Sea, Castles and Game of Thrones in Croatia

We started our Croatian journey in Rovinj, a medieval seaside town in the northern section of Croatia. Rovinj looks imposing but only about 14,000 people live there today.

Inside this idyllic city, you stride along cobblestone streets and you can hear the locals chatting and going about their day. Fishermen unload their day’s catch. Markets are buzzing. Clothes are hung up for drying along the balconies.

We stayed in Rovinj for about 3 days in this impressive hotel (Spirito Santo Palazzo Sterico). It was recently converted from a set of decrepit homes and they did an amazing job with the design and construction (we highly suggest staying there if you visit).

We hired a private tour guide for 2 days who showed us the entire Istria area (the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea) — Rovinj (along with many other cities) are in this area. We had wine tastings, olive oil tastings and visited Pula — a city just south of Rovinj.

When you roll into Pula, you may think you are in Rome, check out the arena.

Split to Debrovnik

After visiting Rovinj and the surrounding areas, we hopped on a small yacht with 36 other people to island hop from Split to Dubrovnik.

Split, Croatia

Split is a beautiful seaside city where many of the Game of Thrones scenes were shot.

They used the Palace of Diocletian as the place where Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons were raised.

The palace is huge and incredibly interesting — it has lots of shops and restaurants. It also has a Game of Thrones museum that I highly recommend visiting. They will tell you where each of the scenes were shot within the palace.

Bol, Hvar, Croatia

When you first sail into Bol, you will see the beautiful beach that lies just outside the city. Seas were rough and we had rain, so we did not get to swim here but it would be great to do if you get the chance.

We strolled a pretty empty city, visiting shops, a local church, and a winery.

Jelsa and Stari Grad, Croatia

We continued our journey to Jelsa and Stari Grad, seaside cities in route to Dubrovnik.

All of these medieval cities have squares and churches. I can only imagine what it was like to live here in older times — probably lots of community and plenty of gossip!

We capped off our day with a local dish called Gregada. Fish and potatoes cooked in the oven for about 45 minutes, it was the best fish I’ve ever tasted.

In an upcoming blog post, I will talk about our continuing journey to Dubrovnik, where we visit Korcula, Mljet, Ston and then Dubrovnik.

I will leave you with a lonely lighthouse we saw during our journey towards Dubrovnik.

Finding St. Paul in Ephesus Turkey

If you’re familiar with St. Paul (he wrote most of the books of the New Testament), then you are probably familiar with the Book of Ephesians. At the time, people of Ephesus worshiped idols (Greek goddess Artemis) and Paul was there to spread the Christian gospel. He spent 3 years there but eventually was run out of town by the silversmiths who created the idols because it was cutting into their business and causing them economic hardship!

Covered up by volcanoes for several centuries, the ruins of Ephesus were discovered in 1863 and are in amazing shape for their age.

As we began walking the cobblestone streets of Ephesus, it felt amazing to be walking the same streets as Paul, Alexander the Great, Antony and Cleopatra.

Ephesus Architecture

The architecture during this time frame was amazing, everything was hand carved — imagine the effort that went into this.

Palaces of Ephesus

If you visit Ephesus, you will have the option to visit the Palaces (for an extra fee) — I recommend you do it. The palaces were the homestead for royalty and many of the palaces are up to 10,000 square feet — absolute mansions.

Nike – Just Do it!

In Greek mythology, the goddess Nike flew around battlefields awarding victors with glory and fame, symbolized by a wreath of bay leaves. There was a carving of Nike at Ephesus:

Oh look, Nike must have lost her hat while flying around and Lynn picked it up:

It’s amazing to know that only about 20% of Ephesus has currently been excavated — 80% of the city still lies below the earth’s ground cover.

Turkish People

We found the Turkish people to be very friendly and warm. Our tour guide was Turkish and he knew as much about America as most Americans (he knew the states, local culture, etc.). They are a proud people but are challenged economically. You will find that many will come up and try to sell you things as you walk around, we did not see that in Greece. But they are polite and will not bother you if you decline their offer.

They also create a lot of knock-off watches, purses and other items. You can buy a Rolex for about $20 but it may not be working by the time you get back home. I love the sign below, how can it be genuine and fake at the same time?

I’ll leave you with our view as we docked at Kusadasi. Notice the Hollywood style sign on the hill and the multi-colored houses:

Snorkeling Milos Greece

Milos Greece was a perfect spot for snorkeling — it has crystal blue waters, amazing landscapes, and accessible caves. We took an afternoon cruise to the best spots.

As we sailed, we saw amazing port villages and pumice walled cliffs with ocean caves.

