were there in maybe 10 minutes.

The rental paperwork and all the stuff that goes with that took about 30 minutes give or take. I was a little worried at first when we walked in to the Avis office because when I told the agent I had a reservation he gave me a kind of funny look and then starts tapping his computer keyboard and sighing and making faces, but after a few minutes he has the forms for CL to sign. I made the booking, but because CL was driving they needed her credit car and information. All that was taken care of and we went off to the front of the hotel to wait for the agent to bring the car around to us. CL and the agent went over the car to mark down any dents and we were ready to roll.

The agent had given us a city map of Zagreb with directions how to get out of the city and onto Highway A-1. He also gave us a great road map of Croatia that I used the whole way to the Split airport so that we could know our location and how close we were to Split.

We did an excellent job of navigating out of the city (thanks to pre-trip planning I had also gotten some tips from people who had driven this route before!) and once we were on the highway we took it almost straight to Trogir, the town the Split airport is in.

When we were out of most of the city traffic in Zagreb, but not quite on the highway yet, I checked my watch and it was 1:18pm, so from disembarking the train to getting on the road, it took us about an hour.

We rode down the modern A-1 Highway passing by some beautiful scenery. We made a pit-stop at about 2:30pm and another stop for gas about 30km from Trogir. We used about half a tank of gas.

We took the exit that said Trogir and had the airplane symbol, since I didn’t know the exact exit for the Split airport and that was where we needed to drop off the car. The toll on the highway from Zagreb to Trogir was 146 Kuna, about $25 US Dollars.

Once we exited the highway we followed the signs for Trogir. There were some pretty twisting roads and at times I was holding on for dear life since there were no guardrails. Once we rounded a mountain I could see Split in front of us and the control tower of an airport…hallelujah! It was probably another 20 minutes from the highway exit to the airport.

I’m glad during my pre-trip research (can you see a pattern forming here on this day!) I read about how to handle the car drop off. We just pulled into the airport parking lot, and got a ticket from the machine at the entrance, pulled into a spot near the front of the terminal and got all our stuff out of the car. We rented from Avis and their desk is actually located outside the terminal building, off to the side.

When we went up to the Avis window they were closed. CL went inside and asked another car rental agency if there was an Avis agent. He said they just went on a break. I waited for them to open up again which was truly only a couple minutes. The extent of the agent checking the car was asking me if there were any dents, I said no, and he said ok! He never physically went to check the car. The one day car rental coast about $100, which was less then if we had purchased train tickets from Lesce to Split and we got to see some interesting scenery!

By now we were at the Split airport and it was 5pm, so much for catching that 5pm catamaran to Hvar! Both CL and I agreed we did not want to take the public bus to the ferry terminal in Split since we were starting to feel the exhaustion. We asked the woman at the information desk to call a taxi for us. The taxi arrived in about 10 minutes and loaded us in. I asked how much the ride would cost and he said about 300 Kuna, but he did set the meter.

The taxi driver did drive a bit like a maniac, but it was rush hour traffic. He even made a call to find out when the ferry was leaving and took us right to the ticket booth and made sure we got tickets for a fast catamaran! There was one leaving at 8:30pm and it went right to Hvar Town! I hadn’t come across that one in my research and thought we might have to take the regular ferry that left at 8:30pm and takes 2 hours! The taxi ride did cost 287 Kunas and I gave him a decent tip for getting us to the fast catamaran ticket booth!

By now it was about 6pm and the ferry leaves at 8:30pm. I took this time to call the apartment owner in Hvar to let her know when we would be arriving. I called her mobile number and got a recording, in Croatian of course, then I called her home number and got the same recording. I got the feeling it was a “generic” recording and may have been saying “you are out of the calling area”.

At this point I was starting to get upset and thinking, “My God, will we have a place to sleep tonight?” So, I called the agency I booked the Hvar apartment through (www.hvar-travel.com). I got a girl who spoke English, but I don’t think she understood me very well. I gave her a message to tell Marija (our Hvar apartment owner) we would be arriving at 9:30pm. The girl told me the owner did not have her mobile phone with her but to call the owner in 2 hours and she would have her phone then. Now this is sounding fishy to me and I am really starting to panic. Thank God CL was staying calm, or at least she appeared to be staying calm!

