Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Bosnia and Montenegro

No rain in Sarajevo this trip so I really got to enjoy the city. The first morning we met up with a street art photographer. We saw some amazing art, visited some unusual buildings, and heard wonderful stories about the artists and the city. 

We also took a day trip to Sutjeska National Park and hiked five hours (round trip) to Lake Trnovacko. The scenery was magnificent but the hike was not easy - narrow paths with steep drop-offs, huge loose rocks, etc. I am still having trouble believing I made it the whole way without falling.

For logistical reasons we decided to go from Sarajevo to Montenegro through Mostar. It gave us a chance to take a fabulous train ride on a brand new train (outlets, WiFi and movies!) and make our second visit to Mostar's famous bridge. The train ride was fantastic but Mostar was absolutely packed with people attending a Red Bull diving contest. We couldn't wait to leave.

Our base in Montenegro was Kotor.  We spent three days wandering around the old cities of Kotor, Perast, and Budva. The fresh fish was delicious and the scenery was incredible.

What I Learned
Follow travel advice. For example,  always keep an extra credit card in your main suitcase, never put your wallet in the outside pocket of your backpack, and take special care when traveling on public transportation.  If you don't, a really creepy guy might bump into you on the tram and steal your wallet on the first day of your vacation. Then you would have to visit the US Embassy to start the paperwork to get a new passport, cancel your credit cards (and not have a spare) and deal with the police. If you are lucky you might get an email like this:

  

I got back everything but the cash but unfortunately all of the credit cards had been cancelled. My sister Susan is now paying for everything and hoping I pay her back when we get home.

Buregdzinica Bosna still has the best burek in Bosnia and perhaps the world.

When you are 65, a hike rated as moderate is not.

Sarajevo street  art

Hiking


  
Perast and Budva

Friday, September 8, 2017

Retirement


To commemorate my semi-retirement, I prepared this handy summary chart of how my life has changed.

Pre-Retirement Post-Retirement
Spent hours researching school supply ads from Walmart and Target and planning multiple shopping trips to each store, based on perceived need, price, and convenience all while factoring in Dollar Tree alternatives. I went to Target twice and did not visit Wal Mart.
Cleaned my city-supplied garbage cans once in a while or at the first sign of maggots. Cleaned my city-supplied garbage cans every other week.
Spent a lot of time sitting on my porch reading in between bouts of gardening and cleaning. Spent a lot of time sitting on my porch reading in between bouts of gardening, cleaning, and trip planning.

I have been planning a trip to Eastern and Southern Europe (using the United Nations definitions) or Eastern Europe (using almost everyone else's definition). This time I will be traveling with my sister. I am returning to Romania and Bulgaria, two of the places I went to in 2015, and visiting countries I missed on the first trip. 

I have made changes:
  • Convertible wheeled backpack - My beautiful, four-wheeled French suitcase is staying home - it is way too heavy and hard to maneuver on cobblestone streets.
  • Hiking poles – hopefully these will reduce the chance of ankle breakage.
  • Allrounders – A birthday present from my cousins David and Shirley - perfect for hiking.
  • Belt - Although my Bulgarian and Romanian language skills range from poor to non-existent, I am fairly certain I heard people saying “Don't they sell belts in the United States?” when I would pass them in the street.
  • Everlast Notebook – This is a notebook with erasable pages. Once the notebook is full, I can use an app to scan the pages and send them to Google Drive, Gmail, Evernote, etc. Beside the fact that I won't have to worry about losing my trip notebook, I can use different colored inks, always a plus. I realize this sounds overally complicated but I find it hard to resist Indiegogo.
I will be posting as I go -- thanks for reading (sorry about the font issues).





Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Iceland

Iceland!

On a family member's bucket list - the Northern Lights.   Iceland is a great place to see the Northern Lights and Icelandair has some really affordable package tours.  I had a break in my school schedule so I invited myself to go along with two family members and a family friend.