Doesn’t the middle rock look like a bear (head at top facing right)?

Snorkelers dove off the boat from about 15 feet up — you could never do that in America! Why not – I happily joined the few that dared.

We approached the infamous Sarakiniko Beach — a local hangout with stellar pumice beaches and cliffs that people dive from. Our boat sailed right along the beach and we later visited the beach from the land.

After leaving the beach, we stopped in at Plaka to view the sunset.

What a place!

Knossos, Crete

We made a quick stop in Crete to see Knossos, a bronze age archaeological site that is referred to as “Europe’s oldest city”. Knossos was built and inhabited by Greek royalty from 2700 to 1100 BC. Marked by huge palaces and complex architecture, the ruins of this site are awe inspiring.

Amazingly, they had running water, flushing toilets and elaborate architectural designs — all over 4,000 years ago! They painted frescoes on the walls eliciting hints as to how life was at the time.

There were also a lot of pottery found in this ancient city — notice the detail.

I’ll leave you with one more picture of Milos:

Windmills in Mykonos Greece

During the 16th century, Venetians took advantage of swift sea breezes by erecting windmills to crush grain (like wheat) in Mykonos and other Cycladic islands. As grain production became less profitable in the 20th century, most windmills were removed. Only a few survived and are used a museums. They also make a great backdrop to the sea.

We booked a small group tour of Mykonos – our guide moved there 50 years ago from Canada. He visited the island, fell in love with it and has never left. He spent the day showing us his favorite spots. We started at the lighthouse — the gateway to Mykonos.

The views from the lighthouse are inspiring.

We then went to one of the many beaches Mykonos offers. We learned that Mykonos has more beaches than any other of the Cycladic islands.

He then gave us a tour through the town, pointing out areas of interest, bars, restaurants, and gave us insight into daily life. He weaved in stories of houses he lived in, neighbors he had, and his favorite bakeries (best chocolate / peanut butter balls I’ve ever tasted), check out the bakery:

Mykonos has so much eye candy, it was hard to fully capture the beauty. Here are some of my favorite pictures — I just love the colors.

Santorini Greece – Hues of White and Blue

If you visit Greece, be sure to spend a few days in Santorini. Perched upon imposing cliffs, you have the option of riding a donkey or taking a cable car ride to the vista.

Like all Cycladic Islands of Greece, it’s a sea of white and blue homes, businesses and churches. Over 100 years ago, building codes were made to enforce this color scheme and that decision has paid dividends.

The white and blue matches their flag and represents the blue and whitecaps of the ocean.

When visiting, we highly recommend a private tour. We booked ours using Viator, it was supposed to be a 6 hour tour of the island but as we noticed with all our time in Greece and Turkey — tour guides are warm and want you to have the best experience possible. That usually means that they add a couple of hours to your tour (at no additional cost) to ensure you see everything!

Oia Santorini

Starting our tour in Oia – we were surrounded by whitewash buildings with blue tops.

There are lots of small boutique shops and a cool little bookstore called Atlantis Books. You walk down a set of steps and land in a funky 2-room bookstore — it’s a must see!

Cave Homes

Our tour guide (Nicholas) told us he lives in a Cave Home (I guess you can call him a Cave Man). Yep – the home was built in the side of a hill and this is not an uncommon thing for the area.

Being underground, it does not require heating or A/C — it stays naturally cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The monthly rent for a 2 bedroom cave home that is beach front? $500 per month! He stopped by and showed us his home:

Black and Red Beaches

Being from the Gulf of Mexico, we are used to white sandy beaches. Santorini’s beaches are either black or red and favor pebbles over sugar-like sand. This would take a bit of getting used to, but the locals say they prefer it over sandy beaches.

Black Sand Beach
Red Sand Beach

Wine Tasting

Driving around the island, you see lots of shrubs with vines. Wait — these are grapevines!

Since Santorini has a very dry climate with very little rain, they teach grapevines to grow in a circular fashion that makes a basket that traps moisture. The island is full of these vines with a bustling wine scene. We visited several wineries while there (Artemis Karamolegos, Avantis Wines, and Santos).

One of the smaller wineries is called Faros Market. They have a donkey named Marco Polo that you can feed before starting your wine tasting!

Our guide Nicholas took us to a special spot to end the day — sunset from a church that requires a 10 minute hike down a hillside.

Just before dusk, the donkeys make their way up to the top of the mountain to close out a busy day of transporting tourist from the bottom of the mountain.

Then night falls and Santorini comes alive. It’s so easy to enjoy the view!

Amazing Snow in Telluride, Colorado

Although I had just skied in Breckenridge a few weeks earlier, some friends (Bob Swainhart and Diane Caroll) graciously invited us to visit Telluride.