We decide to check our bags at the train station left luggage, which is right across from the ferry terminal, and walk over to have something to eat since we hadn’t really had “real” food all day, even though the hotel in Bled had packed us a boxed lunch with a yummy ham and cheese sandwich and we did have some food for the 4 hour drive, like bananas, popcorn, cookies and water! So, in Split we checked out a couple cafes and decided to just get a pizza and capresse salad. We ate at an outdoor café/pizzeria, and I can’t even remember the name of the place, but it wasn’t bad.

We picked up our luggage and sat by the harbor until we could board the catamaran. It’s too bad I didn’t enjoy Split more, or get to see much of it! Well, that gives me the excuse that I need to go back to Croatia since I didn’t really see Split. While we waited to board the boat I tried calling the apartment owner, Marija, in Hvar again, and still had no luck. But by now CL and I had a plan, if I couldn’t get in touch with Marija we would just find the most expensive hotel in Hvar and spend the night there and deal with it the next morning. After all, we have been up since 4am and it is now 8:30pm, we were just about running on empty!

The catamaran left right at 8:30pm and there were maybe 20 people on the whole boat! I’m so glad it was only a 1 hour trip. We got off the boat at the harbor in Hvar Town at 9:30pm-ish and even though panic and exhaustion were kicking in this place at night is jaw droppingly gorgeous…I can’t wait to see it during the day.

We start walking and there is a hotel we pass right on the harbor and looks expensive, again all my pre-trip planning/research is kicking in and I’m thinking that’s one of the swanky hotels I have read about. CL asks me if I want to call the apartment owner again. I am reluctant and don’t really want to, but I do. This time I get a ring, actually 6 rings, but no answer. We keep walking down the harbor and then turn around to start walking back to the first hotel we saw and my phone starts ringing. For whatever reason, I decided to keep the phone on, when I normally would have turned it off. I am really glad I kept in on; it was Marija our apartment owner calling me back! Thank God!

I told her we were in front of the Hotel Palace and she said she would be there in 10 minutes. She showed up about 20 minutes later and walked us to the house the apartment is in and the whole way there I am praying the place will be ok. We turn down a narrow street just off the main square with a bakery on it…how appropriate! Then we go up a couple sets of steps to the house. Then the trudge with our bags up 3 flights of stairs to the studio apartment with an AMAZING BALCONY…..THANK YOU GOD!!! was my first thought, then complete relief.

The place was clean, there are 2 beds and it is the exact apartment the pictures were of on the website. But the best part other than being clean is the wonderful balcony/patio we have with views of the entire old town and the bell tower and the fortress on the hill all lit up at night. Even in my worn out state I knew this place was magical! By now it is about 10:30pm and all we want to do is go to sleep…and there will be no alarm clock for tomorrow morning!
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Nov 25th, 2006, 12:28 PM
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Day 19– September 20, 2006 – Hvar, Croatia…Is this Heaven On Earth??

Today dawned bright with clear blue skies here in Hvar. I actually opened my eyes at 7am and promptly turned over and went back to sleep. I did pull myself out of bed at 8am and come out onto the balcony/patio to take some pictures. As magical as Hvar is at night, it is just as beautiful in the daylight!

We headed out in search of the tourist office for a map and a café for breakfast.

We found the tourist office with no trouble, it’s right on the main square and got a map and asked the all important question….where is the self-service laundry? The woman behind the desk pointed us in the right direction and then it was time for the second most important thing…breakfast! We found a little café with good looking pastries and opted for a long cylindrical phy1lo pastry stuffed with cheese and a cappuccino, what a great way to start the day, sitting outside on the harbor on a picture postcard perfect day!

By now it was 11am-ish so we went in search of the launderette and found it with no problem and it was practically empty. We headed to the grocery store to buy some “provisions” and laundry detergent.

We came back to the apartment, put the groceries away and gathered our laundry and went back down to the launderette, good thing it was just across the square from the street our apartment was on! We consolidated our laundry loads but we still had 4 washers going. We chose to do the short cycle which was only 50 Kuna per machine so that cost us 200 Kuna, about $30, BUT well worth every cent…after 17 days of doing laundry in hotel room sinks, we were ready for a real washing machine! We decided not to use the dryers at the launderette (would have been another 40 Kuna per load) because on our balcony/patio we have 4 clothes lines and with the breeze and no humidity our clothes were dry in a little over an hour. While the clothes dried we just chilled out on the balcony taking in the view.

