London

So it was up at the crack of dawn the next morning to do our 3 hour drive back to Venice. It was rainy and cold and there was nearly no one on the road.

I was a touch anxious about returning the rental car because we had gotten our requisite European Dent. Plus, the daily rate was so low I was certain it was a mistake.

But the return went off without a hitch! The flight to London was another story.

We waited and waited at the gate, when there was a bit of ruckus beside us. One man called another man a wanker. Then man accused of wankerdom turned out to be Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. We witnessed an almost altercation and ended up chatting with the band and their roadies until the plane was boarded and we took off.

Our trips to London are a good excuse to stay in our favorite neighborhood, South Ken, at our favorite hotel, The Ampersand, and eat a luxurious meal (like we needed one more on this trip!). I really wanted to eat at The Five Fields, but of course they were closed the one day we would be in London. So we chose Kitchen W8. It was so delicious!

It was so hard to head home after such an amazing trip.

Skyrace

After a simply luxurious brunch at the hotel, we hit the road for our 3 hour drive to Canazei, where John was about to bravely run the Dolomites Skyrace. As we were driving up and down the numbered switchbacks, I just couldn’t help thinking how glad I was that I was too lazy to train for the race so that I didn’t have to do it! I have never seen such hills as these! I didn’t even like driving them much less running them!

But the views were stellar. We rolled into town, picked up John’s packet, and then grabbed some delicious pasta. Our stay at La Cacciatore was worth it just for the unbelievable dinner. We spent most of the afternoon resting, then headed into town for the “race orientation,” which did not do much to ease John’s anxiety!

Then next morning we got up early–too early for breakfast–but they arranged a snack and some coffee. Based on our dinner the night before, I sure wish we would have been able to eat the proper breakfast that came with the room. But no matter. We were headed out and saw someone who looked like he was going to race too. We asked if he wanted a ride and he said sure. Xavi is from Spain and we had a nice chat while heading to the start of the race. He and John talked strategy. It was nice to commiserate!

Watching the line-up was interesting. Everyone was SO FIT. We were looking forward to seeing Kilian Jornet and his girlfriend Emelie Forsberg. There they were! Lined up right in front. The air was electric with excitement, and we could hear the helicopter overhead. Finally the gun sounded and the racers were off. My strategy was to follow the race course as far as I felt like it. I could not even run a step it was so steep. But the hiking was beautiful. I hoofed up 3 miles before I turned around and ran back down. I got a good view of the course peak and man was I glad I didn’t have to go up there!

Waiting for the finishers was worrisome. I have waited for John at the end of lots of races, but this one was not like any other race. I was so afraid he was going to fall and break his head. I waited for an hour at the finish, and I saw people trip, fall, cramp, and cry like babies. Finally John came across the line! I was so relieved! He was okay! Tired, cramping, and a little delirious. But okay! We headed back to the hotel, found some juice, and rested. Then had one more delicious meal at the hotel before sleep.

Lienz, Austria

After a ljovely day in Ljubljana (that joke never gets old) we hit the road for a “day of two hikes.” How exciting! Our first stop, Lake Bled. This hike was recommended to me by one of my favorite students ever (am I allowed to say that? I’ve been teaching 22 years. I do have favorites!) We had thought about running the 3 mile route around the lake, but I was carrying the Nikon so we decided to stroll instead. And I’m glad we did. So many views to take in, and each one more beautiful than the next! We loved our walk, and we also loved the Lake Bled cake we ate before leaving town.

We had an easy driving day. Only an hour and a half to get to our hotel in Lienz, Austria. So on the way there we stopped in the town of Flattach to hike the Raggaschlucht. The good folks at our Austrian hotel had recommended this little stop, otherwise we would have missed it and blown right into town. I’ve never seen anything like Raggaschlucht. We had such a wonderful time climbing up the narrow gorge, listening to the water rush through, and taking pictures of the beautiful landscape. I’m so glad I found out about this place because it’s easy to whiz by while looking at the rest of the landscape. Please don’t miss this hike. So beautiful.

With just a little bit of drive left, we headed on to Grand Hotel Lienz. This would be a bit of a rest, since there’s not much to do in this town and our goal was really to enjoy the luxury of this hotel on the river. And boy did we enjoy it. John immediately had a much-needed nap while I explored the spa, swam in the pool, and sunned by the river. If you happen to be in this part of Austria, don’t miss this luxurious place!

Ljubljana, Slovenia

We were in for a treat today. First, July 17th was my Daddy’s birthday so I vowed to make it a great day in his honor. Second, we were going to meet Jessica, a student in my ASU Online Travel Writing class in Summer A. I was really excited!

