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Northern Greece, Albania & Macedonia   2 comments

Northern Greece, Albania & Macedonia:  Ancient Lands of Alexander the Great

August 4 – 21, 2017

Thessaloniki, Dion, Vergina, Meteora, Metsovo, Ioannina, Zagoria Region, Vitsa, and Vikos Gorge, Greece; Butrint, Gjirokaster, Dhoksat, Berat, Tirana and Kruja, Albania; Ohrid, Elshani, Matka Canyon and Skopje Macedonia. 

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 I booked “Northern Greece, Albania & Macedonia: Ancient Lands of Alexander the Great” with Overseas Adventure Travel.  This seventeen day adventure was my 40th trip with this company.  There was an enjoyable group of twelve travelers in our jaunt through Northern Greece, Albania & Macedonia.  This was my first time since Jim’s passing that I traveled without being with family or having an acquaintance in the group.  I am of the opinion that I might as well be out traveling without Jim as being at home without him.  I know that he’d be very pleased that I am keeping with our passion of travel.  “Life is what you make it!”

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The above map of our itinerary is copied from the Overseas Adventure Travel web site.  The dates didn’t work out so I could do the pre-trip or post-trip.  Wish I could have, the ones that did the pre-trip thought Crete was outstanding.  Adonis was our great trip director and he made everyday a joy!  We older folks on the trip enjoyed his youthfulness. The map below is what I made from googlemaps.  It is more or less our itinerary from hotel to hotel with a few added destinations. 

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On this trip we traversed lands once traversed by Alexander the Great.  He was the King of Macedonia (Macedon) from 336–323 BC.  This trip began in Thessaloniki, Greece, and took us across Albania and Macedonia through the lands of Alexander the Great.  We saw archeological sites and museums spanning the time from the ancient Greeks and Romans to the Byzantine and Ottoman empires.  We admired beautiful churches, marveled over monasteries, saw breath-taking scenery and enjoyed what seemed to be undiscovered quaint Balkan mountain villages that were reached by tiny mountain roads.  We hiked up and viewed the world’s deepest canyon and then we went on a rafting excursion in that gorge.  Great experiences all along the way!  


SmileSave MoneyMoney:  If you decide you’d like to go on this or any Overseas Adventure or Grand Circle Travel trip, and you are a first time traveler with them, they will give you $100 each off any trip.  All you have to do is mention the name of my travel blog and my customer #000561413.  New travelers instantly receive $100 off the cost of the trip, and I will receive $100 when you depart on your trip.


Our happy group of 12 travelers & Adonis, our trip director.  Eight states were represented in our group:  NY, MA, PA, CA, NJ, TX & KS.

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Thessaloniki, Greece: All day Saturday was arrival day.  Adonis, our tour leader, and I walked around the area of our hotel and enjoyed some ice cream.  Our group wouldn’t get together until the next day so I went to dinner alone.  I found out I could do that just fine.  My first Greek meal was moussaka and it was very good. 

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Thessaloniki, Greece:  Our adventure began in Thessaloniki which is the second largest city in Greece and also a port city that is located on the Aegean Sea.  In the old upper town there is much evidence of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman history.  The Byzantine Walls around the city date back as far as 315 BC.

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 Vlatadon Monastery:  It is the only Byzantine Monastery in the city operating until today.  According to tradition, it was built at the exact spot where Apostle Paul taught during his stay in Thessaloniki. It was founded in 1351-1371.  The Sunday that we visited was Feast of the Holy Transfiguration and it is celebrated with grapes. 

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The Museum of Byzantine Culture:  It had an extensive collections of sculpture, frescoes, mosaics and icons from the Byzantine period. 

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 Mount Olympus & Dion Archaeology Site:   Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece & the mythical home of the Greek gods.  Ancient Dion, located below Mount Olympus,  was an important religious center for worshipping the Gods of nearby Mount Olympus. This is where Phillip II came to celebrate his victories and his son Alexander also came here to make his sacrifices before going off to conquer the East in 334 BC.   

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Royal Tombs of Vergina:  Only 40 years ago a Greek Archaeologist discovered beneath a man-made hill the sacred site of the 4th century BC tombs of King Philip II, who was the father of Alexander the Great.  Unlike so many other tombs this tomb had not been disturbed or looted. It is also the site of an extensive royal palace and of other rich ancient tombs. The objects and paintings found in the tombs at Vergina are of extraordinarily high quality and historical importance.  This museum takes you underground right to the tombs. 

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Royal Tombs:  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  My goodness, I’ve seen lots of antiquities and this numbers right towards the top of spectacular things I’ve seen from history.  Good grief, King Philip was assassination in 336 BC!  The first photo is the marble façade of the tomb of King Philip II which was discovered in 1977.  The 2nd photo is the golden grave crown of Philip & the golden  “ash-chest” often used as a container for human remains in Minoan culture & Greek antiquity.  (No photo’s were allowed.  I copied these photo’s from Wikipedia.)

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Vineyard Lunch:  Then it was time for a wine tasting and a delicious lunch at a vineyard in Greece. 

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Meteora, Greece:  I love Meteora and this was my third trip there.  Jim & I went with Karree in 1999, and then later we were on a trip with Eric in 2003.  Beautiful then, beautiful now!  Meteora is a UNESCO world heritage site, known for it’s unique geology.  It’s rock formations in central Greece are hosting the largest and most precipitously built complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries.  The monasteries date to the 14th & 15th centuries.  The six monasteries are built on immense natural pillars and hill-like rounded boulders that dominate the local area.  If you look carefully—I have arrows showing the monasteries on top of the rocks.  Spectacular!

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Saint Stephens Monastery, Meteora: We visited Saint Stephen’s, it’s the most accessible of the monasteries.  Saint Stephen’s was founded around 1400 and is now a nunnery.  The church which was rebuilt in 1545 and frescoed shortly thereafter.  

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Varlaam Monastery, Meteora:  We visited Varlaam.  In 1350, an ascetic monk named Varlaam climbed this great rock and settled at the top. He built three churches, a cell for himself and a water tank. No one chose to follow his lead, so after his death the site was abandoned. The buildings fell into ruin for almost 200 years until 1517, when two rich priest-monks, ascended the rock and founded a monastery. The brothers renovated Varlaam’s church of the Three Hierarchs, erected the tower, and built a central church in 1541-42.  Using ropes, pulleys and baskets, it took 22 years to hoist all the building materials to the top of the rock. Once everything was at the top, the construction work took only 20 days.  Today, Varlaam Monastery is occupied by seven monks and can be accessed by a narrow bridge that runs from the main road.

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The tower of Varlaam Monastery contains the old rope basket (1536), which used to transport monks and supplies to the monastery.

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After visiting Varlaam Monastery we met up with our guides (the young ones, ha) and hiked down from Varlaam to the town of Kalambaka.  It was a bit of a distance but shady & downhill all the way.  Back in town I purchased a pastry was as good as it looks. 

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Doupiani House Hotel, Meteora:  I loved our little quaint hotel in Kalambaka that overlooked Meteora. 

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 Dinner with a view & Entertainment:  We enjoyed a great dinner at a local restaurant featuring a syrtaki dance performance. 

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Metsovo, Greece:  A pretty drive from Meteora to Metsovo.  Metsovo is a small village nestled in the Pindus Mountains renowned for its stone mansions, cobbled streets & crafts.

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Metsovo Restaurant:  We went to a local taverna (restaurant), where we learned how to prepare handmade pies which is a regional specialty.  The little lady I am pictured with is the original owner & still hangs out at the restaurant with her daughter & family that now run it.

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Ioannina, Greece:  From Metsovo we drove on to Ioannina.  It’s a regional capital situated on the shores of Lake Pambotis.  We went to the castle area which was built by the Emperor Justinian, and was an ambitious expression of the might of the Byzantine Empire. It is the oldest Byzantine fortress in Greece with significant influence over the history of the town which grew around it.  The main thing I remember about Ioannina, was how HOT it was.  103 degrees!

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 Ioannina Museum of Silversmithing:  It’s a nicely designed museum within the castle walls.  The museum is dedicated to the art of silversmithing which used to form an important part of Ioannina’s tradition for the better part of the past three centuries.  And thank heavens the museum was air conditioned. 

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Aristi Mountain Resort:  Another great hotel.  Aristi Mountain Resort is in the countryside and sits on the highest point of Aristi village, offering views over the Vikos Gorge and the Towers of Papigo.  It was hazy across the mountains due to the extreme heat there were wild fires happening. 

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Zagoria Region, Greece:  We spent the day traversing by coach in this region in the Pindus mountains in northwestern Greece.  It’s doted with hidden villages linked by mountain roads & arched stone bridges.  We saw lots of delightful sights. 

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 Vitsa, (Zagoria Region) Greece:  Our first stop was for coffee in the beautiful little village of Vitsa.  It’s located on a mountain slope near the Vikos Gorge & the town is centuries old. 

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Stone Forest (Zagoria Region):  Next in the Zagoria Region was the Stone Forest:  Thin layers of limestone have been carved by water and the wind, having as guides the cracks opened by the rectangular fault system.

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  The Vikos Gorge (Zagoria Region):   Hiking in to take a look at the spectacular Vikos Gorge in northwest Greece. Lots of massive rounded cliff buttresses and craggy walls to behold.

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Vitos Gorge:  The gorge is located in the Pindus Mountains of northern Greece.  Vikos is listed as the deepest gorge in the world by the Guinness Book of Records.  At one point it plunges 2,950 feet while spanning 3,600 feet from rim to rim, a depth 82% of its width.

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Countryside (Zagoria Region):  Enjoying the pretty ride.

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Kokori Bridge (Zagoria Region):   This ancient bridge is beautiful!

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  Lunch:   Time for a delicious lunch in a little village.

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Vikos Gorge (Zagoria Region):   A rafting we will go, a rafting we will go!  A few of us did and it sure was fun.  The water is really really cold all year round so it was inviting on a hot day.

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(Zagoria Region):   Viewing more beautiful mountain scenery out the coach window.

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Dinner (Zagoria Region):   A delicious dinner at Aristi Mountain Resort.  A lovely end to a lovely day!

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Albania:  It is Southeastern Europe.  The country spans 11,100 square miles & has a population of almost 3 million people as of 2016.  It is an official candidate for membership in the European Union.  Following the collapse of communism in 1990, Albania has gone through a process of transition.

Border Crossing:  Crossing the border from Greece to Albania.

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Albania Scenery:  Driving from the border to Butrint & looking out the coach window with camera in hand. 