At about 3pm we decided to walk up to the fortress and check out the view from up there. Again, jaw dropping gorgeous! It was 10 Kuna to get into the fortress, and it was worth it just for the view of the Old Town and harbor below.

Of course prior to our climb, while we were chilling out at the apartment CL put together a great lunch of bread, cheese, tomato, onion, pepper and mozzarella salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and to top it all off fresh nectarine slices…it was DELISH!

On our walk up to the fortress we stopped for our first gelato here on Hvar. I had one scoop chocolate and one scoop tiramisa…YUMMO!

After taking in the spectacular views from the fortress we walked down the trail through a park-like area and walked along the streets of the old town, the town square and harbor and did a little shopping. We also found a place for dinner that was listed in one of our guidebooks and made a reservation for dinner.

We came back to the apartment at about 6pm and relaxed and watched the sunset…truly fabulous. Just before 8pm we walked back down to the restaurant we had a reservation at, it was not far from the apartment. We had a fish soup that wasn’t too great, salad and shrimp risotto. It all ok, but nothing spectacular, I think we just ordered the wrong things because the couple next to us looked like they had really tasty food. Oh well, live and learn! My mantra…”Don’t let great be the enemy of good” came in handy for this restaurant experience!

After dinner we took a short walk along the harbor and in the main square so I could take some night photos with the buildings all lit up…it was so pretty! We called it an early night and went back to the apartment and drifted off to sleep, in between the ringing of the church bells. Yes, our apartment is practically next door to the church, so every hour we heard the church bells…but there are worse noises to have to go to sleep by or wake up to!

This was a great relaxing day after almost 3 weeks of non-stop moving!

Day 20– September 21, 2006 – The tale of the orange and THE BEST meal of the trip!

I believe I have had one of the best meals of my life tonight, but I will get to that later.

Today was another “no alarm clock” day but between the church bells going off and the birds singing at the crack of dawn CL and I were up by about 8am.

We woke up to another beautiful sunny day with hardly any humidity. We took our time getting the day started and I had some juice on the patio. Once we were ready we headed to the café we had breakfast at yesterday (can’t remember the name). Today we just had cappuccinos and sat there for a while chatting. By 11am I was getting hungry and we went in search of spinach burek. Apparently spinach burek sells out pretty fast…the first 3 bakeries we went to only had cheese burek and I really wanted spinach. We found a place that had meat burek and settled for that and also got a small pizza. We went back to the apartment to have our lunch. CL sliced the bread from yesterday and we also had the end of the red pepper, onion and mozzarella with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, plus a variety of cookies. Guess you could say it was a carbohydrate fest!

After lunch we decided to check into doing a Jeep tour of the island, but there were none available for tomorrow and the same for the half day kayak tours, everything for tomorrow was booked up. We learned our lesson…book day trips as soon as you get into town!

We took a nice little stroll along the pathway that goes along the water to the Franciscan Monastery. There wasn’t too much to see, except the brilliant views of the Adriatic! We decided to plop ourselves down at another café on the main square and CL had a beer and I had a mineral water. At a table not far from us the couple ordered these great looking coffee drinks and I asked the waitress what it was. Turns out it was iced coffee with whipped cream, so I ordered one and it was delicious!

After sitting at the café for about 2 hours CL headed back to the apartment and I checked my emails. I met CL back at the apartment around 6pm. During our walk about today we decided to have dinner at one of the restaurants one block off the main square. My pick was to have dinner at Palazzo Paladini and I am really glad we choose that restaurant! There is an indoor dinning room, but the best place (in my humble opinion) to have dinner is on the terrace at this restaurant.

It is an open courtyard with orange trees growing and the trees create a canopy over the whole terrace. As nice as this atmosphere is, the food and service are even better!!!

