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Warsaw

A Phoenix rising from the ashes.

sunny 83 °F

As I landed in Warsaw, I wondered what type of city I'd find. I knew it had been heavily bombed during WWII and was pretty much leveled. However, they still have an Old Town. How? They rebuilt!

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Castle Square

After seeing Krakow's old town - which had been spared from the bombings, I wasn't sure what I'd find in Warsaw. They've done an amazing job of building back using historical records and photographs to recreate as much as they could. Wandering around, you can barely tell it's not all original. Of course, there's much of Warsaw that couldn't be rebuilt exactly. However, they have not lost their roots.

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Field Cathedral of the Polish Army

I had a long list of places to see in Warsaw so I hit the ground running as soon as I checked into my hotel in the Old Town. There were old squares, churches and city walls to see! The Old Town and New Town are divided by the old city walls - some of it still standing. However, that's the only way you can tell the difference. They both date to approximately the same time period.

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Barbican and the old city walls

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Nuns of the Holy Sacrament Church in New Town

The next day I put my Fitbit to the test. I was unable to decipher the public transit map so I put my feet to work. There were several museums, monuments and churches I wanted to see as well as remnants of the former Jewish Ghetto.

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Monument to the Warsaw Uprising

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Segment of original building with shrapnel and bullet scars

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Palace of Culture and Science - a nice viewing terrace in the tower

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One of the few remaining sections of the Ghetto wall

I definitely learned more about Warsaw before, during and after WWII. At the Warsaw Uprising Museum there were some very interesting displays. One of the most touching was a short film showing a simulated 3D "fly over" of Warsaw after the war. How the residents of that city had the heart to start over again is amazing. There were so few buildings left standing. It's not like a block here and there was destroyed...the entire city was decimated.

I did intersperse some beauty during my day of museums and monuments. Not far from the Old Town is Saxon Park. There once was a palace here but it was destroyed. The remaining gardens are a peaceful respite in the middle of a busy city.

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Saxon Garden

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers - in Saxon Park

For my last day in Warsaw, and for this trip, I decided to take it a little easier. I only had a short list of places to see and several were in the same place - Lazienki Park. On the southern edge of Warsaw, it's a sprawling park with palaces and beautiful landscapes. I could have spent a full day here just wandering and recharging. It was the perfect antidote to all of the sorrow I had seen in the previous days.

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The Orangery in Lazienki Park

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Palace on the Island

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Ballroom in Palace on the Island - the summer palace

It may seem odd, but I had kept the site closest to my hotel for last. The Royal Castle was, quite literally, 15 feet from the front door of my hotel. The castle had been destroyed during the war. However, most of the furnishings had been hidden away just as the war started. They have faithfully rebuilt the castle as it was in the 17th century. It was truly a beautiful site to see.

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Throne room in the Royal Castle

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Ballroom in the Royal Castle

So here I am, on my way home. It's been a whirlwind two weeks. I came here to 'see the sites'. What I've seen is beauty, pain and hope. I think I'll treasure hope the most.

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Rainbow on Castle Square

Posted by Jengt 17:24 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Ahhhh, Venice!

I've fallen in love all over again!

Finally! I'm in Italy!

When Mike & I were deciding on a destination for Spring break, we kept running into airfare in the $1400-$1500 range and I was starting to get discouraged. We were focusing on European countries that Mike hasn't been to yet. That list is getting very small! Croatia was on the short list but it was looking doubtful with fares so high. After a while, Mike hit on checking flights out of Toronto. Boom! Cut in half. (We can drive to Toronto.) Then he checked flying into Venice instead of Dubrovnik or Split (we can rent a car and drive there from Venice). Down even more! Things were looking up. So, it may seem to be a roundabout way of getting here, but at least I made it!

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On the Grand Canal

Of course, it makes for a REALLY long travel day. But I don't care. I made it. I'm in Venice!

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We got in at the perfect time. Late afternoon as the sun turned all the stone a beautiful cream yellow. Amazing! After checking into our hotel, we decided to walk around and check a few sightseeing items off my list.