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Lunch:  We drove to Butrint & being near the Ionian sea, our first order of business was eating a fish lunch.

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Butrint National Park, Albania:  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the archeological heritage of Butrint is one of the most important archaeological sites in Albania.  It has been inhabited since prehistoric times and contains different artifacts and structures spanning 2500 years from the Bronze age. Following a period of prosperity under Byzantine administration, then a brief occupation by the Venetians, the city was abandoned in the late Middle Ages after marshes formed in the area.

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Theatre:  Located below the acropolis, Butrint’s Greek theatre is from the 3rd century BC.  It was also in use during the Roman period and the theatre could seat about 2500 people.

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Public Baths:  Close by the theatre are the small public baths.  Geometric mosaics are buried under a layer of mesh and sand to protect them from the elements.

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Baptistery:  The 6th-century early-Christian baptistery is decorated with colorful mosaics of animals and birds, again under the sand.

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Basilica:  Just beyond the baptistery are the impressive arches of the 6th-century basilica which was built over many years.

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Acropolis:  We hiked up to the top of the hill where the acropolis once was.

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Castle Museum:  There’s now a castle here, housing an informative museum.  The views from the museum’s courtyard give you an idea of the Butrint’s layout.

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Wedding Pictures:  Bride & grooms commonly have their weddings photos taken in a historic area or a scenic spot. 

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On the road again:  Driving from Butrint to Gjirokaster saw a lady selling corn & a shepherd tending his sheep. 

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Drove by a large Gypsy area. 

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Mountain Pass:   This was sometimes a scary ride.  The road was so narrow in places that our coach would have to stop & pull aside for oncoming semi’s.  It is free range so we saw goats, sheep or cattle that were also in the road.  We’d been seeing smoke from wildfires in the mountains & we passed by an area that had just had wildfires. 

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Gjirokaster, Albania:  It’s a hillside town in southern Albania & it’s old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its rare examples of an architectural character typical of the Ottoman period.  Gjirokaster is nicknamed the “city of stone” because of the intensive use of stone in the buildings complete with original stone roof tiles and with winding little streets of cobblestone.

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A little shopping.

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In Albania “shit, shitet” means sale, for sale.

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Hotel Argjiro: I rather liked our little hotel & the ceilings were beautiful.  It was perfectly located right in the pretty old town. 

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Skenduli House:  We toured an Ottoman-era mansion that dates from 1700 and it had many fascinating features.  Mr. Skenduli himself, was our guide.  He was proud of his old family home but told us he desperately needs contributions to pay for the remaining restoration work. 

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Gjirokaster Castle:  The most important structure of the city is the castle, which is the biggest castle in Albania.  Inside the castle is the Museum of Weapons with weapons from the prehistoric times up to World War II.  The courtyard outside was very nice. 

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Dhoksat,  Albania:  A nice day of being in the countryside of Albania & then enjoying lunch with a local family in their home.  We learned that during Communist times that they couldn’t plant vegetable or fruits on their land nor could they eat any home grown food.  If they starved, they starved.  Teachers tired to get children to report on their families and at the end of the school day the children had to repeat in unison “there is no God.”  This family thought 1978 was the worst of times.  Today the average salary is $380 – $450 monthly. 

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This is the wedding dress the mother is making for her daughter.

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Journey:  We journeyed north across Albania from Gjirokaster to Tirana.  More looking out coach window with camera in hand.   Enroute we stopped at Berat.

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Berat, Albania:  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Our discoveries included the Berat Castle, 2,500 year old fortress perched high above the Osum River.  It’s a “living fortress” with people living a throughout it.

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This couple was making some very sweet pickles & invited us in to watch & to sample.  People are very friendly.

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Outside the Temple door was this plaque.  I really like what it says.  “If you are a friend, enter in joy.  If you are an enemy and full of evil go far away.  Far from this gate.” 

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 Then it was time for a really nice lunch outside under the grapevines.

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Driving from Berat to Tirana, Albania. 

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Tirana, Albania:  The city was founded in 1614 & was named the capital of Albania in 1920.  It’s a huge city of 800,000.  Too big & too many people for me.  Things of Communist times have largely been replaced by modern architecture, wide paved streets & bright colors.  This is a cute coffee shop we were in & also the main square of Tirana.  

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Kruja, Albania:  It’s a small hilltop historic town located about 20 miles from Tirana.  We entered the town through a  stretch of shops on cobbled streets. The market was colorful and lively & had so many unique items in the shops. I really enjoyed strolling & looking & purchased a pretty neat purse.  Always fascinated how many bridal coupes we saw throughout the trip. 

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 Kruja Castle:  After passing the market we saw the tower of Kruja Castle overlooking the town. The castle is in ruins now. It was built during the 5th and 6thcenturies.

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Skanderbeg Museum, Kruja:   The museum was built in 1982 within the castle area. Its collection includes mostly 15th century artifacts related to the Albanian-Ottoman wars, during which the castle was besieged four times by the Ottoman army.  No photos allowed in the museum but got a view of Kruja from the terrace of the museum.

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Kruja Ethnographic Museum:  This museum was is located in an original 16 room villa that belonged to the affluent Toptani family & built in 1764. The main exhibits of the museum are objects of artisanship, whose age varies from 60 to 500 years.  I always enjoy touring homes and seeing how some people lived during certain periods.

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 Tirana, Albania to Ohrid, Macedonia:  We drove to to our next destination seeing some pretty & also interesting countryside.

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 Wheatshocks:   I saw some wheatshocks and since son Eric is a Wichita State University  WuShockFullscreen capture 1022017 92215 AM.bmp, (which means wheatshockers).  The name (wheatshockers) reflects the university’s heritage.  Early students at what was then Fairmount College earned money by shocking, or harvesting, wheat in nearby fields in Kansas.  We seldom see wheatshocks at home except at Halloween.  So here are the wheatshocks in Albania.

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 Bunkers of Albania:  The concrete bunkers of Albania are quite a sight in the country, with an average of 5.7 bunkers for every square kilometer. These concrete bunkers were built by the communist government from the 1960s to the 1980s.  By 1983 a total of 173,371 concrete bunkers had been constructed around the country. The bunkers were abandoned following the collapse of communist in 1990.

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Macedonia:  Macedonia is the 76th country I have visited.  It is a country in the Balkan peninsula in Southeast Europe.  It is one of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, from which it declared independence in 1991. It became a member of the United Nations in 1993, but, as a result of an ongoing dispute with Greece over the use of the name “Macedonia”, was admitted under the provisional description the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

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Ohrid, Macedonia:  It covers an area of 138 sq miles & is approximately 18 miles long & 9.5 wide. The lake is located in both Macedonia & Albania & the region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Our hotel was in Ohrid & was perfectly located right at the lakes edge in the tourist part of the town. 

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 Fun Time:  Having roasted corn on the promenade that was in front our hotel & extended all along the lake front of Ohrid. 

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Ohrid Old Town:   Looking from the promenade & in the center of the photo you can see the fortress of the old town.  It was the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire during the turn of the 10th century.  We toured the old town & saw many unique sites.

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An archaeological dig site.

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Looking all around.

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Bay of the Bones:  We went by boat to the Bay of Bones and its “Museum on Water.”  Based on artifacts found on the surrounding lake bed, it’s an open-air reconstruction of the settlement as archaeologists think the Neolithic lake dwelling would have looked between 1200 and 600 BC. 

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Elshani, Macedonia:  We went to a village nestled between in the mountains overlooking Lake Ohrid.  We spent the day with villagers in their homes.  We helped prepare dinner, rode donkeys, hiked along the mountain trail to gather firewood & visited.

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Mountain hike.

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 Fun at Lake Ohrid:  Adonis surprised us with a little picnic by the lake.  We took two little boat there & then walked back along the promenade. 

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 Beautiful sunset.

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 Another wedding.

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 Walking back to the hotel along the lovely promenade. 

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Matka Canyon, Macedonia:  We departed for Skopje, Macedonia, which was our last destination of the trip.  Along the way we stopped at Matka Canyon, a deep mountain gorge surrounding a manmade lake formed by the damming of the River Treska.  But, first was lunch at the gorge.

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 Next was a boat ride to view the stunning scenery along the river canyon.

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 Then hiking up to a cave & then down into the cave. 

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Skopje, Macedonia:  It is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Macedonia and is the country’s political, cultural, economic, and academic center.  Skopje is a modern city with population of almost one million.  The heart of the city is very modern & beautiful.  

Hotel Stonebridge, Skopje:  Our hotel was located in the heart of the city. 2nd photo is looking down from my hotel window.

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Views near our hotel in the heart of the city.

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The Macedonian Archeological Museum:  It opened in 2014, keeps some of the best archeological finds in Macedonia, dating from prehistory to the Ottoman period.

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The archeological museum’s 3D reconstructions of an early Macedonian face from his skull.  Also a skull from a grave 750-650 BC. 

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Mother Teresa:  She was born in Skopje in 1910 & lived there until 1928.  This is the Memorial House dedicated to her. 

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Farewell Dinner:  It was a great trip!

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  Life is not measured by the breaths we take,

but by the moments that take our breath away.

Anonymous



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Posted October 4, 2017 by marilynfarmer in Travel

Cleveland Road Trip   Leave a comment

Cleveland Road Trip

June 21 – 29, 2017

Millersburg, Berlin, Willoughby, Cleveland and Put-In Bay Ohio; Williamstown & Woodford County Kentucky.

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My dear friend Joyce & I did a road trip to Willoughby, Ohio to visit my son.  It was a delightful time!  On the way we enjoyed a little tour of Amish Country OH.  We arrived in Willoughby just in time to get to the brewery before happy hour was over.  During our four days with Eric he really showed us a good time.  He took us out and about on lots of fun adventures which are highlighted in this blog.  Then on the way back to Kansas we went through Kentucky and Joyce & I did the Noah’s Ark Encounter and also toured Woodford Reserve Distillery.  We traveled approximately 2,400 miles.  So…here’s our adventure. 

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Amish Country, Ohio:  We were on Interstate 71 & and then went east on 97 and 60 driving through pretty Amish countryside.  We stopped at Millersburg had a delicious lunch at Boyd & Wirthmann Restaurant.  It was billed as being Circa-1940, serving home style Amish cooking & specializing in home-baked pies.  It was a really good lunch and oh my the pie was delicious.  Looks good enough to eat doesn’t it?

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Yoder’s Amish Home:  We did an enjoyable tour of Yoder’s Amish Home which was opened to the public in 1983.  A guide took us through the barn which was full of animals and then through the two houses on the farm. 