I had read the Black Ink Risotto is the thing to have here. So for our starter we had the Black Cuttlefish Risotto…it was beyond delicious! Then we had a local dish called Gregada, which is a fish and potato and onion dish served in a broth, again, the taste was excellent. The fish was served whole so we had to deal with bones, but it was sooooo worth it! As a side dish we had mangold, which we’ve been having here without knowing what is was called. It is swiss chard wilted and served with potatoes and of course pretty much drenched in butter. It was great! We each had a glass of the house white wine and I thought it was good, since I’m not a big wine drinking, I probably wouldn’t have realized if it was bad or not! The waiter even gave us a “complimentary” after dinner drink of some kind of clear alcohol, he never did tell us what it was. The waiter was pretty funny when he set down the glasses he said, “some water for you”…it was in a rocks glass and the glass only had a small amount of liquid in it…I’m thinking…”water…right!” I didn’t care for the taste, but CL drank it. For all this food the bill was 400 Kuna with the tip which was about $70. Yes it was a splurge meal, but it was SO worth it! I really enjoyed everything we had.

Now for the comical part of the meal. At the end of the meal after the plates were taken away CL and I were talking about what happens if the oranges fall from the trees. Shortly after that we start to hear a rustle in the trees up above us. The other diners around us (and us) all look up and from up above, down comes a careening orange, right onto our table, just inches away from CL’s head! Of course we died laughing since we had just been talking about this happening…one of the more memorable events of the trip!

Day 21– September 22, 2006 – Our Last Day in Hvar!

This is our last full day in this sunny paradise. It started much the same as the last few days. Getting up around 8am to clear blue skies. We didn’t really have anything on our agenda other than to do another load of laundry and ask about the bus to Stari Grad to catch the ferry to Dubrovnik on Saturday.

The laundry was uneventful and the bus leaves from Hvar Town at 7:45am for the 9am ferry. All we have to do is show up at the little bus station and buy the tickets from the bus driver. After taking care of that item on our “to do” list for the day, we headed to the “morning café” we’ve been to the last 2 mornings for our cappuccino and we sat and waited until our laundry was done.

Before venturing out for the day today, I went over to the bakery and grocery store to get some breakfast, apple strudel and bread, some tomato and cheese for an evening snack, since we decided we wanted to have our main meal in the middle of the day today.

Once the laundry was finished we came back to the apartment to hang it out to dry and then we took a walk along the harbor in the opposite direction from yesterday. We followed the path along the waters edge and then took a side street up into the hilly section. We worked our way back into town and by now it was about 1pm and we were getting hungry so we stopped for lunch. We ate at a place called Marinaro and it wasn’t too bad. We had a mixed green salad with fresh tuna on top and fried calamari.

After lingering over lunch for a few hours and chatting. We came back to the apartment to start packing our bags. Once we had most of our packing done, we decided to go for our afternoon drinks. Pivo (aka beer) for CL and iced coffee for me. We went to the same outdoor café as yesterday afternoon and did some people watching for a few hours.

At around 6pm we went back to the apartment and chilled out on the balcony soaking in the last day of this beautiful place. We had our evening snack of bread, cheese, tomato and thoroughly enjoyed the quiet evening.

Hvar has been absolutely beautiful even though we did not get to see any other parts of the island, or any of the surrounding islands it has been great just to kick back and relax at the cafes and not have to wake up to an alarm clock for a few days!

Tomorrow is the all day (7 hours) ferry ride to Dubrovnik. I have already called Petar the sobe owner there to confirm our arrival on the 4:15pm ferry and he will be at the ferry terminal with a sign with my name on it. A little less stressful than our arrival in Hvar!
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Nov 25th, 2006, 12:35 PM
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Day 22– September 23, 2006 – A Long Ferry Ride but the Pay Off is Sweet!

Well today is the next to the last leg of this trip…boo hoo! I can’t believe a week from today we will be home. The time has just flown by for me.

I did not have a restful night’s sleep last night. Maybe it was because I knew we planned to get up at 6:30am and I had set my alarm. Or maybe it was the blasted church bells chiming right next door, or the person banging on the front door of the house to be let in.