Our package tour included a Northern Lights boat ride and a trip to the Blue Lagoon. We added a Northern Lights "hunt" by van and a trip to the Golden Circle.  You have to be very lucky to see the Northern Lights and we were able to see them on our first night (they were not visible the other nights we were there).





My sister took these pictures.  The camera captures much more color than you can actually see - the lights looked white to me.  The stars were incredible too - an amazing night.

I almost sat out the Blue Lagoon - something about the combination of wearing a bathing suit, darkness, cold, and freezing rain made me want to stay inside but I am really glad I went in the water. It was warm once you got in and being able to drink a beer while "bathing" was a nice touch. Fortunately the rumors about communal showering and cleanliness inspections are not true. (No cameras so there is no visual record of my visit.)

The worst weather of the trip was on the day of our Golden Circle tour.  There are three main stops on the tour -

Thingvellir National Park - two of us took a short hike up to a small waterfall.



Geysir -- all of us got to see Geysir erupt (sort of)



Gullfoss Waterfall


It was a fun day despite the weather and we were probably better off taking a tour than staying in town and being confined to our hotel rooms. 

Other activities included lots of shopping (very few purchases because of the prices) and a visit to the Reykjavik Art Museum where we saw a very entertaining exhibit by Yoko Ono. My sister and I also went to see Bjork's virtual reality exhibition at the Harpa Concert Hall, a really amazing building.  Our final stop was the Icelandic Phallological Museum.  Google it if you want more information.

Iceland is:
  • Only a six hour non-stop flight from Chicago.
  • Affordable if you don't eat anything other than the free breakfast at your hotel. We heard the food was expensive but it is really expensive.  It is hard to have lunch for under $25 per person and the large two topping, vegetarian pizza we had for our Thanksgiving dinner was $34. The best bargain - $8.80 for two beers during happy hour at our hotel bar.  The food is really good and we had fantastic fish at the Fishmarket and at Sea Baron.  
  • The most organized place I have ever visited - there are lots of tourists everywhere but all of the major attractions are well-run and everything is very efficient.
  • Very dark in the winter.  We averaged about five and a half hours of daylight during the five days we were there - I don't know how I would be able to handle it if I spent the entire winter there.  
  • Not too cold and snowy, at least in Reykjavik, but we had a lot of wind, rain, and sleet almost everyday -- I would love to go back in the spring or summer and see more of the country.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

New England

I had a meeting in New England and decided to combine it with a visit to family, some hiking, and a trip to Boston.  I also tried out some new travel clothes in preparation for my next trip to Europe (I decided to stick with ExOfficio and Helly Hansen).

Northampton, Massachusetts

I had a wonderful visit with my cousin in Northampton.  I spent a day exploring the town, shopping, and eating at every local bakery.  A great way to start my vacation, topped off with a trip to Fenway Park to see the White Sox play the Red Sox.  The best part of the four and a half hour White Sox loss was this (which as far as I know is only available at Fenway Park):

Popcorn with Cheetos flavoring mixed with Cheetos
North Woodstock, New Hampshire (White Mountains)

Family visit aside, my trip to the White Mountains was the best part of my vacation.  I stayed at the Notch Hostel, a fantastic place which caters to hikers on the Appalachian Trail.  I went on a couple of beautiful hikes, visited the Flume George, and spent my evenings learning about hiking on the AT from Magoo and MR (not their real names - AT hikers adopt trail names).  Other than my visit to Polly's Pancakes, I didn't pay for a meal because departing hikers had left behind an amazing amount of uneaten food and leftover beer.

Cascade Park - North Woodstock, New Hampshire
Polly's Pancake Parlor (Sugar Hill, New Hampshire) was another highlight.  I ordered a sampler of six pancakes - you get to mix and match the batter and add-ins.  The best part is that they cook the first three and when you've finished, they cook the next three so nothing gets cold.  Great food.

Portland, Maine

The old port section of town is pretty nice and I found this wonderful museum.  I've heard the seafood is outstanding.