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The crowd at the Rialto Bridge

Let me just say it now, I AM IN LOVE WITH VENICE! Everywhere you turn, there's a picturesque little canal or alleyway. Venice is everything you hear about and see int the magazinesa5db46b253a894d78bdf58a367d4ad35.jpg. We walked to the Rialto bridge (which is under construction so, no photos) and then over to St. Mark's Square to get a lay of the land. By this time, it's getting late and it's been a very long day.

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St. Mark's and the Campanile

Sunday morning (Easter morning) we grabbed our cameras and headed out for the Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Basilica. As we walked out, there was a light fog giving everything an ethereal tone. We decided to take a different route to see more of the side canals. Each turn brought another picture postcard view. I know we have a limited time here but I want to wander each and every street, soaking in the ambiance and carving every minute into my memory.

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The day sped past as we wandered around the Doge's palace and St. Mark's Basilica. Looking for that perfect photo spot on the Academia bridge and along the start of the canal at Basilica Di Santa Maria Della Salute.

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The Bridge of Sighs

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The Doge's Palace

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Inside St. Mark's

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As our time in Venice winds to a close, I hope to be able to return. If not, I know I'll remember this trip forever.

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Posted by Jengt 15:03 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

On the road again...

An Adriatic coastal adventure.

The main reason for this trip is to see Croatia. We picked up our rental car at the Venice airport. With Mike as the navigator and me in the driver's seat, we hit the road.

Our first stop was the coastal town of Pula, to see a Roman Coliseum I'd read about while researching this trip. It turned out to be more than I thought. It's huge! And in the middle of town. Like just any another building. The city still uses the arena for a theatrical venue. How amazing is that? To see a show in a building that's been around for millennia?

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After a quick late lunch we were on our way again. Our planned midway point in Croatia was Zadar. Unfortunately, after Pula, the weather turned ugly and the rest of the drive was cloudy and rainy. I was hoping to get in before sunset to see a site in the old town. Although I guess, if I have to choose, I'd prefer the bad weather hit during my travel day instead of a sightseeing day. We'll just have to see Zadar on the drive back.

The next morning was the drive to Dubrovnik. Instead of the freeway (which is a VERY expensive toll road), we decided to check it the coastal route. It may take a little longer, but it's so worth it! Every so often, Mike would tell me to pull to the side for a photo opportunity. A quaint village here and an amazing view there. He wasn't wrong.

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Finally, after another long day of driving, we made it to Dubrovnik - a beautiful walled city. I'm looking forward to scaling the city walls and seeing all there is to see. If the rest of Croatia is a guide, I'm sure I'll enjoy every minute I'm here.

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Posted by Jengt 14:34 Archived in Croatia Comments (1)

Doin' Dubrovnik

A beautiful walled city.

sunny 70 °F

Some days, things just work out. Our plan for today was to walk the walls of Dubrovnik's old town. When we got up, the skies were cloudy. I know we could see the city in any weather. However, sun would be so much better. We grabbed a quick bite for breakfast then set out. To bide our time to let the skies clear, we visited both the Franciscan and Dominican monasteries. It's amazing to me that a small, walled city has two separate monasteries. Both are quite similar but different at the same time. The Franciscan monastery was more ornate with the pillar capitals and frescos along the walkways. The Dominican was more understated.

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columns in the Franciscan Monastery courtyard

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Well in the Dominican monastery courtyard

Just as we stepped out of the Dominican monetary the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. Time to hit the wall! At first, we had the place almost to ourselves (for a very few minutes). Of course, Dubrovnik is a tourist town and that situation changed quickly. We were soon overrun by a large French school group. Even that couldn't kill my joy. Around each and every turn was another amazing view. The photo I just thought was the best I could get became second best. Repeat.

