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Sicily’s Ancient Landscapes & Timeless Traditions   4 comments

Sicily’s Ancient Landscapes & Timeless Traditions

Mar. 13 – Apr. 6, 2018

Sassi di Matera, Alberobello, Lecce, and Otranto, Italy;  Palermo, Castelbuono, Cefalu, Monreale, Mazara, Mothya Island, Agrigento, Piazza Armerina, Caltagirone, Ragusa, Modica, Syracuse/Ortigia, Cantania, Taormina, and Mt. Etna, Sicily; Reggio di Calabria, Scilla, Monterosso Calabro, Pizzo, Cavita, Monte Pollino, Santa Maria delle Armi, and Paestum, Italy.


I booked “Sicily’s Ancient Landscapes & Timeless Traditions”  along with the pre & post trips in Sicily & Italy with Overseas Adventure TravelThis twenty-three day adventure was my 43rd trip with this company.  Jim & I loved to travel and I still love to travel.  OAT is very solo travel friendly, and makes it possible to book solo hotel rooms & ship cabins without paying an extra supplement.  In my first trip out after Jim’s death I met a great travel friend (Nancy) & this is our 4th trip together as we take advantage of OAT’s “traveling solo” plan.  On Nancy’s & my first trip out we met Annie and we had such a good time we three decided to do this trip to Sicily together.  We had a grand time!

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The above map of our itinerary is copied from the Overseas Adventure Travel web-site.  The first map is the trip in its entirety while the second map is the first five nights on our trip (the pre-trip).  First we did the pre-trip by flying into Bari, Italy and staying in Matera for 2 nights, stayed in Lecce for 3 nights, and then traveled to by air to Palermo, Sicily.  Next the main trip began and we stayed in Palermo for 3 nights, Mazara 3 nights, Piazza Armerina 1 night, Ragusa 3 nights, and Catania 3 nights.  To begin the post-trip we went by ferry to the mainland of Italy and stayed near Monterosso 2 nights, Civita 2 nights, and Vietri Sui Mare 1 night.  It was an excellent itinerary!

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 each $100 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.

Puglia, Italy’s Undiscovered Heel Pre-Trip:  This is Paolo, our great tour leader on our pre-trip.  He was delightful and we really enjoyed our strolls as we listened and learned fun and interesting facts about Puglia, the southern region of Italy that forms the heel of Italy’s “boot.”  


Sassi di Matera, Italy:  A UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The Sassi di Matera are two districts of the Italian city of Matera, well-known for their ancient cave dwellings.  The Sassi are houses dug into the calcarenitic rock itself with some of the streets often running on top of other houses.  The ancient town grew up on one slope of the ravine created by a river that is now a small stream. 


Hotel Locanda Di San Martino:  This place was fantastic!  One of my all time favorite hotels.  How often does one get to stay in a cave in such comfort?  Our hotel was located inside the Matera Sassi UNESCO World Heritage site.  Every room was carved out of rock, therefore each being unique and distinct. 


  Inside the cave dwellings, large families lived alongside their livestock and, even as late as the 1950s, without electricity, running water or sewage.  At that time the government forcibly relocated the inhabitants of the caves into modern housing in the ‘new town’ on top of the cliff.


Strolling around Sassi di Matera:  Today many of the cave dwelling homes have been renovated & people are living there. 


   Alberobello, Italy:  The trulli , limestone dwellings found in the southern region of Puglia, are remarkable examples of drywall (mortarless) construction, a prehistoric building technique still in use in this region. The trulli are made of roughly worked limestone boulders collected from fields. They feature pyramidal, domed or conical roofs built up of corbelled limestone slabs.


 Inside a “trulli”.



 Lecce, Italy:   Lecce is often nicknamed the Florence of the South because of its large amount of beautiful historical buildings and its location in the “Dog Leg” of Italy.  Lecce has a population of approximately 96,000.  Our hotel “Patra Palace,” located in the background of the first photo, was very nice and in a perfect location in the heart of town. 


Lecce Roman Theatre: (1st photo) Was built in the 2nd century AD, it was forgotten for a long time, covered by gardens and palaces and absorbed by the 18th century city, until it was rediscovered in 1929.

Lecce Roman Amphitheatre:  (2nd photo) This partially buried amphitheater was built around the 2nd century, it now hosts occasional plays & concerts.


It was St. Patrick’s Day.


 Otranto, Italy:  It’s located in the far eastern corner of Italy’s boot heel.  It was once a strategic port during Roman times.  The old historic center is on a low promontory overlooking the bay. It’s still enclosed within its fortification walls, preserving its ancient atmosphere.


  Otranto Cathedral:  The main historic attraction in Otranto is the large 12th century mosaics which are on the floor of the cathedral.  Religious and mythical figures can be seen in the mosaic, such as Noah’s ark.


Sicily Main Trip:  Having completed the pre-trip in the Puglia area, (a southern region forming the heel of Italy’s “boot,”) we traveled to by air to Palermo, Sicily.  The main trip began and we stayed in Palermo for 3 nights, Mazara 3 nights, Piazza Armerina 1 night, Ragusa 3 nights, and Catania 3 nights.  Sicily is an Italian island with 3,000 years of history, beautiful landscapes, and interesting culture.  This is Angelo, our awesome tour leader.  He made everyday an absolute joy!  Our time with him was full of fun experiences, marvelous story-telling, and fascinating learning & discoveries.  He’s one of the best!

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Below is a more detailed map of our Sicily trip. 

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Palermo, Italy:  Palermo is Sicily’s cultural, economic and tourism capital.  It has a large architectural heritage and is notable for its many Norman buildings.  Palermo greater metropolitan area numbers around 1.2 million people. 

Palermo Cathedral:  This Roman Catholic church was erected in 1185.  In its long history there has been an accumulation of many different architectural styles.  The silver alter dedicated to St. Rosalee weighs something like 10,000 pounds.


Strolling around Palermo.


Angelo enjoyed buying us samples of food at the outdoor market.


 Teatro Massimo:  The opera house of Palermo is the biggest in Italy, and one of the largest of Europe (the third after the Opera Houses in Paris & Vienna), it is renowned for its perfect acoustics.  Annie, Nancy & I purchased tickets & went to an opera performance of Fra Diavolo, in French.   A great evening in a beautiful setting.