Boston

I attended summer school in Boston 46 years ago.  The only places that looked familiar were Fenway Park, my dorm, Harvard Square, Harvard Yard, and this place - the first bar I ever visited.


I spent two days walking around the city eating and wishing I had gone to New York.

Other Outstanding Food
  • Doughnuts at Tart Bakery, Northampton
  • Herrell's Ice Cream, Northampton
  • Beer selection at Jacob Wirth, Boston
  • Cannoli at Bova's Bakery, Boston
  • Gelato at Gorgeous Gelato, Portland
Things I Learned
  • I never need to return to Boston.
  • I think I could handle hiking the Appalachian Trail for a couple of days if  I don't have to pick a  trail name.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

By the Numbers/Summing It Up

This is the final blog post for this trip - thanks for reading.

Countries Visited:

Germany (transit only)
Slovenia
Croatia
Italy (24 hours)
Hungary (24 hours)
Romania
Serbia
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bulgaria
Turkey
Israel
Jordan

Things Lost:

Two pairs of Target earrings
One bottle of contact lens solution 

Miscellaneous:
  • Number of days traveling - 121
  • Amount of time lost to illness - four hours
  • Best hostels - Hostel Bongo (Belgrade, Serbia) and Hostel Old Plovdiv (Plovdiv, Bulgaria)
  • Nicest and most helpful hostel staff - Hostel Tivoli (Ljubljana, Slovenia) and Hostel Franz Ferdinand - Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Most interesting city - Sarajevo
  • Most surprisingly wonderful city - Rovinj, Croatia
  • Most surprisingly wonderful country - Bulgaria
  • Country I would move to tomorrow - Turkey
Transportation:

11 trains
11 buses
Five minivans
Nine flights (total minutes late -  65, total minutes early - 66)

I should have:
  • Given up on my plan to only use public transportation and rented a car in Romania.
  • Not brought so much stuff.  I had a complete first aid kit (including syringes, cloth bandages, athletic tape, 100 alcohol wipes, etc.) which stayed in my suitcase the entire time. I could have bought anything I needed.
  • Found another volunteer opportunity.  I was very tired at the end of my trip and I think I would have benefited from spending more time in one location.
  • Not gone back to work so soon after I returned.
  • Brought more Pepto Bismol
I never thought the following words would ever come out of my mouth:
  • I don't think I'm getting enough sleep.
  • I don't think I'm eating enough.
  • Where is the H&M store?
  • Can I get that without the cheese?
  • I like staying in hostels.
Some pictures from the village of Csikszentsimon, Romania where I volunteered at a local school:









(Full disclosure - this picture was taken in a different village)
In addition to learning about the US flag, we made hand turkeys.

                         
         





I laughed every time I saw one of these lights - watch until the end. 






One more from Wadi Rum, Jordan

Finally, thanks to the many, many people who helped me with my suitcase.




Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Food

I wrote down pretty much everything I ate during my trip. Some highlights.

Pancakes with mountain berry jam (Ljubljana, Slovenia).


A slice of authentic Bled cream cake - don't be fooled by imitations (Park Restaurant and Cafe in Lake Bled, Slovenia).

Small plates at Male Madlane, a restaurant located in an apartment overlooking the Adriatic Sea (Rovinj, Croatia).

Plum dumplings (Brasov, Romania)

Covrigi - pretzels sprinkled with sesame or poppy seeds.  There are places selling these everywhere Romania, along with gogosi, doughnuts stuffed with various sweet and savory fillings.  Covrigi and gogosi stuffed with cheese were the mainstays of my diet in Romania (Gare du Nord, Bucharest, Romania). 


Cheese wrapped in tree bark (Farmers' market in Sibiu, Romania).


Cheese burek with yogurt.  I ate burek in every country and I ate it at least four times a week.  This was the best (Buregdzinica Bosna Restaurant in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina).


Popcorn and corn in a cup are available everywhere in Serbia and Bulgaria (Varna, Bulgaria).


