Category: Vacation 2014: Europe

Embracing the Montenegrin Way

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Surprise, surprise, there are stereotypes among the Balkan nations, and the Montenegrins have a reputation for being lazy. Our tour director, Oleg, who is Croatian, delighted in telling us jokes in this vein, and Karel got into the spirit and looked up some good ones online. Some of our favorites: A man swimming in the…

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Senseless Acts

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During our stay in Sarajevo, our tour group made an excursion to the nearby city of Mostar, in Herzegovina. The ride was spectacular, along the turquoise Neretva River. In my near-total ignorance about this part of the world, I had no idea that it has such wild, rugged mountains. One time, we asked the bus…

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Name: Sarajevo – Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

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The ride by public bus from Belgrade, Serbia to Sarajevo, Bosnia took us through scenic countryside and mountains and took the better part of a day. Although the country seemed beautiful and fertile, we noticed that many of the houses appeared empty. I’m not sure, but this may be a lingering after-effect of the Balkan…

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When Cars Take Over The World

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In the competition for most embattled cities, Belgrade may be the all-time champion. In its long history, it has been attacked or besieged well over a hundred times. It’s been razed to the ground, bombed to rubble, pillaged, and rebuilt scores of times. It has changed hands from one power to another every few decades…

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Revisionist History Lessons

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Budapest is very big, very old, and very beautiful. Long ago it was two different cities that united to straddle the mighty Danube. It is poised near the edge of the Orient. You might think the maturity of the city, like the grand prospects from the tops of its high hills, would lend a certain,…

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Lunch In Bratislava

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Nearing the end of the first half of our tour, we faced our most difficult travel day to date. It started with lots and lots of stairs, continued with hectic transfers, long waits, and hot, crowded train compartments. When we reached Bratislava, we stashed our luggage in lockers, then walked through the old part of…

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Playtime In Vienna

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Somehow, Vienna and most of its architectural and artistic treasures escaped widespread destruction during WWII, and then managed to be west of the iron curtain. As a result, it still looks and feels like the seat of an empire. We had only a day and a half to see the sights of this great city,…

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Enchanted Kingdom

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The train station at Český Krumlov set a new standard for near non-existence. The train stopped in what appeared to be a vacant lot, and our tour director urged us to get off. We climbed down into what looked like weedy dirt, but closer inspection revealed it to be a concrete platform in the final…

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Czech Principles Of Design

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Lucky, lucky you, city of Prague! This glorious city has survived over 1000 years of wars, crusades, reformations, revolutions, fires, and even communism. It is one vast, open-air museum of architecture over the ages, straddling the beautiful Vltava River, bedecked with numerous parks and gardens, and populated by the “smiling devils,” the most sophisticated and…

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Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life

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The old buildings of Krakow escaped some of the ravages of WWII and communism, even if the people did not. As a result, and for many other reasons invisible to us, I’m sure, the outlook of the city seems more hopeful. Everywhere we looked, we saw signs of humor, pride of place, and appreciation for…

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The Beaten Path

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Zakopane is a small city of 30,000 residents and 300,000 tourists. At least, that’s the way it seemed. The town is an artist colony and ski resort in the beautiful High Tatras, which are a sub-range of the Carpathians. It’s famous for its distinctive architecture of steep-roofed, timber-framed houses decorated with elaborately carved wood. The…

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Dust To Dust

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When we emerged from the train station on the hilltop plaza of old-town Warsaw, something about the place didn’t feel right. We walked down the narrow, cobbled streets, surrounded by medieval buildings and the usual throngs of tourists, just like Stockholm and a half-dozen other cities we’d seen, but something was off. “This doesn’t feel…

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Berlin: Poor, but Sexy

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As we step to the boundary between West and East, it is immediately clear that scenic beauty will now take a back seat to the human landscape of history and culture. We begin in Berlin. It’s been 25 years since the wall came down. The joy and shock of release have long since settled into…

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A Profile Of Two Dogs

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Diva, Queen of the Universe Breed: miniature dachshund Age: a sprightly 9 years, aging gracefully Diva loves long walks, mouse hunting, laps, pillows, and dried fish. Although she’s now an old lady, Diva still has ambitions of leading the first all-doxie dogsled team.   Pablo, Owner and Protector of the Universe Breed: miniature dachshund Age:…

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Festival—Norwegian Style

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One of the main events of our visit to Norway was Månefestival (Moon Festival): three days of music featuring all female lead performers, including Patti Smith, Beth Hart, and Suzanne Vega. The festival was held in the old quarter of Fredrikstad, on an “island” in the Glomma river. Fredrikstad was a fortified city in the…

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Hangin’ Out In Moss

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Every few days, the nature of our trip changes completely. First we were bicycling and island hopping in the Swedish archipelago, then we were on a leisurely, pastoral canal cruise. That was followed by a very different cruise along Norway’s wild and rugged coast. After that, a stay at a summer cottage on a remote…

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Souvenirs

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When we were in Thailand last year on our honeymoon, visiting a floating market, I spotted a totally useless souvenir that I loved: a string of elephants carved out of coconuts, with feather propellers for tails, spinning in the breeze. We still had many weeks of traveling ahead of us, and they were silly and…

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Another Mystery, Solved!