Castelbuono, Sicily:   It is known for its castle from which its name derives, and around which the city developed in the 14th century. The cute little hilltop town has a population of less than 9,000.  Construction of the Castle began in 1316  and has mixes of Arab-Norman features.


Donkeys in Castelbuono:  In 2008, the mayor introduced a method of collecting the waste with the use of donkeys instead of trucks.  The old town consists of many narrow streets and steps meaning that it is impossible to pass through them in a motor vehicle. So the village resorted back to methods that were used in the olden days before motor vehicles existed.  This guy and his donkey goes on the garbage route all around town and puts the garbage in these handmade wooden box.  They stopped by the town square for the donkey to get a drink out of the city water fountain.


Really enjoyed being in this little town if Castelbuono.  From strolling the little streets, to sampling the local wine, to listening to the 90+ year old fellow play his accordion, to visiting with the locals and then having a delicious lunch. 



Cefalu, Sicily:  It’s a city in the Province of Palermo, located on the northern coast of Sicily, Italy on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The town has a population of just under 14,000. 

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 Monreale, Sicily:  It is a town in the province of Palermo.  Monreale forms its own archdiocese and is renowned for its Norman-Byzantine cathedral.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The cathedral of Monreale is one of the greatest  examples of Norman architecture anywhere.  It was begun in 1174 by William II.


  Doric Temple:  In the countryside an ancient Doric Temple still stands proudly.


Mazara del Vallo, Sicily:  It’s town with a population of approximately 52,000 people in southwestern Sicily, Italy.  Today Mazara is widely considered to be one of the most important fishing centers of Italy.  Mazara is among the Italian cities with the highest percentages of immigrants; it is estimated that the city hosts at least 3,500 registered immigrants, mainly from nearby Tunisia (only 60 miles away). They tend to live principally around the old Arab city center (the Casbah).


Monache Benedettine, Mazara:   Beside this church is a Benedictine Cloister.  The nuns are secluded.  Six nuns live there & a 90 year old nun has been there 60 plus years.  Since you can’t see them and they can’t see you Angelo is ordering us almond cookies through this window in the 2nd picture and receiving them through a turn table in the 3rd picture.


Church of San Francesco, Mazara:  It was built over a pre-existing church, in the 2nd half of the 11th century.  I think the inside of this little church is particularly beautiful. 


Mazara:  In order to clean up the little streets of the Kasbah the mayor offered 500 Euro for the best painting on the slide down doors.  The last one is the winner.


  Dancing Satyr, Mazara:  We saw the famous “Dancing Satyr” a mysterious bronze statue brought up by local fisherman in 1998.  It had rested on the ocean seabed for some 2,000 years.  It is dated to the period of the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC.  It was very interesting because OAT made arrangements for us to get a first hand account of the discovery of this ancient statue in the sea by visiting with one of the fisherman that found it.


View from my hotel room in Mazara & then trying to decide which gelato flavor to purchase.  We had so many gelato decisions to make, sometimes as often as daily.


Mothya Island, Sicily:  A boat ride to this small island where some 2,700 years ago, the Phoenicians built a settlement.  Everything stands as it was discovered.  The photo looking out to the sea (photo #2), they had built a road thru the water clear to the other shore.  You can see the road right beneath the surface yet today.


Angelo saves the day.  Ready to leave the island & the mosquitos & plastic is wrapped around the propeller.


Valley of Temples, Agrigento, Sicily:   Would you believe this Greek Temple was built between 510-430 before the time of Christ (B.C.).  I find it absolutely amazing!  Agrigento was once the Greek city of Akragas, one of the most culturally advance cities of the ancient world. 



The Girgentana:  While in the Valley of the Temples we saw these unique goats. They are a breed of domestic goats that are indigenous to the province of Agrigento.  There were in the past more than 30,000 head in the hills and coastal zone of the province.  Today, however, this breed is in danger of disappearance.


Scenery Along the Way:  The last photo shows one of many cactus farms.

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Agriturismo Vecchia Masseria, near Piazza Armerina, Sicily:   We are deep into the Sicilian hinterlands at a agriturismo (traditional farm house sanctioned for lodging by the Italian government.)  Featuring rustic Sicilian-style architecture.   Vecchia Masseria enjoys panoramic views of the countryside.  Our group agreed that we dinner here was the best of the trip, it was delicious. 


Villa Romana del Casale, Piazza, Sicily: This is supposed to have some of the finest examples of Roman mosaics in all Europe, with scenes ranging from Homeric escapades to depictions of daily life.  Constructed in the 4th century AD as a hunting lodge, the villa was covered by a landslide in the 12th century and rediscovered in the 20th century.  Amazing!  A UNESCO world heritage site.


Caltagirone, Sicily:  The main landmark of the city is the 142-step monumental “Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte,” built from 1608 in the old part of the town.  Then it was time for a little lunch.


Rugusa, Sicily:  It’s a city in southern Sicily with a population of about 73,000.  A jumble of homes & churches cling to the walls of the steep ravine that divides the upper & lower town.   As usual we stayed right in the heart of the old city so strolling around was delightful.


Nancy’s Birthday:  We celebrated Nancy’s happy birthday while in Ragusa.  This is a little yellow car I really wanted to buy her, but didn’t know how to ask the price in Italian.  LOL


Easter Processional:  Since Easter was approaching Nancy, Annie & I attended some of the Mass & later we got to see the Easter processional.


Modica, Sicily & Fiat 500:  It’s been a long time since I’ve had so much fun.  We all got to race thru the tiny, tiny back streets of Modica in tiny vintage Fiat 500’s.  The car held 3, plus the driver and not comfortably. Ha.  Nancy, Annie & I were first in line because we rode with the president of the Fiat club.  You just can’t imagine roaring through the streets in these little cars.  In places there had to have been only inches to spare on either side.  The last photo is us and our driver.  So much fun!


Our happy group of 15 travelers & our 6 Fiat drivers. 


Sicilian farm family:  OAT always does “A Day in the Life” so we spent the day with a Sicilian farm family.  It was a very nice experience.  My favorite thing was learning the workings & how-to of the wood-oven, oh yes, and eating the food we helped prepare.


After the preparation of the food it was time to relax in sunshine.  And yes, Annie still had a pulse!


Then it was time to eat.