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Amish House Tour:   One home belonged to the grandparents and the other to the younger family & children.  We toured all the rooms of the two homes.  Sure smelled good because the young ladies were baking while we toured.  Holmes County has the largest population of Amish anywhere in the world & our guide explained history, customs and lifestyle of the Amish people.  It was very interesting.

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Willoughby, Ohio:   Guess what?  We arrived in Willoughby just in time to get to the Willoughby Brewing Company before happy hour was over.  Good brew & good eating!  Then a stroll around downtown Willoughby.  It’s a cute town.

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Eric lives just a few blocks from Lake Erie, so Joyce & I needed to pose in the park by the lake.

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Sightseeing Cruise:  Eric had booked tickets for us to go on The Goodtime III.  It’s is Cleveland’s largest sightseeing vessel and operates a regular schedule of Lake Erie and Cuyahoga River narrated sightseeing cruises through downtown Cleveland.  It had great views of Cleveland’s skyline and also provided a history of the city.  Did you all realize how attractive Cleveland is?  It also proved to be a good way to view Cleveland in the rain. 

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The Cleveland Browns Stadium & the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame are located right on the waterfront. 

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 William G. Mather Steamship:  She is a retired Great Lakes bulk freighter restored as a museum ship in Cleveland.   The William G. Mather was built in 1925 and she remained an active part of the fleets until the end of the 1980 navigation season.  She transported cargo such as ore, coal, stone, and grain to ports throughout the Great Lakes, and was nicknamed “The Ship That Built Cleveland” because Cleveland’s steel mills were a frequent destination. We thought it was an interesting tour. 

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Eric’s great friends who have become like family had a cookout for us & they also surprised me with this birthday cake!  I can’t remember a time that I haven’t baked my own birthday cake.  Thanks Simmons’ family.

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Downtown Cleveland:  Next in our itinerary was Progressive Field located in downtown Cleveland and home of the Cleveland Indians.  It was an enjoyable walk through the pretty downtown of Cleveland.

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Progressive Field:  It is a beautiful stadium with skyscraper views & was a perfect day in the ballpark.  Well, maybe not so perfect for the Cleveland fans because they lost to the Minnesota Twins 2 – 4.

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 Hofbrauhaus, Cleveland:  After the game we walked on to Hofbrauhaus Cleveland.  It is modeled after the legendary 400+ year-old Hofbrauhaus in Munich, Germany, and features a bier hall, oompah band, German fare & micro brewery.  It was a fun experience!

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Miller Boat Line Ferries:  Eric drove us about 100 miles in his big pick-up to Port Clinton where we parked the Silverado & boarded a ferry to go to Put-In Bay, Ohio.  A ferry leaves every 30 minutes & it’s about a 20 minute ride to Put-In Bay.  It was a very pleasurable time & we were glad to have booked a hotel there so we didn’t have to be rushed.

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 Put-In Bay, Ohio:  In the later-1700s, the schooners sailing on Lake Erie would put into this bay, to wait out bad weather on Lake Erie, thus the name Put-In.  For most of its history, the island’s primary industry has been tourism and continues to be today.  The island is 4 miles by 1.5 miles & shows a population of 135 in the 2016 census.  Of course while there you have to eat lobster bisque & it was delicious. 

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 Golf-Carts:  The principal mode of transportation around the island is a golf-cart.  So we rented a golf-cart.  I rode in the back & Eric’s tried his best to dump me, but I held on tight. ha

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Put-in Bay Island Views:  Remember it’s only 4 miles x 1 1/2 miles.  We journeyed over most of the island in our little golf cart with me holding on tightly.  Lol.  Here’s some of the homes.  Note the airplane instead of a car parked at the garage at one of the homes. 

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Biergarten:  A fun biergarten on the island, and I was delighted to find the beer that I had discovered in Hallstatt, Austria, and had liked very much. 

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Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial:  This memorial  commemorates the Battle of Lake Erie that took place here. Commodore Perry led a fleet to victory in one of the most significant naval battles to occur in the War of 1812. The memorial also celebrates the lasting peace between Britain, Canada, and the United States that followed the war.  It is situated five miles from the longest undefended border in the world.  Flags of Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. fly next to the memorial at equal height.

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On the ferry & leaving Put-in Bay Island.

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The West Side Market:  It’s the oldest operating indoor/outdoor market space in Cleveland. In 1973, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

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Lunch:  A great lunch outside near the West Side Market.

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 Joyce & I bid so-long to Eric & thanked him for showing us such a good time.  We headed towards Kentucky to visit “The Ark Encounter” which is located near Williamstown, Kentucky, halfway between Cincinnati and Lexington on I-75.  The Ark Encounter features a full-size Noah’s Ark, built according to the dimensions given in the Bible.  It spans 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high.  Pretty amazing!

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 It was all very interesting.  I’m not thinking things on the Ark in Bible times were as fancy as all of this was depicted.  I do think it is a good Christian testimony, with the plan of salvation clearly outlined. 

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Mt. Ararat:  Mt. Ararat, has been widely accepted in Christianity and described in the Bible as the resting place of Noah’s Ark.  Mt. Ararat is a snow-capped and dormant compound volcano in the extreme east of Turkey, near the borders of Iran & Armenia.  Jim & I have been to this area and here are two photos that we took of Mt. Ararat.

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Woodford Reserve Distillery, Versailles, KY:  As per Eric’s recommendation, Joyce & I drove through the beautiful Kentucky countryside to this distillery for a guided tour that explained the history of bourbon, the unique sources of flavor & the bottling process.

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(Note: I got the following info from the woodfordreserve web site.)  The site of the Woodford Reserve Distillery is a National Historic Landmark.  The art of making fine bourbon has been going on at this site since 1812.

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The taste of the Reserve’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is comprised of more than 200 detectable flavor notes, from bold grain and wood, to sweet aromatics, spice, and fruit & floral notes

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The Distillery is home to a 500-foot-long gravity-fed barrel run, iconic copper pot stills, and 100-year-old cypress wood fermenters.

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Woodford Reserve is one of Kentucky’s oldest and smallest distilleries.  It is sitting on Kentucky’s oldest distilling site where Elijah Pepper began crafting whiskey in 1812.

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At the conclusion of the tour we had a nice lunch on the porch of the lodge, but it didn’t include bourbon.

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Thus we arrive at the conclusion of Joyce & Marilyn’s first annual road-trip together.  We did it because “we can.”  Keep on traveling!

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Posted September 25, 2017 by marilynfarmer in Travel

Portugal with Family   2 comments

Portugal with Family

April 8 –14, 2017

Porto, Braga, Ponte de Lima, Pedrinhas Apulia Beach, Porto, Obidos & Lisbon Airport, Portugal

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My daughter & son-in-law met up with me in Porto, Portugal and whisked me away to yet another part of Portugal to spend fun time with them.  I had just completed back to back trips with Overseas Adventure Travel.  I had seen lot of Spain & Portugal by doing “Back Roads of Iberia:  Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas” and  “Northern Spain & Portugal – Pilgrimage into the Past”.  (These two trips are the feature of my last two posted blogs.)  So off we went on some quality family time.

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This is my rendition of our itinerary from Google Maps.  Jim & Kellee picked me up in Porto, Portugal and we drove to Braga and spent 2 nights, the beach at Pedrinhas for 3 nights, and Obidos was the last night, then off to the airport in Lisbon for me to fly home after being out and about for 5 weeks. 


Braga, Portugal:  Braga is an ancient town in northwest Portugal. Its history and livelihood are tied to Christianity dating to the 3rd century.  Most likely Holy Week in Braga has its historical origin in the late 4th century, and it holds one the world’s great Easter celebrations.  This is the reason we went to Braga, and we weren’t disappointed. 

Standing on the balcony of our nicely located Air B&B in Braga.

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  Christ Carrying the Cross:  We were in Braga the Saturday night before Palm Sunday and joined in the procession of “Christ Carrying the Cross.”  A bunch of men all dressed in purple robes hoisted the huge statue that was on a platform to their shoulders.  They each carried walking sticks with metal tips on the end.  You would not believe the cadence!  As we all walked through the quiet, dark, cobblestone streets the perfect cadence of the strike of the metal tips on the cobblestone was awe inspiring.  I think this was the highlight of my whole 5 weeks in Portugal & Spain!

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As tradition has it they were transferring the cross from the Holy Cross Church to the St. Paul Church.  The procession would stop at the “Stations of the Cross” that are located throughout the town.  At each stop there would be music and/or singing.

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It was wonderful being in the processional and in my memory I can still hear the awesome cadence as we walked along.

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The city of Braga is decorated with Holy Week motifs, or street altars, and is filled with flowers and lights.

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Palm Sunday in Braga:  We experienced the blessing of the palms.  The clergy carried palm branches and everyone else was given an olive branch to be carried on the processional that followed the blessing.

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We joined in the procession of the Palms from St. Paul’s Church to the Cathedral of Braga. 

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Then it was time for refreshments.  The ice cream was so good, and it’s always better if one buries one’s face in the whipped cream on the cappuccino!

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Sé Cathedral of Braga:  Work began on Braga’s imposing cathedral in 1070 and wasn’t completed until the following century.  It the oldest in the country and was built by the parents of Portugal’s first King.

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Preparation for the next Processional in Braga.

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Palm Sunday Afternoon:  The next holy week celebration was the “Steps Procession.”

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Much later in the afternoon we heard music and the awesome cadence & spotted another parade.

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Ponte de Lima Bridge, Portugal:  We departed Braga and headed to Pedrinhas Apulia Beach via a pretty & hilly scenic route.  We stopped at Ponte de Lima for lunch.  This town is spanned by a long medieval bridge that crosses the River Lima.  The 15th-century church of Santo António stands at one end of the bridge. 

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Porto de Lima, Portugal:  It’s one of the oldest towns in Portugal and historically significant as a Roman settlement. There are remains of medieval fortifications and a maze of cobbled streets lined with 16th-century houses.

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Pedrinhas Apulia Beach:  Next on the itinerary was relaxation at a fisherman’s cottage located in the dunes on the waterfront of the ocean. 

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 A great seafood meal just a couple of blocks from our waterfront cottage.

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 The fishermen coming in with the catch of the day.

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The fishermen bring the boat right up on the shore, then another guy with a tractor pulls it on out of the water and they drive directly to where the fish is sold which is less than a block away.  We are talking fresh seafood!

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So long cottage by the sea.  It’s time to move on.

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On our drive to Obidos we stopped in Porto to do a wine tour.