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Karel lived in Sweden for three months when he was in his early twenties, and he has fond memories of the beautiful, bare-breasted Swedish women at the beach. This time, in spite of the extraordinarily warm, sunny weather, there are no naked breasts in sight. Everyone is demurely covered. Why, oh why? Was it just…

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The Island of Meløyvær

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Please don’t ask me how to pronounce the name of this island. I can do it, but I can only remember it for about 10 seconds. Then I have to find another Norwegian to pronounce it for me again. Anyway, we just spent four heavenly days there, at the childhood home of our friend, Eirik…

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Things To Do In Harstad

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We had half a day on our own in the city of Harstad, population 24,500, while we waited for Gry, Eirik, and Gunn to arrive by bus from the airport. Peggy had arranged a tour for us, so after a bit of confusion about where to store our luggage (the lockers were in the bus…

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Hurtigruten

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We’d just settled into our room back in Bergen when Pegs arrived. Woo hoo! After sharing a pizza for lunch, she and I made a beeline for Bryggen and spent the afternoon poking around the old buildings and souvenir shops and soaking it in over cider and beer. Pegs arranged a tour of Troldhaugen, the…

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Sognefjord in a Nutshell

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Back when Karel was working on the plans and arrangements for our trip (he does a great job!), he asked me how many days I wanted to stay in Bergen. Ask yourself the same question. Bergen shmergen, I thought, I don’t know the first thing about it. “Whatever you think is best, Dear.” Always a…

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Party Town

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The canal cruise ended in Gothenburg. From there, we took a train to Copenhagen. We emerged from the station right across from the Tivoli, one of the oldest amusement parks in the world, and a fitting symbol for this lively, colorful, playful city. What a contrast with Stockholm! On the one hand, you have a…

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How We Do Things

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Even as Europe goes, Scandinavia is a more unusual destination for an American traveling abroad. First choice is usually Great Britain, France, Germany, or Italy, partly because these countries are so important to our heritage and history. So, I find it interesting that I sometimes feel so at ease here, I forget that I’m in…

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Land Of The Free

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Anyone who’s been following our blog knows by now that I try to make sense of what I observe, even though I know I’m only getting the briefest glimpse—and often a distorted one—of the countries we visit. One of the most striking things about Sweden, to me, is how empty of people it seems to…

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Slow Travel

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Unless you’ve been living in a cave since the turn of the millennium, you’ve heard of the Slow Food Movement. Well, there is also a Slow Travel aesthetic that has become fashionable, and Karel and I are fans of this style. We try to savor and enjoy a few, high quality, “authentic” experiences rather than…

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Back in Stockholm

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We had one full day in the city before our next big excursion, so we made ambitious plans to see a few museums. First on the list was the Vasa, a fully restored warship that sank on her maiden voyage in 1632 due to a design flaw. At the time, the Vasa was the largest…

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Stockholm’s Archipelago

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If you look at a map of Sweden, it looks as though the east coast doesn’t end, so much as disintegrate, into the Baltic Sea. There are about 30,000 islands and an uncountable number of rocks and bumps peeking above the water, which was absolutely flat and calm for our entire stay. Many of the…

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Biking Into The Real Sweden

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For our first adventure, we’re traveling by bicycle and boat around the Swedish Archipelago. Our ride picked us up outside the hotel in the morning, along with a family of three from Massachusetts who were doing the same trip. We drove a short distance out of Stockholm to a nineteenth century castle—manor house, really—where we…

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Dr. Gizmo

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You’ve heard of Inspector Gadget? Well, it appears that Karel may be related. I came to this conclusion when he bought a vest with 42 pockets as a way to carry around his camera gear. This is in addition to a pair of cargo shorts with super duper deep pockets, and a new backpack with…

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Continental Odyssey

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Just over a year since our last trip abroad, Karel and I are traveling again. This time we’ll spend three months exploring Europe, starting with Scandinavia, then working our way south through Eastern Europe, and finally a swing northward again through Tuscany and down the Rhine to Amsterdam. We’ll spend a couple of days visiting…

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