Syracuse/Ortigia:  Ortigia is a small island which is the historical center of the city of Syracuse, Sicily.  It’s located in the southeast corner of the island of Sicily.  In ancient times it was one of the major powers of the Mediterranean world.  Today it has a population of about 125,000.  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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Temple of Apollo:  It is dated to the beginning of the 6th century B.C. and is therefore the most ancient Doric temple in Sicily.


The Cathedral in Syracuse:  In the 7th century the Cathedral was built over the Temple of Athena (5th century BC). This was a Doric temple with columns that still can be seen incorporated in the walls of the current church.




 Boat ride:  We went for a boat ride around the island of Ortigia.


 Catania, Sicily:  It’s the second largest city of Sicily after Palermo located on the east coast facing the Ionian Sea. The population of the city proper is about 320,000.


WWII Museum, Catania:  The first room is a reconstructed town square in a typical Sicilian village before WWII.  It was in this room that we saw the movie marquee with the movie star, Angelo Musco.  This Angelo was our tour leader, Angelo’s grandfather. 


 The museum is dedicated to the Allied landing in Sicily, the start of the Italian Campaign and the Sicilians’ experience of the War.   It is an extensive collection of memorabilia and pictures from the Allied Landing.   The last photo is service personnel killed during the campaign.


A fun visit to the local market & fish market.



Taormina Sicily:  A hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily. It sits near Mount Etna, an active volcano with trails leading to the summit. The tourist town is known for ancient Greco-­Roman theater which was built in the 3rd century B.C. and is still used today.


 Angelo treated Nancy, Annie & I to these wonderful drinks.


 Strolling around Taormina, then the ride back down on the funicular.


 Mount Etna, Sicily:   Mount Etna is the largest active volcano in Europe and one of the world’s most frequently erupting volcanoes.  We set off on 4-wheel drive vehicles with a local nature guide to explore the great mountain.  Then we went hiking.

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Mount Etna:  See the little puff of smoke on the top of the mountain in the first photo, and then how it blows to the side in the second photo?  It is in an almost constant state of eruption.  We saw three eruptions like this when we were hiking on the mountain. 


We hiked through lots of solidified rivers of lava.


Our journey on the mountain road.


Calabria Region of Italy:  The Sicily portion of the trip is over and eight us did the post-trip trip to the Calabria Region of Italy.  Calabria is located on the toe of the Italian peninsula.  We crossed from Sicily on the Strait of Messina by ferry boat and traveled overland to the Calabria region of Italy. 

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 Riace Warriors, Reggio Calabria, Italy:   The Riace bronzes also called the Riace Warriors, are two full-size Greek bronzes of naked bearded warriors, cast about 460–450 BC that were found in the sea near Riace in 1972. The bronzes are located at the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia in the southern Italian city of Reggio Calabria, Italy.


  Scilla, Italy:  We stopped for lunch in the lovely seaside town of Scilla.  I had mussels & ate one of Angelo’s snails.  It wasn’t that bad.  After lunch we strolled in the rain though the little town. 



 Goats:  Driving through the mountains on the back roads we encountered a shepherd & his goats, so we stopped and visited with him.



Villa Velia Countryhouse, Monterosso Calabro, Italy:  Located on the top of a mountain near Monterosso Calabro, Italy.  Really enjoyed this B&B. 


Easter Monday:  In Italy Easter Monday is a huge family day.  After touring a Monastery we went for a walk through the woods.  We came upon a picnic area & the merriment of all the families out for a picnic.  They were so friendly & willing to share their food. 


Monterosso Calabro, Italy:  We had dinner in this palace with the family members that live there & can trace their roots in Monterosso Calabro to the 16th century.  The palace is located at the very top of the little hilltop town that has a population of about 1,600. 


Chiesetta di Piedigrotta, Pizzo, Italy:  According to legend, during a storm in 1665 a ship from Naples was about to crash against the rocky cliffs below Pizzo.  The captain prayed for their safety.  When he and his men arrived safely on land, they placed a holy image inside a small chapel carved out of rock, right where they had miraculously reached the shore.  Two hundred years later, two artists from Pizzo carved dozens of magnificent religious subjects in the tuff stone, making it as we see it today. 


Tartufo in Pizzo Calabro:  Well, this is the best food of the entire trip.  Tartufo, is a dessert of ice cream filled with molton chocolate and is popular in this region.   Angelo arranged for us to watch the process of making this dessert and then treated us to this really, really tasty bit of goodness. 


Civita, Italy:  Civita became an enclave for Albanian refugees fleeing a 15th century Ottoman invasion, and it has retained its heritage ever since, with Italo-Albanians now recognized as a ethnic minority in Italy.  We were fortunate because there was a big festival of heritage happening in Civita when we were there. 


Fred, the smart aleck, and he didn’t even give us enough money to buy a gelato!


Borghi del Pollino B&B, Civita, Italy:  Stayed in this excellent B&B in the heart of Civita and it provided a beautiful view of the canyon.

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Monte Pollino:  We loaded into 4-wheel drive vehicles & headed up into the mountains of Monte Pollino & the national park.   Our first stop was The Groto Inferiore De Sant’Angelo.  Traces of human presence has been found in this cave since the middle Neolithic (4,000 years before the birth of Christ).


 Then we went hiking in the mountains.


 Santa Maria delle Armiof, Calabria:  This ancient sanctuary complex built into a mountainside is among the most valuable monumental complexes of medieval origin, of Calabria.


 Paestum, Italy:  It was a major ancient Greek city on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea in southern Italy. The ruins of Paestum are famous for their three ancient Doric temples, dating from about 600 to 450 BC, which are in a very good state of preservation.



Thank you Overseas Adventure Travel and Paolo and Angelo for another great trip.

“Life is what you make it”

Keep on traveling!


Posted May 15, 2018 by marilynfarmer in Travel

Christmas Markets Along the Rhine & New Years in Switzerland   2 comments

Christmas Markets Along the Rhine & New Years in Switzerland

Dec. 20, 2017 – Jan. 3, 2018

Amsterdam and Nijmegen, Netherlands; Cologne, Koblenz, Mainz, Speyer and Baden-Baden, Germany;  Strasbourg, Riquewihr and Kaysersberg, France; Basel and Luzern, Switzerland.