The day started out perfectly. We woke up and had a really delicious breakfast at the hotel with the best coffee of the entire trip. I wanted 30 cups. Then we did a farmer’s market tour and bought All. The. Cherries. I know some of you have witnessed this. Me V. Cherries. The cherries never win.

Our drive to Ljubljana was short and so reasonable. Slovenia, compared to Montenegro, Bosnia, and Croatia, seemed immediately affluent. I could almost sense the Euros sorting their way down from the Austrian border.

Entering the town proper of Ljubljana (and okay, it’s pronounced lyoo-BLYAH-nah) was a little like rolling in to Boise Idaho or Anchorage Alaska. As of 2011, 272,220 people lived in the capitol of Slovenia and the downtown was so small you’d miss it if you sneezed. It was perfect and quaint and walkable and I wanted to stay.

John and I checked in to Lesar Hotel Angel, where Jovan was an absolute dream. He led us to our beautiful upgraded room and then left us to tour the grounds and have a snack. We did, and then John was itching to hit the cobbled streets. We had a nice walk about before it was time to meet Jessica. When she was my student, I was so impressed with Jessica’s beautiful and thoughtful writing. When the session started she was in Italy and as it progressed she moved to Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro! I emailed and told her I was headed her way, and she told me she would be spending the month of July in Slovenia. I asked if we could meet and she said yes! She was staying just outside Ljubljana with a family she found at workaway.info, a site that offers room and board in exchange for small jobs. Jessica would be helping the family’s two kids with their English skills while spending a month in their home.

We went to a delicious restaurant, Julija, and Jessica was a little late so John and I ordered lunch. When she arrived, Jessica and I caught up, then the three of us toured the castle together. It was such a treat to spend time with her!

When Jessica needed to get home, John and I walked to the Metelkova area, and I’m glad we went in the daylight. It’s a little like Christiana in Denmark–lots of “artists” (druggies?) hanging around waiting for nighttime. I was ready to hit the road. On the walk back to the hotel we wandered into a proper art gallery and saw some beautiful work by some local Slovenian artists. I found a painting I loved, and we were on our way back to the hotel.

Dinner was at Valvasor, and we had a delicious meal.

Zagreb, Croatia

Raspberries

We woke in Zadar early enough that we could grab the car, roll the bags out of the walled city, and hit the road for Plitvice. Today would be a long one:  four hours in the car, enough time to explore Plitvice National Park, and checking in to our hotel and exploring Zagreb before dark. Breakfast at the hotel was nice, though I was seated near the kitchen and could hear a baby crying the whole time–seemed odd to have a baby in the kitchen. John asked for “Orange Juice” and the gal brought him “Olive Oil.” She was so embarrassed until we managed to communicate how impressed we were with the English she had.

The road to Plitvice was beautiful. It reminded me a bit of the Mogollon Rim. I was reading from the guide book about the best way to tour the falls, and we quickly parked the car and ran down to catch a shuttle to the top. We arrived just as a tram was leaving, so we ended up wasting 20 minutes waiting for the next one to leave. Once we were dropped off, we followed the raised wooden pathways. The park includes a series of 16 lakes that cascade down an area of 8 km and are separated by natural dams of travertine (the same material that gives Havasupai Falls its brilliant shade). The stunning pools looked so inviting that we would have loved to take a dip, but this is a UNESCO World Heritage site so no swimming allowed.

We spent about 3 hours touring the falls then found out we were hungry! So we stopped at a roadside hotel/restaurant called Restoran Degenija where we had a filling meal and prepared for our drive into Zagreb.

Once in Zagreb, we found our hotel, Hotel President Pantovcak, which I had really been looking forward to since it looked so pretty online and was highly rated on TripAdvisor. The staff was so friendly and our room was super nice. We enjoyed a welcome drink on the house, then walked down into Zagreb old town to see what was going on. It is really a beautiful city. It reminded me of Prague with its narrow curving streets and street car tracks. One thing I noticed was that all of the women were so smartly dressed with great shoes, purses, and “outfits.” But the men. Oh boy. Let’s just say they clearly are not trying. Lots of T-shirts and cargo shorts and flip flops. John and I had so much fun at a cafe watching the couples go by.

For dinner, we wanted to try Trilogija but we didn’t have reservations. Lucky for us we were early enough to get a table. What a fun dinner! We were feeling indecisive so we let the waiter bring us whatever he liked. It was a yummy meal.

We were tired, but made sure to stop at the Museum of Broken Relationships. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect, and were pleasantly surprised by the exhibits: art and narratives describing how relationships ended. I was especially moved by the “Parents” room, where people described losing their parents to suicide or death.

Okay. That’s about a day. We were done. Se we wandered back up the hill to the hotel and fell fast asleep.