Kalofer, Bulgaria: A Story of Life, Lavender, & Lace

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

Arriving in what was to be our home away from home in rural Bulgaria, we knew not a soul. But by the time we left Kalofer, a tiny town tucked away in Central Bulgaria, where the livestock population quite possibly outnumbers the number of humans living there, an impromptu farewell committee was wishing us adieu.

As we rolled our bags out of town, over Kalofer’s bumpy roads spotted with droppings from the village’s numerous goat, cow, and horse residents, locals whom we’d not yet met popped their heads out over their fences exclaiming the equivalent of Bon voyage in Bulgarian.

They waved goodbye, flashed wide smiles, and head bobbles that we’d determined to be customary in the region – gestures that are reminiscent of those we encountered in India.

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Escaping to Marjan Hill, the ‘Lungs of Split’ Croatia

Marjan Forest Park is often referred to as the “lungs of Split, Croatia.” The park’s pine forest exhales fresh oxygen into the nearby city — which is removed, but within walking distance. Marjan (or Marjan-Park Šuma, in Croatian) has been a popular recreation spot since at least the 3rd century. Back then, Roman Emperor Diocletian (who had his retirement palace built in Split) had sections of Marjan reserved as park space.

Shawn and I were drawn to the lush park for many reasons. First, it has magnificent views of the Adriatic Sea, as well as the neighboring islands of Brač, Šolta, and Čiovo. Part of Marjan is south-facing, meaning that the sunsets are extraordinary! (See Shawn’s video below for a peek.)

Marjan also has extensive jogging, cycling, and walking trails, as well as picturesque stone churches. Many of the peninsula’s tiny chapels were built centuries ago.

And if you’re lucky, you might even bump into some of Marjan’s resident donkeys.

Whenever we felt the need to escape our home away from home in Split’s bustling Old Town within Diocletian’s Palace walls, we made a pilgrimage to Marjan. On a few occasions we did a bit of foraging for wild asparagus. Other times, we enjoyed a picnic among the agave plants. Most afternoons, we’d see residents walking their beloved dogs or biking. We’d also spot ferries bound for the islands of Hvar, Brač, Šolta, and Vis. And sometimes we’d even glimpse a string of tiny sailboats being piloted by sailing students out on the twinkling Adriatic Sea. The latter two sightings tempted us to embark on an island escape ourselves.

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Paddleboating & Promenading at Lake Palić, Serbia

Passing through Palić’s Great Park entrance, a heavily-carved wooden arch that resembled reddish-brown lacework, I couldn’t help but imagine who had strolled through the gates a century earlier when this part of northern Serbia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. We continued along on a sidewalk that was covered by a thick canopy of handsome old trees, our sights set on tranquil Lake Palić a few hundred meters off in the distance. White lamp posts framed the walkway, and eventually we reached the water’s edge.

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Shades of Blue: Krka National Park, Skradin & Primošten, Croatia

During a journey along Croatia’s twinkling Adriatic Coast one winter afternoon, I concurred with astronauts who’ve professed Croatia to be the bluest place on earth.

Along with our friend, Damir, we’d left our home away from home within Diocletian’s Palace in seaside Split, and headed northwest on a day trip. We had plans to stop at Krka National Park, the risotto and yachting town of Skradin, and finally the island village, Primošten.

By day’s end, I’d add a postscript to the astronauts’ claim: Croatia’s coastline and rivers aren’t simply brilliantly blue, rather they’re a magnificent blend of teal, turquoise, and aquamarine hues.

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A Day Trip from Split, Croatia: Hiking Mosor

 

If you spend enough time in Split, eventually the surrounding mountains will start calling you to explore, and rightfully so…

Two weeks into our stay in the stunning seaside town, we met up with our local friend, Srđan, eager to retreat to the rugged mountains that so dramatically frame the metropolitan area around Croatia’s second-largest city.

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Conquering the Kofel, Oberammergau’s Signature Mountain

Towering over the village of Oberammergau is the Kofel, a Matterhorn-shaped mountain with an elevation of 1,342 meters (4,400 feet). The name Kofel means ‘cone-shaped mountain’ in Celtic, and so hints at the tribes and peoples that once passed through this mountainous part of Germany.

The Bavarians we’ve met in this picturesque town are well-versed in the art of hiking, known as wandern, in German. As a result, they’re able to call off the names of these mountain peaks with the same sort of ease with which they ascend them. Coming from the Midwestern United States where hikes are typically through flat terrain, and well aware of my distaste for heights, I wasn’t sure I would have the fortitude to reach the Kofel’s summit.

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A Day at the Virginia City Camel & Ostrich Races

 

Each September, camels, ostriches, and jockeys from around the world converge on Virginia City, Nevada for the former mining town’s International Camel & Ostrich Races. We attended the quirky event last year, and it’s taking place again this weekend for the 54th time.

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An Afternoon at Claude Monet’s Garden in Giverny, France

Artist Claude Monet‘s name is synonymous with his dreamlike paintings which were inspired by his graceful gardens in Giverny, France, where he lived for 43 years. In 1980, his home and garden were opened to the public allowing Monet’s canvases to come to life.

Today, visitors to Giverny can see Japanese-style footbridge that spans the property’s small pond, clusters of water lilies wearing faint pink flowers, and pathways studded with clusters of vibrant blooms.

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