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Graham’s Caves, Porto, Portugal:  The grapes that are used to make Port must be grown in the mountainous Upper Douro region of Northern Portugal, which in 1756 was the world’s first officially demarcated wine region. This protected region is the only place in the world that can produce authentic Port.  Graham’s was one of the first Port companies to invest in its own vineyards in Portugal’s Douro Valley in 1890. Port is still produced in this way, by intentionally interrupting the fermentation of the grape by the addition of a clear grape spirit, referred to as ‘brandy’. This preserves a large amount of the grapes’ natural sugars, thereby giving Port its characteristic sweetness and richness.

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 Graham’s Caves is located on a hill overlooking the city of Porto.  We had a delicious lunch (with a view) at Graham’s before continuing our journey.

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 Obidos, Portugal:  I love small medieval walled towns so I was a very happy person to be here.  The Moors had established a fortification here, but the area was taken from the Moors by the first King of Portugal, in 1148.

The intact medieval walled town of Obidos is known as the “Town of Queens” because Obidos was the traditional bridal gift of a king of Portugal to his queen, a custom which begun in 1282.  The Santa Maria Church was the location of the wedding of King Afonso V to his betrothed cousin Isabel in 1444.  The bride was only 8 while the groom was little older at 10.

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The main gate into Obidos contains a unique tiled chapel that overlooks the main thoroughfare. The 18th century glazed tiles depict the passion of Christ while the ceiling represents the crown of thorns.

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The main street of Obidos is lined with a variety of shops and Kellee & I bought a couple cute lacey blouses.

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 Kellee walked the walls of the ancient town.

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A fun dinner at the local bar in Obidos.  We enjoyed their flaming specialty (note flames in 3rd photo). In the last photo Kellee is lifting up a tap that discloses …!

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 After 5 weeks it was time for me to go home.  I had seen lot of Spain & Portugal by doing “Back Roads of Iberia:  Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas” and “Northern Spain & Portugal – Pilgrimage into the Past”.  I made new friends and thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with some new gal friends that were also traveling alone.  It was a joy traveling Portugal with my daughter and son-in-law.  It was great family time.  It was time.  So off to Kansas I went!   “Life is what you make it.”

Keep on traveling!



Posted June 6, 2017 by marilynfarmer in Travel

Northern Spain & Portugal-Pilgrimage into the Past   2 comments

 Northern Spain & Portugal-Pilgrimage into the Past

March 25 – April 9, 2017

Bilbao, Guernica, San Sebastian, Pamplona, Orreaga, Roncesvalles, Obanos, Gares, Burgos, Leon, Las Medulas, Lugo, Santiago de Compostela & Cambados, Spain; Chaves, Pinhao, Amarante, Guimaraes, Braga & Porto, Portugal.

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I booked “Northern Spain & Portugal – Pilgrimage into the Past” with Overseas Adventure Travel.  This two week adventure was my 39th trip with this company.  There was a very enjoyable group of fifteen travelers in our adventure through Spain & Portugal.  The three of us pictured in the above photo were solo travelers and we had such a nice time together.  We three did back-to-back adventures with OAT.  We had just completed “Back Roads of Iberia:  Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas” which is featured in my previous travel blog.  “Back Roads” ended on Saturday morning in Madrid.  We three headed to Bilbao, Spain and the “Northern Spain” trip began that afternoon.  It was perfect timing.   

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This map of our itinerary is copied from the Overseas Adventure Travel web site.  Fernando was our awesome tour director, and he kept everyday full of what he called surprises.  It was so much fun experiencing all of his learning & discoveries.  For example, one evening we popped into a Ma & Pa restaurant & we got to see a live octopus, watch the preparation and then eat it. We would never know what our next surprise might be. 

You notice that part of the title of this trip is “Pilgrimage into the Past” and you wonder what does that mean?  We followed the path of ancient pilgrimage routes on a journey from the Basque capital of Bilbao, through Pamplona and on to legendary Santiago de Compostela.  This is a thousand year old pilgrimage route—the Way of St. James—to the holy city of Santiago.   Mind you we didn’t walk the entire distance, but hiked interesting bits of the trail.  We learned how to follow the route because it is marked with the scallop shell, the symbol of St. James.  We also visited with various pilgrims along the way.  It was a pretty neat experience. 


  SmileSave MoneyMoney:  If you decide you’d like to go on this or any Overseas Adventure or Grand Circle Travel trip, and you are a first time traveler with them, they will give you $100 off any trip if you mention the name of my travel blog and my customer #000561413.  New travelers instantly receive $100 off the cost of the trip, and I will receive $100 when you depart on your trip.


 

Train to Bilbao, Spain:   Annie flew but Nancy & I took a direct train from Madrid to Bilbao, Spain.  It was about a 5 hour ride and it was delightful.  We saw snow on the first part of the journey and it was raining when we arrived in Bilbao & our awesome tour director, Fernando was waiting at the train for us. 

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 Bilbao, Spain:   Bilbao, is an industrial port city in the North of Spain between the Pyrenees Mountains and the Bay of Biscay in Basque country.  It is an industrial port city and a shipbuilding center and was the wealthiest city in all of Spain by 1900.  But the 20th century brought natural disasters & civil war.  The Guggenheim brought the city back to life. 

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Guggenheim Museum:   Bilbao is famed for the Guggenheim Museum designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry and opened in 1997.  It’s a museum of modern & contemporary art.  But the building itself is a spectacular sculpture-like structure, and has been hailed as a masterpiece of the 20th century.

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Pinchos:  I cannot lie.  My favorite thing in Bilbao was the Pinchos Bars.  In Basque (northern) Spain you go out for “pinchos”. This consists of sampling miniature dishes that fill the counters in bars and taverns.  They were inexpensive!  The prices I experienced was beer 1.80 Euro and pinchos about 1.20-1.50 euro.  Of course this is an average, but was the price at our favorite bar that was at the end of the block by our hotel.  Pinchos Bars absolutely lined the streets in the great area where our hotel was located. 

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 A nice restaurant in Bilbao where our group ate. 

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The Vizcaya Bridge:  It was built to connect the two banks of the Nervion River in Bilbao.  It was built in 1893 and is the world’s oldest transporter bridge.  It was the solution for connecting the two sides of the river without disrupting the maritime traffic of the Port of Bilbao.  It can transport passengers and cargo, so we rode across.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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A stroll through the old town of Bilbao.

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Scallop Shell:  Our first lesson is learning how to follow the thousand year old pilgrimage route–the Way of St. James–to the holy city of Santiago. The route is marked with the scallop shell, the symbol of St. James.  As the second photo illustrates you follow this shell in that direction.  Out on the trails hiking through the countryside we’d follow a yellow arrow painted on a rock, or a tree or etc.  (Illustration will follow when we get out on the trail.)

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Guernica, Spain:  It was established in 1366 and was the eventual seat of the Basque parliament, which conducted business in a 16th century Assembly House standing in the shade of an oak tree.  The Assembly House was rebuilt in 1833 and it is beautiful. 

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The little town of Guernica and Nancy’s happy birthday.

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 Gaztelugatxeko Hermitage, Basque Country, Spain:  This Heritage located on the little island is dedicated to John the Baptist and dates from the 10th century. The hermitage is accessed by a narrow path, crossing the solid stone bridge, and going up 231 steps.  According to legend, after the slightly strenuous climb to the top of the crag one should ring the bell three times and make a wish.  We didn’t go to the Heritage, just looked from afar.

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San Sebastian:  It is a resort town on the Bay of Biscay in Spain’s mountainous Basque Country. It’s known for its beached framed by a picturesque bay front promenade.  A beachfront promenade runs the length of the bay, with the cobblestoned Old Town at one end and a smart shopping district in the center.

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Bretxa Market San Sebastian:  This 1871 market is one of the oldest continuously operating traditional markets in Spain. 

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Pamplona, Spain:  This city in northern Spain was made famous by the “running of the bulls” during the San Fermin Festival in July.  During this legendary multiday festival, bulls are led through the city streets by daredevil runners. Pamplona is also a major stop along the Camino de Santiago, a medieval-era pilgrimage route.  We walked the route of the “running of the bulls” and here it is from beginning to end.

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Camino De Santiago:   Then we set off to discover the Camino de Santiago, one of Europe’s most important pilgrimage routes.  During the Middle Ages, the three great Christian pilgrimage destinations were Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago de Compostela in Spain, where it was believed a cathedral housed the bones of St. James.  We were driven just past Roncesvalles to Orreaga where our little group of 15 got our first experience on the Camino de Santiago. 

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We were looking across the mountains at the “French Way” (which crosses the Pyrenees) when low & behold two hikers appear.  Please note the scallop shell on the pilgrims back-pack.  The scallop shell is one of the most iconic symbols of the Camino de Santiago, and it will be visible on all back-packs. (Fernando gave us each a scallop shell).  These hikers had come across the French Pyrenees and were headed to Pamplona for the night. 

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 After a visit with the pilgrims we set off on our own Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.  As the sign indicates were are at Orreaga and it’s 1.5 km to Roncesvalles (see the Scallop Shell on the sign)?

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Roncesvalles, Spain:  My goodness it was time to eat in the little village of Roncesvalles, and to get our Pilgrimage Passport stamped for this little leg of the journey. 

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 A good lunch and off we go again.  Please note that on the sign it indicates that Santiago de Compostelo is 790 km (490 miles).  No we won’t walk all of that, only going to the next little town on the pilgrimage route.  In the last photo I am showing you a yellow arrow that also serves as a pilgrimage marker. 

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This is the route as pilgrims enter Pamplona, Spain. 

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Obanos, Spain:  We went to the village of Obanos & enjoyed a pleasant morning walk along the Camino de Santiago.  See the scallop shell trail marker (I inserted a red arrow) on the stone gate in the 2nd photo?

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  Gares, Spain:  We walked on through Gares, which lies between Pamplona and Estella on the Way of St. James pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.

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Puente La Reina – Gares:  After walking through town we arrived at this beautiful bridge.  This bridge is well preserved, and has an important history, for with its construction, the fording of the river here was far easier for Medieval pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.  Fernando told us if you crossed with your shoes removed you’d have good luck.  Annie did you have good luck?

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Burgos, Spain:  It was the historic capital of the 16th century Castile kingdom.  It is situated in the Pilgrim’s Road to Santiago de Compostela.  The medieval city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is full of architectural gems of the 14th-15th century.

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Our Lady of Burgos Cathedral, Burgos:  Construction on the Cathedral began in 1221 and was completed in 1567.  The history of Gothic art is summed up in its superb architecture and its unique collection of works of art, including paintings, choir stalls, tombs, and stained-glass windows.  The Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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We departed Burgos & drove to Leon, Spain.