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Bell towers and rooftops in Dubrovnik

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Tower and the walls

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Looking through the battlements

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Bokar fort

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Looking back over the city at the fortifications

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A view down the Stradun

As our circuit was coming to a close, we stopped for a cool drink and a little rest. We met a couple of nice ladies from England. We talked travel for a little bit. They were amazed at the small amount of vacation time the typical employee in the US receives each year. It was nice to talk to other folks who love to see new and different places.

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Harbor

As I rounded another corner, I was heartbroken to see I had reached the starting point. Time to descend the steps. But, I had no time to be sad. There's a cable car to the top of Mt. Srd overlooking Dubrovnik. We ascended, with part of a Japanese tour group. As I stepped out onto the windy overlook, I was once again awed at the views. The surrounding countryside looks so barren overlooking the city. The hills and mountains are just rough rock. It's an odd dichotomy. The thriving coastal city vs. the rocky hills heading inland.

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Old town Dubrovnik from Mt Srd

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Countyside surrounding Dubrovnik

After descending, we wandered around to make sure we hadn't missed anything in the old town that we wanted to see. I took a few more pictures of the clock tower with the "digital" time (the hour is Roman numerals and the minutes are the Arabic numbers we're all used to. Very odd.)

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Clock tower

The End of our sightseeing was a short cruise or see the city from the water. Our captain pointed out a few places that had been used as locations for the Game of Thrones series. I'd heard they had used some of the Dubrovnik area for scenes. Once there, I was able to picture different parts of the show taking place along the streets of the old town or the fortress.

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The Fortress Walls

As we finish our last evening in Dubrovnik, I look back on the past few days and count my blessings. Everything has fallen into place and the weather has been amazing. I'm crossing my fingers that our luck holds for the rest of our trip.

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Posted by Jengt 12:21 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Roman Around

Seeing the ancient sites of Split and Zadar

sunny 71 °F

As always happens, our trip is drawing to a close. We still have to drive back from Dubrovnik to Venice to drop off the car and fly home. After our first drive, we had decided to cut the trip back in half so we would have time to stop in Split to see Diocletian's Palace. For our route, we had the choice of taking the freeway or the equivalent of a state route along the coast. The freeway would be faster, of course, but then we'd miss the great coastal views. Who could pass that up? But, before we can go anywhere, we had to get back to where we had parked the car. Our lodging in Dubrovnik was in the old town which is a "pedestrian zone". (The quotations are because we saw vehicles driving up the streets throughout the day. Usually delivery vehicles.). The parking is at the top of a WHOLE LOT of steps. Staring at the long flight of steps gave me pause. I got over it realizing it would give us a chance to get some exercise before sitting in the car all day.

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Coastal village

We settled into our regular seats - me driving and Mike navigating. He punched our destination into his map app with the paper map as a backup and we were off. The thing about the coastal route is it's a twisting, turning road with very few straightaways. Not for those who easily get carsick. I was loving it! I got my slalom driving fix for a while. HA!

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Me and "my" car (as Mike put it). That little baby had some punch!

Something not many people know is that a section of Croatia is cut off from the rest of the country by a sliver of Bosnia-Hercegovina. So, as you're driving along in Croatia to another city in Croatia, you have to go through a border check from Croatia to Bosnia and then again from Bosnia to Croatia. All in less than 15 minutes. Sound strange? Yeah, I thought so too. Apparently, many of the former Croats who are now Bosnians aren't all that happy about it. Several of the road signs with both languages had the Cyrillic names spray painted out. Mike and I made sure to stop at a scenic spot so we could say we took pictures in Bosnia. We even purchased souvenirs to prove it! I'm counting that as a country visited.

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Neum, Bosnia

Our weather luck continued to hold for the drive and we arrived in Split in good time. Diocletian's Palace was built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian as a place to retire. And, I have to say, he had a great taste in location! Everywhere you look you can see the Roman influences. We wandered along the narrow streets, getting a feel for how life may have been in ancient time. Our first stop was the church tower to get an overview of the palace. I've been up my fair share of clock/church towers. These steps were not only steep but wide open. i.e. very little railing and the windows un-barred. Which was great for picture taking. Every once in a while on my travels I'm reminded I'm not in the incredibly, overly litigious US and it's great!