On the day we were traveling, there were travel advisories for Denver, Colorado because of the Bomb Cyclone. Most flights were canceled in and out of Denver but luckily we were flying into Montrose — but we had amazing snow and incredible beauty.

Unlike my recent ski trip to Breckenridge, temperatures were moderate (upper 30’s) so it allowed us to hike, snowshoe and ski.

The day after we arrived, the sun came out and we took advantage of hiking around town.

Sking was also amazing — big snow and blue skies. It was so great that Lynn decided to bring her skis out of retirement and give it a whirl.

I had just boasted about not falling from skiing in the past 3 years. As always happens when I boast about anything — karma bits me in the keister. On my first run down a double blue mogul, my right ski snagged the top of the mogul and I came tumbling down. However, Bob and I got vindication when we slew this steep mogul:

This snow was some of the best I’ve skied in for a long time.

On our last few days, we decided to snowshoe. I’ve only done this a few times, but I really enjoyed it. We hiked from the top of Mountain Village down into Telluride Valley.

On our final night in Telluride, we experienced the worm moon. What a great way to cap off a great week in Telluride.

Thanks to Bob and Diane for inviting us!

3rd Annual Ski Trip: Breckenridge/Vail/Keystone

In February 2019, we had our 3rd annual ski trip — this year we decided to take on Breckenridge, Vail, and Keystone. All 3 resorts received around 300 inches of snowfall this season so the snow was immense and fluffy.

With the extra snow came cold weather. Most days it was in the teens so riding the chairlifts up was a bit frigid.

We decided to stay in Breckenridge because we could quickly ski Breck — Keystone and Vail are a short drive away. Our rental had a great view of the slopes and a nice hot tub to rest the sore muscles at the end of the day.

Here’s Tom Helderle getting ready to shred the mountain:

Summary

Skiing Vail was on our coldest day but we still shredded the back bowls. Breckenridge’s ski day was a bit warmer so we took advantage of some fast runs. Keystone has the steepest blue runs of all 3 resorts, we really enjoyed the barrelling down the mountain.

Here is a video of this year’s fun:

Bet you’ve never heard of Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon!

Born and raised in Georgia, I never once heard of Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon. I learned about it from Roadtrippers.com — a website that points out cool places to visit along your road trip route.

In fact, it is in Lumpkin, Georgia — only about an hour and 15 minutes from the town I grew up in (Donalsonville, Georgia). After learning that, I found out my Dad had never visited either so we knew we had to take a road trip!

This little gem is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia. It was formed due to erosion — created by poor farming practices in the 1800’s.

The canyon is made of clay and other marine sediments and the contrasting white coloration is caused by water seeping over the clay. Throughout the canyon are crevasses worn away by erosion. You can explore these crevasses and will immediately notice a 10 to 20-degree cold temperature change.

The hike down is about three-quarters of a mile. They also have a 3 and 7 mile loop trail. Since my Dad is 82 years old, we figured the 1.5 mile round trip was plenty. We knew if you took the 7 mile loop, we would be rewarded with views of about a dozen rusty 1950s-era automobiles. Due to the environmental damage that removing the vehicles would cause, park officials have decided to leave them alone.

We decided not to do the long hike (we did not want to do that to my Dad), but here are some pictures I found that show them (thanks to Trover for these pictures):

Tango in Argentina

On our way to Antarctica, we stopped into Buenos Aires, Argentina. Lynn prearranged a tango lesson . It’s Argentina — why not? We had been traveling for over 20 hours and got a chance to tour Buenos Aires, it’s a vibrant South American city — more about that later.

Our tango lesson started at 8:30 p.m. Imagine having very little sleep in the past 24 hours and you have to muster the energy for a dance lesson. She had booked a private lesson so it was just us and our 2 instructors. We videoed their fancy footwork, check them out:

Once we started taking lessons, we were re-energized and forgot that we were running on fumes. After our 1 hour private lesson, our instructors took us to 2 different Milongas (tango dance clubs). The first Milonga was more formal and absolutely crowded.

Men sat at tables on one side of the room while ladies sat at tables on the other side. To get a dance partner, a man stares at a woman across the room and if she nods, she is accepting his request for a dance. It’s not a pickup thing — they just love to tango! You would see young men dancing with older women and vice versa.

After dancing at the first club, our instructors told us about a totally different type of Milonga. It was for a younger crowd and was as much about young people hanging out socially than tango. But the dance floor was big and the place had a really hip vibe. Lynn danced with our instructor and they were amazing together. The club is called La Catedral:

Earlier in the day, we toured Buenos Aires starting at Casa Rosada — a government building in one of their famous squares:

The square was bustling with a band playing and Brazilian ladies in native dress.