We booked “Christmas Markets Along the Rhine” along with the optional extension to Basel, Switzerland with Grand Circle Cruise Line.  The river cruise was ten nights & the post trip was three nights.  The best part of this whole Christmas time adventure was that our oldest son Eric was with me.  What a grand time it was!


The above map is copied from the Grand Circle Travel web site.  We enjoyed having Serge as our program director, he was very helpful & kept everything running smoothly.  We arrived in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and had the day to see the city, then sailed out that evening.  As shown on the map we made stops in Nijmegen, Netherlands;  Cologne, Koblenz, Mainz, Speyer, and Baden-Baden, Germany; Strasbourg, Riquewihr & Kaysersberg, France.  We did 854 total cruising miles and thoroughly enjoyed the M/S River Rhapsody & the crew.  Since this cruise included Christmas there were a lot of family units on the trip and that was very pleasurable.  Our last stop was Basel, Switzerland and that is where we stayed for our three night optional extension. 

  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.

 Amsterdam, Netherlands:  My favorite thing about Amsterdam is that the old center was formed by rings of canals lined with unique, mostly 17th century residences.  Because of lack of space, these houses were mostly narrow, and are are characterized by big narrow windows and decorative gable tops.


Red Light District:  Amsterdam prides itself on its wholly liberal and tolerant attitude, embracing the fact that people may be into prostitution, soft drugs and pornography.  Where you see red, that’s a red-light business.


 Dam Square:  The Dam is the very center and heart of the city, and is the center of Amsterdam attractions.


 Train Station:  Walking towards Amsterdam’s huge central train station.  We just walked through the station which was next to the river and our river boat was conveniently docked there. 


M/S River Rhapsody:  A photo of our ship as it was docked in Amsterdam.  This ship has a capacity of 140 passengers in 70 cabins, all with outside views. Ship amenities included an elevator, restaurant, bar and lounge, library, Sun Deck, fitness center, and sauna.  Our ship had an international crew of 34 and three English-speaking Program Directors. 


Nijmegen, Netherlands:  It is located on the Waal River which is just west of its confluence with the Rhine.  It is the oldest city in the Netherlands.  Nijmegen was the site of a battle during WWII and was destroyed except for the town center. 


Cologne, Germany:  It’s the 4th most populated city in Germany with over one million people.  Cologne was one of the most heavily bombed cities in Germany during World War II, the successful postwar rebuilding has resulted in a very mixed and unique cityscape.  While is Cologne we enjoyed a tour of the Cologne Cathedral & seeing the festive Christmas Markets around the city. 


Cologne Cathedral, World War II:  I copied this photo from a purchased post card to show the Cologne during WWII.  The cathedral suffered fourteen hits by aerial bombs during WWII and was badly damaged.  It nevertheless remained standing in an otherwise completely flattened city. The twin spires were an easily recognizable navigational landmark for Allied aircraft bombing.


Cologne Cathedral:  It is Germany’s most visited landmark, attracting an average of 20,000 people a day and currently the tallest twin-spired church at 515 ft. tall.  Construction of Cologne Cathedral began in 1248 and was halted in 1473, leaving it unfinished. Work restarted in the 19th century and was completed to where we see it today in 1880.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  


Christmas Market at the Cologne Cathedral:   It is the most impressive one in Cologne, due to the huge backdrop of the beautiful Cathedral.  One can shop and also enjoy original “Christmas Mulled Wine”, out of festively decorated Christmas mugs or you can choose from an unlimited choice of local delicacies.



Christmas Market on the Alter Markt:  It’s located within a few blocks of the Cathedral Market.  It is shadowed by beautiful narrow-gabled houses and half-timbered stalls, with a lot of good looking food calling to us.


The Alter Markt is were the famous “Heinzelmännchen” gnomes are said to be responsible for all this Christmas splendor.


The Neumarkt Christmas Market:  It is Cologne’s oldest Christmas Market, and is located on the “New Market” with the backdrop of St.Aposteln’s Church and Cologne’s main shopping area.  We were here at night and really enjoyed the ice skating, the merriment, eating and having “gluhwein” which is the Christmas mulled wine. 


Koblenz, Germany:  Koblenz is a 2,000 year old city that stands at the confluence of the Rhine & Mosel rivers.  It has a population of a little over 100,000, but that Sunday morning there was hardly anyone out and about. 


Christmas Eve, 2017:  Sailing on the M/S River Rhapsody from Koblenz to Mainz, Germany.


Mainz, Germany:  It’s a river port city on the Rhine and has a population of over 200,000.  It was very quite but it was Christmas Day.  Later in the afternoon we did notice people were out strolling and the coffee shops were packed. 


Gutenberg Museum, Mainz, Germany:  Mainz is best known for its most famous son, Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of movable type in 1439.  He created uniformly sized metal molds for letters that allowed him to create error-free repeatable text.  This is a photo of the museum & a replica of the Gutenberg press.  They opened special for us on Christmas Day.  We also saw one of the 47 extinct copies of the Latin Gutenberg Bible dating from 1540.  (no photos were allowed)


St. Martin’s Cathedral, Mainz:  We went to Christmas Mass at the this 1,000 year old Roman Catholic Cathedral.  Even though Eric & I aren’t Catholic it was beautiful to attend Christmas Mass there. 


Speyer, Germany:  Founded by the Romans, it is one of Germany’s oldest cities.  It is located beside the River Rhine and has a population of about 50,000.  The Christmas Market was still open and it made the town so pretty & festive.


Speyer Cathedral:   Work was begun in 1030, with the east end and high vault completed in 1090-1103.  Beneath the high altar, are the tombs of eight Holy Roman emperors & German kings.  The church is considered to be one of the most important architectural monuments of its time and one of the finest Romanesque monuments.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 


Technik Museum, Speyer, Germany:  We had a free day in Speyer so Eric & I visited this splendid technology museum in Speyer.  It is said to have well over 2,000 exhibits.  We really enjoyed it and Eric & I commented so many times how his Dad would have absolutely loved seeing all this stuff.


Technik Museum, Speyer:   I was excited to find the shoe cobbler exhibit.  My Daddy repaired shoes for people when I was a little girl, back at our “99 Station.”   In the display I found the antique treadle machine just like he used to stitch on soles to the shoes.  Several years ago I found one in Italy and the ole boy was sitting there using it & allowed me to take his photo.  He seemed to understand that my Dad used to use one just like his. 


How about one last gluhwein at the Christmas Market?