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Parador de Leon, Leon Spain:  We stayed in this nice Parador which had been the 16th-century San Marcos Monastery.  It featured antique furnishings and tapestries.

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Casa de los Botines, Leon, Spain:  Barcelona’s Gaudí designed this building with a medieval air and neo-Gothic characteristics.

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Leon Cathedral:  The Leon cathedral, completed in the 16th century, is also one of the three most important cathedrals, along with that of Burgos & Santiago de Compostela,  on The Way of Saint James.  The church has nearly 1,800 square meters of stained glass windows with most of them dating from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century which is a rarity among medieval gothic churches.

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Las Medulas Mines:  In the first century AD, Las Medulas served as the main source of gold for the entire Roman Empire.  An army of slaves built canals and tunnels, through which they pumped water to break up the rock and free it from the precious metal. Seven linked aqueducts provided water for a vast basin above Las Medulas; when the water was released in a torrent, it stripped away soft rock to yield the the precious gold—and left behind canyon-like landscapes.  It is a bizarre landscapes and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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Lugo, Spain:  The walls of Lugo were built in the later part of the 3rd century.  It is the finest example of late Roman fortifications in western Europe.  Lugo is the world’s only city that is completely surrounded by completely intact ancient Roman walls.  They reach a height of 33 to 49 feet, along a 6,946 feet circuit ringed with 71 towers and 10 gates.

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 Inside the fortified town of Lugo.

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Santiago de Compostela (commonly known as Santiago):  We have arrived in Santiago de Compostela, which is the culmination of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route.  The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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  Santiago de Compostela Cathedral:  The Cathedral is the alleged burial site of the Biblical apostle St. James.  It is the destination of The Way of St. James, a leading Catholic pilgrimage route which originated in the 9th century.  On our way to the Cathedral, rightly enough, we stopped & visited with some pilgrims that were on their way to the Cathedral. 

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Pilgrim’s Mass:  At 12:00 noon everyday in the Cathedral there is a special Mass for the Pilgrim’s.  We attended.

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A Traditional Galician Night:  We enjoyed a Galician dinner in the countryside.  It was complete with bagpipes, singing, & a punch made of brandy-like liquor, herbs, sugar, lemon, cinnamon & coffee beans that is set aflame.  it is said to banish evil & bring good luck for those who drink it. 

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Cambados, Spain:  Fishing is a major industry in this coastal town.  We went out to sea to see how mussels are grown and harvested.  Long net parcels hanging off platforms become part of a horizontal systems of ropes suspended in the water. The net will disintegrate in a few days and the young mussels will clamp onto the rope where they’ll feed on the nutrients of the sea.  We watched the harvest then sampled fresh steamed mussels!

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 I’m going to be the new captain, but I may need to ditch the life-jacket to make people feel more secure. LOL

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Albarino Wine: It’s a variety of white wine grape grown in Galicia (northwest Spain).  We visited the 16th century wine-making complex of a family that produces it.  We also toured their villa, went to their vineyard & then enjoyed a picnic lunch and tasting of the wine. 

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The octopus learning & discovery:  Okay, so now I know how to cook octopus.  Fernando took us to a Ma & Pa place that has been there for the last 60 years and we learned all about octopus—and got to eat it.  Don’t have much opportunity in Kansas you know!

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We left Spain and departed for Portugal’s Douro Valley.

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Chaves:  It has been occupied since the Roman era.  Chaves is best known for its hot springs & its forts, battlements & towers ranging from the medieval era to the 18th century. 

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Pinhao in the Douro Valley:  Ever since the ancient Romans first cultivated grape vines here in the 3rd century, this mountainous region has been a wine-growing powerhouse, especially known for port wine.  This area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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   Port Wine:  It exclusively originates on the terraced vineyards that rise up alongside the Douro River on wine farms. We visited the Quinta da Pacheca Vineyard and traced the path of port from grape to glass.  Then we had a cooking class and got to eat the fun things we prepared. 

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Two favorite pictures!  Thanks for sharing Nancy N.

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I thought the Portuguese tiles in the train station in a little town in the Douro Valley were particularly pretty. 

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Next was a fun boat ride down the Douro River in the Douro Valley.

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Amarante, Portugal:  A settlement since the 4th century BC, Amarante is situated in the rich agricultural lands of the Minho region,  The bridge over the River Tamega was the site of a battle against the French invaders in 1809.

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Guimaraes, Portugal:  It’s known as the “cradle of Portugal,” settled in the 9th century.  We saw a 19th century castle built to defend the local monastery from attacks by Muslim & Norman raiders.

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Guimaraes was a pleasant little town.  The historic town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Bom Jesus do Monte, Braga Portugal:  This hilltop pilgrimage site has a Baroque stairway that climbs 381 feet to the Sanctuary.  We were very pleased to ride the funicular up & walk down.

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Porto, Spain:  It is a coastal city in northwest Portugal known for its stately bridges & port wine production.

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Porto, Portugal:  It’s one of the oldest cities in Europe with a quaint medieval Ribeira (riverside) district, and narrow cobbled streets.   It’s located on both sides of the river with the main attractions being on the side where these photos are focused.  Our hotel was in the area with all the attractions in an excellent location on the level near the river.

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Palacio da Bols: (Stock Exchange Palace) is a historical building in Porto. The palace was built in the 19th century in  Neoclassical style & is located in the historical center of Porto.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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 Sites around Porto.  The first one is from my hotel balcony.  All the walking was uphill & downhill (mostly uphill). ha

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 Francesinha Sandwich:  How about this sandwich?  The Portuguese version of the Monte Cristo includes sliced meats in a sandwich topped with melted cheese & served with beer sauce.  Big line of people waiting to get in this place to eat these.  It was our treat from Fernando.

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The train station in Porto was really pretty with all the Portuguese tiles that decorate it. 

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While in Porto, everyone should ride a trolley, right?

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And then…..my daughter & son-in-law met me in Porto & whisked me away to spend some time with them in Portugal.  Keep checking, because that travel blog is next. 

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Keep on traveling!



Posted May 26, 2017 by marilynfarmer in Travel

Back Roads of Iberia: Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas   4 comments

Back Roads of Iberia:  Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas

Mar. 10 – 25, 2017

Lisbon, Sintra, Alentejo Province & Évora, Portugal;  Merida, Carmona, Seville,  Ronda, Cordoba, Úbeda, Toledo & Madrid, Spain

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I booked “Back Roads of Iberia:  Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas” with Overseas Adventure Travel.  This two week adventure was my 38th trip with this company.  There was a very enjoyable group of fifteen travelers in our adventure through Portugal & Spain.  The four of us pictured in the above photo were solo travelers and we had such a nice time together.  Since Jim’s passing this was my first time traveling without family, and these gals & the rest of the group made it a fun adventure. 

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This map of our itinerary is copied from the Overseas Adventure web site.  We were guided on this unique adventure by our Fantastic tour director, Andres.  He was always coming up with neat learning & discovery escapades and made everyday of the trip a remarkable experience.  The name of this trip was “Back Roads of Iberia.”  Our trip began in the city of Lisbon & it ended in the city of Madrid, but the rest of the itinerary was more or less on the “back roads.”  it was intriguing to get away from the huge cities, to go down the roads less traveled and to stay in the remarkable Paradores & Pousadas (hotels in Castles, Palaces, & Monasteries located in spectacular locations.)  In this blog I am featuring each of the great Paradores & Pousadas that we had the privilege to stay in. 


 SmileSave MoneyMoney:  If you decide you’d like to go on this or any Overseas Adventure or Grand Circle Travel trip, and you are a first time traveler with them, they will give you $100 off any trip if you mention the name of my travel blog and my customer #000561413.  New travelers instantly receive $100 off the cost of the trip, and I will receive $100 when you depart on your trip.


Lisbon, Portugal:  Lisbon is the capital & largest city in Portugal & is recognized as being the richest European capital until the 19th century.  It is spread out on seven low hills overlooking the Tagus River.  This is looking towards Alfama which is the oldest district of Lisbon. 

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Alfama District of Lisbon:  During the Islamic invasion of Iberia, the Alfama constituted the largest part of the city. Increasingly, the Alfama became inhabited by fishermen and the poor, but today the district has been invigorated.

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 Baixa District of Lisbon:  The heart of the city is the Baixa or city center; the Pombaline Baixa is an elegant district, primarily constructed after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.  And of course Andres introduced us to the popular Espinheira Ginja Cherry Liqueur.  It is served in a shot form with a piece of the fruit in the bottom of the cup.

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Belem District of Lisbon:  The Belem Tower (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is one of the most famous and visited landmarks in Portugal. Its construction was initiated in 1515 and completed in 1519.  Also along the river is the Monument to the Discoveries, a huge boat statue located where ships departed to explore and trade with India and the Orient.  The boat was built for the Portuguese World Fair in 1940.

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Jeronimos Monastery is also located in the Belem District of Lisbon and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It was built as a monument to celebrate Portuguese voyages around the world.  The construction of the monastery and church began in 1501, and was completed 100 years later.

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 What’s more fun than strolling the tree lined street near our hotel in Lisbon on a sunny beautiful day?  Add to that having time to check all the things that are for sale and listening to a city band.  Next is was night and the street scenes. 

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Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal:  The castle stands on the top of a hill in the Sintra Mountains above the town of Sintra.  It’s a lavish 19th century hilltop castle built on the ruins of an ancient monastery. The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We got to ride up the mountain in tuk tuk’s. 

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A walk through the palatial gardens:  The park was created at the same time as the palace by King Ferdinand II.  It is a labyrinth of paths and narrow roads, connecting the palace to the many points of interest throughout the park.  The king ordered trees from diverse, distant lands to be planted there.

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A journey to the countryside near Lisbon:  Here we learned about the longstanding Portuguese tradition of azulejos which was introduced to Iberia by the Moors.  These blue or multi-colored ceramic tiles decorate everything from church walls & palaces to the facades of Portuguese homes.  Then….we each got to paint our own tiles which was rather fun. 

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Azeitao Cheese:  Next was learning about this velvety local specialty cheese made from raw sheep’s milk.  We all even had the opportunity to help make the cheese. 

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We departed Lisbon and journeyed through the Alentejo province on our way to Evora, Portugal.  We made several interesting stops along the way. 

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Arraiolos, Portugal & it’s  Castle:  Back in 1335, within the fortress walls was where all manner of village life existed.  This changed in the 14th century when the people began moving down to the valley where it was less windy and cold. By the 17th century the castle had fallen into ruins.  We walked around the little town of Arraiolos & toured their hand-embroidered wool carpet museum.