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Bell tower in Diocletian's Palace

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The rooftops of Split with some of the old city walls.

There are sections of the original wall poking through where the city has been built up over the centuries. Every time I visit one of these ancient sites I am in awe of the fact they are still standing and in use. I picture how people from the past have each put their mark on the place and made it their home. As an example, one of the center pieces of the palace is what was originally Diocletian's mausoleum. As later generations took over, it was converted into a Cathedral and Diocletian's remains were removed. (Diocletian was known for persecuting the Christians.)

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The Gold Gate to Diocletian's Palace

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The ceiling from one of the underground rooms in Diocletian's Palace

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Lion guarding the steps to the Cathedral (previously Diocletian's Mausoleum)

After seeing all the sights, we hit the road for the coastal city of Zadar, our stop for the night. I had read a little about Zadar before we left and there was one thing I really wanted to see - an art installation called the Sea Organ. Tubes have been built into the seaside walkway. As the waves come in, air is pushed through the tubes to make sound. We checked into our hotel, got directions to the old town and set out on foot. Zadar actually surprised both Mike & I. It's a beautiful, walled old town with Roman ruins, churches and views! We walked around until nearly sunset and then went to see the Sea Organ. The "tune" is a haunting sound made even more atmospheric with the setting sun. I put my camera on a tripod and put it on video. I'm hoping the sound came out well enough to upload it onto YouTube.

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5 Wells and the Sargent's Tower in Zadar

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Church of St. Donat

After sunset we paused for dinner. Both Mike and I had the best dinners of this vacation that night. I had ravioli with prosciutto and a cream sauce. It sounds simple, but it was amazingly well done. With our hunger sated we set out to see the second part of the Sea Organ called Sun Salutation. This section is made up of solar panels that work in conjunction with the organ. As the air is pushed through the tubes, color undulates on the panels under your feet. It's quite a beautiful show to watch.

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Sunset at the Sea Organ

We had to get an early start the next day to drop off the car in Venice for our last night before heading home. We took the coastal route about 1/2 way then caught the freeway for the remaining portion into Venice. I noted that there were a lot more trucks on the road for our trip back than there were on the way out. I later realized that we had set out on Easter Monday. It's not a holiday in the US so I'd forgotten it is in many other countries. It really makes a huge difference in traffic. Of course, the trip back to Venice went a little faster since I had by then figured out that the speed limit is just a suggestion. All you have to remember is - slower cars on the right. Even if you think you're going fast enough, somebody is going faster. Be polite and let them go. (I sure wish the drivers back home could learn that lesson.)

Our last night in Venice was fun. Since Mike had been there several times already there weren't any of the major sites left to see. We decided to do our souvenir shopping and then grab dinner. We found a small restaurant around the corner from our hotel that had great food at a decent (for Venice) price. My second favorite meal of the trip!

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Buildings along a Venice street

After dinner we decided to be adventurous and just wander off to a portion of the city Mike hadn't been to before. We set off away from the crowds to see what we could see. There were quaint alleys and courtyards - obviously the residential portion of the city. I was completely turned around but Mike knew where he was...which is why he's the navigator and I'm the driver. We chanced upon a pizzeria & bar which caters to the locals. As we stepped in there were small children running around as well as a couple of dogs! A real family-friendly place. We sat down with our beers and looked around. Plastered on the walls were posters and slogans for various socialist causes. It was an interesting place. At least the beer was good.

After our beers, we wound our way back to the hotel to call it a day. It's been a whirlwind week. All told, 7 countries (including our layover in Paris and driving through a sliver of Sovinia) in 8 days. A wonderful, amazing and awe-inspiring week. I hate the thought of going back to "real" life. Guess I'll just have to start working on the next trip!

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Venice, along the Grand Canal

Posted by Jengt 09:36 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

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