 The Black Forest, Germany:  This morning we docked at Plittersdorf, Germany and went by coach to Baden-Baden, France. It’s a spa town & located in the Black Forest of Germany.  Wow, we were in for a treat because it was snowing and was like driving through a winter wonderland. 


 Baden-Baden, Germany:  It lies in a valley of the Northern Black Forest in southwestern Germany.  This spa town has 29 natural springs in the area, varying in temperature from 115 to 153 °F.  


And….as usual we enjoyed strolling through the Christmas Market. 


Strasbourg, France:   It’s located close to the border with Germany in the historic region of Alsace, France.  Strasbourg is one of the de facto capitals of the European Union along with Brussels & Luxembourg.  It’s historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Our first order of business to go on a scenic boat tour.


Strasbourg Cathedral: Construction of the Roman Catholic Cathedral was from 1176–1439.  It was the world’s tallest building from 1647 to 1874.  The cathedral was hit by British and American bombs during air raids on Strasbourg’s center in August 1944 and repairs to the war damage were completed only in the early 1990s.  This church is unique because it has lots of beautiful old tapestries hanging in the main chapel.


Christmas Décor in Strasbourg:  So many of the buildings in the old town center were beautifully decorated.


 Strasbourg:  More unique buildings.


Riquewihr, France:  A beautiful village in France that looks much like it did in the 16th century.  It is a popular tourist attraction for its historical architecture, and is also known for the Riesling that is produced in the area.  It has a population of about 1,200 which is my kind of town. 


Kaysersberg, France:   It’s situated at the mouth of the Weiss Valley in the historical and cultural region of Alsace France.  The village has a population of approximately 2,700 and is truly picturesque.  It has the ruins of a castle sitting above the town, and many quaint Gothic and Renaissance burghers’ houses.  Albert Schweitzer was born in Kayersburg in 1875 & there is a museum in his honor. 


This is a picture is a plaque in the town square thanking our U.S. Army.  “The soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division of the U.S. army fought for the freeing from the Nazi yoke in Kaysersberg the 18th of December 1944.”


Our “Christmas Markets Along the Rhine” ended in Basel, Switzerland.  Eric & I did the post-extension of 3 nights in Basel so we disembarked the ship and our small group was taken to a hotel right in the heart of Basel.  While in Basel we celebrated New Years Eve.  On New Years Day we all took a train to Lucerne, Switzerland, then back to Basel to spend Jan. 2 before we all flew home on Jan. 3, 2018.

Basel, Switzerland:  Located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet.  With 175,000 inhabitants it’s Switzerland’s 3rd most populous city after Zurich & Geneva.  Everything is ridiculously expensive.  It was nice because we were given public transportation tickets for all three days of our post-trip.  A trolley stop was in front of our hotel & Eric & I rode most of the routes and really got a look at the city.  


Basel Minster:  It was built in Romanesque & Gothic styles with red sandstone and colored roof tiles between 1019 & 1500.  It was originally a Catholic cathedral and today a Reformed Protestant church.


Expensive in Basel:  Everything was ridiculously expensive.  Eric & I went into a McDonald’s just to compare prices.  Here’s the price of a Big Mac, it’s 11.70 Euro.  That would be $14.35 in US dollars.  Or at a restaurant next door a Black Burger & fries for 32.95 Euro, and that would be $40.35 in US dollars.  I just didn’t even like Basel because of the horrible prices.


Basel Marktplatz and colorful Town Hall:  Everything was pretty quite because it was New Years Eve day.


New Years Eve, Basel, Switzerland:  A delightful New Years Eve dinner at a charming restaurant in Basel.  Since we were in Switzerland it seemed only right that we should have fondue. 


Happy New Year 2018, in Basel, Switzerland:  All the church bells in Basel started ringing at Midnight.  At 12:30 was a huge fireworks display.  It was at the bridge about 2 blocks from our hotel.  Eric & I and a zillion other people were there in the intermittent rain. 


Train to Lucerne, Switzerland:  New Years day our group and & Basel tour leader, Herbert, boarded a train to Lucerne.  It was a pleasant one hour journey.


Lucerne, Switzerland:  Lucerne, the gateway to central Switzerland, is situated beside Lake Lucerne, and has an impressive mountainous panorama.  This German-speaking portion of the country has a population of about 81,000.  It is a beautiful city.

Lucerne is famous for Chapel Bridge.  It is a covered wooden footbridge spanning diagonally across the Reuss river.  The bridge is unique because it contains a number of interior paintings dating back to the 17th century.  Many of them were destroyed along with part of the centuries-old bridge in a 1993 fire. It’s been restored, and is considered the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe as well as the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge.


Lion of Lucerne:   It is a rock relief that was hewn in 1820-21 by Lukas Ahorn.  It commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris. 


Mountainous Panorama:  The view from Lucerne to Lake Lucerne & the surrounding mountains.  When in Lucerne one needs to have time to do excursions to the nearby mountains of Rigi, Pilatus and Stanserhorn.  Of course we did not have time since we were there one day. 


Strolling around Lucerne.


Jesuits Church In Lucerne:    Switzerland’s first large church in the Baroque style was built for the Jesuits on the left bank of the Reuss between 1666 and 1677. The interior was updated to the Rococo style in 1750, with an outstanding painted ceiling and ornate faux marble side altars.  To me, the inside of this church was the prettiest I had the pleasure of seeing on this trip.


 Time to eat:  I selected the Rathaus Restaurant because Jim & I had eaten there when we were in Lucerne in 2011.  Eric & I had German food & it was pretty tasty.  After that it was time to meet-up and catch the train back to Basel.


 Basel, Switzerland:  Riding around in the trolley.


 Zoo Basel:  Our trolley ride brought us right by the zoo so we got off and toured it.  Zoo Basel is Switzerland’s oldest (1874) and largest zoo (by number of animals). It over 1.8 million visitors per year, it is the most visited tourist attraction in Switzerland with an entrance fee. 


 Pizza in Basel:  Complaining one more time about how expensive Basel is.  Would you pay the equivalent of $65 for these pizzas and two Cokes?  Well, we did.  We were hungry, hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was getting dark.  Shouldn’t complain, need to remember that on the cruise all meals were included and they were delicious. 


Loved being in Europe and doing the Christmas Markets trip with our oldest son!