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 Alentejo Wine Farming Estate:  We learned about Portuguese wine at an 18th century estate and toured the vineyard, winery and cellars.  We sampled the wine while we enjoyed lunch at the estate. 

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 Buggy Museum:  The Estate had a large collection of buggies in a museum, the walls of the barn had big Portuguese tile murals depicting horses & carriages. 

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Portuguese Cork:  We drove through miles & miles of cork oak forests in the Alentejo (south-central) area of Portugal.  We learned that every 10 years, foresters strip off the outer layer of bark with short-handled axes. The trees are left with bare, reddish trunks where the bark was shorn. But if the work is properly done, the bark grows back so it can be harvested again in a decade. White numerals are painted on the trees as reminders for when their next turn comes up. (First photo of Cork trees & wild hogs & second photo is a close up of a harvested cork tree.)

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 Cork Factory:  The cork is put on planks and boiled in order to clean & soften them.  Then the cork is graded & cut into workable pieces.  Cork isn’t just used as corks, in fact the last photo shows some of the cork products. 

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Recinto Megalitico Dos Almendres, Alentejo Region, Portugal:  The 95 standing stones form two large stone circles. They were once part of a ceremonial site dedicated to a celestial religion.  Studies show that the first stones were laid around 6,000 BC, and this site was in continual use until 3,000 BC. Many of the stones have ancient patterns and diagrams of unknown meanings, which add to the mystery of the site.

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This O.A.T. trip is called Back Roads of Iberia:  Spanish Paradores & Portuguese Pousadas.  Loved staying in these  unique historic locations.

Pousada Convento de Evora, Evora, Portugal:  {This is the first of four of our unique accommodations while we were in Portugal & Spain.}  The rooms at the Pousada consist of the old cells of the Lóios monks.  They have been carefully updated in terms of comfort, while still maintaining all of its original and historical features.  The Pousada is located next to the ruins of the Temple of Diana, whose 14 columns date back to the second & third centuries. 

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Evora, Portugal:  It’s an ancient hilltop town with Roman & Moorish roots that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.     Evora has a well-preserved old town center, still partially enclosed by medieval walls.  The Evora Cathedral dates from the beginning of the 13th century.  A very pleasant town to stroll around in.

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We visited two of the senior students at the University of Evora.  The upper classmen typically wear these Scholars Robes, with the inside containing patches with their achievements.   Enjoyed seeing the Portuguese tiles in the classrooms.

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 Bone Chapel:  The Church of St. Francis is home to a macabre bone chapel which welcomes visitors with the eerie message:  “We bones in here wait for yours to join us.”  Inside, thousands of skeletons & skulls have been carefully arranged along the chapel walls, ceiling & columns.  They were put there by three Franciscan monks in the early 16th century. 

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And of course we all needed to taste the local wine.  Later that evening was a fun cooking class and our group prepared some of the local favorite foods.

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Merida, Spain:  We crossed from Portugal into Spain, and our first stop was Merida.  The colony of Augusta Emerita, which became present-day Merida, was founded in 25 B.C. at the end of the Spanish Campaign and was the capital of Lusitania. We saw some of the well-preserved remains of the old city which included a large bridge over the Guadiana, an amphitheatre, and a theatre.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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The Temple of Diana in Merida was a sacred site constructed by the Romans in the early first century AD, after the conquest of the area by the Emperor Augustus.

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The Roman Amphitheatre was completed in 8 BC.  Gladiators once battled to the death against animals imported from Asia & Africa and confined in the large, cross-shaped pit which can be seen from center stage. 

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The Roman Theatre of Merida was constructed in the years 16 to 15 BC.  It had a seating capacity of 6,000.  A large marble wall was on the back of the stage and had huge sculptures that have been interpreted as imperial portraits

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Our happy group of Andres and 15 travelers!

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Parador de Carmona, Carmona, Spain:  {This is the second of four of our unique accommodations.}  Once a 14th-century Moorish fortress, this Parador Hotel offers spectacular views over the countryside.  A wonderful example of Moorish architecture, the Parador has a stunning central courtyard, vaulted ceilings, original stonework, and the Mudéjar fountain.  

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Carmona, Spain:  Carmona is built on a ridge overlooking the central plain of Andalusia.  During the time of Julius Caesar (100–44 BC), it was a Roman stronghold.  The city was made even more impregnable during the long occupation of the Moors, who erected walls around it, and built fountains and palaces within.  Today it was known to our O.A.T. group as the location of the beautiful Parador where we stayed.  We really enjoyed strolling in the ancient little town of Carmona which was located below the Parador. 

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Seville, Spain:  Seville was occupied by the Romans from about 200 BC; then the Moors ruled for some 500 years until they were expelled in the middle of the 13th century by the Christian warrior Fernando III. 

The Plaza de  Espana:    The complex is a huge half-circle with buildings continually running around the edge accessible over the moat by numerous bridges representing the four ancient kingdoms of Spain.  The walls of the Plaza are many tiled alcoves, each representing a different province of Spain.  In the center is the Vicente Traver fountain.  Today the Plaza de Espana mainly consists of Government buildings.

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 Seville Cathedral:   This is a Roman Catholic Cathedral in Seville.  It is the largest Gothic cathedral (11520 square meters) and the third-largest church in the world. Largest is St.Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City @15,160 meters.  The second largest is The National Shrine Of Our Lady Of Aparecida, Aparecida, Brazil, @ 12000 square meters.

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The Seville Cathedral was built in the 15th century, and is also home to the the largest altarpiece in the world.

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The Cathedral is also the reputed burial place of Christopher Columbus. 

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 More photos of this special Cathedral.

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 Time for some ice cream with friends & a little street entertainment.

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Pretty Seville

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The Alcazar of Seville:  While the Alcazar looks like a Moorish palace, in fact many of its most beautiful rooms were built by Moorish workmen, for the Christian king, Pedro the Cruel of Castile, in the 1360’s.  The Alcazar offers some of the best surviving examples of Mudejar architecture.  It is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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We drove from Carmona, Spain to Ronda, Spain.  Along the way we made several very interesting stops and learned a lot about Spain. 

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 Andres spotted a cemetery and thought we’d like to see a typical cemetery in Spain.

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  The countryside of Andalusia is very picturesque.

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 Then it was time for coffee in a scenic location.

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Rafael Tejada:  Our destination for the day was Ronda.  Ronda is famous as being the birthplace of modern bullfighting.  Before our arrival in Ronda we stopped at a bull ranch owned by Rafael Tejada, a famous bullfighter.  We learned about life on the ranch and the breeding of toros.  We also got to meet & visit with Rafael Tejada. 

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Parador de Ronda, Ronda, Spain:  {This is the third of four of our unique accommodations, marked with red arrow.}  This outstanding Parador offered spectacular views of Ronda’s gorge and Puente Nuevo Bridge.  Private balconies were available in each of the rooms, with many offering views of the surrounding mountains.  Parador de Ronda is set in Ronda’s former Town Hall.

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 Ronda, Spain:  Ronda is one of the oldest cities in Spain and it’s divided by a 360-foot-deep ravine known as El Tajo.  On one side of the 210-foot-wide gorge are the narrow medieval streets of Ronda’s Moorish Old Town and on the other, the more recent quarter, which was constructed after the Christian Reconquest. 

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One thing for certain, you can run across some grand new friends when you travel!  We girls had such a nice time together.

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Downtown Ronda.

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A residential area of Ronda.

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And then we went on a lovely hike from the upper town, down into the gorge, to the other side of town, had a cool drink, walked through the Arabic walls & city gates and back up to town.  

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Cordobay Spain:  Cordoba was founded by the Romans and it became a port city of great importance, used for shipping Spanish olive oil, wine and wheat back to Ancient Rome.   Then it became a major Islamic center in the Middle Ages. It’s best known for La Mezquita, an immense mosque dating from 784 A.D., featuring a columned prayer hall and older Byzantine mosaics.  After it became a Catholic church in the 16th century, a Renaissance-style nave was added right in the center of the mosque.

  In the first century BC the Romans built this mighty bridge that crosses the river in Corboda.

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Cordoba was captured in 711 by the Moorish army and  became the capital of the Moorish kingdom of El-Andalus.  After that work began on the Great Mosque, or “Mezquita”, which later became one of the largest in all of Islam.  When the city was conquered by the Christians in 1236, the new rulers of the city were so awed by its beauty that they left it standing, building their cathedral in the midst of its rows of arches and columns, and creating the extraordinary church-mosque we see today.

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What makes this mosque truly unusual is the Gothic Christian church built in the center of the mosque in the 16th century by Charles V. 

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This is the main chapel of the mosque  which was built by Moorish craftsmen in 1371.

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In the center of the mosque is a Renaissance cathedral which dates back to the early sixteenth century.  It is a very elaborate and beautiful cathedral. 

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While in Cordoba we enjoyed a horse-drawn carriage ride. 

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 We gals also enjoyed lunch together in a cute restaurant.

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 Parador De Ubeda, Ubeda, Spain:  {This is the forth of four of our unique accommodations.}  Parador De Ubeda is located in the beautiful, monumental city of Úbeda.   This Parador is housed in the old quarter of the city in a former, 16th-century palace on the Renaissance de Molina Square.  It  has kept its original, classical-style interior decor.

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Ubeda, Spain:  It’s located in the Jaen province in surrounded by olive groves.  The city of Ubeda has fine examples of all the grandeur of the Renaissance in Andalusia in the 16th and 17th centuries.  It has narrow cobblestone streets lined with Renaissance-era palaces & stately mansions.  For that reason Ubeda is an UNESCO World Heritage City.

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Olive Oil:  The city of Ubeda is bordered on all sides by numerous olive groves that produce some of the world’s best olive oil.  We learned about the olive oil production process —from going to an olive grove & seeing how they are harvested, to production, to bottling, to tasting.  Quoted from The Olive Essence”….”The Jaen province is the largest producer of Olive Oil in Spain and also world-wide. Just the province of Jaen produces more than the second largest producer country, Italy. With more than 550.000 hectares of olive tree fields and over 60 million trees, it produces 20% of the world’s Olive Oil.”

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Toledo, Spain:  The 2,000 year old city of Toledo is a beautifully preserved medieval gem.  It is located on a hill overlooking the Tagus River in the heart of Spain.  Toledo was known as the “city of three cultures” for its historical co-existence of Christian, Jewish & Muslim cultures.  Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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  Cathedral de Toledo: The city’s famous cathedral is a massive Gothic structure.   It sits on top of the hill just below the “Alcazar” or Fortress of Toledo. The Catholic Cathedral was built over a period of 267 years, between the years 1226 and 1493.