We did roll out of bed at 6:30AM, did last minute packing and left the apartment shortly after 7am. The bus from Hvar Town to Stari Grad didn’t leave until 7:45am, but we went up to the bus station early anyway and got there about 7:20am. I’m glad we did! The driver stowed our bags under the bus and CL went to get our seats while I popped over to the bakery one last time and got apple strudel for me and a chocolate croissant for CL for our breakfast. By the time I got back to the bus it was really starting to fill up and the driver was now stowing baggage in the doorway of the rear of the bus! The bus was standing room only with people standing in the aisle. I’m glad we got there early to get seats. And CL thought the bus wouldn’t be crowded.

The bus ride from Hvar Town to Stari Grad was pretty uneventful but there were some nice views. It wasn’t the newest bus and since it was loaded down with people and luggage going up and around the mountains was a slow go. But it got us to the ferry port at Stari Grad with plenty of time to spare. We pulled into the ferry terminal area at about 8:20am and we could see the ferry in the distance. The ferry docked at about 8:30am and unloaded lots of people and vehicles. Then we boarded and found our way up to the Salon Deck and found a table and chairs by the window, near the front of the boat.

After settling in, CL got us 2 cappuccinos and soon we were underway. I did a short wander around the boat and went to the outdoor deck…some spectacular views and not too windy. So now we are on the ferry until about 4:15pm when we dock in Dubrovnik.

I am much more relaxed on this travel day then I was on the travel day from Bled to Hvar. Partly because I’ve talked to Petar (sobe owner) in Dubrovnik and today we only had to take a bus to the ferry and get on. Petar will pick us up at the ferry terminal and take us directly to the sobe.

The views along the Dalmatian Coast were absolutely spectacular. I’m glad we took the ferry; it was great being able to step outside and have such a beautiful day and stunning views to help pass the 7 hour ride. Around 1pm the ferry docked in Korcula for about 20 minutes. CL and I went to the bar and got ham and cheese sandwiches, nothing too exciting but we were hungry and didn’t have any other alternative.

The ferry was right on time into Dubrovnik and we made our way through the hordes of people trying to rent sobes. In the distance I saw someone holding a sign with my name on it…”Hello Petar” I was very happy to see him. We put our bags in his car and hopped in. It was a Volkswagen Golf, good thing we didn’t have big suitcases!

Petar whisked us through the streets and to a parking lot just outside the city walls, not far from the sobe. The house he has is located near the top of the wall, so it wasn’t a far walk from the car park. Petar has 3 double rooms (sobe) and 2 single rooms in the house. He does not live on the premises.

After CL and I got situated (we each rented a single room) we met Petar downstairs in his office, which is just below the house. He gave us each some homemade grappa and it was Delish! And then proceeded to ask us what we wanted to see and do while here and gave us tons of brochures, maps, and restaurant suggestions.

Then he showed us around a small part of the walled Old Town pointing out some of the restaurants he recommended. He really went beyond what I had expected. After we parted ways CL and I walked up the main street (Stradun) to check out the Atlas tour of Montenegro. It costs 380 Kuna per person, almost $70. So, we are considering renting a car for a day and driving to Montenegro ourselves. Based on the rental car brochures Petar gave us, it looks like renting a car would be cheaper and we would be on our own time schedule.

Then we decided to have an early dinner, it was around 6pm. We went to one of the restaurants Petar recommended and it was also in our guidebook. The place is called Konoba Kamenice and it is located on the market square. CL wanted the little fried fish. I really wasn’t up for it so I had the squid risotto. Admittedly it was not nearly as good as the squid risotto we had in Hvar, but at least I have something to compare it with.

At dinner we talked about what to do tomorrow and we are going to get an early start and walk the city walls first thing in the morning. Then have our cappuccino at a café Petar recommended at the end of the street we are staying on.

After dinner we decided it would be a gelato night. I had a cone with 1 chocolate scoop and one coconut, it was good.

A few thoughts about our sobe…I love it! Yes, it is a bit noisy but like in Hvar we are in the Old Town and there is a lot of activity here, but at least we are not on the “main drag”. It seems like the houses on the other side of the street are occupied by people who actually live and work here. So, hopefully the noise won’t go on all night. The location of the sobe is very central to just about everything and the owner, Petar, has been great. I can’t say enough good things about this place. The name of the sobe is Villa Ragusa and their website is www.villaragusa.netfirms.com. The double rooms are 60 Euros per night and the singles are 30 Euros per night.
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