“Live is what you make it.”

Keep on traveling!


Posted February 10, 2018 by marilynfarmer in Travel

Voyage to Istria: Italy, Croatia & Slovenia   4 comments

Voyage to Istria:  Italy, Croatia & Slovenia

Nov. 13 – Dec. 5, 2017

Ravenna, San Marino, Comacchio, Padua, Vicenza, Praglia, Venice, Torcello and Burano Italy; Piran, Slovenia; Pula and Rovinj, Croatia; Monfalcone, Aquileia, Duino, Trieste, Bassano del Grappa, Marostica, Verona, Sirmione, Bergamo, Como and Bellagio, Italy.


I booked “Crossroads of Istria:  Italy, Croatia & Slovenia”  along with the pre & post trips in Italy with Overseas Adventure Travel.  This twenty-two day adventure was my 41st trip with this company, and by going to the Republic of San Marino it’s the 77th country I’ve visited.  Jim & I loved to travel and I still love to travel.  OAT is very solo travel friendly, and makes it possible to book solo hotel rooms & ship cabins without paying an extra supplement.  In my first trip out after Jim’s death I met a great travel friend & this is our 3rd trip together as we take advantage of OAT’s “traveling solo” plan.  This is my friend Nancy in the second photo above.


 The above map of our itinerary is copied from the Overseas Adventure Travel web-site.  Alessandro was our awesome program director and he was a absolute joy.  He was like meeting up with an old friend that loved showing you his country.  First we did the pre-trip by flying into Bologna, staying in Ravenna for 2 nights, staying in Padua for 3 nights, then traveling to Venice.  Next the main trip began and we stayed in Venice for 3 nights, embarked on the 50 passenger small-ship The Arethusa and sailed from Venice to Piran, Slovenia; Pula, Croatia; Rovinj, Croatia; Monfalcone Italy; Trieste Italy; and back to Venice.  To begin the post-trip we drove to Verona Italy & stayed 3 nights, then to Como on Lake Como and stayed 2 nights.  Loved the itinerary!

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.

Flight to Bologna:   I was supposed to arrive at 11:30 am, but due to my delayed flight out of Kansas City & being re-routed I arrived about 7 pm that evening without luggage.  It was 4 days & 4 nights without my luggage.  As usual I packed my little carry-on with my toiletries, make-up, essentials & a change of clothing.  All was well & my only decision each morning was which of two scarves should I wear with my sweater.  My travel company, OAT, monitors flights so they had someone at the airport in Bologna to pick me up and drive me to Ravenna. Thanks to Alessandro for staying in contact with American Airlines so I finally got my luggage.

Ravenna, Italy:    Ravenna was the first stop on our pre-trip.  It was the capital city of the Western Roman Empire from 402 until that empire collapsed in 476, and it was a major city of the Byzantine era. 


Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna: The Basilica is Ravenna’s most visited site.  It was built in 525, and was allegedly the model for the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.  It is full of glittering mosaics and Baroque frescoes, with domes descending into columns and windows maximizing the sparkle of the elaborate mosaics.  The church is almost 1500 years old and one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art & architecture in Europe.  The mosaics in the church were beautiful.  It’s a UNESCO world heritage site. 


Opera House, Ravenna:  Alessandro arranged for us a special tour of the opera house in Ravenna.  It was inaugurated in 1852.  The opera house guide told us fun stories, like what used to happen in the private compartments. 


The Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna:  It was erected in the 6th century and named for Ravenna’s first bishop.  It is famed for its two side walls full of figurative mosaics dating from 500 & 560 AD.  The Basilica is a UNESCO world heritage site. 



Republic of San Marino:  So this is the 77th country I have had the privilege to visit.  San Marino is an independent republic enclosed within Italy.  Of Earth’s 196 independent countries, San Marino is the fifth smallest.  It is secure in its status as the world’s oldest surviving sovereign state and its oldest republic (since AD 301).  San Marino is 24 sq. miles, with a population of 33,562.  My goodness, the day we visited this mountain top country it was very cold & windy.  It is a UNESCO world heritage site.


Comacchio, Italy:  It’s a fascinating community of 13 tiny islands laced together with bridges.  Life in the wetlands means making a living from the sea, and we learned that eel fishing is very important in the little town.    


Comacchio Lagoons:  Just outside the town are the Comacchio Lagoons.  After lunch we did a lagoon boat ride.  We saw lots of pink flamingos & also visited where ell fishermen used to live back-in-the-day. 



  Padua, Italy:  A medieval city in northern Italy, located only 25 miles from Venice.  It’s home to Italy’s second oldest university (1222), where Galileo Galilei was a lecturer. It was also the hotspot for WWII secret Italian Resistance & the setting for Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.  Perhaps the most thrilling thing for me about Padua was that my lost luggage was finally delivered to me!


 Vicenza, Italy:  Vicenza is located in Northern Italy in the Veneto region about 37 miles from Venice.  It is quite an ancient city and it was once a part of the Roman Empire.  It is best known for its collection of elegant buildings by the greatest architect of the Venetian Republic, Andrea Palladio.  It is a UNESCO world heritage site. 

Teatro Olimpico, Vicenza: I was impressed with the world’s first covered theatre, which was opened in 1585 and still in use today.  The sitting arrangement for the audience was in a very compact half circle and was noted for its unique use of perspective in order to give an impression of a deep stage.  It was the final design by the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio and was not completed until after his death.


 Piazza del Signori, Vicenza:  In the center of Vicenza is this beautiful piazza surrounded by architectural masterpieces of Andrea Palladio. 


Praglia Benedictine Abbey:  The Abbey located not far from Vicenza was founded in 1080 & grew to such importance that it became a National Library & repository for masterworks by artists of the Italian Renaissance.  It fell into disrepair, but both its books & artworks survived, and the monastery was restored. 


  Ca ’Marcello Villa:  On our drive from Padua to Venice we stopped at this Villa.  It is a splendid example of a Palladian style Venetian villa and it is still lived in and maintained by the Marcello noble Venetian family.  We had a very interesting visit with the Count.  The villa was built in the first half of 1500.  It was then enlarged, furnished and finely decorated in 1700 with frescoes, stucco paintings and precious furnishings.  It also has a 22-acre garden.  The villa had a lovely frescoed ballroom, but no photos were allowed inside.    We also had a delicious lunch with the Count. (P.S.: I’ve noticed that one can book a room or event on


 Venice, Italy:  What’s not to love about Venice? It is situated across a group of 118 small islands that are separated by canals and linked by 400 bridges.  It was a major financial and maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and a staging area for the Crusades.  Venice was a very important center of commerce (especially silk, grain, and spice) and art in the 13th century up to the end of the 17th century.  And now it’s like no other place you’ve ever been.  I love Venice!