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Altar Piece:  In the Main Chapel is an altarpiece with sparkling gold reliefs.  The altarpiece actually summarizes the entire New Testament with its intricately carved and life-sized painted wood sculptures.  This Altar was so impressive to me that I’ve included a distance shot and three closer images. 

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A beautiful Cathedral.

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 El Greco:  We went into the church of Santo Tome and viewed El Greco’s most famous painting, The Burial of Count Orgaz.  (It is large, approx. 5 ft.x 10 ft., and covers the wall of a chapel.)  The story:  In the 14th century a large amount of money was donated by Lord Orgaz.  There would be a painting with Orgaz to be the subject and with the portrayal of the notable men of the time in Toledo. (The faces in the painting are the notable local men.)  The chosen painter was El Greco, whose parish church was Santo Tomé.  The painting was completed in 1586 as promised.  According to the legend, at the time Orgaz was buried, Saint Stephen and Saint Augustine descended in person from the heavens and buried him by their own hands in front of the dazzled eyes of those present.

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Madrid, Spain:  It is the capital city and the largest municipality of Spain.  The city has a population of almost 3.2 million. It is the third-largest city in the European Union after London & Berlin.  This was last stop of our splendid trip of Portugal & Spain.

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Royal Palace, Madrid: It is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family but they do not live here, and it is only used for state ceremonies.

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  Plaza Mayor:  It was built during Philip III’s reign (1598–1621) and is a central plaza in the city of Madrid.

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The Retiro Park:  Madrid enjoys one of the most extensive areas of parks, gardens and “green zones” of all European cities.  The Retiro is perhaps Madrid’s best known park. It occupies approximately 300 acres of land in the very center of Madrid.

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 Prado Museum:  It is the main Spanish national art museum, located in central Madrid.  It is said to feature one of the world’s finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection.  It also contains the best single collection of Spanish art. 

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 Lion King:  My favorite thing in Madrid was the fact that we four gal friends bought tickets to see Lion King.  The theatre was located in the same block as our hotel so it was certainly convenient.  Nancy & I had great seats…front row, center, balcony.

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Thus ended the Overseas Adventure Travel, Back Roads of Iberia:  Spanish Paradores and Portuguese Pousadas.  It was a great experience with new friends.  However, this escapade is being continued.  We three gals did a back-to-back trip and our next adventure of Northern Spain & Portugal-Pilgrimage into the Past began the next day in Bilbao, Spain.  So…stay tuned, my next endeavor will be to do my travel blog of that trip. 

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Keep on traveling!



Posted May 16, 2017 by marilynfarmer in Travel

Thanksgiving Holiday in Vienna & Prague with Family   Leave a comment

 

Thanksgiving Holiday in Vienna & Prague with Family

Nov. 25 – 29, 2016

Vienna, Austria and Prague, Czech Republic

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 As promised this is the continuation of the adventure, “Greece & the Hidden Gems of the Dalmatian Coast cruise.”  As stated in the last blog Karree & I left Zagreb, Croatia early Thanksgiving morning by direct train enroute to Vienna, Austria.  We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner and all the trimmings with my daughter Kellee & husband Jim and some of their friends.  The next day Karree, Jim, Kellee & I headed by train to Prague, Czech Republic, to round out the Thanksgiving holiday by spending three nights right in the old town square of Prague. 


 

Karree & I left Zagreb, Czech Republic early Thanksgiving morning and arrived in Vienna, Austria in the early afternoon.  It actually was a pleasurable ride viewing the scenery as we rolled along.  It is also nice because one isn’t stuck in a seat and can freely move around.  And very importantly there is also coffee, drinks & snacks for purchase.  I love to ride trains in Europe!

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My son-in-law could give the cooking show chefs a run for their money!

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We enjoyed a great Thanksgiving Dinner in Vienna with family & friends.

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The four of us took the train from Vienna to Prague.  It was about a four hour ride, and a great time to watch the scenery, play cards and to catch up on visiting. 

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Prague, Czech Republic is regarded by many as one of Europe’s most charming and beautiful cities, and has become the most popular travel destination in Central Europe along with Vienna & Krakow.  Prague is built along the Vitava River and for ten centuries, it has been a magical city of bridges, cathedrals, gold-tipped towers and church domes.  Almost undamaged by WWII, Prague’s medieval center remains a wonderful mixture of cobbled lanes, walled courtyards, cathedrals and countless church spires all in the shadow of her majestic 9th century castle which overlooks the city.  Prague is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Prague:  We booked an apartment right in the old town square of Prague.  Sometimes people say it doesn’t matter where you stay because you only sleep there.  I have to disagree.  The location of this apartment was fantastic and made the trip just perfect.   This was recommended to us by our friend Cheryl in Denver.  When I book hotels internationally I always use booking.com.  This apartment is Apartments Old Town Square 27 and the room is the luxury two-bedroom apartment.  I highly recommend it. 

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Christmas Market in the old town square of Prague.  It worked out very well because we could buy food at the Christmas Market & take it right upstairs to our apartment and eat it. 

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The Prague Astronomical Clock:  It was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still working.  And as stated previously it was located right out our apartment window.  It was fun rushing to the window at the top of the hour to watch & listen to it. 

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Kellee had purchased “standing room” tickets to the Prague Opera House.  We didn’t stay for all of the performance but it was nice seeing the beautiful opera house. 

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The Old Town Bridge Tower:  Charles Bridge, was built by Emperor Charles IV starting in the year of 1357.  Access to the Charles Bridge was protected by bridge towers, built at either end of the bridge. The tower on the side of the Old Town, known as Old Town Bridge Tower, was built between 1370 and 1391.  The gate to the Old Town was also conceived as a symbolic victory arch through which Czech kings passed on their coronation processions.

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Bridge Statues & Statuaries:  The bridge is decorated by a continuous alley of 30 statues & statuaries, most of them baroque-style, originally erected around 1700 but now all replaced by replicas.  The originals can be seen in the National Museum in Prague. 

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Charles Bridge:  Charles Bridge is on the top of every Prague visitor’s must-see list. It is also popular with Czech artists, musicians and souvenir vendors whose stands line both sides of the bridge year-round. Prague Castle with the St. Vitus Cathedral is the castle showing in the background.

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Lesser Town Towers:  On the Lesser Town end of the Charles Bridge are two bridge towers. The smaller one, the Judith Tower, was built in 1188 to guard the entrance to the former Judith Bridge. The adjoining taller tower was erected in 1464 on the orders of King George of Poděbrady who wanted a counterpart to the Old Town Bridge Tower.  We crossed the bridge and walked through the Lesser Quarter to get to the Prague Castle.

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We walked through Lesser Town and up the long hill to the castle.  We didn’t get there until around noon and the line to get tickets was so long we decided to come back the next day and be there before 9 am.  The next day we rode the tram that took us up above behind the castle, there was no line so we paid and walked right in.  However, it turned out to be a cold, windy, rainy day as opposed to the day before. 

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We arrived just in time for the changing of the guard.

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 Prague Castle Complex:  Records indicate that Prague Castle is the largest castle area in the world. Its three courtyards and a number of magnificent buildings cover over 18 acres.  The Prague Castle experienced one of its greatest periods during the reign of Charles IV (1346-1378) when it became the seat of the Holy Roman Emperor. The Royal Palace was rebuilt, the fortifications were strengthened, and the construction of St. Vitus Cathedral was initiated, following the style of Gothic French cathedrals of the time.

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St. Vitus Cathedral:  The cathedral’s foundation stone was laid in 1344 by Emperor Charles IV. The first architect was Matthias of Arras.  Over the following centuries renaissance and baroque details were added and the job was completed in 1929.

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 A Christmas Market in the Prague Castle courtyard.

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  Lots of things to see & museums to stroll though in the Palace Complex.

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We had a delightful lunch in a restaurant in a cave, and ample time to thaw out our hands & feet.

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The conclusion of a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend with family.

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Keep on traveling!



Posted January 25, 2017 by marilynfarmer in Travel

Greece & the Hidden Gems of the Dalmatian Coast Cruise   Leave a comment

Greece & the Hidden Gems of the Dalmatian Coast Cruise

Nov. 8 – 24, 2016

Athens, Corinth Canal, Itea, Delphi and Corfu Greece; Saranda and Butrint Albania; Kotor and Perast Montenegro; Dubrovnik, Gromaca, Korcula, Hvar, Vrboska, Split, Plitvice Lakes and Zagreb Croatia. 

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Jim & I booked “The Hidden Gems of the Dalmatian Coast & Greece ” with Grand Circle Travel.  We had also decided to stay behind after the trip and spend the Thanksgiving holiday with our daughter Kellee, and son-in-law Jim at their home in Vienna, Austria.  At the time Jim & I booked this trip were happily going about our lives with never a thought but what we would just grow old together.  Jim went to his heavenly home on May 9, 2016 when he was killed in an accident on our farm.  He was the love of my life and we had 51 years wonderful years together.  {On a previous blog you will find a memorial tribute to him.}  I cannot say enough good comments about the Grand Circle Travel Company.  They so kindly changed everything over to my daughter, Karree so she could join me on this trip.  Please note:  The continuation of this travel blog will be posted on my next blog entitled “Thanksgiving Holiday with Family in Vienna & Prague.” 

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    This is our tour director Visja, she was a joy, very knowledgeable and loved sharing learning and discovery experiences!  The map is copied from https://www.gct.com/.  We cruised 728 miles and enjoyed a four-country journey.  This is my 37th trip with this company, and by being in the country of Albania made the 75th country/territory I have visited.  Jim & I were very fortunate and we both loved to travel.


Winking smileSave MoneyMoney:  If you decide you’d like to go on this or any Grand Circle Travel or Overseas Adventure trip, and you are a first time traveler with them, they will give you $100 per person off any trip if you mention the name of my travel blog and my customer number #561413.  New travelers instantly receive $100 each off the cost of the trip, and I will receive $100 when you depart on your trip.


Athens, Greece:  It’s one of the world’s oldest cities, with its recorded history spanning over 3,400 years.  The city has many ancient monuments and works of art, the most famous of all being the Parthenon, considered a key landmark of early Western Civilization.  Athens is the capital and largest city in Greece.

Changing of the Guard:  Located at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the House of Parliament.

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Syntagma Metro Station:  This interesting museum is located in an the Athens Metro Station.  It features a variety of historical items unearthed during the process of building the metro.