Our next stop was Caminito (“little walkway” or “little path” in Spanish). This place acquired cultural significance because it inspired the music for the famous tango “Caminito” (1926), composed by Juan de Dios Filiberto.

After a bit of walking, we found a nice little watering hole called La Peru Caminito where we sampled local beer.

We ended our tour at Recoleta Cemetery, in the upscale Recoleta Barrio of Buenos Aires.
The cemetery includes graves of some of the most influential and important Argentinians, including several presidents, scientists, and wealthy characters.

Internationally, Eva Perón is the best-known person buried in this cemetery. There’s also the tomb of Rufina Cambacérès who was buried alive. 

The thing I found most interesting is that many of the mausoleums  have glass where you can see the caskets inside. Odd.

After touring Buenos Aires and dancing Tango until 1 a.m. – we started our journey to the bottom of Argentina and the city located at the bottom of South America: Ushuaia. We left at first light but were able to catch some z’s on the 3 hour plane ride.

Ushuaia is located in Tierra del Fuego and is normally windy and rainy. We were lucky to arrive to beautiful weather. We visited the Tierra del Fuego National Park, just a few minutes outside of Ushuaia.

The national park has lots of hiking trails so we took time to stretch our legs while enjoying scenic vistas.

We then boarded a catamaran and cruised the Beagle Channel before leaving for Antarctica.

Alas, it was time to make our voyage to Antarctica — check out that blog here.

Polar Plunge into 33 degree Antarctic Water. Wait – What?

After 5 days in Antarctica, we continued our journey on day 6 along the Orleans Strait by kayaking Cierva Cove in Antarctica. It was our first really sunny day and surreal to be floating among whales and penguins.

We began following a humpback whale who was leisurely paddling through the cove.

Everywhere you turn, penguins were gracefully slicing through the frigid waters on a quest for krill.

This one almost jumped into our boat.

We were raided by a group of Vikings. Luckily they came in peace and offered hot chocolate with a splash of Jameson.

After a few hours on the water, we reembarked the ship. She’s quite photogenic, don’t you think?

We had just settled into our cabin when we heard an announcement over the speaker system “For those who want to do a polar plunge, report to the lower deck immediately“. Polar plunge, eh? What could go wrong? Well, they had a doctor on hand in case anything went awry. We had 150 people on the ship and about 20 staff — 37 of us crazy people elected to take the plunge. Don’t believe me? Here I am in action:

It was kinda like jumping into a slushie. As soon as I hit the water, every extremity froze as if to say “what the hell are you doing to me?”. Once I surfaced and made my way back to the boat, an extreme sensation of exhilaration covered my body, it was a fantastic feeling. Awaiting my return was a shot of schnapps. Ah, I can now feel my legs!

The next day, we made our way to Cuverville Island to Kayak with the penguins.

Our new friends, James and Don

After kayaking, we had the opportunity to hike up an 800 foot mountain for better views of the island. It was a bit slippery ascending the mountain but certainly worth the effort:

On the way back down, it was even more slippery so a friend and I decided to slide down on our butts to the bottom — we were laughing and enjoying the ride.

Our next stop was Useful Island where we enjoyed beautiful icebergs illuminating blue ice.

As we were taking the zodiac around Useful Island, there was a chinstrap penguin that was following our boat yelping like crazy. Then out of nowhere, he tried to jump into our boat!

Useful Island had lots of seals, here are just a few of the seals we saw during our journey.

We were really fortunate to see killer whales (type A, B1 and B2), humpback whales, and blue whales. I’m not talking about a few whales here and there. I bet we saw over 100 whales. For me, whale watching will never be the same.

The captain said that in 40 years of visiting Antarctica, he had never seen blue whales. That’s how special it was.

Our final day of our 2,068 nautical mile journey landed us at Port Lockroy — a research station that has a working post office! We mailed a few postcards just to see how long it will take to be delivered (most likely 12 weeks).

Recap

This was an amazing journey and it tops our list of travel. I didn’t mention the 12 naturalists and scientists that accompanied us on our trip. They graciously provided presentations about their discoveries and the state of the earth. Global warming is certainly real. One of the scientists gave a compelling presentation on what could be done to curb global warming and it was enlightening.

We also had a guest speaker, Jamling Tenzing Norgay, son of the first man (Tenzing Norgay) to summit Mt. Everest. He provided an amazing presentation about his father and also shared with us his adventures (he has also summited Mt. Everest).

I’ll leave you with a video that recaps our trip, I hope you enjoyed learning more about Antarctica!