St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco):  This is the one of the most famous squares in Italy. Looking towards St. Marks Basilica, Doge’s Palace and the campanile.


Doge’s Palace:  It is a palace built in Venetian Gothic style, and one of the main landmarks of the city of Venice. The palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Republic of Venice. 



 Canals of Venice:  My favorite thing to do in Venice is to just stroll & see the sights of Venice along the canals.


 Island of Torcello, Italy:  After the downfall of the Western Roman Empire, Torcello was one of the first lagoon islands to be successively populated by those Veneti who fled the mainland to take shelter from the recurring barbarian invasions in about the year 452.


Burano, Italy:  We were greeted by the site of vividly painted houses lining the canal off the lagoon.  This fishing village is also renowned for its delicate lacework, a skill local artisans have done since the 16th century. 


 M/V Arethusa:  We boarded the M/V Arethusa in Venice.  The ship is owned, operated, and staffed by Grand Circle Cruise Line.  This ship was designed for two small groups of just 25 travelers, each with its own Program Director.  The ship was a fantastic experience.


Cruising away from Venice & beginning our cruise adventure that would take us to Piran, Slovenia; Pula, Croatia; Rovinj, Croatia; Monfalcone, Italy; Trieste, Italy; & back to Venice, Italy.  We cruised a total of 315 miles.  Fun times.


A photo of the cruising route along with our group of travelers on the M/V Arethusa. 



Piran, Slovenia:   We docked at Koper, Slovenia & drove about 10 miles east along the coast to Piran.  Piran is known for its medieval architecture, art galleries & its love of classical music.  It’s cultural patron saint is Baroque violinist & composer Giuseppe.  We were entertained by a violinist playing a selection from Tartini. 


Pula, Croatia:  It’s located on the southern tip of the Istrian Peninsula.  It was a popular destination in ancient times and today for its known for its impressive Roman ruins. This massive structure (called the Arena by the locals) is the sixth largest amphitheatre in the world with space for 22,000 spectators.  The subterranean caverns were used to keep wild animals and the Christians they were about to tear apart.


 Temple of Augustus, Pula:  This is the only visible remnant from the Roman era on the Forum.  The Forum was Pula’s central meeting place from antiquity through the Middle Ages. It used to contain temples and public buildings, but today this temple, erected from 2 BC to AD 14, is the showcase. When the Romans left, it became a church and then a grain warehouse.


 Triumphal Arch of Sergius, Pula:  It was built in 27 BC to commemorate the Sergius family who were a powerful clan at the time. Now it forms an impressive entranceway to Pula’s old town.


  Saturday Market, Pula:  The Saturday morning open market in Pula.  In several towns I saw death notices posted on downtown windows or billboards.  And…it’s never too cool to sit outside & drink coffee.  


 Our ship was always docked in a prime & scenic location.


A fun evening on the ship with local Croatian entertainment. 


 Rovinj, Croatia:  It used to be an island but was filled in to create a united mainland city.  Rovinj was part of the Venetian empire from the 13th to 18th centuries.  Today it is one of the most visited locales in Croatia. 


Our ship the M/V Arethusa quietly waits for us.


Aquileia, Italy, 2nd century AD:  Today, the city is small (about 3,500), but it was large & prominent in Antiquity as one of the world’s largest cities with a population of 100,000 in the 2nd century AD.  The site of Aquileia is believed to be the largest Roman city yet to be excavated.  The photo on the right shows what they think this area looked like in Roman times.  It is a UNESCO world heritage site. 


Aquileia, Italy:  The Cathedral was built in 1031 on the site of an earlier church, and rebuilt about 1379 in the Gothic style.  Inside the church we saw floor mosaics, depicting scenes from the Old Testament and dating from the 4th century. 


Duino Castle: A pleasant surprise when our tour directors arranged for us to go to Duino Castle even though it wasn’t in the itinerary.  This 14th century fortification is located in Duino, near Trieste, Italy, on the cliffs overlooking the Gulf of Trieste.  In the 17th century the castle went to the Von Thurn & Taxis family whose descendants still own & reside in the castle.  The castle has been opened to the public as a museum and park.  I LOVE visiting castles!


There are actually two castles at this site, both built on rocky spurs of the Kars mountain range, jutting out into the Gulf of Trieste. The northern one is the forerunner of the other. Named ‘the Old Castle’ it dates back to the 11th century.  It sits in ruins and no visitors are allowed. 



Trieste, Italy:  Trieste is situated towards the end of a narrow strip of Italian territory lying between the Adriatic Sea & surrounded by Slovenia & with Croatia about 19 miles to the south. Trieste was one of the oldest parts of the Habsburg Monarchy, belonging to it from 1382 until 1918. As a prosperous seaport in the Mediterranean region, Trieste became the fourth largest city of the Austo-Hungarian Empire, (after Vienna, Budapest & Prague). Today Trieste province is one of the richest in Italy, has a population of 205,000, and it is a center for shipping.


 With a mix of Neoclassical & Baroque architecture Trieste reminds me of Vienna Austria.


Trieste Cathedral:  Among the works of historical interest in the cathedral are the mosaics depicting Our Lady of the Assumption, from the 12th-13th centuries.


 Risiere de San Sabba, Trieste:  It was a former rice-processing factory that the Nazis turned into a concentration camp & detainment center during WWII.  Here, as many as 3,000 prisoners were killed, while tens of thousands of Jews were processed for transfer to Auschwitz.  A horrible part of history we must never forget.


Collio Wine Region, Italy:  We visited a winery and had a delicious lunch with the owners of the estate.  So….have you ever wrapped home-made bread around a ham & baked it?  It was really delicious.


We bid farewell to our ship the M/V Arethusa and the wonderful crew and headed by coach to Bassano del Grappa, Verona, Sirmiona, Bergamo, Bellagio and Como Italy. 


Our happy little group of 8 post-trip travelers.