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The famous Acropolis of Athens and the Parthenon:  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Acropolis contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the most famous being the Parthenon.  The Parthenon is a former temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron. Construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the peak of its power.  The Parthenon is regarded as one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments.  (This photo was taken from our hotel in Athens.)

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The Erechtheion:   Another ancient Greek temple located on the Acropolis.  It was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon.  It was built between 421 and 406 B.C. (The two photos are different views of the same building.)

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Boarding our ship the M/V Athena:  Owned, operated, and staffed by Grand Circle Cruise Line, this ship was designed exclusively for two small groups of just 25 Grand Circle travelers, each with its own Program Director.  Sailing out from the harbor we spotted a U.S.A. ship.  See that beautiful American flag flying proudly? 

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Beginning our 728 mile cruise journey from Athens, Greece and along the Dalmatian Coast of Albania, Montenegro and ending in Split, Croatia.  At the end of the trip we disembarked our ship and went by coach to Plitvice Lakes & Zagreb, Croatia. 

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Corinth Canal:   This canal connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland.  It was completed in 1893 and is 4 miles in length and 70 ft. wide at its base, making it impassable for most modern ships.  This was a huge reason Jim wanted to book this trip.  On a previous trip he had looked down into the canal and by golly he was going to sail through it now.  Well, Karree & I did that for him. 

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Itea:  The little town where we docked and then took a coach to Delphi.  And…..Jim’s rainbow.

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 Delphi Archaeological Museum:  It is one of the principal museums of Greece and one of the most visited.  We were told that one of the most impressive exhibits is the Sphinx, which was produced between 575 & 560 B.C.  The Kouroi of Delphi, archaic male statues known also as Cleobis and Biton, were produced at Argos between 610 and 580 BC.

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My favorite in the museum was the Charioteer.  The statue is said to be one of the finest specimens of 5th century bronze sculpture, it belonged to a larger complex including the chariot, the horses and possibly a stable boy.  I tell you, it seemed that his eyes literally followed me. 

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Archaeological Site of Delphi: A UNESCO World Heritage Site.  In the 6th century B.C., Delphi was the religious center and symbol of unity of the ancient Greek world.  It is famous as the ancient sanctuary that grew rich as the seat of the oracle that was consulted on important decisions throughout the ancient classical world.  The Pythia commonly known as the Oracle of Delphi, was the name given to the High Priestess of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi who also served as the oracle.  These pictures show the remaining columns of the Temple of Apollo.

We had an outstanding local guide.  She explained in great detail about the Oracle of Delphi.  I came away with this:  “Life is what you make it.”  At this point & time, with the recent loss of Jim, this most definitely touched my heart. I must remember…..”life is what you make it.” 

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The reconstructed Treasury of Athens, built to commemorate their victory at the Battle of Marathon in 380 B.C.

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The theater at Delphi is build further up the hill from the Temple of Apollo and it presented the seated audience with a spectacular view of the entire sanctuary below and the valley beyond. It was built in the 4th century B.C.

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 Monastery of Hosios Loukas, Greece:  We received a bonus on this sunny day.   The seas were too high to sail so it was arranged for us to go by coach to this beautiful, historic walled monastery situated near the town of Distomo, Greece.  It is one of the most important monuments of Middle Byzantine architecture and art, and has been listed on  UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. 

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Distomo, Greece:  We stopped at this pretty town on the way back to the ship.  And we had beautiful scenery as we drove.

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And then the seas calmed and we sailed away into the sunset.

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  The Achilleion Palace, Corfu Greece:   This palace was built in 1890 for Elizabeth, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary.  In her day Elisabeth was known as “Sisi.”   Uncomfortable with the constraints of court life in Vienna, Sisi retreated to Corfu in her later years and immersed herself in the world of the ancient Greeks.  The central theme of the palace is the mythical hero Achilles (that’s his statue in the garden). The Imperial gardens on top of the hill provide a majestic view of the Ionian sea.  At this lovely location we decided we needed a picture of our happy little travel group. 

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Corfu, Greece:   Corfu, an island off Greece’s northwest coast in the Ionian Sea, is defined by rugged mountains and a resort-studded shoreline. Its cultural heritage reflects years spent under Venetian, French and British rule before it was united with Greece in 1864. Corfu Town, flanked by 2 imposing Venetian fortresses, features winding medieval lanes, a French-style arcade and the grand Palace of St. Michael and St. George.

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Oh no, I should have got my life vest out!

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Sailing out of Corfu, Greece.  Arriving in Saranda, Albania.  Albania marks my 75th country/territory that I have visited. 

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Butrint, Albania:  We docked in Saranda and went overland by coach to Butrint, Albania.  We visited the ruins of Butrint, A UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Butrint has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and it was at various times the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city, and a part of the Byzantine Empire.  After a brief occupation by the Venetians, the city was abandoned in the late Middle Ages after marshes formed in the area.  I thought this archaeological site was very interesting. 

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Pilot Boats:  This is how the pilot boats escort ships in and out of their harbors.  The sailor from that harbor gets off the pilot boat and into our ship and brings our ship into port.  It’s the rules of the water.  Our cabin was located right above the ship entrance so had nice opportunity to watch and get some photos.

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After Romania we set sail for Kotor, Montenegro.  Cruising in the Bay of Kotor was absolutely beautiful.

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Arriving at Kotor, Montenegro:  It is a perfectly preserved historic town.  In the Middle Ages, this natural harbor on the Adriatic coast was a walled city and an important artistic and commercial center.  Note the ancient fortified city walls above the town.  Karree hiked to the very top.  More about that later.

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Kotor, Montenegro:  I love, love this awesome little town!  A UNESCO World Heritage site, the old city was built between the 12th and 14th centuries and is filled with medieval architecture and historic monuments. Extending over 2.5 miles, the city walls that have protected Kotor for centuries lead up to the fortress of Saint Ivan.

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Fun evening entertainment on the ship for a youthful Montenegrin group.

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The Hike:   In Feb. 2010, Jim & I were in Kotor and Jim hiked up the city walls clear to the Fortress of Saint Ivan.  Not to be outdone by her Dad & in memory of her Dad, Karree did the same hike.  Jim was 70 years old at the time and Karree came back saying that she was amazed at his fortitude and accomplishment at his age.  Love & miss you Jim!

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Then & Now Memories:  Jimmy Otho 2010 & Karree Ardith 2016

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Perast, Montenegro:  Near the little town of Perast on the Bay of Kotor  are two islands, one is called St. George and the other Our Lady of the Rocks.  We took a boat to Our Lady of the Rocks.  This church was raised in 1630 on an artificial island, which was built by fishermen from Perast. According to a legend, after a shipwreck these fishermen found on a sea rock an icon of Holy Mother of God with Christ.  They vowed that right on that spot where the icon was found they will build a church, which would be dedicated to this icon of the Holy Mother of God, protector of sailors and fishermen.

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 Dubrovnik, Croatia:   A UNESCO World Heritage Site & another of my favorite cities in the world.   Dubrovnik is considered the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, situated on the Dalmatian coast, and it has been an important Mediterranean sea power from the 13th century onwards.  Although severely damaged by an earthquake in 1667, Dubrovnik managed to preserve its beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains. Damaged again in the 1990s by armed conflict, it is now the focus of a major restoration program co-ordinated by UNESCO.

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 Medieval City Walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia:  This series of defensive stone walls have surrounded and protected Dubrovnik since the city’s founding prior to the 7th century.  The city walls contain an intricate and complex system of forts, bastions, casemates, towers and detached forts.  Karree & I walked the city walls.  It was the highlight of our visit to the ancient city.  It’s about 1 1/4 miles and took over two hours as we marveled in the beauty of the scenes that unfolded in front of us. 

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Gromaca, Croatia:  We drove to the village of Gromaca, near Dubrovnik and visited a family and enjoyed a home-hosted dinner with them.  But first we went to their smoke-house & then to the wine cellar.  We were served homemade spirits, that would knock your socks off.  Oh, and that’s me modeling my new coat that I had just purchased in Kotor that afternoon.

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Korcula, Croatia:   It’s a small island on the Adriatic & lies just off the Dalmatian Coast.  We docked a stone’s throw away and enjoyed the unique old town.  The old town is believed to have been the birthplace of Marco Polo. 

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Hvar, Croatia:  It’s an island in the Adriatic Sea, located off the Dalmatian coast.  Hvar town is the largest of four towns on the island with a little more than 4,000 population.  It had some little shops & Karree bought a cute skirt. 

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  Island of Hvar:  The island of Hvar is unusual in the area for having a large fertile coastal plain, and fresh water springs. Its hillsides are covered in pine forests, with vineyards, olive groves, fruit orchards and lavender fields in the agricultural areas. The climate is characterized by mild winters, and warm summers with many hours of sunshine (not the day we were there). We drove by coach across the scenic island. 

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Vrboska, Croatia:   We drove to the other side of the island Hvar to Vrboska for a fun wine & cheese tasting with friends.

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Enjoyable evening entertainment by a Croatian group.

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The M/V Athena and our last day of sailing.

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Split, Croatia:  It’s the second-largest city of Croatia and the largest city of the region of Dalmatia. It lies on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea, centered on the Roman Palace of the Emperor Diocletian.  The Palace Is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the greatest Roman ruin in Southeastern Europe.  Built like a fortress, the palace was occupied by the Emperor Diocletian from 300-313 AD.  The ancient city is all around and within Diocletian’s Palace.

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Karree hiked up the hill above Spit.

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 Plitvice Lakes, Croatia:  We disembarked our ship and traveled overland to the Plitvice Lake Region.  It’s a 114-square-mile national park with 16 lakes linked by a series of waterfalls and cascades.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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 Zagreb, Croatia:  It’s been Croatia’s capital since 1557.  There is a lower town whose well-designed street grid was laid out in the 19th century.  The old Upper Town has the city’s medieval landmarks. 

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Train Ride:  Our fantastic trip of “Hidden Gems of the Dalmatian Coast & Greece” came to a conclusion on Thanksgiving morning.  Karree & I were on the early morning train to join my daughter and son-in-law for Thanksgiving.  It was a direct train from Zagreb, Croatia to Vienna, Austria.  It took about seven hours and only costs the equivalent of $60 US dollars for the two of us.  It was actually a delightful ride. 

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 To be continued:  My next blog “Thanksgiving Holiday with Family in Vienna & Prague” will be the continuation of this adventure. 



Posted January 17, 2017 by marilynfarmer in Travel