There are coffee machines on every block in the Balkans and the coffee is surprisingly good
(Varna, Bulgaria).


Shopska salad, the national dish of Bulgaria - feta-like cheese (and lots of it), tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions (Dayana Restaurant in Plovdiv, Bulgaria).

Fresh squeezed pomegranate juice (Goreme, Turkey)


Gozleme - pancakes filled with cheese (Nazar Borek and Cafe in Goreme, Turkey).


Katmer - griddled pastry filled with kaymak (similar to clotted cream) and sprinkled with pistachios (Serger Bakery in Istanbul, Turkey).


I first tried khachapuri, a pastry filled with white Georgian cheese, in Uzbekistan and I loved this version (Khachapuria Bakery in Jerusalem, Israel).

A wonderful meal of katayef - pancakes stuffed with white cheese or walnuts and cinnamon (Dewan al-Saraya Old City Abu Ashraf Restaurant in Nazareth, Israel)


Sabich - an absolutely fantastic sandwich invented in Israel. Lightly fried eggplant, chopped hardboiled eggs and all sorts of spreads and seasonings (near the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, Israel).

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Israel and Jordan

Israel was a last minute addition to my itinerary so I hadn't done any planning or research. I decided to base myself in Jerusalem and take advantage of the great tours offered by my otherwise horrible hostel.  I had six full days in Jerusalem and I spent a lot of time in the Old City -- shopping and eating in the Muslim Quarter (I was turned away from the Temple Mount*), touring the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter, and visiting the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter. The Israel Museum was wonderful - a building devoted to archaeological history, a series of aluminum sculptures depicting events in human history, amazing art, a sculpture garden and the Dead Sea scrolls.  I also found time to visit the Holocaust Museum twice, walk around Machane Yehuda Market, and explore some of Jerusalem's neighborhoods.

Since Israel is so small, I was able to see a lot of the country on day trips.  One day I visited Masada at sunrise, hiked in the Ein Gedi nature reserve, and then went for a swim in the Dead Sea. Another day I visited Nazareth and the impressive Church of the Annunciation and Caesarea, the ruins of a city built by Herod on the Mediterranean Sea. We ended the day with a visit to the Jordan River and what may have been the site of the baptism of Jesus (there are several places along the Jordan River in both Israel and Jordan that claim to be the site).

In the middle of all the sightseeing in Israel, I took a three day trip to Jordan.  The ancient city of Petra is the main attraction but my tour also included the ruins of Jerash, the Amman citadel, and a truck tour of Wadi Rum, the desert made famous by Lawrence of Arabia.  Jordan was amazing and well worth a second visit - its hard not to feel rushed in Petra, especially on a tour, and it would have been awesome to spend the night in Wadi Rum. I would love to go back.

------------------------------------------------------
*  I had some safety concerns but I never felt unsafe.  There was very heavy, very visible security in Jerusalem and frequent checkpoints along the highways in Israel and Jordan.  Although Jordan has not had any recent terrorism incidents, we were accompanied by an armed policeman wherever we went.

Things I Learned
  • Cell phones in the Middle East do not have vibrate or mute functions.
  • Nigerians are the friendliest tourists in the whole world.
  • Israel and Jordan are very expensive.  My food costs quadrupled.

Israel Museum - aluminum sculptures by Zadok Ben-David from "Evolution and Theory"


 Hiking in Ein-Gedi


 Military band in Jerash, Jordan

 Jerash

 Citadel in Amman, Jordan 

Petra - the Treasury

Wadi Rum - The Martian was filmed here


When I was little I brought a dime to Sunday school each week so that I could plant a tree in Israel. This is the tree I planted! Although you can't see it, there is a plaque on the tree trunk with my name on it.


Petra in the movies

Bosnia and Montenegro

No rain in Sarajevo this trip so I really got to enjoy the city. The first morning we met up with a street art photographer. We saw some am...