 Bassano del Grappa:  It’s a northern Italy city named for this region’s’ famous after-dinner drink, Grappa.  The town is in the foot-hills of the Alps and has a population of about 40,000.  We enjoyed strolling through the town. 


Ponte Vecchio:  The principle landmark of the town is the Ponte Vecchio (‘Old Bridge’).  This covered wooden bridge was built in 1569 and has stunning views of the Alps.


Really enjoyed this restaurant and since we were in Bassano del Grappa, it was time for Grappa.



  Marostica, Italy:   We stopped in this neat little town, because Alessandro thought we’d enjoy seeing it.  Marostica is surrounded by the ancient walls of its castles.   The town is famous for its human chess game.  Every September of an even numbered year, this human chess game is played on the square of Marostica. It occurs every second Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  The story of the Chess Game dates back to 1454 when Marostica belonged to the Venetian Republic.


 Verona, Italy:  Verona is well known as the setting for three of  Shakespeare’s plays. It was once one of the most powerful cities during the early rule of the Roman Empire.  The old city of Verona today contains one of the best-preserved old districts in the country. The old district is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Verona, Italy:  I really liked Verona & I’m sure one reason was that our hotel, The Hotel Accademia was located smack-dab in the heart of the old city. 


 Roman Arena, Verona:   The 1st-century Roman Theater is Italy’s third largest Roman arena.  In ancient times, nearly 30,000 people was the housing capacity of the Arena. Today, the Roman arena is a top venue for summer music festivals in Italy.




 Fascinating Piazza’s of Verona.


  Loving the the unique streets and Christmas & window décor of Verona.


 Ladies & fur coasts of Verona.


 The Christmas Markets in Verona.


Sirmione, Italy:  It’s one of the most popular holiday resorts on the shores of Lake Garda in northern Italy. The small historic town is located on the tip of a long peninsula protruding from the southern shore of the lake.  Sirmione is dominated by a thirteenth-century castle, the Rocca ScaligeraBy the way, I have a rule that if I’m in Italy I must have bruschetta so I was delighted to have the opportunity to order it at this little pizzeria.  I can’t even remember what the soup was because I was so thrilled with the bruschetta.  This little side trip & getting there on a public bus was another of the extra “fun things” that Alessandro arranged and did with us. 


Bergamo, Italy:  The city of Bergamo is composed of two parts, the lower town & the ancient hilltop upper town.  We visited the upper town which is a tangle of tiny medieval streets, enclosed by its strong walls built by the Venetians (UNESCO world heritage site) in the 16th Century. It has many well-preserved palaces, churches and public squares.


Group picture time because we thought these were cute Christmas trees.  I went into this little shop & bought my three girls each a pair of handmade earrings. 


Church of Santa Maria Maggiore:  It was begun in 1137 as a Romanesque basilica & still proudly stands today.  It really was beautiful inside.  I was fortunate to hear the fantastic pipe organ (photo #5).


  Cathedral of Saint Alessandro:  Located in the same little piazza and practically next to the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore is this Cathedral.  It is a Roman Catholic Cathedral dedicated to Saint Alessandro of Begamo, patron saint of the city.  It was built in 1459, with a Neoclassical facade and then dome was added in 1889.


 Como, Italy:  Lake Como is in the foothills of the Alps in northern Italy.  Como is a city located on the lake’s southwestern tip of the picturesque shores of Lake Como.  We were definitely in for a treat because the evening we arrived Como was having a huge Christmas light show. 


 Have you ever seen a Lamborghini police car?  Now you have.


 The Christmas Market in Como, Italy.


Ferry Boat Ride:  We enjoyed the scenic landscapes, mountains & pretty little villages that stretched along the shore as we headed towards Bellagio.


Bellagio, Italy:   It is a small village at the tip of a long hilly promontory between the two southern branches of Lake Como. It is an elegant and long-established tourist resort, and only has a population of around 200 (compared to 900 beds for tourists).


Thank you Overseas Adventure Travel and Alessandro for another great trip.

“Life is what you make it.” 

Keep on traveling!

Posted January 24, 2018 by marilynfarmer in Travel

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. 


 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 & by being in Macedonia I had the privilege of visiting my 76th country.  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.


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. 


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.


 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. 


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


 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.   


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.)


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


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!


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.


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. 


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


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


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.


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.


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!


 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. 


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. 


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. 


 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. 


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.


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.



Countryside (Zagoria Region):  Enjoying the pretty ride.


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


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


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.


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


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


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. 



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


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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


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.


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


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


Drove by a large Gypsy area. 


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. 


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.


A little shopping.


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


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


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. 


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. 


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. 


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


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.


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


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.” 


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



Driving from Berat to Tirana, Albania. 


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.  


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.


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.


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.


 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.


 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.



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. 


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


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.


An archaeological dig site.


Looking all around.


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. 


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.


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. 


 Beautiful sunset.


 Another wedding.


 Walking back to the hotel along the lovely promenade. 


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.


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


 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.


Views near our hotel in the heart of the city.


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


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


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



Farewell Dinner:  It was a great trip!


  Life is not measured by the breaths we take,

but by the moments that take our breath away.


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.


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?


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. 


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.


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.


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


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. 



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


 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. 


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.


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.


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!


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.


 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


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. 


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. 


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.


On the ferry & leaving Put-in Bay Island.


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.


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



 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!


 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. 


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.


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.


(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.


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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.


  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!


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.


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


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


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.


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


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!


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.


Preparation for the next Processional in Braga.


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



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


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. 


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.


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


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


 The fishermen coming in with the catch of the day.


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!


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



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.


 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.



 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.


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.


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


 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 …!



 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.


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.   


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. 


 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. 


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.


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. 


 A nice restaurant in Bilbao where our group ate. 


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.


A stroll through the old town of Bilbao.


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.)


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. 


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



 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.


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



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.


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. 


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. 


 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)?


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. 


 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. 


This is the route as pilgrims enter Pamplona, Spain. 


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?


  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.


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?



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.


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. 


We departed Burgos & drove to Leon, Spain.


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.


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


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.


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. 


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.


 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. 


  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. 


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


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. 


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!


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


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. 


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!



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


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. 


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.


   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. 


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. 


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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


 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.


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


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


And then… 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. 


Keep on traveling!

Posted May 26, 2017 by marilynfarmer in Travel